PR has a mixed reputation, particularly in B2B marketing. Marketing departments tend to see PR as a standard part of the marketing mix. But outside the department, particularly among sales leads, it can seem like a waste of time. To these folks, the only question is, "Why is marketing wasting time on PR when they could be getting me leads?!"

I’m a strong believer in PR. In fact, I see it as a key element of any B2B marketing strategy, one that can in fact have a direct impact on sales performance.

Marketers Connect the Dots Between PR and Sales

I’m not alone in this belief. When I asked fellow B2B marketers what marketing tactics worked for them over the past year, many were singing the praises of PR.

Take Allison Kavanagh, an experienced health IT marketing executive and consultant I’ve known for years. Asked about her pandemic marketing successes, she said, "We amplified our PR efforts. PR was the key to driving business development and filling the gaps created by the loss of in-person events and conferences. 2020 forced our sales team to use PR as an accelerator within the pipeline."

The loss of in-person events was a blow to many B2B marketers. But as Kavanagh found, if you don’t have the chance to run into a prospect on the trade show floor, a PR campaign means they can run into you in their favorite publications. "Gaining press visibility related to our COVID-19 wins put us squarely in front of prospects through an unbiased, trusted medium," she said.

Press mentions are seen as validation from a neutral third party, which is what prospects want when looking for a new solution. Unless you’re invited to speak, a conference or a trade show doesn’t give you that same validation. After all, everyone knows you paid to be there.

While showing up in a publication that your prospects read can leave a good impression, it takes some coordination to convert those impressions into sales.

To help her sales team leverage the press they were getting, Kavanagh created communication templates and “how to use this content” guides. She then tracked the results through website traffic and engagement with emails and social media. In other words, what she realized is that PR has to be actioned and measured to be a successful B2B marketing tool. And it worked!

“Looking forward,” she told me, “we will continue to build out our sales enablement infrastructure to maximize press as a real sales tool.”

Kavanagh wasn’t alone in making the connection between PR and sales. Patrick Berzai, VP of global marketing at JW Player, made the same discovery. “We realized that we did a great job attracting new customers to our own web properties,” he said, “but we underestimated how much it matters that our brand shows up on publishers' properties.”

Much like Kavanagh, Berzai didn’t see “showing up” as an end in itself. He saw it instead as an important driver of sales. “It reduces the time our sales teams have to spend explaining who we are and allows them to get our customers to a decision — and contractual terms — faster.”

PR makes selling easier because, when it works, prospects already know who you are when a salesperson reaches out to them. While this may sound simple, it’s actually the hardest part of PR. The goal of PR, after all, isn’t simply to drive name recognition. Frankly, you could probably drive name recognition more easily through ad buys. No, PR needs to tell prospects more than what you’re called. PR needs to tell prospects who you are. That is, it has to tell your story.

Grant Ho, CMO at Cloudbolt, emphasized this when I asked him what he learned over the last year. For him, developing your brand story is not only important for PR, it needs to animate all your marketing efforts.

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PR Helps Marketers Cut Through the Noise

"In any very competitive industry, there's just so much noise, and the job of marketing is to cut through that noise," he said. "There are so many messages, so many channels, so much stuff out there trying to grab the buyers’ attention. And what’s really going to grab it, at the end of the day, is your brand story."

So, what makes a story that really cuts through? Ho believes it calls for painting a picture contrasting “the old way, the ‘before’ picture" with "the new way, the ‘after’ picture." It then should show buyers how to move from the old to new and, more importantly, why they would want to. Crafting such a story takes work.

"You need to really, deeply build that narrative," he said, "shape that narrative, add proof points and so on, then use all your channels to drive execution. Execution matters, obviously, but fundamentally the story is the key."

We can’t overemphasize the importance of building a story, as Ho describes it. But beyond the narrative, the story needs to meet two needs, internal and external.

From the standpoint of the brand, it has to be a story that everyone, especially sales, can understand and repeat. And in some cases, publications may actually give you the opportunity to use their platforms to tell your story, either through an interview or a contributed article.

But more often than not, journalists are trying to tell a story of their own. If you want to get your story out there, you need to make sure it helps journalists tell theirs. This means making your story about more than your organization and your product. It needs to be about the market, where it’s heading and how your product will help customers get there. Importantly, to get a journalist’s attention, that story should be relevant to conversations already happening in the media, but with a fresh angle that the journalist can break.

Buyers spend more time on other websites than they do on yours. That’s a given. When you have a story that speaks to the market (and doesn’t just talk about your own stuff), that story can show up where the buyers are. And as many of the marketers I spoke to have found, PR can make that happen, even in a pandemic.

Related Article: Test Your Narrative Strength

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