Episode 9

Published on:

2nd Nov 2023

S3 E9: Unlocking Revenue Potential with the Power of PR with Michelle Lyng

In this episode, we delve into the crucial role that public relations and communications play in driving revenue for businesses.

Michelle Lyng, CEO of Novitas Communications, shares her insights on how PR can have a direct impact on sales and revenue, and why it is essential for businesses to understand this connection.

Michelle argues that PR should be seen as integral to a business's success: "PR should be as integral to your business as accounting or having a legal strategy. It's critical for success." By enhancing reputation, building relationships, and supporting the sales funnel, PR can have a significant impact on revenue.

She emphasizes the need for education and collaboration within organizations to ensure that PR is aligned with overall business goals. She also provides insights into measuring the success of PR activities and the importance of ongoing evaluation and improvement.

Key Takeaways

  • PR can drive revenue by enhancing reputation, building relationships, and supporting the sales funnel.
  • Awareness, engagement, consideration, evaluation, and purchase are key stages in the sales funnel that PR can impact.
  • Measuring web traffic, share of voice, down funnel prospects, and sales revenue can help quantify the impact of PR activities.
  • Collaboration between PR, marketing, and other teams is essential for aligning PR with overall business strategy.
  • Setting clear expectations, maintaining access to senior leadership, and reporting on PR activities are crucial for success.

About the Guest

Michelle Lyng is the founder and CEO of Novitas Communications, an award-winning, full-service public relations firm based in downtown Denver. She founded Novitas during the Great Recession of 2008 and quickly became best known for her work in issue management, corporate communication and crisis communication in highly regulated sectors, including education, oil and gas, real estate, technology, healthcare and financial services. Michelle has over 25 years of experience in strategic communications and advises a wide range of clients, from Fortune 100 companies to start-ups and nonprofits, on responding proactively and reactively to emerging communications issues.

About the Host

Abbie Fink is president of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of PRGN. Her marketing communications background includes skills in media relations, digital communications, social media strategies, special event management, crisis communications, community relations, issues management, and marketing promotions for both the private and public sectors, including such industries as healthcare, financial services, professional services, government affairs and tribal affairs, as well as not-for-profit organizations.

PRGN Presents is brought to you by Public Relations Global Network, the world’s local public relations agency. Our executive producer is Adrian McIntyre.

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Adrian McIntyre:

From the Public Relations Global Network, this is PRGN Presents. I'm Adrian McIntyre.

Abbie Fink:

And I'm Abbie Fink, president of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of PRGN. With public relations leaders embedded into the fabric of the communities we serve, clients hire our agencies for the local knowledge, expertise, and connections in markets spanning six continents across the world.

Adrian McIntyre:

Our guests on this biweekly podcast series are all members of the Public Relations Global Network. They discuss such topics as the importance of sustainability and Environmental, Social, and Governance programs, crisis communications, content marketing, reputation management, and outside of the box thinking for growing your business.

Abbie Fink:

For more information about PRGN and our members, please visit prgn.com. And now, let's meet our guest for this episode.

Michelle Lyng:

This is Michelle Lyng. I'm the CEO of Novitas Communications. We focus on three areas: crisis communication, corporate communication, and issue management. We've been doing this for 15 years now, hasn't felt a day more than 40.

Abbie Fink:

Day more than 40. So you started your firm in the great recession of 2008. Congratulations on your success. One of the things that PR people tend to talk about is the impact that we can have on our clients' businesses as it relates to revenue, sales, new business development. But we're not always comfortable about having these conversations because so much of what we do is difficult to track. But you really have grasped this idea of how revenue and PR are connected.

And I'd like to talk a little bit about how you see that and why it's so important for us to understand the real role that public relations and communications can have for businesses when they're thinking about it from a sales and revenue perspective.

Michelle Lyng:

Absolutely, Abbie. And, you know, I think that I'm so passionate about this because we've seen it work for our firm. And so, there are a few ways that PR drives revenue, whether it's reputation enhancement and building relationships with stakeholders or potential or current clients or customers.

