Top to Bottom: How PR Accelerates Business Development Throughout the Sales Funnel

Author: Crystal Clarity, COO

In a day when just about anything and everything can be measured, there’s no question that strong, contextualized, actionable data is critical for startup leaders when evaluating the return on their investments. 

It makes sense, then, that one of the most frequently asked questions we hear from clients is about how public relations supports business development efforts. We get why that question comes up so often. PR can often be mislabeled as a “vanity” effort. And while we see proof every day on the contrary—that PR is instrumental in helping grow a successful startup—the impact of public relations isn’t always as easy to directly measure as other sales and marketing strategies.

Public relations is about building, managing, and leveraging a brand’s reputation to drive growth and success. When executed well, PR plays an essential role in helping your company differentiate itself from its competitors, increase interest from potential customers, investors, and partners, build validation and credibility in the marketplace and protect the company’s reputation in a time of crisis or through unexpected challenges.  

At s2s, we build PR strategies to help our startup clients meet a far-ranging list of diverse business goals: talent recruitment, fundraising, product commercialization, customer acquisition and retention, and beyond. 

For this blog post, we’re going to focus on one specific goal: business development. 

You’ve likely heard of the Rule of 7, a marketing principle that essentially states that a person needs to see your brand or product name at least seven times before making a buying decision. PR plays a vital role in providing repeated visibility of your brand across multiple touchpoints throughout the customer acquisition process. 

To further illustrate this, let’s use a standard model that is often employed for mapping out a customer acquisition journey, the “sales funnel.” 

While we apply multiple PR strategies across all stages of the acquisition journey, here are just a few of the core ways PR directly supports business development at each stage:

Awareness Stage: Let’s build market visibility and credibility

At this stage of the business development process, the primary goal is typically lead generation. Your prospective customers or partners have either never heard of you or only have vague familiarity of your brand and what you can offer them. Sales tactics at this point will vary somewhat depending on your potential customer and whether you are focused on selling to other businesses or directly to consumers, but might include purchasing lists, setting up booths at trade shows, or digital advertising campaigns. 

The PR strategies we typically prioritize to support lead generation typically begin with:

  • Earned media coverage to validate, de-risk and amplify awareness. 
  • A social media plan that focuses on seeding the market with a steady drip of relevant content that resonates with the target audience and highlights our client’s unique perspectives and thought leadership. 
  • Webinars, white papers, and podcasts are excellent for exposing a new brand to potential customers looking for relevant expertise.
Example: Maritime Blue’s placement in Forbes introduced the organization to new audiences and delivered strong validation for their startup accelerator program.

Consideration Stage: You have their attention, but they haven’t committed… yet

At this point, your startup has prospects who are interested but haven’t converted to customers. From a PR perspective, what often helps move the needle at this stage of the customer journey is validation from other customers, thought leadership that builds further credibility and trust in you, and market differentiation. In other words, let’s help answer the question: “Why should I pick you over them?” 

To support efforts here, we often dial up our activity around:

  • Securing podcasts
  • Industry-focused media interviews
  • Event speaking opportunities and awards
  • Owned content that showcases your expertise

A quarterly newsletter that delivers value and insight to your prospective customer is also often a fruitful investment as well.

Decision Stage: Differentiate yourself from competitors, then close the deal

Social proof–sharing reviews and testimonials–is incredibly effective for converting prospects to customers, because we all know that hearing from our peers carries far more weight than hearing from a brand itself. Case studies, testimonials, reviews and customer success stories are all exceptionally valuable for helping close deals with interested prospects. 

This content works great across multiple channels including social posts, email campaigns and company blogs. Short videos, gifs and simple infographics are often powerful for conveying these stories in a compelling and easily digestible way. 

This content serves a dual purpose as we also share it with the media to build context around our pitches and show your engagement with your online ecosystem; journalists love to hear from actual customers or users to validate objective interest.  

We also source industry events where our clients can share the stage with one of their customers, partners, or fellow industry leaders to illuminate how our client’s technology or solution helped them. These real-life examples are so powerful for building trust and credibility.

Example: John Eisen, PhD, UC Davis professor and renowned genomics and microbiology researcher, joined Ivan Liachko, PhD, Founder and CEO for Phase Genomics, for a candid and lively fireside chat on the current state of phage research and innovation.

Loyalty Stage: Grow rapport and trust

The customer journey doesn’t end once you close the deal; it’s just beginning. At this point, PR is critical for ensuring you not only continue to showcase your value to existing clients but also turn them into brand ambassadors. Sharing their success stories is one strategy for celebrating their wins while simultaneously educating others about how you can help them win, too. 

There’s a lot that goes into building a coordinated PR strategy that supports business development for a startup. This is just a snapshot of some of the approaches we’ve found to be most effective for our clients.

Reach out if you’d like to dig deeper into how PR can help you reach your business goals. We’d love to help!