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How PR drives sales

“Public relations can be one of the biggest drivers to help jumpstart a business’s sales,” says Tom Pavey-Smith, account manager at PR firm Lansons, which is why it is so intrinsic to a company’s success. Pavey-Smith explains:  “Managing a business’s reputation and strengthening the awareness of its own corporate story across multiple channels is essential in any company’s ability to not only appeal to its target customer base, but to also stand-out from the crowd.”

A constant commitment

Reputation is so valuable that it must be constantly managed, and this means every minute of the day. Pavey-Smith says: “In the past, businesses relied heavily on word of mouth to help drive their reputations, however in this day and age of a 24-hour news cycle, businesses need to ensure it is managed on a constant basis, with the commercial benefits hopefully bearing fruit as a result of this.”

Crunching the numbers

But clients want to see exactly how their investment in PR leads to increased sales, and this can be hard to prove. As Adam Barber, managing director at agency Tamarindo Communications, says: “For years, focused PR briefs have wrestled with the concept of quantifying return on investment through complex coverage metrics and editorial analysis. Every year, a vast amount of cash still gets poured back into trying to tackle this – and an industry of metric and evaluation firms has been built up as a result. This is still especially true in the consumer, technology and financial services sector.”

The importance of in-bound

Barber believes that focusing so heavily on such stats is missing the point, and what really matters is integration: “Based on our own experience of working throughout the international energy markets, we’ve found that when PR campaigns are developed in conjunction with a pre-existing, wider, inbound content marketing strategy – the link between public relations and lead generation becomes increasingly clear. Put another way, through integrating both strategies, you get far closer to drawing a direct link between editorial placement and a pre-qualified sales enquiry.

“We have found that as the importance placed on implementing an effective PR campaign keeps moving up the client’s new business agenda, there’s an increasing acceptance that the two disciplines – PR and inbound content marketing – must work together.However, Barber points out that this only succeeds if PR executives, both agency-side and in-house, appreciate what inbound marketing is really all about. He worries this is not the case: “My fear at the moment, is that once you’ve scratched the surface, few do...”

The good news is that as long as PROs appreciate all the elements that lead to sales, their contribution to a business is invaluable (despite being hard to quantify). Below, those involved in B2B and B2C marketing, discuss the differences of communicating to other businesses as opposed to influencing consumers.

B2B versus B2C

Content is king

Errol Jayawardene, head of digital at communications agency Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, says that the key for B2B PROs is to think about creating good quality content at every stage of the sales funnel. “Typically, media relations, social and PPC can help at the awareness stage. Case-studies, remarketing or e-books can help with driving traffic and collecting contact details in the consideration stage. Tactics like video demos, reviews or ‘how to buy’ content nudge buyers in the decision stage. Even post-sale, customer news and speaker opportunities can help with organic leads in the loyalty stage. But no one-size fits all.” 

Jayawardene explains that B2B differs from B2C because there are longer sales cycles and more people and money involved. “You can’t just pop online or in-store to buy a £100k piece of equipment. Even the final decision-maker in a company will be influenced by lots of different people from management, marketing, sales and finance. PR can play a role in delivering messages to all these groups. Plus PROs understand the nuance and emotion around messaging so are well-placed to work with all teams to help deliver strong lead-gen content.”

Set clear objectives

Helen Nesbitt, head of content at communications agency Farrer Kane, discusses what B2B and B2C sales generation have in common: “Whilst there are differences between B2B and B2C marketing – scale and volume of activity are the most obvious – what is common to both when we’re thinking about how PR can contribute to building business is the need to set out really clear goals from the outset. A campaign – whether run via media relations, social media or across any number of communication channels – can only be successful if we set really clear commercial objectives for activity, tied to the priorities for that part of the business.”

“Measurement is key of course – evaluation in PR is a notoriously knotty issue and it can be hard to demonstrate the impact of what we do on the bottom line – but with the right objectives embedded from the start, it’s much easier to show where we’ve made a difference, and test our approach to improve it for next time. By way of an example, when a client asked us to launch a new private clinic and reach out to potential new patients across the West Midlands, we worked with them to identify the most effective way of reaching their market, and at the end of the campaign we could point to stats showing that our media relations campaign had been responsible for at least half of all new patient enquiries to the clinic, helping the business exceed its targets.”

The role of SEO

Talking of measurement, Natalie Lintern, business director at communications agency W, explains the power of SEO: “Even though the days of measuring PR in AVE and clippings have long been numbered, our industry has always proved its value to companies in building share of voice, reputation and consideration. We’re also increasingly playing a vital role in delivering genuine commercial impact and generating new business leads.

“This is particularly the case with .com businesses. More and more digital brands, both B2B and B2C, are looking for an SEO-led approach that harnesses high domain authority coverage with SEO metrics to set tight deliverables – including direct traffic – generated by PR.

“As digital marketing becomes even more sophisticated, PR will continue to thrive as a natural extension of the commercial and organic performance teams to act as the third function of their business plan, reducing paid search expenditure and relegating the outdated AVE for good.”

Use the right language

For Laura Sutherland, head of PR consultancy Aura, one of the important differences in doing B2B and B2C lead-genreation work is how you speak to your audience: “In the case of sustainability, for example, there is a lot of jargon. Consumers don’t understand it or care for it. They just want to know in plain English what you’re saying and why it’s of importance to them.

“On the other hand, for B2B, you need to talk their language and show how the brands are aligned- that’s how you engage them. They are more likely to understand industry terms and phrases.”

It all comes down to giving the customer what they want: “Every audience is different. You need to know where they hang out, what they care about, what they talk about and then develop your strategy from there. No PR strategy can be one size fits all.”

Case study

Chloe Mattbhury, PR consultant at agency Aberfield Communications, describes how the agency helped to contribute to sales for a hotel chain.

“As part of our work with QHotels we used a series of campaigns across conferencing and events (C&E) media to influence event bookers and organisers, which contributed to a 10% rise in C&E enquiries and a 17% rise in web traffic across a 12-month period.

“This was achieved through a range of activities, including the joining of QHotels with a recognised industry body, the HBAA, the creation and publication of an in-depth report on the future of conference and events, as well as the formation of a panel of event professionals. The panel consisted of professionals in the events industry, each with less than five years’ experience, to discuss key industry issues. The panel discussions gave QHotels insight into what bookers were looking for in a venue and informed multiple aspects of the group’s offering from its conferencing packages to its menus.

“The activities resulted in a series of reports, infographics, features, blog posts and social media content, achieving over 40 pieces of coverage, which enabled the group to reach a wider, influential audience of event bookers and ultimately contributed to the significant rise in sales leads.“

PR may be vital for building sales, but it can only succeed if it is promoting a product or service that customers (whether business or consumer) want. So in order not to get the blame for a lack of sales, you have to be confident that anything you are investing time marketing, is worth this investment.

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