How annoying is it to go to a retailer’s site, look around without any real intention to buy and then be followed around the web for the next month by weak banner ads about products you looked at weeks ago?  I even read a story last month about how “Retargeting Killed Santa”, pointing to tales of family members using the same computer and seeing the retargeting ads of their own presents purchased by another family member. Whoops.

PR Goals

Public Relations is a wonderful tool for getting the word out. I mean, that tracking technology doesn’t know you read a cool story on the company in Fortune and were really looking at making a stock purchase or researching a competitor. Some people have referred to retargeting as:

“The junk mail of the digital age.”

The high school bully of the advertising world”

“One of the worst examples of doing stupid things is retargeting display adverts.”

Or my favorite: “Retargeting is sooo stupid

You get the point…

If you’ve ever dreamily looked at those new Lululemon arrivals online, then you’ve had Lululemon follow you across the Internet, bombarding you with images of all the downward dogs you are missing out on without $90 “bottoms by sensation”. Programmatic, site retargeting, is the overplayed way brands leverage ad exchanges, real-time bidding and data management platforms to support their marketing strategies.

Today’s marketers need to understand how to integrate paid, earned and owned media to manage the perception of the brand without exhausting a potential customer through only one communications medium. An advertising campaign, retargeting or otherwise, is straight up paid for visibility. You know when, where and what will be presented to create the perception around the brand. PR campaigns create credible, earned views. If the right media outlets mention your brand with positive sentiment, it creates a positive perception of the brand. So why don’t people use it more? Oh, because it’s hard. Sometimes, really hard, to get that media placement. 

Public Relations goals typically include:

  • Building and increasing awareness via exposure

  • Developing influence 

  • Positioning

  • Increasing Mindshare

  • Educate target audiences

  • Deliver thought leadership

  • Manage reputation

  • Increase engagement 

  • Increasing sales

These probably don’t sound much different than the digital marketing goals your organization has set, because they aren’t. There are many marketing tools you can use to deliver these goals, using just PR or just digital isn’t enough to generate the brand enthusiasm desired. Oh, and it’s annoying. 

Integrating PR and Retargeting

Since both PR and digital seek to deliver to these goals, both disciplines should be deeply involved in advertising and content marketing planning to identify what is most likely to perform well. Building PR and digital marketing activities into the advertising and content marketing planning process will allow marketing initiatives to deliver the messages and improve marketing performance. For both PR and digital, there can be a measurable effect on sales. Revenue is after all the ultimate goal in most cases.

Retargeting and programmatic advertising are not typically part of a traditional PR practitioners toolkit. (Good thing we aren’t traditional.) Retargeting has been a part of digital marketers’ repertoire for a while, and programmatic advertising is becoming the go-to strategy to drive buying efficiency. Before programmatic ad buying, digital ads were bought and sold by human ad buyers and salespeople, which are expensive and unreliable. Programmatic advertising technology makes the ad buying process more efficient, and therefore cheaper, by removing humans from the process wherever possible. Humans can also be annoying, but apparently not as annoying as retargeting. Plus, no human has ever killed Santa. 

Using Both Strategies

PR can break some of that obvious advertising, creating a more credible and subtle nudge toward an action. It reinforces other marketing elements with a stamp of authenticity. Both strategies should be a big part of a creative PR campaign since they use data to make decisions about how to engage an audience in real time. Programmatic enables us to use data from user behavior and understand the audience we are reaching. Less guesswork, more science – we think our clients want that in their marketing campaigns. 

Marketing spend has a direct impact on an advertising campaign, but when you pay for PR services, you are paying for someone to build that relationship which then determines the quality of earned, credible perception. I can’t think of a PRSA member who has ruined your Christmas present by pre-announcing it in a story placement. “Breaking News: Eliza is getting that Lululemon bag she’s been coveting” has never been a headline delivered directly to you. Yet, retargeting has landed something similar in people’s inboxes (thanks, Amazon). Audiences often think of earned media (PR) as more credible than advertising, but advertising can extend the reach of a campaign. Ideally, you are leveraging both to generate the positive perception of your brand. 

So what is the best use of digital advertising in a PR campaign?

Very few website visitors convert on their first visit. Display retargeting is key to maintaining top-of-mind awareness with prospects while they are comparing prices or still conducting research into your products or services. A PR campaign can drive people to start looking for your product and traffic to your website, but retargeting can minimize the number of people that slip through the cracks, just because they’ve forgotten about your offering while looking at the competition.

This strategy allows you to stay connected and engaged with your audience, which ultimately increases brand recall and conversions by creating additional touch points throughout the whole of your sales funnel. I’m not even sure what I just said, so let me put it this way: Stay top of mind, make sure people remember you, then people will buy from you.

A PR campaign can generate the interest then lead your potential buyer to take the initial action and begin their search. PR is a perfect tool for mapping the message and then driving a substantial amount of content creation to support the message. Digital Marketing is typically focused on developing leads, and content is a critical element to lead generation. If you understand the role content plays in delivering brand awareness and customer acquisition goals – then integrating digital marketing capabilities like retargeting and programmatic make perfect sense. And obviously, PR + digital tools is really the way to go if you want to cut through all the competition.