All masterpieces typically start with a thorough plan.
This includes your PR strategy.
Did you know, J.K. Rowling plots out her books using a spreadsheet method with pen and paper?
Here’s the plot for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, chapters 13-24.
Hot take: The Order of the Phoenix was my least favorite book in the series.
Anyway, I bring this up because your PR plan should be no different. Maybe you aren’t making spreadsheets or vision boards, but you need to map out your strategy and tactics somehow.
When I worked in PR, we typically planned one year out at a time. Some people like to plan multiple years in advance and if you’re the type of person that just loves lists, that might be for you. But in reality, I think a year is much more manageable.
Regardless of time frame, the preparation and tactics are the same.
Of course, the first thing that needs to happen is deciding on the strategy that will guide your tactics. Then you can take a look at the past and plan for the future.
- Write down your company’s overall objectives. Do you want to raise brand awareness and increase sales? Sometimes you may want to focus on one area of business that needs a boost. Do you want a change in consumer behavior? A change in perception of your organization?
- Create key messaging. The key messaging is based on the overall objective you set. It’s what you want your audience to think or feel after they’ve been touched by one of your PR efforts. This key messaging will help shape your pitches, news releases, and more. Of course, most likely your company already has language built out in the mission statement. Use this as a guide so all messaging links up.
- Learn from the past. Look over your past PR campaigns with a careful eye. Which reporters were most responsive, easy to work with and followed through? Which angles and pitches generated the most excitement? Which publications covered your company positively, neutrally and negatively? What has worked for your competitors in the past?
- Begin mapping out your plan. Now that you know your overall objective, your key messaging and what did or didn’t work in the past, you can come up with an action plan using the following PR tactics.
Here are action items you should plan on using to have the best PR year yet.
- Crisis communications: This is possibly the most important tactic, even if you don’t use it for a long time. If you’re thinking to yourself that your company is in a great position and doesn’t really need to worry about crises – reconsider. Things go wrong, even to the best of us. They just do. So why not be prepared?
Go through an exercise with the board and C-Suite thinking of everything that could possibly go wrong. Then, plan potential responses to those issues. You’ll be glad you did!
- Press releases: Create a calendar of all your company’s newsworthy events happening this year. Most likely, you’ll want to write and prepare a press release to announce those events, whether it be a product launch, an anniversary or a retirement. There are many different types of press releases you can write. You should consider timing as well. If it’s a product launch for spring attire, for example, you might want to make people aware of it at the very beginning of the year to build hype.
TIP: If you have never written a news release, or would like a refresher, check out our article “How to Write a Press Release.”
- Editorial calendars: These are another thing to keep in mind as you plan timing. Most publications put their editorial calendars online where anyone can find them. This is an inside glimpse at what the publications you want to get into are looking for!
Find topics that your company could speak to or be featured on, and write them in your calendar. Trade publications - those that cover particular industries - are going to be the easiest to match up with on content and interest. Take note of the submission deadline as it may be months in advance of the publication date.
- Media outreach: Obviously, building relationships with the media is a big part of a PR professional’s job. Take the time to build a media list of reporters and publications that are interested in your company’s industry, for starters. Typically, you can figure out how to offer them an article their audience will enjoy while also getting across your key messaging.
When you’ve identified those reporters, give them a call. Introduce yourself and chat about your company. Keep it casual. Don’t pitch them on the first interaction. You want to come across as a normal person interested in getting to know them. Let the business aspect of it take over later.
- Pitches: Knowing the media you’re pitching and your upcoming newsworthy events will make writing these bad boys so much easier. Some pitches are created with the intent to make news – these are the announcements we discussed under news releases.
Other pitches will be responding to current events and, as you would guess, these have to be written on the spot. If the U.S. is about to enter a trade war with China and you have a reactionary spin on how that will impact your industry, the media will eat that up. Staying abreast of the news is a must in order to catch these.
- Bylined articles: These are offered to media either because they a) explicitly asked for them because you’ve built a trusting relationship with them or b) you noticed in their editorial calendars that they were looking for something and you pitched them an article to fit. Typically a C-Suite member at your company will have the byline on these, but you or a media relations counterpart will be the one writing it. Again, the key messaging should be layered deep in the article. It’s good to include these in your plan because they can be a little time-consuming.
- Case studies: Case studies are easy wins with media – they love, love, love them. Why? They show tangible results and tell a story. Of course, that story can only be told with the involved customer’s express approval. This can make your job a little harder if that customer is skittish of media – but in the end, it’s a win-win for everyone as it raises awareness of both your brand and your customer’s brand.
- Blogs: Blogs are hot and heavy right now, and it’s worthwhile to consider getting in on the action. Find what is getting a lot of traction in your industry and strike up a conversation with the blogger. They might just be open to guest posts – or having outside experts write about relevant topics and feature it on their blog. Check to see if they have any sort of editorial calendar to work around. Include them in your pitch planning.
One thing to keep in mind with blogs – you have no control over the comments or discussions that follow. Which means if the conversation takes a turn away from your key messaging, there’s no way for you to stop it. That’s where all that crisis communications prep you did comes in handy.
- Social media: Social media can be a very powerful tool in your arsenal. Plan to keep up on what reporters are talking about on their social channels. Interacting with them is yet another way to build on a relationship. You should also plan for social media campaigns in your crisis communications and around your news releases.
Setting the PR plan in motion
As you carefully map this out, keep in mind that a lot can change in a year. Ensure that your plan – and your team – can be flexible as things come up.
Another consideration should be the budget. Do your best to budget out what you’ll need in advance so you can properly do your job. You don’t want to be in the position of having high expectations for deliverables, but a slim wallet. You also want to have this discussion with whoever you report to early on, so there are no surprises.
Lastly, you cannot properly analyze your success and results without a planned measurement system. While PR is notoriously difficult to measure, you want to make sure everyone is on the same page as to what success looks like. Many professionals use a combination of campaign metrics, benchmarking and surveying/focus groups. Some metrics to look at could include press clippings, media impressions, website traffic, and lead sourcing.
Another source to look at would be the Barcelona Principles, which suggests 7 guidelines to measure the efficacy of communication campaigns.
Now you’re ready to be the J.K. Rowling of PR. Good luck!