• Why Strategic Public Relations is Imperative to Your Business

  • We often talk about strategic public relations. It sounds impressive, but what is it, really? Strategic public relations is an approach grounded in research, followed by planning, implementation and evaluation. And it’s how we approach every client project. Allow me to explain why.

    I used to sit through client meetings where the ideas were coming forth like water out of a firehose.

    I’d leave those meetings feeling like we’d really accomplished a lot, and I KNEW the client was going to LOVE this great idea!

    Six months later, the client was asking, “Why aren’t we seeing more customers/clients/donors/volunteers/revenue?” Stutter, stutter, stutter. Throw out more great ideas, rinse and repeat … which became the communications version of Whack-a-Mole.

    And then, I learned the right way to do things. <Enter sub-heading, Old Dog Learns New Tricks>

    Admittedly, I came to this profession via journalism; certainly, I was hired because I could write well and navigate the media landscape, because I used to be “one of them.” And for a while, my sole purpose was to garner a “media hit.” That worked for a while … and for a couple of agencies. But then I started questioning myself and my “media hit” tactic. Because despite the media hit, the client was still asking that question about return on investment.

    I got serious about my profession. I joined PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) and joined a study group to prepare for the APR exam which I subsequently passed (Read Four Reasons NOT to Hire an Accredited Public Relations Professional). And I realized everything I had been doing wrong. Every PR engagement should begin with research — a communications audit, finding out about their customers, their product, their competitors — followed by identifying measurable objectives (that include an identified increment within a certain time) on which one’s success can be based. The tactics — all those great ideas we used to throw around the table — should be developed solely to support the measurable objectives. Regularly evaluating the project against those objectives may result in a “tweaking” of the tactics … but it’s done proactively and not when the team is in the “hot seat.”

    When I took this new-found information back to my then-employer, I was admonished that, “Clients won’t pay for research. They don’t want to spend that money on a strategic plan.”

    Shortly thereafter, I found myself launching Pickett and Associates and developed a tagline, “Strategic Approach. Measurable Results.” And clients do spend money on research and a strategic plan. These days, everyone needs to validate their worth and justify return on investment.

    It doesn’t work for everyone. Occasionally, we find our selves being put in the position of “an order taker” versus a strategic partner. It’s not our favorite thing. And, honestly, it’s silly to spend money outsourcing a strategic marketing team if you’re ignoring advice gained through research and marketing expertise. Those are difficult conversations to have with clients, but ones we have from time to time. It’s just part of doing business.

    There’s no doubt that creativity and great ideas play a big part in public relations and marketing. But to ensure the bottom line results clients desire, the engagement must be approached in a strategic way. Is your communications team providing you with a strategic plan? If not, it may be time to sit down and have a chat.