Most mid-sized to large ad agencies don't just have their own in-house PR—they also retain third-party firms to help raise awareness via earned media placements. These communications professionals pitch the agencies' work and its leadership to trade publications and beyond with the ultimate goal of winning new business. Like many PR operations, they sometimes struggle to prove ROI to their clients.
Matt Van Hoven didn't think that was quite good enough, so he and his partner Hollie Rapello launched Raven Public Relations in Nashville, Tenn. earlier this month. The pair, who both worked extensively in the agency world, believe that adding paid media to the agency comms equation will be a key differentiator.
In short, scoring a mention or feature in a top trade publication does not guarantee that brand marketers and other key parties will take notice. So Raven pays for targeted digital placements on networks like LinkedIn, Facebook and Snapchat as well as other publications to better ensure a return on that coverage.
"From a business growth perspective, press is worth nothing to agencies if the right people don't see it—brands, procurement, journalists and talent," Van Hoven told Adweek. "Meanwhile, they're paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to earn media and then either hoping potential clients see it before it disappears forever or humble-tweeting the link. It's crazy. No agency would behave this way when launching a campaign for a brand, so why they do it with their own brand makes no sense."
"That's the main reason PR is one of the first departments to get cut when budgets get tight. It's overhead not tied to revenue," Van Hoven said. "We're looking to change that, to bring real value to our clients."
Van Hoven and Rapello have worked in accounts and communications roles at various shops including VaynerMedia, Y&R and Nashville's The Buntin Group. Van Hoven also spent two years editing the blog AgencySpy, which is now an Adweek property.
"I had to break through with stories that weren't being written elsewhere that people would care about," he said regarding his time as AgencySpy editor. "That experience translates well for PR—in a field where there's so many similar stories, thought leadership pieces, speeches etc. you have to be able to stand out."
"This is a universal challenge for advertising agencies," said Rapello, who is also a co-chair of the 4A's PR Committee. "They invest heavily in new business outreach, public relations tactics or both. But they skip a key step in the marketing process, one they themselves would never advocate for the brands they serve: Paid media."
The duo already counts three agencies among its client base (Wondersauce, New Heartland Group and Brandtuitive) and looks to add more.
"I'm not saying our model solves this problem completely," Van Hoven said. "But we're acknowledging it in a very open way and holding ourselves partly accountable for getting clients in front of brands. It's about closing the gap to winning new business."