Why Outcomes Should Matter More Than Impressions to Your PR Agency


Everything matters. Your website, your logo, your branding, your social media, your company newsletter—everything. You won’t get far as a brand or business today without hiring smart, talented people to optimize every single customer touchpoint. And while you can’t optimize everything all at once, you can focus on the things that make a difference.

Now the hard question. What are the things that make a difference?

On the surface this may seem like a no-brainer. But to an experienced marketer or seasoned executive this could be an all-hands-on-deck type of question. The short-sided answer is whatever matters to my boss matters to me. The longer answer is that it depends on your boss.

An easier question to answer is what are the things that don’t make a difference to your customer. Things like awards that nobody has ever heard of, or the billboard that’s right outside your boss’ house that nobody sees, or the year-long redesign of the website that gets almost zero visitors or tanks conversion rates.

First Impressions

These are all real examples of real projects from companies who’ve lost focus. You see it wasn’t that long ago that many PR agencies were wholly focused on impressions instead of outcomes. It’s not entirely PR’s fault. Measuring the impact of a mention in Forbes or an interview with NPR is tough. But customers want ROI, so we gave it to them in a way that made sense at first. 

But measuring impressions alone becomes a race to the bottom. And thanks to the cutthroat nature of the business, it wasn’t long before agencies were paying journalists for mentions literally anywhere on a tier one publication. So instead of chasing leads and lining up interviews, they were bribing freelance writers. 

Impressions are important because they can help us measure success, but they’re really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to weighing the value of PR. 

Airbnb’s Pre-IPO panic

Look at Airbnb for example. In 2020, as the company prepared for an IPO, the unthinkable happened. A global pandemic forced billions inside for the foreseeable future. In a few weeks time, all flights were canceled, cruise ships were docked and the entire travel industry came to a screeching halt. 

Brian Chesky, Co-founder and CEO of Airbnb was faced with a tough decision–ignore the pandemic and lose billions of dollars on marketing to no one, or call an audible and salvage Q2 profits. He slashed a $1.14bn marketing budget down to a fraction of the previous year’s spend. But before he could turn it back on, something miraculous happened.

According to Chesky, “Even before we started resuming our marketing spend, our traffic levels came back to 95% of the traffic levels of 2019 without any marketing spend.” With hundreds of millions of dollars in performance marketing budget cut (aka paid ads and sponsorships), website traffic was nearly untouched.

As a result, Airbnb is never returning to pre-COVID levels of paid media spend. Instead, they’ve opted to invest in what’s working at each stage of the customer’s journey.

“Our marketing plan, therefore, is the following,” said Chesky, “a full-funnel marketing approach. The top of the funnel is actually PR.”

Outcomes over everything.

It’s easy to cite this example from a well known disruptor, like Airbnb, and act as if since they’re investing in PR then everyone should. That’s not the takeaway here. The takeaway is that Airbnb knows that getting impressions is only the first step. If no one comes to your website after seeing you on the homepage of Techcrunch, then what’s the point of getting on the homepage of Techcrunch?  Because every other Saas wants to be?

The real takeaway is to not let past experience determine the future. You know your business better than anyone. And while asking experts can be therapeutic, that doesn’t mean it should be prescriptive. We’ve learned over the years that every business, industry, and outcome is unique. What works for Airbnb, Shopify, and Square won’t necessarily work for your business at the current stage. If you’d like to get an unbiased opinion from an experienced PR agency, N6A can help

Honestly, you aren’t Airbnb (but if you are—hi, we’d love to talk). So you’ll likely want to focus on different outcomes. But the lesson Brian Chesky learned is applicable to any executive or business owner—evaluate what is working and invest in that. Know your business inside and out and have the guts to make tough calls in the interest of your employees and customers.


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