In the mystifying world of PR, it's hard to tell what works. Some people say a campaign run by an army of PR liaisons is a complete waste of money; others say its "critical" to success. Of course the reality is somewhere in between. But, especially for companies with limited funds, it can be difficult to decide just how much to invest in PR—until now.
AirPR, which has been described as the "Omniture of PR," tracks the performance of PR efforts at a granular level. Its Analyst product quantifies the success of a campaign by measuring web traffic, the number of articles written, social media conversion, and how online interactions drive sales. In other words, it helps companies measure outcomes of press releases and funding announcements in actual dollars.
Much like Chartbeat's insights have helped media companies refine their headlines and Twitter strategies, AirPR, through tracking more than 200,000 articles, has discovered some secrets to PR success, which it has shared exclusively with Fast Company. Here are some useful tips for PR professionals, companies trying to use press to their advantage, and journalists covering companies.
Traffic on websites spikes at 5 a.m. EST and 8 a.m. EST, even though half as many articles get published during those times than at 4 p.m. EST. (Who are these freaks getting up to read the news that early?) People also, more predictably, read a lot during the 12 o'clock lunch hour. Instead of setting that embargo for 4 p.m. EST—not really sure the logic of that time-stamp anyway, AirPR's data suggest publishing either at or before 8, or around noon. (Note the time stamp on this post.)
Big bumps in readership happen on Mondays and Wednesdays. People are too busy actually working on Tuesdays to read, it seems. And Fridays? Fridays basically don't exist on the Internet. (Which is one reason companies often release damaging news late on a Friday afternoon, like no one will notice.) "Publishers treat Friday as if it is any other day of the week, but in reality Friday sees very little traffic to content," said Leta Soza, a PR engineer at AirPR. The most optimal time to pitch news stories are Mondays and Wednesdays, either first thing in the morning, or in time for lunch on the East Coast.
Relying on media alone to tell a story can be tricky (says the journalist). Unless working with certain press-release regurgitation outlets, you will definitely not get the spin of your choosing. Lucky for companies, a company blog can drive a lot of traffic and sales—when done right. AirPR's blog, for example, is one of the top three referral sources for its business. A given post on the site can drive as much traffic as something coming from traditional media, and 9% of AirPR's inbound traffic comes from its own blog—that's not insignificant.
It's a little difficult for a company to ask a journalist to pen an article of a certain length, but media professionals, take note: posts between 1,000 and 2,000 words drive the most traffic, and result in the social media attention. Engagement drops off at 4,000 words and picks back up at 5,000, which is interesting. Maybe after 5,000 something crosses from "TL;DR" territory to the coveted #longread.
Many companies measure PR efforts cumulatively, which tends to result in a misleading exponential curve: More articles over time equals success. However, AirPR suggests businesses look at their PR strategies as snapshots in time. How does one PR effort, blog post, or news article look at a given moment? If done right, PR should result in what the company calls a heartbeat visual—steady spikes of conversation, pictured above. It's theoretically possible for a super-star company to have constant spikes, but from the organizations that AirPR monitors, the pattern tends to look more like a heartbeat. Those bursts of chatter drive awareness about your company, and ultimately result in sales.
What proven PR tactics have worked for you? Tell us in the comments.