Make Google’s Latest Changes Your Secret Digital PR Weapon


Over 15 actionable tips for consumer and DTC brands

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What do Google, your PR, and affiliate networks have in common? They are the spine of your digital reputation. Consumer brands, especially DTC can no longer ignore the realities of how these once distinct digital tactics work together today.


Digital PR is real. And yet, so many PR professionals overlook the realities and intersection of Google and the media. Today’s PR isn’t really complete without Google considerations.

Many of the changes from Google are incredibly exciting for consumer brands. Those brands who understand the changes with more frequent earned media and better search results on owned and paid content like press releases will be rewarded with better search visibility and content stickiness.

Turn your PR into a revenue-generating machine with our actionable insights and tips that your competitors have probably overlooked.

From branded journalism to product reviews, and even press releases, Google’s changes and affiliate networks are essential considerations for any consumer brand that is trying to raise awareness online. These changes even impact your influencer campaigns.

Our easy-to-digest and insightful whitepaper is an at-a-glance resource every time you’re creating content for owned, paid, or earned media.

Maybe you’ve never hired a PR firm before, or maybe it’s been a while and you’re just unsure of what a PR agency costs. Either way, you’re asking yourself, “how much will a PR firm cost me?” Since PR usually falls within the marketing budget, let’s start there.

To grow your position in the marketplace, a good marketing allocation is about 15% of revenue. In 2022, the average marketing budget for B2C brands was 13.7% of revenue, and for B2B brands, it was about 10% of revenue.

So if you’re an average company, and you’re looking to maintain your position, you’re probably spending in the range of 10% of revenue. If you’re looking to dominate, your budget should be higher. Ambitious startups typically allocate between 12-17%. A typical breakdown might be that 1/3 of the budget is advertising, 1/3 of the budget is content, and 1/3 of the budget is PR. Large international agency budgets can be $380,000 or more annually, while a mid-range agency budget typically clocks in at $156,000-$180,000 annually and a smaller agency budget would be $120,000 per year, a mid-range freelancer could be anywhere from $36,000-$100,000 a year. If you’re a CPG or DTC brand with a marketing spend of under $100,000, then you might consider consumer product PR sprints, which feature micro contracts that align with key buying seasons. Hiring a PR agency is an investment, but considering PR converts ten to 50% better than advertising, PR is indeed a place where the ROI pays off.

 

So what goes into a PR agency’s fees?

 

According to Muck Rack’s 2021 State of PR report, the number one cost to a company to PR is the agency, which makes sense because unlike programmatic ad spending (a typical minimum is programmatic spend is $25,000/month), PR agencies rarely have a minimum spend or activation fee requirements outside their retainers.

PR agency rates increased, and in 2020, the average PR agency CEO billed $417 per hour, while VPs clocked in at $319 per hour and Account Managers billed $256 per hour. The average blended rate was $240 per hour. It’s safe to say that if your PR team has executive PR experience, and your agency spends an average of 10 person-hours per week on your account, your monthly retainer will be around $13,226 per month.

If you require more executive hours, your fees could go up. If you work mostly with a junior team, your rates could go down. Oftentimes, fees are different depending on your strategic objectives. For example, if you want to keep a firm on retainer for a few calls a month, and no proactive media outreach, your annual fees may be considerably less. If you are trying to secure investment or you’re pre IPO, you may find your fees are on the higher end of an agency’s fee structure.

It’s a balance to strike your budget with your goals, but when asked, I always give the same advice to CMO’s and startup founders. In 2020, 45% of companies increased their PR budget. If your budget is $400,000 or more per year, hire an agency that does $20 million+ in revenue. If your budget is $180,000 per year, hire a boutique PR firm, with less than $10 million in revenue. If your budget is $60,000 per year, don’t hire an agency, hire a freelancer.

Odwyer PR’s annual report shows rates increased considerably between 2019 and 2020, so if your agency didn’t raise its rates, you’re fortunate.

Agencies are notoriously reluctant to share minimum retainers, but in 2013, several agency executives did just that with PR Observer, an industry publication.

“To properly scope a client program and assign the proper team support, we feel $15,000 – $17,500 per month is a reasonable starting point.”Anne Green, President & CEO, CooperKatz & Company, Inc.

