In 2021, businesses in the UK spent over £30 billion in advertising, which was the highest on record. By contrast, they spent little under £17 billion on PR corporate communication services. That’s pretty much half the amount that was spent on advertising. Yet research shows that PR benefits businesses and brands as much, if not more, than its advertising counterpart and crucially over a longer period of time.
I doubt this trend that we saw last year which favored advertising over PR by around two to one is what we’ll see continuing throughout this year and beyond. It’s likely that the context is what drove demand because during 2020 the pandemic reshaped the fortunes of many businesses. Some collapsed under the strain of restrictions on trade and lost revenues.
We all saw that. Others, by hook or by crook, managed somehow to hang on for dear life and make it through the storm by the skin of their teeth. And others faired well, a whole lot better and actually did really rather well, especially those in the fields of health care and manufacturing, for example. By the time 2021 came along, the shackles were off and the race to recovery was very much on and the mindset shifted towards business promotion in a bid to win back all the lost revenue from the previous year and gain the all important edge over the competition and do so ASAP.
Advertising is great for that. And as someone who spent 11 years selling advertising for several national and regional newspapers, I can testify just how effective great ad campaigns can be for businesses. But if you’re looking for a big bang for your buck in here and now, advertising is absolutely your best bet. But if your goal is to influence customer perception of your business, make an impact on their professional or personal lives and within the sector in which you operate, and to do so in a way that encourages actionable results, i.e. they become paying customers and stick with you.
You need something more. You need PR. So how can PR, which is being seen, read and heard in the right way by the right people and at the right time in media that matter most – how can PR help you to win new business?
Research shows that 80% of purchasing decisions are made before any contact with an organization. And 81% of marketers believe that earned media, which is what PR is all about and includes things like quotes or articles in magazines and newspapers or interviews on the telly or the radio, is more effective at building brand awareness and increase in sales than advertising. So how do you do this? How can you get your business in front of more of the right people who have the potential to become future paying customers?
Short answer you need to be clear on what you stand for as a business and how what you can do makes a real difference to your intended audience. And by that I don’t mean that you must be able to completely transform their lives in some way. That will be a tad dramatic, rather consider the ways that you and your business can add value to them.
That’s worth repeating. Think of how you can add value to your potential customers. Let me give you an example – in 2020 Clearly PR commissioned some research into how business leaders decide what makes a piece of thought leadership content any good or not. By thought leadership content what I mean are things like articles that do a deep dive into a specific subject industry specific podcasts infographics, videos, white papers and newsletters, you kind of get the picture.
We all saw the state of confusion that arose during the pandemic and decision makers for every sector of the economy were desperate for answers meaning to what was happening, what may yet come on how best to steer their organisations to safety. Of course, no one had all the answers, and demand for information sparked a huge surge in the number of people positioning themselves as thought leaders.
In fact, and here’s an interesting stat for you., between March 2020 and September 2021, the number of people with the job title ‘Thought leader’ on LinkedIn rocketed by over 400,000 to 1.6 million. Anyway back to the research, what made a piece of thought leadership content any good or not for the 500 CEOs and MDs who took part in our research was the value they placed on said content.
They were looking for answers. They wanted to gain the insights of others in their field with similar experiences so they can make better informed decisions about the challenges they were facing. 69% of them told us that, as potential customers of an organisation themselves, their attention was held when a business communicating with them, whether via the media or something as direct as an email newsletter shared information, content and stories that were specifically relevant and contextualized to the current circumstances.
And it’s that word that we’re talking about again, value. Think of it like this – what would happen if your business suddenly vanished? Will there be a gap in the market? Could you easily be replaced by a competitor? How would your current and potential customers react and, well, anyone can. Who’s going to miss you anyway? When Mothercare disappeared from High Street, it was a huge shock More importantly, it was a major loss for parents of young children who now had to find somewhere else to buy their kids baby grows.
It was the Go-To provider where families could get pretty much everything they needed for their wee ones. Toys R Us, Staples, Woolworths, Blockbuster Video, and Saab other examples – alright, I might be loner on that last one, but they were all missed by their loyal customers. But I did love my Saab 900 though. So when we talk about how PR can help your business to grow it’s revenues, it all comes back to that basic concept of value because the value you add is the value you create.
Let me repeat that. The value you add is the value you create. The value you add through the sharing of information and insights and the influence you can exert to enable better decision making among your intended audience is the value you create for their business as a direct result of these actions and for your business as well, because you become credible, trusted, a respected partner that customers want to do business with and people wish to work for. Focus your PR and messaging on helping your customers to achieve their desired business outcomes. Resist the temptation to make it about you.
You should never make it about you because sorry to say, your customers don’t care about you. They care about themselves. And what you can do for them. Keep this front of mind and your new business pipeline will continue flowing and your existing customers will be more than happy to stick with you year after year after year.