Monday, January 31, 2005

Does PR drive sales?

According to SWIFT Communications it does, SWIFT has an interesting piece of research that they have written up as an article. From that research sales decision makers are more likely to believe in PR than their counterparts in marketing.

Why the perception gap?

- First of all I would enter forth a paraphrased version of the Charles Arthur explanation of media relations: Most information, the journalist won't act on. They’re just content in the wrong context; they don’t make a story.

But who knows how useful it might be in a few days, or weeks, or months? journalists often archive their email, and search it on subjects; or read it and note the subject. That can come in useful later. However, how useful and when it will be useful a PR agency won't know.

The problem is that the clients demanding a metric for a dollop of information cast out like bread on the waters are doing it wrong. The initial report is: the bread got soggy and sank. Damn, say the clients, and decide this bread-throwing exercise is a bad idea. But in the end the bread feeds ducks that come along. Or it nourishes things in the water. It has a value - even though you can’t measure it at once.

This means that PR is a tricky deal to measure, hell as an industry we can't define the metrics ourselves. It is also very hard to separate the effect of PR from the rest of the marketing communications mix. So you can't really give PR a sales target and what you can't measure can't be trusted.

- The backbone is connected to the thigh bone. PR is about influencing BUT not directly affecting the media or other influencers. Because of this level of abstraction away from the generation of coverage with the best will in the world a PR success is a best try, held fortune to the whim of fate. In addition, publication deadlines which vary from six weeks on monthly magazines to six months on consumer glossies mean it is hard to change the impact of a PR programme overnight

- Sales distortion field. Sales is often about the here and now, nothing matters but the next quarter. Many other functions within a business may have a longer time frame. It is exceptionally hard to structure salesforce targets to take into account the long term good of the business. Were PR to be purely sales led, it can lead to a distorted view of the company as the positioning will change each quarter to help meet sales targets and will not be based on the longer term aspects of reputation management and brand positioning. If you took it further and had performance related payments in the PR budget, agency folk like me would focus on playing the system for the most lucrative path of least resistance. Lets look at an example from the world of advertising: if you look at the direct response approach in advertising were the end results are measured like the pots and pans adverts in the back of Sunday supplements, sales can be generated, but you are not likely to remember the name of the company and recommend it to a friend or make a conscious decision to purchase from them again

- PR can help in providing sales teams with materials that bolster their credentials with clients, writing case studies, being able to show their clients coverage including product reviews or thought pieces. Some of the tools that PR people use to create news like 'independent research' or securing opportunities to speake at industry events and shows can also be used as an excuse to open dialogue with prospects or continue conversations with existing accounts.