How to Leverage Public Relations to Turn Prospects into Customers
Brands are responding to customers’ demand for more value by providing interesting and useful content. As a result, public relations (PR) and content marketing continue to hold the spotlight as one of the most cost-effective ways to turn prospects into customers.
Content marketing removes the media from the equation and allows organizations to communicate directly to the target audience, delivering content that moves prospects. “Owned” media—case studies, blogs, guides, infographics and social media—sell a brand while simultaneously educating the audience. In fact, content marketing contributes to 90% of the sales effort, moving prospects from “awareness” through “consideration” to “decision.”
Content marketing and PR borrow aspects from each other, working in tandem to achieve business goals. Public relations is often one of several tactics in a content marketing strategy. For content to make an impact, it needs the backing of strong PR.
Public relations is primarily known as the vehicle to reach key industry influencers, ensuring the right messages are sent to the right outlet and the right people to create a strong brand reputation.
Public relations makes people feel and think, which enables them to believe. It motivates prospects to get involved—that is the secret to commitment.
Content marketing costs about 62% less than traditional marketing tactics and generates about three times as many leads, according to DemandMetric. Organizations that are “in the know” are investing significant time and energy into staying top-of-mind with PR and content marketing and they are seeing a real ROI. PR provides a valuable entry point to the sales process. No matter the size of your organization, every business and association needs public relations to generate visibility and credibility.
More relationships equal more revenue
A harsh reality for today’s companies is the lack of public trust in most brands. However, the good news is PR can be leveraged to build credibility. From a media relations perspective, public relations creates third-party affirmation, which is crucial for any brand. Public relations is the backbone of every successful integrated content marketing campaign and one of the most effective tactics for creating a solid reputation.
Consider this formula: reputation + relationships = revenue. The better reputation you can build for your brand, the more relationships you will have. From a business perspective, more relationships equal more revenue.
For example, you can’t say your company makes the best cupcakes because you are on the payroll. But if you can get a third-party to say it, such as your customers or a media outlet, well then, maybe you are the best.
Every time, you get a positive brand mention in a media outlet, it’s like the media outlet is propping you up as a thought leader and that’s not a bad thing. If you want to tell someone something, you buy an ad. But if you want someone to believe something, then you should get some good PR. Building a good reputation and strong relationships takes time and energy, but they are both invaluable.
As part of your reputation-building efforts, consider social media, the first cousin of PR. It is a perfect example of owned media, which gives a company a lot of control over the messaging. Social media is another cost-effective way to start any business relationship. It is a tremendous marketing tool because it can push out original content that tells your organization’s story multiple times over multiple weeks 24/7.
Use content marketing to tell a story
Remember, people will always buy your story before they buy your stuff. That’s why branding is so important today—a brand is really just a story that makes a promise, meaning it sets expectations.
Whether you are selling a product or a service, there tends to be a fundamental marketing challenge because everything is flat. For example, you sell LED lighting fixtures, or cupcakes or physical therapy. So what? So does everybody else. Now what? How do your prospects make up their minds before they purchase your stuff?
That’s why you should wrap your product or service in a “story,” which adds layers of interest. As opposed to selling your products’ features, tell the story through the founder of the company. Tell the story through the customers who benefit and appreciate the product.
When we think of storytelling, we often think of words, however; that’s not the case anymore. Experiment and connect with your audience in a new way. Videos often tell stories even better than written words. In the next five years, digital storytelling will be the most important communication trend affecting public relations, according to a global communications report.
Video is a powerful tool to communicate “cause and effect” through emotion and connections, which helps retain the content. In a world of information overload and overstimulation, online storytelling allows businesses to cut through the clutter and deliver their key messages in a memorable way—and that is huge. Consider incorporating digital storytelling into your public relations campaigns.
What’s the easiest way to increase your margins? Be different. Telling your story will reinforce what makes your brand unique again and again. A story speaks directly to the audience in a way data and numbers can’t compare.
