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    Why Is Public Relations Strategic?

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    The Long-term Importance of Using PR

    When organizations set out to conduct public relations (PR), the first questions to ask are: “What are we hoping to accomplish in general? How can PR help us reach that goal? Are we prepared to enable our PR efforts to really work for our organization?” Rather than just writing a press release and emailing it to some contacts, the outreach should be well thought out to reap the most benefits. Taking a long-term view to PR is important. Let’s explore why PR makes strategic sense.

    Your PR goals should align with your business goals so that your entire organization is moving in the same direction. This means that from the onset, you need to think strategically about your PR goals, how those will help you reach your broader business goals and if your organization is ready to focus resources (time and money) behind your PR.

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    Common Pitfalls
    Often organizations reach a milestone such as winning an award or opening a new location. As such, the executives want to publicize the accomplishment with a press release. The leaders often appoint someone (with or without media relations experience) to write a press release, email that to contacts, post it to the company website and call it a day. Was the goal to publish a press release? If yes, check the effort off your list.

    If, however, the management team expected more, more attention should have been paid upfront. For instance, if the (unspoken) goal of distributing the press release was to publicize an award, recognizing your organization’s quality initiative to reduce waste and lower costs, the plan and tactics should have been clearly communicated, implemented and measured. In the case of announcing a new location, if the strategic goal of public relations was to earn a certain number of media placements (articles, TV &/or radio interviews, blog posts, etc.) that notify the community of the new venue, encourage prospects to attend the grand opening and make an initial purchase, the plan and approach to reach those goals should have been communicated and supported by the executive team. Again, without knowing what the goal was, no measure of success or failure could be obtained.  

    So often, a press release is written and distributed as a default activity that later looks to have delivered negligible results. When you pivot your understanding of PR to a strategic activity, it’s more likely that the outreach will get the internal attention, time and funding to make a real impact on your organization. 

    Strategic Focus. Measurable Impact.
    Let’s examine four areas where a measurable impact can be gained by examining PR strategically.

    #1. Strengthen Media Relations. Showcase Your Expertise.
    Building relationships with reporters to position your spokespeople as industry experts can have meaningful and lasting results. Reporters often are dedicated to specific topics or “beats” that give them focus areas to cover. When reporters recommend a possible story or are assigned a story by their editor, they rely on the experts they’re familiar with as resources. These resources provide background information to build out the story at hand or provide special insight that isn’t commonly held; thus, the resources are considered interview experts.

    So, how does someone become such a trusted expert whom reporters pro-actively contact? It starts with nurturing relationships with the reporters who cover your industry (ex: retail or healthcare) or area of expertise (ex: business finance). Then, when the opportunity to be interviewed by a reporter materializes, take an educational approach to share your insight and respond quickly. Journalists are by the very nature of their business working on deadline.

    An organization that invests in relationships with the media and hones its skills into becoming a qualified interview expert is well positioned for repeat interviews. This in turn results in increased media exposure, a boost in visibility and several other benefits discussed below.

    #2. Integrate Your PR with Your Website to Boost SEO.
    As your organization distributes press releases, posting the announcements on your website is a common activity but do you know the strategic value of doing so?

    The content in your press releases should be optimized for web searches so posting the content to your website should attract people surfing the web for such content, whether journalists doing research or prospects seeking information online. (The content in your press releases should be aligned with what your key audiences want and need from you. Thus, the web optimization should be a natural fit with your efforts.)

    Using a free tool such as Google AnalyticsTM, your web manager can report on the number of website visits a particular page or piece of content generates in a given month. Imagine knowing how many people looked at your online press release in the announcement month. Other metrics to review that illustrate the value your PR is generating may include number of content downloads, number of shares on social media, amount of time spent on other related pages of your website, number of contact forms completed and much more. Again, establishing upfront which metrics best support your PR goals and business goals is critical to measuring the true impact that PR can have on your website and business.

