Are CMOs missing the PR opportunity?

In the B2B tech marketing world, PR – and earned media – holds an important place in the overall marketing mix. However, what considerations should CMOs be aware of when balancing their owned, earned and paid media strategy? We put 7 quick questions to Julie Karbo, CEO of Karbo Communications, an award-winning U.S. technology PR and marketing agency, about where PR fits in the marketing mix, and whether a good PR campaign can actually drive sales.

1. What should CMOs be prioritizing in their PR strategy?

You need a solid foundation if the house is to stand, so it all starts with effective positioning – including market need/pain, target perceptions, competitive differentiation and compelling trends, to name a few. I find that as you go through the positioning process, your strategy and program path become illuminated. But, because there are so many options in PR now, it’s important to prioritize. Before tactics are chosen you must rank order—verticals, buyers, important seasonal elements, and then the tactics that influence each market segment the most. Earned tactics such as news announcements, opportunistic pitching based on news events or trends, contributed articles, surveys, primary data sharing, case studies, etc. can then be rolled out.

2. How can brands balance their owned, paid and earned media efforts?

PR provides the credibility quotient to the brand. Both earned and paid media are important elements of a fully integrated PR program and part of the emphasis and value placed on content as a whole.

CMOs are cognizant of the value of quality, earned media. For many, the gold standard remains positive feature coverage in the top publications. With earned media it’s all about validation from credible, independent sources.

“For new or stealth companies, an emphasis on owned media will help them craft a specific narrative and position themselves within their market.

For more established companies, a blend of the three will reach a wider audience and allow them to take advantage of social shares/mentions by brand advocates and market influencers.”

Paid content works best when it mirrors the credibility of earned content.
 It has to be trustworthy, not overly promotional and it has to tackle topics that are important to a company’s targeted stakeholders The areas where you have a little more latitude to be promotional are social media, blogs, newsletters, video, and events.

To balance earned, owned and paid media in a full-blown content marketing strategy, CMOs should start with a clear understanding of both the target market (e.g., customer personas and buying patterns) and the brand’s current goals and positioning.

Of course, the exact balance for any company should remain fluid based on the efficacy of each program, changing market goals or dynamics, and any seasonal or opportunistic trends that arise.

3. What are the metrics for PR and earned media? Can a PR campaign drive sales numbers?

For me and most of my clients, the holy grail is the bottom line. We can talk about thought leadership, Share of Voice and Sentiment Score – and those things do have an important role in most programs – but the ultimate ROI measure is how you drive sales. We use Google Analytics to track website traffic, length of time on site, and bounce and conversion rates. We also survey customers and track all the standard metrics that show brand affinity, sentiment and number of impressions.

4. For global enterprises, should CMOs balance the global brand voice with local messaging imperatives?

Absolutely. Global efforts must be localized. While technology has in many ways eliminated geographic borders, almost every key market has its own cultural, physical and intellectual distinctions that should affect how a business approaches that market. I’ve yet to meet the communications pro that knows what it takes to be successful in a widely diverse group of markets. Having local feet on the ground and best of breed boutique agency partners is imperative to long-term success. Having said that, there has to be an established brand voice and centralized strategy that can be modified to take local nuances into consideration. It has to go both ways – great ideas and experience should also travel from the local market back to central command.

5. What role can or should marketing technology play in PR?

Technology has and will continue to play an essential role in PR planning, execution, and measurement. Early on we saw everyone jumping on the technology bandwagon and they really weren’t looking at tools strategically. There are success metrics such as Share of Voice, Sentiment Score, Media Exposure and Potential Reach that are best measured with tools such as Meltwater, Cision, etc. On the other hand, no tool can measure how something like coverage is tracking to a company’s messaging, how competitors are reacting to – and frequently co-opting – that messaging; or how a reporter’s perceptions about a company have evolved over time and how that can be leveraged. This may change as AI technology is integrated into more of our tools, but at this time, human judgment, knowledge, and experience can provide the most accurate analysis.

6. What skills and capabilities should a CMO be looking for in someone responsible for the PR and earned media deliverables?

The CMO should seek the experience and skills that she or he would look for in any good marketing person:

  • Ability to acquire superior results that ultimately drive sales.
  • Strong strategic and analytical marketing abilities
  • Strong verbal and written communication skills
  • Drive corporate and product messaging that differentiates the company against competitors
  • Work with corporate spokespeople to help them develop the communication skills and vision to become respected market experts and leaders
  • Possesses deep editorial and analyst relationships and media and analyst relations skills
  • Can sell ideas, products, people, programs and budgets
  • Ability to think creatively
  • Upholds the highest ethical standards

In addition, the CMO needs to pursue someone who has the fortitude to be honest and forthcoming with executives, even when there is pushback. Top PR and marketing professionals need to function as strategic partners, not echo chambers or sycophants.

7. What trends are you tracking in content marketing, earned media and PR going into 2020?

  • AI and machine learning applications in marketing and PR
  • Better measurement – always
  • New social networks and vehicles for interaction and influence
  • Balancing data analysis with a respect for privacy
  • Impact of IoT on content marketing
  • Values-based marketing and the intersection of social activism/consumerism


More about Julie Karbo

Fun Fact: Julie began her technology marketing career at iconic video game firm Atari in 1981.

With more than 30 years in the technology industry, Julie, an expert in tech PR, has provided positioning, planning and tactical counsel to executives in a wide array of technology areas, including enterprise software, the Internet of Things, Big Data, mobile, advertising tech, e-Commerce, marketing platform, storage, virtualization/cloud, security, social networking/media, Internet infrastructure, networking, Internet television, and consumer electronics.

This piece was originally published in MarTech Advisor on July 25, 2018.