Why PR Is an essential for 2021 and how to make the most of your campaign
By Melissa A Vitale
To say that 2020 wasn’t the year we anticipated back when we were so doe-eyed and naïve on December 31st 2019 is a gross understatement. As business owners, we had to confront our worst fears this year: what would happen to my business if I were to contract the novel coronavirus? We’ve probably all faced are fear of dying with every cough we had. This year has been an absolute roller coaster to put it as eloquently as possible. Despite all that, two unsuspected industries came out swinging: legalization and the end of the War on Drugs swept the 2020 election during a year where cannabis sales reached record heights. Sexual Wellness and Pleasure-tech brands also made out like bandits this year. Most intimacy companies reported spikes in sales from 300 – 800% when compared to the year prior. As an exclusively vice-category publicist with the same M.O., I still can’t believe how universally consumers turned to masturbation, pleasure, cannabis and CBD when faced with the unpredictable. If there’s one thing we learned in 2020 its that when the times get tough, people turn to their vices for help.
As the year rounds off, we’re faced with a lot of decisions going into 2021: for many business owners, reassessing investment in consumer awareness and marketing is at the top of the list. When last year started, a majority of marketing budgets were allocated for tradeshows, event sponsorships or advertising at in-person venues like sporting arenas, airlines, subways and more. The past year has forced entrepreneurs and executives
In December of 2019, I wouldn’t have told you Public Relations is a marketing essential, even though I’m a publicist who has seen how PR can transform a brand. If you have a big launch in the first few months of the year, then yes, public relations will be an essential part of a powerful debut. This year, everything is changed. As I’m looking at gift guides of 2020 and making predictions for 2021, I honestly don’t know if a brand can experience consistent, turnkey media coverage without a publicist with the current media landscape.
Dedicated hours to creating relationships with your brand
Before 2020, media coverage for a new startup was relatively simple. A few hours of research and some serendipitous follows on social media and you could be on your way to having a brand profile in Allure or Fast Company. However, for any entrepreneur or executive who has a primary role outside of their company’s media relations, maintaining consistent coverage takes hours of time, and creativity to create fresh brand stories that reflect the audience interest of the current newscycle. Typically for a brand to see consistent coverage in top tier outlets, there needs to be at least 20 hours of journalist pitching just to see two placements a month. While entrepreneurs can easily pitch their brand (and often times, journalists like to hear from startup founders personally), they just don’t have the bandwidth to maintain those hours while running their business. I’ve been blessed with press-worthy clients who come to me with an impressive resume of press coverage before working with a publicist. But in my experience, I have yet to see an entrepreneur that can maintain the same caliber of consistent coverage when compared to a publicist who dedicates their full-time job to media relations.
Now going into 2021, for the reasons I’m about to get into, we’re now seeing that 25 hours is the bare minimum for a brand to reach that minimum of two placements a month with 35+ hours recommended for more lofty press goals.
The state of Media going into 2021
2020 has gutted the media industry. Think of the last time pre-pandemic you were surfing Business Insider or NYPost. The advertisers you saw a lot of were national chain restaurants, airlines, travel destinations, sporting teams and events. While many of these industries are surviving, advertising while debating layoffs is a big public-relations no-no.
Media subscribership is already down and has been over the last ten years. Every year we see another publication fold. Many of us remember receiving Departures, Money Magazine and other publications that have gone digital-only or have closed all together. For every story that gets published, there can be one writer (either staff or freelance) plus two-three editors. When layoffs come to media houses, it’s the writers and editors that feel the changes, not the executives and creative directors. One editor being taken off staff can create a bottle neck of stories that transform the focus on what pitches get accepted.