I think we all, as PR people, understand those two elements really inherently. But more and more, I'm seeing PR play an important role in supporting the sales funnel, which is a little bit more quantitative. And, the sales cycle support element seems to be less obvious to the PR industry, and especially to some of the clients and organizations we serve. So there's a real education component necessary when you're talking about how PR can really drive revenue.

Abbie Fink:

Dive in a little bit on that education part of it, because I think the conversation has to start with that from the very beginning. We have to create this expectation that what we do can have an impact.

So how do you develop that line of conversation with the prospects, even within your own team, to get them thinking about the role that what we do has within a larger organization?

Michelle Lyng:

Well, one of the things that we're looking at, one of the things I like to say actually when we're talking to prospective clients or even current clients is, what I'd like to say is, PR should be as integral to your business as accounting or having a legal strategy. It's critical for success.

So with a lot of the corporate world potentially bracing for a recession coming up, although we knock on wood, it doesn't seem to have appeared quite yet. Your thought leadership, for example, will play a really important role in driving revenue. And in fact, B2B buyers are actually looking at how thought leadership can drive revenue. 44% of decision makers say they'll be personally less receptive to just sales calls and marketing outreach if a downturn hits. So it'll be harder to break through and win business.

But it's important to stay the course on sales and PR and marketing spend, because according to the Harvard Business Review, companies that bounced back most strongly from previous recessions did not cut marketing and PR spend. So, PR really offers a way forward, especially during a downturn.

And like you mentioned in the beginning, I should know, because I started a PR firm in the middle of a recession. And so public relations and content are really critical to managing and accelerating the sales funnel.

If you're looking at the sales funnel as awareness, which is sort of filling your funnel with leads, engagement, offering information that the client or customer finds compelling, then consideration, where you're offering more customized information, evaluation, really helping clients and customers understand the product or the service and how you're different.

And then the purchase process, which is handing it off to sales. And then there's another element, which is customer retention, really ensuring that customers understand that their decision was a great decision. Who doesn't like to hear that their decision was great, right?

Abbie Fink:

What are you looking at or what are you advising we should be considering as measurements of success that the public relations activities, thought leadership and such have impacted revenue? What are those performance indicators? You know, there's a direct line with I made these many sales calls and these many clients we've, you know, purchased.

PR is a little bit, you know, more non-tangible in a lot of ways. It's hard to measure thought leadership with a, you know, this many this or that. So talk about what those indicators are, what you're looking at, and what you're helping clients understand are what is being impacted by the work that you're doing.

Michelle Lyng:

Absolutely. So if we're going through some of the phases, you know, with the awareness phase, we're looking at web traffic increase, page views increase, bounce rate decrease, time spent on the website increase, SEO ranking, all of these things have PR components. And one of the things we've actually done with our clients is use a PR specific link or tracking mechanism so that they know that any website traffic increase is due to us.

But really, I think the ultimate test of awareness, increases in awareness is when you're out and about and people say, oh yeah, I've heard of you. They recognize who you are and what you do. And, you know, certainly that's less quantifiable, but also a great way to understand. Obviously, the best way to look at awareness is to actually survey people, but that can be expensive and can be very cumbersome.

Then if you're looking at engagement, we're measuring share of voice, whether it's in the media or on social media, power of voice, number of down funnel prospects, so people that are continuing to move down the funnel. In consideration, we're looking at is there a shift in the conversation online, positive, negative, and neutral mentions, the frequency of messaging placement.

When you're talking about evaluation, you know, efforts converted to sales, purchase, we're talking, you know, sales, obviously, and revenue. But those are some of the things that we're looking at, besides revenue, of course, that can potentially relate directly to PR.

Abbie Fink:

Now, that strikes me as conversations that have to take place across the organization, right? You have a role, a very specific responsibility. There are others whose work will impact what you're doing and vice versa.

