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Why PR Trails Behind Marketing In B2B (And How It Can Catch Up)

Sarah Tourville is the CEO and Founder of Media Frenzy Global, a PR agency that shapes markets and culture for disruptive brands.

The business-to-business (B2B) industry has long witnessed the competitive interplay between public relations (PR) and marketing. While both disciplines aim to enhance a company’s brand and reputation, it is widely acknowledged that marketing has often taken a lead in the B2B sphere. The fundamental reason for this divergence lies in a critical business metric: return on investment (ROI).

The ROI Challenge In PR

PR plays a pivotal role in shaping a company’s reputation, managing crisis litigation, educating the industry and providing perspectives from subject matter experts. However, the biggest challenge PR professionals face lies in quantifying the results of their efforts. PR, by its very nature, is a long-term, strategic endeavor that primarily focuses on intangible outcomes such as brand reputation and public perception. These parameters are difficult to measure in concrete terms, making it challenging to demonstrate a direct ROI.

For example, consider a PR campaign aimed at mitigating a corporate crisis. The campaign might successfully prevent damage to the company’s reputation, but how do we quantify this success? How do we measure the crisis that didn’t occur, the customers that weren’t lost or the sales that didn’t drop? These are inherently intangible and tough to translate into numerical ROI.

Marketing’s Upper Hand In ROI

In contrast, marketing, especially digital marketing, boasts myriad tools and methodologies to track and measure ROI accurately. With the advent of technologies such as customized URLs, QR codes and powerful analytics platforms, marketers can track customer interactions, downloads and click-throughs, providing a clear picture of the campaign’s effectiveness. This data-driven approach gives marketing a distinct advantage, allowing practitioners to demonstrate a direct correlation between their efforts and business outcomes.

The digital age has further fueled this divide, with a proliferation of marketing automation and analytics tools like HubSpot, Marketo and MailChimp. These platforms enable marketers to track the customer journey, engagement, lead conversion and, ultimately, ROI. They provide detailed insights, making it easier for marketers to tweak and optimize their strategies for better results.

The PR Tool Gap

While there are PR tools available, such as media monitoring and social listening platforms, they often lack the comprehensive analytics capabilities found in marketing software. These PR tools can help track media coverage and public sentiment, but they often fail to provide a direct link to business outcomes, leaving a gap in the ROI equation.

However, it is essential to remember that PR’s goal often extends beyond immediate financial returns. PR plays a crucial role in building relationships, managing crises and shaping public perception—elements that, while difficult to measure, contribute significantly to a company’s long-term success.

The Way Forward For PR

The industry needs to recognize the unique roles that both PR and marketing play in a comprehensive business strategy. While marketing provides a direct, quantifiable impact on sales and customer engagement, PR contributes to the often intangible but equally important elements of brand reputation and public perception.

To bridge this gap, PR needs to incorporate more sophisticated measurement tools that can link PR efforts to business outcomes through several strategic steps:

• Embrace digital metrics. PR professionals should leverage digital metrics to quantify their efforts. Social media engagement, website traffic driven by PR campaigns, and online sentiment analysis can offer measurable insights into PR efforts.

• Adopt integrated tools. PR should adopt integrated tools that bring together media monitoring, social listening and analytics capabilities. This will enable PR professionals to track campaign performance and correlate PR activities with noticeable shifts in brand perception and customer behavior.

• Focus on long-term metrics. PR should focus on developing long-term metrics like brand reputation score, trust index or advocacy rate. These metrics, while not directly translating into immediate financial gains, indicate the long-term health and success of a company.

• Collaborate closely with marketing. PR and marketing departments should work hand in hand to create a more holistic view of a company’s communication strategy. An integrated approach can help in attributing value to PR’s contribution toward common objectives.

Additionally, the Barcelona Principles—a set of seven voluntary guidelines established by the PR industry—is a step in the right direction. They emphasize the importance of goal setting and measurement, the use of qualitative and quantitative metrics, and the understanding that ROI is not the only measure of PR success.

While PR has traditionally trailed marketing in demonstrating ROI in the B2B industry, this does not diminish PR’s value. The challenge lies in finding more effective ways to measure and demonstrate that value. As the industry evolves and new tools emerge, there is ample opportunity for PR to bridge this gap and assert its rightful place alongside marketing in the B2B landscape.

By embracing innovation and recognizing the unique contributions of PR, we can move toward a more balanced understanding of ROI and the roles of PR and marketing in a comprehensive and successful business strategy.


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