As a lifestyle PR consultant, my biggest bug bear has to be the misunderstanding of the role of Public Relations and the part it plays in growing a business.
I’m not sure where the disconnect has come from; it may be that those of us working in the industry haven’t done a good job of defining what we do in a way that’s understood.
OR, it may be that expectations of business owners have shifted and they’ve lost sight of the truth.
Either way, unless we start to address the problem then nothing will be resolved. In fact, it may escalate further until it’s totally out of control.
So, let me set the record straight and remind you of the true role of PR.
To make things easy, let’s head on over to Google and type ‘Public Relations’ into the search bar.
What pops up?
These golden nuggets from Wikipedia:
“Public relations is the practice of deliberately managing the release and spread of information between an individual or an organization and the public in order to affect the public perception.”
"Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organisations and their publics." Public relations can also be defined as the practice of managing communication between an organisation and its publics."
Let’s break this down into bite size chunks so it’s even easier to digest. PR is:
- Strategic communications
- The spread of information between an individual or an organisation and the public
- Builds relationships between organisations and their target audience
Essentially, the role of public relations is to build relationships with journalists, so that they can spread your message to their readers (your ideal clients and customers) so that they (your ideal clients and customers) can get to know, like and trust you enough to eventually buy from you.
See how I used the word ‘eventually’ there? That’s another key factor in the role of public relations.
Public Relations is not and never will be a sales tool.
Yes, it’s part of the sales process and the customer journey, and it is possible to increase sales once you start building your credibility and trust with an audience, but it should never be expected.
Yet it is.
Somehow the expectation of PR has morphed into an area that isn’t its responsibility.
It’s like expecting my cleaner to do my laundry.
Yes, she’s more than capable of doing it and it means that I don’t have to, but it’s not part of her role as a cleaner. If she was a housekeeper then doing my laundry would fall under her remit, but it’s not the cleaner’s responsibility to do that.
I either do the laundry myself or I hire the right expert to do the job. Not expect someone to do something that’s not part of their service.
Yet PR is expected to boost sales when its role is not to boost sales.
Nuts, isn’t it?
You may be reading this and realising that you too had an expectation on what PR is and the role it plays in growing your business.
It could be that a business associate of yours was featured in the press and did get sales from it. So of course you’re going to make an assumption that that’s what PR does.
Why wouldn’t you hire a PR agency to help you boost sales too?
Here’s the thing.
I’m not saying that it’s not impossible to make sales from PR, but it’s the exception rather than the rule.
Take this as an example:
I suffer from psoriasis. It’s an auto-immune disease that’s never going to go away. So it’s my responsibility to manage it as best as I can.
Last week I decided to research Psoriasis shampoos on the internet, just to see what else is out there.
Dr. Google showed me a list of different options. The first one was a handheld UV light that I can use to treat specific areas. It was great to know as I didn’t know such things existed, but at that moment in time I was only interested in topical solutions.
Next on the list was an article in Men’s Health magazine.
As you’re probably aware, I’m female, therefore I’m not your typical Men’s Health reader, nor am I their ideal client. Yet they had written about a problem that I have and had made sure that their SEO was on point, so that this article was high up on the Google list.
So I clicked on the article and what did I find? A list of around 10 different shampoos and topical solutions that I could choose from.
I honestly felt like a kid in a candy store.
I scrolled through the list, read the different benefits of each shampoo or scalp oil and decided to click through to one brand in particular (this is also the beauty of online PR, you get a click back to your own website, increasing the chances of making a sale! Or at least capturing an email address)
While I was on the brand’s website I thought I’d check out what other products they had that could help me even further.
You see, in the past two years my psoriasis has slowly progressed from my scalp and onto my face and it does affect my confidence.
So, there I am on this website, looking at all their products and chose four that I believe are going to help me keep my psoriasis under some sort of control. £100 later the products have been purchased (a shampoo, a scalp oil, a cleansing oil and a facial oil, if you’re interested.)
Did this piece of publicity generate sales? Yes it did.
Was the premise of the publicity to generate sales? Potentially for the brands that got involved.
Was the article featured in a magazine purely to help brands generate sales? No.
The editorial team at Men’s Health pulled together a feature that would help people with a specific problem - psoriasis.
The brands that were featured put themselves forward to raise the profile of their brand, their products and specifically, the products that help with this very specific problem.
Generating sales from the article was purely a Brucey Bonus.
Would I have known about Balmonds, the brand that I bought from if it wasn’t for this particular article? No.