“Our retainers range from $7,500 – $50,000 or so. Crisis costs are different and generally charged by the hour with a $20,000 minimum.”—Ronn Torossian, Founder & President, 5WPR

“We have some clients that pay us $100,000 or so per year, some clients that pay us more than $100,000 per week, and many clients that pay us $100,000 or so per month.”— Mark Hass, President & CEO, Edelman United States

“Our clients generally pay between $15,000-$30,000 a month depending on the workload.”—Stu Loeser, Founder & President, Stu Loeser & Co.
So what’s typically included in a bespoke retainer rate? Well, again, that may depend on each agency’s specialty. For example, if your agency specialized in digital communications, you may find that social media content creation is included, but media relations are not. But the following services are a good rule of thumb to expect within our typical PR agency retainer:
  • Strategies about how to stand out from your competitors using PR
  • Internal and external communication strategies that match your growth goals.
  • Campaign development and creative activations for marketing opportunities.
  • Media relations, and securing regular media coverage, speaking engagements.
  • KPI and business impact reporting.
  • Copywriting such as press releases, speeches, white papers, and branded journalism.
  • PR crisis planning – but not necessarily crisis management.
  • Partnership strategy and potentially management such as cause, social impact, or purpose-driven PR initiatives.
  • Executive training, including media training, interview prep, and research or executive ghostwriting.
  • Content strategy for video, social media, and inbound leads.
  • Content creation oversight, including social media, photography sessions, and video development.
  • Poll or research development, implementing the poll may or may not be within the agency’s retainer.
  • Peer agency coordination, such as with branding or advertising agencies.
  • PR campaigns that “make the news,” are designed to create word-of-mouth or media opportunities.

For a complete list of what we would include in your PR retainer, reach out to us and tell us more about your business and your goals.

Hiring a PR agency is an investment, but considering PR converts ten to 50% better than advertising, PR is indeed a place where the ROI pays off.

Do you find yourself asking “What will I get for my money if I hire a PR agency?” You might even see offers for guaranteed media coverage. But should PR agencies guarantee media coverage? The reasons the answer is “no” might surprise you. Any PR agency that promises earned media coverage is putting their journalist contacts at risk for journalistic ethics violations. Guaranteed PR coverage is not only unethical, it can even be illegal. “Guaranteed” PR coverage rarely lives as long as earned media coverage. Finally, it doesn’t have the authority and trust that comes with credible earned media.

[3 minute read]

Pay-to-Play Earned Media is Unethical

Sadly, we’ve seen it all, including journalists fired for violating professional journalist ethics. Violations might include not disclosing a monetary relationship or other conflict or interest. Paying a journalist under the table to write about a company or a product is the signal of an inexperienced, desperate, or unethical PR agency. These agencies don’t garner favor by journalists who value their jobs, and getting a journalist fired isn’t the way to reinforce media relationships. And when you hire a PR agency that does this, you’re attaching your brand’s reputation to unethical and even illegal behavior. No matter how cheap guaranteed PR coverage is, the cost to your reputation will far outweigh any benefits.

There is such a thing as legitimate sponsored coverage. And while sponsored coverage LOOKS like an article, it’s actually an advertisement. Secured through a media outlet’s advertising team, never directly with a journalist, sponsored coverage is a legitimate form of advertising. The FCC always requires sponsored coverage to identify itself as paid. Even Google wants to know what links are sponsored, and not tagging them correctly is an SEO risk authoritative and important media outlets won’t risk. Press releases are a great example of paid or sponsored coverage. Paid placements have a role in a campaign, and any good PR agency can make recommendations about how to use these tools in your campaign.

Guaranteed Coverage Isn’t Usually Authoritative

The primary reason fast-growing brands and hyper-growth companies need PR is for both exposure and trust that typically comes from earned media.

Today’s readers and content consumers are incredibly savvy. After thousands of hours of advertising exposure, most consumers can sniff out the difference between advertising articles and journalistic pieces. Like all advertisements, ethically secured readers’ and viewers’ trust earned coverage because journalists maintain independence.

