"PR is an insanely valuable activity in early-stage companies," wrote venture capitalist Mark Suster on his popular blog for startups.

The problem is that most companies focused on growth are almost allergic to public relations: It takes a ton of time, it doesn't easily lend itself to metrics, and the people who work in PR are often big picture, strategic—or, if you'd rather, "fuzzy"—thinkers.

In other words, PR people don't fit easily into the world of the bootstrapped or venture-backed growth company.

Yet, founders and investors alike will acknowledge that a company's perceived lack of credibility is one of the silent killers of great sales opportunities: Big potential clients can circle and circle, but they are famously risk-averse. In this era of transparency, social proof, and infinite-pages-on-Forbes, a company that doesn't have great coverage or exposure is almost questionable—and that's enough to kill big deals.

Public relations and sales are perfect companions

Fortunately, with the right technology and tracking, public relations is the perfect support to a natural lead nurturing process. PR creates enough credibility so that you can...

  1. Encourage starter customers to grow into enterprise customers
  2. Reassure existing investors with social traction
  3. Attract new investors for your next round
  4. Build your qualified site traffic and Alexa score all at once

Here are four simple ways you can use public relations to enhance your sales—and track it.

1. Build qualified traffic through social media

Share the great coverage you've achieved: Highlight it in your newsletter (if you have one), on your LinkedIn and other social media pages, and in a running news feed on your website. Make it apparent that your industry is in love with you.

Here's what you'll get:

  • More credibility (hard to measure)
  • Lots more awareness (hard to measure)
  • Attaboys from investors
  • 10-20% boosts in qualified Web traffic (watch the inbound social link traffic to see it happen)

Here's how you do it:

  1. Follow the journalists you want to cover you.
  2. Read their work and reshare it with insightful comments, always providing appropriate attribution. Depending on your needs and profile, use a right-sized social media tool to make this easier, such as HootSuite, Radian6, Buffer, or (one of my favorites) Attentive.ly.
  3. When they cover you, send the piece to your prospects and your customers, put it in your website, share it, and thank them.
  4. Repeat.

2. Make lead generation events do double duty

There's nothing like having people who already trust you in the room—learning to trust you more and sharing that with others. That's why event marketing is ranked by B2B marketers year after year as their "go-to" sales tactic, according to the MarketingProfs and Content Marketing Institute annual study.

Your marketing team already executes trendy client development events, now consider inviting trade journalists, local journalists, and promising bloggers to come meet sources and learn the trends, too. You may even jump for a ticket for a writer who really gets your field and your company.

Here's what you'll get:

  • Top-notch coverage of your event
  • Better relationships with journalists—priceless over the long haul
  • Inbound prospects from links in the articles (trackable!)
  • Bonus points from clients and investors who see that you are the go-to company in your industry

Here's how you do it:

  1. Go back to that list of journalists, and have your CEO invite them to participate on a press pass, all expenses paid.
  2. Assign one person on your team, or from your agency, to help the journalists connect. See whether they can do briefings with a key client or two as well as a couple of your inside thought leaders.
  3. Make sure they get a company backgrounder, possibly case study notes prewritten, and bios, ahead of the event.
  4. Provide a quiet private room for the journalists to work with lots of power, coffee, and raging-fast Internet.

3. Hijack the smartest minds in your industry

What, you haven't written your book yet? Of course not! Growth stage companies are too busy for major campaigns like book writing. The next best thing is to develop a mutually beneficial alliance with a leading author or two in your field.

Authors are looking for ways to promote their books—and you'd like to reach their audience, too. Combing forces is one way to do both. Creating a webinar on a topic of interest both to the author and to you creates content that is twice as interesting. Moreover, the author's network enlarges the distribution footprint.

Here's how you do it:

  1. Read books in your industry (you're already doing that, right?).
  2. Pick three authors who speak to you or your team.
  3. Reach out to them on their author website or LinkedIn, inviting them to speak with you about a webinar series. Ask whether they would be open to promoting the series to their own fans (you'll want to hear a "yes").
  4. Offer to buy copies of their book for attendees, or for attendees who attend and ask questions. It's quid pro quo: This person needs to promote and sell books; make sure you help.
  5. Mention your webinar series with the author when you are speaking with trade journalists.
  6. List the author webinar in the trade calendars as an industry event.
  7. Have one of your content developers write up the webinar with the author and your expert as a blog post or series of posts.

Here's what you get:

  • Access to a new group of potential clients through the authors' distribution list
  • Signups for your webinar consisting of people interested in the topic who are now on your nurture list
  • More credibility

4. Put clients on commission

Few clients like to go on the record with a no-holds barred testimonial, so don't ask them for it. Instead, ask them to go on video with a short industry perspective at your next big tradeshow, where presumably you and the client will both attend.

Used properly on your website, these kinds of pieces showcase the kind of company you are by showcasing the quality of the company you keep. One example is the recent video by ENGAGE.cx, a CRM startup: Its video features thought leadership from a former VP of CRM at Oracle and at Intercontinental Hotels group.

Here's how you do it:

  1. Look for clients who are building their personal reputation as thought leaders.
  2. Ask whether they would provide a perspective on an issue that matters to you business and your prospective clients.
  3. Provide 1-3 questions in advance for your client.
  4. Send a video team to them. You'll find their perspective speaks for itself when they showcase their own strengths and insights.
  5. Put the video on your website and develop a social media campaign around it.
  6. Ask your client and your client's PR team to promote their point of view.
  7. Send it to journalists and ask whether they'd like to interview your client and your internal expert on the topic.

Here's what you get:

  • Enormous credibility kudos
  • Nice soundbites for investors about why companies are working with you
  • Jealous competitors
  • Substantial inbound lead traffic to see what experts say on an important trend (thanks to your social media outbound and your media pitching—and perhaps that of your client as well)

* * *

Your public relations efforts pay off even more powerfully when distributed through your sales and marketing process. There are many more ways to do this—once you get started sharing your credibility, it's addictive. Let me know how it's going for you.

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Public Relations: Four 'Wow' Ways to Use It for Sales

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image of Lisa Calhoun

Lisa Calhoun is founder of tech public relations firm Write2Market, recently recognized among the Top 100 Agencies in the US. She blogs at How You Rule the World.

LinkedIn: Lisa Calhoun

Twitter: @lisa_calhoun