You cannot talk to a journalist or editor for long before you’ll hear the battle stories from the media industry during a pandemic. Freelance commissions took a hit starting in March and continued throughout the year. Many media outlets experienced lay-offs that wiped out entire departments. Every media outlet is being asked to cover both evergreen topics like “best beauty buys for fall” and “What industry trends to expect in 2021” while also covering the political climate like the 2020 presidential election, social justice movement including creating resources for dismantling systemic injustice for their audiences and of course, the pandemic. They’re supposed to do this with less budget and resources than they had in 2019.
Unless a brand is a big advertiser or working with a skilled publicist who knows which media outlets have bandwidth for features, it’ll be increasingly difficult for brands to secure consistent feature coverage throughout the year.
Affiliate is King
Advertising still motivates media but the who and how have transformed significantly. Previously, banner and native ads and advertorials were the top form of revenue for media outlets. Airlines would buy out banner space throughout places like Forbes, GQ and more. Advertising packages on the website or in an advertorial usually have a $20K starting price tag leaving it an inaccessible option for most startups. While affiliate marketing has been on the rise the last handful of years, now it’s the main focus of many media outlets when it comes to product recommendations.
This trend is still true: having an affiliate program won’t determine if your brand will or won’t be successful in press. A good brand working with a reputable publicist will be able to garner media coverage even without an affiliate program or retailing on popular affiliate sites like Amazon or Target. However, an affiliate program can determine to what degree of success a brand enjoys with media relations. If a commerce editor of writer loves a brand retailing on Amazon or in an affiliate program like Skimlinks, their products be included in any number of roundups. For instance, a CBD oil on Skimlinks can be included in stories about sleep aids, relaxation, even yoga and fitness essentials. A CBD brand without affiliates will likely only see features on affiliate-forward sites for roundups like CBD products or in a story that doesn’t depend on affiliate links. Affiliate links always broaden the possibility of potentials to feature with.
Now with COVID, affiliates are some of the main focuses of outlets whose advertising partners have pulled back their budgets. Sites like New York Post.com, who have historically never published product roundups, now have entire commerce teams. For those not in the media relations trenches, when you hear or see “Commerce Editor” or “Commerce Writer” you’re likely talking about affiliate or advertising programs. Everyone is trying to make money these days, so affiliate-forward product roundups still carry a lot of weight in terms of recognition and consumer traction.
Luckily for CBD, cannabis and sex wellness brands with limitations on affiliate programs, there are other things brands can do to amplify their press opportunities for 2021.
Branding, Consumer Experience & Celebrity Endorsements
Not only has media shifted, but media relations have also taken a drastic turn. The consumer experience of the product has become key. Before, a great brand didn’t need the top-of-the-line branding or an entire suite of branded marketing materials like mailers, tissue paper, product cards and more. An exciting company with an enigmatic CEO could charm press at events, tradeshows and desksides. With everything virtual, the product experience does most of the talking when introducing brands to press. A brand that creates a themed sendout with a beautiful, branded package, matching hand-written cards and a collection of themed products is more likely to not only get shown off on social media but journalists are more likely to remember a meaningful introduction like that when writing upcoming relevant stories.
I have to make one advisement with mailers and consumer experience: Prioritize eco-consciousness over design. Press get tons of mailers throughout the year and if they get a couple at a time, they can really see how much waste comes from each mailer. You can find easy ways to be eco-friendly while still maintaining a desired brand aesthetic.
Twenty years ago, a vice brand could only partner with an A-list celebrity in their wildest dreams. In the final six months of 2020 alone, celebrities like Cardi B and Cara Delevingne have signed on with or have endorsed sex tech companies while celebrities like Martha Stewart and Kristen Bell have launched their own lines of CBD products. This is good news for our industry: celebrity endorsements is a huge step in the right direction of raising awareness and abolishing stigma. For bootstrapped startups though, this news is deflating. It shouldn’t be that newsworthy that a successful global brand can afford a celebrity endorsement. Often times accessible, quality brands who are bringing new consumers to the market more than the high-end products endorsed by celebrities, are getting passed up for coverage because the product doesn’t include a chance to have a zoom interview a celebrity. Luckily, despite some of the more foreboding tales of woe of this post, there is enough media to go around for all the brands. Which is why for brands who aren’t working with A-List celebrities, public relations is so important for 2021.
