Square pegs can fit in round holes
A Skyscanner PR journey into growth
By Victoria Bailie
Embedding consumer PR into a growth structure might seem slightly incongruous. How could growth hackers, focused on lean agile tests and driving measurable metrics, understand where PR could add value? Here are a few thoughts on what has enabled PR to come through its growth journey unscathed and stronger!
1. We are data informed rather than data-driven
This is an important distinction. Growth teams risk getting caught up in the mindset of ‘If I can’t see an immediate impact in GA, then there’s no value in doing it.’ While we run lean tests and measure where we can, our north star company metric is focused on the next 12 months. We’re therefore more than comfortable investing time in activities which don’t see an immediate direct impact on AARRR metrics.
2. We decentralised and disbanded PR as a function
One of the first steps we took was to disband the PR team. PR Managers moved into country squads and we moved away from a ‘push model’ starting with PR ideas and campaigns and offering them to markets. Instead we adopted a ‘pull model’ whereby we start with the country goals and then come up with ideas across channels to deliver against those goals.
As a functional lead this involved a transition from a role directing strategy to one of enablement. That’s not an easy transition to make but it’s proved the right one. My role now is about ensuring squads have the support, guidance and training they need, whether through regular creative ideas meets, drop in support sessions or 121 squad meetings. It’s also enabled me to free up time to run other projects, proving you can teach an old dog new tricks!
3. We multi-skilled and emphasised a growth mindset over a PR mindset
Two years ago we had a team of international PR Managers, today we have a team of growth hackers with a PR specialism able to turn their hand to SEO, social, newsletter campaigns, data analysis, running lean product experiments, running markets in some instances and even adding coding to their repertoire. Having a greater understanding of pre and post funnel marketing levers has enabled us to be more focused on where the PR channel can help to amplify our message to consumers. This change in skillset has not only involved great training support from within the business but a willingness to embrace change and continually learn and develop new skills.
4. We measure what we can but we don’t tie ourselves in knots about what we can’t measure
We have adapted the ‘Barcelona Principles’ to ensure we are data-informed in how we approach PR at Skyscanner:
- Goal setting and measurement should be used for any PR or comms activity
- We should measure outcomes not outputs
- The effect on business results should be measured where possible
- Media measurement requires quality and quantity metrics to be applied
- Transparency and replicability are key — we can’t pick and choose different measurements to get the results we want to see
- We shouldn’t measure PR only in isolation but look at the amplification of our messages across earned and owned media channels
5. We look at direct metrics where we can but we don’t obsess when we can’t
Typically a start-up might analyse the impact of PR by running a campaign and simply assessing the change in direct traffic before and after. When you have over 50 million unique monthly visitors and a host of paid and unpaid growth activity and product tests running at any one time, this isn’t quite so simple. We do find the following useful however:
- We apply direct metrics in our nascent markets as mini start-ups in their own right
- Major broadcast coverage is the exception where we can still analyse direct traffic impact
- Links and especially back links give us the opportunity to measure referrals
Skyscanner Growth is looking to start a Growth hacks newsletter, sign up for that to get resources and inspiration on how to apply metrics to your marketing activity.
6. We focus on what matters
As a runner I often hear people after a tough training session say ‘I’m just going to run a few extra miles to take my total mileage for the week up to (an arbitrary round number they have come up with).’ Do these ‘junk miles’ help their race performance? No. Is it a vanity metric and a waste of time? Most likely yes.
In PR we don’t chance vanity metrics such as coverage volumes (or god forbid AVEs). We only comment in the media where we have a relevant viewpoint to offer and our PR activity aims to tell consumers a little about who we are and how we can help them. This might mean we do less activity than we did say two years ago, but what we do is of high quality and makes an impact.
7. We use PR to tell our story
Everything we do is focused on telling our current and future customers about who we are and how we can help them. We’re ultimately about story telling. As Seth Godin puts it more eloquently than I could: “PR is the strategic crafting of your story. It’s the focused examination of your interactions and tactics and products and pricing that, when combined, determine what and how people talk about you.”
Embedding PR into a growth structure hasn’t always been an easy journey and, at times I have wondered if we were trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. However, we’re now in a position where the quality of PR we are doing across our markets is far higher and is more tailored to the specific consumer needs of each country. Ultimately though we are still on the journey and it will continue to evolve.
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About the author
Hi my name’s Vik and I’m a Principal Growth Manager at Skyscanner. It’ll be no surprise from reading this post to know that my key role over the past few years has been in leading the corporate and consumer PR function. While I’m still involved in enabling markets to make best use of PR, I also manage operations for the EMEA growth tribe and am making the most of the opportunities at Skyscanner to get involved in various growth projects.