Seven things I wish I knew moving from B2C to B2B public relations

By Celine Beirne, Senior Communications Associate at Hard Numbers

Agency Insight

You decided to jump ship from B2C to B2B PR. Word on the street, B2B is the serious type. You better get grafting and pray not to get mugged off. It’s time for B2C to leave the island.

With the Love Island references out of the way, let's get down to business. There are a plethora of Google results that convinced me B2B was the boring corporate sibling of consumer PR. Going from pitching florals for spring (groundbreaking) to writing thought leadership on how technology can drive operational efficiencies - I was on red alert.

But it’s vital to know the difference between the two. Not only to understand if B2B is right for you, but to succeed in reaching your target audience. After all, you won’t find corporate buyers flicking through the Argos catalogue. Nor are they patiently waiting to blow their salary on Black Friday sales.

Understanding the needs, challenges and motivation of business to business buyers is what’s key to delivering the right PR.

This article is for those wanting an honest picture of what the switch from B2c to B2B is like. It’s a first-hand experience of what I wish I knew and why B2B might be the table at the party you want to be sitting at.

1. The aim of the B2B game

As consumers, we want to know how a product is going to change our life. Whether it’s a new blender or a bluetooth speaker, we’re asking ourselves ‘Is this going to let me put my feet up?’ or ‘Will it make me the life and soul of the party?’. For businesses, it’s a different story. They want to know if the investment improves business operations and bottom line, rather than their personal brand.

I knew going into B2B PR the aim of the game is generating leads. Although I’m terrible at texting back, I’ve learnt that sustaining conversation in the media adds real value to buyers. That value will increase how attractive a company is to prospective clients, employees, investors or potential partnerships.

Think about if you were buying a house. There are lots of hoops to jump through and you need all the proof points, from how big the garden is and whether there’s room for a conservatory to estate agent and legal fees - it’s not something you do in an hour with a beer in hand (if it is, I respect it).

Buying in the B2B world is for life, not just for Christmas.

2. Fact or fiction?

Coming from a consumer background, I’m used to telling a story. Think pink champagne for Valentine’s Day or a bottle of gin for THAT Martini to live your best James Bond life. Business audiences don’t want to know if their software is in this season. They want the facts and figures that will rationalise their decision-making. You have to make it make sense.

B2B buyers don’t get hung up on FOMO either. They don’t watch Instagram stories 30 seconds after they’ve gone up and think ‘Damn! I need to book a flight too’. They need a consistent, filtered story of a brand’s position in the market and to understand why this drives recognition and lead generation.

The pandemic has put a fascinating spin on B2B PR. The lines have blurred between emotions and storytelling, but in a different way. Values and purpose now have an elevated role to play in decision making. It’s not just what a business needs anymore, but what matters to them. 

3. A marathon, not a sprint

In the age of consumerism, we can all get what we want, when we want it. That shirt you saw on Instagram, a curved flat screen tv or the set of 45 dumbbells sold to the highest heavens by your favourite fitness influencer. Monday's impulse is sometimes Tuesday’s regret, and social media has only maximised the demand for instant gratification.

Business decision-makers aren’t taken in so easily. They’re in it for the long haul. What this presents is ample opportunity to build a rapport with your current and prospective audience. Convincing prospects takes trust, and they need proof points. Here’s where the fun begins.

Time is money in B2B. Businesses value efficiency. So the quicker you can show business audiences your client can give them what they need, the easier their decision will be. They don't want the fluff. Testimonials, reviews and case studies don’t happen overnight. But they’re vital to establishing credibility for a B2B brand. In the words of Gary Barlow, I’ve had to try and have a little patience.

On paper, B2B PR might not sound as sexy as its consumer sibling. You might not get the instant warm fuzzy feeling from landing a splash in a glossy magazine or sailing something down the Thames. But it’s the slow burn that makes the journey all the more worthwhile.

4. Pitch perfect

Speaking to businesses can be daunting. As a consumer myself, I can put myself in the shoes of B2C audiences. Doing the same for the CEO of a multi-million pound software company? The relatability is a little stretched.

In consumer PR, brands and their end-users don’t usually have lunch together. The interaction window is smaller. For B2B firms, however, this can span months spent with C-suite executives, board members and decision makers at prospect businesses.

Media relations was the biggest level-up when I jumped ship. Business buyers aren’t looking to the latest vlogs from Zoella to get them over the purchase line. Nor are they tuning into This Morning for advice on streamlining their operations. Phil and Holly aren't on the guest list on this occasion.

Targeting business audiences meant a shift in approach. I had to overhaul my media lists.. I’m talking about the business and finance sections of nationals, business trades, and sector publications. I had to pitch how my clients will impact the decision-makers that read these titles, how they can transform their operations and grow their revenue. The glossy magazines I was used to sending samples to wouldn’t quite cut it.

5. Content, content, content

Business motivations are different to those of consumers too. Instead of seeing a product mid-browse from whoever won The X-Factor last week and thinking ‘eureka!’, businesses need reliability and credibility - so content needs to reflect that. It's not just about building awareness, it's about building trust.

You need to demonstrate how your product is going to help firms attract top talent or gain a competitive advantage. You can do this through thought leadership articles or a regularly updated LinkedIn feed showcasing product, team and company excellence. This is where the content differs.

Given the importance of relationship building in the business world, and the pandemic throwing in-person events up in the air, we’ve had to get creative. The switch to virtual events and webinars has been a learning curve over the past 18 months, but it’s been vital to nurturing new and existing relationships.

6. Not twins, more like distant cousins

Despite their differences, B2B and B2c PR have one key thing in common. People. And I’ve got some groundbreaking news: people buy from people. I was easily led to assume B2B buyers were faceless corporates but, in reality, you need to pique their interest just as you would consumers.

Earned media is universal too. The tone and tactics might be different. But whether you’re selling a thought leader with forty years’ experience in the energy industry or a Kardashian, you still need a strong news hook to pitch a journalist.

7. Celebrating social media

B2B social media is a completely different beast. It’s also where I’ve had the most fun.

I’m still leaning over tables getting the best angles of my smoked salmon and eggs on the weekend but, work wise, this is now on pause. Instead, I’m sharing infographics and tapping into breaking news stories for topical content.

For B2B PR, think of LinkedIn and Twitter as the trophy cabinets for your football team. This is where you demonstrate your expertise in the sector, showcase how your product fits into the current news agenda and share all of the insights from your executive team in the press. You can engage with employees, customers and prospects, responding to what's happening in your sector, and beyond.

On paper, B2B PR might not sound as sexy as its consumer sibling. You might not get the instant warm fuzzy feeling from landing a splash in a glossy magazine or sailing something down the Thames. But it’s the slow burn that makes the journey all the more worthwhile.

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