The Value of PR: Lighter on Clip Books, Heavier on Revenue Creation

By Ross Levanto, SVP ICR

A significant transfiguration has occurred for PR in recent years as the internet and emerging technologies have reshaped the business landscape. Today, through its newfound ability to work more strategically with marketing and sales counterparts to achieve positive, integrated results – PR can directly affect a company’s revenue.

It’s safe to say the role of PR has come quite a long way. In the late 1990s, it was the “thud” effect that served as the primary PR program measurement method of success or failure. Without fail, at some point during the PR review meeting, a PR agency team member would walk to the conference table and half-toss, half-place a large, bound volume of paper onto the center. Skill was taken to drop the tome from the perfect height, so it would “thump” perfectly as it hit the surface. There, for all to see, was the clip book – the impressive collection of articles resulting from the PR team’s tireless efforts, separate from any other marketing or sales initiatives.

Today, that classic thud has been replaced by proof of revenue creation – thanks to PR’s evolved relationship with marketing, and new ways for marketing, PR and sales to work together. We see that PR and marketing can be greater than the sum of their parts, coming together to enhance the value they deliver to organizations. By harvesting a PR person’s skill in creating compelling content, working with marketing automation tools and creating closer alignment to sales, the PR function can more directly contribute to winning major customers and can significantly elevate marketing and communications programs.

PR & Content
The importance of the written word to marketing has grown significantly as a result of a confluence of trends, and the content need is one that PR is uniquely situated to fill. In fact, content marketing remains one of the hottest concepts within PR circles. HubSpot, a software company that establishes a base content marketing program for numerous companies across many industries, went public last year. Marketing automation solutions such as Eloqua, Pardot and Marketo continue to grow their customer bases as well.

Concurrent to the rise of content marketing is the PR industry’s relatively newfound role creating web content that affects Google results and Google rankings. Many, many buyers across industries—and a vast majority in certain industries such as B2B technology—rely on Google before anything else when it comes to researching a product purchase. Most marketers know that the more content on a given vendor’s page about a certain topic or industry, the better the chances are that Google will rank that vendor high within relevant search results. Indeed, HubSpot calls its industry “inbound marketing;” meaning by deploying HubSpot and posting content, customers will find a vendor on Google—creating inbound interest.

Today, Google consistently changes the algorithms used to rank pages within its search results, making it much more difficult for vendors to trick the search engine into having their page listed first. Having tuned out SEO tricks, Google now rewards quality, relevant content instead of prose that merely replicates certain search terms important to a given vendor. The industry is back to where it started, with the recipe for earning website visitors for a given solution requiring the publication of well-written, compelling content about why the solution merits attention – something PR experts live and breathe on a daily basis.

PR & Marketing Automation
Beyond driving website traffic by appearing relevant to Google, online marketing content is the fuel for campaigns managed by marketing software tools that capture web-based customer leads and subsequently automate how those leads are nurtured. But most marketing teams are so consumed with which marketing automation tool to buy and learn, they forget that without having great content, the tools are useless.

As a result, it is easy to poke holes in much of the marketing content online today. Blog posts are too high-level. Narratives don’t always flow. For too long, writers have suffered from “bright-shiny-object” syndrome – they focus on using clever clickbait headlines and other tricks to earn eye-balls. And all the while, their online visitors desperately search for quality content to help them make purchasing decisions.

Public relations professionals are uniquely positioned to craft clever and effective online marketing content that can drive website traffic and leads. Not only is the PR profession writing-based, most PR practitioners are also removed enough from what their companies or clients are selling – allowing them to connect the dots between product features and the needs of the buyer. This makes them the ideal storyteller. Furthermore, the PR person brings additional value by leveraging their perspective from other client engagements and conversations with media, analysts and influencers.

Whatever the resource, the goal here is to create content that entices an audience based on the selling proposition of a product or solution. Where internal product marketers might focus on product features, speeds and feeds when conceptualizing content, PR pros think about the buyer’s journey and how the product fits into the prospect’s daily lives. They build drama into their writing. And when that drama is based on research that provides insight into the challenges faced by their target buyer, the result is content that attracts leads and revenue.

PR & Sales
Historically, a friction has existed between PR teams and sales departments – one that has become more apparent as PR has evolved. The relationship is front and center when discussing a new marketing and sales concept called “account-based” marketing. Simply put, account-based marketing means targeted marketing based on a given priority account. Assume for a moment that one given vendor is exceptionally interested in earning the business of a company called Acme; account-based marketing means aligning sales and marketing, content development and ad-targeting efforts to earn Acme as a customer.

Account-based marketing integrates sales, public relations and advertising, given that the internet has allowed unique interactions among all three. A salesperson might suggest specific proclivities of the key decision maker at a targeted account. The PR person would chime in with the appropriate story that would influence that type of decision maker. From an advertising perspective, the team could consider specific web-based messaging shown on the browser of a web visitor from the targeted company.

What account-based marketing presents is another case where the PR function can have a definitive impact on revenue creation, given that one of its central premises is tracking an account all the way through to customer status. In an ideal situation, the role of PR is measured against acquiring, nurturing and closing the sale. Success in this scenario depends on PR as much as any other component of the strategy. The PR pro’s ability to write compelling content, understand the buyer journey and remain close to the customer cements PR at the table for account-based marketing.

All in all, the environment businesses must operate in today has been greatly transformed by the emergence of digital and online playing fields. PR is not immune to this transformation. Content marketing, marketing automation, and account-based marketing have created pathways for PR to directly impact revenue generation. Far beyond delivering the satisfying thud of the clip book on the center of a conference room table, PR people can now point to web-based dashboards showing buyer progression based on PR-driven marketing ideas.

The value of PR is far greater and more intricate than it once was, and it includes tracing PR’s impact all the way to revenue creation. The result is a much clearer way to justify increased PR investment.

Ross Levanto is a senior vice president at ICR.

Public Relations