Lisa Sullivan On the Value Proposition of PR
In the next episode of our Accelerating Value podcast series, we spoke to Lisa Sullivan. Lisa is a Partner and Managing Director of Technology Practice at Ketchum - a global public relations firm.
Lisa discussed how the value proposition of PR has changed over the course of her career. She covered the different characteristics of PR, how PR is now being perceived as a two-way conversation and the role that communications play in creating value.
Here are a few highlights from the conversation.
PR is one of those things that, depending on the decade, has meant different things to different people. Its value has changed or the way people see its value has changed. How have you seen the value proposition of PR change over the course of your career?
I think people always used to think and talk about PR as a one-way street, as the communication of a message to the public. I think good PR has always been a two-way street. It's just that it is now being perceived more that way.
As we think about how we help our clients, it's being an external pioneer, and it's helping our clients understand how to engage in a two-way dialogue, a two-way conversation with their stakeholders, and thinking about the stakeholder audience through a much broader lens.
Do you find that they are struggling, in some cases, from a human perspective or from an organizational perspective, to keep pace with that?
One challenge is the classic: How do you distinguish between signal and noise? When there is so much coming back at you, it’s very human to react to what you see in front of you. I think being able to distinguish between the signal and the noise and understanding what's important to focus on, not focusing on everything that's urgent - that's something that, especially with pace, is difficult to do at scale.
So that's actually a really important part of value creation in anything, not just PR. When you're sitting with your clients and you're counseling them about this, what does that look like today? Because a lot of your ability to create value is dependent on their reaction time. How do you help them make this adjustment when the natural human reaction is to just slow it down?
That's right. I think the first choice is which are the data points, or the inputs, that are worth spending five minutes on? And how do you take the art and science, the data and the human elements, and make them work together to be able to really understand what are the highest value opportunities? I think that's where having an externally focused lens through everything is really important.
So one of the other parts of this, which has been true about PR and for other similar professions for decades, is the confidence and trust that exists between the counselor or the practitioner and the client. What are some of the lessons that you've learned about how you build confidence and trust with your clients fast?
I think the last part is hard, and it’s been especially hard over the last sixteen months. There is still no real substitute for being in a room with people and being able to look them in the eye and build that human connection. The first thing that I think about when building a relationship is thinking about it on two tiers.
So the first tier is: what are the immediate things that we can do? Where can we get some quick wins? How can I alleviate an immediate challenge?
And then in parallel with that, thinking about understanding that person's longer-term goals - both as a professional in their current role, but also as a person. What will motivate them, and how does the task that we have collectively decided to undertake together fit into that?
Has the change in the number and makeup of outlets (news outlets and other kinds of outlets) changed the value proposition of PR? Has it diminished it, has it increased it?
I think it's made our job more difficult in many ways, but I think it's increased our value dramatically. I think that scarcity drives more value in general, the more scarce the opportunity, the more valuable each of those opportunities is.
Where it's made our jobs more difficult is in two places. One is that competition is just fiercer for those opportunities. And I think really shifting the mindset of not being a volume-driven business, not counting our success based on those metrics.
What we've seen, particularly during 2020, is that it really sharpened up a lot of people's understanding of coverage. Understanding what coverage they wanted to be a part of, and the coverage they didn't want to be a part of.
Where does PR have the greatest value, particularly in a B2B context? Is it awareness or is it behavioral change and at what point in the sales cycle does that happen? And I think that the old “all publicity is good publicity” maxim only holds true if you think of publicity as being purely an awareness driver.
Lisa Sullivan has a deep understanding of the value that PR can create for a business. She’s experienced PR evolve over the years, which has helped her understand the role those good communications should play in a business today. The full conversation revealed many insights on this.
The Accelerating Value podcast series focuses on how we see, create, and plan value. Every week we talk to new guests, who are leaders across various disciplines. We understand their definition of value and showcase their expert insights to help you in your own quest to create value.