Public relations at its very core is about words – sometimes written, sometimes spoken, sometimes with images, but always about words. And it is driven by strategy – essentially comprised of the who, what, when, where, why, how of communication and engagement – which is sometimes made to sound more complex than it actually is.

 [This is a guest post by strategic PR pro, Paul Roberts.*]

PR strategy action plan

But let’s take a good look at the words in the title of this piece – critical elements public relations strategy should always consider.

Note the emphasis on the word strategy. Quick level-setting, Wikipedia considers strategy, a word of military origin, as a plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal. Now that sounds important. In PR circles, strategy is often used to help explain the use of tactics to people who don’t understand public relations.

A little secret – public relations strategy is over-rated.

Let’s be clear. Public relations, like any form of communications, is important. But let’s not over-complicate the process. At the end of the day, what most people call public relations strategy can be boiled down to some very basic elements.

There are lots of columns, books and blogs about elements that PR strategy should always consider, but anyone that has ever taken a journalism 101 course knows that the elements of telling a story revolve around the who, the what, the where, the why and the how. Public relations strategy is not much different.

For the sake of this piece, the examples will focus on two very different types of communications – the product launch and the recall. These two examples were chosen because one is a push communication and the other is pull.

  • No one is going to care about your new product unless you make them care – push.
  • When issuing a product recall your job is to communicate your company’s message in a much more reactive manner – pull.

Start with the messenger – The Who

Selecting the right messenger says a lot about the importance of the message.

Examples:

  • New product – unless it is your one and only product or something that is revolutionizing the industry, you are probably not going to use the CEO to sell the new widget.
  • Recall – if your customers were hurt or inconvenienced in anyway, having anyone less than a senior executive issue the statement, says that the company doesn’t really care.

Fortify the message – The What

The best advice here is not what to do, but what not to do:

  • Don’t be stupid and don’t try to be cute
  • Don’t think you can hide anything and don’t lie
  • Don’t try to fake sincerity.

Examples:

  • New product – while you want to highlight the good of the product, don’t think you can get away with calling a slight product upgrade a revolutionary new achievement.
  • Recall – while you want to protect your organization’s reputation during the time of a crisis – remember that people are turning to you not to hear why is wasn’t your fault, but how to get immediate assistance and satisfaction.

Decide on timing – The When

Don’t make too much of this one. The announcement needs to be done sometime. Just decide when – no biggie.

Examples:

  • New product – in most cases there is no right or wrong time to launch a product as long as there is sufficient time to plan properly. That being said, elements to consider include time of year, competitive announcements and other planned PR activities.
  • Recall – in this case timing is all about speed. If your company is recalling a product because of safety concerns then speed of communications is of the essence.

Select the medium – The Where

Where the message is communicated says as much about its importance of the message as who is doing the communicating.

Examples:

  • New product – is Twitter the right place to launch a new product? In most cases it isn’t, but maybe providing a sneak preview or a special offer to your followers or Facebook fans is the right thing to do.
  • Recall – it is important to acknowledge that during the time of crises the public is going to be quick to criticise any and every decision made. Quick rule of thumb:
    • If your company issues news releases – issue the recall via news release
    • If your company buys print advertising – issue the recall via print advertising
    • If your company has a YouTube channel, you guessed it, make a YouTube video.

Remember, a company can’t looks like it cares too much!

Articulate why – The Why

There is no other way to express this one than to say –articulate why.

Examples:

  • New product – if you are pushing a product announcement the public better know immediately why the product is being made and why they should buy it.
  •  Recall – if the public is looking for information regarding a recall, they want to know why it is being made, why the problem wasn’t detected earlier and why they should ever trust in your company again. Don’t leave any whys unanswered, because some companies never get a second chance to articulate that last one.

Plan the logistics – The How

The how is a microcosm of the entire above process. It pulls together the who, what, when, where and how – nothing more strategic about it. Just remember, not every communications needs to be planned, reviewed, edited and the topic of endless meetings and brainstorm sessions.

Public relations 2011 free report

The most critical element public relations strategy should always consider

The one most important element is to rely on professional communicators.

Don’t take the content in this piece to mean that communications is easy – that isn’t the case. While PR doesn’t necessarily require great hand eye coordination, like great athletes that make circus plays look easy, communication professionals make the difficult look easy. Communication professionals are smart. Trust them.

PR pros won’t get bogged down on drafting a strategy, because for them it is just common sense.

 (NB. There has been further discussion on this post on the Dennis Rutzou Public Relations blog.)

*Paul Roberts is a 15-year veteran of the communications industry with experience in journalism, marketing and public relations – in both corporate and agency environments. In 2009 he launched his Paul Roberts on PR blog to participate in the conversations regarding the evolution within the communications industry. Based on his blogging he was recently named as one of the Top 25 Social Media Leaders to Watch. Paul can be networked with on his blog, his LinkedIn profile and on Twitter @PaulRobertsPAR.

[This post is included, with many other posts, in a free strategic PR report that can be downloaded free from this blog by email subscribing to it. The report - Public relations 2011: insights ideas issues - features professional practice-adding value from 10 global PR leaders (and me).]