Overcoming the CFO’s Challenge: Telling Public Relations Story for Financial Impact

Over the past few weeks, I have had several conversations with CMOs, Vice Presidents of Marketing and other marketing professionals about their challenges in preparing their budget requests for the new fiscal year.

In virtually every conversation these professionals have lamented their inability to convince their CFO that public relations (PR) is important or to defend increased investments in PR. Similar to challenges with the CEO who might think PR is “just press releases and media coverage,” the CFO struggles to understand how it aligns with business goals, reporting and metrics, and how to ensure accountability, especially when their marketers too often struggle to articulate the ROI. 

Yet, in a business and social culture where social media can quickly take customer complaints, product defects, legal matters, or personnel or financial scandals to damaging levels and cause reputations to quickly spin out of control, as well as changes in browser “cookie policies” investment in PR to help reach key audiences is more critical than ever. Add to that how integrating PR with demand generation can increase lead flow, revenue, and retention, and PR is positioned as one of the more cost-effective investments a business can make.

One of the challenges is that most marketing professionals have built careers through more traditional demand generation/revenue marketing or brand advertising roles where there are clearer metrics of lead flow, conversion and velocity tracking, an analysis of sourced versus influenced, all the way through the process to closed/won deals.   

The good news is that looking at PR as part of that lifecycle and measuring the right results make it easier to articulate and measure one’s PR results, leading to the accountability the CFO requires.

Compelling Content Matters

For all marketers regardless of the discipline, compelling content is still the top priority. A strong PR strategy successfully articulates the company story and value propositions while also informing the market that your company is one to watch, engage with, and ultimately partner or do business with. 

Your PR storytelling will work in tandem with your demand generation and customer communications efforts to create compelling content to reach buyers and customers during key points in the relationship. Effectively telling that from a perspective of what you want the audience to think, feel, and do will result in increases in virtually all your key performance indicators–brand awareness, website traffic, conversions, digital engagement, follower growth, influencer engagement and reach, and ultimately leads and new business opportunities.

In fact, we have several years of data showing that when a PR campaign is integrated into a demand generation campaign, companies see a 20-30 percent increase in lead flow. Interestingly, one of the areas of the biggest increase is in-bound lead flow which are typically the most qualified and prized leads for your sales team.

Value of Effective Storytelling

When articulating the value of PR to your CFO one needs to enter storytelling mode. A good story will grab the CFO’s attention, connect with their emotions, and persuade them to act the way you desire. When telling the PR-story, layer in the data across your channels related to the PR efforts, provide the customer actions/reactions, the results. To make sure this data is being collected be sure your digital and demand teams are:

  • using the right tools to track results such UTM codes on press releases across digital channels
  • Including calls to action with links in product, event, and leadership press releases
  • meeting volume and quality benchmarks when sharing media results with the sales team to use as touchpoints for their prospects, etc.

Issue and Crisis Management

Another important element of a strategic PR investment is issue and crisis management. A successful PR strategy delivers credibility and relationships that can prove invaluable in times of trial. Most CFOs have experienced some form of issue or crisis that needed to be managed during their career. And virtually every board member is also aware, if not personally then through their network, of the damaging effects of an issue/crisis on revenue, retention, and brand preference.

Be sure part of your story is building the infrastructure, processes, connections, and relationships needed to survive (and even thrive) should something occur.  It can be a challenge to get investment for something that “might or might not happen,” but I have yet to work at or with a company that didn’t have some form or level of issue and crisis communications need that being prepared for helped prevent the issue from having a financial or reputational impact.

CFO’s Primary Audience: Board of Directors

Like the CEO, the CFO’s primary audience is typically the board of directors. Having attended and presented marketing and communications results during more than 40 quarterly board meetings for both VE and PE-backed companies, our boards most worried about cost-of-acquisition, lead flow, opportunities, pipeline, and closed/won deals.

While many PR professionals lead with the number of placements, that data is not typically of interest in the boardroom. Help your CFO tell the story of why PR matters in the language that the board appreciates, and your CFO will appreciate you by supporting and endorsing your PR budget. And the rest of your communications team will appreciate the investment as they see their results improve and gain amplification.

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