Why playing the long game in PR reaps its rewards

In what remain very uncertain times, you may be forgiven for grasping hold of every piece of positive news.

One such ray of sunlight for anyone working in marketing and PR came in the latest IPA Bellwether Report, a quarterly survey outlining companies’ marketing spend intentions and financial confidence.

According to the report, for the second quarter of 2021 total UK marketing budgets expanded for the first time since the fourth quarter of 2019, bringing to an end five consecutive quarters of cuts to overall marketing spend. As well as being the first quarter of expansion since Q4 2019, it was the sharpest increase since the beginning of 2019.

Three specific categories of marketing spend saw expansions: PR, which had a net balance of +1.8% of growth in expenditure; main media, with a net balance of +1.3% of businesses increasing budgets; and direct marketing, which recorded a +0.7% uptick in budgets.

Booming tech sector

The picture is perhaps even more rosy for marketeers in the tech sector, which is experiencing record levels of investment. In the first six months of 2021 technology start-ups raised nearly $300 billion globally, almost as much as in the whole of 2020. That money helped add 136 new unicorns between April and June alone, a quarterly record, according to CB Insights.

The suggestion that marketeers are now ready to ‘splash the cash’ is clearly music to the ears of PR agencies. Despite the relative buoyancy of the tech industry, many marketing pros were forced to reprioritise in the wake of the pandemic. For some, this meant reducing spend on the types of services typically offered by PR agencies.

Yet while some firms saw PR as ‘low hanging fruit’ – easy pickings in the pandemic harvest – others regarded this as short-sighted. Call it optimism, call it stupidity if you must, but some tech firms looked beyond the crisis, realising that while turning off the PR taps would allow budget to be spent elsewhere, the long-term impact of turning down the external volume would be far more costly.

New research from the LinkedIn B2B Institute supports this claim. According to the report, companies change their providers of services such as banking, legal advice, software or telecoms around every five years. This means that only 20% are in the market for those services in a given year and just 5% in a given quarter. The other 95% are not in the market at all.

Report author Professor John Dawes of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute argues that the research cements the fact that brand familiarity is ‘super-important’: “To grow a brand, you need to advertise to people who aren’t in the market now, so that when they do enter the market your brand is one they are familiar with.”

The power of brand awareness

Global head of the LinkedIn B2B Institute, Jann Martin Schwarz, agrees, arguing that the B2B sector often concentrates too hard on sales without really understanding brand: “If your boss tells you ‘I want all of our marketing initiatives to show a positive ROI within the next two months’ you’ve lost the game before you’ve even started it.”

One of the first questions we ask a potential new client is “how long are you looking to run a PR campaign for?” All too often we hear “well, I’d just like a three-month trial to see if it works” or “perhaps we could see if a two-month campaign will drive sales”. Yes, there are certainly tactics we can implement which are likely to result in an increase in short-term brand awareness and potentially drive traffic to your website. But our message is always: if you want to use PR to really move the needle, to really deliver long-term and measurable positive impact for your business, you have to think beyond a short-term campaign.

Building brand awareness among your target audience – the start of every buyer journey – takes time. PR is a proven method of achieving that awareness, helping brands build strong emotional affinity with their target audience by promoting a consistent narrative through tactics such as media relations. They key word is ‘consistent’: a regular flow of messages to build trust so that when the prospective customers arrives at the ‘consideration’ stage of the buying journey, yours is one of the companies that they will turn to.

As Schwarz says: “We all know from real life how much trust and confidence in a brand is important. And how it is about building memory structures in the long term.”

To learn more about how Babel can help your company build brand awareness, and how we help you measure the impact of PR, get in touch.

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