The (Unrequited) Love Affair Between PR and Sales

It’s the same old love song popularized by Janet Jackson in 1986: “What have you done for me lately?” Sometimes it feels to those in the PR world that they’re consistently trying to prove value in a monetary, quantitative way. But because they’re in the business of credibility and trust – they are balancing two things that cannot be directly measured with a solid line to sales growth. Or can they?

PR practitioners have struggled forever to show more than just a dotted line from their largely behind-the-scenes efforts to actual growth in sales leads. Unlike an ad placed in a publication with a tailored 800-number, for example, it can be difficult to determine exactly how many prospects contact a company’s sales department as a direct result of a story placement. Successes can’t be bought (hence the term “earned media.”) I think it’s safe to say that we collectively all strongly know that there IS a clear link between PR and lead generation. But since PR folks are in the business of credibility and trust – they are faced with two things that cannot be directly measured with a solid line to sales growth.

Or can they? There are things we can point out to companies as more than just anecdotal evidence that investing in a strategic PR program boosts a company’s bottom line:

  • Analyst Relations: Analyst reports and quotes provide great value to the lead generation process. Having your brand included in an analyst report provides an opportunity to use that report in every sales meeting as clear confirmation of the company’s credibility.
  • Case Studies/Testimonials: Happy customers create more happy customers. The ability to show what you’ve accomplished for other companies stimulates the desire to work with you. People want to be like their peers. And while most of the time it can be like pulling teeth to get a customer to agree, working closely with the sales teams to tease out a strong testimonial can be worth its weight in sales gold.
  • Public Recognition: The power of a good mention, no matter how brief, in an outlet like CNN, Wall Street Journal or the top trade publication is worth more in credibility than any banner ad.
  • News Drumbeat: Perception is reality. A company that has a regular cadence of public news (executives speaking at events, press releases pushed out, awards won, etc.) gives the perception that it’s a successful, growing organization, moving at a consistent clip. It’s a no-brainer that a target customer would choose a company like that vs. one who hasn’t issued a press release in six months and seems stalled.
  • Executive Credibility: A core part of many PR programs is gaining public visibility for the company’s top executives. When the CEO speaks at an industry event, or the CTO has a bylined article published in an industry publication, it gives executives credibility – which leads to customer and investor attention. It’s natural that people want to work with the best. Here’s a great example of this theory in action: we were hired to lead a social media campaign for a CEO with a mere 12 LinkedIn contacts. Through daily postings, active engagement and proactive monitoring of key trends and topics, today that same CEO has nearly 5,000 LinkedIn connections, the majority of which are C-level executives. So what? The link from his public social media activity and actual business leads is solid: the company experienced a lift of roughly $200,000 in new business coming directly from those LinkedIn contacts.
  • Social Responsibility: Consumers (and remember that every business person is also a consumer) are increasingly picky about which companies with whom they choose to do business. Studies in recent years confirm that consumers are “willing to spend more money on your brand if they consider you a meaningful brand. For every 10% increase in meaningfulness, a brand can increase its purchase and repurchase intent by 6% and price premiums by 10.4%.”[1] Therefore, a PR strategy that includes a Corporate Social Responsibility program – giving back to your local and/or business communities in a meaningful way – undoubtedly has a direct link to sales.

One way that a PR team can more effectively link its efforts to sales is by making a stronger effort to understand the company’s sales process, targets and goals. At the very beginning of a relationship, you should be asking the sales team why they win business . . . and why they lose it? What are customers asking for that we can definitely deliver (or cannot)? Who is the target audience vs. the target buyer (it’s rarely the same person)? Knowing the answers to these questions can help determine what is communicated, when and to whom. Sales goals should inform every aspect of the PR game.

In conclusion, it’s true that PR is often measured by the amount of media coverage received for a company – the “thud” factor. But because PR influences what your public is thinking, seeing and hearing, even the most jaded business professor would agree that there exists a definite link between these elements and sales. It is PR’s job to continue pointing that out . . . proving our love by showing them what we’ve done for them lately.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/may/01/samsung-ikea-meaninful-brands-google-visa-microsoft-havas

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