What’s the role of public relations in modern B2B marketing? Our guest for this episode is here to answer that question.
We’re joined by seasoned PR professional Elizabeth Fairleigh. Elizabeth is the founder of thE Connection, an Atlanta-based PR firm specializing in thought leadership development for clients throughout the US.
In this episode, we talk with Elizabeth about:
- PR’s role as a part of marketing
- Thought leadership; everybody wants to be a thought leader but not everyone has earned the title
- The proactive and reactive sides of PR
- and more
About The B2B Mix Show:
The B2B Mix Show with Alanna Jackson and Stacy Jackson is brought to you by Jackson Marketing. Need help with your B2B online presence? Let’s talk!
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Stacy Jackson: Hey, everybody. I'm Stacy Jackson.
Alanna Jackson: And I'm Alanna Jackson, and we are the co-founders of Jackson Marketing. And in case you still haven't heard, we are also sisters.
Alanna Jackson: Stacy, what's the topic of today's episode?
Stacy Jackson: Today we're talking about the role of PR in marketing. I think back before the internet that there was kind of a clearer delineation between marketing tasks and PR tasks, but I think the online world has kind of blurred the lines a little bit. Who puts the article out there in the press? Who tries to get the thought leadership placements?
Stacy Jackson: Alanna, what do you think about public relations and where it is today?
Alanna Jackson: I definitely think you're right that the lines have been blurred with technology and the internet, because it's so easy to do a lot of the things that used to take longer because we have so many tools at our fingertips. But also I think part of that is there are so many new companies popping up every day and a lot of people coming into owning these businesses or managing these businesses that maybe don't kind of have that background to know, oh, this is PR, or this is marketing. They just kind of look at it all, they bundle it up, and, okay, it's digital marketing. It all goes under marketing. I think that's maybe where some of those lines are getting blurred as well.
Alanna Jackson: What do you think?
Stacy Jackson: I think those are good points Alanna. And probably wouldn't most people think about PR, public relations, they might think of stunts like the Red Bull Stratos, I don't know if I said that right. Stratas, Stratos, space jump from 2012, or any number of crazy things that Richard Branson may have done like when he attempted to fly around the world in the 1990s in a hot air balloon. All those are great YouTube fodder now, so definitely online marketing benefits from when terrific fun stunts are done like that.
Stacy Jackson: But good PR, especially in B2B, is about more than just stunts and it's about more than just press placements or good thought leadership placements. There's a strong relationship, a symbiotic one, that needs to exist between content marketers and public relation practitioners. Today's guest is here to talk about just that. Alanna, why don't you introduce Elizabeth to our listeners?
Alanna Jackson: Elizabeth Fairleigh began her career as a journalist in Rochester, New York. Fairleigh earned her degree in English from Agnes Scott College where she was editor of the school's award winning newspaper. Elizabeth is the president and chief connecting officer at thE Connection. She is a results oriented public relations professional with more than 15 years of communications experience in the high tech industry.
Alanna Jackson: Prior to founding thE Connection, she was PR director of two Atlanta based technology companies, one of which filed a successful IPO during her tenure. In addition to in-house corporate PR, Elizabeth also has several years of agency experience working an Atlanta based firm where she handled several high profile clients in the retail and hospitality industries.
Alanna Jackson: Elizabeth is a recipient of The Phoenix Award, presented by the Georgia Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, which recognizes excellence among public relations practitioners. She is one of the founding board members of CRMA Atlanta.
Alanna Jackson: Elizabeth, welcome to the B2B Mix Show.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Well, thank you so much. Pleasure to be here. I think I actually have more like 30 years of experience. I know, I'm really dating myself now. But truth be told, so I probably need to update that bio.
Alanna Jackson: We welcome the experience.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Yes.
Stacy Jackson: Elizabeth, did we say the company name correctly? Is it E-Connection, or The?
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Yeah, it is. It's spelled thE Connection, with a capital E.
