The success of any business depends on how well known it is. If the public isn’t aware of its existence, how can they be paying customers? To promote brand visibility, a business needs exposure, which can be bought or earned.
Advertising is how a business buys exposure, while publicity is free exposure by media owners looking to capitalise on trending news or sensational events. The former contains pre-scripted messages by the advertiser, which makes it less objective compared to media coverage, which offers independent perspectives.
In the words of Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group and king of outlandish PR stunts, “Publicity is absolutely critical. A good PR story is infinitely more effective than a front-page ad.”
Branson would know. His bold PR gimmicks never fail to grab the headlines. From setting the Guinness World Record for the first transatlantic flight in a hot-air balloon in 1987, branded the ‘Virgin Atlantic Flyer’, to making himself the butt of the joke celebrating Virgin Atlantic’s landing in Canada, Branson’s theatrics have firmly placed Virgin on the global map.
While there’s nothing wrong with some shameless self-publicity, there are, thankfully, less flamboyant ways to promote your business if you prefer a more feasible approach.
We’ll explore the key aspects of public relations and detail the essential steps for creating a successful PR strategy in this comprehensive guide.
What Is Public Relations?
Public relations (PR) is the practice of using strategic communication to cultivate a favourable public image and reputation of a brand or business. That said, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity”, to quote P.T. Barnum. One could argue that an unfavourable public perception beats zero brand awareness.
Branson baring his butt might be perceived as crude and attention-seeking to some, while others might find it hilarious and cheeky (pun intended!). However you feel about it, you can’t deny that you’re not likely to forget it anytime soon!
How Does PR Help Your Brand?
Good public relations set a clear narrative for your brand and business. It helps the public understand and like your brand, and gives them a reason to trust you enough to pay good money for your products and services.
A recent report by the Pew Research Center finds that 56% of American adults trust the national news media, while 75% trust their local news organisations. In contrast, only 27% trust the information on social media. This shows that news coverage by official media channels is still the primary source of trustworthy information for the American public.
In other words, effective public relations that generate prominent media publicity are still key to getting your brand seen and remembered by the general public.
What Is a PR Strategy?
A well-thought-out PR strategy complements the brand’s values and existing messaging in a way that strengthens the narrative.
A case in point is LEGO’s “Everyone is Awesome” set — a special edition product and built-in PR strategy — which carries a clear message of representation for the LGBTQIA+ community.
Launched in conjunction with the 2021 LGBT Pride Month, the set features the colours of the pride flag and transgender pride flag, along with black and brown to represent the diversity of races and ethnicities within the community.
Having Matthew Ashton, Vice President of Design at the LEGO Group, share his own coming out experience and insights growing up as a gay teen makes the whole “Everyone is Awesome” campaign much more authentic and relatable. The message that support for the LGBTQIA+ community should start from one’s childhood years is well-timed and heartwarming.
While it takes effort and careful planning to devise a well-designed and implemented PR strategy, the branding mileage is well worth it.
5 Clear Advantages of a PR Strategy
We’ve covered the fact that PR promotes brand visibility. But how exactly does this benefit your business? Here are 5 clear advantages of a PR strategy:
1. Gets People Talking About Your Brand
If your brand is new or relatively unknown, a solid PR strategy and well-planned campaign will spread the word about your business. The more people talk about your brand, the higher the chances of converting the attention into sales.
2. Fosters Trust and Brand Credibility
To ensure coherence and consistency, your PR strategy needs to be aligned with your overall brand values and communication. If you don’t have a clear sense of your brand identity, you should probably start with that first. Mixed messages will only confuse the public and create doubt. A PR strategy that’s aligned with your branding and implemented through PR activities with a consistent narrative highlights the brand’s credibility and reliability. This will cultivate the public’s goodwill and foster trust in the brand.
3. Targets a Specific Audience
A carefully crafted PR strategy allows you to convey a clear, specific message about an important topic or cause, like the LEGO example. A focused message is vital when you’re looking to reach a distinct or niche target audience, which in LEGO’s case, was the LGBTQIA+ community.
