Q&A with Sarah Evans: Business Is Always Personal, Even in the Age of Martech and Big Customer Data
What is the biggest change transforming PR and marketing? It might just be the easy availability of data, something Sarah Evans, a recognized expert in PR and marketing, say is “both exciting and scary.” And, she says, even with marketing automation and high-tech PR tools, business is still fundamentally personal. She explores the trends that continue to radically alter the PR and marketing world in 2020 and beyond, as she describes in the following Q&A.
PR, Marketing and Martech: A Q&A with Sarah Evans
Treasure Data: What underlying philosophy guides your PR and brand marketing?
Sarah: This one is easy, because I spend time, daily, reflecting on it to make the best decisions and recommendations for my clients. Here are the three guiding thoughts for my work:
1. Don’t make promises based on emotion. It’s easy to say the words, and then reality kicks in when you:
- Cannot deliver
- Are no longer interested
It’s a quick way to lose the trust of others. Set reasonable expectations to see real returns.
2. While people spend their time complaining about things that don’t work, spend your time on things that do. Don’t get lost in the loophole of negativity and naysaying.
3. People say “It’s not personal; it’s business.” The truth is it’s the opposite.
Think about the last time someone introduced you to a business contact. “I have a friend who works at [company] who I’d love you to meet.”
The idea is personal. The intro is personal.
It’s not business; it’s personal.
Treasure Data: You graduated with a degree in Communications and PR in 2002—not that long ago. But in digital years, that’s a lifetime. Has PR really changed in a fundamental way since then? Or is it the same discipline with new tools and tactics?
Sarah: That’s a big question, and I hope I’m equipped to answer it. I will say, tactically, my functions are 100 percent different than from my first job. For example, I used to manually search through print copies of local, regional, and national print publications for employer mentions and then do ad equivalency calculations.
We still faxed press releases when I first started. It’s crazy to think of how far we’ve come. Now, I start my day by checking trending topics, visiting news aggregator sites and email compilations I’ve set up. I get detailed reports from software to alert me of news, trends, insights, etc.
Fundamentally, I do believe PR has also changed since I first started. While we were about getting people to “keep coming back” (versus marketing which got people in the door) we, ironically, didn’t have as much “public touch.”
There was no social media to think about. Most of what we communicated was via a third-party or random internal touchpoints. Now we have the capability to have an ongoing dialogue. Our customers and the general public can insert themselves into brands—for the good and the bad of it. The entire strategic vision has changed. Crisis communications plans include social media crisis response. Online stakeholders are included in campaigns and other opportunities.
Treasure Data: Do you think PR is a stand-alone discipline now? Or is it part of the marketing department?
Sarah: We. Need. Everyone. It’s a multi-departmental obligation to view oneself as an extension of the PR team. Every major player, from executives to front line employees, is part of the brand—especially with the emergence of social media. Even if an employee isn’t specifically mentioning your company or brand on social media, others may still view everything they say as a reflection on your brand.
Furthermore, silo campaigns don’t work any longer. If you put out any sort of promise via a communication channel, and can’t deliver on it at every stage in the customer’s experience, then it’s a huge loss. You lose trust. You lose the customer. You lose money.
Think of PR as a team sport, where different people are on the field at different times, but everyone is cheering for the same thing: A victory.
Treasure Data: How has the availability of data changed PR and brand marketing?
Sarah: It’s mind-blowing.
The most valuable “currency” we have right now is data—and it’s both exciting and scary.
I will say that there is still a delicate balance between the art and science of public relations. All the data in the world doesn’t miraculously make you great, but what you do with it can. There are also the very important factors of ingenuity, creativity, and time.
The data does, however, offer us multiple opportunities to:
- Identify important missteps in the brand life cycle.
- Create a solid offline and online experience.
- Stay on top of trends and breaking topics/news as they begin.
- Analyze what works and what doesn’t.
- And more, more, more.
Treasure Data: How should it change these fields? Where are you seeing the most missed potential?
Sarah: Great question! To be honest, I struggle with data overload at times, just like many of my peers. What I would like to see most is the democratization of data—less private, more public so we can all do better. While it may be a pipe dream, we can all do better with more.
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