Public relations can make or break a business. With many businesses switching to online media and storefronts, good PR is more important than ever before.
While many outsiders think that a PR strategy is only necessary when you are trying to recover from a legal fumble or some other larger problem, the truth is that public relations is a constant battle.
But how does PR actually work in the modern world, and what public relations tactics have been adopted to make better use of the online world?
Table of Contents
What is Public Relations?
PR is a general term for managing the way that information about a brand is spread. This means positive examples, such as arranging for articles in major online media outlets, as well as negative ones, such as media coverage of a fault with a product.
Managing PR is vital for any brand that wants to gain coverage that will reach a wider audience, build brand awareness, secure customer loyalty, and get a competitive advantage over their peers.
Why a PR Strategy Matters
In general, public relations can be simplified down into two goals: drawing more interest towards your brand and recovering from any mistakes that might have made your target audience lose some faith in you.
In either case, a good PR strategy is the framework of how you interact with your target audience. This means marketing campaigns, direct ways of attracting new customers, dealing with the press, and finding ways to make your brand increasingly popular in whatever ways you can.
As a whole, a business’ PR efforts define how they are seen by others. Every response to negative comments or how it deals with potential partners and influencers changes the public perception of a brand.
All businesses need some form of public relations to operate. PR campaigns are not just about arranging a big PR stunt – they are also focused on managing your media attention and ensuring that you can create brand awareness in the right ways.
Creating a PR Strategy
One of the biggest roadblocks to developing a solid strategy for PR is the complexity of public relations itself.
Every brand and business wants something different. The PR tactics that work for one brand might not fit into the PR campaigns of another, and that relations campaign might only have worked because of a single piece of influencer marketing that would not suit the other business.
This means that creating PR strategies takes more than just copying other public relations tactics one-for-one. There is not just one strategy that will suit every business, but that does not mean there is not a pattern to them.
Identify The Goal
PR tactics need a goal. Maybe you want more media coverage to raise brand awareness or need to host press releases for crisis communications after a major PR disaster.
Public relations professionals always start with the goal in mind. Your PR efforts need to be in service of a specific goal – building general goodwill does not hurt, but it also does not generate leads or provide the crisis management options that you need.
The best PR tactics focus on achievable and realistic goals. Just like pushing your marketing strategies too far, it is easy to overestimate what your PR tactics can do.
Public relations is about swaying opinions in your favor, but it can’t usually completely rewrite a company’s reputation in a matter of days.
This does not just mean that a press release has to be relevant to your most recent product – you want your PR tactics to make sense with your long-term business goals.
Is the PR campaign idea you have had actually going to have an impact on your marketing in the near future, or are you arranging a PR stunt that will only serve to promote itself and not actually benefit your business overall?
Having measurable metrics can be invaluable when setting PR goals. For example, a product launch could be measured by the number of views a page gets or the number of viewers on an official product launch live stream.
You can’t know if you have created engaging content unless you can track the engagement, so having access to measurable data really helps. Even just website visitor counters or social media stats can make a difference if you want to see how far your news publications spread.
Know who you want to target, which partners (such as influencer marketing partners) are appropriate, and which media outlets would be the best for anything you are having spread around.
You want your PR strategies to follow a solid plan, with every individual PR tactic properly understood and planned out. This means your target audience, your media contacts, and the media channels that you are going to use.
Be Fast Enough
Most PR tactics are very time-sensitive. Press conferences need to come at the right time, and there are many cases where performing PR tactics too late can make them seem a lot less sincere and believable.
This really matters for any PR tactic dealing directly with your customer base, which is most (if not all) of them.
Identify The Target Audience or Market
Understanding your target audience is vital for any PR strategy. This does not just mean your intended audience but also the audience that is most likely to encounter whatever PR tactic you are considering using.
It is important to choose public relations tactics that will match the audience you want to engage with. This could mean using real-world marketing data, drawing from past experience, or even just using current market trends to find the ideal PR tactics for a specific demographic.
Remember that each target market may be spread across completely different social channels and react to certain PR activities differently. The PR content you create and leverage needs to make sense as something intended for them.
Identify the Key Messages
Good PR content can earn you goodwill and respect, but most public relations tactics only work at their full potential if you have specific key messages that you are trying to get across.
This might mean building brand awareness, trying to establish a new product, or even setting up accounts on entirely new social media platforms and trying to nudge more users towards it.
Your public relations strategy is always defined by what you are actually trying to say, so PR strategies need a message. This does not just influence the success of the PR efforts but might also alter your perceived brand identity as a whole.
Think about what you are after and how you would have to achieve it. You will also want to consider how your audience will receive those messages and what kind of high-quality content they can be delivered through.
Use Some Creativity
It is important to create content that feels creative. This means looking at the larger scope of a campaign and using any promising concepts or baseline ideas as a way to build up your own unique PR tactics based on real data but doing something different.
While creativity might sound like it could backfire if you are not using tried-and-tested techniques for new public relations campaigns, that is not actually true. You often want campaigns that have a lasting impact on your reputation, and creativity makes that easier.
This could be something unique posted to social media platforms or press releases that do something outside the norm. Basically, you want to do something that your audience will actually notice and engage with.
Whether you are focused on presenting a certain piece of information or just boosting brand recognition, creativity can go a long way to being recognized and engaged with by more existing or potential customers.
Measure The Results Consistently
You will not know if you are actually succeeding at PR unless you measure the results against your starting point. Keeping track of the changes can be invaluable for seeing what your PR tactics actually did and whether or not they were effective.