4. Cost-Effective Way to Launch New Products & Services
Instead of spending valuable resources on paid advertisements to launch a new product or service, channel those resources towards producing a successful PR strategy and campaign instead, and let the media and public do the endorsement for you.
Two reasons this is vital for the success of any product/service launch: firstly, people trust unbiased reviews by external parties much more than paid advertisements. Secondly, giving media owners and influencers exclusive previews allows you to gather valuable market feedback for improvements before your official launch.
5. Increases Audience Engagement
When done right, PR encourages your audience to engage with you. Using accessible platforms such as social media channels to share customer reviews, media coverage, and publicity by independent blogs opens the door for your audience to interact with your brand.
These interactions will increase the chances of your audience eventually becoming paid customers and spreading the word to their friends and family.
Compared to paid advertisements that often use a hard-sell approach for creating a sense of urgency, public relations employs a more subtle, indirect approach that builds a positive brand image over time. The latter takes more effort to generate momentum but is easier to sustain in the long run.
3 Types of Media Channels
Let’s examine the 3 types of media channels for public relations: owned, paid, and earned.
1. Owned media
This is the first resort for any business as you have full control of the content on owned media channels. Examples include your website copy, social media and blog content, email newsletters, and any other promotional collateral. Basically, any media you own the rights to.
2. Paid media
Advertising is a useful way to boost visibility of your owned media, e.g. social media advertising, influencer marketing, and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. While organic marketing for your owned media via SEO is a must, it is a long-term strategy compared to paid media, which helps build brand awareness in the short term.
3. Earned media
Being the most valuable and powerful type of exposure for any brand, earned media is the hardest to acquire. Examples include media coverage, customer reviews, mentions and endorsements by customers on social media, and prominence in search results. A successful PR strategy working alongside a well-planned marketing strategy is essential to secure earned media.
For best results, your PR strategy should utilise both owned and paid media and strive to maximise exposure via earned media, the latter being equivalent to word-of-mouth marketing.
How to Create a Successful PR Strategy
There are a number of elements involved in creating a successful PR strategy, which need to work in concert to ensure a cohesive message and brand image.
1. Have a Clear Brand Identity
Before you can create a PR strategy and campaign, first, you need a clear brand identity. Otherwise, it would be like trying to sell a product without knowing what its unique features are and how it looks.
A brand identity, at its most basic, is made up of the following:
- How it looks
- Visual elements
- What it represents
- Unique features or differentiation factor
- Core values
Having a relatable and authentic story is the cornerstone of any successful PR strategy, but the story needs to be grounded in the brand’s persona and core values. What differentiates your brand from your competitors? A clear brand identity will achieve that.
2. Assess Your Current Brand Visibility
Before coming up with fun and exciting PR ideas, first, you need to know where your brand currently stands and where you want it to be. How visible is your brand at present? Thanks to the internet and digital technology, it’s now much easier to measure brand visibility.
According to Think with Google, “Shoppers go online first in over 60% of shopping occasions.” The ease of searching for information online — whether for product and customer reviews or researching a brand’s credibility via its website and social media profiles — likewise makes it easier for businesses to track their online brand visibility.
A few simple ways to do this include monitoring the following:
- Website traffic, source and location of traffic, time spent on the site
- Sales leads and purchases originating from the website
- Social media mentions and engagement
- Online brand mentions via Google Alerts
The above will show you where your brand currently stands in terms of online visibility so you can define clear and specific goals for measurable growth.
3. Set SMART Goals
The more specific your goals are, the better you’re able to carve out a clear PR strategy to achieve them. SMART goals are:
Bearing the above criteria in mind, break down your goals into the why, who, what, and how.
What is the purpose of the PR exercise?
Are you trying to increase awareness of a particular product range, improve public perception of your brand, or reach a new target market? You can have a list of short to long-term goals, ranked in terms of priority. Having an overview of this will allow you to create an overarching PR strategy or separate strategies to achieve them.