Stacy Jackson: Okay.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: E, of course, I say, of course, it is for Elizabeth, but it's really more for E as in electronic. But I named my company way back when before E as in electronic was a thing.
Alanna Jackson: Right.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: So, it was more about the E-Elizabeth connection.
Alanna Jackson: Right.
Stacy Jackson: Yeah.
Alanna Jackson: But it's worked out well.
Stacy Jackson: Good.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Yeah.
Stacy Jackson: All right. So, I know we ultimately want to talk to you, Elizabeth, about B2B marketing, thought leadership, and the role that PR plays. But maybe before we get into that meat of the conversation we could set a little foundation, because I think sometimes people get confused about what the different responsibilities are for PR pros versus marketing. Especially now with the internet and content marketing and influencer marketing and marketers doing a lot of things that maybe in the past PR might've done.
Stacy Jackson: So, how would you delineate public relations roles versus marketing role?
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Well I have always considered PR a part of marketing, and I know some people have different ideas around that. They think of them as being two separate entities. But I think the PR element is one of many, many channels that marketing is responsible for.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: And so, my perception of public relations is really the media relations, analyst relations, dealing with influencers, outside people, to create that public persona, versus marketing, who would be very instrumental in demand generation, lead generation, all of those things. Of course PR is part of driving demand, but it's got a different function because it's very contingent upon third parties.
Alanna Jackson: Right, right. Whereas just the marketing is your kind of in control of all of that.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Exactly, exactly. So that's why they call it-
Alanna Jackson: When it comes... Oh, sorry.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: That's why they call it earn media, because you can't buy it. That said, there are some solutions that you can buy, and I'm a bit of a purist, I guess, when it comes to PR, but I'm also not naive about there's a lot of pay to play types of PR out there. To me, honestly, that's not really traditional PR. It's sort of morphing into that whole, well, it's a pay to play.
Alanna Jackson: Mm-hmm.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Yeah.
Alanna Jackson: Because you're not getting it for what you're doing. You're not getting that publicity because of the things that you're doing as a company, you're getting it because, hey, I've got the money to throw at you to get the publicity.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Correct and I would venture to guess most prospects and buyers aren't savvy enough to understand that. But anyone in marketing is pretty aware that everybody has a business. So that's why when you advertise in a publication or on a website, you're going to get some special treatment. It's just the way it is.
Alanna Jackson: Right, mm-hmm.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Yeah.
Alanna Jackson: Especially with all the technology that's around today. There's so many different opportunities.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Yeah.
Alanna Jackson: So, when it comes to B2B marketing, I think we can probably all agree that cultivating that thought leadership is essential to the company and getting the word out there. However, in situations and sometimes in companies can get carried away with the sales or brand oriented focus and they can make mistakes that for a thought leadership, that they're a thought leadership.
Alanna Jackson: So, how do you define thought leadership and B2B marketing?
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Well to me, thought leadership really, it's an element of expertise in a certain area. I think it requires years of experience doing things and having knowledge, not just being in product development and launching an app, for example. You've got to have some experience with how the app is being used and what drove perhaps the creation of the app. What's the thought behind the business problem that it solves? So, really getting into the mindset of the customer and understanding what that person, that organization, or individual's primary challenges are.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: So, thought leadership is one of those kind of it's a big buzz word, everybody wants it, but I don't think everybody deserves it or has earned it. I think it's something that you can't just get out of college and call yourself a thought leader. I think it definitely requires some seasonality and some experience.
Stacy Jackson: That's a good point, because a lot of people do think, okay, I'm just going to throw my LinkedIn profile out there and some blog posts and, okay, I'm a thought leader. But you do have to earn it.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Right. You definitely do. You definitely do.
Alanna Jackson: And focusing only on your company and your product doesn't make you a thought leader in my opinion.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Right, right. No, I think you really have to be immersed in what's going on in the economy almost from a global perspective and how your business fits into that context. What value is it really delivering to the business world?
