Here’s an interesting way to think about public relations work, courtesy of SHIFT Vice President Cathy Summers:

“PR is a sales job. We’re in the business of selling clients’ stories and ideas to publications.”

When you think of PR this way, it changes the game for how you measure, manage, and execute your public relations work, doesn’t it? Instead of it seeming like a haphazard practice of just randomly calling people and hoping someone likes you, it changes it into a time-honored, quantifiable process:

sales vs PR.001

When you think about it, this is wholly accurate. An excellent salesperson works with their marketing team to create an audience of people who are either buyers or influencers. From that audience, a certain percentage are going to buy their product or service from someone in the near future, making them prospects, people who could buy. Of those people, a certain percentage will raise their hands and say, I’d like to know more about your products or services, making them leads. In conversation with the lead, the salesperson identifies whether this person has budget, authority, need, and a concrete timeframe, which makes them an opportunity. Of those opportunities, some will buy and some won’t, creating closed deals (won or lost).

The process of PR doesn’t look very different in this light. An excellent PR practitioner works with their research team to identify the audiences the client needs to reach. From that audience, they look for the people who have the power to reach them – publishers, journalists, influential personalities – the prospects. Of those prospects, a certain percentage are going to raise their hands to an initial inquiry and say “yes, I’d be interested in talking more to your client about how they can contribute to this story I’m working on”, becoming leads. If the publication and the client work out the terms of the story, they become an opportunity for press, for news. Finally, if the story gets placed and seen by the audience, it’s a placement.

Once you see that sales and PR are virtually identical in terms of process, that opens up an entirely new door to how you train PR professionals. Instead of just being great writers, they also have to be great salespeople in order to make the process work most effectively. Things like closing techniques suddenly become important. Tools like sales CRMs suddenly become applicable to managing the process. In the reporting of your PR work, you can even use funnel-style reporting that tracks the activities and opportunities you’re working with at each stage of your “sale”. In short, the combined wisdom of the entire discipline of sales becomes available to help you become a better PR practitioner.

When was the last time that your PR practitioners got any sales training?

Update: Dominic Weeks offered another point of view on the craftsmanship of PR beyond selling.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology


Keep in Touch

Want fresh perspective on communications trends & strategy? Sign up for the SHIFT/ahead newsletter.

Ready to shift ahead?

Let's talk