    #3. Build Your Online Content and Boost SEO by Maximizing Articles that Quote Your Expertise.
    Not only are your press releases rich with relevant content, but media placements published by 

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    third party (reputable) sources also showcase your expertise and extend the strategic value of your PR. How? These media placements (articles, TV &/or radio interviews) can be published on your own site, which further expands the amount of relevant content that your site shares. Alternatively, the original publication may link to your company website as a reference point about its interview 

    subjects, which establishes more inbound links to your site from credible resources. This enhances your search engine optimization (SEO), attracting more site visitors interested in your area of interest. Once the prospects visit your website, there is a greater opportunity to convert the visitors into leads and impact sales. Again, the website metrics are important for measuring the impact that PR is having on your website and later lead and sales generation. An investment of time and focus early on can result in strong results.

    As a small side note, if your resident expert has the opportunity to write a bylined article and have it published in a third-party publication that is reputable, consider this as another way to strategically use PR efforts to increase your visibility amongst potential and current customers, investors, vendors, employees and community members.

    #4. Community relations includes communicating with any individuals within your realm of influence and it’s often associated with media relations but it encompasses employees as well as local businesses, potential customers and vendors. Community relations is a great way to strategically live out your brand. Whether it’s volunteering as a company to help others in your neighborhood or participating in local events, involvement in your area allows prospects to learn about your organization and build a relationship with your business. Positive relationships often lead to the transition of prospects into customers.
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    To be especially effective in your community outreach, choose efforts that are aligned with your mission. This allows the public to clearly see and understand your expertise. Focus on authenticity and areas where you offer genuine expertise, as The Drum recommends, to connect with consumers in meaningful ways. An example of this includes a Houston restaurant that serves free meals to first responders during and after a hurricane. Another example would be the healthcare organization that incorporates into its rehabilitation program the shopping and delivering of needed personal care items to flood victims. Still another illustration of community relations tied to your mission would be educators volunteering to read to less fortunate children while their parents attend a work training program. Each of these situations shows professionals helping their community by sharing their skills and knowledge. Not only do the sponsoring organizations help those in need, they also help their employees (another key audience) feel good about their skillsets. Prospects and customers see an authentic connection between the expertise held and the outreach shared, further building on the positive PR that the organization receives. Executives may be surprised when HR reports a higher satisfaction rate amongst employees after engaging in such community events.

    A June 2017 article from Forbes backs up this sentiment:

    “Roughly 82% of U.S. consumers actually consider corporate social responsibility when deciding what services and products to buy and from where. Similarly, a survey of millennials’ work habits indicates that 86% of Generation Y workers greatly value their companies’ corporate social responsibility programs and would quit their jobs if those programs started to slip.”

    Additionally, organizations can measure the impact of such community involvement by measuring the number of new customers and asking those customers how they learned about the organization. The feedback then can be applied to prioritizing activities with the most impact.

    Community relations can definitely have a positive impact. It can also influence future employees. Just last week, I met with a manager of a local P.F. Chang’s restaurant. The gentleman told me that years ago, he visited a P.F. Chang’s north of town to see what the environment was like before applying for a job there. When the restaurant manager told my colleague that P.F. Chang’s was a wonderful place to work and could explain why, the job seeker quickly narrowed his job search. Just last week, Gerard Charles was awarded the Manager of the Year Award. He has worked for the organization since 2011. From the beginning, an employee’s experience with the organization influenced Charles’ career and from there, many of his own customers.

    When used strategically, PR can have a positive and measurable impact. To reach your PR goals, plan properly and consider the long-term effort and impressions your organization can make. 

    If you found this article helpful, you might also enjoy "PR is Much More than a Press Release."

     

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    About the Author: Megan F. Salch

    Megan F. Salch

    Megan F. Salch has 20+ years of marketing and communications experience. Megan launched Tell Your Tale in 2005 to help organizations communicate regularly and deliberately. She works with medium and large organizations on messaging, branding and communicating with target audiences. She is also a published author, writing the book 100+ Activities for Houston Kids.

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