If you’re a venture funded startup, a direct to consumer brand or an ambitious B2B company looking for ubiquity among your targets, public relations should be an essential part of your demand marketing mix.
Chances are you’ll hire an agency or an in-house pro as soon as you can afford to, but in the meantime, here are a few important guidelines to keep in mind in order to help you build your earned media profile with a strategic PR approach.
Assuming your overarching goal is to generate business, PR can work magic — in sync with your other marketing efforts — to boost your profile and generate leads, the holy grail!
This can be accomplished in a number of ways – some more ambitious than others – but all really boil down to exposure, making sure your brand’s name and your executives appear wherever your key prospects are. Repetition is incredibly important. And, whether you are communicating through your own channels such as blogs or social sharing, third party validation in the news media, through industry visibility at conferences or webinars – or a combination of all of these, your ubiquity quotient will soar.
PR vs. Marketing
Marketing and PR are two heads of the same beast. The goal of both is to sell more widgets, but marketing is a science rooted in data, and PR is considered by some to be more of an art form focused on storytelling. While reaching the right audience is always important, marketing revolves around reaching prospects through organic SEO and directly through advertising and other paid channels including SEM; its success is measured in terms of revenue. Public relations, however, is less cut and dry and as a result, harder to measure. PR’s effects are often indirect. Not every PR initiative drives leads immediately. The impact of a multi-layered PR campaign can accrue over months or even years. It’s still important to track impact whether anecdotally or specifically through business results. The secret sauce, we’ve found, is the use of multiple tactics to drive a brand’s visibility forward.
With marketing and PR increasingly intertwined, a fully integrated PR/marketing approach is likely to yield more than individual siloed tactics.
What Makes an Effective PR Campaign?
So what goes into creating a strategic PR campaign that supports corporate objectives and makes a measurable impact on the organization’s success? First, you’ll want to define your objectives: what are you trying to accomplish in the short and long-term, and as importantly, what specific message are you trying to disseminate and who needs to hear it.
For instance, are you trying to reposition your brand, launch a feature, encourage trial, drive sales of a particular product or service, reposition your leadership, build a community, or promote an event?
A successful PR plan should sync up with your other communications channels and ladder up to the overarching marketing strategy. The most powerful campaigns begin with a central strategic platform that serves to ground and connect creative executions, and deliver against business objectives. Famously, on the consumer front, Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign was built around a strategic theme after research uncovered the fact that very few young women consider themselves beautiful. An entire marketing effort was built around this concept.
The strategic platform must always be rooted in truths about the company, the category, and the target audience, making it not just memorable, but distinctive – and if possible, authentically ‘ownable’ by that brand or company. It’s only at that point, once it’s clear who the audience is and how to reach them, that the communications strategy can be developed. And today, that may include paid, earned, owned and shared channels (often referred to as PESO), which frequently overlap and use the same assets. A fully baked PR plan should also include target Key Performance Indicators ( KPIs), which help shape expectations and a trajectory for the campaign as a whole.
Once you’ve determined the audience(s) you’re targeting, it’s important to focus on building a narrative connected to the overarching strategy. In the case of fintech startup Zolve, a new platform launching this fall to help immigrants to the U.S. establish themselves financially, the overarching narrative sets the tone for the campaign as a whole: how the future health of our global economy depends on eliminating obstacles to cross border banking and investment. The messaging evolves from that and incorporates the platform’s specific advantages and features. Using news announcements, data, contributed content, case studies and third party corroboration, Zolve aims to become the Amazon Web Services of finance around the world.
Finally, tracking and measuring success is all important. And that’s not just about numbers of hits or cumulative audience. Impact is what you’re after, that is, has the campaign reached the right folks and is it activating them — are they visiting the website, contacting your sales team, or buying the product?
5 Steps To Creating a Successful PR Plan
Step 1: Research, research, research: audience, brand, category
Whether it’s a B2B or consumer premise, every brand has its intended audience – or audiences – and before embarking on a PR effort, it’s necessary to know who they are – CEOs, CIOs, women under 35, accountants, etc. — in order to know what to say and how. Identifying and defining your audience with as much granularity as possible will help you figure out the right strategy and ultimately the right tactics. And, while you may be focusing on two different audiences at the same time, the overarching strategy should remain constant while the tactics shift accordingly. Reaching investors will entail a different approach than reaching retail clothing buyers or millennial customers, and these days, a combination of tactics is often the way to go.
Whether it’s stakeholders, investors, distributors, vendors, industry experts, employees, or anyone who can influence potential customers, you’ll want to understand how they consume information, where they get it, what formats they prefer, what industry experts they trust, and so on. The more you know about your target audience, the more effective your media research and ultimately your campaign will be.
