In the traditional sense, a marketing approach is usually used to drive sales and a PR strategy is used to build and maintain a positive reputation for a company. The PRCA states that PR is "all about the way organisations communicate with the public, promote themselves, and build positive reputation and public image". Whilst the two disciplines continue serve different functions, the components are far more intertwined today. But how can PR play a part in driving those all-important sales for your business?
You might be leading the way with innovative, industry-leading products and services but unless customers know who you are and where to find you it's all for nothing. Without effective external communications, your sales funnel will suffer, and competitors can use this to their advantage.
It's time to look at how you're currently seeking sales and the ways you're communicating with current and prospective customers.
Enhance the organic presence of your brand
You probably already have a website and perhaps a blog. You may be targeting potential customers directly through email marketing and perhaps you've set aside budget to place some ads. PR is a powerful communication tool which can align with these tactics to drive organic growth. For example, people may start to become more aware of your brand through your blog and paid ads on social and traditional media. PR tactics will then enhance the organic presence of your brand through proactive social media posts and earned media.
Earned media is defined as any publicity not generated by a company but by customers, social media followers, bloggers, or journalists. By definition this type of publicity enhances your credibility as it's rooted through respected third parties, rather than through your own channels.
Three key drivers behind a purchase decision
Put yourself in the mind of your customer for a moment. Ask yourself what you would look for in a company before making a purchase?
Trust, reputation and a product or service that really delivers are three of the key drivers. PR is an effective way of delivering these messages, but its power lies in the subtlety of the approach. The goal is to give customers the chance to discover your brand, arm them with the information they need (this is where strong corporate messaging is needed) and then allow them to make a purchase in their own time. Some clever and timely marketing tactics are also needed to make sure that it's as easy as possible to make the purchase once they decide to do so.
Create a positive emotional response that links to your brand
The most effective PR campaigns are those that offer quality insights or advice without asking for anything in return. Providing something of real value to the customer will evoke a positive emotional response. The goal is that this positive response is then connected with your brand, building awareness along with trust and credibility. Better still, if a customer deems your advice of high enough quality to then share it amongst their contacts, the exposure for your brand is multiplied.
PR can help to increase sales in many different ways, but here is a snapshot of an effective PR strategy including the key tactics used and the process to take to get it right:
1. Get your targeting spot-on
Whether you serve other businesses or consumers, having a targeted approach will ensure that your PR budget is spent effectively. Focus on your key customers. If they are consumers, it can be helpful to think of them according to specific personas; this includes age, sex, job role, hobbies, or areas of interest. By building up a demographic picture, you can then tier the audiences and focus PR activities accordingly. For example, you can dedicate most of your budget on the audience most likely to make a purchase with bursts of activity on those audiences that are not yet engaged. Tiering your audience will also help when it comes to measuring the effectiveness of PR.
If you're a b2b organisation, you may already have a clear idea of the businesses that your products or services benefit. But which individuals make the purchasing decision? What products are they currently using? What problems are they currently facing? Building up a picture of the industry you work in may take a degree of market research. However, it's time and money well spent if you can then focus your PR and marketing budget in the right place.
2. Make your message clear
The foundation of a PR and marketing strategy should be aligned around some clearly defined messages. If you're not clear what these are, your strategy will lack focus and it will take longer for your customers to build a relationship with your brand. A messaging session can solidify these messages; starting with who you are, what your company does, and how it delivers it. All PR and marketing efforts should be based around these key messages.
3. Build trust and reputation
Once you're clear on who you're targeting and where you fit in to the overall solution, now it's time for PR delivery; to communicate with your target audience. Having your company and its products and services shared through trusted media titles can do wonders for your reputation. To increase opportunities for your audience to see your brand, the focus should be on the quality of your content and how engaging it is. Levels of engagement can be determined in different ways; it can improve their knowledge on a topic and create a positive relationship with your brand in the process, it can encourage someone to find out more about your company or even change the way it perceives your company.
A PR strategy will ideally align with a marketing strategy to maximise any paid ad spend, webinars, events, white papers, or social media campaigns. It will do this through PR materials such as press releases, opinion articles, case studies, news hijacking, award submissions and speaker slots. Remember, the rule of seven states that it takes an average of seven interactions with your brand before a purchase is made.
4. Measure and set objectives
It's true that its incredibly difficult to put an individual sale down to a particular PR tactic. That being said, PR shouldn't be done for the sake of it. The best way to measure PR is a combination of credibility of media reached (ie website or print circulation), the domain authority of the website, audience targeted (tier one or tier two etc), number of marketing messages included in content and call to action (for example back link to your website or contact details). If you can measure this against an increase in website traffic or SEO over time it is a good indication of how PR is performing and how the audience is responding to your brand.
Whilst PR shouldn't be viewed solely as a sales engine, as part of a wider marketing mix PR can be a powerful way to increase the sales funnel. It creates more opportunities to connect with an audience through your business stories and thought leadership, creates a solid reputation, and can even influence the way that people think about your business. Although it is not necessarily a direct sales route, the subtle persuasive power of PR can play a huge part in purchase decisions.
Copyright 2021. Article was made possible by site supporter Lis Anderson, director of AMBITIOUS PR, winners of Best PR Agency at The Drum's RAR Awards in 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021.