PR and marketing are integral to making public sector sales

Written by Toby Gavin

Read how we have partnered with the superb team over at Advice Cloud to help suppliers sell more to the public sector.

They spoke to me to get some initial thoughts on what suppliers should be focusing on in their marketing and PR.

One of things we noticed on your website is this emphasis on Mantis PR not being just about PR. Can you tell us more?

Organisations that are totally new to Public Relations (PR) often make the mistake that PR stands for ‘Press Releases’. Whilst all PR agencies can still develop press releases to tell their clients’ news, the notion of PR has had to evolve significantly beyond that single, tactical method to generate media coverage as a means of informing your ‘publics’.

What has driven that evolution?

With the arrival of digital and online media, it has, theoretically at least, become easier to determine who exactly is reading what – the CIO, the CEO, sales, marketing manager, etc. And, we have learned more about their reading habits. Armed with this information, PR is delivering stories in new ways – exclusive blogs, pre-written articles, Q&A interviews, for example.
However, today, working with the media on its own to inform target stakeholders about a company and its products is not enough. The media remains a crucial channel, but agencies and clients that still think PR is solely about media relations are not only missing a trick themselves, but also doing a slight disservice to their clients.
Today, the words ‘public’ and ‘relations’ are pivotal if an organisation is going to successfully use PR to achieve whatever objectives they set their agency at the start of any campaign. Take a public sector technology provider as an example. Who are the company’s publics? That is, who are the individuals or departments, partners, employees, investors, associations it needs to be speaking to and influencing to help the organisation reach its objectives.

The relations bit…how is your campaign going to set about making connections and relationships with those stakeholders. The media will be just one channel that agencies should be exploring. So, the role of the agency has evolved to one of helping organisations understand who their stakeholders are, what tactics are best to target them and what channels have to be exploited.

And today, PR is no longer just about using external channels to reach external stakeholders. Key to the success of any organisation is its own staff and making sure they are updated on corporate vision, strategy, products and successful customer wins – amongst other things – is key to keeping them engaged and loyal to the corporate cause. An internal communications programme is key to supporting any external communication campaign being undertaken. If your own internal staff fail to understand the business and where it is heading, chances are your external stakeholders will also struggle to fully grasp it.

Given that our clients, in many instances, are operating at a critical service level within the public sector, and any disruption to application / infrastructure availability can have implications on patient care, for example, they need to be sure they have the right communication strategy in place in the event of a crisis. Today, we are helping our clients identify risks, plan, prepare and practice for a crisis. We are helping them understand what to say, how to work with the media and across social media and other channels during times of corporate pressure.

I have outlined above just some of the areas that as agency we offer our clients – or rather PR agencies have evolved to offer to ensure they remain relevant to their clients. Stakeholder identification and engagement, media relations, crisis communications and internal communications – underpinning all of those distinct areas is content. Content that resonates with the identified stakeholders is key to educating, informing and engaging with those groups and individuals.

As an agency, we have specialised in supporting public sector technology vendors for the last 10 years.

What does that mean?

First and foremost, that means we understand technology but above that, it means we understand where technology and the public sector converge. We are specialists that understand better than most the pressures, problems and the pertinent issues the sector regularly faces. And that is important because it enables us to understand the sort of content that is going to resonate with our clients stakeholders and have relationships with the individuals, groups and associations to help deliver that content more widely.

The content that we produce underpins all manner of campaigns – sales, marketing, customer engagement, tender fulfilment. Clever content, disseminated in the right channels to reach the right audiences is key to achieving the ultimate aim of any PR programme- increased awareness and understanding within the people that matter to you
Which communication strategy/approach is a must have for today’s suppliers looking to sell to public sector?

The most important consideration an organisation must make is understanding who their stakeholders are. Once that has been determined, then the work really starts on putting the mechanisms in place to target them.

If you are a technology company wanting to sell to DWP for example, do you know who the key people are? Do you know which events they are attending or speaking at? Do you know who else they are connected to? Do you understand what interests them, both within work and outside of work?

If a PR campaign is to be successful the content has to resonate and above all else seek to build empathy between supplier and buyer. The public sector buys from organisations it knows, understands and has a degree of empathy with. As an agency, it is our role to help build that connection.

It’s tough getting your public sector story published. What are your top three tips for suppliers?

