Sandra Stewart | March 26, 2018
“What do you see as the best PR strategy?” a prospective client recently asked. I gave a response tailored to her company’s situation, because the right answer always is, “It depends.”
We look at PR strategy the way a financial advisor looks at investing: the best approach is one that matches your goals, timing, resources and risk tolerance with the nature of your enterprise and what you have to talk about. If those elements don’t align, your PR initiative is more like gambling than investing.
Most organizations will see themselves in one of these four strategies for structuring a PR program.
The big play
Strategy: a full-scale, multichannel campaign to national (possibly international), regional and niche media
Best for: B2Cs, advocacy organizations
Risk level: high
Reward potential: high; short to medium term
If your goal is massive media exposure all at once, led by coverage in prestigious outlets, and you have a big budget you’re willing to spend on a single campaign, this strategy might be for you. To reduce the risk of the campaign going nowhere, you’ll need an irresistible story, a strong news hook, nerves of steel and a jolt of luck.
If your big play works, you’ll get a wealth of publicity. You can live off that for a while, but to realize lasting value, follow your campaign with an ongoing PR program that builds on the initial blast.
Strategy: a comfortably paced PR and thought leadership program that delivers a steady drip of results and gives you content for other programs
Best for: B2Bs, enterprises with a long time horizon
Risk level: low
Reward potential: medium; long term
This is the polar opposite of the big play strategy—a gentle, regular awareness rise instead of a huge wave. It’s a good choice for B2Bs with a deep well of intelligence, a low tolerance for risk and the patience to keep at it through a slow build. With a rollout strategy that starts with trade outlets, the thought leadership approach will produce media exposure and material that can be reused in content marketing. A program like this is feasible with a relatively lean budget; with more resources, it can yield faster results and simultaneous progress on several fronts.
Strategy: ongoing PR and thought leadership punctuated by news-driven campaigns
Best for: any enterprise that has strong expertise and regularly launches new products or initiatives, or engages in other newsworthy activity
Risk level: medium
Reward potential: high; short and long term
A strategy that mixes news with thought leadership produces the best value for money over time, but you need the right assets to support it—a budget big enough to fund one-off campaigns on top of an ongoing PR and thought leadership program, and the ability to generate regular news. That means stories that are both timely and compelling, to target markets or the world at large. It’s riskier than a long-term strategy based solely on thought leadership because any given campaign can fall flat, even it’s smart and well executed, due to the vagaries of media interests. But some campaigns will almost certainly push awareness up a notch, and there’s a good chance that one will really take off.
Strategy: periodic news-driven campaigns with maintenance-level PR in between
Best for: enterprises that regularly launch new products or initiatives, or engage in other newsworthy activity, and lack the resources for ongoing thought leadership
Risk level: medium to high
Reward potential: medium to high; sporadic
If your enterprise regularly has something new and exciting to talk about but you don’t have a strong thought leadership play or can’t support a high-value mix strategy, the news-driven approach is worth a look. Ruthless honesty is the key to reducing risk. Is your news truly compelling to a significant audience as well as to the media? Is it predictable enough that you can plan and fully support well-rounded campaigns? To move forward, you should be able to give a confident yes to both questions.
For any of these strategies, success requires creative thinking specific to your organization and sharp execution, not to mention general preparedness. (You can assess your PR readiness with our six-point checklist.) As with investing, your fortunes will sometimes rise and fall based on things you have no control over (news cycles, competitor announcements and so on). But at least you won’t just be throwing the dice and hoping you’re a hot roller.