October 25, 2019

Put It to the Panel: How Do PR and Sales Align?

by Ellen Mallernee Barnes in News

During Communications Week last week, communicators across New York, London and Hamburg hosted panels and workshops aligned to this year’s theme: value. As the value of our work is being increasingly called into question by key stakeholders, this theme has resonated deeply across the PR, media and marketing industries today.

To unpack the impact of PR on sales in the modern marketing mix, our EVP of Social & Integration, Davitha Ghiassi, joined a panel discussion hosted by Frank Washkuch, executive editor of PRWeek, alongside Sandra Fathi, president and founder of Affect and Matt Brown, president, Americas and Asia-Pacific, of Signal A.I.

Here were the key takeaways from the panel:

The meaning of PR has changed—and so should the way we measure its success.

With PR methods now seamlessly merging social, content, influencer marketing and paid, PR should be positioned as more than a top-of-funnel awareness play. Instead, we should look at the new and innovative ways this channel can come into play by mapping out and measuring its touchpoints all along the journey. PR historically has never been considered a sales channel, but through its ‘merger’ with social media and influencer marketing, the channel’s tactics are taking on new and contemporary shapes.

At Red Havas, we are no longer a PR agency, but have adapted to become a Merged Media agency—specialized in earned, social and experiential storytelling with content and data sitting at the heart. We have done this to respond to the growing need for brands to tell one story in many different shapes.

PR historically has never been considered a sales channel, but through its ‘merger’ with social media and influencer marketing, the channel’s tactics are taking on new and contemporary shapes.

As Davitha said during the panel, “To me, PR’s point of difference is that it leverages people (media, spokespeople, influencers) and perspectives (firsthand points of view or experiences that land the brand’s key messages) to influence perceptions (how people view or feel about a brand or topic). Those three P’s are constant, but they can come to life in a myriad of ways. It could be a CEO talking about their business in an op-ed or LinkedIn article, it could be a customer review shared via Instagram Stories, it could be an influencer livestreaming a launch event. The point is that PR is multi-dimensional, and so should the way we measure it be.”

Effective measurement starts with informed metrics.

With emerging channels and tactics rapidly changing the role PR has traditionally played, another shift we’re seeing is the increased focus on quality, not just quantity. Gone are the days of counting coverage hits alone—beyond the ‘number of,’ we now need to look at the ‘quality of’ more than anything. Because in a world where we primarily compete for our consumers’ time and attention, the focus should be on creating media-consumption moments they will in fact remember.

With the rise of social media and particularly the pay-to-play model, the metrics that matter are often misunderstood. It’s not about counting the vanity metrics, it’s about counting how many times the story was told in the right way through metrics such as sentiment scores and key message penetration. For example, what are 800 comments on a post, if they’re all negative? It’s about looking at the quality, not the quantity of content and coverage. And in doing so, merging your paid and organic metrics is key. Together, they paint the full performance picture when we report back to our clients.

PR is not a direct-response channel, but it channels a response—at times, in the shape of sales.

PR’s meaning, methods and certainly metrics are often misunderstood or underutilized in leveraging integrated communications to impact a brand’s bottom line. Panelists touched on a few ways we should now consider the impact of PR on sales, including targeted marketing tactics, influencers as a brand voice and conversion vehicle, Google Analytics alignment (i.e., owned visitation off the back of earned coverage and UTM tracking) or even by leveraging customer reviews (also a form of PR) to drive visitation/conversion via paid social executions.

Context and customization are key when it comes to influencer relations.

Before executing a collaboration with influencers, it’s important to consider the influencer’s context so you can customize your brand’s message to their audience in the most impactful ways.

As an example of context, at Red Havas we have redefined social influence by building a three-category model, whereby we classify influencers as creators, distributors and narrators:

  • Creators bring production costs down by using their own content.
  • Distributors access the audience you are after.
  • Narrators may have a wider PR reach or profile and appeal beyond the online realm.

Regardless of whether the influencer being partnered with is a creator, narrator or distributor, each individual should be equipped with brand guidelines around outreach and engagement. And the messages a brand deploys through each type of influencer should be customized to each. This is accomplished by test-and-learn methods and messages. Then, you can optimize your content or story angles accordingly.

And the success of each partnership and activation must be assessed with clear key performance indicators (KPIs) that evaluate whether the influencer delivered on a brand’s positioning and platform with authenticity, showcased shared values and generated incremental value.

If you focus on only two things it should be on breaking siloes and simplifying your measurement.

Someone—the internet cannot agree who—once said, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

By simplifying your marketing and measurement through clear metrics that are tied directly to business objectives, you are better able to measure not just the ‘count’ but the ‘context’ of your communications efforts.

With many companies still operating in marketing silos, PR agency’s challenge is to help brands integrate the three P’s—people, perspectives and perceptions—across channels to dismantle these divides and present a united front.