Ask most PR people and they’ll tell you PR increases sales. Ask them by how much and they’ll start to get awfully vague just like all marketers do when you ask a specific question like this. The problem with answering this simple question is that PR affects a company’s reputation and that in turn affects its sales. This is compounded by the fact that other things also affect the reputation of a company, such as competitive actions, customer service and customer experience. As a result, you get this less than impressive equation:
PR + Other things = sales
Now in certain, rare circumstances you can all but eliminate the ‘other things’ part of the equation. That tends not to be possible in larger companies, or even small but established companies. Even when it does happen there are often caveats you need to throw in. Intuitively though we all know though that a great piece of media coverage in a great publication tends to help the sales efforts of most clients. So how does PR deal with this?
The answer isn’t to try and isolate the other things to prove PR is helping sales. The answer is to make sure PR is being applied to the sales process. To do this effectively you have to know what the sales process is of course and this is where most companies fall down. Sales and marketing are all too often at war and seem to try and do their best to make the other’s life more difficult. But for PR to really increase sales, PR needs to get much closer to the process of sales. Most really well run companies can articulate their sales process and will be able to identify a host of points in a process where customers are open to influence and therefore where PR can help. In other words, PR and sales can work together to advance customers through a process which results in a sale. So how come so few companies explain their sales process when you pitch their business and how come so few PR people ask about it? The reality is that marketing and comms people tend to brief PR agencies. I’d therefore really encourage PR people to get in front of the sales side of the organization when you pitch and then regularly after that. We can learn a great deal by talking to sales. We learn what challenges really exist in selling the client’s products or services. We learn what the real differentiators are and we learn the points in the process that are most critical to them and therefore where PR can help the most.
To put this all another way, PR can increase sales but only if it really understands what it takes to make a sale.
Excuse the pun but I recently came across a paper co-written by some IBM and Google researchers on the connection between blogging and the sales of products. The paper was written back in 2005 so is not new but it is one of only a few papers I’ve ever seen that have tried to draw a clear link between the impact of blogs on the sales of companies. The good news for bloggers is that there appears to be a connection. At least there was when it was written. While rather academic it is worth a read.