Should PR be a part of sales or marketing?

Social commerce is where eCommerce and Social Networks meet.  Effectively it’s an approach to eCommerce that embraces all the benefits of social marketing.  It creates a way for people to see what their friends like and don’t like, what the influencers they trust think.  More importantly it enables them to decide if they trust the business they are buying from.  PR plays a huge role in social commerce.  We create, influence and share content that buyers and sellers want access to.  Yet, rarely do we get involved in understanding how PR fits in the social commerce sales cycle.  We tend to analyze brands based on the online media and social media coverage around them and devise plans based on that analysis.  What if we analyzed the conversations taking place in social commerce situations?  If we learned what buyers were saying about our brands, what issues they were raising and what issues they weren’t paying attention to?  To do this effectively, we need to be prepared to isolate the conversations in social commerce from the rest of the noise around the brand.  Having done that we can see how these conversations are influenced by the conversations taking place in other forums such as the media, social networks etc.  Put another way, PR has a real chance to become a key player in the sales process thanks to social commerce.  It is not something we take on lightly but if we do grab hold of it, it could make a significant change to the role PR plays in business overall.

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Does PR increase sales?

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.