We’ve seen self-proclaimed PR experts use their positions as media contributors to promote their clients; we’ve seen these same people banned from esteemed outlets like Entrepreneur and Forbes. Most times, the brands paying for this coverage did not know that what the “PR expert” was doing was unethical or illegal. No one wins in this situation, certainly not the brand who thought they paid a PR firm to secure high-value coverage. This is especially painful because once discovered by the media outlet, that content is often removed from their website and therefore the internet; this rarely happens with earned media coverage which lasts as long as the website is up.

Sponsored or Paid Coverage Doesn’t Last as Long

While earned media takes strategy, expertise, and yes, time, ethical sponsored or paid coverage doesn’t last as long as earned coverage. Sponsored and paid coverage, while it has its place, is like any other advertisement: it typically runs for a limited amount of time, then it disappears. One of the underappreciated perks of earned media is its longevity.

There’s nothing wrong with sponsored or paid coverage. We’ve seen some really remarkable pieces of sponsored coverage that went beyond the advertisement and well into providing true value for readers. The Washington Post, the New York Times, all do spectacular special projects like this. The starting cost is usually in the $50,000+ range. Regular ad rates for a premium location like the (printed) back page hover around $30,000 per ad, volume discounts usually apply to annual contracts. But hey, you’re getting ad placement in one of the world’s most credible news outlets at least once for that price.

 

Today’s modern PR firms are savvy in today’s media landscape, including traditional, paid, and digital mediums. We take our professional PR ethics very seriously, including guaranteed media coverage. Hire a PR firm you can trust and trust your PR firm.

Successful Influencer Campaigns Aren’t Unicorns

PR has a number of tools in its tool belt, one of them is successful influencer campaigns & partnerships.

In consumer goods, influencer marketing is establishing a significant place in the mix. When we see some of these campaigns, a little part of our PR soul dies. Frankly, some of them are brand-damaging and unlikely to have an influence on sales. When working with influencers, you’re already taking a risk that there’s a past or future PR fiasco that could affect your brand reputation.  Influencer marketing should be considered paid media and owned media and just like you wouldn’t put out an ad or other content that damages your brand, nor should you execute an influencer campaign without consideration. Some people seem to think so long as you’re getting your product in someone’s IG story that’s all that matters, we disagree.

We believe all consumer goods PR should be executed with strategy and thought. While influencer campaigns aren’t exactly the same as ads, we take insight from advertising research to inform our recommendations.

On average, it takes 21 brand exposures to bring someone to the purchase phase.
5-9 brand exposures to create brand awareness
more than 10 exposures during the consideration phase

While influencer campaigns are a paid opportunity (influencer rate range from product exchange to $1 million per post), there are public relations and brand opportunities and implications as well. While you might not be able to spend $1,500 per post, you should seriously balance the PR and brand implications.

Working with an influencer is NOT the same as placing an ad, so we also wanted to share our best practices for a  influencer campaign.

Get Crystal Clear on Your KPIs BEFORE Reaching Out to Influencers

If your consumer goods influencer campaign objective is SEO value as opposed to brand awareness, those are actually very different campaigns. They are both relevant.  Who you work with will be different. The number of influencers you work with will be different. How you CHOOSE the influencers might be different.  But even if you’re doing an influencer campaign for SEO value, we beg you to consider the brand implications.

For many CPG brands, their brand may be their most valuable asset, so treating the brand with long-term implications in mind is essential to the longevity or value of the brand. From a brand building and cannabis PR perspective, for MOST brands, our perspective is to go deep, rather than wide with cannabis social media influencers.  The biggest reason this is our typical approach is because of the importance of repeated exposure. This is PARTICULARLY important to emerging CPG brands whose other marketing initiatives are constrained.

Influencer Campaign Success #1:  Choose Your  Influencer Partners Carefully

No matter what strategy you apply to your influencer campaign, align with influencers who align with your brand. If you’re a wellness brand, maybe partnering with an influencer whose feed is about their last party isn’t natural synergy, the influencer’s audience may not receive your product well.

Why is a wellness driven product doing an influencer campaign with influencers aligned with party culture? Why not align with a nurse, a yogi, and a marathon runner? It’s jarring for customers to see inconsistent messages and creates brand confusion. Getting brand awareness is hard enough to do when you act with brand clarity, why make it harder on yourself?

