How To…Improve ROI in a Tough Economy

It's an unfortunate reality of business: When the economy takes a turn for the worse, marketing, advertising and public relations are among the first budget items businesses cut. But in tough economic times, it's more important than ever to get business-building marketing messages out there. In fact, difficult economies actually create singular opportunities to reexamine spending and redirect marketing efforts toward tools that maximize return on investment. When competitors withdraw their messages from the marketplace, smart businesses ramp up their marketing efforts to capture greater market share. So what are some winning strategies to improve ROI for PR efforts during tough economic times? Here are two quick tips to get you started: Instead of cutting back on budgets, boost the effectiveness of the PR dollars already being spent. Look for tools that are effective and that offer easily quantifiable, measurable results to make a case for continuing the successful tactics--and therefore budgets to support them. Traditional marketing efforts like print and online PR and advertising will continue to play a role in an overall smart marketing strategy. However, next-generation online marketing tools like pay-per-click advertising, direct e-mail and brand storytelling through lifestyle-type articles can yield higher ROI. What's more, online marketing spending is increasing, even during this period of historic economic uncertainty. Research groups including Forrester, Jupiter Communications Inc., Zenith Optimedia and European Information Technology Observatory all predict continued, significant growth of online marketing in the future. PR pros can use this positive trend to their advantage. Creating a mix of the best of several marketing disciplines serves to strengthen a campaign's deliverables. The old days of treating advertising, interactive and PR like separate entities are over. Today, the most effective tactics are the ones that blend the branding value of advertising, the credibility of PR and the measurability/ROI of online tactics. Brand storytelling in particular can help marketers reach prospects that are not necessarily already looking for what the company has to offer. Brand storytelling relies on time-proven public relations techniques, like compelling headlines and well-crafted, informational copy, to actually generate interest in prospects. Further, their appearance as third-party reporting in trusted media lends credibility to the marketer's message. Brand storytelling not only builds brand identity in the minds of consumers, it can actually create interest in the products or services of the sponsor. As PR professionals well know, in terms of building brand recognition, an article in a credible news medium can generate greater impact than an advertising blitz. Here are four tips for building an integrated campaign that incorporates the best of PR (credibility), advertising (branding) and online (measurability) to help boost ROI during tough economic times: *Consider using hybrid tactics. These days, tactics don't need to be exclusively PR-centric. Consider using proven tactics that blend the control and measurability of advertising with the credibility of PR, like matte releases or brand-focused Web articles that drive traffic to clients' sites on a cost-per-click basis. The pay-for-performance model of Web brand storytelling drives measurable results, while the editorial style of the medium makes the message much more credible and effective. *Outline your objectives and costs. Set clear and measurable goals and determine a maximum allowable marketing cost per inquiry before you move forward. Then, keep an eye out for tactics that allow you to establish spending limits up front, and monitor those costs as the campaign unfolds. *Bob and weave as you go. Don't worry about launching the "perfect" campaign. The Web is an excellent medium for making adjustments as you go. Establish a baseline before you begin, and work to improve upon your current results. Then, during the next campaign, make further improvements. *Measure and assess. Traditional PR campaigns tend to rely on old-fashioned measurements like circulation. Many of today's tactics are far more measurable, allowing you to track response down to the smallest bits of information. But don't overdo it. You can measure nearly everything, but do you need to? Focus on the actionable data that you can use to improve your campaign. Use the data you gather to make decisions about next steps, and redirect resources toward the most effective tactics. PRN CONTACT: This article was written by Scott Severson, president of ARAnet. He can be reached at

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