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Are sales skills the most important attributes for PROs?

6th March 2013

You may have been attracted into PR because it is a creative, dynamic business, but if you don’t have any sales skills, you may be in the wrong job.

For a start, sales skills are vital for pitching to the media. Some stories sell themselves, such as when a big celebrity is involved, but as Simon Turton, owner of agency Opera PR, says: “If you're working with a regional manufacturer of widgets then you will have to draw on your sales skills (that is, if you are trying to get in titles other than Widgets Weekly).”

Selling, as Turton points out, can be seen as dirty work and PROs may prefer to rely on the brilliance of their press release to hook in journalists. Successful press releases, however, always use sales techniques: “Part of the selling-in process is ensuring that the story passes the 'so what' test so that journalists aren't sent completely irrelevant or vacuous stories.”

Persuading journalists also means understanding them. Turton says: “Selling-in a story is the result of being able to read the journalist and work to their agenda”.

As well as selling in, sales skills are vital for winning new business, client negotiations, media relations and building brand relations through social media. Pamela Lyddon, CEO of digital agency Bright Star Digital, is grateful for the sales training she learnt at Centaur media when she worked on a classified sales team: “The skills I learnt have never been forgotten and are still in use now. Lord Sugar is perfect example of a salesman and look what an entrepreneur and PRO he is!” Lyddon questions that others in PR are easily able to pick up sales techniques, “is there enough time dedicated to training and is sales skills even covered these days? It should be.”

Craig McGill, managing director at PR agency Contently Managed, says that it’s not just sales skills, but business skills that are lacking in many PROs: “I think in part this comes back to many a PRO being unable to (financially) justify what they do. If I earn someone £100,000 profit, it's a lot easier for me to go and demand a pay/fee increase than someone who can't make a business case for PR, or fully sell their abilities into language the boardroom and C-Suite understands.”

Case study

Helen Jane Campbell, consultant at agency Illuminate Communications, describes how her first jobs gave her useful sales skills that are vital in PR:

“As a new graduate my attempts to get into media included selling advertising space at a What's On guide in Wales called Buzz and taking death notices in the Western Mail and Echo newspapers (now known as Media Wales). Speaking to everyone on the phone from a bereaved family, to a funeral director to a music venue owner, prepared me for PR sell-ins of the future as it required extreme levels of sensitivity, excellent communication skills and the ability to remain calm and in control at all times. Of course I did not realise then that I was equipping myself with skills that would come in useful every day in my career. Looking back I suspect that even my holiday job that involved selling ad space to a colonic irrigation company – while sat in a grubby nightclub's office – on behalf of a very early search engine, stood me in good stead for being a capable communicator in the future.”

Three top tips to help you sell

Or rather three ways not to sell. Mark Fineman, senior sales and communication trainer at Natural Training, says these are three behaviours of terrible sales people that you must avoid if you want to win business and persuade journalists.

1. Do not pretend to be selling when you aren‘t. Rubbish sales people spend their days doing the bare minimum and are masters at being busy when someone with authority is in the room. They are good at acting, not working.

2. Do not waste time. Inadequate sales people are masters of being busy doing nothing. They spin their wheels, they smoke, they joke, they find loads of excuses not to sell. I once heard someone say that there is nothing as rare in the world as a sales person who works an eight-hour day. Most of the bad ones work no more than two or three, and that’s on a good day.

3. Learn from your mistakes. Poor sales people repeat their mistakes. That’s because it doesn’t hurt them enough not to sell. Which is really management’s fault!

Written by Daney Parker

Global Reputation Forum

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