Lewis Carroll had it right in Alice in Wonderland -
One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. Which road do I take? she asked. Where do you want to go? was his response. I don't know, Alice answered. Then, said the cat, it doesn't matter.
So it goes for every single business and organisation. And the central business objectives are the top tier that drives marketing, which in turn drive PR. For many organisations increasing sales may be a major factor of the business objectives, but for others it may be less critical or totally unnecessary.
PR & the Marketing Mix
The marketing mix used to include the 4 P’s
Product – or service that is being sold. Starbucks sells coffee, but also a lot more – an environment, real estate for a meeting, a place to meet new people or an informal café to meet friend.
Price – how much to sell your product/service for
Place – where you are selling – geographically, the channels to reach your customer and more recently if there is an online presence.
Promotion – the marketing tactics use to promote sales.
More recently extra P’s have been added (and depending upon whether you are a puritan or not, you may except them. If you want to stay true to the PR story then you can ignore this section, but for completion sake:
People: Any person coming into contact with customers can have an impact on overall satisfaction. Whether as part of a supporting service to a product or involved in a total service, people are particularly important because, in the customer's eyes, they are generally inseparable from the total service.
Process: This is the process/es involved in providing a service and the behaviour of people, which can be crucial to customer satisfaction.
Physical evidence: Unlike a product, a service cannot be experienced before it is delivered, which makes it intangible. This, therefore, means that potential customers could perceive greater risk when deciding whether to use a service. To reduce the feeling of risk, thus improving the chance for success, it is often vital to offer potential customers the chance to see what a service would be like. This is done by providing physical evidence, such as case studies, testimonials or demonstrations.
Personalization: It is here referred customization of products and services through the use of the Internet. Early examples include Dell on-line and Amazon.com, but this concept is further extended with emerging social media and advanced algorithms.
Participation: This is to allow the customer to participate in what the brand should stand for; what should be the product directions and even which ads to run.
Peer-to-Peer: This refers to customer networks and communities where advocacy happens. The historical problem with marketing is that it is “interruptive” in nature, trying to impose a brand on the customer. This is most apparent in TV advertising. These “passive customer bases” will ultimately be replaced by the “active customer communities”. Brand engagement happens within those conversations. P2P is now being referred as Social Computing and is likely to be the most disruptive force in the future of marketing.
Predictive modeling: This refers to algorithms that can be successfully applied in marketing problems to evaluate past and forecast future performance.
Lets back up to one of the original P’s – promotion – for this is the marketing mix. At a formal level this mix includes activities such as:
- Public Relations – yup, we’ll cover that in this book
- Advertising - design and placement of adverts in largely the same media that we’ll identify in this book plus some advertising opportunities outside of ‘the media’ such as billboard advertising
- Events – seminars, exhibitions, conferences, sponsorship opportunities etc
- Direct Mail – both physical and cyber direct mail
And in it’s less formal definition, the marketing mix also includes:
- Direct selling – sales people on the phones/street
- Web sites – do I really need to explain that to you?
- Packaging – how your product or service looks
- Retail – the ‘shop’ that is the conduit between the product/service and the consumer
- CRM - a term applied to processes implemented by a company to handle its contact with its customers
- Research – finding what, why and how related to your product/service, competitor and customer
The PR professional must understand that PR is part of this mix. For some PR professionals they will have to choose or lobby (or throw chairs around) to determine how much resources (financial and human) is divided between this mix. From experience, I can tell you that advertising takes one of the highest financial budgets from the mix, but is one of the lowest human time cost to implement. PR is generally the opposite of this, taking one of the lowest financial commitments but one of the highest human time costs.
Once the business objectives and only then marketing mix is well understood, then and only then can PR objectives be set.
The most common objective in public relations is to increase positive coverage. But come on people – can we not get a little more creative and constructive?
First off, there is positive neutral and negative coverage. We all strive for positive (good news) coverage, but there are certain instances that neural coverage is desired (especially in media exposure around a product or situation that previously has been negative. And do we desire negative publicity? Not for our own interests, but it is not unheard of (although certainly unethical) to arrange negative publicity to a competitor’s brand, business or product (but enough about political campaigns).
