The old adage is that marriage takes work. Each party must navigate all of their competing desires. Successful relationships don’t just happen – they are consciously created.
The relationships between B2B companies and #PR firms operate under the same principle. PR only works if the relationship between a company and its firm is harmonious. So how can B2B companies get these relationships right? I had the chance to speak with Robin Bulanti, Principal at Kulesa Faul, Inc., a boutique PR firm with a long-track record of working with B2B companies. We covered a wide range of issues that companies need to consider in order to get the most out of PR.
Get It Right
Foremost among Bulanti’s advice was to ensure that your PR strategy has the right message. You must first identify your audience and then craft messaging that appeals to that audience. Don’t make your message too tailored or too broad, or you’ll end up excluding potential customers. The right message will differentiate your company. It will tell the world why your product is different, avoiding “me toos” that can clump you in with your competitors. You don’t want to seem like you’re trying to fit in with a fad – your message should convey that you’re a leader and pioneer.
Check the Clock
If you want the most out of it, treat PR like a fine wine and give it some time to breathe. Bulanti recommends engaging with a firm well-before you plan to go to market – ideally three to six months. Why is all this time needed? Well, for one, you need time to create content and have your website fully built out so when you start asking for attention, you have somewhere to direct interested eyes. Quality content takes time and you need space to fine tune your message and ensure that you, everyone in your company, and your PR firm are all aligned around the reason you’re doing PR in the first place. Bulanti cautioned against treating PR like a checkbox. If you don’t have well thought out logic behind your message and strategy, you’ll undercut your efforts.
Great Expectations – or Just Reasonable Ones
A point of emphasis I’ve heard throughout my interviews with PR experts is that successful PR requires a clear goal. Bulanti stated that you have to know where you want to go as a company and how you want your PR to get you there. This holds true no matter your motivation — whether to be acquired or just to raise awareness. And when you have this knowledge, Bulanti added it’s okay to ask for a lot out of your PR. On the other hand, if you’re expecting constant headlines but you don’t have a coherent message, you’re asking more of your firm than they can reasonably give.
Bulanti does think it’s alright to ask a firm to help build out thought leadership and marketing content, as well as your social voice and online community over time. But the ultimate core of your messaging must come from you.
Establish the Arrangements that Work Best for You
Many B2B companies who are new to PR focus on the wrong things when selecting a firm. Bulanti made it clear that it’s not about what you spend on PR – it’s about the team your firm has devoted to you, regardless of the reputation and size of the agency you’re working with. Companies become preoccupied with the price tag as a sign of status, rather than focusing on what they’re actually trying to achieve. In many cases, for B2B businesses, a savvy freelancer might be more effective than a huge firm.
Craft the business arrangements with your PR partner that will meet your needs. While you shouldn’t ask for every PR service under the sun, don’t settle for a “basic” program. Bulanti believes in customization for every client, using a retainer model that is always unique. To her, hammering out the details up front, with a clear focus and a structured relationship sets expectations and lays the groundwork for a successful relationship.
Chemistry Over Notoriety
Bulanti was unequivocal about the need for chemistry between companies and their PR partners. She recommends meeting with the entire team up front to determine whether the relationship will be productive. If you don’t have access to senior resources at all time, you’re not getting the attention you deserve. Bulanti suggests keeping track of how often you’re interacting with senior leadership as a gauge for how the relationship is progressing.
With her clients, Bulanti measures success by what they’re trying to achieve. That can be the quality or quantity of the coverage, depending on the company’s size, or in some cases, increased industry or publication awareness. For businesses looking to raise funding, success often means attracting funding from the right Venture Capitalists. For companies in launch mode, success might mean exposure to as large an audience as possible.
But how do you measure awareness? You can measure hits or search ranks. You can look at your coverage versus competitors. Or you can even track your coverage in different tiers of publications. But you should be measuring something that aligns with your ultimate objectives.
Mistakes, Don’t Make a Few
Good PR comes just as much from hitting the right notes as avoiding the wrong ones. Bulanti believes the biggest PR mistake is to not know why you’re doing PR to begin with. But there are a lot of other mistakes B2B companies often make. If your relationship is not strong, if you do not have trust and compatibility, you’re with the wrong firm. You should also avoid choosing a firm solely on size alone – individual freelancers and small, boutique firms can be just as adept (if not more so) depending on your needs. Whoever you use should be quality storytellers intent on ensuring industry-wide awareness.
Bulanti also pointed out there’s a difference between outsourcing your PR and outsourcing responsibility for your PR. You are your best defender. You should be tracking success yourself. That means using metrics for media relations, exposure, and news announcements with real time dashboards.
Finally, she had two other points I think are especially pertinent. The first is not to overlook firms just because they’ve never worked in your line of business. If you feel comfortable with them, if they can tell a story, you can succeed. Second, she emphasized to not try to do too much. Having a tight focus on what you’re using PR for and who you want to reach out to is better strategy than trying to be everything to everyone.
As a principal of Kulesa Faul a mid-sized Silicon Valley PR agency, Robin Bulanti works directly with clients on strategy, positioning and measurement. With 18 years in technology PR, she’s helped businesses of all sizes to reach their objectives, from awareness and market leadership to acquisition or IPO. Connect with her at email@example.com or on Twitter.
Check out the whole #tech PR blog series: