If I had a nickel every time a CEO or marketing executive asked me how many more sales they’d make by using public relations tactics, Bill Gates would be jealous of my island-sized yacht.
As a 20-plus-year PR veteran, CEO of Florida-based EMSI Public Relations, and author of Celebritize Yourself, I understand why clients ask that question, but believe it is based on a fallacy.
Questions to Answer
To answer that question, I like to ask people a few questions. “Do you like to be at the receipt end of obvious sales efforts?” “When you walk into a department store to shop for a new pair of slacks, are you hoping the salesperson on the floor finds you quickly?” “Do you watch television in anticipation of all the cool commercials you’ll see?” “When you drive down the highway, are you excited when you see all the billboards dotting the skyline?” Of course, I know that anyone who answered yes to any of those questions would be in the minority.
The truth is few people like to be “sold,” and that’s why public relations (PR) works so well. The soul of PR isn’t promotion or sales, but rather, education and branding. When people read newspapers or magazines or listen to radio or watch television, they are looking to be informed and entertained — that’s what PR does.
PR versus Advertising
In contrast, advertising is a numbers game, and the amount of response you get out of it is directly proportionate to the amount of money you put into it. You put X number of dollars in one end of the meat grinder, and you hope for Y number of sales to come out the other end. PR doesn’t work like that. So, the pithy way of answering the question, “How many sales will I make?” is to say that PR isn’t a direct sales venue, but one thing is for certain — it’s difficult to sell anything without it.
My reasoning is that the information consumers get from PR fills in the gap between the point in which they become interested in something and the point at which they decide to make a purchase as an outgrowth of that interest. PR is not where sales are closed, but rather, it’s where sales begin. PR doesn’t directly sell your products or services, because it’s not intended to sell anything. It’s intended to educate consumers about who you are and what you’re about. PR alerts consumers to your expertise, your intelligence, and your message, and is an integral part of the consumer’s decision-making process.
That’s why I believe that PR’s return on investment is at least as valuable, if not more, than advertising. With advertising, you buy the space, and consumers know they are being “sold.” In PR, your venues are the editorial sections of newspapers and magazines and interview segments on talk radio and television. Here, you’re not a commercial — you appear in between the commercials, where consumers are looking for information. So whenever I get asked the question of how many sales will result from PR, I don’t answer with an imaginary number based on speculation. I answer with reality — PR is not a direct sales tactic, so it may not directly lead to sales in the sense that a million-dollar ad campaign might. But you will have a hard time getting any sales without PR educating the consumer that your company even exists.