Today's economy has made companies in all types of industries pay closer attention to the return they get on their investments. In the case of public relations, the notion of building a brand has come under scrutiny. After all, branding clearly is important for a company's reputation, but how do you measure it?
This is a particularly worrisome question for professional services firms, such as law offices, real estate brokerages, architectural firms and so forth. The focus of public relations for such relationship-based businesses, however, should not be on branding but on sales support and executive visibility.
Public relations plays a major role in shortening the sales cycle and demonstrating a firm's area of expertise to its target audiences. Professional service firms are now increasingly using external communications to support sales efforts and to develop new clients.
Let's look at it from your audience's point of view. Most potential clients identify professional service firms they wish to hire in three ways:
Referrals from relationships in the market
Events or conferences organized by professional organizations
Research in trade and business press for specific practice reputation
Factors influencing selection include areas of expertise, reputation and depth of resources. Prospective clients also look for confirmation of your claims and qualifications through press coverage, customer/partner endorsements, and other outside support.
Therefore, in building communications campaigns that help gain new customers, the following goals must be accomplished:
Build partner relationships with prospects in intimate business settings, such as sponsored events
Demonstrate your business expertise/knowledge base, reputation in the market and depth of resources in a low-pressure educational environment such as workshops or panel discussions/speaking engagements
Establish your reputation in the market by persuading the press or existing customers to talk about your qualifications and successes
Deliver information that is important to your potential customers in a setting that can be controlled, so that the messages you want to get across are properly received
Leverage your strengths and experience to establish your reputation as an expert insider who truly understands your clients' markets and needs
Create a communications program that can be reused across all of your business lines
Your communications program should "surround" potential customers with information relevant to their business needs. An educational event, combined with pre- and post-event promotion and press coverage, can create the support needed to develop leads and key business introductions. But don't forget your business contacts: They can serve as great points of reference, getting you in the door much faster than you could on your own. When used together with direct sales efforts, these strategies can significantly shorten the sales cycle.
Professional services firms often overlook selling all available services to existing clients. For example, a real estate firm may represent a client for office relocation, but may also have the capability to offer financing. If they do not properly communicate this service to their client, the client will get financing from someone else. Making sure that your communications reach existing customers ensures they will be educated on all the services you provide, allowing you to make new sales even as you build a new client prospect list.
Public relations provides you an easy way to measure investments that, when properly aligned with your business model, is a proven method to increase sales leads and shorten the sales cycle (which can last 6-18 months). Keep in mind that in the world of sales, any compression of the sales cycle, even as little as 90 days, is a considerable improvement.
Marc Hausman is president and CEO of Strategic Communications Group, a public relations agency serving technology, IT services, telecommunications and professional services companies. Strategic represents both publicly traded and privately-held mid-market firms, business lines or divisions of Global 2000 companies, and emerging players in growth-oriented industries. The firm has productized a Network of Relationships to facilitate client business goals. Contact Marc at firstname.lastname@example.org.