Best Practices In B2B PR

The balance of power in B2B public relations has shifted. No longer do the media hold all the cards, though they are still important influencers. Because the B2B public relations ecosystem is continuing to evolve so quickly, we are devoting some posts to B2B PR best practices and the changing face of the profession.

Our first post is an interview with Brian Kardon, CMO of Lattice Engines, a company he joined in June 2012 after a hugely successful four-year run at Eloqua, where he helped to grow the company from $20 million to $70 million in revenue. Before Eloqua, Brian served as Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer at Forrester Research, where he helped to more than triple their revenues in five years.

WENDY MARX: What is your main objective with your public relations?
BRIAN KARDON: Every market has an ecosystem of influencers. The PR programs I have managed organize the influencers into tiers. For each tier, we design a communication program specific to that group–-frequency of communication, method (face-to-face, email, video conference, etc.), and messages. All influencers are not equal. It’s important to treat them differently. The top tier might get a monthly call from the CEO or me and a face to face meeting. The next tier might get quarterly briefings via telepresence and a monthly email.

It is critically important to continually engage with influencers, especially when you don’t need help. I have seen too many PR professionals pitch ideas to targets that they have not warmed up over the previous months or years.

It used to be that the influencers were a fairly concentrated group. Today, almost anyone can quickly become an influencer if they have a well-respected blog, newsletter, conference, or consulting practice. In the tech space, the dominance of Forrester, Gartner, and IDC has been eroded by new influencers like Altimeter and Constellation.

Do you see B2B public relations as a way to generate leads? If so, how?
I have never used PR to generate leads. I use it to generate awareness, change perceptions, and build the top of the funnel. I come from a very metrics-driven culture--at Forrester, Eloqua, and now Lattice Engines We measure PR in lots of ways, but seldom from a lead gen point of view.

Can you provide a few ways you measure PR
Is there a way we are NOT measuring PR? I look at web traffic, number of inbound links, ratio of new to repeat visitors, branded searches, fans, followers, tweets, retweets, comments to posts, likes... you name it. From my experience, the most important part is consistency of measurement. When you use the same metrics over many periods in a consistent way, you can see patterns and trends that lead to better insight into what's working and what isn't.

It is important to use measurement not to assign blame, but to learn. I have learned more from mistakes than from successes. The whole PR team needs to embrace the idea of continuous learning.

It is also key to keep coming back to PR goals overall. And that will vary with each company. In some cases it might be awareness. In others, changing perceptions in some way. It's important that you can tie measurement to your specific goals.

What do you see as the biggest change and opportunity today in B2B public relations?
It’s hard to think of a profession that has changed more in the past 10 years! A brand is what Google says it is. Press releases are created for organic search purposes. PR is a real-time business. Newsjacking is often a way to amplify attention. News cycles are frequently measured in minutes and hours, and not days. There is a whole new technology backbone to support PR--to communicate, track, measure and identify opportunities. Blogs posts serve as “link bait” for people and companies hyperlinked in those posts. Pity the PR person who is not agile and technically astute.

There has never been greater opportunity to engage with influencers than today. You don’t have to get someone to a meeting or on the phone to engage. A tweet, comment on a blog, DM, twitpic, and video are all ways to engage in new ways. It is very much a two-way street. Successful PR professionals know how to help the media and influencers to make a connection or write a story. They feed valuable, timely information to the right person with long-term relationship building in mind.

How are you integrating your public relations with your marketing? With social media?
Collaboration across the marketing team is critical to success.
Don’t treat the agency as a vendor. They are very much a team member. Treat them that way.

Campaigns must be amplified across all channels. A great idea can work across social, email and live channels. Don’t forget that infographic, video and interview. Reach out to influencers with exclusives and ways that personalize your campaign for their audience. Break down the silos in your marketing organization.

What did you learn at Eloqua that you will be applying to Lattice Engines?
I learned a few really important things:

  • Our agencies were true partners at Eloqua–-especially Jess3 (data visualization) and Shift (PR). They helped us create the ideas and develop the marketing plans around them. You need to get the best work out of your partners. Encourage them. Try new things. Take risks. Support your agencies even when there are problems. Get to know them as people.
  • Be generous to your influencers. Give them credit. Compliment them. Never shill for your company or products. Be helpful and genuine.
  • You need a great team that can operate in real-time and are digital natives. It is hard to find them. Once you have them, help them to grow and learn.
  • Always be open to new ideas. The landscape is changing so fast, you don’t want to miss anything. Did you jump on Pinterest early? Are you using social sign-on for forms? Are you optimized on LinkedIn and Facebook?

Can you provide an example to illustrate how you have effectively fed an influencer?
There is no better way to develop a relationship than to actually work with an influencer. At Eloqua, my VP of Content Marketing, Joe Chernov, identified 20 key influencers for the Social Media ProBook. We asked each to contribute something. There was great collaboration and learning. In return, we gave each contributor his/her own personalized avatar illustration that the contributor could use as a profile picture. It was lots of fun. Contributors not only provided some amazing content, but were exceptionally generous in tweeting and blogging about the whole project.

[Image: Flickr user Melissa Emmons]

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8 Comments

  • Gordon G. Andrew

    Brian has a solid perspective on many issues relating to B2B PR, but using activity-focused metrics such as web traffic, inbound links, fans, followers, likes, tweets, etc. is a BIG reason why the PR discipline is undervalued at most firms. PR professionals need to demonstrate a tangible connection between what they do and what the enterprise is seeking, which often involves hard-nosed metrics such as lead generation. The PR shortcoming at most B2B firms is that they fail to create relevant 3rd party endorsements that the sales force can leverage, or they don’t properly merchandise those endorsements to drive interest among target audiences. When your CEO asks, “What are you doing to grow our company?” would you rather respond with, “I’m building brand awareness, and we now have 200 “likes” on Facebook,” or… “The bylined article I wrote and placed was just sent to 200 top prospects, and follow-up calls by our sales reps yielded 3 new clients and 10 meetings.”?

  • Jodi Echakowitz

    Great piece! The points that Brian made (such as the importance of measurement; that PR is NOT a lead generation tool; the value of working in partnership with customers, etc.) are ones that I am always reinforcing when speaking with customers and prospects. It's great to have an article to share that is in line with my way of thinking. Thanks!

  • Wendy Marx

    Glad you found the post useful, Adrienne. Good question. I think what Brian means by top of the funnel is that PR creates "awareness" or "changes perception" that moves people into the funnel to start considering your product/service. So it that sense it is creating a lead but not a qualified lead. 

  • Adrienne Szewczyk

    Great post, thanks for sharing!

    I'm curious what Brian means by "build the top of the funnel" since he says it isn't about lead gen. Can you please clarify?

  • Wendy Marx

    Matt, very good point about the whole team embracing the concept of continuous learning. You can't have any weak links...and as Brian Kardon put it so well, "Always be open to new ideas."