Public relations can serve many purposes for a corporation or business, perhaps none more important than contributing to the survival of that business on a regular basis. In other words, supporting the sales and marketing function. If there's one baseline purpose that justifies the appearance of the public relations program in the annual budget, that has to be it.
However, marketing public relations has a very specific focus on today's customers and tomorrow's sales prospects and is definitely not the same as the more common journalism public relations - which is focused primarily on interaction with the media.
Many executives learn this difference the hard way - usually by ineffective (in terms of marketing and sales) public relations, or public relations that seems to be focused on getting editorial coverage for the sake of editorial coverage. A tell-tale is if the sales force doesn't reference or use the materials or results of the public relations program to help develop and close prospects. Another is the number of (or lack of) leads or inquiries that come from editorial coverage. A more common indicator of journalism PR is a lot of appearances that are name-mention only, or simple product announcements, or merely ‘round up' (featuring all vendors) articles. It doesn't matter how prestigious the publication is - if that's all you get from your PR effort - it is pretty worthless from a sales an marketing point of view. (You have editorial quantity versus marketing quality.)
There are primarily two reasons that executives wind up with journalism PR programs when they thought they were getting, or wanted, marketing PR. On reason is that the traditional vendors of PR services - meaning the agencies and many of the freelancers, only know journalism PR. They have never had any sales training, or marketing experience, or a background in either. This is obvious if you review their collateral and what they claim is their competitive distinction: "..our staff is comprised of former journalists...who think like editors..."
Therein lies the problem.
The key to successful marketing PR is to think like a customer or prospect (knowing what information they need to consider you as a preferred vendor), and to have the professional knowledge of PR methodologies and tools to keep your message intact and get it past the gatekeepers (editors). "Thinking like an editor" won't accomplish that. The one aspect of thinking like an editor that is needed is the ability to make a strong case as to why their readers (who you should have researched as being your likely customers) would be interested in your company or products. That's marketing and sales - not journalism. I always present my clients to editors and writers in terms of why the publications' readers would be interested - which is very similar to the front-end sales dialogue to an interested customer. This also serves as an important qualification criteria for the particular publication. If the editor doesn't know those issues, then they don't know their readers (more common that you would think) or they don't really know the motivational issues in the marketplace they are serving. The media often reports on issues without understanding the behavioral motivation behind the issues. This is the difference between just reporting on technology, or why people buy that technology.
Most journalism PR concentrates on getting editors and reporters interested in the client's story, and then to do some kind of editorial write up, usually without hard guidance (depth of quantitative information) from the PR advisor. In other words, it's mostly in the oral tradition - done mostly over the telephone or in meetings. (This is why supposed media 'contacts' are bantered around so much by agencies. Truth be told, their underlings' agressive telephone hounding of the media is one of the industry's major complaints. That wouldn't be necessary if those contacts really existed.) Seldom do journalism PR providers create solid raw material that can stand on its own with a reader, customer or prospect. They don't know how. They rely on editors to do that - and the editors are really not interested in improving your sales. That's not their job. Once interested, they will look for other ‘angles' or ‘hooks' to the story. Which is why you sometimes see editorial that is really off the mark. Puff pieces on executives or executive lifestyles are the most common example.
The key to effective marketing PR is to develop material that has your competitive message embedded in it in such a way that it will survive the gatekeepers - but is also strong enough to be used verbatim on your web site and as sales collateral. How many press releases do you see being use by the sale force as collateral? Almost none. (See the article indexed below The 5W's for Direct-to-Web Public Relations or just click on the link)
There is another important dimension to marketing PR. What may business executives overlook is the tremendous disintermediation of information flows to the customers and prospects caused by the Internet over the past several years. There are now far more information sources available to a customer or reader, and the media are not the information gatekeepers that they once were. This has resulted in massive dislocations in the publishing industry and in the media. That's a nice way to say the industry is in shambles. Many ‘trade books' (industry-specific magazines) have disappeared, and budget cuts have resulted in a noticeable decline in the quality of what remains. Many editors and publishers never figured out why their readers subscribed to their publication, and when competition for readers eyeballs developed from more comprehensive, free sources (the Internet) they were caught completely off guard. Decades-old publishing paradigms disappeared overnight - as did many publications.
Conversely, the Internet has also opened up another media - your web site. In many ways, your own web site (see the article indexed below What Your Web Site Says About Your PR Savvy or just click on the link) is the best media you have - blending the message control of advertising with the ability of PR to persuade - and available world wide 7x24. A key aspect of your marketing PR program should be the use of your web site to distribute sales and marketing information about your company.
Social media is the current buzzword, but its effectiveness in B-to-B marketing has yet to be proven. Many B-to-B customers and audiences simply don't have the time or inclination to monitor low-quality social media. Should this situation change, we'll develop some commentary on the application of social media in B-to-B marketing.
Marketing PR can be the most effective, and cost-effective, tool in your marketing arsenal. But in order to reap those benefits, you have to know the difference between marketing PR and journalism PR. You also have to insure that you're getting marketing PR from an advisor who knows sales, marketing and public relations - and how to put that knowledge together in developing your marketing PR program.