PR Budgets Bandits – when and what to cut
Written by Paul Maher
It is an inevitable part of business. “We need to make some changes.”
In fact, changing up a B2B tech marketing strategy is not just inevitable – in today’s fast-changing world of lockdowns, returns, social selling and metaverses – it is highly desirable.
If you aren’t experimenting, you risk falling behind. In marketing and sales, experimenting is THE winning strategy, whereas doing the same things as other more-established or better-funded rivals can be terminal. This applies most of all in B2B tech, where early adoption is all, whereas sameness is a fast track to commoditization and irrelevance.
For total disclosure, Positive has seen its fair share of both account changes and fee ‘haircuts’ in its decade and a quarter in business. Some we disagreed with and petitioned to change, some successfully. Others we ‘took on the chin’, accepted, and thereafter learnt to provide our clients with value in other ways, either immediately or in the future.
The result of our pragmatism has been clear. No client losses in two years, something we never, ever take for granted, an ever-widening portfolio of skills and perhaps most importantly, high senior staff retention. We like change and we think we have learnt a lot from it. Here are our guiding principles on when and what to cut, if it is time to change things up.
1. CUT – Weekly Cross-team Meetings
Stop for a minute and consider the sheer amount of human PR resources every week on inter-disciplinary or multiple geo calls. Too often these calls are productivity black holes where one person reads out a history lesson of their previous five or fewer working days and everyone else does email. Start saving today. Swap for bi-weekly and ad hoc Slack/Teams/Matrix messages. But be clear to move the now freed-up time to driving results.
2. CUT – Online Project Tools
There is a place for platforms like Asana, Gathercontent and Monday.com. But keeping multiple platforms which take hours to learn, weeks to embed into process, and then take so long to update means actual PR execution suffers. We recommend finding a platform and sticking with it, allocating one expert per team to monitor and quality check the content. It is a truly awful look and bad for morale to micro-manage with Gannt charts.
3. CUT – Product Announcements
Face facts, unless you are Apple, or a games developer, nobody is waiting for you to update your products. Products are updated continuously up to several times a day at Google and Amazon. So why dare to dream your new version 1.13 is of any interest to the media. Instead talk about your category and how your update progresses that. [WARNING, this may hurt the feelings of the engineering or product teams, but they will get over it, when they see all their coverage].
4. CUT Exec Visits
No we don’t mean top brass visiting the region is a bad thing. Too often though, the PR team is told that ‘slots have opened up’ for the media with a day or two to get into busy journalistic calendars. This sort of last-minute offer is only made by sales teams after a prospect or customer has backed out from a CEO meeting. Also known as a ‘hospital pass’, the poor PRs can only look bad, when they, too, cannot fill the slot. It is plain arrogant of sales to do this. So, if exec slots are not booked 30 days in advance, the PR should make it clear there are no guarantees, and that this could be a lot of work for no reward.
5. CUT Analyst Briefings
B2B tech is still overly obsessed with industry analysts. Once, the high priests consulted before every potentially risky tech purchase, now their value is more in question. Analysts are still important for larger enterprise deals, ironically often as a scapegoat should implementations go wrong. They are also a significant time and budget suck for marketing teams. We counsel reviewing potential written output ahead of all analyst engagements, declining some and investing budget and time where results are clear, which may mean the Tier 2 or Tier 3 players, who are better value and far easier to engage with successfully.
6. CUT – Brand Reviews
Perhaps the least measurable and most time-consuming work in all of marketing. We are not saying a stand-out brand is a bad thing, just that in B2B tech, it is actually the tech and what it does which matters, not the colour of the logo (see this hilarious take by Lochhead and crew – https://lochhead.com/the-big-brand-lie/). Too many times navel-gazing branding exercises are just what the competition wants, so they can accelerate past ‘brandstruck’, dawdling marketing teams. It is also just embarrassing to confuse a PR story with a brand refresh.
7. CUT Virtual Events
Let’s be honest, virtual events, of which there have been too many in lockdown, are just not going to be the subject of rapt attention. Most likely, the ‘attendees’ are multi-tasking or, worse, paying no attention to the content. The longer the event, the more likely this is to be the case. While it may make sense to dip into a CEO speech or an eloquent panel, watching a dull PowerPoint-like presentation in the comfort of your own home, is most likely sleep-inducing.
8. [BONUS] DON’T CUT Cross Pollination
Of course, integrated marketing dictates a more rounded skill set. And we want to be clear, silos are not cool. Some argue that’s why the hulking ‘marketing communications’ fiefdoms of tech dinosaurs got it so wrong. Instead, we are all for the sort of cross-functional inputs which see PR’s clear messaging expertise reused as inputs to short sharp branding exercises. We also like carving out allocated and budgeted time for B2B PR brainstorms. But meetings with wallflowers pollinate nothing, so if you are mixing it up, be prepared and speak up!
We reckon carving out these time bandits can cut the time taken, and so the fees needed, for a solid press office function, so it can deliver the results it needs to. It is just unfair to expect significant and yearly increasing media coverage, when PR teams are being asked to add advice and partake in, essentially unbudgeted, additional roles.
But if lockdown has taught us one thing, it is that time together is precious for cross pollination, but that spreading precious resources too thin, can be equally catastrophic. So cut, wisely, often and measure, but avoid the knee jerk reactions of those who think marketing, especially in disciplines like B2B PR, where results take time to nurture, can be switched on and off as successfully as Google ads.