Public relations has always been an unusual discipline. PR professionals need to develop both sales skills and creativity in a way unlike virtually any other industry. When you consider the banking, retail or tech sector, for most companies, the sales and marketing functions have been traditionally kept separate. The people who do the sales pitches are not the same people who design the brochures. In many respects you can see why this might be. Someone whose natural talents lie in the 'gift of the gab' may not also have a flair for design. However, I believe sales and marketing have to be intrinsically linked.
Why do sales and marketing have to be linked?
When a marketing or public relations plan is being designed, more often than not, the hope is that the end result will be an increase in sales or subscriptions. Even when the initial drive is towards something like increasing website traffic, presumably the hope is that this will build awareness and favourability, eventually leading to an increase in sales or profit. What else would be the point? All good marketing plans should eventually close the loop and feed back into the sales function or wider business objectives. This is one of the reasons that many smart companies have been integrating teams internally to achieve common purpose and ensure flows of information. Clearly, given this changing internal landscape, PR companies who can integrate across functions will be ahead of the curve when it comes to meeting business needs.
PR - integrating services
Businesses that once believed in segmenting the value chain, are beginning to understand that consistency is key to building momentum. As such, to continue being relevant in this world, PR needs to not only be clearly integrated with all marketing disciplines but also with historically business functions such as sales. Whether it's making sure that messaging is consistent throughout internal communications, advertising and press interviews, or ensuring that you're keeping abreast of which particular regions a global business is focusing on for expansion, it's clear that integration is the only way for public relations to add value to every part of the business.
I've written before about how every good public relations company needs to have a deep understanding of the businesses that it works with; it's crucial for making sure that the objectives of any campaign tie in with the business results. One significant way in which public relations can be tied back to business objectives is through understanding the sales function. If a business objective is growth, or increased sales, we need to understand who the customers and prospects are, as well as what they are interested in, in order to reach them effectively through the media.
Sink or swim
Disruption in the sector has created a 'sink or swim' atmosphere for agencies and consultancies. Either you can move towards content creation and understand the digital landscape or you can't. Either you can show a business that you add value at a commercial level or you can't. Those who can't, offer commoditised services that continually get driven down in cost and become financially unviable, those who can find new ways to provide value.
In part, this all comes back to the long-debated issue of how you can measure results in PR. Gone (thank goodness) are the days of AVE: nonsense figures which tried to quantify the value of an article by working out how much it would have cost to advertise in the same space. But this fortunate demise has left a gap where there's still no industry agreed method of proving where the value lies. Smart PR companies, the ones who will still be around in ten years' time, are finding ways to link it back to business objectives.
The point, fundamentally, is all about integration and keeping pace with change. The world is changing, and we need to change with it. We need to provide measurable value to businesses, and in order to do this, we need to integrate fully across marketing disciplines and find a way to understand the sales function and how we can add value there.
If I am certain of anything, it's that the next 10 years will continue this trend towards integrated services and measurable results.