Stacy Jackson: Mm-hmm, definitely. So, when we were planning this conversation, Elizabeth, you mentioned to me about wanting to talk about the yin-yang strategy to develop and execute on building thought leadership, and how marketing and PR pros should be working together. Can you tell us and our listeners a little bit more about how that strategy should be developed between the two different disciplines, and how you can make the most of leveraging earned PR placements in the marketing mix?
Elizabeth Fairleigh: No, I'm happy to.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: So, my take on PR is one of sort of a push-pull if you will, and there are many, many opportunities to get a voice out there. That, to me, is what PR does. It allows you to really articulate what your core messaging is.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: The role of a good PR person is to really be a scout and scout out essentially where those watering holes are where you can amplify your message, and do it in a way that is not overly promotional, but really communicating how the value that you and your organization brings to the table. So, while there are ways to be proactive in doing it, and that is sitting down at the end of the year and planning for the upcoming year, and sitting with your chief marketing officer or whoever you're reporting to as a PR person and really, really understanding the go to market strategy for the past year, what worked, what didn't work, and going forward and figuring out how the different tactics of PR can reinforce the marketing objectives for going to market.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: That would be the proactive yin angle of the equation. That's basically public relations pushing. I don't mean in an aggressive way, but the charges to get those messages out however they need to be gotten out. Whether it's through winning an award, or whether it's speaking engagements, or whether it's a bylined articles, that is you proactively getting the marketing messages out.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: So, on the flip side, you've got a lot of media people and bloggers, I don't include them in media, who are very hungry for really good sources, and that's where being a thought leader comes into play. So, that yang reactive part of the strategy is being really on top of relationships with media and making sure that they understand who you're representing, how you can add value, who your client's clients are, and being a conduit, if you will, for creating, helping these media people develop their stories. Because they are always on a deadline, they're always looking for good sources, but you've got to be able to be very, very reactive.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: In my PR career, I think that's the biggest challenge is making companies, whether I worked for them or I represent them, understand that you've got to be able to respond like yesterday. You just don't have time to say, well, let me run it up the flagpole. You have to almost have such good trust base with your client or your organization that you can get an answer immediately. It might be, hey, we can't respond to this in the next hour. That's fine. But just sitting on it is where I've seen a lot of a lot of clients and companies just miss the mark and they don't get to take advantage of all the great content and stories that are out there being produced every second.
Alanna Jackson: Mm-hmm. So, having to be kind of reactive to certain situations, how does that affect how people can plan?
Elizabeth Fairleigh: That's such a great question. I think one thing that I've found with my smaller clients is that they tend to have fewer people who can speak, and so instead of relying, for example, on the president of the company who may be really busy and not available, have your second wing man, have your third wing man. Know you can go to so you have a real clear understanding of what the different areas of expertise are within an organization, and be able to map that particular PR opportunity with an individual and having those really good relationships, not just with the media, but within your client or your organization.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: So, it really gets down, I think, to communications and also trust. They have to trust you that you're not giving them a piece of garbage. They have to trust that you have found something that's really worth their time. It is something that you build up over the months and the years, but once you have established that trust based relationship, it's priceless. You can't buy it.
Alanna Jackson: Yeah, that makes sense, because a lot of times people want to be the end all be all of the person that you come to, to get to your final answer. But in situations like this, it's important for companies to understand that you're going to have things you can plan out, but then there's going to be these times where you need a quick reaction to jump on it and you need to have accessibility to other people. That's a really good point.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Yeah, yeah.
Alanna Jackson: When you think about the rise of internet and social media and content marketing, all the different things that are out there and part of the marketing strategy, has it all kind of blurred the lines somewhat between the traditional roles of marketing and PR professionals? SEO people are building links, but they may not be doing it with the finesse that a PR pro might get stories placed.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Right.
Alanna Jackson: Are you seeing the lines kind of blurred? How do you view that?