Instead of looking at followers, look at engagement & reply rates. But dig a little deeper on those engagement rates, they should be consistent with typical engagement. If your influencer has 10,000 followers and 3,000 likes and 1,500 comments, that’s a red flag and suggests automation. On the other hand, if your influencer has 700 posts and 35 million followers, that’s disjointed as well. For context, as of this writing Kylie Jenner has 42M U.S. followers (164M globally), of which 1.2M are evaluated as authentic U.S. engagers, according to HypeAuditor. Is it POSSIBLE that they reached 35 million followers over 700 posts? Yes, but there must have been a viral trigger, so look to see what that could be.

Take a careful look at the other brands the influencer has worked with and see how they align with you. Have they worked with your competitors? Is that an advantage or a disadvantage?

Since this is likely a paid relationship, you should also be evaluating their overall professionalism. How thoughtful and eye-catching is the content, how professional is their response to your inquiry?

Ruthlessly review their past content for any red flags that could cause your brand problems, and also consider ways to mutually separate in case of a brand clash in the future.

If you follow the other steps below, this stage is incredibly important.

Build a Relationship with the Influencer Before Your Influencer Campaign

Note I keep referring to social media influencers as partners. Treat them as such, treat them as humans. Social media influencers will have an emotional response to how they are treated and no matter how professional they are, how you treat them impacts the outcome. That’s because the POWER of influencers is in the PERSONAL.

Why undermine the most valuable part of the partnership? Why not turn that influencer into an actual advocate?

By inspiring your cannabis influencer, you can bet they’ll have an easier time inspiring their followers and creating content that’s consistent for both brands. Meet with the influencer if you can, engage with them as they’re experiencing the product for the first time.

Explain your favorite aspects of the product/brand and discuss your brand values and vision, so the influencer can align their value systems and genuinely connect with the brand.

This more personal relationship approach is something 90% of influencer campaigns lack, and it shows.

Another reason to build a relationship with a brand influencer is to review how you’ll mutually handle it if the account is shut down during the campaign or afterward.

Allow The Influencer Creative Freedom & Voice

Effective  influencers have their own style of content and voice, you’re likely attracted to that style and voice – let then keep it. Influencers are master content creators, they see the world through a lens that sparks enthusiasm by their followers. A great influencer will happily develop content ideas that meet your objectives, while also reinforcing both brands. This content will put a fresh spin on your brand.

Collaboration magic happens when two brands align in such a way that it seems absolutely natural. Collaborating WITH the  influencer on content as opposed to directing or scripting the content enables to you leverage the influencer’s own brand while also enhancing yours.

Know FTC Guidelines

Make sure to review FTC guidelines on disclosure. This is especially important because it’s almost always the brand who the FTC investigates. The brand has more skin in the game, so the brand needs to be the enforcer.

Because of continuing conversations with colleagues, brands, and influencers, I wanted to put some guidelines together for based on the FTC’s native advertising guidelines or influencer disclosure.

The FTC has shot some arrows over the bow in the last several years regarding native advertising disclosure, including calling out Warner Bros. and Lord and Taylor.

In both cases, the brand was held liable, not the influencers or content creators, strongly signaling that it’s the brand’s responsibility to ensure disclosure. But, the FTC native advertising guidelines make it clear: ” …the FTC has taken action against other parties who helped create deceptive advertising content – for example, ad agencies and operators of affiliate advertising networks.  Everyone who participates directly or indirectly in creating or presenting native ads should make sure that ads don’t mislead consumers about their commercial nature.”

Basically, no one is off the hook.

As if by magic, the FTC slapped 45 celebrity influencers with warning letters but didn’t forget to include their agents and the brands – in total 90 letters were issued about the FTC native advertising guidelines. It’s safe to say this isn’t going away. It’s always been best practice, but if you didn’t take it seriously before, it’s time to do so now.

My view is this: disclosure and transparency are good for all.

A brand should have no shame about showcasing its products and experiences in a real life scenario. Influencers shouldn’t have shame either, because working with a brand is a badge of honor. It’s a real compliment to a community that a brand values their eyeballs. If you’re ashamed of working with a particular brand or influencer, perhaps you’re working with the wrong partner.

