How to write a coherent PR strategy

“I want to get some PR on this”. The words that fill every PR executive with dread. The vague wave of a top boss’s hand to suggest that some kind of PR is needed, but no real idea what. So you try your best, and sometimes they’re delighted, and sometimes everything you do is wrong.

This isn’t a situation you can avoid just by working harder and being better; you need a strategy. A successful PR campaign has a goal in sight and a defined path to get there. Coming up with a strategy with your boss, or to take to your boss for approval, will help you to do your job better, but it can seem daunting.

It’s not. It’s the best way to make your job easier. A strategy will give you things to work on to realise your goals, and avoid situations where you feel you’ve tried your hardest but it doesn’t match the picture in your boss’s head.

Here are the questions you need to ask yourself in order to write a successful strategy.

1. Who is my audience?

This is the most important thing of all. Who are you trying to reach? Define the groups of people who are important to you, and what their characteristics are. E.g. If you are promoting an app which posts jobs in fashion in London, your targets might be: London-based people wanting jobs in fashion, fashion designers, large design boutiques, recruitment agencies who use job boards. These are your audiences. You can exclude everyone else as irrelevant; your audience must be specific enough to have meaning.

I once read a strategy which said their audience was: office workers, tourists, Londoners, people living in the UK, people living in Europe who visit London, politicians, professional services workers, and campaigners. That’s about 100 million people. That’s too many people. If your product really does have a huge target audience, divide them into groups, focusing on the most important groups first. For example, if you’ve invented an amazing new trainer, consider a B2B strategy to begin with which gets specialist sports shop staff excited about it, who will then enthuse about it to customers, rather than trying to target everyone at once.

If you have multiple, distinct audiences, profile each one and group them in a way which makes sense to you. You can apply the strategy slightly differently to each one.

2. Do you want to improve on your current situation, or change it entirely?

Have you recently suffered a PR disaster? Is it back to the drawing board? Or do you just feel you’re not getting the impact you were before, and you want to give your organisation a bit of a boost? This is a good question to ask because it helps you to define the parameters of your strategy. If things are going quite well, you don’t need to throw the baby out with the bath water to make some improvements. If you’ve recently been featured on a painful segment of Have I Got News For You because you embarrassed yourself so much this week, it might be time for a complete rethink.

3. Do you feel like people understand your company’s values and output?

This will help you define how much education your audience need about your company. If no one has heard of it, then you need to start with some basic awareness raising. If everyone has heard of you but no one likes you, you need to change opinions. A frank assessment of the public perception of your company will help you to zero in on a strategy that is likely to be successful.

4. What is your company’s elevator pitch?

This is a really important one. What do you want people to say about your company? Say I have a bakery; what’s my elevator pitch for it? Make sure your story is well-defined. “Bella’s Brixton Bakery sells the nicest cakes in all of Lambeth” is an easy story to understand, and therefore an easy topic to quickly explain to journalists on the phone, or over Twitter or Instagram. You can print it on a business card, have it stuck on the window, etc etc. It will repeat the message and help it stick in your audience’s minds. If you don’t know what your pitch is, and crucially if you can’t get other people in the organisation to agree on it, how can you get your audience to understand it?

Make sure you have the following things defined:

· A one line explanation of what it is you do including only the basics.

· A one paragraph explanation of what it is you do, including things like where, for how long, and your USP.

· A more extensive, personal, and colourful explanation of your company, its values, and the journey you’ve taken.

Only once your story is defined will you be able to tell if it is cutting through effectively with your audience.

5. How much investment are you willing to make?

There’s no point coming up with a PR strategy that requires hiring a full-time social media co-ordinator, a press officer, and a marketing team if you’re a five person start-up with no cash. Consider how much money you would be willing to spend, and how much time you are willing to put in. Is this something you want to do yourself? Do you have time? How much time? Or is this something you want to hire someone to do? What’s your budget? What can different freelancers and agencies buy with that budget?

Time buys money; money buys time. Make sure that you have the balance right between them.

6. Do you have the right relationships?

If you’ve been very successful targeting women’s magazines, and now you want to branch into men’s magazines, you need to get some new contacts. You need to factor into your strategy how these will be acquired. If necessary, this could be a whole step in the strategy. You can’t just write “we’ve successfully targeted women’s magazines now we will target men’s magazines” without considering how you will build relationships with the feature writers of the men’s magazines. Do you have time and budget to take them to lunch? Are you going to tempt them in with a cool product launch, or backstage passes, or exclusive access to a great story?

7. What does success look like to you?

Ah, the classic question — but it’s a classic for a reason. If success to your boss is a feature in the Times, but success to you is having a wide range of Instagram influencers positively review your product, then you aren’t going to be able to evaluate whether or not your strategy is working. What are your goals going to be? Is it about increasing sales? Decreasing negative press? Being mentioned up there with the “big boys” when you’re only a small agency? Make sure everyone is on the same page so that there are no surprises later on.

Make sure you know who your top targets are, and why. If success is reaching the 10 most influential people in your field, your targets will be different to if you are trying to reach everyone who wants to buy a new bike this year. The best consumer publication and the best business publication will be different. Neither is wrong but the strategy needs to dictate which is the priority.

Writing the strategy

Now you know all of this, you’re ready to write the strategy. Keep it simple, and punchy. Don’t feel pressured to add a lot of waffle and management speak; no one will read it if you do. Do the following:

· Start by setting the scene; a short paragraph or a few bullet points on when you’re at now.

· Write a short list of goals.

· Define your audience. Write a description of them, maybe including pictures, research statistics, or comments from surveys. Make sure that everyone understands who they really are.

· Lay out your plan of action step by step. Include details on how things will be achieved and the timescales for them so there can be no misunderstandings.

· State clearly the amount of time and money this will take, and what it will be spent on.

· If possible, include a timeline of implementation, perhaps a table of who will be working on what, and when you think it will be achieved.

And that’s it, you’re done. Making sure everyone agrees is sure to be painful, but when it’s done you can nail it to the wall and refer to it whenever there’s a disagreement, and take the “but I just feel Twitter is the way forward” and “but I don’t like reading the Telegraph” out of the conversation. You’ll know when you’re on track, and be able to see the fruits of your hard work, and explain them to the rest of the organisation.

All that remains now is to take your strategy out into the world and get some journalists on board with it. And that’s a subject for another piece.

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