So what is the makeup of the room look like when those conversations are happening?

Who else is in those conversations and understanding the various roles and how each one of those connects with the other?

Michelle Lyng:

One of the things that's really interesting is, There's been a lot of crossover between PR and marketing, so obviously there's got to be a lot of collaboration there. But I think that you're doing your company a disservice if PR isn't part or isn't supporting your overall strategy and mission.

I had a client once who worked for a major pharmaceutical company, and he said, whenever we're going into a strategy meeting, I've got my legal team, I've got my marketing team, and I have my PR team. And we're all sitting in the room talking about how we get things done. And so I think breaking down some of those silos is critical to ensuring that everyone's on the same page.

Abbie Fink:

And at what point in the process do you shift, re-engage, reconsider what are you measuring? I mean, we can say share a voice or we can say number of click-throughs, but there has to be some quantifying. We want X percent increase, we want something, there has to still be some tangible components of that. So what do those look like and at what point along the way do you bring the team back together and start evaluating really what that success is?

Michelle Lyng:

In our firm, we evaluate from the beginning. And so we're looking at, in terms of content, which articles are positive, negative, who else is speaking in our articles. We try to quantify as much of that as possible and we do it from the beginning.

Obviously you want to have some kind of a baseline initially, so you can show movement. But throughout the conversation, I do think that you should, throughout the engagement, you should be constantly monitoring.

We've actually been experimenting with using a dashboard to give us real-ish time data on some of these things. So we know, okay, we'll have to increase this or decrease this or, you know, this messaging a bit. And so I think that this is a continual improvement process.

Abbie Fink:

We've talked before about having a seat at the table. And I'm always impressed with executive level management that recognizes the role, as you said, you have your legal team, you have your finance team, you need to have your communications team.

We often say we are bringing on an outside PR counsel as an investment in your success and you need to consider it that way. But not everybody does. And maybe in particular when we are outside counsel coming in with, you know, internal teams.

So how do you work with different philosophies and those on the team that are very numbers driven, their success, their salaries, their commission checks are completely based on being able to keep the revenue going and may see what we do as a bit counterintuitive to the work that they're doing.

Michelle Lyng:

Well, sure, and you know, anyone who doesn't own a PR firm, it may initially look at PR or marketing as a cost center. And again, I just view PR as just as necessary as the cost of doing business as accounting.

But you know, sometimes you have to work with incrementalism, right? Will they invite you to the table initially? Some might, and that's awesome. And I think that there's a greater awareness of that.

Unfortunately, particularly after some of the Bud Lite things that happened, there might have been somebody who could have raised their hand and said, hey, we may want to think about what people, you know, how people react to this. And so bringing people in more holistically, I think is becoming more popular. I hope it's becoming more popular.

I'm actually submitting an article to Forbes suggesting that companies actually have a PR or reputation management committee on their boards of directors, just because it's become such an important part of what we do, and communication is such an important part of doing business these days.

I play the long game. And so, when my clients don't let us have a seat at the table, or I think there's some misconceptions about PR that, you know, in the nineties, where Samantha Jones would just go to parties and talk to people and socialize. Now, the misconception was that we are like Scandal, and I'd like to think that we're turning a corner now and being looked at as more of a strategic activity than some would originally believe.

Adrian McIntyre:

Given the prevalence of that stereotype and the widespread nature of the misunderstandings, if an executive or director of marketing communications is listening to this and wants some guidance on how to tell if the agency they're speaking to is schooled in revenue-generating metrics, not just audience metrics, what are some of the kinds of questions a business leader should ask in the process of vetting a firm to see if they're fluent in the kind of work you're describing?

Michelle Lyng:

You know I always ask people for examples. Show me an example, give me an example, I'm sort of example driven. But I think there are unfortunately some PR firms, and I don't want to speak ill of my colleagues, that do PR for PR's sake.