Depending on the why, you’ll be able to narrow down the target audience for your PR strategy. Knowing your audience is vital; your PR narrative needs to resonate with them to be effective. This involves researching their consumer habits and behaviour, social tendencies, and values.
The more you’re able to empathise with them, the better you’re able to speak their language and address their needs and desires.
What is the key message you wish to convey?
It should be simple, easy to understand, genuine, and aligned with your brand values. Your key message will act as the basis of your PR strategy. If it’s ‘to promote your brand’s commitment to product innovation’, for example, your choice of PR tactics and campaign design will need to reflect this direction.
How will you measure the effectiveness of your PR efforts? If your why is ‘to position your brand as an innovative leader in health and fitness apparel’ for example, what will success look like to you?
Examples of relevant metrics for the example above include:
- Likes, shares, comments, and any other engagement on social media content relating to your brand’s innovative products and breakthroughs
- Customer reviews referencing your products’ innovative features and performance
- Increase in sales of products in the ‘innovative’ category
- Enquiries and leads relating to your innovative products
4. Create a PR Calendar
Getting the timing right is critical to the success of your PR efforts. Plan ahead to ensure that you release the right messages at the right time to coincide with the right seasons and occasions. LEGO’s Everyone is Awesome campaign was timed perfectly in conjunction with the LGBT Pride Month, which reinforced the significance of its message.
A PR calendar also gives you easy visibility of your activities so you can keep track of them and identify potential PR opportunities throughout the year. The year-end holiday season, for example, is a popular shopping period, which makes it a strategic time for PR campaigns.
5. Define Appropriate PR Tactics
After you’ve identified your goals and the why, who, what, how, and when, you can move on to determining the appropriate public relations tactics to deliver your strategy. The following are a few of the commonly used PR tactics to start with:
1. Press Releases
An oldie but goodie, press releases remain a practical and effective way to gain exposure, especially for new businesses, products or services. You can also offer interviews to journalists for an exclusive preview.
2. Social Media Marketing
It’s almost impossible to escape social media these days, but not all businesses are made for it. Choosing the right social media platform for your business is key to its success. If your product or service is camera-friendly, then Instagram is a must, but if not, you can utilise blogs and LinkedIn content for your messaging.
3. Business & Industry Events
Corporate sponsorships, speaking engagements, and networking activities at business and industry events help to boost brand awareness and establish thought leadership.
4. Community Engagement
Developing a strong relationship with the local community cultivates a positive brand image and strengthens brand loyalty. Examples of community engagement include charity drives, special discounts for seniors, partnerships with local NGOs, etc.
5. PR Stunts
These require a certain amount of ingenuity and resourcefulness. Recent examples of headline-grabbing PR stunts include “Star Trek” actor William Shatner being the oldest person to travel to space, courtesy of Jeff Bezos’ aerospace company Blue Origin, and Redbull’s infamous Supermoon Wingsuit Event, which had people in wing-suits jumping out of helicopters at sunset above Los Angeles’ tallest building.
6. Monitor the Outcomes
Last but not least, you’ll need to decide how you wish to measure the effectiveness of your PR activities. This means aligning your PR metrics with quantifiable goals as much as possible.
For social media platforms, you can monitor follower growth and engagement via likes, comments, shares, and conversions. Website metrics are fairly straightforward, with most platforms offering the ability to track traffic source and location, bounce rate, page views, time on site, referrals, and conversions. Likewise, for email campaigns, you’ll be able to observe click-through rates, open rates, unsubscribes, and more.
It takes careful thought, planning, and creativity to develop and implement a successful PR strategy, but a positive brand image is critical for sustainable business growth.
Need Professional Help Managing Your Public Relations?
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We specialise in strategic marketing, public relations, and creative and social media solutions to drive business growth for our clients across B2B and B2C sectors. If you’re looking for professional help in creating a successful PR strategy, you’ve come to the right place.
Let’s talk! We look forward to helping you better engage with your audience and cultivating the right brand image to achieve your business goals.