The Relevance of Traditional “PR” in Marketing HR Products and Services

What exactly is Public Relations?

When most people hear the words "Public Relations," it is usually associated with how politicians, celebrities, and large corporations deal with the public (fans, voters, customers, investors, etc.). This is especially true when dealing with “damage control” – a response to a mishap that has a potential negative impact on the entity in question – think Enron, Michael Jackson or the last USA presidential campaign. As a result, PR often has a negative connotation and is associated more with “spin and fluff.” In B2B circles, it is also negatively associated with being costly with a low ROI, too difficult and ambiguous to measure, or not necessary at all.

It’s obvious that PR has an image problem.

Unfortunately, many marketing and sales executives in the human capital industry confuse marketing PR with traditional PR and as a result, waste a lot of money, and/or fail to reap the benefits of what good marketing PR can bring.

So what is marketing PR, how does it differ from traditional PR, and should we even use the term “PR” in the B2B human resource industry?

Philip Kotler, distinguished Professor of International Marketing at the Northwestern University Kellogg Graduate School of Management in Chicago, defines public relations as, "Public Relations involves a variety of programs designed to promote and/or protect a company's image or it's individual products." He defines the public as “any group that has an actual or potential interest in or impact on a company's ability to achieve its objectives."

But the fact is, most HR service providers rarely need traditional PR and will get much more value spending their “PR” dollars on targeted “marketing PR” programs. Unfortunately, traditional PR is exactly what most HR vendors unknowingly purchase when they retain a PR firm, which usually produces little or no results (lead generation). Or, the PR firm becomes the HR supplier’s press release writing vehicle and the vendor ends up paying what amounts to about $2,000 per press release, which we feel is a complete waste of valuable marketing dollars.

As we wrote in a previous blog, The Price of Public Relations, publicly traded HR suppliers or those getting ready to go public do require a lot of traditional PR services such as investor relations, defending a company’s/product’s image when problems are encountered, TV and radio appearances, crisis communications, lobbying and so on. But the rest of the 98+% of HR vendors don’t need to pay for these services – they need to focus on marketing PR.

Marketing PR is different from traditional PR as Mr. Kotler eloquently described in his excellent marketing book titled Marketing Management.

We recommend that the primary tactics in Marketing PR include:

- Writing and distributing regular news announcements.
- Participating in (i.e., speaking) and/or hosting events (i.e., webinars, client conferences).
- Monitoring query services to secure media placement opportunities.
- Writing and placing byline articles.
- Writing, distributing and publishing white papers.
- Securing award recognition.

Today, any company selling to the HR department must have a formal marketing PR plan. It’s one of the most cost-effective ways to build product awareness, increase media visibility and generate sales leads.

Most marketing PR activities have little to do with traditional PR and – ready for this – most HR suppliers already have the marketing talent in-house to manage about 2/3 of a marketing PR plan. The other 1/3 of marketing PR activities can be outsourced to a part-time media relations expert who (a) can write a great news release and (b) knows how to pitch and work with journalists. And with services like – which for a few hundred dollars a month will do the difficult and time-consuming grunt work of aggregating and managing media lists, locating byline article opportunities, locating speaking and award opportunities, etc. – you don’t need to spend a lot of money with an outside PR firm. Instead, hire someone who can “pitch” the media and secure placements.

Now, about the term Public Relations. We advocate that marketing executives in the human capital space stop using the term PR, or at least distinguish between traditional PR and marketing PR. Instead, focus on the specific marketing tactics and then figure out who is the best person or firm to own and execute these activities – media visibility and lead generation. You’ll save a lot of money and more easily measure the effectiveness of your marketing PR investments.