You wouldn’t dive head-first into a pool without knowing how deep the water is, would you?
Public relations practitioners are focused on getting things done. “Let’s put out a news release!” or “Let’s start a blog!” are the quick-fix answers to questions like “How are we going to communicate this message to our publics?” when the real need is for careful planning before these questions should even come up.
The problem with being so proactive is the lack of a clear strategy. If the client should happen to ask “Why did you recommend a blog instead of a press release?” or more likely, “We want to do a press release instead,” there needs to be reason why one of these tools would work better than another. Jumping directly to tactics without a well-developed and thought-out strategy is like jumping in your car and expecting you’ll find your destination without knowing the way. You need to plan ahead and map out your route, and even more importantly, you need to know where you want to end up – setting measurable goals and objectives are the oft-overlooked parts of a program.
Granted, that’s not to say that the quick-fix doesn’t work at all. You can throw stuff at a wall and hope it sticks – you just shouldn’t have to hope.
What really needs to be developed are well thought out strategies before executing tactics. Here are a few questions to ask before going full-steam ahead with tactics:
1. Who’s interested?
A lot of the information coming out of public relations isn’t anything of value beyond a small handful of people. Finding out who’s interested is important because PR practitioners will only then learn how to best reach our client’s audiences.
2. How does our audience like to receive their information?
Is your audience reading blogs? Are they getting their information online instead of from the daily newspaper? Are they traditional radio listeners or iPod people? A little information goes a long way. Obviously, creating an RSS feed for an audience who are not tech-savvy is the wrong course of action. Perhaps creating an RSS feed for a journalist who is bombarded with emails is a good idea. It’s
3. How can we best reach those interested?
It’s important to know or find out how people like to receive information because the wrong method of delivery can either turn people off or not reach them at all. A good example that is radio. A lot of people ten years ago were either listening to the radio or CDs. Today, people have MP3 players, audio books, internet radio, and Satellite radio to choose from when they want to listen to something. The FM and AM dials aren’t going away, but there are fewer people listening to them and those who are listening to them might not be your intended audience. Trying to reach a young audience on the radio probably isn’t going to happen.
4. Can we reach our audience through X channel?
This can be tricky. Knowing who your audiences are and how they best receive their information is important. But if you can’t use that channel to communicate with them, you’ll have to find another way of reaching them. For instance, if your audience are known to be readers of a national daily newspaper, and you have nothing of worth to the journalists at said newspaper, you’re not going to be able to reach your audience that way, unless you can afford to buy ad space – and that’s not at all what PR is about. While a press release might be the most advisable tool, if it’s going to be completely ineffective, then there’s no reason to use it.
Those are only the basics. I don’t doubt that there are numerous other questions one might be inclined to ask or ponder before rolling out a campaign. Many more would be situation-dependent as well.
Hopefully, this will make the difference between splitting your head and getting you all wet.