Oh, Mary

Business Understanding Makes PR Stronger

October 15, 2018
Melanie Wilhoite

Going viral is not an outcome; it’s a happening. Sometimes it happens; sometimes it doesn’t. Just remember, fans are vanity and sales are sanity.” –Lori Taylor, founder & executive editor of Social Caffeine

One of my colleagues said today, “PR is a business to business business.”  Clearly, this is true.  We sell our services to businesses who in turn hire us to help them generate sales. After all, business is fundamentally about making money.  Nobody who runs a business would do it for long if they didn’t profit from it.

So why do so many PR people still know so little about business or the business imperatives of their clients?  When I ran an agency, I worked with consumer PR professionals who had only the vaguest notions about why they were doing what they were doing, from a business point of view.  Generate sales, sure.  But to many, the tactic was the strategy.  The objective was the communications result.  Generating results may be good for vanity, but does it help achieve the sanity of driving sales and shaping the right brand perception?

Many PR pros have become educated during the course of their careers and have risen to the upper echelons of client counsel, which has helped drive the upward evolution of professional respect and credibility.  Still, as a whole, PR professionals need to up their game where business is concerned.  Perhaps it’s the lack of business curricula in communications programs, or perhaps its because people who end up in communications don’t have an interest in or strong aptitude for business-related subjects (accounting, anyone?).  Those who take the initiative to get MBA degrees end up with a stronger conceptual business perspective but still suffer from the use-it-or-lose-it phenomenon.  Nothing is as effective as participating in the business end of business, and not enough PR folks get a chance to observe that let alone participate in it.

Before you create any more ‘great content,’ figure out how you are going to market it first.”Joe Pulizzi, content marketer and strategist

It takes a village to move the business needle, and certainly not every PR practitioner has to know the direct impact their work has to the client’s business.  The world’s most successful businessmen like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Richard Branson are all-in on the power of public relations for good reason.  Communication done well is powerful and persuasive.

Many PR people make a terrific living by taking client direction and applying an understanding of the tremendous power of communication along with social, persuasion, and creative skill to generate awareness.  Understanding the power of storytelling and engagement and quantitatively proving it though, are two different things.

Tying communication results to marketing KPIs that ladder up to business KPIs is what the C-Suite wants to see. A few years ago a PRSA Global Leadership Assembly meeting led to the creation of the Barcelona Principles, which sought to divert the notion of PR success metrics from impressions and Ad Value Equivalency (AVE) to seven principles of measurement and evaluation.  PR plans have increasingly considered ideas like goal setting, measuring tone, web analytics, and measuring outcomes vs. coverage results.  Media quality and quantity measurement has become standard in many places.  The savviest of all understand that to reach the end game, they must set goals and strategies with the end in mind and put methods and budget in place to measure impact.

Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.” – Andy Warhol

PR practitioners need to start with the capital “E” end in mind, as if they were the CEO of the business. As if it was their own money they were spending to succeed in the market.  Seek to understand corporate strategies and do the intellectual work required to draw a line between the art of storytelling,  channels used, and the quantitative metrics that signal business success.  We need to create more opportunities for those coming up behind us to learn the basics about what is required for a business to make money.

Other things we can do: Mentor, teach basics like what is a profit and loss statement, what does business return-on-marketing-investment look like, what does a business strategy look like vs. a marketing or PR strategy, why it matters to the business in financial and social terms.  Having a grounding in these subjects is not only academically useful, but can form the basis for meaningful storytelling and make the PR story stronger.

The PR people who generate the best results are not only master storytellers and able to position goods and services in a social context that is relatable, relevant and prescient.  They go one step further and tie their results to business health and growth.  After all, the bottom line is never measured in column inches, clicks, likes, or views.  The bottom line is the bottom line. It’s what makes all the other good that a business can do possible.