Home > Corporate Communications > Public Relations Strategy is…

Public Relations Strategy is…

Public relations strategy is…usually no more complicated than selecting the right PR tactics to meet a goal. The real hard part is the execution.

Recently, Kim Larochelle (@KimLarochelle) of DRPR wrote PR – a strategic discipline or a story telling exercise? in which she was kind enough to reference an article I wrote for Craig Pearce’s Public Relations 2011: Issues, Insights and Ideas. The basic point behind my piece was that communications strategy isn’t hard and creating it shouldn’t take time and effort away from communication.

Kim writes: “Quite rightly, Paul explains that a PR strategy comes down to identifying the who, what, when, where, why and how. Although these elements are absolutely essential, the piece of the puzzle I believe is missing from Paul’s article … is the importance of the bigger picture. Before considering the ‘Ws & H’, it is crucial to take a step back and have a look at the broader objectives, what is it you’re trying to achieve?”

Good points by Kim. Honestly, maybe I was being a bit hyperbolic when I said that PR strategy was overrated, so let me take a step back and outline the proper level of PR strategy necessary for most programs.

Make a list and check it off. 
Recently, I had a conversation about the ways to create thought leadership in a crowded space and my answer was simple and admittedly tactical. Make a list and get to work.

Want to create a thought leader? Okay.

  • Create a presence on social media. Some combination of a blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube will do. CHECK.
  • Make a list of relevant industry pundits (analysts, journalist and competitors) to engage with and engage with them. CHECK.
  • Make a list of top tier publications and communicate with them. If they accept byline articles or guest blogs, contribute. If they accept article commentary, comment. If they cover news, give them news. Check, check and CHECK.
  • Make a list of events and speaking opportunities and offer to present. Check!

If one is qualified to be a thought leader and follows the above steps, all should be right with the world. And if the above is followed and this person isn’t accepted as an industry thought-leader, one of two things went wrong. One option is that the person simply isn’t worth following. The other option is that the execution fell short.

The moral of the story is that more times than not, a program’s success or failure will be based not on strategy, but on execution.

What is Strategy? Don’t get me wrong, planning is a good idea. Tying a campaign into a big picture corporate messaging is a no-brainer. Maybe the real problem I have is with the way people over-use the word strategy, as if it is this mythical element of a program. If one wants to call mapping out a plan to be strategy or creating a check list to be strategic, then I’m good with that. But, where I take exception is with those that demand a strategy be created only so it can take up valuable time just to sit on a PowerPoint slide somewhere making no impact on the actual program.

Looking for something more strategic? Ok, try this on for size. Backed into a corner I’d admit that there are strategic steps a company can take to make its communications program successful. Strategically hire a senior level communications professional. The point is that the public relations and communications industries are merging and changing and most likely the successful strategies of tomorrow will not be created by non-communications professionals, so the most strategic step a company can make is to hire the right person capable of leading and let them lead. If you need help writing a strategic job description, check out Lou Hoffman’s approach to Applying Storytelling Techniques to a Job Description.

More than ever public relations requires the ability to be a storyteller, write, communicate, manage, and above all, the ability make a list and execute.

Photo by Danilo Rizzuti
  1. May 9, 2011 at 10:09 am

    I’d agree wholeheartedly, but… I think there are a few points that deserve a deeper dive.

    1) thought leadership. There’s an additional reason thought leadership campaigns fail: lack of actual thought/opinion. A thought leadership campaign cannot be based on “our product is better” and cannot survive on when the company wants to be a thought leader without actually drawing any lines in the sand, stating any opinions or taking any sides. You need to say something interesting.

    2) not every company needs a new strategy every quarter. Frankly, it’s the opposite: you need to give your strategy time to stick and show results. That said, the key with strategy is to avoid a cookie-cutter strategy. Break out of the box. Try something different.

