Over the last five years, a troubling conversation about the (perceived) insignificance of public relations has gotten louder and louder. Amid the ever-changing landscapes of media and business, some say public relations is old hat—a relic of an earlier time, when print media reigned, press releases were king, and “smile and dial” phone pitching was an effective media outreach tactic.
Certainly, many aspects of the field and practice of PR have shifted. While some changes have been for the better (I never particularly enjoyed delivering pre-rehearsed phone pitches myself), others have created immense challenges for both PR professionals and the clients they serve.
Especially when it comes to PR for business-to-business (B2B) companies, extolling the value of a comprehensive PR strategy is only getting harder. B2B executives are rarely eager to allocate big budgets to public relations—often perceiving PR as an expensive cost center, driven by vanity metrics and disconnected from the business development and sales functions of the organization.
In addition, many C-level stakeholders feel that allocating significant dollars to the marketing accounting bucket is enough of an investment to ‘cover’ public relations, too—even without a defined PR strategy or agency partner.After all, the thinking goes, good publicity is simply a byproduct of good business. Right?
As PR professionals, we know otherwise. As my agency, ThinkInk, outlines in a new downloadable resource, worthwhile B2B PR is all about earning results—results that change perceptions, shape opinions, drive brand preferences, and create new business opportunities.
Yet when outlining the value of PR to clients and other audiences, we often focus only on the results we can quantify. In spite of their middling relevance, we shift the discussion right back to our most-measured metrics: ad value, earned media placements, and our collective favorite, impressions.
Impressions have served our industry well for a long time. As the digital world has expanded exponentially, so have the numbers of viewers we supposedly “impress” with every client press release, mention, or media hit. But be it 500,000 or 5 billion impressions, the totals we tally aren’t really that impressive (pun intended) from a B2B executive’s perspective.
While impressions account for the total number of eyeballs on an article or other media item, they don’t account for much else. Unless they’re mapped to more specific performance indicators—like website traffic—or are tied to larger lead generation efforts, impressions have little connection to business outcomes.
Therein lies the issue leading some stakeholders to view PR as irrelevant. Resources are thin for B2B and enterprise-serving companies; most care primarily about growing their margins, and believe PR detracts from that as a cost center. To earn a percentage of a company’s annual budget, every initiative needs to support revenue growth—and PR is no exception.
As smart PR professionals readily understand, effective B2B public relations supports revenue growth in a variety of ways. When executed through a thoughtful strategy, integrated with the goals of the entire organization (not just marketing), public relations:
- Drives Targeted Awareness: The more PR exposure a company gets, the broader its visibility becomes. But the only individuals who need to be aware of a B2B company are those who will, or should, care about the business. Targeted, business-focused PR puts a company in front of its most relevant audience of potential customers (or the media and analysts who influence them). If not, what is the point?
- Establishes and Builds Credibility. Even as the digital media landscape expands, third-party coverage from a blog, media outlet, or publication provides a level of external validation that companies can’t earn on their own. Press mentions and analyst coverage show that a company is worth paying attention to, helping bolster the credibility of the business and its products or services.
- Defines a Reputation. No company can entirely control how outsiders view and perceive their brand, but PR is the best tool for driving the narrative. By pushing out messaging that supports their value proposition and vision, a B2B organization can cultivate a reputation that matches its mission.
- Educates and Informs. Customers don’t inherently know if (or why) a company is relevant unless they’re told – and PR tells that story. Especially when supported by and integrated with smart content marketing efforts, PR enlightens the market to not just what the business offers, but why it matters.
Ultimately, enlightening B2B stakeholders to the value of PR requires shifting the discussion away from impressions and other vanity metrics and on to the business goals and objectives those measurements are meant to support. The key is driving impactful outcomes aligned with specific business initiatives – such as generating new leads, establishing new partnerships, shortening sales cycles, or winning new business.
As our favorite (albeit fictional) agency head Don Draper used to put it, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” Amid talks of insignificance, it’s up to us to turn the conversation about B2B PR into one about its high-value business impact.
Vanessa Horwell is Chief Strategy Officer of ThinkInk, a specialist agency serving companies across the advertising, airline, loyalty, mobile, payments, and travel sectors.