beyond the press release


Salesmanship In PR

PR person: Hi there, my name is Julie from Acme PR. We haven't spoken before but I'd like to sell you a press release.
Journalist: Thanks, but I'm not interested. I have thousands already.
PR person: Um, what about a pitch then?
Journalist: I've had too many mediocre ones. I'll pass on that.
PR person: Okay, how about a story idea that's the best thing since spray-cheeze-in-a-can.
Journalist: I wrote about that last week.
PR person: Oh. What if I offered you the world's most knowledgeable expert who could talk to [insert latest "trending" topic here]? And some Ginzu knives?
Journalist: Look, I'm really busy and on deadline. (Click.)

So I was kidding about the knives, but that is still not the way to a make a successful sales pitch. Ever.

In any business, what can (and usually does) lead to a successful sale is understanding a customer's wants and needs and fulfilling them, not haphazardly throwing out stuff until something sticks. As a PR professional, my most important customer is always a member of the media.



That is my bread-and-butter customer, my daily staple on whom I rely for everything else to fall into place. Without those core customers, I have little to offer my other customers. And if I don't qualify or assess the integrity of my "leads," review churn and recency rates of my lists, or ¬close the deal with these customers on a regular basis, I might soon find myself out of a job.

While the above terms may seem more at home at a database marketing company than a PR firm, they are in fact part of every sales cycle and a successful selling strategy. In any industry, understanding a customer's psyche is a critical element. Know your customer's pain or pleasure points, and you'll be far more likely to succeed in selling them a product or service.

This is what every successful business does and for those in PR, it should be no different. We are, after all, in the business of selling. Maybe not tangible items, but we are selling -- an idea, a message, a story, an expert.

Knowing how to sell can make you more valuable
One of the very first positions I held was in sales. It was a hard graft but that grounding -- learning about client X's business and convincing that client to buy certain products to help its company generate more revenue and growth - gave me the skills I apply to my own business and clients' businesses every day.

Rather than just approaching a client's business from a "what message can we create for you" standpoint and hoping that message resonates with someone, somewhere, having the ability to understand the buyer-seller dynamic and the demands of the marketplace puts you in a much stronger position. It allows you to dig deeper into the needs and challenges of your client -- and your other client, the media -- and to think in multi-dimensional ways, beyond the sometimes narrow bounds of PR.

Today's PR marketplace requires us to fill several roles simultaneously; we must be clever wordsmiths, crisis managers, strategic thinkers, perpetual spinners, and client/media matchmakers. What we should never forget, though, is that we must be effective salespeople first and foremost.

And this makes sense. We sell every day, whether we realize it or not. Our vocabulary is littered with sales lingo: we "pitch" stories and ideas hoping to "score a placement," we craft "salable product" and hang our hats on our "deliverables." But are we doing it well, or are we just pushing product and not listening to our customers' demands?

To sell or not to sell?
The manufacture of our product isn't the issue. We develop releases and pitches, create whitepapers and trend reports, briefings and fact sheets at a quality and pace Bavarian Motor Works would envy.

But if we can't find the right buyers and identify their needs, we have no sale, no matter how great our products or materials. And with so many products and services clamoring for the same space, this becomes a very big problem for our industry -- and for illustrating our value as individual firms in a competitive market.

To be sure, selling is no easy task. It requires persistence and a lot of follow-up, a door-to-door, never-give-up mentality. It's usually assumed that sales and marketing departments -- PR's classmates in the cultural lexicon -- are equipped with these selling skills. It's high time we became more adept at these as well.

What do you think? Is selling part of the PR process, and should it be integral to what we do? Should more emphasis be placed on sales skills within agencies and as part of the learning process?

3 comments about "Salesmanship In PR ".
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  1. David Reich from Reich Communications, Inc., April 8, 2010 at 7:07 a.m.

    Nice, Vanessa.

    I tell young people considering a career in PR that the job is part salesperson, part communicator and part marketer. And a key part of selling successfully is understanding what the person you're selling to -- in our case, the media -- want and need.

    I wouldn't shun press releases, as your bio states, however. The release can be a tool that's helpful once you've "made the sale," providing information written the way you'd like them laid out and explained.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 8, 2010 at 10 a.m.

    Patience to be added as well. It can be a hide and go seek game to fine the right person. Sometimes the right person is not the person who decides. You gotta' love the game.

  3. GR Hansen, April 8, 2010 at 12:02 p.m.

    Too many corporations still consider PR to be "free." Lacking a clear understanding of public relations and media relations as a sales and service function is the main problem facing marketing communication teams.

    And you said it well here that PR is best initiated by "understanding a customer's wants and needs."

    Potential clients will tell me "I need to be on Twitter" or "I need to be on Facebook." And I will reply with, "Well, only if you really need to ..."

    Yes, it's about sales. And like any sales process, it's filled with education and service and communication.

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