This is a guest post by Max Nelson, comms lead at Maryland-based marketing/PR agency SalientMG.
When I think about the role PR can play for a business, there is one basic idea that I’ve found is often misunderstood by people who aren’t in the industry: business success should drive PR success, not the other way around.
I have seen companies with low sales or problematic products view PR as a savior and essentially say, “If only we could get a few media hits, we would be able to close more deals or sell more products.” But this is a backwards way of looking at things.
Companies need to first focus on how to close the deals and improve the business, and once this happens, the media hits will come (and the stories will be stronger and more impactful).
PR professionals have a responsibility to communicate this to clients, both internal and external — and sometimes the best advice we can give is to hold off on media relations so resources can shift towards the areas that will have more of a direct impact on the organization in the short term.
In these situations, PR teams can still provide tremendous value, but we need to be sure that our clients recognize that we can apply our skills in ways that go far beyond simple media outreach and impact the company in other ways.
Messaging is not just for press outreach
PR people are communicators and storytellers, but “creating a compelling narrative” doesn’t have to be limited to drafting a pitch.
Ask to review sales decks, one-pagers and web copy, and look at them the same way you may look at a press release or messaging doc produced before an announcement.
Some marketing organizations operate in silos, but the best companies will be receptive to hearing a new perspective, and our knowledge of how to create a story that resonates can be used across multiple parts of a business.
Putting out messages in our own words
If a client is not yet ready to push for the big media story, it’s still possible to generate air cover and lay the foundation by releasing messages in the client’s own words. Corporate blogs, contributed pieces, and social media allow us to test messages, create awareness and refine our narrative without needing all the elements required for a big media push.
When we focus on items like contributed pieces or corporate blog posts, we can assert a level of control over a narrative that would not be possible otherwise, and mitigate some issues that could come up when talking to media through traditional outreach (i.e. no third party validation or results to share, products that are ready to be discussed but not reviewed/implemented, etc.)
Think about big picture ROI
Before undertaking any sort of initiative, it’s important to think about who the audience is, what the goals are, and how ROI will be measured.
At my last job, we would often release research reports in which generating news coverage was a primary goal, but before putting anything out, we would think about the report through two lenses: what was the value for press (i.e. was it newsworthy, would people cover it, etc.), and what was the value for the sales team (i.e. was this the type of research they could proactively send to clients, was it relevant to the types of verticals they cared about, etc.).
The best reports would check off both boxes to be valuable from both a PR and Sales perspective, but we also occasionally released reports that would only work for one side. We knew certain reports would not generate much press interest, but they were still worth releasing for the benefit of the sales team — and I would still wear my “PR hat” to build a compelling narrative, even though I knew the story wasn’t necessarily newsworthy and might not even be pitched.
There are plenty of ways that a PR team can provide value beyond pitching, and it’s critical to make sure that clients understand the variety of different ways our skills can be leveraged to impact the bottom line.
The first step in the process involves recognizing that there is more to the equation than “hits” and placements.
Max Nelson is the Communications Lead at SalientMG, where he works with the company’s diverse client base on PR strategy, media relations, executive visibility, speaking engagements, and bringing messages to market that will impact core business objectives. Before joining SMG in late 2013, Max was the Senior Corporate Communications Manager at Millennial Media, where he created and led internal and external global communications.