At the beginning of any public relations engagement, the collaborators need to agree on goals for the campaign. It may be achieving a leadership position for a brand or helping differentiate vis a vis competitors. Sometimes the goals are very specific for a company that has just undergone a change of leadership or an acquisition. Whatever the particular scenario, knowing the goals is often the easy part. How you’re going to achieve them – the development of PR strategy – is another story. Don’t despair. We’ve developed some simple steps to guide the process as painlessly as possible.
Understand PR’s role. PR works best when all parties understand what it is and isn’t, as we addressed previously. PR can drive media interest and provide compelling thought leadership to help burnish an image, but it shouldn’t be thought of as a catch-all for any communications need. For example, if a not-for-profit is looking to a PR team to help communicate to potential donors and increase contributions, that type of “demand generation” may require a separate discipline altogether. Yet an obvious strategy here would be to increase overall awareness of the organization with the thought that the resulting “halo effect” would support greater donations.
Listen to your partners. The best way to begin is to allow your collaborators to talk through their needs. Often an entirely different strategy emerges just by taking the time to parse the details and see beyond the simple need to “sell more product” or “pre-empt the competition.” There can be subtlety and nuance that informs a much more effective strategy if you move past the obvious. In a recent campaign, our initial objective was to launch a new product and preempt competition, but as ownership issues emerged, it became clear that our strategy had to shift from simply getting the word out to reshaping the narrative altogether.
Look at past success. We’re not advocating lifting an “off-the-shelf” strategy verbatim to graft onto a new project. But it’s wise to allow past success to guide strategy development for a similar initiative. Experience, usually presented in case history form, is the strongest indicator of sound ideas and something PR teams should reference with confidence when relevant.
Integrate with other disciplines. For better or worse, PR strategy is often affected by overall business goals as well as an organization’s sales, marketing, social media and other practices. In the best case scenario, all groups are collaborating seamlessly and the PR strategy is borne from solid marketing planning. PR can benefit from increased activity on those fronts and vice versa. In the opposite case, PR is force-fit onto an ad or marketing campaign that offers very little “there” there. An online gift company developed a campaign to leverage its relationship with a prominent veteran’s organization. The company hatched an idea without consulting the PR team and the result was so lackluster that media didn’t respond and it was a wasted opportunity for all – clearly an avoidable outcome.
Don’t get too fancy. The acronym KISS (Keep it simple, stupid) is overused, but the sentiment stands. There is a tendency to dress up strategy with industry jargon or to overthink. This is unnecessary. Focused thinking with a dose of creativity, clarity of goals and roles, and easy collaboration will produce a workable strategy to achieve success – while keeping all players sane at the same time.