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. 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 the positive brand visibility supports other marketing functions.
But 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.
Define the Role of Strategic PR in the Broader Marketing Mix
An easy way is to start is with a classic SWOT analysis and determine 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.
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 online…or, as the case may be, what they’re not saying.
Define Your Differentiators
Marketing and advertising are very 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 through borrowed interest strategies. Think about the narrative that will carry the program and what mix of tactics can best communicate that difference.
Identify Your Most Strategic 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.
Plan Tactics in Quarterly Initiatives
The overall PR strategy, positioning, target audiences, and key messages are typically fixed elements of a plan, but tactics may 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.
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 need to be flexible to avoid missing opportunities. These may come in the form of “newsjacking”—tying your story into 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.
Ensure Message Alignment
It’s a myth that PR, advertising, and direct marketing need to constantly push out the same message, but they do need to mesh rather than conflict. For example, paid media might be based on an innovative product technology while a PR program conveys category leadership. Distinct, yet aligned.
Always Track to Objectives
This goes without saying, but 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.
A version of this appeared on MENGBlend.