How to Leverage PR in Your Marketing

Array of microphones

Holly Donato, APR clears up confusion about what PR is and where it belongs in the marketing mix.

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Most marketing leaders sense they need public relations, but there can be confusion about exactly what PR folks do and when to bring them in. As a new team member adding PR to the DKY service set, allow me to get you off on the right foot with your PR colleagues.

1) Leave Time for Reputation Management

Nearly everybody uses the words “PR” and “publicity,” interchangeably. But did you know public relations is actually much broader than getting news coverage? By definition, “Public relations is the management function that establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and the publics on whom success or failure depends.” (Effective Public Relations, Cutlip & Center).

That means we’re responsible for two-way communication with all the stakeholders an organization needs in its corner—employees, investors, regulators, influencers, maybe even the local neighbors. Be aware that your PR manager may be juggling issues and crises you’ll never see (that’s a sign of their success!). While you’d love them focused 100% on helping you boost revenue, they need bandwidth to foster a larger “ecosystem of support” for your organization. Without someone minding reputation, the best marketing will trip over issues of public trust.

2) Do Integrated Planning

Seasoned PR pros are strategic thinkers who bring a lot to the table during planning—annual or long range. Don’t simply assign media relations to them at the end. Those of us who are APR accredited can help you with a powerful Research-Planning-Implementation-Evaluation process around key questions:

  • What’s the current situation and what needs to change?
  • Who do we need to reach and affect to create that change?
  • What message does each audience need to know and believe?
  • What channels best deliver that content?
  • What communication tools will be most effective, and in what sequence?
  • Who’s responsible for each tactic—and how much will it cost?
  • How will results be evaluated and reported?

If this sounds more like a marketing brainstorm, you’re right. PR and marketing disciplines have merged in many respects, thanks to digital media that reach audiences directly. Don’t get pulled into debates over who controls what. Just identify skilled curators for each channel, and guide them with an integrated strategic plan, keeping every investment measurable.

3) Tap Owned Brand Journalism

PR is an ideal partner in content marketing. Most of us are career journalists who love storytelling. We enjoy distilling vast amounts of information and serving as a bridge between subject matter experts and end-users.

At the outset of a new project, ask PR to develop a master Source Document with approved facts and phrases that can be adapted into shorter formats as the campaign requires. Ensure a unified voice by assigning PR to “write some, edit all” content.

Your PR colleagues can create an editorial calendar that disciplines your publishing and leverages material from other corporate publications. Their pulse on industry and company news can help you seize timely opportunities for thought leadership or sales angles. For a lot more guidance on great integrated content marketing, I recommend The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott.

4) Be Strategic with Publicity

Getting news coverage is nearly always important in building a company’s reputation or reaching a key audience. Once your owned content is planned, you can turn to earned media. What a third party says about your business carries more weight than what you claim yourself.

Publicity is not a primary lead generator (it’s more top-of-the-funnel), but it does build credibility and you can reference the placements on your website and in new-business pitches. Earned media can be less expensive than paid advertising space, but you need to factor in PR time as a cost.

We call this media “earned” because your organization has to merit attention with a genuinely newsworthy story. Attracting editors takes one or more of these traits:

  • You’re unusual.
  • You’re setting a trend.
  • You’re bucking a trend.
  • You have useful wisdom to share.
  • There is an element of conflict or tension.
  • You have an interesting human adventure going on.

There’s more to publicity than picking up the phone and booking your story, as you do with paid space. A strategic media relations plan takes time to gel. Your PR person will analyze outlets, comb editorial calendars for opportunities, and review the coverage history of target reporters for clues on what will appeal. (To strengthen my pitching, I follow industry guru Michael Smart.)

Media relations is a match-making process that needs to flex with media reception and preferences. Leave pivot space in the plan. One editor may prefer a bylined Q&A, while another wants an exclusive white paper. A third wants to interview your customers—and sometimes business editors require openness about revenue. Your spokespeople need interview coaching and practice so that main messages (and only positive answers!) get across when the reporter throws a curve ball.

There’s less control in a world so dependent on relationships and human conversations. And media momentum takes time to build. But if you’re patient and prepared, the effort is worth it for earning a respected voice in your industry.

Summing Up: Make Friends With Your PR Colleagues

It’s never too early in the game to partner with your PR team. Tap their skills and counsel early and often. Support them in tending to reputation issues that impact marketing downstream. Bring them in to help formulate marketing communications strategy. Let them lead with a steady stream of great brand journalism. And set a realistic timeline and goals for media relations.

If you view PR as a slam-dunk publicity machine that gets the phone ringing, you might be disappointed—and you’ll certainly leave a lot of value on the table. Embrace the full gamut of what public relations is built to do, and your marketing will be healthier—as will your entire organization.

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