For brands looking to get a jumpstart on PR for 2021, MAVPR is offering $1,000 off the first month for brands signing on before January 15, 2021
To set up an introductory call to discuss your goals and receive a proposal, please visit: https://www.melissaavitale.com/services.html
By Melissa A Vitale
This won’t be a listicle with short answers to the most common questions a publicist gets asked; rather this article will seamlessly link to the most asked questions, and their corresponding blog posts already on MAVPR under our Public Relations FAQ.
Over the years, I’ve gotten tons of questions from people who seek quick answers from a publicist that are too nuanced to be picked up in google. When I get a couple of these, I usually turn it into an opportunity to update my blog.
It’s been a couple years since I started organizing the blog and didn’t plan for the volume of articles 2020 would give me time to pen.
So, here are some commonly asked questions about Public Relations and links to a corresponding blog post with my answer.
Am I/Is my brand ready for PR? Been thinking about PR but not sure if you’re ready for a publicist? My inaugural blog post reviews how to tell Is Your Brand Ready for PR? Make sure to check out The Pre-PR Checklist below to have everything ready for day one of PR!
What’s the difference between a PR agency and a PR freelancer? Both agencies and freelancers can propel a brand forward on a desired budget. Find out which is right for you in Public Relations Agency vs. Independent Publicist.
What are the expectations of a public relations campaign? So often, PR agencies provide vague sets of expectations. Wondering what’s going to happen during a public relations campaign with MAVPR? Check out What to expect from a Public Relations Campaign.
Why does Public Relations have minimum retainers? For those curious about how publicist set their minimums, read through Why Public Relations Retainers Have Minimums.
How does a publicist actually get results? You follow your publicist on Instagram and damn, she socializes a lot during the workday. Learn how it all fits into place in What does your publicist actually do?
Why wasn’t the article I was mentioned in exactly how I imagined in when I was interviewed? You talked with a journalist for 50 minutes and they included a ten-word quote in an article; you sent in 15 hrs of b-roll for a 45 second clip. These are just one of many Things a Publicist Cannot Control.
Why didn’t I see any results in the first month of PR? You spent a hefty first-month’s retainer – surely New York Times wants to profile you by now… right?? Learn more about Why does Public Relations take so long?
Does a slow month mean my campaign is failing? Public relations is typically at the mercy of editorial calendars and seasonal conversations. In terms of published articles, A slow month of coverage does not equal a bad PR Campaign.
Why wasn’t I given photo credit for a photo I helped create? You modeled or took a photo for a brand and when your image is in Forbes, you’re not credited. Why wasn’t I credited for my photo in that article?
Where is that article I was quoted in? Connected to a journalist for a story opp and wondering where it is? Here’s how to find out when it was published - Where is the story I was included in?
Other helpful links:
Types of Coverage reviews the different types of coverage that can arise from a public relations campaign.
A Running Glossary of PR Terms helps decipher commonly used terms by public relations pros.
The Pre-PR Checklist guides brands through everything you need to kick off a PR campaign with a bang.
Importance of Sharing Media Coverage provides tips on social media driven media relations.
For vice brands looking to explore cost effective public relations packages, learn more about MAVPR via: melissaavitale.com/services.html
Alt Title: Why there's more coverage the longer the PR campaign
By Melissa A Vitale
There are days I think a tattoo on my forehead “Public relations is the least immediate of all marketing” would make my life so much easier. Because public relations hinders on placing clients in existing and forthcoming editorial coverage without advertising budgets, press coverage comes when the opportunities align with the brand’s expertise and mission. Unlike social media which can lead to traffic in a matter of weeks, or digital advertising which can drive sales in days, public relations can take months before there are any results in the form of published stories.