Was it guaranteed that I’d choose their products over the nine other brands that were featured alongside it? No.
Was it guaranteed that I’d buy more than one product once I’d visited their website? Potentially.
Had I not have ordered any products then at least I knew that the brand existed.
That’s the true role of PR - to let people know that you exist.
Balmonds could have spent £££ advertising their products to me, but chances are those adverts wouldn’t have reached me.
The team at Balmonds know that they’re providing a solution to a very specific problem. So their message, their positioning and their communications strategy needs to be effective at reaching their ideal customers.
Getting PR was the perfect way to do that.
They were featured in an online article within a very reputable publication.
They shared how their products can help a specific problem.
Their website was easy to navigate and the customer journey was faultless (other areas you need to consider when investing in PR - more on that later)
All of that helped to make a sale.
You may be reading this and thinking ‘yes, but that was a product, it’s different for service-based businesses.’
And it is. But it isn’t.
Publicity is the same regardless of what industry you’re in.
It’s the buying process that alters.
Let’s say, for example, that you’re a menopause coach. And you need to get in front of women aged 45+ to share your message and demonstrate that you can help their pain point and make the menopause experience easier.
From a PR perspective, you need to be seen in as many publications and online titles that are read by women aged 45+. You need to be on podcasts or radio shows or TV programmes that are watched and listened to by women who are 45+.
Why? So that they get to know that you exist. To actually get to know you.
When you’re a service-based practitioner, or coach, or consultation, your clients are buying into you as much as they’re buying into a solution to their pain point.
They need to be able to trust you, for you to help them overcome their obstacles and experience transformational change.
They need to like you, to feel comfortable opening up and putting their life (and maybe business) in your hands.
Both of these take time.
One way to speed up that process? You’ve guessed it, publicity!!
As with the psoriasis feature in Men’s Health, someone may read an article that’s all about the work that you do, or an article that includes your tips and expertise.
What you say, or what is being said about you will resonate with someone. They’ll then visit your website and follow you on social media, because they’ll want to get to know you.
Once they do, they’ll want to work with you.
How long that takes has absolutely nothing to do with PR, but all to do with what you are doing once a feature on you has been published.
Like the saying ‘you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink’, you can’t force readers/listeners/viewers to buy from you the first time that they see you.
They need to keep seeing you.
And they need to see you everywhere. Because they may not be ready to buy from you the first time they see you, but by the third, fourth or fifth time they’ll start to take action.
As a lifestyle PR consultant, it’s my job to ensure my clients are consistently showing up in the media outlets that are read/watched/listened to by my ideal clients.
It’s the role of PR to share your message. Once your message has been shared, our job is done.
Although it’s fair to say that the team and I go above and beyond with our clients to help them leverage their PR, the point still remains; once you’ve been featured in the press that’s where the role of PR stops and your marketing has to start.
You know about a sales funnel, right?
Well, PR is right at the top of the funnel. It’s designed to create volume. It’s purpose is to drive a shit tonne of traffic into your business, ideally via your website.
Once that potential customer or client lands on your website then your website needs to do one of two things:
- 1. Makes a sale
- 2. Captures their email address so that you can nurture them over the coming weeks/months/years
This is known as sales and marketing.
PR can drive people to your website, but, like with the horse and water situation, it cannot make people buy. Your messaging and your marketing and your sales process has to get them to buy.
Make more sense now?
So, to wrap this up, the role of public relations is for a brand to share information and messages with its ideal clients and customers.
That information and that message should be positioned in a way that makes people want to buy, or at least want to follow you to find out more.
If you’re expecting PR to drive sales into your business then your expectations are wrong.
If you’re wanting to raise your profile and share your message so that more people take an interest in your business, and over time become customers and clients, then PR is what you need.
And remember, when you outsource something it’s because you either
- Don’t want to do it yourself
- Know that you’ll waste time and energy on something that’s not in your zone of genius
- Know that an expert will do a much better job of it than you will
Let’s go back to my cleaner.
She comes round every week, on a Monday, to clean our house.
Not because I can’t clean, but because I don’t want to. AND because I’d rather spend my time working and doing fun things. Cleaning is not on my list of fun things.
But it is on the list of fun things for my cleaner, so I’d rather she got the gig.
When you outsource your PR you’re not getting a guarantee that you’ll be featured in the press, you’re investing in an expert doing a much better job than you would, freeing up your time to continue to grow your business and work from your zone of genius.
So, next time you think about how you can move the needle in your business and make more sales, remember the true role of PR and build your communications strategy accordingly.