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Why the best ABM approach is PR-led

Posted by Chris King on 6th September 2022

Very early on, when I started my PR degree back in the early 1990s, I distinctly remember one of my Bournemouth Uni lecturers going to great lengths to argue that PR can’t and shouldn’t be used for lead generation. Oh, how the world has changed!

To celebrate the launch of our new account-based PR service I thought I’d just come straight out and tackle the elephant in the room head on. Yes, Wildfire is proudly and unashamedly a PR agency. Yes, there are dedicated account-based marketing (ABM) agencies out there. But so what?

The idea of PR as an exclusively one-to-many mass communication approach and PR agencies as press release and media coverage sweat shops died a long time ago.

Wildfire’s PR consultants are totally comfortable running integrated multi-channel programmes and are just as effective at taking targeted messages and stories directly to individuals whether that’s one-to-few or one-to-one. And with the range of available communications channels at our disposal these days, there is far more than one journalist-shaped way to skin a cat.

While ABM has become a popular discipline — a quick Google will show you some great success stories of 208% revenue growth and 67% improvements in deal closures – it’s also easy to get wrong. The flipside of the stats above is that 83% of marketers are still struggling to find the perfect way to deploy ABM. The less successful brands (that you don’t hear so much about) often become too preoccupied with tactics and chucking money at Google Ads and LinkedIn to the detriment of properly thinking through their core insights, strategy, and story.

Call it confidence, call it arrogance, call it deluded, but I firmly believe that many of the best strategists are PR consultants and many of the best storytellers are PR consultants, and because of that the best ABM approach is PR-led.

The obligatory definition

Before I get too deep into my argument let me introduce what I mean by ABM for anyone unfamiliar.

In its simplest form, ABM is a marketing and sales strategy geared towards engaging specific target accounts. Instead of casting a wide lead generation net, marketing and sales work together closely to identify key prospects and then build highly customised ABM programmes and messages tailored to the business challenges of buying teams within those target accounts. The deeper the insights the increasingly personalised activations and content can become.

With around seven people typically involved in the decision-making process for an average enterprise deal, ABM is the thinking-person’s approach to engaging this group. In the world of B2B, every sales interaction won’t be a transaction so ABM is about more than just leads; it can also be measured in customer engagement and creating a positive experience.

Think.Bold applied to ABM

Think.Bold is the Wildfire framework for creative storytelling — and it underpins all our client programmes and new business pitches.

Since creating and rolling out this process we’ve experienced some of our most successful years as an agency. We believe in the approach because we’ve witnessed the results first-hand.

Absolutely central to this framework is audience insight and the critical task of gathering information that helps to build a clear picture of the target market, competitors, audiences, and key points of tension. We refine key learnings to come up with a Brand Platform, top-line positioning statements, and a narrative that together expand our thinking and form the basis for storytelling, bold creative ideation, and an ambitious activation plan.

Historically we’ve applied Think.Bold to PR and communications briefs where the objectives are typically focused on awareness and media share of voice. However, we’re seeing more and more briefs where driving leads and engaging prospects has equal, if not greater, billing. Take this recent example… “…direct contact with our target buyers is more important to us than wider engagement and general awareness of our brand at this stage”.

Again, normally we’ve been gathering insights about our target audiences in a broad sense. Depending on the client, that audience could be CMOs, CIOs, CFOs, software developers, engineers, etc, etc, … the key point being we’re taking an ‘all-in’ look at that group to build buyer personas.

Changing perspectives

It really is the tiniest of leaps to adopt a more ABM mindset and go a stage deeper with Think.Bold, honing our insights on, for example, 30 named CIOs (and the team surrounding them) at specific target accounts. The processes, tools, platforms, and approach to gathering insights doesn’t change — we’re just being more hyper-targeted.

The same applies when building our strategies, stories, and tactical activation plans. We’re already running sophisticated and strategic integrated multi-channel programmes for our clients that bring together different combinations of digital and social media output, content creation, media relations, influencer marketing, social selling, and analyst relations.

We know how to tell a story and engage a prospect. The deeper the insights the increasingly personalised our activations and content can become.

In the past we’ve seen some of our most successful campaigns – which were originally conceived based on a UK-focused PR brief – go on to be adopted as a global brand platform across PR, marketing, sales, and demand generation.

Over the last six months we’ve been piloting this PR-led ABM approach across several projects and opportunities to great effect.

If you’re interested in finding out more about how we can give your demand generation a Think.Bold injection, please get in touch. Or if you’re struggling to engage target prospects let us help turn your ambition into action.

Chris King

Chris’s extensive experience of agency PR, ‘can-do’ attitude and track record for achieving outstanding results time after time make him a firm favourite amongst clients. His natural teaching skills make him an expert mentor and respected MD.