Think of Public Relations and generally people will immediately picture Consumer PR (B2C PR). That’s because it’s aimed directly at individuals and we see it on a daily basis.
But while B2B PR or Business-to-Business Public Relations isn’t behind the scenes, it is probably slightly less visible to the general public.
It’s about helping organisations communicate their message to other organisations. This could be existing customers, potential ones, suppliers, staff and partners.
That means that when you operate in B2B, you need to know your sector, trends and market inside out. Plus, you need to be able to communicate that not just with clients, but also with stakeholders and B2B journalists.
David Clare is Head of PR at Fox Agency. With offices in London and Leeds, it specialises in B2B for global tech brands. He said there are a number of differences between B2C and B2B PR:
“… from audience and sales channel through to brand vs. product split and focus KPIs. As a PR professional, I much prefer B2B as the topics and media are much more in-depth and technical, which I find super interesting. Of course, the freebies are not so great; you can’t have it all!”
He explained that even the term B2B PR itself is quite broad:
“I’d recommend focusing in further on a specific niche - for example, we’re a B2B tech agency. This lends itself to a priority of maintaining focus - don’t venture to B2C, it’s too different a discipline (with very different media and pitch style) and don’t venture beyond your niche. Be the best in your specific swim lane.”
B2B PR Brand Reputation
A B2B PR team will be seeking to establish, protect and improve the reputation of an organisation and its executive team.
This will include promoting them as industry leaders and spokespeople and underlining this through targeted media coverage.
An important tool for a B2B PR agency is building relationships across the sector.
Having trusted relationships can prove critical to buying decisions, which could be made over a relatively long period of time.
B2B PR Digital and Social Media
Digital is proving an ever increasing motivator in business buying decisions. According to research firm, Sirius Decision, 67% of the buyer’s journey is now done online.
“As with all PR there is a big focus on digital. Social media and SEO are hugely important channels for reaching your audience, so it would be crazy to ignore them. B2B tends to be slower towards new trends since the audience and sales cycle is often more complex. Ultimately, they do catch up and it’s our job as PRs to explain why new channels are worth exploring and will benefit them just as it benefits B2C brands.”
That will mean looking carefully at website updates, with blogs, thought-leadership features, award wins and testimonials.
Where B2C social media will concentrate on influencers and major consumer platforms, with B2B, the role of LinkedIn can’t be underestimated, with decision-makers saying they use the site on a daily basis.
While the target audience and messaging differs, there are a number of similarities when it comes to the methods, tools, techniques and measurement used across Public Relations.
“The metrics tend to be the same, and models for measurement – such as Barcelona Principles 3.0 – can apply to both B2B and B2C. Both can be measured on brand and sales,” continued Clare.
“However, I’d suggest that B2B tends to focus more on leads, since in B2C there are many more impulse or lower barrier to entry purchases. There tends to be a longer sales period for B2B, requiring a process of lead nurture, on top of gaining leads in the first place.”
B2B PR Business Decisions
As Clare alludes to, a consumer can make swift buying decisions, based on brand awareness and reputation. This could be whether to buy one brand of soft drink or another, or which supermarket to head into.
A B2B PR agency realises that organisations tend to work more slowly. Buyers will have a larger budget and be led by a number of factors, such as profitability, reputation, costs, productivity and more.
This would suggest that B2B PR tends to be more of a long-term buy-in, whereas B2C is more fast-paced. However, Clare argues that this isn’t always the case:
“It may feel like that due to the (typically) longer sales journey for B2B products and services vs. B2C items, but I think B2C brands and agencies take a very long-term view.
“An easy example are Christmas and Superbowl campaigns, which are years in the making. And brand positioning, whether it’s Red Bull or Xero, isn’t built in a day.”
Long-term strategic planning is vital to B2B PR, because contracts, deals and tenders can take months or years to complete. That means the plan has to ensure that journalists and stakeholders have something new to write about - even if there’s no major new line.
To ensure that the messaging isn’t lost or diluted during the period, B2B PR is likely to invest in e-shots, podcasts, research papers, targeted social media and events.
This will also keep potential customers interested and ensure that the client remains at the top of their list.
“As well as building general initial awareness, a strong PR strategy focusing on establishing a business within its key sectors will create a bank of credible media material demonstrating knowledge and expertise which can feed into the B2B buying decision-making process,” explains Manchester-based PR Agency One.
“Online press materials also boost overall SEO strategy, further supporting businesses during their potential clients’ exploration.”
Bear in mind that the implications of B2B PR can also be amplified. B2C may push a new product at a consumer and if a handful of them don’t like it, it should be okay.
A “handful” of customers at B2B level could be catastrophic for the client.
B2B PR Importance of Creativity
Historically it would be assumed that consumer PR is more creative than B2B. That’s not necessarily the case, and just because they’re not necessarily aiming at a mainstream headline, doesn’t mean that they don’t want to elicit an emotional response from other businesses.
They can still be creative, still entertain, it’s just “influencers” at the B2B end are less likely to be big on Instagram.
You can see a list of B2B PR agencies in the Agencies section of Brands and Agencies, along with their locations, specialisms and case studies.