This article originally appeared in Ragan's PR Daily.
PR practitioners have an important job. Just think about the title of our profession: public relations. First, “public.” That’s a broad word in and of itself, referring to our communities, employees, board, investors, media, competitors, legislators and more. The list of “publics” can go on and on.
And then there’s the second half—“relations.” Anyone who’s ever been on a first date knows just how hard relationships are to establish and maintain. So when you combine the expanse of “public” with the difficulty of “relations,” especially with so many communications channels at our disposal these days, the true magnitude of a PR professional’s job becomes clear.
But despite the scale of our roles, there’s one “public” that PR practitioners seem to shy away from—those buying products and services. For years, PR pros have gone to great lengths to argue that PR is not marketing, that PR should not fall under the marketing function and that PR should not be held to marketing and sales goals.
To an extent they are right. PR is not the same as marketing, but it does facilitate marketing, and there is no reason at all that PR and marketing can’t share some common goals. Additionally, PR is typically totally detached from the sales team and unaware of—or even apathetic to—sales goals.
Yet consumers—prospective, current and previous customers alike—should be among PR pros' top priorities, and our strategies and tactics should all reflect that.
Two years ago, PRSA posted a blog from two APR’s sounding off on this exact issue, and one of the commentators reflected on having had the same argument three decades earlier. Tom Eppes, APR, Fellow PRSA and chief communications officer for Ole Miss argued: “…every activity—not just PR—in almost every organization is either a subset of marketing or so tightly connected to marketing that it’s hopeless to argue they’re separate. How could an entity survive without marketing—unless there’s a generous philanthropist in the wings?” Although I agree wholeheartedly, we haven’t come very far since Tom first made this argument 30 years ago, and the article’s comments suggest his views are still the minority.
Now is the time for this argument to cease. Global PR industry growth slowed five percent in 2015, and the average client-agency relationship has shrunk from 7.2 to 2.8 years. To stop this downward spiral, PR pros have to take control of the most lucrative relationship of all—the one with consumers. Customers have the ability to bolster our messages with all of the other audiences we work with—or tear down our carefully crafted communications with a single poor experience.
It’s time to put our stake in the ground and define our role in buyer communications—from initial sales prospecting all the way through to customer service and satisfaction. Do we need to own these functions outright? Of course not. We’d never get anything done. But all departments that have a consumer-facing communications role need to be on the same page—one that should be led by PR.
After all, who will have better solutions for approaching common customer service issues, building customer loyalty, closing sales, etc., than people whose job it is every single day to build relationships? Why are we running away from the table? Instead, let’s take a seat.
PR pros, do your job and manage “public relations” to the fullest extent. The opportunities are endless, but here are a few ways to get started:
Review customer service survey responses and form a plan to improve relationships. For example, perhaps your social engagement team should be better integrated with customer service to improve customer satisfaction.
Audit online product reviews and implement a plan for improving customer loyalty. For example, leverage common feedback as the genesis of a customer advisory board that can provide valuable insights to sales, marketing and PR.
Include sales communication cadence and lead nurturing in content planning—and put all of that great content you’ve been developing to good use! For example, use media coverage in sales emails for third-party validation.
I already know what’s coming: “But that’s not my job!” Traditionally, maybe not. But for years PR pros have argued about how they can prove their value when the way forward is right in front of us—public relations that doesn’t avoid ANY public, especially buyers.