In the world of PR and marketing, there is an unholy phrase coined a decade or so ago during the halcyon first era of growth marketing, to describe how brands can insert themselves into ongoing conversations and trends and in doing so, spur meteoric growth. I am talking, of course, about “agile marketing,” or, as I like to call it, “complete nonsense.”
The phrase started off innocuously and, in the early 2000s of social brand marketing and CSR activations, it was easy to visualize. “How funny,” you probably remember thinking at some point around 2012, “that fast food restaurant is making raunchy jokes on Twitter.”
But, at some point, the phrase was reappropriated and bastardized by scores of agencies and consultants to sell retainer services to clients who knew no better. And now, for the last decade, we have all been cursed with having to watch as countless defense contractors or SaaS sales tools make hackneyed jokes about Baby Shark and a myriad of other memes or bespoke causes.
The reality, however, is all of that conversation rarely, if ever, leads to brand affinity or new customers. It’s rare that a potential investor is scrolling LinkedIn and says, “Wow, I need to invest in this EdTech startup because of their hilarious take on a TikTok trend.”
So, let us lay to rest the phrase “agile marketing” and instead, consider trying these steps instead:
Building a brand takes a long time. There’s a reason why fans of Apple know they can expect top-notch quality and sleek design in all of the brand’s products, and it’s because the brand has committed to those two virtues for decades with unwavering commitment.
When it comes time to invest in marketing and PR for your startup, it’s important to take as much time as you can at the onset to methodically create brand guidelines and then distill those guidelines into a messaging and PR hierarchy. This hierarchy should be something that remains fairly static and incorporates your brand’s core values in a way that is easy to understand and approachable so that you can signal to everyone outside your company what you stand for and what they can expect from you.
Once you finish the in-depth process of creating that hierarchy, you can then start to look for the right targeted PR and marketing opportunities for your brand to engage with. And our emphasis here is on the adjective “targeted” because ….
Think of your brand’s marketing and PR strategy like someone who has a severe peanut allergy who is also trying to diet for their health.
Like any diet or eating routine, it’s totally fine to sometimes stray from the strictest parameters of your targeted strategy. Sure, you want to eat healthy, but a caramel candy after dinner isn’t going to kill you. That said, a bag of peanut M&M’s for dessert could be fatal for that person.
As such, once you develop your brand messaging and PR hierarchy, your brand should be saying “no” to just as many opportunities as it is saying “yes” to. If a core tenet of your company’s mission is to help reduce the world’s carbon footprint, it would still make sense for your company to run an activation, or message around, Equal Pay Day, as it’s still in the spirit of doing right in the world. That said, having company ambassadors fly across the world to speak at a conference would likely be ill-advised.
Now that you have a brand messaging and PR hierarchy, and you’re in the routine of knowing what to say no to opportunities that don’t fit your company, you should embrace the aforementioned “agility” in how you execute.
If you’re in EdTech and studies are being released that have data points that speak to your product’s value proposition for students, your PR team should be working expediently, around the clock, to get your company in front of the right journalists and business influencers.
Simultaneously, your agency should be responding in real-time to the efforts that are having the most success for your company and looking to expand those. If your company’s founder does particularly well presenting at a trade show, your PR agency should be pitching ways to get that founder in a live conversation in front of important figures in your industry and the media that covers it.
These steps are just a few basic guidelines to keep in mind when you’re engaging in marketing and PR for your company, regardless of what stage the company is in. In order to fully maximize your external growth, it’s important to work with agency partners that maintain this mindset to maximize long-term value without sacrificing short-term wins. Remember, nothing worth having comes easy, and the quickness to act without a plan is just rushing into a mistake.