PR, Marketing & Publicity – The Future is Lean

Making pr and marketing affordable, accessible, transparent & measurable for entrepreneurs

A few years ago I started to think about a better way for entrepreneurs to get access to, use and measure the value of PR, marketing & publicity. How could I help entrepreneurs use PR and marketing in order to grow their businesses?

I did what all budding entrepreneurs do – and looked for inspiration and best practice from existing businesses.

I was an early champion of lean startup methodology so I started experimenting with it and applying it to PR, marketing and publicity.  I’ve also been a fan of Alex Osterwalder’s approach to business model generation and testing and his use of visual tools. 

During more than a decade working with small and mid-size PR agencies I’d seen the problems first hand; the traditional media relations programmes didn’t provide what early-stage and small businesses needed.

  • You needed $20k – $30k just to get started
  • Activity levels were based on available budget not strategy
  • Agencies didn’t explained the strategy behind their activity plan – often because there wasn’t one
  • Agencies acted as gatekeepers between them and the journalists they had pitched so they didn’t even have a relationship with key reporters
  • Lessons learned from the process were not shared to help improve future outcomes

Entrepreneurs spent thousands of dollars and crossed their fingers, hoping for a return on their investments. Most were disappointed with the results – even those for whom their agencies delivered ‘awareness’.

Having paid thousands of dollars, many entrepreneurs had nothing of tangible value to show for their investment.

Lean Startup + PR, Marketing and Publicity

Having used the lean startup methodology and Alex’s Business Model Canvas to experiment with business models for two companies I founded, it appeared to provide a system for testing and learning what works. I wanted to see whether it would work in the same way when applied to communications disciplines.

The core components

The first thing we did was to break down the process into the three component parts and create a canvas for each – public relations, marketing and publicity. We created a fourth canvas that allows relationships to be mapped. The canvases would allow for information to be gathered and reviewed, for experiments to be run to validate risky PR & marketing assumptions and for outcomes to be measured against clear commercial goals.

Starting at the beginning

The first thing we looked at was how to measure the success of a communications strategy.  Without clarity on the desired outcome, nothing else matters.

For startups and small businesses this seemed straightforward.  Did the strategy achieve the next commercial goal (not necessarily something measured in dollars & cents) or market milestone? Yes, or no?  Now, how do you measure the success of the various components to reduce waste?

First, you require a logical workflow and clear definitions.  COMMS.BAR Founder Lyndon Johnson  and his team have created The Lean Communications Methodology™ and Framework™

Core Disciplines

PR is all about building and maintaining relationships, so measuring relationship strength made sense as a measure of PR success. Are key relationships stronger or weaker as a result of what is being done?

Marketing is all about compelling people to take an action.  What if we measured whether a specified group of people took a defined action? It’s a yes or no answer.

Publicity is about awareness.  Rather than measuring reach, what if we measured whether key people understood a message, product or service? It’s easier than measuring awareness en masse and can be linked directly to the achievement of the desired outcome.


Key Relationship Mapping Canvas™

The key relationship mapping canvas is designed to identify the key relationships needed in order to achieve a specific commercial outcome. In the top left of the canvas entrepreneurs write a specific, reasonable and measurable goal that can be measured within the next 90 days.

With this in mind, they identify the people who are critical to achieving it. Experimenting with the canvas has shown that there are between 6 – 10 people who are central to achieving each goal. The names or titles (CIO, CMO, etc.) of these people are put into the large central circles.

Having identified the key relationships it is important to benchmark their strength. The scale is 0 – 10. A zero relationship means no existing relationship; a 10 is a relationship where somebody will will do what you ask them without question. Once each relationship has been benchmarked a second score is given to each person based on the strength required to get them to take the specific action you’re going to be asking them to take.

The next step is to find people who are mutual contacts. Who within your existing network has an existing relationship with the people in the centre circles? Can they help you build or strengthen your relationships with those key people?

This canvas can also be used for targeted publicity, where people you already have a relationship with [key influencers] are placed in the centre circles and people like them, who have a need for your product or service, can be identified.

Lean Public Relations Canvas™

Having identified the key people, the next step is to develop strategies that will help strengthen relationships with those people. The canvas allows information to be gathered, assumptions to be tested and progress measured.

The Lean public relations canvas provides all of the information necessary to create and test effective PR strategies. It looks at the assumptions on which you are basing strategic decisions and create and test a hypothesis. The canvas also allows controlled experiments to be run in order to validate or disprove them.

Experiments can be run in one of four areas to find out whether assumptions around the key relationships, mutual benefit, timing & communications channel are correct. Once all assumptions in each area are validated, a campaign can be developed allowing you to build relationships at scale.

We included a ‘Riskiest Assumption’ cell – the thing that will cause your PR strategy to fail first.  It ensures that this remains front and centre of everything you do. Unless you prove this assumption to be true nothing else you do will matter.

Product Marketing Fit Canvas™

Having built key relationships to the point where they are actionable – they will do what you ask them to do, willingly.  Getting people to take a commercially valuable action is one of the biggest challenges for startups and small businesses.  Much of the focus of marketing in recent years is about clicks, likes or shares which, for the most part, have little commercial value.

In many cases even if the call to action (CTA) is right, there are other elements that contribute to the failure of marketing – price, place, and promotion. The largest cause of marketing failure, one which Ryan Holiday has said is the one that entrepreneurs don’t want to talk about, is that the product is wrong.

The Product Marketing Fit Canvas™ provides a framework for testing key marketing assumptions. It gathers and organizes information, identifies assumptions and uses experiments in order to validate or disprove them. It allows entrepreneurs to run product marketing fit experiments to find out what works and what doesn’t.

By getting to the truth – and ensuring Product Marketing Fit™ – campaigns can be designed based around truths, rather than assumptions.

Lean Publicity Canvas™

The traditional thinking is that the media is an effective tool for raising awareness. The problem is that there is one potential point of failure – if the people you want to see a piece of media coverage don’t see it the coverage delivers no value. It’s also the one thing that entrepreneurs have absolutely no control over.

In a world where top stories on the most popular websites are rotated every 15 minutes, the chances of the right people seeing yours are diminishing.

The Lean Publicity Canvas™ is designed to help entrepreneurs identify the media outlets most likely to get their story in front of the right people. It will also help figure out the story that needs to appear in order to get the desired commercial outcome, rather than simply generate ‘awareness’.

When you have identified your riskiest publicity assumption you’re ready to run your first publicity experiment.

The Fastest Way to Find The Truth

The Lean Communications Framework breaks communications strategy down in to its core components. It uses experiments to validate assumptions the  in order to find the fastest route to the truth.  The Lean Communications Canvases reduce wasted time, human resources and, most importantly for early-stage and small businesses, cash flow and enable strategies to be developed that are designed to achieve a specific commercial goal and allows progress to be measured at every stage.

Key relationships strength can be measured to ensure that you are always strengthening these critical relationships. If you are weakening them you can identify that fact in order to take steps to remedy the situation.

The willingness of key people or groups to take commercially valuable actions can be measured using the Lean Communications Framework. If key people are not willing or have no authority to take the action you need them to, you can address the problem.

Awareness only matters if it is with the people you need to be aware of your product or service.

The Lean Communications Framework reinvents PR, marketing and publicity for startups & small businesses – making it affordable, accessible, transparent & measurable.


Download The Lean Communications Framework™ today in order to start building, testing and measuring public relations & marketing to find what moves your organization forward.

Tagged With: , , , , , , ,