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PR Masterclass: CMO Edition

Making The Most of Your Public Relations Investment



Done well, public relations (PR) is a significant and important investment for any business, large or small. Getting the most value for your money depends on a lot of factors, including choosing the right PR partner.


This is the second post in a series exploring the relationship between PR and a variety of executive roles within a B2B company, and how to maximize the ROI. (The first post is focused on founders.)


I recently came across a post on LinkedIn from Mark Stouse that shed light on one of the pain points of today’s CMO: “When CEOs can’t “see” things working, they assume they’re not. The value creation of B2B marketing and sales are heavily offset in time and space, often several quarters. If that’s not identified and forecasted, things will appear to not be working.”


There is no sugar-coating it: the role of the CMO is critical and also incredibly challenging. As a chief marketing officer, you are asked to not only understand your brand’s audience, but connect with them in a way that drives quantifiable results.


As a seasoned marketer, you know that public relations can be a valuable tool that effectively bridges the gap between your brand messaging and target audience; effective PR acts as a powerful conduit for building and maintaining a positive brand image, fostering trust and credibility among consumers.


Chief marketing officers are often tasked with bringing PR in to bolster the company's image, expand brand awareness and drive growth. Whether you are in the driver's seat making the case for PR or responding to a request from leadership, you need to ensure that your investment yields results and aligns with your [marketing and broader] business goals.


In this post, I will draw on my years of experience working with executives in different roles to explore how CMOs can work effectively with PR agencies to build a successful partnership that achieves key objectives and drives measurable results.


Trusted Partnerships: Enabling CMOs to Thrive in Their Role

Many companies bring in outside experts to build and execute their PR strategy. As a busy CMO, you don't have time to micromanage another vendor. It works better for both you and the PR team if you establish a partnership where everyone works collaboratively towards the same vision.


This requires trust from both parties. You should feel confident that the PR team understands your brand's nuances, audience(s), and business goals. On the flip side, it’s important to trust the PR team to communicate directly with not only you, but your CEO, other company executives and experts/SMEs as well as your customers. It can be difficult to let go of the reins; that’s why it’s so important to find a competent PR partner that you can really trust. (Once you do, you will never look back.)


One of the best ways to build that trust is by openly sharing the company’s goals with the PR team, and relaying PR goals to the CEO. There is sometimes a disconnect between the two, and it can lead to frustration on both sides. When you let your PR partner know the specific goals you are trying to hit, they can find ways to align their efforts accordingly.


Work with your PR team to hold them accountable for delivering measurable results, but also collaborate on setting clear metrics to avoid any ambiguity. If you view your PR team as a true partner and share your specific needs, you will get so much more out of the relationship.


Reframing PR: A Departure from Conventional Sales Thinking

Moving beyond product or service-specific sales language can be challenging. However, PR and sales are not the same, and it is important to recognize the differences in order to harness the power of what PR can do. Here are a few examples of non-sales messaging tactics that most PR strategies will leverage in order to elevate a brand (in conjunction with – and separate from – the tactics the sales team is employing):


Thought leadership

Establishing the brand (and its employees) as a thought leader is a powerful way to elevate your company's reputation and position within the industry. Encourage your executives to think about industry trends, customer pain points, and broader topics that impact your audience. You want to be a resource for your audience, a place where they turn for valuable insights about the topics that matter to them.


Storytelling and Brand Narrative

Crafting compelling brand stories that resonate with your audience on an emotional level establishes authenticity and trust. These narratives focus on the brand's values, mission, and impact on customers and society, fostering a deeper connection with the audience.


Customer Success Stories

Sharing stories and testimonials of satisfied customers is one way to build credibility. Highlighting how the brand's products or services have positively impacted clients’ lives and businesses leaves a lasting impression, and allows others (e.g., prospects) to see themselves in their place.


Social Responsibility Initiatives

Consumers care about social responsibility more than ever. According to a joint survey released by Nielsen and McKinsey released in February of 2023, brands that made claims about being environmentally friendly or socially responsible grew at a faster rate and had greater brand loyalty than other companies. Communicating a commitment to social responsibility and sustainability is a necessity in today’s market.


An example of using non-sales messaging to reach new audiences happened recently for one of our clients. SPS Commerce is a cloud-based supply chain management company that provides industry-leading technology to connect retailers and their partners across the supply chain. When an elevated section of I-95 collapsed in Pennsylvania, SPS experts provided insights on the impact that might have on the supply chain. While not directly related to the products the company sells, they were able to speak to the breaking news because they are experts in the business of getting things where they need to go.


There are many strategies and tactics that should take place simultaneously in order to positively impact a company’s bottom line. When CMOs see the interconnectedness between them all – and support each in their own, nuanced needs – the more successful each will be.


Candid Appraisal: The CMO's Role in Playing to Strengths

A large part of an effective communications strategy is having strong spokespeople to represent the things your brand wants to say. Some executives have a natural charisma in front of the media, while others are less confident.


Your PR team can help identify the strengths and weaknesses of your brand’s spokespeople. It is so important to be honest about what is working (and what isn’t), and work to close existing gaps before an unprepared spokesperson says something on the record that could damage the brand. One way to do that is with media training, which can go a long way in helping a company’s spokespeople become more comfortable and effective when talking to reporters.


Conclusion

In the ever-evolving landscape of modern marketing, CMOs recognize the significance of an effective PR investment. The key to maximizing PR's impact lies in understanding its distinct role and aligning it seamlessly with the marketing department’s strategies and goals.


By establishing collaborative relationships with PR teams based on mutual trust and shared objectives, moving beyond conventional sales-oriented messaging, and recognizing the importance of media training and identifying individuals within the company who can effectively convey the brand's message, CMOs can foster meaningful connections, drive sustainable growth and ensure that they are getting the most out of their investment.

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