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B2B PR and you – is business PR the right career choice?

Written by Simpatico PR

Posted on 2020-05-20

Geek, nerd, specialist, expert, creative. What do you think of when you consider professions such as service design, advertising tech (adtech), financial tech, retail, advertising, data science, product design, education tech (edtech), aeronautics, healthcare, sustainable technology, agritech, business consultancy, venture capital?

If you instantly switch off and would rather think about reality TV, cats on YouTube or celebrity gossip, stop reading now. This isn’t for you.

If you are a graduate, considering a career in public relations, then read on - this blog will explain the difference between business-to-business PR (B2B PR) and other PR sectors such as consumer PR, financial PR, public affairs and publicity. 

The beautiful thing about PR as a profession is that it is so diverse. It reflects everyday life in that there are communications professionals, agencies and in-house teams that cover almost everything from your local authority to star influencers on Instagram.

Most public relations activity involves enabling media exposure with a purpose, whether that be to promote a product, service, business, brand, cause, public leader, celebrity etc. 

The industry can roughly be divided in the sphere of business PR (corporate communications and B2B PR) and consumer PR (PR promoting consumer products and services, travel brands and destinations, events and leisure brands, entertainment and celebrity publicists.)

As well as creating news, features, interviews and profiles in the media, consumer PR can also mean paid for promotions, live events and experiential activity and can often be closely related to or work in tandem with brand advertising.

B2B PR isn’t just corporate communications

In the parallel world of business PR, a range of different specialisms also exist including B2B PR corporate communications, financial PR and public affairs. These areas cross over (a single agency might cover all of them) but are also very distinct.

Specialist financial PR professionals and agencies will largely focus on the regulated management of financial news such as listed company annual results, interim results, City analyst briefings, mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and other communications that come under the remit of the Financial Conduct Authority

Public affairs means direct relationship building and influence over the spectrum of individuals and organisations that can affect the fortunes of an organisation, company or an individual. 

These might include MPs, local authorities, national assemblies and their members for example MSPs, civil servants, shareholders, trade associations, think tanks, business groups, charities, unions, customers and local community groups, clients, non-governmental organisations, charities and the media.

The practice is generally referred to as lobbying - a word with certain connotations and from time to time it will hit the news for the wrong reasons – but the reality is that public affairs done well is an important part of information circulation in public and corporate spheres. 

More than corporate communications

Perhaps the biggest blurred area in business PR is the relationship between corporate communications and B2B PR.

The easiest way to think about it is that corporate communications generally relates to reputation management of large enterprises or organisations while B2B PR is more closely aligned with promoting the products, services and brand reputation of one company to others. Corporate communications involves managing any information, whether that’s internal or external events, news, research, regulation etc that affects an organisation in the eyes of its various stakeholder groups – customers, employees, trade bodies, suppliers, analysts etc.

Most large organisations will operate a strategic communications plan which will aim to deliver a set of messages to the world or positions and initiatives relating to issues such as sustainability, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion as well as promoting the organisations positive growth story and relationship with the world at large. 

A classic case study of the difficulties a corporate communications team could face might be Facebook’s current struggle with public perception and regulator scrutiny. 

B2B PR under the microscope

So where does B2B PR come in? On the spectrum of proactive to defensive, B2B PR is very much about proactively taking a business story to an audience. It’s about creating and sustaining business brand and company leadership reputations. So a B2B PR agency is often used by corporate communications teams.

B2B PR will typically involve company news – writing press releases for trade media covering the ‘vertical’ sectors or industries that the organisations target audience reads.

But good B2B PR should be driven by thought leadership

The world of business is changing so fast that companies must fight to ensure their voice is not just heard but they are saying something relevant and opinion-forming. If they do not others will seize the initiative and grab the attention of business customers trying to understand how best to spend their company’s money.

Thought leadership enables business brands and people to become influencers and most importantly, to sell through influence rather than direct sales pitches speaking only of how great that company’s product or service is.

By having a strong opinion or generating original insight on a market, a business can build far wider and deeper influence over decision makers.

The trick is to do that in a sustainable way (more on that in a later blog) and to create ideas that will enthuse journalists and their readers.

B2B PR also integrates social media and business content creation. LinkedIn is by far and away the most powerful social channel in the B2B PR agency toolbox. Harnessed well, it can become a thought-leadership and business brand broadcast channel reaching a large and high-quality audience.

So too of course are industry events either owned by the brands or fixtures such as conferences and awards.

What to expect from a B2B PR career?

For those with an enquiring mind, you can expect to build a deep understanding of the companies you work with and the trends shaping their industries. You will be challenged to articulate what your clients do and what they think in ways that grab specialist as well as a general audiences.

You’ll work a lot with trade media, but you’ll also find yourself challenged to achieve coverage in the national and international media too. The eyes and ears of business audiences rove across all sorts of media, not just specialists trade publications.

B2B PR practitioners must think strategically about what communications should achieve both in terms of marketing and of sales – B2B PR is very often dovetailed with business development teams. You’ll be asked to think creatively about content and media channels and to build relationships with journalist who are the human conduits to the audience.

Whether as part of an in-house team or a B2B PR agency, you will meet and learn from fascinating people.

No one day will be the same, but your influence on a business or organisation’s success could be profound.

And B2B PR is far from a niche corner of the wider PR world. Recent salary surveys suggest it is as valued as any other specialism.

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