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Well, I don't think you can be a jack of all trades. I think PR people have to know enough about SEO to where they understand keywords and they understand how important it is to be ranked at the top of Google, and that's what builds the thought leadership. So, when you have someone in B2B, or even B2C, but let's just say B2B for today's conversation, seeking information on a certain category. When they put that word in there and there comes your article, PR people need to understand, like in headlines, let's make sure that this bylined article is going to have the word, I don't know, sales and artificial intelligence, for example. Making sure that you have an understanding of SEO on a rudimentary level is important.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: It doesn't mean that you are the SEO expert within your organization, but you definitely need to understand the fact that you don't want this piece of content just to sit there. I mean honestly the only value from this PR content is going to be in how you're leveraging it. So, that obviously requires an SEO mindset and an understanding of digital marketing.
Alanna Jackson: Yeah, because you don't want to do it all.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: No.
Alanna Jackson: You've got to have a team.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Right, right. Exactly, exactly. Yeah, I read an interesting statistic the other day, and I think it was from HubSpot. They were saying that like 94% of the whole B2B buying process begins with that online search. If somebody is looking up a pain point, they're going to click on an article, there comes your PR piece. That could very easily turn into a qualified lead, you know? That's where PR starts to really prove its value.
Stacy Jackson: Yeah, definitely.
Stacy Jackson: So, do you find it challenging working with, well, probably not with customers who come directly to you? But sometimes I have noticed in some companies that people want to call public relations, okay, here's the press release, and it's just really terrible, and that's it.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Yeah. Right.
Stacy Jackson: Do you struggle with clients who don't necessarily understand the full gamut of what PR can do?
Elizabeth Fairleigh: I find that the people that I work with, I've been fortunate because I have had a lot of experience. I came from an agency background, but I've also done corporate PR, and I've been on my own now for almost 25 years. So, the people that come to me know that I know what I'm doing, and so they have a particular need. My challenge, what I've found, is that a lot of times, even the smaller companies, I say especially the smaller companies, don't really have a formal marketing department. So, what they will do is hire someone like me and I become the marketing department. It's great in terms of being able to make decisions and move quickly, but at the end of the day I am not reinforcing marketing objectives. I mean PR can only go so far.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: I think it's imperative, even if it's a small company, to have some kind of marketing plan even if you digress from it, just to have sort of a core theme everyone can get onboard with and PR can get lock step with that. Otherwise, it's a lot of pressure and PR becomes this sort of magic bullet that it just can't possibly achieve. It's not reasonable.
Stacy Jackson: Yeah, I agree. So, as far as the different things that have come about through the internet and digital marketing like influencer relationships, is that something that you see as more of the purview of public relations? Is gorilla marketing sense, is that PR?
Elizabeth Fairleigh: I mean, yeah, it's all kind of blurred, like you said in the beginning. I look at influencer marketing, and it's just amazing and how powerful it's become. I think that there have been a number of cases where you have celebrities and it's so obvious that they're being paid to, what's the word I'm looking for? Reinforce, advocate your brand. It is what it is, but in my opinion, it's not public relations. It's more like advertising because it's something that you pay for.
Stacy Jackson: Yeah. I think if you have to pay someone to do it, it's probably influencer marketing. Otherwise if you're engaging with people and encouraging people to give you good press or good advocacy, that might be more of a public relations example.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Right, exactly. I mean there are a lot of analyst firms in B2B, thinking particularly of technology analyst firms like Forrester and Gartner. They will give an initial briefing initially, and of course that's always good when you've got a new product coming out. They won't charge you for the initial briefing, but you better bet once you have that the sales team is going to be on you because they want you to buy their services.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: So, it just is what it is. It is an influencing factor of the analyst community for sure, and if you don't play then you don't get the benefit. And right or wrong, it just is what it is. It's been that way for many, many years. I kind of look at influencer marketing in the same light as analyst relations, because they have good reputation, they are thought leaders themselves, they are experts on their industry and their categories, and they carry a lot of weight.