As part of this research phase, it’s essential to understand the brand itself – its Unique Value Proposition or USP – as well as the category as a whole. You can learn a lot about what resonates with your target audience by observing how individuals interact with your competition. It’s important to conduct media research around your competitors’ media coverage and social media channels for evidence and build your strategy accordingly.
Step 2: Formulating the strategy and translating it into a narrative
Once you know precisely who you’ll be talking to, and where the “white space” is in the sector, you’ll want to define exactly what message you want to convey. The overarching strategic theme will then need to be translated into messaging about the brand.
The key messages you identify here will guide all the communication you create so they should be succinct, memorable, easily understood and repeatable. To entice press, these messages will be converted into pitches – shaped by the news of the day – with the ultimate aim of motivating coverage.
As part of the messaging phase, it’s critically important to train your executives or company spokespeople to deliver the key points in interviews so media training is vital. Everyone assigned to speak to the press should be versed in the narrative and understand how to make every interview – on camera or off – deliver for the brand.
Step 3: Becoming your own newsroom
Forging media relationships is also a critical component of your PR efforts. That means finding the reporters covering your space and reading their work. Do your own digging to find the right reporters, amplifying your own primary research with commercially available databases like Cision or MuckRack to flesh out your lists. Create a spreadsheet or database of media contact names and information. When it comes to social media, what influencers or industry experts are your audience members following? What events are they attending? It’s important to gather specific data so you can continually refine your media targets based on where they are.
Step 4: Creating content: telling your own story
Owning your own content is one good way to control the message. And these days we have the opportunity to tell our own stories in our own way without the media playing intermediary. This organic drumbeat can sometimes be enough to interest a reporter.
Whether it’s a provocative video on YouTube or a heartfelt post on Medium, this dis-intermediated approach where a brand can go directly to the target (whether that be investor or consumer) can trigger a chain reaction and result in actual coverage. And, if done consistently and thoughtfully, it can certainly help attract followers and drive authority. Whichever channel you choose, these are valuable tactics which are often undervalued because they are time intensive and nuanced.
Typically, content can also include press releases, case studies, white papers, newsletters, podcasts, and more. Again, the mix most appropriate for your PR campaign depends largely on what you’re trying to accomplish. If you’re touting a big company milestone or achievement, a press release might be prudent, but if you’re striving to increase company credibility or position someone with your organization as a thought leader, bylined articles and an executive Twitter stream may be the way to go.
To further amplify your news, be sure to leverage all of your content on your social outlets and remember that social media is a dialogue. Once you open the door, you’ll need to be prepared for and hopefully prompt interaction with your audience — a way for your followers to ask questions, provide feedback, and share information about your company with others. So don’t just put your content out there and forget it. Be willing to engage in conversation.
Step 5: Did it work: Measuring impact
In order to determine whether your PR campaign is successful, measurement is key. Each tactic within your strategy should have a specific metric and goal. These micro goals will help you determine if you’re on track to reach your objectives and where you might need to pivot or reallocate resources to see progress.
Your overall campaign should be SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. “Raising awareness” isn’t enough; your campaign deliverables should be as specific as possible such as securing a specific number of reporter meetings, feature stories, bylines, or analyst briefings. These target KPIs or key performance indicators provide a framework for assessment.
By focusing on SMART tactics, your campaign will be positioned to take advantage of an evolving digital landscape, quickly capitalizing on emerging trends and exciting new channels, pivoting from any approach that’s not resonating. Target KPIs can include a monthly or quarterly tally of the following:
- Press releases
- Media mentions
- Media inquiries
- Analyst meetings
- Social media followers
- Blog subscribers
- Website traffic
- Attendance numbers at workshops or events
- Invitations to speak at conferences
- Sales leads
Also be sure that your PR campaign is working in conjunction with the rest of your marketing plan and they are supporting each other. As we mentioned early on, public relations is just one (very important) component of your corporate marketing mix and it’s critical that your company’s sales, advertising, marketing, and PR strategies are complementing each other to support overall corporate messaging and objectives.
It may seem like a daunting process, but development of your PR strategy is much like planning you would do within any other part of your organization. Once you’ve defined your overarching goal – which should be in line with your overall business, sales, and marketing goals – and identified the messages that will support it, it’s a matter of conducting appropriate research, laying out the details, being accountable to the plan, making consistent progress measurements, and adapting when needed.
Each media plan doesn’t need to (and shouldn’t!) try to capitalize on every opportunity. Rather, be realistic and pay close attention to your measurement so you know what works and what doesn’t, to achieve larger success.
Bringing it into Focus
We hope this brings the fundamentals of building an effective public relations campaign into focus for you. Rally Point PR does this every day, so you don’t have to go it alone. Set up a complimentary call with one of our practice leads to see how Rally Point can help you.
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