What PR Cannot Do for Clients

IStock_000008450489XSmallI recently heard a client describe Public Relations as “the softening of the beachhead” for his Sales effort.  That struck me as an apt analogy.

Public Relations is not Sales.  PR can absolutely help guide the prospect toward a purchase decision, in a measurable way.  PR can surround the prospect with thoughtful, candid, compelling conversations and content and references until they think, “Wow, okay, I’ve got to check these guys out.”

But when the prospect gets to the website or picks up the phone or shoots over an email: PR’s work is done.

If the website features a glitchy 1990–style template; if the telesales agent is unintelligible; if the sales rep takes too long to respond to the inquiry — if the sale is lost — that’s not a “quantity/quality of leads” problem; that’s not a PR problem — that’s a Sales problem.

Similarly, the PR team is not the official spokesperson. If the PR agency has set up a slate of dreamy editorial meetings, their “pitches” have worked.  It’s now up to the official spokesperson to swing for the home-run articles.  If the spokesperson doesn’t bring the customer references they promised, or the product demo flatlines; if they turn green from nerves; if they ignore the PR pro’s advice on how-to improve — if the article is lost — that’s not a PR problem — that’s a problem that the client brought to the field.

PR can set you up for success.  It cannot make you a success.



Posted on: July 6, 2009 at 7:58 pm By Todd Defren
127 Responses to “What PR Cannot Do for Clients”

 

Comments
  • Courtenay says:

    Thanks for the post–it is crucial to identify the roles and responsibilities of PR force. I would love to hear strategies you use to strengthen and prepare that spokesperson to hit home runs. While we may not be able to be on site for every interview, I know the homework ahead of time can make all the difference.

  • catherineallen says:

    Amen, brotha.

  • Kami Huyse says:

    Another thing that PR can’t do is overcome a bad product. It can help find out why people think it is a bad product, but management has to make the appropriate changes to make it a good product.

    PR is an enabler.

  • Word. Good post!

    Marketing begets Communication (and promotion) begets PR begets Leads (potential sales or placements). PR sort of baits the hook. After that, it’s up to the closers – sales managers and leadership – to deliver the goods, seal the deal and land the customer or writer with a great story.

  • Scott Gulbransen says:

    Great post Todd.

    This is why when I hear people say “that’s bad PR” when products or service fall down, I always challenge even the verbal expression. You can have the best PR talent, endless resources, and smart executives…but if the product/service don’t perform, it’s over.

    It’s up to professional communicators to challenge even the verbal expression of addressing business problems as “bad PR.”

    Thanks.

  • Leo Gonzales says:

    My comment accidentally got posted as a reply to Claire Celsi’s comment, my apologies. Im posting it correctly here:

    Interesting read, Todd and very true. Unfortunately, not all clients grasp (whether internal in a company or external) this fact. From where i come from, many a client still equate public relations work with the final closing of a deal, or sales – and then blame the PR dept when a deal falls through. It’s unfortunate that they miss out on the key management function of PR, which is really to help build credibility and work up a conducive and positive environment where Sales can be in the best position to make a pitch.

  • In a big enough company or a company that outsources to an agency, this is all true. In smaller businesses, PR is marketing is sales is advertising is customer service and at the end of the day in small business, it probably is your fault. Identifying which role or hat you were wearing at the time you lost the sale will tell you where the weakness is, but it’s still worth pointing out that in small biz, functional roles aren’t nearly as well defined.

  • Bill Sledzik says:

    I agree that PR can’t “do” all those things for clients. But we can call those things to the client’s attention. Before I left the PR world for education, I sometimes advised clients to let me do an “impression audit” of their operations. We reviewed and even tested communication variables that don’t traditionally fall under PR’s oversight. In those days, (pre-Web) the first point of contact was usually the telephone.

    My team of “auditors” would place phone calls to customer service an the main switchboard and report on their experiences. We would inspect visual communication elements such as corporate vehicles, building signage, employee uniforms, etc. We would visit facilities and report on problems ranging from dirty windows to surly receptionists.

    It’s incumbent on PR professionals to exert influence in all areas that can affect public perception. What’s that old saying: We’re only as strong as our weakest link.

    I wrote about this a while back: http://tr.im/rzhl

  • Yay! I had an old boss who used to say, “We don’t make policy. We only communicate it.” It took me two years of hearing that for it to absorb.

    What I find myself saying to clients these days: “What you are doing is not enough for me to generate media coverage or any other sort of robust marketplace conversation. You’re going to need to do more, something provocative. Here are my suggestions __________.”

    Sometimes they want to hear that. Oftentimes, unfortunately, they don’t. I get it. Who wants a PR guy making operational recommendations? That said, the sad fact is … I’m right.

    Thanks for writing.

  • Erin says:

    I thoroughly enjoy your posts but I will agree to disagree that PR is not sales. In terms of a tangible sale/item – you are correct. But PR does in fact sell ideas/products/projects/event ideas, etc. and therefore can be categorized as sales. Your last line is a very valid point though. Well-said.

    • Steve Seager says:

      I agree with Erin here. The issue is that in for example, social media, sales doesn’t sell! Advertising has big problems. Online, pr ‘sells’. In that context. But i agree 100% per cent that closing a sale is ‘sales’ :)

    • Erin,

      I see your point because persuasion and behavior change are elements of both PR and sales. On the other hand, the author here makes a distinction between PR and sales by giving the responsibility of closing the deal to sales.

  • Claire Celsi says:

    So true, Todd. In addition, I believe PR is something you have to commit to year-round. PR is not like an advertising campaign that has a definite beginning and end. PR is defensive more than offensive. You’re the advance team, looking for land mines, interviewing potential allies, lining up supporters and telling their stories.

    When the sales rep makes her pitch, the evidence of the PR team’s job should be in place already.

    Great post!

    • Leo Gonzales says:

      Interesting read and very true. Unfortunately, not all clients grasp (whether internal in a company or external) this fact. From where i come from, many a client still equate public relations work with the final closing of a deal, or sales – and then blame the PR dept when a deal falls through. It’s unfortunate that they miss out on the key management function of PR, which is really to help build credibility and work up a conducive and positive environment where Sales can be in the best position to make a pitch.



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