Often times when I have conversations about disclosure with brands and influencers, I get questions like “what if…we do….”

Whether you are a brand or an influencer, if you’re asking questions about how to get around these guidelines, you’re on the wrong track. The guidelines make it very clear: make it obvious to an uneducated viewer that there is a material relationship (basically, anything which might effect the outcome of the endorsement). Influencers are often concerned about “selling out” their community. As an influencer, if you’re making a living from your community with native advertising and you’re not disclosing those relationships, you’re REALLY selling them out.

The Edelman Trust Barometer makes it clear: trust is in crisis. 

Establishing trust and adhering to guidelines is necessary for native advertising and influencer relations to continue. If trust is eroded the FTC guidelines won’t be at fault for the collapse of social native advertising.

So here are the guidelines based on reading hundreds of pages including all of the FTC links provided below.


When do social media influencers need to disclose a relationship with a brand?

Always.

Does this apply to me?

Yes.

Why does it matter?

The FTC says it does.
Consumer trust is important to all of us. 

How do I disclose?

Make it “clear and conspicuous” and leave no doubt.


If you want to read through the FTC’s own words on this:

FTC Native Advertising Guideline Resources

.com Disclosures (2013)

Native Advertising: A Guide For Business

FTC Endorsement Guidelines: What People Are Asking (2015)

The Lord & Taylor Disclosure Case-FTC Blog (2015)

The Warner Bros Disclosure Case-FTC Blog (2015)

Enforcement Policy Statement On Deceptively Formatted Ads (2015)

 

Marketing to influencers and advocates is all the rage, fueled in large part by social media.
But if you’ve ever developed a campaign with influencers and/or advocates, you know it can be filled with land mines.
Part of that is what inspires advocates and influencers is different.
In the my last post about Captivation Motivations, I shared with you the secret driver you’ve already heard of behind so many of our snap decisions and just BARELY touched on rewards and lures.
But they’re actually super closely related to what’s behind our fastest decisions to click, like, join, sign up or buy.
If you’ve played an app or computer game anytime in the last 7 years, you’ve probably noticed that these games are getting more and addictive (eh, em, Candy Crush anyone?).
It’s not just better graphics and faster speeds that are making these games addictive, it’s the deeper understanding of what really motivates people to continue playing and one of those is the power of rewards.

I’m going to get to the secret successful games use in a minute, but first, I want to share something else with you.
If you’re thinking of running a give away, a promotion or even thinking of starting an app, you want to keep reading.
If you’re using digital and social media to market your brand (and I know you are), you’ll want to keep reading.
What I’m about to share with you is particularly important and will ultimately, make or break your product or promotion and even marketing relationships with influencers and advocates.

 

You Scratch My Back…Carefully.

The last time someone bought you lunch, I bet your parting words were “It’s on me next time!”
You probably said it without asking where you might go or checking your bank account or even your calendar.
You just blurted it out.
The truth is, we’re hard wired to return favors.
Think about that for a minute.
We are deeply, sincerely uncomfortable when we think we need to return a favor. Next time you run a promotion on Facebook, do a test. Ask people to like the page BEFORE entering the contest and compare that to the results if you ask AFTER you’ve given them something, even if it’s just a chance to win.
Chances are you’ll find that if you ask AFTERwards, your conversion percentage goes way up AND those people remain engaged for longer.
This is because lures trigger our sense of reciprocity.

Want to hear an old school example of this?
Ever received mailing labels from a nonprofit that you didn’t ask for?
Did you know that sending mailing labels with a request for a donation has been shown to DOUBLE donations?
And guess what? The average donation is way, way more than the value of the labels.
Why? Because reciprocity is a compelling motivation and it comes with a quirk: what we give in exchange for what we received has very little to do with the financial value of either.
You give something, ANYTHING of some value without placing a value on it, the reciprocity trigger kicks in.
This is the idea behind successful content marketing.

 

Why You Should Never Pay Your Advocates

There’s a lot of discussion today about influencer and advocate marketing.
Lures and rewards are different.
Lures give without the expectation on the givers part of receiving anything in return. That triggers reciprocity by the receiver.
Rewards are given with the expectation of the receiver to get something in exchange, so no sense reciprocity is triggered.