Some might argue that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Trust me, there is. I have worked with organisations throughout the world that are in crisis situations because they are concerned about existing or potential bad news.
There are instances when the PR objectives is non-coverage. Certain individuals and institutions prefer to remain under the radar and out of the press for either modest or avoidance reasons. This too takes PR management and should be part of setting PR objectives.
At the end of the day a PR team is trying to get their company/client either in or out of the media. And more often than not there will be a mix.
For example, “our objective is to maximise company X exposure in our core media, but to reduce the coverage of Y product which we will be discontinuing within 6 month”.
The top level PR objective will then need to be broken down into further detail. For example, it is not good enough to set an objective of “greater coverage” without providing some type of measure (e.g. article count or column cm’s) some type of target (e.g. in our top 20 media) some type of content (e.g. to include X product/services) and a number of other important factors such as:
- Timing of coverage
- Messages included
- Content of title
- Image used
- Spokes people quoted
- Number of times the band is named
The more the objectives can be defined, the more effective the PR implementation will be and the easier it will be to measure. More on this in the ‘measurement’ section of this chapter.
There are of course other common PR objectives. In my experience most clients include subjective and objective ones:
- Increase the brand visibility (or protect it, build it, define it…)
- Educate the target audience of our product/service (that it exists or how to use it)
- Create demand for our product/service (why it exists and what problem it serves)
- Build relationships (partners, suppliers, vendors, clients, customers, delivery channel, retail, financial, investors…)
- Showcase success of company (normally tied into a ‘higher’ objective because this ultimately is needed to prove something like experience in sector or market)
- Attract new employees (or promote company to present employees)
- Increase leads for sales to X (PR is typically a poor lead generator compared to other marketing tools, but never the les this is often an objective)
- Increase sales from Y to Z
- Increase our share price from Y to Z
- Increase our ranking in X table from Y to Z
As is common across all business functions, objectives should be SMART - Specific (concrete, detailed, well defined), Measurable (numbers, quantity, comparison), Achievable (feasible, actionable), Realistic (considering resources) and Time-Bound (a defined time line).
The strategy covers the who and what of the PR work. By going through a strategy process you are detailing how it is possible to reach the PR objectives – which in turn will roll up to the business objectives.
What you are going to need
Let assume that you already have a complete understanding of the product and service that you want to build a strategy for. Some argue that you don’t actually need to understand the product/service inside-out, but frankly this is normally an opinion from someone that has specialty knowledge of a product segment and their inherent knowledge will carry them through what they do not know about a product.
Next we look above the product level.
General Business Environment
It’s important to know and understand the whole product/service range of the company/organisation. It is important to understand how this product/service fits with other offerings, how the company is perceived with customers/partners and within the media. The differentiation of whether this is a lead product for a company or supports other products already purchased is vital to understand. If this is a luxury product but the perception of the company is a budget player, may not seem to make sense at a business level, but there may be some very good long term reasons for this positioning and so all this should be investigated.
Next the competition needs to be looked at. No company is too unique or too much of a market leader to negate this. Perhaps more important than your company’s perception of this is the perceived competitive landscape by customers and potential customers.
Knowing who your main competitors are and what their main offerings are against your own is part of this process. Both the physical offering and the perceived offering – that is to say, not only the product/service that the competitor offers, but how the customers perceive that, and how they rank that against your own product/service.
As an example, lets look at the highly competitive automotive industry. Throughout the world there are different models offered, so first up, it would important to look at a specified geography and map out which manufactures offered which models, and what specifications are most popular in that geography. Take any price point, then have a look at competing manufacturers. Who’s really to say that at that price point, in one geography a Toyota, BMW or Nissan are better than each other or alternative manufacturers? As far the physical car parts are the concerned, the design, the manufacture, the warrantee, the customer service etc, etc. There are so many components that need to be considered. But it would be true to say that one manufacturer has a perceived value over others?
