Business-to-business public relations demands a different approach to consumer PR. Consumer and B2C PR is often event or stunt driven with a short term focus. B2B PR is based on hard facts, technical discussion and demonstrating capability. Building confidence and credibility with technical buyers, engineers, architects and other professionals encourages sales and fosters long term business. To achieve lasting results, you need a strong working relationship with a technical PR specialist who understands your products, your markets and your customer needs.
Ten Things You Should Do
- Brief about the business. Every business has a story. Who set it up, why they set it up, where it was established and the early development. What were the discoveries, the lucky breaks and the deals that propelled the business forward or insights that moved the business into the area where it is now? Where is the business going? What are the ambitions that the owners or management have for the business and what are they doing to ensure their realisation?
- Provide access and insights. Your PR person needs to be able to access and talk freely with senior people at all levels. The CEO can brief on the strategic direction. The R&D people can provide information on new products and processes. The sales team can give insights into customers, their problems, issues affecting the market and the 1001 practical ways that your company makes a real difference to your customers.
- Brief about the product. All B2B products and services address practical needs. They perform important functions, they solve problems and they interact with other elements of a client’s product or process. These are complex issues that the PR person must understand and explain.
- Brief about the market. No market is static. Your PR person needs to understand who your customers are and the market dynamics. Which segments are growing and which are in decline? What are the driving forces? In B2B PR all purchases are driven by a derived demand, so the PR person needs to understand not just your business, but a good deal about your customer’s business too. Who are the dominant suppliers and what strategy have they adopted to maintain their position?
- Brief about technology. Most industrial and B2B sales are about problem solving. What are the underlying problems or issues that the client has? What were the traditional solutions? In what way were these inadequate or what other problems arose from their use? Why is the current solution superior? How does your product and service package differ from competitors and alternatives (what’s your USP)? What quantifiable results arise from adopting your product? Identify real examples.
- Users, specifiers, influencers and buyers. In a B2B context, problems are rarely owned by one person or group. Often the person who is most affected by an issue, the owner, is not the person that can make change. They need allies and ultimately they need the ear of the person that has the money. Intermediates in this process, be they specifiers or influencers, play a key role. PR is unique in that it can speak to multiple audiences like these – but the PR person must understand the decision making unit and have the arguments to use as ammunition.
- Brief about the strategy. Is your company hell bent on growth or perhaps seeking a sustainable defensible business position? Tell your PR team where you are and where you want to be. This will enable them to select the messages and channels to project the correct message and generate the appropriate responses.
- Integrate. PR succeeds more when integrated with other communications. Let you PR person know what advertising you do, what exhibitions you are attending, what conferences and what continuing professional development presentations you will make. Many of these events provide PR leverage that can and should be exploited.
- Web integration should be core. Print coverage is wonderful, but it can be transient, limited in availability and squeezed by editorial constraints. Web content has fewer limitations because web publishers are hungry for high quality content. Moreover, web content endures when it becomes indexed by search engines and becomes part of your company’s on-line collateral. Your PR company must have a proper understanding of the importance of the best principles of search engine optimisation (SEO) to ensure all text becomes appropriately indexed.
- Use social media wisely. Used properly this is a great PR channel. Used improperly it can damage personal and business reputations – quickly!. It makes sense to ensure that the company speaks with a consistent, credible corporate voice, so draft a policy, decide what you want to get out of social media and the perceptions you want to project and positions you want to take. This may not mean just one spokesperson, but perhaps a small panel of experts each specialising on a particular topic and blogging/participating in social media conversations.
Five Things You Should Not Do
- Don’t chase every random PR opportunity. There will be some opportunities that are too good to miss where you just have to get your PR out there. However, ninety percent of the programme should be planned so that the tone, key themes and issues are consistently presented and every activity advances your objectives.
- Don’t lose momentum. Share of voice is important in all media. Slow up and you create opportunities for competitors to take charge of the agenda. Maintaining the quality and frequency of PR has a direct influence on perception, lead generation and business volume.
- Don’t be trapped by convention. Many B2B marketing programmes roll on year after year with little change. The same advertising outlets, the same exhibitions, the same events and hospitality programmes. Regular review and revision is needed to ensure that these are still valid and worthwhile. Don’t be afraid to experiment and open new channels for communication and dialogue.
- Every single interaction that your company has with customers make a statement, from the speed and tone of voice in which the phones are answered, through the presentation of your premises, to your company driving standards. Many large companies neglect these on cost grounds and pay a hidden penalty in lost sales and reputation.
- Don’t use the wrong metrics. PR value used to be measured by the thickness of the clip book. Now there are far more potent metrics. You can see day by day changes in web traffic based on specific campaigns. If you take the time to ask, you can check if enquires are responding to particular messages or offers. You can also monitor sentiment on key issues or toward your company by listening to social media conversations.