We’d all like our products to sell themselves and our brands to grow of their own volition, but unfortunately, that’s just not going to happen. In today’s competitive markets, a solid PR strategy is essential to growth and success.
Despite the fact that it’s been around for decades, PR is still misunderstood all too often by business owners. A common misconception relating to both PR and marketing is that it’s something you can do intermittently, sparing funds and attention for public relations here and there, without a proper plan in place. As a matter of fact, running campaigns without solid planning is, more often than not, a waste of time and money.
So, let’s outline the five steps common to most PR strategies, essential to ensuring that the campaign will be worth the investment.
1. Data gathering and analysis
Before we can work on what to achieve and how, we need to have a thorough and objective understanding of the context. Details on any previous PR and marketing efforts and their results are also incredibly useful, as they can help to determine what has and hasn’t worked in the past.
The key brand messages to date, target audience, and data on ways in which the customers interact with and respond to the brand are equally important. If the brand doesn’t have well-defined, up-to-date key messages or data on audience engagement, now’s the time to work on developing these.
2. Setting measurable goals and planning the approach
Too many PR campaigns skip this step and move on directly to implementation, even though the very definition of the word strategy is “a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim”. Logically, you can’t come up with a viable PR strategy if you don’t know what goals you’re trying to achieve.
When setting the goals, it’s essential to ensure they are all measurable. This means the goals need to be highly specific and preferably include dates, numbers, and other qualifying data. For example, rather than aiming to ‘Have more followers on social media’, set the goal of ‘200,000 new Instagram followers by the end of the year’. This will enable you to measure your progress and establish the level of success of each element of the campaign.
For each goal, there needs to be a separate sub-plan of activities designed to achieve it, complete with a time-frame and space for evaluation.
This is often the most difficult part, although if you have been precise in your planning up until this point, it should go relatively smoothly. It’s time to carry out your plans from the previous steps, taking advantage of all media outlets and networking tools available to you to achieve your aims.
There are two main categories of PR: digital or traditional. Digital PR takes place online, with social media engagement, articles on news websites, newsletters, and the messages on your website, for example. Traditional PR focuses on non-digital media outlets and events, such as mentions and ads in local newspapers, events (e.g. trade show appearances), and so on.
In-house or improvised PR will most likely focus on just one of these aspects, given that most PR departments have a limited capacity for securing deals and placements in a range of outlets covering both the traditional and digital worlds. A PR agency, meanwhile, has established connections in both ‘camps’, which opens up a wider set of opportunities for promotion. By working with an agency, you will have more tools at your disposal for the implementation of your strategy.
4. Measuring the results
Although for purposes of clarity, result measurement is a separate step, you should actually be measuring results continuously during implementation. By monitoring the engagement and results of your campaign at regular intervals or after every activity, you give yourself the opportunity to alter your strategy as you go, improving the results. If you leave the evaluation to the very end of the campaign, you might miss out on opportunities and waste resources.
5. Drawing conclusions and altering the plan if necessary
As you measure the results of each stage of the PR plan, you should use the insights from you data to inform your subsequent PR activities. While it’s important to be consistent with your promotion and stick to the overall strategy, don’t be afraid to make alterations along the way if something isn’t working out as expected.
Just like with measuring results, it’s important to make these alterations as and when it becomes apparent that they are necessary, rather than waiting until the entire strategy has run its course. For example, it might turn out that your campaign generates much better results on Facebook than it does on Instagram. If you only realise this after a year’s worth of social media promotion, you will have missed out entirely on the Instagram audience – despite putting effort into producing Instagram content. If you catch this trend early, though, you can troubleshoot your Instagram activity to figure out what went wrong – or at least divert your Instagram effort and resources into the more effective Facebook campaign.
There is a lot more to implementing a winning PR strategy than simply sending out a newsletter and setting up the odd business event. If you expect it to have an impact and bring in positive results, your PR plan needs to be well-thought out from the start, carefully implemented on a series of platforms, and measured at regular intervals. This is why hiring a PR agency to handle your strategy is such a popular solution these days: only PR professionals have the expertise, tools, and time required to ensure your campaign is a success.