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Marketing Counterpoint: Why PR Does Help Sales

marketing strategy This blog post is written in reaction to an earlier post “Why PR Doesn’t Drive Sales.” As a transparent company, HubSpot welcomes the views of all of its employees. Some views are widely shared but when there is significant disagreement, a healthy debate is encouraged.

Both new HubSpot employee Christine Huynh, the author of Friday's post “Why PR Doesn’t Drive Sales” , and I have public relations experience, so our views come from years in the trenches (thus the phrase “PR is not pretty’).  However, my view comes from a more "mature" perspective as I am probably 20 years older than Christine, and have been involved with PR my entire sales and marketing career.  While I understand Christine's viewpoint, what I am disagreeing with is the blog post headline "Why PR Doesn't Drive Sales" because I believe PR does, in fact, drive a lot of sales, revenue, brand-building, influence, and visibility.

If PR did not drive sales, modern public relations would not be a part of a company’s communications and marketing efforts.  As an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America and a bonafide believer in the power of PR, I was dismayed by the negative tone of Christine's post. 

In the world of PR, there are a number of different branches – such as Investor Relations PR for publicly-traded companies, and the press office for government agencies and politicos, and community relations etc. For the purpose of this blog post, when I say PR, I am talking about corporate public relations - both B2B and B2C. With this said, let me address Christine’s main issues highlighted in her recent post.

1. There’s no science behind PR success data.

As Christine stated, PR campaigns are often measured by quantity of media coverage. But there are many other measurements now that are a part of PR. Let’s take search for one. A press release has as much value in terms of SEO as it does in terms of clippings. You can measure the links that a press release delivers to your website. Also, any story that appears on the Internet usually comes complete with links to the company, and all of this can be measured.

Six years ago, while running corporate marketing programs at Symmetricom, my 17-person virtual marketing team was trained by Greg Jarboe of SEO-PR , to learn how to create links in press releases and how to create a SEO-optimized landing page associated with each release.  These landing pages all had CTAs and forms for lead capture.  PR was the backbone of our lead gen program.  And, PR's viability was the primary reason my "closed loop marketing" sales team was able to hit their numbers quarter after quarter.  

As a reminder, PR campaigns are often more than just sending out a release and contacting the media. They can be incredibly complex, involving special events, intricate mailings, interactions with microsites and landing pages and so on. Some might call this marketing, but I know many PR professionals who would say that it’s PR. When presenting these campaigns, and they are not cheap, you can bet that there has to be degree of ROI justification.  

2. Sales reps don’t care about Public Relations .

In my experience they not only care about it, they love it. They love going into a store or customer with their product featured in a major magazine. They know that this – a third party endorsement - will nurture that lead better than almost anything else. Furthermore, when a well placed article appears, I’ve actually seen inside sales people swamped with sales calls.

What they don’t like is being surprised.

Where PR makes a mistake is in not advising the sales force that an article is imminent or that a press event is happening. Sales people like to participate in success, and if they feel they know something before the general public does, they generally get behind it more.  Also when there is negative press, salespeople often look to PR professionals for guidance and hope that they can craft and guide the messaging to counter the negativity. 

At HubSpot, we share "HubSpot Love" during our weekly Smarketing meetings so that the sales team can see what is being said about the company.   In addition, we distribute valuable insights to the entire team, thanks to our PR Manager Pam Seiple and Product Evangelism Director, Kirsten Knipp, every time something pops up in the press. 

Integrating Public Relations with Marketing

I completely agree that there absolutely has to be an integration between PR and Marketing . In my experience there usually is.  And, none more so than at HubSpot.  Some PR agencies were slow to pick up on integrating PR with social media, but what I’m seeing is that there is actually a battle for ownership of social media – between PR and marketing agencies. I don’t know too many PR agencies that don’t profess social media marketing expertise. They know it’s critical for their survival.  In reality, social media marketing IS Public Relations. 

While I was CMO of MarketingSherpa (and MarketingExperiments & InTouch ), we spent a lot of time with the PRSA in showing them data about social media and training their membership on the value of incorporate SEO and Social Media into their efforts. 

1. Focus on Content. I agree with this wholeheartedly. But PR professionals have known this from the beginning of their profession. Their job is and always has been to create and influence content, whether it be corporate or third party. If anyone is late to the game on this, it’s marketers.

2. Think Strategy. Ask any PR agency if they think strategically and they will all say “Yes!” They make lots of money thinking strategically. That’s usually when you get the President, Vice President, Account Director, and Senior Account Executive of the agency with you in the same meeting – all billing their hourly rates concurrently. PR should be strategic, for sure, but when hiring an agency, look at their results.  You want people who have the contacts that will open doors and get those interviews. You want those people who know how to get product placements. If you need their input for strategy, my advice is include one of them in your annual strategic marketing meetings, incorporate PR into your marketing plan, and then discuss with your PR agency how they are going to help you meet your goals.

3. Leads, Not Impressions. Public Relations, when done well, has a cumulative effect. Stories lead to other stories and buzz. You can market your PR successes on your website and your other marketing efforts. If one celebrity is seen with your product, fans will follow. There is no harm in trying to direct a PR campaign to a lead capture form, but the power of PR is when it catches and creates a broad impact. It used to be called “free” publicity, and those impressions can often have an enormous effect on sales and leads. In fact, with a successful review you can bypass the need for downloading an ebook and go direct to the sale because the review did the work for you.

With the influence of the web and social media growing exponentially every day, the need for quality PR is greater than ever. Done well and in conjunction with marketing, it can influence the social conversations, guide companies as they become more transparent,  and help increase a company’s positive exposure, and all of that will undoubtedly help grow that company’s sales.


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