    On the marketing front, many, many companies try to emulate Hubspot. After all, they are incredibly successful at marketing. What the copy cats miss is the fact that Hubspot was successful because it adopted a marketing strategy no one else was using.


    • May 16, 2011 at 8:58 pm

      Hey Kelley, thanks for the comment. Good points. I do agree that PR shouldn’t try to make thought leaders out of followers without thoughts and couldn’t agree more that strategy shouldn’t be changed every quarter. It’s all about the execution.

  2. May 9, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    Thanks for picking up the discussion on your blog Paul.

    I could not agree more with you in that the word strategy has been used and over-used. At the end of the day, it’s about having a plan or line of sight to the overall objective. It can be tempting for clients (especially larger companies) to request lenghty reports and ‘strategies’ to show what is to be done, but time spent on these is not spent, as you mentioned, on execution.

    As a side note, with businesses new to PR, I have found that the initial communication plan (or strategy!) is an important part of the education process that shows clients how PR will help them achieve their business objectives.


    • May 16, 2011 at 9:00 pm

      Kim, thanks so much for kick starting this discussion. At the end of the day, I think we both actually agree with the importance of strategy and plans. It’s a fun discussion – especially cross continents.

  3. May 9, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    A true story:

    We once worked for a client, a large multi-national company. For many months we had been doing a really good PR job – but we were waiting for the “big strategy” from the HQ. It was odd: Even our contact persons at the German subsidiary didn’t know exactly what to do without HQ’s PR strategy. We decided to focus on new technologies and new products what was very interesting for the German media, we got a couple of excellent clippings, good response, the guys in PR, marketing, R&D and sales at the client’s company were happy and satisfied with our results.

    Summer came and at the end of July (!) the HQ published its global strategy for the current year – and some information on the PR budget. The strategy was okay: We had anticipated it and had been working quite close to the HQ’s objectives. But: The budget information was bad news: As our contact persons at the PR dept. got to know they had spent the complete annual budget by the end of June – due to budget cuts.

    Lessons learned?

    – Think about your strategy before July.
    – Think about your strategy AND your budget.
    – A good PR team (at the company and at the agency) know a lot about strategy.

    • May 16, 2011 at 9:01 pm

      Veit, thanks for stopping by and for the story. I’ve worked with agencies that had to shut down a PR program mid month until the next retainer period, but ending all of PR for half that year…that is a bad strategy.

  4. May 10, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    Great post, Paul–I thought I was the only one as endeared to checklists! But in all seriousness, it’s good to keep the discussion on PR strategy fresh, and I also appreciate the fellow commenters here. I find it helps to have the big picture in mind with clear objectives (and metrics) in place before going all out with flashy tactics. Too often I’ve seen clients and colleagues put the wagon before the horse, so to speak, and it never quite works out in the end or fails in execution.

    • May 16, 2011 at 9:03 pm

      Krista, I always appreciate your insight. Check lists are good. Of course that is probably over-simplifying the process, but it is more effective than spending week’s hashing out a strategy.

      Reply to Krista’s comment – check.

  5. May 14, 2011 at 9:21 pm

    Michael Dell had a great quote in Fortune Magazine years ago that has always stayed with me–

    “Ideas are commodities; execution is not.”

    Now, one could argue that this mentality eventually caught up with Mr. Dell but I think the quote still has relevance in the sense that we tend to devalue the tactics.

    You really see this come to bear in the new-biz process.

    Companies either assume that every PR agency executes the same or are bored by tactics.

    Because I rarely see a PR agency review process in which the company truly probes execution.

    • May 16, 2011 at 9:06 pm

      Man, I wish I had thought to use that quote. I would have saved everyone having to read the 500 words it took me to get to that point.

      That is interesting insight regarding the agency review process. Come to think of it, I’ve never heard a prospect ask for how one agency can execute better than another. You’re right the focus is always on the big idea created from a Google search and an RFP. Not a good strategy.

      I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

  1. May 18, 2011 at 10:00 am

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