After looking at the competition we look at the industry as a whole. How that industry is perceived is going to play an important part in building the strategy. Is the industry in question considered reputable, questionable, ethical… is it growing, are there new players all the time, are the players known, do customers understand the industry, how does regulation effect it?
One of my first jobs was in sales & marketing working for a printer consumable recycler. The company was one of the first reputable companies to take laser and inkjet cartridges and recycle/refill them, which offered a more cost effective and environmentally sound solution to it’s customers.
The company was nation wide and had strong ethics, a good brand and offered an honest service to repeat clients.
The trouble was, the printer manufacturers made a lot of money from the sale of their consumables and did not want to loose this revenue.
At the same time the only direct competition was from less ethical recyclers known to ‘drill and fill’ – literally drill a hole in the side of a laser printer and add more toner – needless to say a less reliable solution than a total re-manufacture.
As a result of a questionable industry and reluctance from printer manufacturers, sales for this ethical and strong product offering company was hard. The initial barriers when selling into a corporate client was high – they had tried our less reliable competitors and had not been impressed by the results.
When we built our PR strategy we had to be very aware of these factors and then plan accordingly.
Above all this product, company and industry noise is the general welfare of the business environment and economy. This can affect your PR strategy in a number of ways. Understanding if your sales are in a growth or recessional economy is a good start. What are the main concerns of the business environment? Maybe getting financing, or human talent or office space are concerns. Maybe the overspending of fat-cat executives is in the media. Maybe there are concerns over high annual bonuses. Maybe the origin of manufacturing are concerns, or maybe a strong ‘buy-local/national’ campaign is swaying public opinion.
There are many real and perceived business environment factors that will play a role on how to build your PR strategy. Being aware of them is the first step, and knowing how to avoid the negative press that you could associate yourself with is a good start. Next, knowing how to exploit the present and future positive factors and ride those waves will add velocity to your campaign.
Not so long after working for the printer consumable recycling company I worked for a public listed company that manufactured and marketed surge protectors and battery backup power supplies. These are the devices that protect your electronic equipment (and more often than not computer equipment) in the event of a power surge or blackout. They also keep you running during a power cut, so you do not loose valuable data.
When I worked for the company in the mid nineties it was the height of the technology explosion. Email was taking off. Corporations were embracing technology to better run their organisations. Everyone seemed to be buying computers and Internet Cafés were sprouting up on every corner to feed the demand for those that were not buying or were away from their PCs.
With these business environmental changes it was no surprise that the company I was working for had very healthy, double digit growth year over year.
From my perspective in the marketing department, it was easy to build a PR strategy that filled this ever-increasing demand. Probably the most important element to the strategy was communicating the business environments new dependency on data processing and how just a few minutes of computer down time could now cost a company thousands upon thousands of dollars.
Then there is one of the most important things that you are going to need.
Every month we receive applications from new graduates who want to enter the field of public relations. Within the first paragraph they boast they are the best person to hire because not only can they do the work of a PR professional, but also they are also great at the strategy. Codswallop.
It takes experience, lots of experience, to be able to build a great strategy. A new recruit can have fantastic ideas, they can bring a new spin on old working practices and they can fresh opinion while understanding the younger generation marketing segments that older professionals may not understand. But they cannot bring the experience of what has been be used, what has worked, what is feasible in the cycle of business.
Examples of PR strategies
TO BE DEFINED
How to build a PR strategy
Yes, there is a lot to consider when building a PR strategy. Here’s the thing – we need to condense all this information and make it digestible and meaningful so we can present a PR strategy to other stake holders – something that can be clearly communicated and understood without 7 days of background research.
While the following template may not be a one-size fits all, it does work for the majority of clients we work with and allows us to clearly define a strategy.
Defining a targets
Having a strategy is great, but we also need to know whom we are directing this at. In short, who are we selling to, or who needs to receive our PR.
