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Reciprocity in PR: What do you expect?

Posted by Paula Fifield on 21st December 2017

My mother has favourite age-old sayings that she likes to repeat now and again. Things like, ‘mind the roads’, (I’m 40 years old for god’s sake!), ‘because I said so, that’s why’, (I’m ashamed to admit that as a mother myself now, I may have uttered this from time to time myself in recent years… ugh!) and, most interestingly, ‘you shouldn’t give to receive’.

I was never sure whether the latter jewel of wisdom was meant as a threat or a warning. Perhaps it was simply to prepare me for marital life, where I lovingly hand-select a card for my husband every wedding anniversary, only to receive nothing in return. Either way, it flies in the face of Mr Cialdini’s list of persuasion principles, which puts reciprocity as No.1 on the list of ways to positively influence people.

Applying the theory

Behavioural theories always come with one or two epic examples of where the theory has been put into practice and worked like a dream. At this point, you find yourself having a light-bulb moment when it appears that all of your dreams of finding the answer to ‘how can I make my communications more impactful?’ have come true. It’s only when you come to apply the theory to your own set of circumstances that, suddenly, the lightbulb dims somewhat and implementation becomes ultimately more challenging than you first thought.

Target, then try it

As we all know, reciprocity works on the basis that if you give something away for free (particularly something that the receiver wasn’t expecting, therefore delighting them…), the receiver feels that they owe you something in return and may therefore be more open to engaging with you.

It’s actually not that difficult to implement reciprocity in the B2B context. I’ve certainly made free, informative and/or entertaining content available to prospects in the hope of igniting the first threads of interest and longer-term loyalty. The key to this is value, so the better you target your content, the better the results will be.

We’ve also used the theory of reciprocity in our campaigns for clients. Launching valuable free content via the media in exchange for contact details is a good way to create MQLs to feed the sales funnel. Similarly, free events, webinars, trials, samples etc. can entice interested parties to learn more about and experience your products and solutions, bringing them one step closer to becoming a paying customer.

Finding ways to build reciprocity into your communications strategy in order to support the B2B buying cycle will certainly assist in converting prospects at various stages of the funnel.

Beyond freebies lies trust

Despite my mother’s good morals, in business there is very often an expectation of return. In order to take the sting out of this fact, be sure that the relationship doesn’t begin and end with reciprocity. Once that first reciprocal transaction takes place, a basic trust has been formed and this should take primary focus when developing the relationship further.

If you’ve heard stories or witnessed reciprocity being used successfully in B2B tech marketing, let us know. We’d love to hear from you!

Paula Fifield

Paula began working with the agency in 2007 as Business Development Director and was appointed as a board director in 2011. Prior to Wildfire, Paula worked at Sun Microsystems, Orange and Morse Group in a range of marketing, customer relationship management and business development roles.