You miss 100% of the shots you’re not ready to take.
I may be putting a new twist on an old saying there, but in my experience, you’ll find it often turns out to be true, especially in the world of PR.
Public relations can be defined as the disciplined pursuit of earned media coverage, reputation building and management.
But it is not the pursuit of any earned media coverage.
As PR practitioners, one of the first things we work to establish with new clients is what are their goals — the specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely things they want to attain with the PR campaign we are planning.
Without clear business goals, which are attuned to the marketing and business plans to guide it, a PR campaign is at risk of spinning off in all directions.
When it comes to what kind of earned media coverage that we, as PR professionals, want to secure for our clients, it needs to have quality, and it needs to have purpose.
Not just any kind of coverage will advance the goals of our campaign: it must bring credibility, and not undermine it; it must advance the conversation, and not distract it; and it must be tied to a tangible benefit for our clients.
After all, ask any successful company, and you’ll find that their business plan is never based on getting famous for famous’ sake.
That’s why a good PR campaign, just like any good company, is built, first and foremost, on a solid plan that is part of the overall business and marketing plans.
Without clear business goals, which are attuned to the marketing and business plans to guide it, a PR campaign is at risk of spinning off in all directions.Paola Ashton
Vice President, PR Associates
One Step (of Many) at a Time
The first step to building a solid plan as a foundation of a PR campaign is one that can feel counterintuitive for many executives, we work with who, like me, have spent years in fast-paced environments where staying in motion is the name of the game.
That first step: stop and take stock.
This is how we can take a level-headed approach to what our campaign will need, and what it won’t, to inform our PR tactics in a way that’s rooted in real, reliable business outcomes.
As practitioners and professionals this is one area where we need to bring compassion to the table.
The fact is that, in many cases, the first challenge that a PR campaign must overcome is that the clients are coming to us when they are 10 steps behind.
In that situation, and in our clients’ shoes, it’s only understandable that the urge is to hit the accelerator as hard and as soon as possible.
But if we skip too fast past this step, we expose everyone to future risks.
For our clients, it’s the risk that they’ll spend their money — which is not peanuts, since we are leading professionals in our field — on a campaign which, once the dust has settled, doesn’t serve goals that support their business needs.
On our side, the risk is that we let our clients go forward into this relationship with our company, PR Associates, under the false belief that public relations are a panacea that can solve all their problems, or a magic wand that can turn messaging into money.
The fact is that public relations, when done right, is none of these things.
Least of all is it a sprint.
PR is a marathon, and how fast you run at the beginning, middle, or end of the race is less important than whether or not you are running in the right direction.
Telling Stories that Sell Themselves
Once we have gotten our goals nailed down — whether we’re aiming to influence public opinion, or government policy, to acquire customers, or credibility — we then set out to get your story told.
The tactic we take here is not to be salespeople: if we come across as too promotional, the public — and especially reporters — will see right through the shtick and our story will fall flat.
Instead, instead of salesmanship, what we are aiming for is leadership.
In planning the kinds of stories, we want our clients to get covered in, we want to position them as thought leaders in their industry, and experts in what they do.
What we are not doing is trying, and failing, to find editors and journalists interested in a story just about what our client is trying to “sell” — which isn’t always, or even usually, a product.
Instead, we are looking for conversations that our clients can creditably, and meaningfully, be a part of.
Taking the Right Place on Stage
Whether it’s a trend in their industry, or a value they hold, or a key reason behind their mission, there are many ways for a companies or organizations like the ones we work with to fit into the important narratives that grip our society.
As PR practitioners, we know — and can strive to show our clients – that often the most impactful part to have in those stories isn’t necessarily squarely in the spotlight.
Often, it’s by taking a position as an expert — or an analyst, an innovator, a thought leader, or a guide — that gives us the greatest ability to reap the benefits of the glow.
In this way, good PR and the earned media that it brings should never be an ad for your company.
Instead, it’s there to serve as a creditable reference point for you, and what you do.
By helping our clients take a stand, and nailing down what they stand for, we help them claim their place on the mental maps of people in the audience.
We can track how successful we are in this relative to competitors with metrics like Share-of-Voice, which tallies how many times a client appeared in the media conversation versus how many times their competitors did.
Or we can monitor success by measuring a combination of leading indicators — like audience reach, estimated views, or number of social media shares — or lagging ones: tracking outcomes such as increases in web traffic, backlinking, or impacts within the sales pipeline.
(Another reason why it’s essential to have a good grasp on your goals: knowing which metrics are meaningful.)
Metrics and measurements like these are incredibly useful to PR practitioners, not because they allow us to “show off” to our clients how successful we’ve been, but because they help us adapt and pivot when we’re not.
Retooling a campaign can be one of the best things we can do to make it successful — casting a critical eye on what’s working, what’s not, and what’s been done before — and without good metrics we would be retooling blind.
And for us — as committed professionals and discerning experts in our field of public relations — valuing as we do the advice we give and the guidance we provide flying blind will never do.