Tasked with redesigning b2b communications from the ground up, what changes would you make? First on the list might be finding a more purposeful, commercial role for PR at the heart of the enterprise – at a fundamental level, driving revenue. Coverage is valuable, of course. It certainly indicates engagement. But what really raises the pulse of the enterprise is growth. What role should PR play in customer engagement and lead generation? How can communications help to drive revenue?
There’s a catch. The very structure of the enterprise conspires against its capacity for effective communication. In other words, the bigger companies get, the harder it is for them to communicate. It’s an old problem, aggravated by a new context – social.
It’s always been difficult for larger companies to share information, particularly on the inside. Data gets lost in silos, while the very nature of size means the CEO’s vision has further to travel. But in the raucous hum of social, where messages battle for attention, the growing enterprise faces an additional communications challenge: how does it ensure that external messages not only reach their intended destination, but also deliver maximum impact?
In a b2b environment, impact relates directly to profitability. A fruitful half-hour with a prospect can be the difference between hitting and missing the numbers. So how do companies ensure they are having the right conversations, with the right people, in a way that boosts the bottom line?
Because social affects the way we interact, it affects buying behaviour, too. The age of the pressured sales pitch is over. Deference has been switched for reference. B2b buyers are increasingly heading online to research purchases, favouring peer-to-peer recommendation over brand identity. These conversations are happening over an ever-increasing number of channels, and much earlier in the process than ever before.
The result is a more complicated web of influence. CMOs are buying technology; CIOs are buying marketing tools; CFOs and CEOs are increasingly involved at all levels. These dotted lines of influence are redefining the way we present our products and services. The CFO may not speak the language of technology, but he or she represents a barrier to progress if ignored. The methods we use to engage different audiences must therefore be tailored to suit their different needs. We can’t hope to influence what we don’t understand.
Sales sits at the sharp end of communications. But there’s a role for PR further up the chain, too. How does the story begin? Does the organisation reflect the values and direction of its leader? Does the CEO’s vision extend to the very edges of the organisation? A useful test is the rebrand. Why do some rebrands fail? On a superficial level, it’s not difficult to launch a new logo and a bundle of freshly designed materials. Yet too often, underneath the new packaging lie the same old corporate values and a group of employees guided only by their existing behaviour. The brand shines brightly in the mind of the CEO, but burns out by the time the message reaches those charged with lighting the imaginations of customers.
In the age of engagement, conversation is king. What do people say about your brand? What can they say? The brands that are talked about will be those with a story to tell. Why are we in business? What do we stand for? Your story must be strong enough to carry not just the hopes and dreams of employees and executives, but of customers, too. After all, the question, ‘Why should I work for you?’ is closely related to, ‘Why should I buy from you?’
We started Weber Shandwick Enterprise with a new model in mind, one that calls on behavioural insight to bring clients much closer to their customers and prospects. It’s time for a more integral role for PR, right at the heart of a client’s business where PR acts a genuine new business driver for companies. We call it commercial communications.
David Woodward is strategy director at Weber Shandwick Enterprise. Reach him at @davidjwoodward