What The Best PR Strategies Have In Common

“Strategy” is an overused word, but in public relations or marketing, it’s a key to success.
Without the right PR strategy, a program can fall short or even fail spectacularly. Casual observers of the many ways PR generates earned media, like jumping on a breaking story, might conclude that planning isn’t a priority. Some PR tactics can seem like spontaneous ones that require only media contacts and sales skills. Yet that’s very rarely the case. The difference between a ho-hum PR program and one that’s great comes down to your plan, and that plan rests on strategy.

Here’s what the most successful PR strategies have in common.

They support goals that are specific

We’re often approached by prospective clients who articulate their goals in somewhat vague terms. They may talk about generating visibility for a tech startup, or a desire to position the CEO as a thought leader. Maybe the company has weathered some bad PR and it’s looking for a reputation lift. These are all fine objectives, but to develop a successful PR strategy, it’s our job to help the client set more specific and tailored goals. Fewer, clearer objectives always beat vague or sweeping ones. Think in terms of measurable brand preference, increases in website traffic, lead generation, or even specific deliverables, like speaking opportunities generated for the CEO.

They’re actionable

The best PR strategy is only as good as the execution behind it. A strategy is a road map of specific tactics chosen and tailored to support the organization’s goals. Your core strategy to differentiate and promote your accounting firm may be to position its partners as experts in personal financial planning, for example. Yet that’s meaningless until you have the media pitches, seminar opportunities, or content to support and show off that expertise. It’s also important that tactics are flexible and can be changed as the competitive environment or market trends dictate.

They involve tailored messages

Successful PR plans work to convey messages and stories that are – at least to a degree – ownable by the company or brand in question. They’re not borrowed from a competitor or taken from press release boilerplate. And as with key tactics, they’re reviewed and revised regularly to reflect changes or to incorporate trends or new developments. Here, less is more.

They’re informed by research

At times we underestimate the time and research required for a solid PR strategy that includes tight messaging and multiple media storylines. PR is much more than a one-way broadcasting of information or storytelling; with the right research, it works as a two-way channel by responding to or persuading the right audiences. Pure PR instinct is a beautiful thing, but it just doesn’t cut it when we have access to so much high-quality information that’s useful for tailoring messaging and targets.

They’re measurable

New tools make measuring outcomes far easier and more precise than in the past, but they must be in place in advance of program execution and included in the program budget. It’s curious (and sometimes frustrating) that marketers who wouldn’t dream of starting a new digital marketing program without a brand baseline, or measurable sense of brand preference in advance of spending on marketing, aren’t always equally focused on a reputation baseline before investing in a PR program.

They’re well resourced

One of the unhappiest outcomes of a client-agency relationship is one of disappointment when grand ambitions aren’t realized. Sometimes this is due to a poorly budgeted program. It’s far better to adjust goals and stage anticipated outcomes over a period of three to five years than to try to cram too much into a modest budget. In the case of earned media in particular, media coverage begets more coverage, so building momentum is key.

They’re in sync with other marketing and comms programs

Maybe full integration isn’t a goal, but simple coordination adds value and helps prevent different campaigns from fighting each other. A compelling piece of branded content like a white paper or op-ed article can get a prospective customer into the purchase funnel, where he is then wooed through drip marketing messages, for example. Or maybe a prospect is already in the system and he comes across a particularly convincing testimonial in a trade publication. It all works in concert.

They’re (reasonably) flexible 

A strategic PR plan will be adaptable to market conditions, competitive developments, or changes in the news cycle. Some degree of change is the rule, not the exception. PR can take advantage of that with monthly plan reviews and adjustments. An advantage of earned media over traditional paid advertising is that PR can often shift tactics or adapt messaging with minimal cost, although the earned media approach lacks the test-and-tweak flexibility of digital advertising.

They include a contingency or crisis plan

Similarly, it pays to think through potentially damaging scenarios and be prepared with a defensive strategy in the event of unexpected developments. The key here is often quick access to decision makers and a clear chain of communication. 

5 PR Faux Pas And A Few Genius Moves

In public relations, the work we do is often described in military terms: we have a mission or we go into attack mode; some teams are positioned as “boots on the ground.” Whatever the PR “mission critical” is, here are some actions to avoid for flawless execution as well as some genius moves.

PR faux pas

Proposing tactics in search of a strategy. Nothing says “off-the-shelf” like trotting out the same old, same old for every new PR project. The ability to take time and delve deeply into a business before engaging will ensure a plan that is truly aligned with business objectives.

Mishandling media. This catch-all covers everything from less-than-diligent media list creation to over-promising a media contact. It’s best to have dedicated staffers parsing the media relations plan and executing a realistic, results-oriented approach.

Shuffling team members. Obviously, there must be personnel shifts if an account person is a poor fit, but when a team is really humming and clicking, it’s best to keep it in place to ensure continuity. Shake things up a bit when work appears to be getting a stale or repetitive, which leads to:

Uninspired work. Particularly if you have a long-standing relationship, you might scratch your head every so often trying to think of fresh ideas. This is where it probably pays off to do a thorough creative review of a key account brainstorm with non-team members to get a fresh perspective.

Poor reporting. This can’t be stressed enough. Don’t wait to be asked for a project status update. The best PR teams have several “built-in” ways to keep on top of work so that weekly, monthly or quarterly reporting is a simple function. Project management tools, group chats, and weekly meetings help keep everyone in the loop at all times.

A few genius moves…

Keep your cases up-to-date and relevant. Nothing speaks better to a PR team’s experience than a well-documented, compelling and current case study. The best tip: do them immediately after a project has wrapped and revisit them to amend or update.

Always ask for feedback. Don’t be afraid to get some constructive criticism from a PR partner, a media contact or a colleague. Recently a media contact told me exactly why my pitch wasn’t working, and it proved invaluable to re-writing and making something successful. We’ve also had a PR partner take that opportunity to extend our engagement.

Turn even bad news into media gold. Ok, so a recent political or business development may negatively impact a PR initiative. Regroup and maybe you can leverage that news for opportunities to present an opposing view and make a strong case. At the very least, always be thinking about ways to create your own PR “genius moves.”