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Selling the Story – What PR Can Learn From Sales

I’ve been fortunate to work in both media relations and sales over the course of my career. I see a lot of similarities between the two. For starters, you’re selling a product to the journalists and bloggers you’re targeting… they are your prospects. Your pitch, your story, is the product. I’m not talking about used car sales here – think more complex, consultative or solution selling.

It’s your job as the sales rep (work with me here) to do your best job at communicating the features, benefits, differentiators, and value of your story to them – to get them to buy. If you fail to get them interested in a couple of seconds, you’re never going to get the sale. They are overwhelmed with other offers all day long.

So, what do the best sales people do that help them meet quotas consistently quarter after quarter?

Follow some of these suggestions in your media relations efforts and you’ll always be a top performer:

  • Fish where the big fish are – don’t pitch your story to somebody that’s never going to cover it. At the same time, don’t fish in small ponds – trying to get coverage in the deep, dark corners of the Web. Those placements deliver little to no value for your clients. Set your sites on the big fish, and bring the right bait with you.
  • Leverage your relationships – in sales, relationships get your foot in the door – they don’t get the sale. Leverage your relationships – either direct or indirect through referrals – to get through to your prospect. If you can meet with them face-to-face, do it. Phone should be second. Email third. Twitter sometimes. I know, most journalists want to receive email first – so do sales prospects, it makes it easier for them to say “no”.
  • Know your target customer – good sales reps pre-call plan for every selling opportunity. They thoroughly research the target customer and learn everything they can about their business, their needs, etc. This enables them to craft their pitch to best generate interest from the potential buyer. So to should you get to know the journalist inside and out. Read every story they’ve written. Look at their profiles in LinkedIn or Facebook, follow them on Twitter, read their bios, etc.
  • Treat everyone with respect – good salespeople know that every relationship has value. You may find that the journalist you talk to first isn’t the best source for you. Be kind and courteous to gatekeepers and influencers. If you respect them, they are more likely to introduce you to the more appropriate source. This gives you borrowed credibility that you can leverage when breaking the ice with the real decision-maker.
  • Follow up and say “thank you” – don’t forget your manners. Thank the journalist or blogger for their time and be sincere, regardless of their interest this time around. They might buy from you tomorrow. If they want additional information, be prompt and thorough in your follow up. Over-deliver if you can, and position yourself as their vendor-of-choice for your brand of news. They’ll become a repeat customer and you’ll reap the rewards.
  • Get good leads – don’t rely on cold calls all the time. Talk to prospects about what their current needs are (eh hem, what stories are they writing? Can you provide a source, even if it’s not one of your clients?). Can you get leads from a service like HARO, ProfNet or PRSourceCode? At the same time, don’t call on the same leads everyone else is. Monitor Twitter for individual journalist and blogger requests, you may find better opportunities and less competition. Calling on qualified opportunities can help improve your close ratio.
  • Don’t be sloppy – good salespeople always have great attention to detail. They proofread their letters, and they practice their pitch. They learn from their mistakes. Be meticulous about your communication with the media – it will show. As a side note, if you’re not using an AP Stylebook for your writing, order a copy today. Old school journalists will value your mastery of AP style.
  • Build a pipeline – too many PR pros try to “close” a pitch on one call or attempt. The media environment doesn’t work like that. There are different lead times for making the purchase. Even the best media research can’t predict how long that sales cycle will be with each contact or outlet. Build a pipeline for the news you’re pitching – which starts with building good relationships with prospective buyers. If you build a good pipeline, you might land that big deal six months from now. You might also score some low-hanging fruit to meet this month’s objectives.

Once you start thinking about media relations with a sales hat on, it can really change your perception about how you approach each selling opportunity – each pitch. Rather than picking up the latest public relations book next time you’re on Amazon or in Barnes and Noble, check out some books in the sales section. You’ll be surprised how relevant the information can be to your sales efforts.

Some sales books I can think of off the top of my head include The Contrarian, Selling Sucks, How to Be a Rainmaker and Power Sales Writing. I’m not joking – sales is sales. You are selling the story. Be the best salesperson you can be. A simple Amazon search will yield plenty of titles on the topic.

Can you think of other sales analogies for media relations? Do you manage your media outreach like a salesperson? Do you hate or love this comparison? Let us know (c’mon, comment on this blog post, you know you want to).

About Jeremy Porter

Jeremy Porter is co-founder and editor of Journalistics, a lively blog about public relations and journalism topics.