The holy trinity of public relations – thought leadership, 3rd party credibility and strategic alliances should be default characteristics of any public relations strategy. This is underpinned by an ever-increasing need for a content marketing vision and plan, an element that contemporary PR can simply not do without.

Public relations has a holy trinity

Strategic alliances will enhance the credibility of both alliance organisations, expand the footprint of communication and providing excellent ROI, not least because it should not cost anything to create the actual alliance itself (other than employee time). They should also provide content for little cost and be relevant to organisational target audiences (precious in this content-hungry world).

Thought leadership is almost a tactical, rather than strategic, manifestation of an approach/desire that sees the organisation helping and/or providing unpaid value to its stakeholders, thus helping build loyalty, positive WOM and enhanced reputation.

3rd party credibility comes from being associated from non-organisational people and entities – their ‘good vibe’ rubs off on the organisation. This can occur through positive editorial media placement, independent market research, and supportive comments from experts.

[This is the third of a six-part ‘case study’ series on devising communication strategy for an infrastructure project, but can also be applied to non-infrastructure-related initiatives.].

Content marketing by public relations

Content marketing needs to be an integral element of the strategy.

Really, this is a tactical outcome of thought leadership and providing proactive, information of use to stakeholders. But its recent social media-driven evolution is so profoundly important that it needs mentioning in a strategic context.

The content provides a reason for stakeholders to both visit and gain value from the organisation, as well as proactively share it with their peers, thereby potentially prompting it to go ‘viral’. A very strategic sub-text of this (hello, holy trinity!) is that the sharing generates 3rd party credibility (from the sharer) towards the content and, hence, the organisation (sort of win-win-win outcome, really).

PR is well placed to undertake content marketing, despite some understandable misgivings by some, as PR is fundamentally dialogic, as it listens (that word again) to stakeholders and adapts communication accordingly. There is plenty to get wrong with it, however, such as expecting an immediate and sudden ROI. It takes time, as any relationship does, to make an impact,

Mediated, non-mediated and the public relations ‘holy trinity’

Incorporating a mix of mediated and non-mediated communication mechanisms into the strategy is imperative:

  • Non-mediated (e.g. social media when it is used as broadcast, email marketing, website content, advertising) is a bridge. It facilitates direct communication with messages being delivered in precisely the way an organisation wants them to be delivered
  • Non-mediated is critical in today’s business world as a hedge against organisational loss of control over their reputations due to the dialogic, viral and extensive user-base aspects of social media (which is heaped on top on general word-of-mouth and coverage in the media): ‘customer’ recommendations rule, remember!. The building of email databases and subscribers/followers to social media platforms, therefore, is an absolutely critical element of any contemporary communication strategy – yes, believe it or not, email is still bigger than Facebook
  • Mediated (e.g. editorial media) often boasts the 3rd party credibility of the medium itself

More on PR strategy: don’t be a control freak!

Further strategic approaches to be applied include taking an approach where ‘control’ is not paramount. This will help engender a sense of shared project ownership. Sometimes this will mean not stamping up and down on non-complimentary messaging about the project that may be disseminated by stakeholders. They would have appeared anyway and a recognition of the right of supporters, critics and infrastructure potential users to have their say will reflect positively on the organisation.

This mindset is equally relevant to working with stakeholders. It should be about negotiation and a recognition of difference rather than a closed, negative, bunker-down approach, which will only come across as ‘spoiling for a fight’, or non-cooperative at best

Recognising and leveraging WOM (word-of-mouth) is likely to be the most credible form of communication for stakeholders. This will manifest itself through both WOM mediums as face-to-face social media.

Further strategic approaches to apply include:

  • Anticipating that there will be criticism of the project and building up the reputation bank as much as possible to provide insurance against those occasions when issues do arise
  • Looking at ways to benefit the local community through the construction phase. For instance, using local suppliers whenever feasible and local people for employees in the construction of the project – is this possible, or even legal?
  • On the back of the fact that the infrastructure will benefit the community, use this as a reason for engaging with school children, partially as they will be infrastructure users, partly because they may have an interest in engineering aspects of the infrastructure and partly because they can act as a conduit of information to adults and because of their influence over them
  • Address the potential misfit between who community stakeholders perceive to be credible people or organisations to be associated with the project and who political stakeholders want to see associated with it (e.g. themselves!).This is a difficult issue to resolve and often there is little that can be done about it, other than ensure the spokespeople have the most positive, relevant and stakeholder-useful communications content possible to utilise.

Where have you found the letting go of or, conversely, attempting to retain, reputation/communication control has worked or not worked in organisations you have been involved with? What is your experience and/or view of the holy trinity I have outlined? Do you think PR is skilled up and intelligent enough to run the content marketing for an organisation?

The next post in this six-part series talks tactical elements of the communication strategy, including media relations and building strategic alliances. Previous posts talked about overarching approaches to public relations, market research and target audiences; and the listening, conversational and adaptive characteristics of excellent communication strategy.

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