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Mirror Image: PR pros v. Salesman Sam

February 4, 2009

Most of the PR pros I know turn their nose up at being compared to a sales person – maybe it’s because the stereotype of sales people is that slick, used cars salesman that will tell you anything to buy a car. Isn’t that misconception, though, exactly the type of thing we fight in this field? The stereotype that we are party planners might apply to some, but doesn’t apply to us as a whole.

My dad has been in sales for 25+ years, and I can assure you that I would never make the comparison of some who was a national sales manager in the medical field to a used car salesman.

PR and publicity involves selling, and any salesperson will tell you that you have to analyze your audience before you even begin an approach. Well, I do that when I start a campaign.  A sales person has a deep understanding of why people will be receptive to a certain message, or what type of audience they are talking to – it’s an act of persuasion. Don’t we as PR professionals “persuade” the media to run a story through the art of an effective pitch? And then, once the journalist is hooked, the information that we provide the journalist with needs to be enticing to their audience so they are receptive (there is that word again) to the message. Sounds familar…..

Everytime I pick up the phone, I am selling a client to the media – the organization I work for. You can call it pitching all you want, but it is a very similar concept.

A big part of both a PR and salesperson is to figure out who to sell your ideas to: whether its a product, a non-profit, etc. My dad knows just as much about the products he is selling as the doctors do – he actually scrubs in and has to explain to the doctor how to use the equipment. We, as PR professionals, have to know the ins and outs of what we are pitching.

In this field, you HAVE to be personable. In sales, you have to be just as personable, but you have an entertainment budget. So, it might be a different playing field, but you still have to put yourself out there.  I’m not sure how many sales people PR pros have talked to, because all the ones I know are friendly, courteous and always hold me rapt with their conversation. They know how to step outside their circle and make contacts with people they might never have talked to before.  They know how to build relationships through conversation, even with those that might not be a salesperson.  My personality comes directly from two sales people (although my mom quit when I was born) the type that PR pros turn their nose up at. But guess what I am most complimented on? How approachable and personable I am, and how I am not scared to step outside the bubble and ask questions.

So, look in the mirror and you might see the salesperson within.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. February 4, 2009 5:42 pm

    Brilliant post.

    When I meet with young pros or students, or when I’ve helped hire someone, I always start a discussion around sales for these exact reasons. People with a sales background or experience, or who are tenacious and curious, have an edge in our business. Conversely, if you aren’t accustomed to hearing the word “no,” or don’t like it or take it well, or can’t turn a “no” into a “yes,” then chances are good you won’t be a success in media relations and the broader picture of PR.

    It doesn’t matter whether you’re agency or corporate: every single day we are in a position to sell something to our bosses, or our executive management, or our clients, or our colleagues/teams, or a prospective client, or the media, or the community. The list goes on and on. Your ability to form an argument and/or recommendation, persuade your audience and ultimately sell your effort will largely determine your ability to succeed in PR.

    I also agree that being sales-oriented tends to have a stigma, but that it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I know plenty of great PR pros that I think are great sellers who are personable, generous, etc. Being sales-oriented, to me, simply means that you can think on your feet and have the ability to persuade and convince someone of something.

    Thanks for starting this important discussion.

  2. February 4, 2009 6:08 pm

    I came from inside sales to PR, and I use what I learned in sales talking with clients and media all the time.

  3. davidmullen permalink
    February 4, 2009 6:35 pm

    A young pro I used to work with HATED being compared to a sales person. Here’s what I told her…

    We are in sales. Our job is to change behaviors, perceptions, intentions. Our job is to inform, educate, create conversations. Our strategic ideas are only as good as our ability to sell them to clients. Our story angles are only as good as our ability to sell them to journalists. If you aren’t good at selling, you won’t be good at many aspects of PR.

  4. February 4, 2009 6:50 pm

    Excellent Lauren! I use the sales analogy often when people don’t “get it” about PR. We’re selling ideas. And like any good salesperson, the recipient shouldn’t feel sold, but as if the idea (product) was designed just for them and they’ve always wanted it (even before they knew).

  5. Brenda Muller permalink
    February 23, 2009 5:44 pm

    Lauren, I agree with this post. While we worked together, I found myself constantly thinking PR pros are very similar to sales people. At the end of the day, we’re “selling” our client’s story to the media. I love your blog!

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