Vikram Kharvi is a communications professional who founded and moderates Indian PR Forum, a 3000 member strong community, where members share best practices news, information, and case studies. He tweets as @vikramkharvi and blogs at Vikypedia
The scariest words for me till date as a professional have been – “can you draft a PR strategy?” I have no shame in admitting that I have never truly understood what it actually means.
While in an agency, my boss once called all the Account Managers into his cabin and asked us to each explain what we understood by a PR Strategy? We all came up with one smart answer, which were basically what we can tactically do achieve PR coverage. So after ridiculing us for 15 minutes, he explained to us that Strategy means an ‘Art of War’ – it means the macro plan of what you will do to achieve the desired results. And the activities that you will execute on a daily basis are all tactical approaches to achieve the overall strategic objective. The rest of the managers must have got enlightened with this thought, but I could only understand that whatever we have been suggesting to our clients till date was only a tactical approach and not a strategy. Clients who bought our plans were probably as smart as us, but I still couldn’t figure out what Strategy actually means. Request all readers to help me in building my understanding on this super buzz word of our business.
All the PR books that I have read, conferences and seminars that I have attended, all repeatedly claim that Media is just one component of a well thought our PR Strategy. It is about deploying a combination of communications tactics used across mediums to continuously shape and influence public opinions.
And in reality, all these years I have been only running behind media to get what is obviously expected out of me i.e. coverage. Even when I moved to the corporate side, no matter what is suggested in the plans, what we actually run behind is the laundry list of things that can be done to get more and more and more coverage.
Does Strategy include coming up with few bright ideas that are synergistic with branding and business objectives of the company? Does it mean that the ideas suggested should communicate the key messages that the brand wants to share with its stakeholders?
If the above is correct, then the starting point in developing a PR strategy is to first understand the company’s business and communication objectives and what the overall marketing plan is. But how many of us really have access to the above information? Of course, if we are part of an integrated overall marketing approach then we can easily come up with a plan on how we can integrate PR in the multi-layered marketing plan.
Then comes creating those key messages and I am sure that most of the PR plans fails to achieve their desired objective because the messages that we create sound like advertising slogans and we fail to create messages that resonate with the target audience. Why should a journalist turn into a company’s sales representative and start broadcasting your ad messages? Hence, understanding and drafting the appropriate key messages becomes the most critical part of a PR Strategy. To do this right, we need to dig deep into the company’s business, understand their objectives and challenges, and link it up to the industry that it operates in and the overall environment that can impact the business sector.
Next, we have to figure out how we disseminate these messages using various tools that are not as misused, abused and beaten to death like our poor press releases. Maybe by creating Industry relevant white papers, case studies, and hard hitting opinion pieces, we can establish the company as an industry thought leader. Working along with the media or industry bodies in creating round tables for industry relevant discussions can also go a long way in extending credibility amongst the company’s stakeholders. Tracking and negotiating speaking opportunities in seminars and conferences can also increase the chances of company spokespeople to been seen as opinion makers by journalists.
But to achieve the above, it is important that the company’s top management works with its PR partners more actively. They may agree with you, but in the end nothing may actually happen and the reasons for this can be many such as lack of content or lack of quick approvals from the company’s end. Spokespersons may not be adequately trained or may lack confidence to speak at various forums etc., so the responsibility of the PR partners is to then gauge the problems and help bridge the gap by aiding the client to develop the required materials using their own in-house resources and domain expertise. Invest in training the spokespeople and help build their confidence.
Again, this is easier said than done but if we are able to do that then we would be the most valued partners for the company and the CEO. We would not be seen simply as postmen, vendors, or aggregators, as but knowledge partners.
Now, coming back to my earlier question. Do the above qualify to be called as a PR Strategy? If not, then please enlighten me and folks like me and help us to understand how to draft a PR strategy. Your comments, feedback will be most welcome.
Written by Vikram Kharvi for Image Management