Public relations means many different things to different people. Some people view the industry negatively and think that all PR practitioners are spin doctors trying to control a story (and some practitioners embrace this view - a colleague hung a sign on his office door stating, “The Spin Doctor is in.”).

Others view PR as simply being synonymous with news releases. And some folks really do not understand that it is a very different medium than advertising. For example, while you have complete control over the message in paid advertising, in public relations you have no control over how the media presents your information, if they use it at all. 

The Public Relations Society of America defines PR this way: “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

I once participated in a strategic summit of public relations staff for one of my clients. The objective was to make sure all internal PR staff and the agency team were on the same page. As a first step, the moderator asked everyone in the room to write down what public relations means to them – what the ultimate goal is for PR.

One participant simply drew a dollar sign, which generated much laughter in the room. But is it a joke or that far from reality?

Certainly, PR cannot be expected to drive sales in and of itself. However, it is one vehicle for helping a company sell products and services.

The Quarter-Million-Dollar Media Pitch
Can public relations lead to sales? The answer is … absolutely.

Consider my experience as the account team leader for the regional office of a worldwide human resources consulting business. The company was very well known in other markets, but it needed to boost awareness locally.

Early on in the client relationship, I pitched and successfully placed a profile article of the office head in the area’s business newspaper. Based solely on the profile story, a prospective client contacted the company to discuss ongoing HR consulting, which led to a $250,000 annual contract. The prospect said that she got a good feeling about the HR company and the office leader from the quotes in the profile piece.

Does a successful media placement or an expertly crafted news release always lead to sales? Of course not, and no ethical PR practitioner would ever promise as much. But when it happens, it is a nice bonus. The HR profile article not only led to my client securing a quarter-million-dollar annual contract, that early placement instantly solidified my relationship with a new client – and led to a long-term client-agency connection.

If your company is looking to boost awareness of your product portfolio – and add another powerful tool in your marketing arsenal – contact me today. I’d also be interested in your thoughts about the definition of PR and its role in sales.

  • Tim Cook, President
    Cook Communications, LLC