How Can PR Make an Impact?

The efforts of your PR team can decide whether your company’s actions make a real impact by appearing in top media. Some companies underestimate the importance of public relations and assume the media will write about their company’s actions even without input from their communications team. While this does happen at times, what these leaders fail to understand is that their competitors are fighting for the same column inches and space on top websites.

In 2019, developments in the U.S. banking industry provided a clear example of how a more significant effort from a communications team can make a huge impact on the company’s coverage.

Background: Divestments from Private Prisons

Banks provided lines of credit to major operators of private prisons and detention facilities for decades, but that mostly came to an end in 2019. Following controversy surrounding the conditions at immigrant detention facilities, private prison companies drew further scrutiny and it became clear that they depended on funds from major banks for survival. This led to protests against the banks involved through late 2018 and much of 2019. Eventually, most major banks bowed to activist pressure and divested from the private prison industry. Since they’d been getting bad press around their policies for a long time, these banks drew largely positive reactions from the decision to divest. Presumably, the banks all wanted to promote their new practices to benefit from the positive media coverage.

Differing Approaches to Communication

While this movement impacted the entire industry, we focused our analysis on coverage of three of the largest banks: JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo. All three changed their policies in the first half of 2019 and they had varied methods of publicizing the decision:

Bank of America’s team set up an interview with Bloomberg for bank Vice Chair Anne Finucane, who discussed the decision as well as the bank’s decision-making process.

JPMorgan Chase had a communications leader send email a statement to the press highlighting the decision.

Wells Fargo included a small note in their annual Business Standards Report but didn’t highlight this change during the promotion of the report, in other press releases, or public statements.

Measuring the Impact of Policy Decisions

PublicRelay gathered and analyzed media coverage from top publications and Twitter to assess the impact of these decisions. We found that the differing approaches led to significantly different results, with the greatest effort yielding the best results:

Bank of America saw more than double the media coverage of JPMorgan Chase and more than three times their Twitter mentions in the month following the Bloomberg interview they set up.

JPMorgan Chase generated more than 20 articles about their decision in the month following their statement and received more than eight times the posts on social media that Wells Fargo did.

Wells Fargo received no media coverage about their decision in top publications in the month following the release of their report but did see some minor traction on social media with just over 100 tweets on the topic.

An interview was the most effective strategy and required a significant amount of effort and strong connections with contacts at Bloomberg. The next most effective strategy was sending out an email to the media. While emailing is less intensive than setting up an interview, it still requires knowing who to reach out to and careful message crafting. On the other hand, the least effective strategy, implemented by Wells Fargo, was one that cut the PR professionals out of the process. This strategy resulted in no media coverage and low social media traffic.

What does this Mean for Me?

In a time when communicators feel pressure to prove their impact, it’s important to keep in mind that the actions of a skilled communicator can make a significant impact on the visibility of important company activities. To show your leadership the impact that your communications is making, make sure to carefully track and analyze your media coverage. For a small company, this might be a simple process to handle internally, but if your company appears in multiple articles each day and you’re interested in bench-marking against competitors, you would be best served by working with a company that specializes in media analysis. If you’re interested in learning more about how PublicRelay can help your team show its value, you can get in touch here!