And I think that CMOs or CCOs or marketing executives who are interested in that should be asking PR firms, what are some ways to integrate PR into the overall strategy? How can PR support the overall strategy, even if it's just providing some kind of a, an example, you know, how would you support this revenue activity?

Or how would you do this? And if they're like, “Oh, we just, you know, have a party”—and events have a role, don't get me wrong—but if they don't have a solid and strategic answer and it's really tactical, I think that you should question whether it's a right fit.

Abbie Fink:

Well, and that is a to me is the overall understanding, right? That if the conversation starts with “We believe we need public relations counsel,” why? What is it that's driving that conversation today? What do you hope to accomplish as a result of it?

And if we if we ask the right questions and probe the clients—and ideally they ask the right questions back—I think it certainly levels the playing field. We understand where we're coming from. And if we are goal-oriented, which I think all of us are, we understand what our expectations are and what our clients or organizations are going to use to measure success.

And again, they can quantify X percent of sales increase and this many more customers. And I think they should expect us to be able to answer the question, what we do and how that makes a difference. So thinking about those kinds of conversations, tell me three questions you would ask a client as they're beginning this process so that you know they have an understanding of what you are trying to accomplish for them.

Michelle Lyng:

The three questions I would probably ask are, what role does PR have in your organization? Do we have access to your senior leadership? There are always sensitivities around giving people access to people, but if you're really looking for an integrated approach, an approach that supports the overall organization strategy, having some measure of access to the people at the top is important.

And then sometimes I ask what their experiences in the past have been with PR, what they've done in the past, what's worked, what hasn't worked, to understand what sort of biases they may be coming into the relationship with.

But I think, as Abbie pointed out, it's really important to set expectations about the relationship up front, outline what success looks like, and then stick to it. Certainly things might change throughout the relationship, but really keep a north star for what success looks like with your clients.

And then finally, I think one of the other tips is to tell them what you're going to do, do the thing, and then report on the thing, right? It's a process-oriented approach that allows not only your internal clients to succeed, but also allows them to report up to their internal client.

Adrian McIntyre:

Thanks for listening to this episode of PRGN Presents, brought to you by the Public Relations Global Network.

Abbie Fink:

We publish new episodes every other week, so follow PRGN Presents in your favorite podcast app. Episodes are also available on our website—along with more information about PRGN and our members—at prgn.com.

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About the Podcast

PRGN Presents: News & Views from the Public Relations Global Network
Leading a business effectively in today's fast-paced and interconnected world requires expert guidance and a strong communications strategy. The Public Relations Global Network is here to help.
PRGN Presents is the essential podcast for international business leaders, non-profit executives, and those who hire public relations, marketing, and communications firms. It provides an exclusive look into the ever-evolving world of PR and communications, featuring experts from the Public Relations Global Network, “the world’s local public relations agency.”

Is your message winning hearts and minds? No matter where you do business, there is a PRGN member agency in your region with the deep industry expertise, international experience, and local market knowledge you need to connect with your target audience and achieve your goals.

Whether you're an executive looking to improve your organization's communication strategy or an in-house marketing professional looking to bring in an outside firm to support a specific campaign, this podcast will provide valuable insights on how to communicate effectively and build lasting relationships with customers, staff, and communities around the world.

In each episode, you’ll hear PR professionals and industry experts share valuable insights and perspectives on the latest trends in public relations, Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG), media relations, crisis management, investor relations, stakeholder engagement, executive thought leadership, and strategic communications.

About your host

Profile picture for Abbie S. Fink

Abbie S. Fink

Abbie S. Fink is president of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of the Public Relations Global Network. Her marketing communications background includes skills in media relations, digital communications, social media strategies, special event management, community relations, issues management, and marketing promotions for both the private and public sectors, including such industries as healthcare, financial services, professional services, government affairs and tribal affairs, as well as not-for-profit organizations. Abbie is often invited to present to a wide variety of business and civic organizations on such topics as media relations, social media and digital communications strategies, crisis communications, and special events management.