Stacy Jackson: Mm-hmm.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: The average person probably doesn't realize that you're paying for it, so it's definitely got value, but it's definitely not pure editorial by any means.
Stacy Jackson: Yeah, it's definitely different.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Mm-hmm. It's powerful though. It's everywhere.
Alanna Jackson: Mm-hmm. One thing that our listeners, they kind of range from solo entrepreneurs, the people who work in a growing or larger organizations. Can you give us an idea of what PR strategies and tactics, just at a high level, that companies should consider when basing it on where they are based in their maturity.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Well, I think more established companies, they have the advantage, I guess, of having clients, having big revenues, being publicly traded, they're going to capture the attention of big publications like the Wall Street Journal and Barron's and those media outlets that cover publicly traded companies. So, it's a bit easier to, I guess, get the mindset journalist who works for one of those publications if you're a large company.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: I think the downside is that, like I said before, it can take forever to get an answer. It's hard to be reactive in a quick mode. PR departments can often be outsourced when you have these huge companies. So, I guess the ability to be responsive is not nearly as high. So, from that perspective you have more people coming to you because you just want to cover Delta or you just want to cover Uber or a big brand like that. But it's not as stealth, if that makes any sense.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: So, with a start up I think they have to work a lot harder to get attention because there's so many of them, and a lot of them are new and they don't have clients yet, and that's really a challenge. So, there are only so many things that they are able to do from a PR perspective. One of them obviously would be writing bylined articles. That would always be a positive move to demonstrate thought leadership. But they don't have the cache of having clients, necessarily, so it's just a different approach that you have to take.
Stacy Jackson: Do any examples come to mind about, oh, this is just the most excellent PR campaign I've seen in a while? I know that one is putting you on the spot.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Yeah. Well, I can tell you one that I think is really excellent. That's the new Peloton commercial. It started off as advertising, but I think it's really been great.
Stacy Jackson: Is that the one that's controversial?
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Very controversial. Yes, that one where the husband buys his wife the Peloton and people are calling it sexist and all of that. I personally think if you're physically fit and you're health conscious and your husband or your wife bought you a $2,000 bike, you'd be pretty excited about it. I don't look at that as being sexist on any level. But I do think that the timing of it was brilliant in terms of just creating brand awareness for them, especially right before the holidays. So, I think it's definitely helped them.
Stacy Jackson: Yeah, it's definitely gotten the word out.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Yeah, it has. I mean, it's almost like suing McDonald's for spilling hot coffee on you. Just don't spill hot coffee. It's just so stupid.
Stacy Jackson: The fact that you should have to tell people that, it's just kind of crazy.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Right. I know. It is. It really is crazy. But I mean there's a lot of good companies that do things and they have fallouts. Like the whole thing with Uber and all of the rapes and the alleged rapes and all of that, I mean, that's bad. I mean, that's definitely not won them any favors. But what they can do is they can learn from it and they can address it and they can bring it to the fore as a trend, and they can talk about how they are dealing with it to make sure that it doesn't happen.
Stacy Jackson: Yeah.
Alanna Jackson: Right. A lot of companies may try to just hope it disappears, and that's not the best way to go about it.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Right. No, definitely not. The same thing with Starbucks when they had a couple of guys who came in about six months ago. Remember all of that?
Alanna Jackson: Yep.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: What did they do? They shut the company down for an entire day and had diversity training. So, they turn a negative into a positive and they got on board with the major trend. Not that Starbucks needs a lot of PR, but it certainly didn't hurt them in the long run.
Alanna Jackson: Yeah, exactly. Because that's what people are looking for in the companies that they work with. They are wanting to know more about the company's values and how they're going to react in certain situations.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Very much. Yes.
Alanna Jackson: That's a huge opportunity for their PR department to talk about these things.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Very much so. Yeah. I read another stat recently, this was from HubSpot, where they said that millennials are 247% more likely to be influenced by social networking and blogs. So, I think that goes to the point of how influenced they are by other people, good or bad. So, if you are targeting a millennial audience or a millennial prospect, PR really should be big, big part of your channel.