As mentioned before, this could be as simple as measuring the amount of viewers press releases get or the amount of traction that influencer marketing gives you. However, success has a different definition for every project.
If you were trying to get into national media, then look at how many users outside of your normal local audience engage with you. If you were trying to announce a new product, see how many users specifically tried to look it up or visit a specific product page.
Having an idea of how well your PR tactics worked can be incredibly valuable, especially for small businesses that might need hard data to help them understand how well they are performing.
Don’t Stop Gathering Data
Most public relations tactics are data-driven. A lot of common PR tools use data from marketing campaigns to deliver information about the audiences, and most PR professionals spend a huge amount of time researching before committing to any PR strategies.
Even if your current public relations tactics are for a one-off project, gather information. You never know when you may need to re-use that public relations tactic again.
Modern tools make it incredibly easy to track everything from viewer and engagement counts to domain authority and SEO changes, meaning that it is fairly easy to see how a range of factors changed after you introduced a new PR campaign into your mix.
How to Handle PR and Media Coverage Well
PR comes from two places: pages you have control over and media outlets that you do not (at least not in the same way).
When taking part in public relations work, remember that you only get so much control over what is being said. If you write press releases in a positive way, but your customer base complains, media outlets are going to notice the complaining.
This means that it is important to go into public relations with an understanding of how to keep control of the reins and how to guide things in your favor, even if there is a chance of something backfiring on you.
Paid vs Owned vs Earned Media
There are three kinds of media (not just social media, but media in general) to consider when handling public relations: paid, earned, and owned media.
Owned media is any content that you personally control. These are fantastic for public relations work – this means posts on social media platforms, blog content, or even emails.
These are often the starting point for your public relations work. It will often be where press releases are initially posted and serve as the place that many other sites will refer back to if the story starts to go viral somewhere.
Paid media are any media outlets that you paid as part of your public relations efforts. This could be a local news site, a press release listing website, or the paid promotional post systems of social media platforms.
These are a way to directly boost your own content, which many PR professionals use as a way to quickly get their press releases or other information in front of a much larger audience.
Earned media is any media that you earn through word-of-mouth or your content going viral. For example, PR stunts may be mentioned on local news programs or gain traction through social media when other users post about them.
This is the hardest kind of media to get access to, but it also provides some of the biggest benefits. It needs to be earned, as the name implies, but it also gives you more attention through an unbiased news source with its own audience and reach.
Marketing vs Public Relations
It is easy to feel that marketing and PR are basically the same thing, and in a way, they are. However, PR does not always directly impact sales; instead, it often indirectly boosts them by selling the brand identity rather than the products and services.
Most companies rely on a mixture of good products/services and a good brand to get customers. Only having one or the other makes it much less likely that people will choose to use that company, so a balance of both is required to get the best results.
PR can convert people into customers just as easily as marking can make people invested in PR. However, the two still need to be handled as entirely different processes that just happen to overlap sometimes because they can’t replace one another.
Important PR Focuses
While PR, in general, really matters, there are some specific kinds of PR that require urgent attention.
These are often PR issues that will either dramatically weaken the brand or have an impact on how your users engage with you as a whole.
Crisis management, or crisis communications, is the process of responding to something that could damage the brand. This has to be done with tact and care, especially if social media is already demanding an answer.
For example, if nonprofit organizations are found to have wasted donated funds, all of their brand mentions will focus on that until it is addressed and dealt with.
Responding to the crisis in the right way is vital to making sure that social media and other platforms get a satisfactory response that restores some goodwill and trust.
Influencers are a huge part of marketing, and collaborating with them is often a PR concern. This means making deals with them, arranging promotional posts/videos, or even just finding ways to get brand mentions into their content.
Creative collaborations are vital for using influencers effectively, whether they are being used for PR stunts aimed at their own fanbase or as a way to spread your brand to more online outlets that are reporting on the influencer themselves.
Working with the press – from sending them media kits and bios to responding to reporter questions – is important for getting the right message across.
The press serves as a direct (if not entirely unbiased) way to get your content out to the masses, whether it is a newspaper printing an extraordinary story about a PR stunt or a financial editorial discussing your brand as a whole.
Keeping a good relationship with the press can be important in getting your intended message out, especially if your brand has a lot of eyes on it already.
Recurring Media Outlets
There are thousands of different media outlets out there to work with, but some will become a recurring partner (or at least a recurring source of traffic) for you.
Keeping a media database of sites and news sources that have worked with you before can be useful if you ever need them again, but you also want to make sure that they still feel positive toward your business.
While not a PR tool as such, search engines are a good way to see what the most popular conversations and articles about your brand currently are at a moment’s notice.
This is important for getting a quick, hassle-free breakdown of what users are seeing when they search for you – which might highlight problem areas that need to be addressed.
Using proper search engine optimization tools can also help you measure things like domain authority and overall SEO ranking potential, which might help you outrank negative or biased articles that mention your business by name.
Where to Take Public Relations Next
Public relations can cover dozens of different larger campaign types spread across hundreds of individual tactics, each of which is used differently by every business.
When you start planning out PR, you need to think about more than just the end goal. Remember that everything you do alters the way that you are perceived and the way that your audience engages with you.
Whether you are trying to boost your brand awareness or just want to correct some negative press that has been spread about you, it is important to think over your options carefully.
Always think carefully about what you are actually doing for your brand and how you will be changing the way you are seen by your audience. The right PR efforts can make a big difference in the way you can leverage your brand identity in the future.
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