Much discussion has been made of the idea of Inbound PR and Slow PR. For veteran inbound marketers, Slow PR/Inbound PR should be nothing terribly surprising – it’s the process of getting your “sales” prospects to come to you, rather than to have you go chase after them. As we’ve said in the past, the process of pitching on behalf of clients strongly resembles the basic sales process, so porting the idea of inbound marketing to the world of public relations seems like a natural fit. Since we’re talking about mirroring inbound marketing, we’ll refer to both Slow PR and Inbound PR as Inbound PR hereafter.
What is Inbound PR?
In short, Inbound PR attempts to create as much of a relationship and value with media contacts up front (“what I can do for you”), reversing the traditional relationship of endlessly calling media contacts only when there’s a pitch to be delivered (“what you can do for me”). Some characteristics of Inbound PR are:
- Cultivating relationships with journalists first and foremost, putting the relationship first
- Asking detailed inquiries of journalists to make sure the pitches that do get sent are 100% on target
- Focusing on building and nurturing relationships via social media and email marketing
- Creating a “house” audience that you can selectively direct to newsworthy pieces
- “Being there before the sale” – knowing what journalists cover and want well in advance of client need
How is this different than regular PR?
The biggest difference is in perspective. In traditional PR, as well as in outbound marketing, you have a product (the pitch) and you shop it around until someone buys with cold calling, cold email, etc. The response rate tends to be low and if you’re even slightly off target, the chance of you wrecking what little rapport you have is high. In Inbound PR, you create and manage your platform, your audience, and then fit the product where it belongs, when it’s appropriate. And to be clear – you need both. Outbound didn’t vanish with inbound marketing – companies simply increased their overall volume of sales. Inbound PR won’t replace outbound PR, it’ll supplement it.
You know you’re being successful at Inbound PR when your staff are getting proactive calls and emails from the outlets you normally work with, asking if you’ve got any great clients or stories that are a fit for a piece they’re working on. One of the greatest examples of Inbound PR is Peter Shankman’s creation, Help a Reporter Out (HARO) (now a Vocus company). He built an entire mailing list that reporters can proactively ask for help on, and sources can respond. He reversed the model of going out and pitching; hundreds of reporters a day now pitch HARO first.
How do you get started with Inbound PR?
The first and foremost thing is to decide whether Inbound PR is right for your organization. For some companies, for some brands, and for some agencies, Inbound PR is incompatible with their internal mindset and processes. If you measure PR based on activity, for example, like how many times did you pick up the phone today and pitch journalists, then Inbound PR isn’t going to work especially well for you. Likewise, if you do whatever a client or executive says to do without question, Inbound PR is going to fail, because you have to put the long-term relationship with your audience – the media – first, before the short-term needs of your company or client.
The mindset of Inbound PR is that while the brand pays the bills, your audience of reporters, journalists, and media – and the relationships you have with them – are what allows you to do the work that pays the bills. Offending your audience, diminishing its numbers reduces your effectiveness and ultimately doesn’t serve you or your stakeholders.
Inbound PR requires a lot of ramp-up time as well. Relationships don’t form overnight. Trust isn’t built instantly. You have to be willing to invest a lot of time – months, even years – to grow those relationships to the point where your media contacts are reaching out to you first. You have to prove yourself over and over again, from writing insightful blog posts about your niche that help your audience to social events to staying involved in their lives.
How do you measure Inbound PR?
This is a really simple answer: how many times did someone from your media audience (reporters, bloggers, social media influencers, etc.) reach out to you and ask you for help in the last X days? If the answer is zero, it’s not working yet (remember, ramp-up is measured in months or years). If the answer is once or more, congratulations, you’ve got a start. Now work to build on that success!
Does this mean that traditional PR is bad/dead/not working?
Quite the contrary. This is another method, another way of doing it, and as marketers have learned (sometimes painfully), inbound is only half the battle. You absolutely need outbid, traditional PR as well, in the same way that you still need outbound marketing. Some brands, some topics, some situations will call for an outbound approach. Some will call for an inbound approach. You have to make a judgement call about which method to use and when, but over time, as you become proficient at Inbound PR, you should see a balance form between inbound and outbound. The difference now is that when you take an outbound approach, you are making a conscious choice to go that route instead of an inbound approach, and you have the freedom to make that decision, rather than have outbound be the only tool in your toolbox.
Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology