Executives are rarely enthused about allocating precious dollars into public relations when they create their annual marketing budgets.

C-level stakeholders (especially at B2Bs in tech-driven sectors) often perceive PR as an expensive cost center. They don't link PR to the business development and sales functions of the organization—and instead cling to the idea that good publicity is a byproduct of good business.

The reality is that tangible business results are (or should be) the outcome of quality PR efforts. Positive publicity is a boon to any business but not the end game of B2B PR.

Worthwhile B2B PR is all about earning results that change perceptions, shape opinions, drive brand preferences, and create new business opportunities. B2B PR should not focus only on impressions and other vanity metrics that our industry still uses.

Those positive results can only be earned from a PR strategy aligned and integrated with the entire business and in sync with the changing media landscape, the evolving expectations of B2B buyers and enterprises, and the new rules and best-practices in the industry.

Rule 1: A complex industry is a good thing

Entrenched in the complex standards, regulations, and market forces of "unsexy" sectors, B2B executives are highly attached to their industry acronyms and jargon.

So when communicating with new audiences, B2B marketers often dumb down what their businesses do and rely on trite messaging about their "cutting-edge" solutions or "leading-edge" technology.

Even worse, some executives stay in their product-focused wheelhouse and dodge media outreach altogether.

That "unsexy" factor often contributes to B2B stakeholders' aversion to PR. "My [company/industry/product] is [technical/complex/boring]. Who would want to hear about this stuff?"

Lots of people.

The rise of online media has created an unending appetite for information across every industry.

For example, before online media, just a few trade magazines covering trends and developments in payments processing existed. Today, dozens of blogs and online media outlets publish news and thought leadership on payments processing.

A B2B should tap into the complexity of its industry—deploying engaging, industry-specific messaging that doesn't water down its value. A B2B can use PR to showcase its sector-specific insights. In doing so, a B2B broadens its online visibility and bolsters credibility as a subject matter expert.

Rule 2: Always drive the narrative

Traditional PR pushed a company's message (via press release or pitch) and waited for a reporter to seize that opportunity and schedule an interview.

The evolving media landscape has changed the game on that front, too. Media relations is more of a dialog than a call-and-response scenario.

Reporters today use a variety of online tools to request insights regarding specific topics from industry experts. B2B stakeholders now have targeted opportunities to share their input with those reporters and their (already interested) audiences.

We're also living in the era of the byline. When pitched an idea, a media outlet often requests an original article from the source rather than interview the source and write a piece.

Those content-driven developments give B2Bs the ability to drive the narrative. B2Bs share their perspectives and communicate their value propositions in compelling, original ways (rather than hope that reporters portray them in a flattering light).

A B2B should use content-driven media opportunities to reframe its industry's challenges from new angles—and educate buyers by showcasing how its unique solutions can resolve those problems.

Rule 3: The only audience that matters is yours

Traditional or "generalist" PR can succeed with an "any press is good press" ethos, but B2B PR campaigns are failures unless they reach the most relevant audience.

Who those audience members are depends on each industry and company, but they are interested in company info, benefit from it, and share it.

Reaching that targeted audience─especially through media and analyst relations─is the only way a B2B can broaden its exposure to potential buyers. Because 67% of the typical B2B buyer's journey now happens online, a B2B must invest in digital PR to grow brand awareness and drive qualified lead generation.

Rule 4: Respect that the stakes are higher

Resources are thin for B2Bs and enterprise-serving companies. What they care most about is growing their sales pipeline, footprint, and margins. That's why the stakes in B2B PR are so high... PR must support revenue growth.

Every PR effort supporting a B2B should be aligned with a specific purpose, such as:

  • Building visibility and awareness
  • Educating prospects
  • Establishing credibility
  • Generating new leads
  • Establishing new partnerships
  • Shortening sales cycles
  • Winning new business

Achieving those outcomes, however, requires a long-term investment. Good publicity can be a byproduct of good business, and vice versa... but you need a megaphone to make sure people know about your business in the first place.

An experienced, purpose-driven PR partner is the best megaphone.

A PR partner with experience in your industry will understand the rules outlined in this piece (and have a track record of results to prove it). This partner will have a deep network of media and analyst connections in your sector and harness that network in service to clients.

The right agency will earn its share of your annual budget by being a strong business-development asset in your corner, year after year. Ultimately, the business results of a B2B PR initiative are the only things that matter—and a smart agency partner will earn them.

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The New Rules of B2B Public Relations

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image of Vanessa Horwell

Vanessa Horwell is chief strategy officer at ThinkInk, a specialist agency serving companies across the advertising, airline, loyalty, mobile, payments, and travel sectors.

LinkedIn: Vanessa Horwell