Why We Need To Stop Thinking PR = Sales

Thanks to age-old stereotypes, some non-industry onlookers still see PR as ‘free advertising’ (🤢) which then inevitably leads to an expectation that media activity should result in sales. Measuring the ROI of PR is a big can of worms to open, so much so that I wrote my whole dissertation on it. Often, trying to express the value of communications is a fruitless task, as reputation is not something that can necessarily be managed, let alone reported on – there’s no one metric that can evaluate how strong or weak your brand image is.

“Lets Check The Sales Figures”

One thing that continues to be misunderstood – and that can actually damage the perception of PR – is thinking that campaigns, coverage and social media activity should end in an increase of sales. This was demonstrated most recently by Weetabix’s now-famous collaboration with Heinz.

The Weetabix stunt was simply incredible, one of the best conversation-generating moves made by a brand I’ve seen in a long time. Just about everybody got involved, Weetabix was the #1 trend on Twitter and many marketeers were besides themselves with excitement following the extraordinary press pick up. But that didn’t stop some self-proclaimed experts demanding sales figures, dismissing the whole affair as pointless if there was no increase. This particular comment on LinkedIn really got my colleagues and I rattled.

What surprised me the most was not the comment in itself – you often get those on LinkedIn who try to tear down others’ successes – but it was actually the 82 people that reacted in agreement. Many of whom had PR or marketing in their titles. Some were even social media executives… 😳

PR Does NOT Need To Equal Sales

I guess it’s a very traditional (and frankly old-fashioned) view that your PR efforts are unsuccessful if there isn’t a direct link to sales. Once upon a time, this might have been correct, but now modern day marketers work with much more flexible and rousing KPIs – ones that realise that sales aren’t the be all and end all. Our goals include growing retaining and strengthening reputations, creating conversations and positioning our brands as the best at what they do. We understand the importance of people talking about your business, and whilst you might be busy wondering how you can make your PR activity return leads and sales – your competitions may be out there stealing the attention of your customers with a stunning communications campaign that doesn’t care how many immediate products it sells.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say if you think your campaign should result in leads or sales, it’s not really a PR campaign at all. The bread and butter of PR is raising reputations, and this starts at how stakeholders see your brand – not whether they’re going to buy from you or not.

My colleague Evie (@eviesourcepr) wrote a blog recently on how social media campaigns aren’t all about ROI. Again, fuelled by the Weetabix campaign and its handful of critiques (amongst plenty of praise), she writes about how “social media marketing is not all about pushing sales messages and products. It’s all about brand-building and gaining interest from the target audience. A brand won’t go viral by simply tweeting about what they have to offer.” You can read the rest of that post here, it really gives more insight in to how not everything you post should be sales-led; nor should those be your aims for PR and social media.

Why We Need To Drop This Dinosaur View

Not only is the “PR should equal sales” view incorrect, it can be damaging. Here’s why…

  • It can limit your creative freedom, if a client/brand believes their press and social activity should be solely focused on product and sales, then it’s unlikely you’ll be able to run with anything really inventive; this limits your opportunities too. Nobody ever went viral with a ‘buy this product’ post.
  • Too much focus on sales and not enough on CSR can lead to your brand being viewed as out-of-touch and unfeeling; don’t discount the importance of charity, sustainability and employee wellbeing initiatives.
  • Those social media followers you worked hard to get? You can probably wave them goodbye. Nobody wants to follow a brand that spends 100% of its time pushing products and services down your throat. Balance is key.
  • Limit your mindset to ‘PR must equal sales’, and you’ll cripple your chances of ever getting decent media coverage. This not only has problems when it comes to brand visibility, but also let’s look at it from a digital PR and SEO point from a second. Product links can be built by good PRs with a keen eye for relevant press round ups, but you’re never going to hit the really big numbers if you coddle your creativity. If links are the goal – then don’t be afraid to be flexible with your campaigns.
  • And probably most importantly, the biggest issue is that viewing PR as a sales tool and free advertising, like many other things, really discounts the value of what we do. Stereotypes have done the industry no favours, PR isn’t included on the school curriculum and there’s not a universal understanding of what public relations actually is. The more people (especially so-called marketing gurus) that question whether PR campaigns are resulting in sales, the more people believe that this is the function of PR. Super damaging and frankly a worrying thought.

The bottom line is, that PR is here to help your business make a name for itself, not directly sell your products. If you do the first bit well, the latter will follow anyway.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below or connect with me on Twitter, I always love a chat.

6 thoughts on “Why We Need To Stop Thinking PR = Sales”

  1. I love this post! Of course PR can be used for sales but i love that it helps brands to make a name for themselves too and make a talking point!


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