Creating stand-out PR is a bit like creating a piece of art – you need a team with an innate talent for the job, plus a clear vision of what you want to achieve, creative concepts and thorough planning and preparation. The planning involved in creating and delivering successful campaigns is generally obscure from clients, partly because PRs are taught to ‘tell clients the results, not the process.’ In my experience, when the client understands the process, it leads to a smoother and happier working relationship for both parties.
As the client, you can influence the speed at which your PR programme moves. If your campaign requires a lot of upfront preparation and planning before you can get to implementation and time is of the essence, you can structure the consultancy arrangement so that a dedicated team focuses exclusively on your campaign and storms ahead with the planning phase.
Most campaigns do require considerable planning. For example, we recently launched the Hard Hat Index, a measurement of the number of images of people wearing hard hats published in national and engineering media, supported by a YouGov study on how the public views engineering professionals. A whimsical project with serious undertones as our client, Sainsbury Management Fellows (the charity that helps engineers become business leaders through MBA scholarships), believes that stereotyping engineers damages the profile of the profession and puts-off young people from becoming engineers. Before the launch, we undertook 18 months of media analysis to create a credible Index, using current titles and the British Library newspaper archives.
Every campaign is unique, so the ‘behind the scenes’ planning activities differ but there are some common elements that are undertaken well before anything appears in the public arena. Here we touch on seven:
Successful programmes are based on good intelligence, and your consultancy will almost certainly evaluate data that’s relevant to your market/sector so the team understands how your existing and new products and/or services fit into the bigger picture, what the competition is doing and how you can make an impact through PR. They will also evaluate customer data so they understand the behaviour and buying patterns of your consumers/customers. This knowledge is ploughed into developing a sound strategy.
A fair amount of time will be spent crafting and honing the key messages that will be taken to different stakeholders. The consultancy will start the message development work when it has a good understanding of your brand and the competitor environment, to ensure they create distinctive messages that stick with audiences.
The PR team will also consider and develop plans to ensure that the PR supports and/or amplifies messages being delivered through other marketing activity designed to achieve the same business goal. Your consultancy will be happy to collaborate with your other marketing agencies (for example, online, advertising, direct marketing, etc) to ensure that the campaign makes a lasting impact.
Many PR campaigns start with original research – not the ‘silly season’ type of research (which also has its place), but serious research that looks, for example, at a social problem (for example, loneliness amongst older people or homelessness) that is relevant to the client’s service or product. The research may generate headlines, but the findings are usually the foundation for the development of long term campaigns that address issues.
Developing journalist/blogger relationships
If you’re a new client for the consultancy, they will develop your media database (prioritising outlets) and start to build relationships with journalists as soon as they have something valuable to tell them. Your consultancy will already have lots of journalist and blogger contacts; so it’s not that they are starting from scratch but they need to build the relationships on your behalf. That means understanding their areas of interest and what they have written about/reported recently so that news and features that excite them can be pitched to them.
Some campaigns involve third parties, for example, professionals, experts and celebrities who support campaigns. Researching the right partners and negotiating deals and contracts will be invisible to the client, that is until such time that the consultancy can present a portfolio of options that reflects values of the client’s brand.
Many consultancies offer sponsorship services, where they seek a suitable organisation for their client to sponsor or they find a sponsor to co-fund a client’s initiative. This research involves scoping out suitable brands, proposal development and meetings, before the proposed sponsors are presented to the client for selection.
Ahead of this ‘hidden’ planning and preparation, the consultancy and client will work together on setting measurable PR objectives that link to the business goals, the strategy, targets and the measurement criteria for the programme. Once this work and the planning are completed, the programme can start in earnest. Both the client and consultancy can be confident that all that prep will help the campaign build momentum quickly and deliver the desired results.
See our blog post on Planning a Public Relations Campaign to find out about the ingredients that go into a PR campaign.