Build a content funnel
The content marketing funnel identifies the customer journey phase of the buying process. It is a smart way to improve customer relationships and build new ones. Coupled with the right PR strategy, content marketing nurtures new leads and prospects through the buying process, turning prospects into customers.
To build a content funnel that supports sales, become familiar with these concepts:
- Audience: It’s all about them; if you get this wrong, your entire campaign will follow.
- Key messaging: A great story is a great asset; find it then tell it again and again. Key messaging is the talking points that capture the essence of your brand story.
- Framing: It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
- Content formats: Tell your story in different ways in different spaces to reach more eyeballs.
- Client retention: Don’t assume it’s over at purchase; you are selling an experience for life.
- Call-to-action (CTAs): It’s simple: Find out what people want, then give it to them. From a content perspective, CTAs are the difference between a bounce and a conversion.
When it comes to generating sales, PR is responsible for most of the buyer’s journey. It helps you tell your story, which is what people buy before they buy your stuff. PR positions you to help others, which is the new selling. It also creates referral traffic for your website, as well as backlinks that improve your website’s SEO.
Use PR to Turn Prospects into Customers
Each stage of your sales funnel can benefit from public relations:
#1: Top of the funnel—generate awareness to reach new audiences
Business growth is fueled by brand awareness. A robust PR program works with other marketing tactics from the top of the funnel to the post-purchase phase. Here’s how: PR fills the top of funnel, generating brand awareness to build a reputation that leads to more relationships and more revenue.
The prospects who are entering at the top of the funnel are unaware of your solution. That’s where PR comes in, delivering content that entertains, educates or inspires them. This is the stage where you identify your product or service as a solution for your prospects’ problem to create top-of-funnel prospects.
The most important factor at the top of every sales funnel is visibility and that is exactly where PR excels—generating brand awareness and interest to support the funnel in a fundamental way.
#2. Middle of the funnel—drive credibility through earned media
During the “consideration” stage, public relations works by taking positive news from your business or association and translating it into newsworthy stories. PR works in tandem with content marketing to drive website traffic while directing prospects down the funnel with bylined articles, feature stories and op-eds.
When it comes to generating sales, content is responsible for most of the buyer’s journey. Public relations influences prospects by motivating them through the funnel with storytelling—helping to shift “interest” to “consideration.” On average, a person consumes 11.4 pieces of content before making a purchasing decision, according to analyst firm Forrester.
Lead generation in the form of PR offers direct access to your target audience. Here’s where you convert “problem aware” and “solution aware” prospects into leads. Your campaign should include regular earned and owned content that showcases a variety of content formats. News releases and feature placements aren’t just about driving media exposure. They are meant to drive action—clicks to your website, resource downloads and inquiries.
Your target audience will notice, and customers will see your brand as credible when your business, products, services or management team is featured in industry publications, magazines or local newspapers.
What pushes prospects over the line to make a purchase or request information? It happens when third-party expertise, influence and education come together and the results of your PR and content marketing efforts push “interest” toward “action.”
#3. Bottom of the funnel—stay relevant
The bottom of the sales funnel is the “decision” stage where leads are converted to customers. Unlike the first two stages, the decision stage, which is when the prospect is ready to buy, clearly states your brand’s name because it portrays it as the answer to a problem. The content in this stage hits your expertise hard, right when your prospect is looking for a reason to make an investment.
You’ve generated awareness and gained traction with content marketing, now the key is staying relevant and continuing to show your value. Take thought leadership to the next level. Provide content that your leads need to make informed purchase decisions—content that differentiates you from your competitors.
People do business with people they like. And people have a strong tendency to like people who help them. Give your customers something of value. Think: mini-classes, free trials, webinars and customer testimonials.
Remember, when it comes to PR, consistency is the key. That is how you will win the spotlight. You can’t end a two-month campaign because there aren’t any results. PR takes time to build the trust that is necessary to drive sales. It is an investment that delivers more benefits over the long term, and the job of PR is never over.