Public relations has earned its stripes as part of the overall marketing mix. Most marketers agree that a strategic PR plan can play a key role in a brand push.
Yet PR too often appears as a few tactics in a presentation deck: press releases, media interviews, executive speeches, media briefings. Even for PR practitioners, there can be a tendency to jump headfirst into publicity tactics. After all, earned media coverage is a tangible byproduct of a many PR programs, and positive brand visibility supports other marketing efforts.
The best public relations planning is grounded in strategy. A thoughtful approach based on strategic business outcomes will add greater value, and the publicity results will be more on target than with a shoot-from-the-hip approach.
Here are eight reminders for experienced practitioners when developing a sound PR plan:
1. Define the role of strategic PR in the broader marketing mix.
An easy way is to start is with a classic SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) and determining where a strategic PR program fits in, reinforcing strengths vis-à-vis competitors or building allies in the event of sudden external developments.
Another common guideline is that advertising drives frequency of message, which is nearly impossible to do with media relations, and the typical PR approach offers depth of message or story.
2. Before you begin, listen.
Traditional market research isn’t sufficient as the basis for a PR plan incorporating traditional and social media. The strongest and most strategic programs are informed by what customers, prospects, and stakeholders are posting and tweeting about the brand—or, as the case may be, what they’re not
3. Define your differentiators.
Marketing and advertising are highly useful for informing customers of new products or services or innovations like price changes, but a good PR strategy often rests upon true brand differentiation or the ability to create it. Think about the narrative that will carry the program and what mix of tactics can best communicate that difference.
4. Identify the biggest influencers.
Social media and the “attention economy” have created a new class of influencers. In many cases they deliver more sway, both pro and con, than in the past. Whereas the old school PR philosophy was to rent a celebrity for a product launch event, today’s approach is more likely to involve building real relationships with lesser-known—but equally influential—bloggers or experts.
5. Plan tactics in quarterly initiatives.
The overall PR strategy, positioning, target audiences, and key messages are typically fixed elements of a plan, but tactics might require constant review and change.
Unexpected internal developments, a change in the business environment, or a competitive move can require fresh tactics and flexibility in planning.
6. Build in flexibility.
It’s worth a separate point about the need for flexibility in PR. As digital and social media grow in influence, PR professionals and their clients must be flexible to avoid missing opportunities.
These may come in the form of “newsjacking”—tying your story to breaking news, trends, or publicity topics —or simply to meet individual media needs. Given the dynamic news environment in which we operate, building in contingencies for key announcements and tactics is only good sense.
7. Ensure message alignment.
It’s a myth that PR, advertising, and direct marketing must constantly push out the same message, but they do have to mesh rather than conflict. For example, paid media might be based on an innovative product technology, whereas a PR program conveys leadership. These are distinct yet aligned messages.
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8. Always track to objectives.
Bear in mind that the objectives for a strategic PR program are often not conversions. PR doesn’t stand alone as a consistent tool for demand generation. Rather, it works best to build brand awareness over the long term, position a company as a preferred partner or employer, create a leadership positioning, or build support around a relevant topic or issue.
Dorothy Crenshaw is CEO and creative director of Crenshaw Communications. She has been named one of the public relations
industry’s 100 Most Powerful Women by PR Week. A version of this story
appeared on Crenshaw Communications' ImPRessions blog.