First up, this is not the media (more on defining the media for a PR campaign later) as the media are the conduit for us to reach the target. The target is the final person who needs to hear our message. Often it will be the person who purchases our product, or could be an influencer. In a corporate world this could be a CEO or line manager even though the CFO or purchasing manager makes the purchase. For example when as a PR agency we are asked to pitch our services we may be standing in front of four or five people including the PR manager, marketing manager, sales manager, CEO, business owner, general manager, purchasing manager, financial manager etc. In a consumer environment family and friends influence the purchasing decisions of others. For example a child may influence their mother on their weekly cereal purchasing decision.
Surround the customer
When I worked client side the global sales team of the company I worked for had a sales strategy called surround the customer. The principal was quite simple – there were a number of people in the business that influenced the sale. In the case of this technology company it included the CIO, CFO, CEO, IT manager, computer reseller and other vendors.
This advice is well heeded by PR professionals. In the case of the technology company above this means being present in technology titles that the CIO / IT manager might read, financial titles the CEO might read, business titles the CEO might read and technology industry titles that computer resellers and vendors might read.
If your PR target is only targeting one type of end user you are probably missing something.
Second thing to remember, is that if you define your target as ‘everyone’ then you haven’t actually defined your market. We sometimes come across clients who say their product/service is so omnipresent that absolutely everyone is their target. I doubt it. I doubt this as the buying/desire patterns of an 18-month-old girl (think anything Elmo and pretty bows) are rarely going to be concurrent with a 70-year-old successful businessman who plays golf and actively invests in foreign exchanges (although both groups might use dippers it is hopped there would be a great proportion of society that would not).
There are a number of ways that we can break down the target audience. First we can look at geography. At the simplest level we can look at country.
A common mistake we come across is that because sales might list their sales targets regionally (with multiple countries making up a region), this gets transposed to the marketing and PR teams. Rarely can we put multiple countries in the same bucket when talking PR.
I once looked after the marketing for a technology company across Eastern Europe. The 14 countries started in the North with Latvia, Lithuania & Estonia, through Poland, Czech & Slovak republics, Hungry, via a number of smaller feuding countries/states and ended in the South at Turkey. This was one sales region. It was, however, 14 PR countries, each with their own unique strategy and of course language.
More recently, as I run a PR agency in the Middle East, we continually get asked to draw up a PR strategy that covers ‘the Middle East’. For one, the ‘Middle East’, does not exist as a clearly defined group of countries (for example is Egypt in the Middle East or Africa, or both?). Secondly, as you can well imagine, the dynamics and thus the PR strategy for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is going to be very different from the United Arab Emirates.
For many companies a national-geographical breakdown is not just not good enough – especially in bigger countries such as the United States or India. For the U.S. market, regions within the country or State level are more common. In fact many need to get more specific than that and choose metropolitan areas over county definitions.
Most countries also have other geographically based segmentation available, for example in the U.S. zip codes and in the U.K. post codes. Both of these are examples that allow companies to target geographies very precisely.
Language spoken is also an important differentiator for PR targeting. It used to be understood that language was pretty standard across each country but in today’s transit metropolis this is not so. Today dedicated agencies exist in the U.S. to reach different targets, such as the Spanish speaking population, whom in many geographies make up a larger population than English speaking.
Another example would be the heavily expatriate societies in Asia and the Middle East. Through most of the Middle East, we work every day with both Arabic and English language daily newspapers. And there are more languages in other media – such as French, Russian, Hindi and Urdu to name but four.
It is going to be important to understand if we are targeting a corporate audience or a consumer audience. Both groups call for different strategies and many PR agencies specialize in one area over the other.
When building PR for a corporate audience we can readily target people by job function. This does make life easier. Not only do different job junctions seem to attract a similar type of person, of course these positions also readily attract different media. So we can target CEO’s, CFO’s, all in the C suite, or any manger in any function, or any worker as defined by their role within the organization.
When we target consumers the most common way to target is gender, age and socio-demographic factors. The first two are pretty self-explanatory. Socio-demographic data is also readily available in most developed markets and in its basic terms maps wealth and geography.
There are of course many, many ways to define target such as distance from business (geographically defining a sphere of influence for your company), education level, health of target (or lack of it), employment, preferences (based on any other consumer factor, or sexual), knowledge in a certain area, previous purchasing decisions etc.
