With lockdowns starting to ease, businesses are trying to navigate the new norm. Budgets are unlikely to bounce back quickly, forcing departments to look carefully at their spending. As B2B companies are reconsidering their sales and product strategies in a post-COVID world, there are opportunities for them to re-think how they deliver their marketing messages and realign their marketing budgets argues Jamie Kightley, head of client services at IBA International.
He warns B2B marketers that the days of five-figure monthly agency retainers are gone. They will have to follow a new paradigm to achieve PR and marketing success.
During the coronavirus pandemic whole markets changed their focus – making ventilators rather than floor cleaners or
, gourmet restaurant chains making up food boxes for frontline workers, organisations going entirely digital or managing operations using remote assistance. The stories are legion.
An opportunity to reassess communications strategies
The ‘post-COVID-19’ business re-think has now begun. It isn’t just operations that will change due to the impact of the virus. With budget cuts affecting departments across organisations, communications budgets will also need a re-think. Everyone will want to get back to ‘business as usual’ as soon as possible, but budgets will not instantly return to previous levels, and without the same financial resources, many organisations will struggle to return to high-fee agencies.
Changes in current marketing circumstances are here to stay
However a company has chosen to navigate the pandemic until now, it will need to adjust its communications strategy to align with new budgets so it can take advantage of new business opportunities — or make up for any that were lost. Some companies may want to seize new opportunities after the virus and pivot to new markets and geographies where they see potential. For them, commissioning multiple agencies for global outreach while operating on a considerably smaller budget is a pipedream.
Companies will start to look more closely into the money they are spending on agencies charging high retainers – a
$10k to $15K
monthly fee is usually just a starter before they get on to special projects – and begin to look for results. Media monitoring, social and influencer engagement, a lead generation pipeline and prospect account nurturing are usually costly extras. In the post-pandemic market environment results will matter – organisations will be looking intently into the value of their investments and spending five-figure sums on retainer fees will be a distant reality.
Turn your own communications department into a PR hub
Many organisations re-evaluating their communications strategy may even be questioning whether they want to continue to outsource their PR support. The big figure budget might simply not be there to fund recruiting a PR agency – or a bad experience with a previous agency may mean an organisation is starting to think about taking back control of their PR efforts. Managing PR campaigns without the expertise of an agency may not be for everyone, but if companies re-think their approach and put in place a content ‘hub’ strategy, they can run successful global campaigns from an in-house department. Maybe they then only have to outsource their outreach.
Organisations that have opted to take PR into their own hands first need to establish their high-level overarching messages for their campaigns – sometimes easier said than done but in the aftermath of COVID, my experience is that companies are now particularly focused on their key messages and markets, and have a heightened awareness of their key geographies. Then if they want the flexibility to fast-track into new vertical markets and geographies, it is merely a case of localising or adapting content before pitching. There is just no need to produce net new content. Simply repurpose. Pitching and placing might require specialist help but priced by the deliverable and by geography with placement metrics, this is something B2B marketers can easily monitor and manage.
We’re in a digital world, but the big agencies are still in bricks and mortar
If you cannot resource a change in strategy in-house, then be selective about the agency you choose. Remember, you need to re-stock your sales pipeline and this will come from PR articles delivered and placed in key influencer journals, not from hours logged on a time sheet. Crucially, achieving pre-COVID PR and marketing activity levels, and executing global campaigns successfully to support sales teams, will depend on a B2B organisation’s choice to pay for PR support by the finished deliverable – be that an article, blog post or white paper – and not the hour.
And don’t forget the press release. The big agencies all rely on wire services which send out copy to get machine pickups. Lots of background noise but no real media engagement achieved. But the press release has a
. If you get the news proposition right, and hang on all the ‘hidden agendas’ messaging you can, then send your release direct to the inbox of a journalist in your target media. This will set the foundations for a good ‘conversation’ with a key influencer for your future thought leadership placements. Newswires will never open this door for you.
In our evolving digital world, it is possible for an agency to offer campaign support in a range of geographies and vertical markets from a single hub. You don’t need to turn to a PR agency with offices in every one of their target countries – multiple teams in multiple offices mean multiple retainer costs, not to mention more chances of message dilution.
Using an agency with a global outreach hub can cost a fraction of the large retainer cost. By moving away from hours worked to PR items delivered, organisations can return to pre-COVID PR activity levels at a third of the cost. Yes, you must still rely on the quality of the agency staff, but if you pay by the deliverable and set strict placement metrics, you will have transparency and ability to manage the success of this part of your marketing strategy.
Efficient and committed campaign support
Outside of costing less, switching to a hub-based approach, whether in house or with an agency, has the added benefit of streamlined processes. No multiple teams spread across different geographies and time zones working in siloes. You control operations through one office or one internal department.
Cutting out multiple middlemen guarantees faster results due to the efficient nature of a smaller team – and a Single Point of Contact who is accountable for results rather than for logging in hours on a time sheet.
A golden opportunity to turn disruption into business opportunity
B2B organisations have had to be innovative during the pandemic and re-think how they operate – and more importantly how and where they spend their money. Moving to a deliverables-based and results-driven marketing strategy that controls global campaigns from a single hub at a fraction of the administration and cost makes perfect sense in a post-COVID world. Leaner, fitter and focussed on results.