Are PR case studies worthwhile?

Dec 08, 2016

It’s almost a new year, and many brands are reviewing PR firms and consultants for potential outside support. At the same time, agencies are coming off hiring freezes and on the hunt for A-list talent to bolster their roster.

In many cases, they’re all looking for that "wow factor" in terms of credentials and experience. Firms and people with resumes that boast award-winning campaigns that broke the Internet. People with connections to the top media and influencers in their space.

And when they hire based on that criteria, there is a good chance they are setting themselves up for disappointment.

I often hear from friends who lament having hired an agency or employee because of their impressive credentials in terms of brand history, but were later disappointed when they didn’t deliver the same results for them. During the vetting process, they were shown case studies or told about campaigns that were nothing short of extraordinary. Brands and projects we all wish we could have been a part of.

And that is the issue.

Case studies are not indicative of future success. They are often subjective history lessons that leave out some critical notes and answers to questions we sometimes forget to ask.

Your award-winning case study is not relevant to most brands and clients

Earlier this year I received an invitation by one of our beloved public relations organizations to hear about an “award-winning campaign” that generated more than 1,000 media placements and six billion impressions. PR gold.

Or is it fool’s gold?

I wouldn’t say I was clickbaited, but if I’d known what the campaign was before I looked into it, I’d have simply moved on. Turns out that I’d seen results from this campaign before and while very impressive, not relevant for most brands.

The short story is that the campaign surrounded a groundbreaking stunt of the kind which had never been done before.

The long story is that the level of resources needed to produce that single stunt – not even considering the fee required for the agency – was massive. I doubt many mid-sized firms have a client that would put that budget towards a single execution. The stunt was so incredible that it would have been hard not to get coverage for it.

Self-awareness should be key in your vetting process

When hiring, whether it’s an agency or internal employee, you should look for experience and examples relevant to your brand or the stature of your client. Don’t become starstruck.

It’s easy to build relationships with journalists when you have something with considerable media appeal already built in. It’s much harder when you don’t.

And when that media appeal goes away, those relationships just won’t matter as much.

For example, if Apple releases iPhone compatible contact lenses or Red Bull were to open the first surf park on the moon, those things will bleed media attention.

Now truthfully, is your brand the Apple of your industry? Does your client have the resources of Red Bull?

If the answer to either question is no, then I’d suggest you ask for case studies or work anecdotes touching on the following topics.

The budget crunch

Is your budget modest compared to the competition? Or perhaps, even meager?

Ask for examples of successful projects executed with resources similar to what you have access to.

Show me something hard to do

This can build off of the budget crunch example, but it doesn’t have to. Simply put, ask how they overcame a challenge.

Underdog, over achiever

It’s great that someone secured 500 million impressions for the next version of a brand’s industry leading product. But is that relevant to you if out of the top 10 brands in the space, yours is number 11?

Humble Pie, aka Talk about What Hasn’t Worked:

Not every campaign is going to be as successful as we’d have hoped. Dive into one where expectations weren’t met and why.

These are all the things that I ask for examples of when we’re interviewing potential team members. While my career has allowed me to work with some market leaders and ground breaking startups, I’ll be the first to tell you that not every brand has the luxury of being a market leader or ground breaking technology.

The best PR professionals and agencies and people aren’t the ones that can find ways to deliver, regardless of the brand’s reputation or budget.

What questions do you ask when vetting a PR agency or contractor?

Bill Byrne is a veteran PR pro with a diverse range of experience, including work with leading snowboard brands, startups, financial entities, tech products, general consumer goods, along with both craft and macro beer brands. A former NYC agency guy, he spent years in the Manhattan offices of Cohn & Wolfe and PainePR before eventually co-founding Remedy Communications in San Diego.

Photo via Pixabay

About the author

PR & social media veteran. Serious disdain for people who marketing "gurus" & "ninjas". Director @RemedyPR, podcaster at @The_ByrneNotice San Diego via NYC.

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