Selling the Story: 3 Similarities of Sales and PR

By Deirdre Brett, Account Executive

“Today everyone, whether they know it or not, is in the emotional transportation business. More and more, success is won by creating compelling stories that have the power to move people to action. Simply put, if you can’t tell it, you can’t sell it.”

 -Peter Guber

After spending five years in an inside sales position, I was excited for a career change and eager for my first foray into the fast-paced world of public relations. Hungry to learn (and break out of my tall-walled cubicle), I was ready for a change and optimistic about my abilities. In hindsight, I had no guarantee my sales experience would translate so seamlessly to PR, and I suppose my transition could have found me helpless, floundering and crawling skinned knees and bruised ego all the way back to the dreaded cubicle.
To my surprise, the more I became engrained in my new journey, the more I uncovered the connected nature of sales and PR, in both the most obvious and surprising of ways. Here are three valuable skills I learned through my time in sales that have benefited me (and hopefully you!) as I continue to build my knowledge about PR:

  1. Persistence: Throughout my time in sales, I was reminded on a daily basis the value of persistence. In sales jargon, they call it “dialing for dollars”; it’s the idea that the more calls you make, the closer you are to the sale. However, being on the receiving end of hang-ups on a daily basis tests the patience and commitment of even the calmest of heads. Combined with the consistent cold calling was the nature of the sale itself—it was long and slow and took months – and in some cases, years – to close the deal (sound familiar to those in PR who start business planning and budget scopes mid-year?). You worked hard every day and often times it felt as though you had nothing tangible to show for it, but you dialed on. The process was tedious, but it taught me that persistence is the cornerstone of success. When starting to navigate PR, it was this lesson in persistence that gave me the confidence to try and not be too overwhelmed by a new industry. Unexpected challenges, last-minute changes and urgent client requests are inevitable, especially in PR, but take a step back—remind yourself that at your core, you are persistent and capable. And remember there is always a workaround—just keep climbing!
  2. Relationships: In order to create value for customers, it was necessary to understand the customer, establish trust, and build a relationship. Approaching the sale as an opportunity to partner with your potential client changes the nature of the relationship. Likewise, in PR, part of that relationship involves a partnership bolstered by listening and compromise. One might argue that PR, at its core, is all about managing relationships. Similar to sales, understanding the needs of your client(s) is the foundation of the relationship. Relationships in PR are critical—from the ones you build with media to the strategic counsel you offer your clients, and I’ve learned it’s necessary to be flexible, thoughtful and attentive.
  3. Story Telling: In sales, communication or story telling was an essential piece involved in the buying process. It was vital to understand the buyer’s needs and wants so you could clearly articulate, connect and begin to build the relationship authentically and sell your story. In both sales and PR, developing effective writing and verbal skills is part of the battle, but weaving that tapestry of words together in a way that captivates your audience is where true story telling comes to play. And in PR, stories are everything.  We monitor news stories, evaluate stories, pitch stories and we bring that process full circle—we are also the conduit, the vehicle, the creator of stories. Storytelling is one of the oldest human traditions, and through PR we are rooted in that history. Even more than sales, we are in the business of selling stories and more accurately, stringing together stories that matter and mark our place in time.