How PR Brings Value To The C-Suite

The value of a strategic PR program isn’t always obvious to an organization’s leadership. But the impact of public relations is most relevant to those in that C-suite – whether they realize it or not. A C-level role offers plenty of opportunity as well as distinct challenges for decision-makers, especially in an uncertain economic climate. For most, it’s a huge personal and professional achievement that marks a heady time. The role of public relations may not be top of mind. However, it should be.

It’s important for a CEO and others at the C-level to understand what the right PR strategy can bring to the table. Here are some key areas where public relations can make a difference.

Strategic PR builds reputation

Public relations is sometimes mistakenly placed in the marketing bucket. But marketing and public relations are two very distinct functions. While marketing is focused on driving sales, PR is designed to build trust in a brand or company and grow its reputation. That may not seem like as high a priority as demand-generation, but over the long term, reputation offers greater value to the organization. And in the ideal world, marketing and PR work together. You need both.

Reputation is also invaluable at the individual level. The right kind of visibility is a career-booster for a newly minted C-level executive or one who aspires to be there. There’s real personal and professional value in tactics like keynote and panel speaking opportunities, contributed opinion content, thought leadership, and industry recognition. Those are all desired outputs of a good PR campaign.

An outside perspective

It’s easy to get tunnel-visioned when you are close to a project or business unit. What you see and what your PR agency sees could diverge — in a good way. PR pros know what will be interesting to the press, what poses a risk, and how to spot and shape a story. By asking the right questions and engaging in thorough conversations, a PR team will know how tell a story for maximum impact. Beyond the media relations role, an objective view of the organization will help identify vulnerabilities, opportunities, and new strategies to build a leadership positioning.

A deep understanding of media and influence

Experienced PR teams offer deep and varied relationships, from the companies they work with, to journalists and influencers. Additionally, we bring an understanding of the nuances of exclusive media outreach, like timing, competitive intelligence, and targeting strategy. Our facility to identify what’s of interest and effectively engage with the right reporters at the right time, can be the difference between a stand-out success and an initiative that falls flat.

A resource for high-level storytelling

In technical industry sectors like B2B and ad tech/martech, it’s not always easy for an internal team to recognize the bigger story. A trained PR expert has the experience to not only understand technology advantages, but build a narrative to guide positive visibility and thought leadership at the executive level. Additionally, specialist communicators are adept at spotting and synthesizing trends within a sector or industry. Seeing around the corner is helpful in developing the big ideas that drive positioning and earned media coverage.

An extension of internal PR and communications

As a practical issue, many companies are restricted when it comes to head count. An agency team brings value that is distinct from the background of an internal comms unit. The value lies in the “multiplier effect” of the added media and sector experience of the external team. It can thus act as an extension of the internal PR unit, but with complementary roles, relationships, and experience. Joining forces through a trusted partnership amplifies a company’s ability to communicate to its most important audiences.

A big-idea resource

Who can put a price tag on a great idea? The right creative campaign, whether earned, paid, or both, can generate extraordinary benefits in the form of brand engagement, credibility, and even loyalty.

These attributes of strategic PR are not the only ones, but they’re important for any new C-suite executive. An experienced PR partner can advise on key moves and help guide decision-makers on strategies and channels that build individual careers, corporate reputation and business growth.

How To Sell PR To The C-Suite

Public relations has come a long way in recent years, but PR budgets are still vulnerable during a downturn, company retrenchment, or change in business focus. That’s why most PR professionals, whether inside the corporation or at a partner agency, are in continuous selling mode. How do we support our clients in presenting PR as an investment rather than an expense, and one that is well worth making?

Here are some tips for “selling” the PR investment to a C-level decision-maker.

Promote outcomes rather than outputs.
The industry has been moving in this direction for some time, but it’s still easy to get caught up in tangibles, like events, article placements, or speaking opportunities secured. A more strategic way to go is with specific outcomes that are aligned with business objectives, like attracting business partners, changing opinion, or developing a reputation for specialized expertise.

Use data wisely.
Use data, yes, but keep it light at the top, with greater granularity available if needed. Always have far more information available than you think you will need; you want to be prepared to back up recommendations or assumptions with detailed evidence, but too much detail at the outset can make you seem lost in the weeds.

Offer insights as well as outcomes.
A C-level exec may not be fully cognizant of the scope and benefits of a strategic PR commitment. It should be as much about assessing perception, identifying vulnerabilities, and creating opportunities as it is about publicity output and results. The PR or Communications Director should be seen as a source of strategic insights for making more informed business decisions, not just the queen of publicity placements or press conferences.

Get around assumptions.
Even when constructing a B-school-style case for PR as a critical business function, it’s often necessary to make assumptions. But assumptions aren’t airtight. You can make them more defensible by offering “best case,” “expected case,” and “worst case” scenarios relative to demand generation or reputation health, for example.

Focus on the pain points.
Yes, the classic pain-based selling strategy can be particularly effective here. A strategic PR program is a defensive as well as a proactive tool. So, it can be a legitimate investment for achieving an improved online reputation, quantifiable visibility for a new product launch; or a commitment to more effective recruitment practices.

Be accountable.
Senior executives are often more likely to approve a budget when accountability is clear. In an agency situation, they know the buck stops with me, unlike a group supervisor at a holding company who could be gone next month. Within the corporation, that translates into the PR or Communications Director staking their performance goals to the achievement of specific outcomes.

Amortize the investment.
This can be tricky when selling to a CMO, where tenures are notoriously short and there’s pressure to deliver dynamic results quickly, but public relations is best viewed as a long-term commitment that pays reputation and brand visibility dividends over time.

For more on this topic, see PRSA’s excellent library on selling PR’s value.