Public Relations Strategy: Why Your Organization Needs One

Every organization should have an interest in public relations.  The ability to maintain a positive public image is critical to achieving corporate objectives.

What is public relations?  According to Wikipedia, the definition of public relations is “a field concerned with maintaining public image for high-profile people, commercial businesses and organizations, non-profit associations or programs”.  It is all about how an organization is perceived in the community.

We often hear of “PR nightmares” during times of crisis.  The PB oil spill was a classic example of a PR nightmare.  Response in times of crisis influences how the public perceives an organization.

Anyone who followed the Gulf Oil Spill story is familiar with how aggressive BP was in its damage control efforts. BP invested a lot of time, energy and money into their PR campaign following the spill. In fact, they are still spending tons of money reminding us of what they’ve done to clean up the spill.

Developing a Public Relations Strategy is instrumental to influencing the public image of an organization. A good strategy can help build rapport with customers, employees and the general public.  The goal would be for the organization to have a good reputation coupled with name recognition in the community.

A well thought out strategy can be used as part of a comprehensive marketing plan and provide a roadmap for a public response during times of crisis.

Five Steps in Creating an Effective PR Strategy

1.  Discovery

Discovery is a process an organization goes through to articulate what their business is, who the business serves and who in the community interacts with the business. This process is done through very specific strategy and research.

public-relations-strategy240For example: a homeless shelter may have a vision to “provide shelter to those who have temporarily lost the ability to provide for themselves.” This statement helps an organization understand who they are, what their mission is and who they serve.

The organization will then try to identify who in the community they interact with. In the case of a homeless shelter, it may be residents or businesses within the neighborhood they serve.

The organization should have a goal to create a positive relationship with everyone they interact with. This is important because, in the case of a homeless shelter, a positive relationship can possibly increase funding, identify volunteer labor or foster collaboration for joint community projects.

2.  PR Plan

Developing the PR plan is very similar to establishing business goals and should be done as part of a strategic planning process. PR goals and objectives should be focused on communicating what was learned in the discovery phase. It is important to have a well thought out communication plan for employees, the general public and those who interact with the organization.

Another part of the plan is developing a strategy for how the organization can be both proactive and reactive. The plan is proactive by marketing an organization’s products or services, increasing market share and name recognition as well as maintaining a positive public perception. The plan is reactive in how the organization plans to respond to unplanned or unforeseen events. Having a written strategy is the key to facilitating a positive outcome.

An important part of the plan is the identification of the person who speaks on behalf of the organization, the message that will be communicated as well as the tone of the message. It takes specialized training for someone to be able to field questions from the media so having a person with the right skill set and gifting is critical.

3.  PR Policy

PR policy should be written on the process to communicate or respond to any number of situations. This includes communicating with employees, the news media or communication as part of an advertising campaign.

For example, using a press release to get the word out on new products or services. What and how information is communicated should be a critical part of the policy creation.

4.  Plan Implementation

Implementing the plan according to policy requires budgeting, scheduling and a specific program to roll out the plan. Budgeting and timing of implementation is critical to the end result.

5.  Evaluation

It is important to evaluate the performance of how well the plan is working. Having SMART goals can provide measures to track success over time. Using the PDCA model of quality improvement can also help facilitate a consistent process.

A good PR strategy can help build relationships with customers, investors, donors, employees and the general public. Having a reputation for positive things such as being environmentally responsible, a great place to work, green or supportive of other social needs can do more to acquire new business than any paid advertisement.

photo courtesy of:  Mukumbura

Article originally posted September, 2010, updated September 2014.