  • Know your media and make the content relevant -Journalists hate nothing more than a story sent to them that is irrelevant to the area they are responsible for covering or if it’s of little relevance to their readership. A story that talks about how a central government department has used e-auctions to procure its latest round of stationary and is targeted at the news reporter for ‘ERP in the cloud’ won’t cut it.
    Take time to research writers and outlets, and who their readers are. Organisations that understand their focus, their readers and can present content in a way that means they need to make very few amends to make it publishable will be regarded far more highly that those that send non-targeted or self-serving content.
  • Is your story newsworthy? – News by definition means something is new, that its different, informative and worth sharing for best practice. Just because you might have sold a new electronic form solution to help citizens pay council tax online, or report a missed bin or enable citizens to self-serve online, the chances are your competitor and a neighbouring authority has done something similar recently. You need to be creative and try to ensure your story differentiates itself
  • You didn’t write your public sector story as a journalist would – The ideal story can be opened and copy/pasted into the media website. No edits. Can you imagine how much time that saves the journalist! This isn’t a likely scenario though. More often journalists will dissect your story, using and editing the bits they want. And, they’ll call you if they need more information. But for them to even consider publishing you need to at least attempt to write in the style that a journalist would.

What if a client comes to you with a story that doesn’t really have a hook that will attract coverage?

Recently, one of our clients wanted to draft a news announcement around a new product development. In our view it wasn’t newsworthy and would be potentially wasted effort. So, rather than spending time drafting and pitching a news announcement, we worked with a select and niche group of targeted media to develop bespoke, exclusive content ideas – opinion articles and Q&A articles for example – in collaboration with those targeted journalists.

By thinking beyond news and, working in collaboration with journalists that trust us, the ‘non-news’ item resulted in:

  • A customer Q&A piece with a key public sector title
  • A feature piece involving a key government stakeholder and influencer in a one of the UK’s most widely read technology news and opinion sites
  • A feature piece whereby Mantis collaborated with its client’s partners, technology end users and government departments for publication in THE most respected public sector technology title
  • An interview alongside the government department responsible for healthcare technology strategy to be featured in the UK’s longest serving technology title
  • A 1200-word opinion article in a key public sector technology title
  • The basis of a roundtable for our client to debate further a key healthcare technology theme with the media, partners, customers and prospects and government departments

How do your measure ROI for your clients?

Measurement and PR often results in wincing from one party, or both. It all comes down to what you want to measure. Unfortunately, some agencies are still suggesting being measured on coverage volume and the Advertising Equivalent Value (AEV). We can be measured by time invested in the account – did we do the hours clients pay us for? We can also be measured on how much content did we produce, how much coverage did we generate, how many journalists did you meet. These are all valid KPIs or measurements, but ask most managing directors and they will tell you they are less interested in outputs, but more so what is the outcome of that investment.
As an agency, we encourage our clients to think about several things. Invariably clients engage with us to do two things: increase awareness and ensure the company is understood by its target audience. We measure this using the Mantis Profile and Perception Audits. All the content that we generate and the collaborative efforts of PR and marketing will result in ensuring the company is now only known by more people; but that its differentiators and what it offers are also understood. Think about how important that is for one moment; is the worse case scenario for a sales person to be in a meeting with prospects that have never heard of their company? Or, in a meeting where they have heard of their company, but have a totally the wrong understanding of what it does.

One of your products is a Discovery Session workshop. Why is this important? Can suppliers not just focus on getting stuck in with the writing?

There is nothing stopping suppliers from getting on and start developing content themselves. But, it’s important that they understand the point I was making earlier about ‘ensuring that content resonates’ and knowing which channels to make use of to ensure it reaches identified stakeholders.

If they can do that and know that, then crack on. But, it’s worth pointing out – and we see this time and time again- suppliers often see the world through supplier spectacles. It’s quite amusing when we write customer case studies or news announcements how often a customer will say ‘no, that’s not what we bought the solution for or why we engaged with them.’

By working with an independent third party, that has not drunk any of the coolade, we can be slightly more objective. We also know whether the piece of content being developed is either newsworthy or possibly opinion worthy. When we think about content, from the outset we think about ‘who is this going to appeal to and how are we going to reach them.’

This is what the Mantis Discovery Exercise helps establish. By interviewing the key people within the business, we can invariably build a pipeline content that can stretch across multiple months. It also gives us an opportunity to identify who would be good spokespeople for the company, but above that it enables us to get under our clients’ skin from the outset and helps us tailor a bespoke PR programme that will help the client achieve whatever objectives they want to achieve.

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