A word of warning. Some people in marketing love to come up with catchy titles that define a group of people. For example The Millennial Generation (those born between 1982 and 1995). The trouble with this is that different people define these terms differently (as I’m sure some readers will define The Millennial Generation with different factors). Use these arbitrary terms sparingly unless they are clearly defined within your plans.
Defining a message
We have objectives. We know whom we want to speak to. Now we need to build what we want to say to them.
There are often multiple messages that are communicated at the same time. An organisation may have messages – such as taking a leadership position in the market or capitalising on their heritage.
Tag lines from corporations are often an easy way to identify an organisation’s core messages.
EXAMPLE OF MESSAGES
Examples of such messaging include:
There are also messages for individual products or product lines. Unlike the organisation’s messages, these may change depending upon the product life cycle and are more malleable to buyer behaviour.
EXAMPLE OF MESSAGES
Examples of such messaging include:
Planning (where, when & how)…
The core strategy in place gives us the theoretical road map. Now for the fun part – to find the right PR mix to tactically implement.
First off we can look through a typical PR tool box and investigate if any of the following can be of use.
A useful checklist includes:
1 – Press Releases
2 – Interviews
3 – Regular Columns
Questions and Answers
4 – Press Events
Media tour (@ client or @ case study/win)
5 – Forward Feature Plan
6 – Newspaper analysis and pitching news angles as the news happens
7 – Photography opportunities
8 – Test units
9 – Competitions
10 – Surveys/Questionnaires
11 – CSR /Charity Actions
The eleven major areas highlighted in the PR tool box above are not exhaustive in any way. There are plenty of other successful tools that can be implemented, and every month you should be able to add further creative solutions.
Each PR tool should be looked at for relevance and it’s ability to:
1 – satisfy the objective
2 – reach the right target
3 – communicate the message
and then it needs to be looked at in terms of whether it can be implemented within the available:
4 – budget
5 – time line parameters
lastly it should also identify whether:
6 – the team have the necessary skills and experience to pull it off.
What is a PR plan?
The PR plan puts the objectives, targets, messaging and tactical implementation down on paper. The more concrete and concise the plan is, the better chance it has of being understood by others, thus a better chance of being approved in terms of scope and budget allocation. It also has a better chance of being implemented correctly and thus gaining better results.
What comes first the chicken or the egg?
As with all corporate planning there is an argument for bottom up and top down planning. Should the PR department plan their actions based on sales objectives, or where the market is going and then report back to sales? Ideally every organization should be listening to their customers at all levels of the company. However, in practice I’ve worked for far more companies where PR is driven by annual/quarterly sales objectives. It’s just a fact of corporate life.
Examples of PR plans
The following is one of the most concise PR plan templates that I have found to work through the years. This is not a one size fits all solution though. Different companies are measured and operate in a number of ways. A number of other major factors such as multiple product lines (especially if targeting different audiences) and cyclical business are not necessarily dynamically drawn out with this template, but can of course be included.
ADD EXAMPLE OF PR PLAN
How to build a PR plan
With a thorough understanding of the above principals, a template to work on, there is only one thing missing to be able to build that perfect PR plan. Lots and lots of experience.
Assuming that a team of people can have the required organisational and product/service knowledge, and that they understand the full PR tool box, the team different backgrounds and as much experience delivering similar messages, in a similar time frame, with similar budgets to a similar target.
Above all, if constructing a PR plan in a team, be conscious that there is no right or wrong answer to be reached. Some ideas are as good as others, and some are better than others. Some work better at certain times and others work better if integrated with other PR and business actions.
How do you know if you have it right?
Measurement. The more you measure, and the quicker you can get the data, the more of a chance you have of self rectify, alter, dial up/down, tweak and otherwise change what you are doing. And with continual feedback you can dive a more effective and efficient PR campaign that hits your objectives.
Measurement comes in many, many ways. This will be covered in a later chapter, but right now it is sufficient to understand that measurement can be against straight PR objectives (such as share of voice or value of coverage obtained) or against wider business objectives (such as perceptions of focus groups, sales targets, financial performance).