The fourth wall is a figurative one at the foot of a stage (the other three walls shape the room of the set). Actors breach this wall when they talk to the audience. Similarly, PR is being challenged to break through mass communications and take the message directly to individuals.
This has been happening for some time. E.g. many use social media as part of the PR arsenal, and those who do a good job of it engage one-on-one. But direct communications is being taken to a new level to support sales and more specifically, ABM (account-based marketing) programs. PR people are being asked to go beyond mass media, even beyond what you might reasonably call PR to do something many would consider anathema: sell stuff.
In this post I explain more about the ABM trend and how PR can advance key account selling goals.
The PR and Sales Connection
First, let’s take a closer look at the PR and sales connection. Both professions advance their goals through communications (well, spin and persuasion help, too). But PR is more about getting attention for ideas, whereas sales is about getting the order (I confused the two and blew a job interview for a sales position, earlier in my career – see this post).
PR might want to disavow any connection, and not be seen as “product peddlers” (this works great until the client says “We hired you to make some noise, the great press hits are coming in. Now, where is the ka-ching on our web traffic and orders?)” I’ve even heard some say that PR is not a tool for driving sales, which is kind of ridiculous because I know I’ve bought things after reading about them in an article.
Suffice it to say that we should be friends, and make nice – one should support the other. It is hard to sell when no-one has heard of you. And PR success comes more easily with sales success, case studies, and testimonials from happy customers.
All well and good, but things take an interesting turn with ABM (also called key account marketing).
If you’ve worked in the tech industry, especially B2B and enterprise, you have probably heard of these terms. ABM is a sales strategy that targets key accounts, rather than taking the typical shotgun approach across markets. But it is not just about the sales team – it is about bringing other resources to bear, and lining them up behind the effort; especially marketing, which might otherwise operate more independently.
Why is ABM effective? As Sue Duris wrote on the MyCustomer blog:
ABM has become a priority for many B2B organisations, thanks in part to their need to become customer-centric. Customer experience is changing how organisations are conducting business. The customer is in control.
B2B organisations are battling to see who can best deliver value to customers and drive them along the customer journey to advocacy. ABM is the future of B2B – it’s all about organisational groups aligning together to build customer relationships and growth, and maximising customer lifetime value.Sue Duris
That was written in 2017, but the practice continues to grow. Last December, Amy Gesenhues wrote on MarTech Today that 73% of marketers planned to increase ABM budgets in 2020.
PR is increasingly becoming part of the mix that supports an ABM approach. It can help in all the ways PR helps sales: through validation, brand building and product or service PR, as examples.
It can help in other ways, too (depending on how broadly you define PR, and how resourceful and versatile your agency and team are).
Here are some ways
- Define buyer personas
- Compile prospect lists
- Court ABM buyers and influencers on social media
- Go beyond the usual social engagement, like sharing and reciprocating and actually pitch them for a client event or offering (breaking down that fourth wall).
- Engage them in other ways
I’ll be writing more on this topic, and posting about tools that can support ABM PR.
This explanation of ABM was helpful for me. I’ve seen it bandied about and didn’t quite get it but assumed it was just a new, mostly meaningless buzzword. But I get it better now and see the merit in it.