As a small business, you may not be entirely sure where public relations fits within your marketing efforts and why it matters, and you may not be sure where advertising and promotion end and public relations begins, let alone have a dedicated public relations department that knows PR’s ins-and-outs. Maybe you have a part-time employee who handles the occasional issue that arises, or you outsource your public relations on an as-needed basis to guide you when necessary. The only thing you consider for certain is that a thoughtful and cohesive public relations strategy seems smart to have in place.
You are not alone. Even academics who study public relations and everyday public relations practitioners offer little consensus on how public relations exists within an organization or business and its marketing efforts, but they can agree that PR matters.
While public relations began with news and direct relationships with journalists, now public relations includes messages to more than just company investors and stakeholders. PR is baked into myriad tactics, including company newsletters, brand experience layering, news releases, articles and white papers, sponsorships, social media and crisis management. A PR strategy now may include a wealth of earned, owned and shared media, but it is its own creature. According to inbound marketing and sales software giant HubSpot, “a PR strategy helps a business create, organize, and measure the effectiveness of its public relations tactics over time. It’s separate from a marketing plan but should support marketing efforts.”
No matter how public relations is defined or how it evolves, PR is important in any marketing mix and the messages it delivers must dovetail consistently with any messages delivered by other forms of marketing. Consistent messaging is a hard line.
With this public relations primer in your brain, let’s get cracking at how to build the thoughtful public relations strategy you know you need.
Creating a Successful Public Relations Plan
Creating an effective public relations strategy means knowing from the start what to avoid. Few people embrace the “any publicity is good publicity” nonsense of old, but some public relations strategies seem to rally only around publicity, despite the idea that publicity makes people think of old-fashioned spin doctors and flacks that will do anything to create a story. Don’t be that PR strategist.)
After you’ve disavowed doing silly stunts as part of your “public relations” strategy, it’s important to develop and document a plan.
Analysis (based on research)
A solid, proactive, public relations plan begins with an objective analysis or audit. A public relations audit (no IRS agents need be involved) will identify the positive and newsworthy characteristics of your company or business. It can also reveal issues you may want to address or perceptions about your business that you want to alter. It can be formal or informal and it can be done with outside assistance, for objectivity, or with those emotionally invested in the company during a business or leadership meeting.
(Remember to identify your weaknesses in this process. Recognize areas where the firm has vulnerabilities in its operations or products that can hurt its relationships with important audiences and constituents. Public relations is built to address vulnerabilities, both proactively and reactively.)
This situation analysis is a description of what’s happening with your company or business NOW, the current landscape, and summarizes the information obtained from the public relations audit. Isolate which factors have the greatest impact and why, but resist the urge to make rationales or recommendations. Part of what needs to be clear in your analysis is the need or problem to be addressed and why action should be taken, but it should be clear from facts and not from opinion.
Establish goals and objectives
The situation analysis should clarify what goals and objectives should be addressed. The overarching goal and the objectives of any public relations plan should be clearly spelled out. These are likely to arise from your business or brand’s goals and align with your overall mission.
But before you jump into vague goals or objectives, DO THIS FIRST: Never begin your public relations plan without starting with the purpose. Write a brief explanation for why you’re proposing PR action. The purpose may seem obvious, but write it down and make sure others agree and understand what’s written as the purpose. It’s often a business goal, but it must be something that PR efforts and communication can help accomplish. For example, is your purpose something along these lines?
- To introduce a new product
- To enter new markets
- To establish a brand identity
- To review customer journey/lifecycle
- To increase customer loyalty
- To expand the brand recognition
- To alter attitudes or expand associations
- Remember that all PR efforts must work toward the purpose and the “why” of doing it. Avoid the rudimentary purpose of “to make money.” The effort you put into your public relations strategy matters on the back end.
After you’ve solidified your purpose, establish your goals and objectives. Goals are qualitative, broad, but clear, statements of what your organization or business wants to achieve. They can both short and long-term goals, but plans with four to seven goals to be achieved within three to five years are the most efficient to manage.
Think of goals in terms of verbs that your public relations strategy can accomplish, such as
Goals should drive strategic planning and positioning preparation
For example, you might have goals around your target audience’s perception, such as to create attention, to build awareness, to revive interest, to establish recognition or recall. These goals may be reached with marketing efforts other than public relations, but PR should be connected, or what’s the point?
Objectives are quantitative. Think SMART: Objectives that are specific, timely, measurable, achievable and relevant are more likely to be successful. Ask yourself if the public relations plan meets those objectives, will you be satisfied with the approach taken?
Implement your messaging
When you plan how to execute your public relations efforts, you choose communications vehicles, which is where your target audience will see your messages and content. Keep in mind your audience’s preferred communication channels, such as social media or a trade publication, and understand how and why some messages are best read or viewed through specific delivery methods (video vs. text). Also, although it seems as if everyone has equal access to technology, don’t assume that your target audience for any public relations effort has the same tech access you do.
PR messages must be researched and developed much like other brand promotion messages, but what you want to say, and where and how you want to say it, should emerge as you plan the process, particularly if you don’t skip the analysis and you’re fair when you do it.
During the implementation stage, the techniques and tactics used should support the objectives outlined in the public relations plan. The objectives should support the goals and connect to your purpose. Assess each before implementing them to ensure that they’ll effectively engage the audience you have in mind.
Tactics are the execution steps you’ll need to take to support the entire plan. They are actionable in nature and are the concrete things your organization or business will do to implement strategies and achieve objectives. A cautionary word to the wise: Everyone wants to start with tactics, because we often think of them first, but you must do the heavy lift of analysis, establishing purpose, goals and objectives first. Follow the checklist outlined in HubSpot here.
Evaluate your efforts
The evaluation phase should be ongoing — not benched until the end of the year. Ongoing evaluation ensures that your goals are met in a timely manner. The ability to shift focus or tweak a strategy ensures that the plan accomplishes its desired effect.
As a business, you might have several public relations plans in place at any given time. For example, you might have one that’s ongoing to keep your brand fresh. Another plan might be implemented to address a general crisis. A third public relations plan might need to be created to directly mitigate any damage incurred by a specific crisis.
Regardless of why you need a public relations strategy, starting with the background understanding of PR and these components above ensures you have a solid approach to a range of issues. If public relations is the “professional maintenance of a favorable public image” and managing how others view a business, brand or company, it pays to have a management plan that protects your brand and increases consumer and customer confidence.
For more on public relations strategies, contact me. My team can help.