Rewards (generally) kill reciprocity, but they can create habits if done correctly (like training your dog).
But it’s extremely difficult for marketers to get the consistency required to create a habit. Hell, it’s hard to get the consistency required to create a habit in dog, ask anyone who’s tried.
But marketers can more easily create reciprocity, which is an extremely powerful motivation that rewards do not trigger.
Here’s the rub though: reciprocity has some limitations too.
If you offered rewards to those who were already advocating for you to do the things they were already doing, you’d begin to see that their desire to support you moving forward would be slipping.
That’s because offering a reward on contingency (do this 3X/week and receive that reward) for something someone is ALREADY motivated to do, it decreases the desire.
And unless you understood this motivational fact, you’d probably be left scratching your head about what happened.
Tread lightly with your advocates because the way you show appreciation can actually decrease their motivation if you aren’t careful.

This isn’t to say rewards aren’t effective. They can be very effective.
“Share this and receive that…” you see it all the time. That’s a reward, not a lure.
Again, ask my dogs. They know if they do something, there’s a good chance there’s a treat in it for them. That’s a reward, they’ve been conditioned to expect it.
Rewards can be very powerful tools for increasing reach.
It creates increased reach by those who AREN’T your advocates and depending on your strategy, that can be very important.
Just don’t confuse people you give a reward to as an advocate.

Time: The Biggest Reciprocity Trigger

If you’re really interested in triggering reciprocity, then you should probably do two things:
1) get to know your customer really well
2) think beyond monetary lures (discounts, coupons, even product give-aways).

The reasons for this are two-fold:
Our 90% of the brain (the oldest, largest and most primitive part of our brain) inherently knows that time is more valuable than items.
We inherently value experiences (millennials especially) more than items, so although the default is often a coupon or discount, experiences are more highly valued.
Receiving an experience from a product or brand increases reciprocity. So if you use an experience as a reward, you can trigger reciprocity.
But to offer an experience that is highly valued, you really have to know your customer. What YOU think your customer values maybe completely different than what they actually value.
In the last post, we talked about information seeking as a dopamine trigger, but it can also be a reward. So can mastery – this is the essence of gamification. Becoming good at something is it’s own reward and the longer we spend on achieving that reward, the more we value it.
Again, what your customers value may be something else all together: inclusion in a tribe, recognition or status.
All these things can be valuable rewards AND lures for brands.

The other thing to understand is that placing a distinct financial value on a lure (or a reward) kinks up the perceived value.
Let me give you an example:
If I invited you to dinner at my house for a homemade dinner that was wonderful (of course it would be FABULOUS), but then I spent all night talking about how much I spent on buying the ingredients of the dinner, two things would happen. 1) you would view the dinner as a sum of parts rather than it’s whole value of time, effort and community and 2) you probably wouldn’t feel a sense of reciprocity at all, no matter how fabulous the dinner was.
Don’t force your influencers OR your advocates to view your rewards or lures as a sum of parts by involving money too heavily; it kills goodwill AND reciprocity.
If you’re going to use rewards or lures, remember, make it something the customer values and think about how to make more valuable than money.

Here’s the bottom line: use rewards for influencers and lures for advocates.

Can you think of a time when a marketing strategy with lures or rewards turned you off? Share them with me here or in social media, it’s a fascinating discussion I love hearing about.

 

 

About the Captivation Motivations:

The Captivation Motivations are all built around what I call our “other 90%” of our brain. The part of our brain that is the oldest and most developed part of our brain.

I didn’t make up the Captivation Motivations, I’ve simply been studying them and their effects for the last four years. I’ve been testing them in my strategies and tactics, reading and writing about them.
Simply put, these motivations are not some flash-in-the-pan-do-whats-trendy-now strategy, these are strategies which trigger reactions from the oldest part of our brain.  Over the last few years, more and more has been understood about these motivations. But one thing is clear: despite the fact that these motivations developed in the earliest days of humanity’s survival of the fittest experiences, these motivations are very much alive and well today. What triggers them in the modern world is just different than what triggered them in our earliest evolutionary days.