Alanna Jackson: Mm-hmm, definitely. Because especially like millennials and Gen Z, they're coming into. What are they? The high end is like early twenties?
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Yeah. I think so.
Alanna Jackson: About the upcoming generations.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Yes. Yeah. They are very, very influenced by what other people think and the likes and influencers and all of that. It's crazy. I don't really fit into that category, but they are up and coming for sure.
Stacy Jackson: So, before we ask you our just for fun question, Elizabeth, do you have any other points that you'd like to share?
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Well, I think we've really covered a lot of them. I guess from my perspective, what I've done most of my career is really focused on that thought leadership aspect. I think we are so, and I am including myself in this, so skeptical. I am cynical of things that I read in advertisements. I'm constantly like, what are they trying to sell me? So, the credibility factor I think is so, so important when it comes to the B2B buying process. Because once it's broken, it's very hard to rebuild. But when you are constantly aware of your credibility and building trust, I think that is just going to serve you well. That's where I think PR shines the most.
Stacy Jackson: Yeah, definitely.
Stacy Jackson: So, here's our just for fun question.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Uh-oh.
Stacy Jackson: If you weren't a public relations pro, what would your dream job be?
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Oh my gosh, that's a great question. My dream job? Oh my gosh. If it's even a job, I guess would be, oh, I don't know. A successful novelist?
Stacy Jackson: That would be fun.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Yeah. Yes, I would love that.
Stacy Jackson: That'd be good.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: I'm an English major. I never ever dreamed that I would be working for technology companies, but here I am. But I definitely love writing, so that's always been my go to. I mean, I keep the journal, and I do have a book that I am working on.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Believe it or not, I have written over a hundred poems starting at the age of 12. My daughter, who's 18, is an amazing artist, and so she and I are going to collaborate. She's going to illustrate my book of poetry.
Alanna Jackson: Oh, that's cool.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Yeah.
Alanna Jackson: That'll be a fun kind of thing to kind of bond together doing.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Definitely. Definitely. So, a precursor to my big novel.
Alanna Jackson: You'll have to let us know when it comes out.
Stacy Jackson: Yeah.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: I will. Guess what I'm going to name it?
Stacy Jackson: What?
Alanna Jackson: What?
Elizabeth Fairleigh: The E Collection.
Stacy Jackson: Oh. I love it.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Yep. I'm excited.
Alanna Jackson: So, what's your date for that? Is it next year sometime?
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Yeah, next year. I mean, I just literally have been digging through all these poems that I've written over the years. Some are not going to make the cut, like old boyfriends and stuff like that.
Alanna Jackson: We're talking Taylor Swift.
Elizabeth Fairleigh: That's true, that's true, that's true. But it's fun. I mean it's amazing how it can transport you back at that time of your life when you read things that you've written like 40 years ago. It's pretty amazing.
Alanna Jackson: Well, that's cool. So, if people wanted to get to know you more and connect with you, where would they do that?
Elizabeth Fairleigh: Yeah. Well, I'm on LinkedIn. They can certainly look me up on LinkedIn. Elizabeth Fairleigh. I do have a website, but it's more of a place holder, but you can certainly fill out an information form there. My website is www.econnectionpr.com.
Alanna Jackson: All right. So, if you want to get in touch with me or Stacy, you can hit us up on social. On Twitter, you can find Stacy at @Stacy_Jax. That's S-T-A-C-Y, underscore, J-A-X. And you can find me at Alanna_Jax. That's A-L-A-N-N-A, underscore, J-A-X.
Alanna Jackson: Not a Twitter fan? You can look us up on LinkedIn under Stacey Jackson or Alanna Jackson.
Alanna Jackson: Finally, don't forget, you can also leave us a voicemail on the Anchor mobile app or on our Anchor.FM show page. All of these contact information will be in the show notes for Elizabeth and us as well.
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