What comes first? A great brand or great PR? That’s the question we posed to our friend Josh Inglis, CEO at Propllr. Like the age old chicken and egg, it turns out the answer isn’t that simple. Long story short, a great brand doesn’t guarantee great PR. But a bad brand can definitely hurt if it doesn’t live up the hype of your PR.
Neil Wengerd (Nonfiction):
Hi Josh! Tell me about Propllr, the clients you serve, and expertise you provide.
Josh Inglis (Propllr):
Propllr helps B2B enterprise technology startups build authority and credibility. We do that in two ways: public relations and content marketing. Our PR work is generally focused on media relations and award programs. For media relations, we help get our clients featured, profiled, and quoted in trusted publications everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to very niche podcasts, and we focus a good deal on thought leadership opportunities. For awards, we secure recognition for our clients, their people, their products and services, and their culture. On the content side, Propllr acts as an outsourced content director, doing everything required to create great written work. That's everything from setting the blog’s objective and voice to creating the editorial calendar, conducting all the interviews and research, and all the writing. Depending on the client, we may also provide analytics and amplification support.
Got it. It sounds like you’re doing thought leadership for clients to some degree. What does “thought leadership” mean to you?
Thought leadership is not just putting content out there and calling it thought leadership. That’s especially true now, with the rise of ChatGPT. Our approach of thought leadership involves our clients publishing insightful, experience-driven, and newsworthy content that stands out. This kind of content has to be good. The research shows that B2B buyers reward companies that provide quality thought leadership content through the buying journey, but they penalize companies that provide bad content. In short, thought leadership needs an objective, and to us, it’s all about building trust and credibility.
That intersects well with the way that we think about branding, which is building trust and credibility and recognizability and visibility. First, through the design and foundational brand work. Then, in relation to what you do, the content and the marketing.
Let's talk about the transition from the work we do, brand identity creation, to the brand launch. From a PR perspective, what are the key things to make sure to think about when introducing a new or evolved brand to the world?
In the B2B enterprise technology world, brand launches on their own are generally not an excuse to reach out to reporters. Sure, if Salesforce were to rebrand, it would be news. But most smaller B2B technology companies won’t find a receptive audience.
There are two answers to this question, really. First, if a company has strong media relationships, they might be able to leverage a rebrand as a timely excuse to reconnect with a reporter. We did that with a client, Deft, positioning the rebrand as indicative of a broader change in the industry. It was their opportunity to jump in and say, “Hey, we're doing this because the industry has changed and we've evolved.”
Second, if a company has no existing PR program, a rebrand is a timely excuse to reach out to reporters for the first time – you’ll be looking good and feeling good, and your positioning will be spot on. Just know that this outreach will be more about establishing a relationship than it is getting coverage of the rebrand.
That makes a lot of sense. You touched a little bit on the value of a brand. But can you go deeper on that? What do you see as the value of a really great brand identity from a PR perspective?
For our clients, a big part of brand-building is about creating a sense of leadership. If we're doing both PR and content for a company, most of what we’re doing is positioning them as a leader. For example, someone writing about what's going on in the cloud today couldn't do it without talking about Azure, Google Cloud, and AWS. We want our clients to be among the names that reporters feel they need to speak to when they’re covering relevant topics. That's a big part of where the brand shines through.
A really top-notch brand that says this is who we are and we're ready for prime time goes a long way to a successful PR effort.
Where a poor brand identity can hurt is if the site doesn’t live up to the PR. In other words, if a reporter gets a pitch but then clicks through to the site and everything seems just-launched and you have a janky landing page… they’re going to pass. But a really top-notch brand that says this is who we are and we're ready for prime time goes a long way to a successful PR effort.
To add to that question, how can B2B startups, or companies in general, see brand, design, and PR as an investment and not an expense?
A lot of startup founders are metrics-driven people. When they look at things like PR or brand, they want to know, “How do I know the return on this?” That’s really hard, unless you’re a massive company with a big budget for research. When we accept new clients, we want to make sure they understand this.
Here’s one way to think of the value, even if it has nothing to do with a dollar amount or an ROI calculation. What if your competitor was getting a lot of coverage and you were getting none. Would you feel you were falling behind? If so, I’d argue there’s value to the work.
It’s similar from a branding perspective: If your competitor’s website and brand identity are thoughtful and polished, but your site and brand identity are janky and incomplete, you’ll feel like you’ve fallen behind. There’s value in the delta between top-tier and wherever you are today.
Sometimes metrics get in the way of doing the right thing. If you're always focused on putting money where it can be precisely measured, you lose sight of the brand investments that can be so impactful.
I feel like metrics get in the way sometimes of doing the right thing. If you're always focused on putting money where it can be precisely measured, you lose sight of the brand investments that can be so impactful but that just can’t be measured with the software that exists today.
I agree. It's a tricky thing to figure out ROI because, as you mentioned on the brand and design side, there's not always a very clear line from “we did this change” to “now we have this return.”
From a brand and design standpoint, people are willing to pay a lot more money for something that has a strong brand behind it versus something that doesn’t. That difference in price is really the value of that brand.
I think that's a great way to look at it. Let’s say your boss told you to source some new piece of technology. You come back with two different offerings that you think are the best and one looks really solid and put together and one doesn't. Assuming the features are somewhat equal, you're probably going to go with the one that's more thoughtfully presented. And that product can charge a premium. And PR and content have the same value. If you’re comparing two seemingly equal companies, one with great media coverage, lots of awards, and super strong content, and the other without those strengths, you’re going to pick the former, not the latter.
I feel like what it comes down to is this: if you’re pitching your product or company, and you’re constantly apologizing for how you’re presenting yourself, or making excuses for why you seem to have less momentum than your competitors, then there’s a great return to be had by investing in brand and putting your best foot forward.
Absolutely. Last question. What advice would you give someone when they're looking to build their brand?
PR and content marketing are both amazing tactics to build brand for companies where trust and credibility are critical. When someone sees a feature on your B2B tech company in the Wall Street Journal or listens to an interview on an influential podcast, or when they see a blog post that meaningfully explores questions that are important to the industry, they can’t help but see you as a market leader.