56 CORPORATE VISION / Issue 12 2018 , Laura Tallett, Business & Corporate Director, Speed Taking Centre Stage: PR and the b2b Customer Journey Public relations has evolved. It is no longer about simply managing commu- nication between a company and the public through the media. Whilst reputation and awareness are important, demonstrating impact and com- mercial targets are now central to any programme Increasingly, businesses require a communications solution that marries leadership positioning with creative storytelling and lead generation, and yet we should not ignore some of the tradition- al components of PR and the role that brand messaging and storytelling play, whether that is through the traditional press release, an opinion article, white- paper, media interview or film. These forms of content are still valid and central to a communi- cations approach and desired by clients to generate earned (as opposed to paid-for) influence. While the objective of earning the trust and ear of your customers, stakeholders and influencers remains, PR communication is now a two-way, multichannel communication. It is about craft- ing engaging, targeted content that is activated across the channels to generate awareness and conversation. Frequently, we work directly with CEOs, COOs and CFOs, mean- ing we understand business strategy, priorities and critical touchpoints of the customer journey. We speak to influencers and journalists (traditional and new media) on a daily basis to understand the content that they need, and what their audiences will engage with. And we actively watch and listen to conversa- tions, where industry players (and client competitors) are communicating and customer/ consumer reaction. Collectively, those three pools of information mean we develop communications solutions that are informed and integrated. The beauty of PR means that we can easily adapt to the environment we need to influence and are not bound by the conventional rules of paid-for advertising. It is this responsiveness to change that means that PR is increasingly seen as a defined communica- tions solution of choice. Demonstrating direct impact Demonstrating impact is more important than ever before and PR, because of its changing role and rising importance is being particularly scrutinised. Proving measurable impact against business priorities is critical, but equally complex. When the medi- um is earned influence, the result is often holistic rather than direct. This is not a new challenge – PR consultants have consistently tussled with the issue of meas- urement, but we must respond to need and demonstrate value. Value can be cut in different ways – earned trust, commercial ad- vantage, a direct sales lead – the pull is based on what a particular business placed importance on – typically all of the above. As digital channels increasingly influence our work in communica- tions – the ability to directly corre- late PR activity and content with digital engagement is clearer and cleaner. A thought piece can be placed with an online publication, it can link back to a company’s website, it can be seeded through company social channels and it can be used to directly target influ- encers or customers. All trackable, measurable and quantifiable. The B2B customer journey The b2b customer journey is a complex one, with many businesses having different approaches, time scales and conversion rates. These can carry out over many months or many years – meaning that the supporting communication pro- gramme needs to have longevity and value that builds over time. Oct18279 Demonstrating impact through sales is challenging, however we can look at Marketing-Qual- ified Leads (MQLs) and how awareness, intention, conver- sion can be supported through reputation building and engaging content to tell the business story. Understanding what content will engage which audience and when is key, so a clear content strategy must be developed with engagement routes defined. PR at the heart of engagement and this journey How long is this journey and what needs to happen when and to who? Where is the low hanging fruit? Are we engaging intermediaries or going direct to customer? These are not questions to slow the process, but key points of un- derstanding in order to effectively map PR strategy and content more specifically to the customer journey and various touch points along that journey. The next step is to build an engaging strategy that is based on multichannel content. The form that content takes can vary hugely, yet where PR comes into its realm is through taking of key industry issues and using them as the basis for thought provok- ing storytelling.