Where Was PR at the BMA International Conference?

I got a lot of great insights from attended the BMA International Conference in Chicago the last week of May, which brought together a great mix of corporate and “agency” types to discuss B2B marketing. That included the power of Net Promoter Scores, the differences between marketing transactional and complex sales,  where creativity in branding comes from, and what makes a successful marketing communications campaign.

Guy Kawasaki at the BMA Grow Conference (photo courtesy BMA)

What I heard precious little about is public relations. I didn’t see evidence of many PR attendees, and I didn’t hear more than the occasional passing comments about it in presentations. Moreover, PR is poorly represented in BMA’s own B2 awards, while piles of categories are dedicated to traditional advertising.

I don’t know why this is, though it’s probably always been that way.  When I got my MBA in marketing, it was pretty obvious that most marketing students and professors regarded PR as a mysterious niche capability hardly worth mentioning. But that was a decade ago.  Meanwhile, year after year, PR agencies outgrow their advertising counterparts (albeit from a much smaller base), and on the B2B side, most of our clients regard us as their crucial partners in building their brands, advancing awareness, rallying influencers, building thought leadership and building engagement through social channels. I think those are all pretty important, don’t you?

I do believe that PR pros often do a poor job connecting their results to objectives that the CMO appreciates, and even less at doing it in a way sales appreciates. Impressions and clip counts aren’t going to do it. We need to have an open dialogue with sales and marketing to understand where the problems are in the marketing funnel and align public relations efforts accordingly. Maybe the need is awareness, maybe it’s correcting misperceptions about the brand, maybe it’s about providing resources to help prospects research, maybe it’s about activating customer advocates AFTER the sale. But I can tell you that I would design the PR campaign very differently depending on which of these issues is first and foremost.

Then I believe we need to be more aggressive in helping our sales and marketing colleagues envision what is possible through PR across owned, earned and shared media platforms. We complain when they don’t “get it,” but where were we when they had their quarterly retreat or annual summit? Too busy tweeting?

We’re doing some awesomely powerful work with digital storytelling, video, events and straight up media relations. Let’s make sure we’re clear on how that work is helping drive the business.