There are rare publicists who promise results that never arise but rack up months of retainers before the brand severs the deal. It’s for this reason PR can get a murky rep as being one of those industries where investment can be a gamble.
After three years, I’ve nailed down what a concrete set of expectations of brands can expect upon working with my brand of public relations over the course of a campaign.
Please note, all PR agencies and freelancers are different and this summary only applies with certainty to MAVPR’s Public Relations Campaigns.
Your first month of PR is heavy with confirming messaging. You’ll want to allow your publicist a reasonable amount of time to plan for how they want to position the brand. MAVPR takes about 2-4 weeks to draft a messaging book (a typically 4-8 page document with all the brand’s storylines, spokesperson topics of expertise, bios, boiler plates, etc) during which time we start to introduce a brand to our close contacts to get a sense of the media appetite for the brand, and which areas will draw the most buzz. By the end of the first month, a brand will be introduced to key media and will have months-worth of press storylines that will be turned into countless pitches over the coming months. In the case of buzzworthy brands, must-have product and in-demand expertise, press opportunities may come through in the first month but its more common that the first published stories come in the second month.
The second month you're seeing the opportunities come in. Depending on how quickly the campaign was able to mobilize, you'll have pending placements, and loads of pending interest. There are potential opportunities and there are opportunities that should be coming out in the coming weeks. Thanks to editorial delays, there may still not be any published coverage by month two, but you know that there is coverage coming ad have an idea of what it looks like. By this time, you may have been interviewed, provided a quote or may have sent some samples for a specific story consideration.
By now you’ve gotten your first published press with your publicist. The press opportunities are starting to be more regular.
Of course if you had a newsworthy announcement in the first three months, these expectations are different with a full feature, potentially a wire release (brand decision) and ensuing pickup the month of the announcement.
By now coverage is starting to appear steady. You should be getting at least two placements per month at this point and it can range upwards of 5-8 placements a month depending on the brand’s industry, products available and areas of expertise. There are probably even repeat opportunities from the same journalist or editor.
After 6 months the brand should be hitting the expectations of the account each month. MAVPR’s expectations range between 2-6 and 2-15 placements per month (retainer dependent). This time you usually see more standalone stories than inclusion and commentary.
After 6 months, be aware that a month with less coverage compared to the month previous does not mean the PR campaign is failing. Some months, editors need to hold certain topics to continue to drive traffic to those topics in the coming months, especially if they are planning a seasonal push on a certain topic. As long as an account is falling within expectations of an account the public relations account is still progressing even with a slow month.
By this time, you’ll have at least doubled your investment when measured in the amount of ad value your campaign has earned.
After 12 months
Your PR campaign hasn’t just gained momentum, it has a life of its own. Not only are there fresh stories being initiated by your publicist, but you’re also getting incoming requests from press who have mentioned or considered the brand previously. The ad value return for this time can be as high as sixteen times the investment. Some clients have seen over 1000% of returns of ad vale compared to their monthly retainer.
Every subsequent year
When brands engage in public relations years at a time, they are not only introduced to new editors, they also are kept on the radar of journalists who have written about them in the past. Therefore, press typically doubles in volume for every year you engage with public relations. My client who has been with me since early 2017 has seen over $570,000 in earned ad value so far for the year, by July 2020 with a potential 1.5 billion consumer reach.
The longer a PR campaign and the more hours put into publicity efforts, the more editors and journalists who are introduced to a brand and the more editorial opportunities that arise with the brand already in mind. Its wiser to strategically introduce a brand to journalists as the company’s developments align with their area of coverage.
Continued media relations momentum and strategy ensures that a brand stays on the radar of key press with fresh stories and topics that editors want to greenlight.
For vice brands looking to explore cost effective public relations packages, learn more about MAVPR via: melissaavitale.com/services.html
Melissa A Vitale Public Relations
A public relations agency specializing in brands and startups in artificial intelligence, sexual wellness and legal cannabis.