May 4, 2022
Finding value where others have not: PR’s Moneyball moment
“If we try to play like the Yankees in here, we’re going to lose to ‘em out there.” – Moneyball
What’s the goal? In chess, it’s to checkmate your opponent. In baseball, it’s to win games. In Public Relations, the goals vary – to build awareness, earn trust, drive sales, etc. – but every PR campaign does start with a goal.
That’s the thing about the goal: it’s the easy part. Once established, the next steps get interesting. What’s the best strategy to achieve the goal? What tools give us the best chance of success? How do we get there?
In the almost two centuries since the first ball players started playing baseball, the goal has remained the same but the game has changed drastically. What once began as a backyard game with a yarn-and-leather ball and a bat made from excess lumber, is now a multibillion-dollar industry with 100 MPH fastballs, acrobatic catches, and more data generated from a single pitch than could be stored on the computer that took us to the moon.
But one simple truth that hasn’t changed is that there are big-market teams and small-market teams, each with a corresponding budget to manage its roster. Every team has the same access to the MLB draft, but as players perform better and win, they command a bigger payday. As is often the case, All-Stars and MVP’s sign big contracts with large market teams, leaving the small market teams to go back to the drawing board and rebuild.
So what can the small-market teams do? There’s a famous line in the based-on-a-true-story movie Moneyball, where the Oakland A’s are trying to figure out how to replace their All-Star first baseman Jason Giambi, who they just lost to the deep-pocketed Yankees. As the coaches review their options, it becomes clear that there isn’t another Giambi out there. Even if there were, the A’s couldn’t afford him. Over the chatter of disappointment, General Manager Billy Beane remarks, “if we try to play like the Yankees in here, we’re going to lose to ‘em out there,” pointing to the empty ballpark.
Billy wanted to win. That was his goal. Billy (along with assistant Paul DePodesta) figured out that in order to win, his strategy couldn’t be to buy players; he needed to buy wins. In order to buy wins, he needed to buy runs.
Billy knew the A’s weren’t the Yankees. But if they could use sophisticated statistics to put together a roster of players that consistently got on base and put runs on the scoreboard, the A’s could be a contender. By looking at draft picks through this lens and bringing in players that the rest of the league had undervalued, the A’s might actually make the playoffs. That’s exactly what they did, and the advanced data analysis whose usage they pioneered still drives strategy in the MLB today.
I think about Moneyball a lot when I think about what we’re doing at Memo. There will always be opportunities to buy a big splashy ad or hire a top-tier influencer if your wallets are deep enough. But does that always achieve the goal? Even so, is that a sustainable approach?
The good thing is, it doesn’t matter. Whether you’re a Fortune 100 or a nimble startup, new data means the PR playbook is changing – you just have to start thinking like Billy Beane. Instead of aiming for volume of press hits, aim for volume of readership. Instead of optimizing for potential reach, optimize for real reach. Instead of monitoring passing likes on social, monitor true engagement with an article. Memo’s publisher-direct readership data enables all of this.
No matter the goal of your PR campaign, readership provides the north star to what’s resonating, what’s not, and how to build a roster of tactics that others in your field have overlooked.
Baseball isn’t played with scrap yarn and lumber anymore, and the PR function of tomorrow won’t look like the PR function of today. Memo is here to help you change the game.