My PR identity crisis

I’ve never liked PR conferences. I’ve been to many and rarely come away with more than a grim sense of foreboding that our profession is sleepwalking into impotence. I feel as if PR has an obsession with tactical minutia or the idealistic abstract that is gradually making us irrelevant to those that pay the bills – predominantly marketers or commercial types.

So when I found myself involved in arranging a B2B marketing conference, it promised to be an interesting experience. Now the event is done, I find myself more positive than ever about the role of PR. However, I am a little confused about my own identity.

The Business Marketing Association (BMA), which is very well established in the US, is focused on promoting best practice in B2B marketing. Now, it has set its sights on global domination.

I was invited to join the steering committee of the new London chapter. A decision was taken to put all energies into a ‘Go and Grow’ event to launch the BMA into London. I can’t claim much responsibility for the fantastic conference (much of that rests with Rob Morrice and the team at iasb2b). But I can try to draw out some of the main themes:

It’s about sales, stupid

It was refreshing to see such sharp focus on the bottom line; as opposed to abstract concepts of ‘reputation management’ or vague notions of ‘awareness’. Google’s Richard Robinson did a great job of identifying the points at which influence can be brought to bear through a long and complex B2B sales process; and of how different audiences have different information needs that must be accessible via different platforms.

Thought leadership & content rule

I’ve been banging this drum for years, but the one thing that united every presentation was the need for strong content.

The keynote, delivered by Motorola’s Eduardo Conrado, really homed in on this, re-interpreting the four Ps of marketing, contending that ‘promotion’ had evolved to ‘education’. David Burnand’s excellent presentation on how Atos made the most of its Olympics partnership also put content at the heart of effective marketing. Music to my ears – especially as we have around £250,000 worth of primary research concluding for CCgroup clients this month!

Social media increasingly important, but challenges remain

The main B2B social media challenge is gaining scale so that followers can talk to followers and thus create more meaningful conversations. At the same time, many client organisations were reluctant to invest significant sums in social. That’s not surprising. When it comes to big ticket B2B sales the panelists admitted that very few decision-makers make major reference to social platforms.

But this is changing. There are an average of 12 people in the B2B buying process; and the more junior purchase influencers are already swarming to social sources for knowledge and education. As they are promoted, social media platforms will become critical to influencing B2B purchase.

It was only in the networking drinks afterwards that it dawned on me – I was the only PR consultancy boss there. We’re already creating strong thought leadership and educational content. We have been doing that for years. We’re putting sales at the heart of our programmes and driving the integration of marketing and sales with some customers.

So I have to ask: am I a B2B marketer or a B2B PR consultant? But then, does it really matter? As former colleague Ian Thomas suggests in a blog post from last year: isn’t everything PR?

25/10/12

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The author of this CCgroup blog post is our Managing Director, Rich

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