How to Start Your Business’s Public Relations Strategy from Scratch

If you’ve been running a business for any length of time, it’s likely you’ve invested in marketing strategies. And based on your business’s size, budget, and goals, you may have also incorporated some paid media or advertising into your overall growth plan. But what about Public Relations? So often this is the missing piece that’s left out. Businesses focus so much of their efforts on marketing – digital, social media, traditional, email, and many other forms – spending thousands of dollars a month to draw in new customers. Businesses also invest heavily in paid media/advertising – digital, social media, billboard, TV, radio, print, and many other forms – dedicating a significant amount of their B2C or B2B outreach strategy to “pay for play” messaging placement. Then there’s the power of Public Relations – sometimes referred to as “earned media” or strategic communications. So often this undervalued tool is the missing piece a business needs to pull together its marketing and advertising strategies while igniting the effectiveness of these strategies so that they work in unison – cohesively and creatively to grow brand recognition and build customer loyalty.

If by now you’re convinced that your business needs to explore a Public Relations strategy, you’re in the right place! Starting one from scratch doesn’t need to be a daunting task. In fact, it’s more about organizing and utilizing many of the tools you already have in place, but doing so with intention and consistency. Keep reading for the core advice I would give any business that is interested in laying the framework for a solid yet flexible PR strategy that can grow alongside their business.

Fully understand what you’re doing and what you’re spending on marketing and advertising.

First, you need to paint a clear picture of where your money and resources are already being divided among your marketing and advertising efforts. It might surprise you! There’s never any harm in revisiting these strategies. In fact, it’s something you should already be doing on a regular basis. Before you invest time in a discussion about Public Relations, be sure you understand how your business’s financial and human resources are spread out over your marketing and advertising. Most importantly, are there areas that need pruning because they’re not producing? Once you’ve tightened up these existing strategies, you’re ready to dive into the new conversation of adding in Public Relations.

Identify the gaps that Public Relations can help fill. Set goals for these gaps.

Now with a good understanding of what you’re accomplishing through your business’s marketing and advertising strategies, where are there gaps that need to be filled? These may be those tricky problems that only Public Relations can solve for you, making this the perfect opportunity to address the gaps by setting goals for your new Public Relations efforts. Marketing and advertising are valuable in their own unique way. But they may fall short of solving problems like community outreach, public perception, earned media, brand repair, and crisis communication. The most successful businesses don’t drive at full speed knowing they have these blindspots; instead, they strategically develop a Public Relations strategy to identify and address them before they cause a “crash.”

Give yourself a realistic budget and timeframe that matches your goals.

You know what you hope to accomplish with Public Relations added to your business’s growth strategy, now you need to set a realistic budget and time frame that will allow you to accomplish these goals. First, consider what you’re investing in marketing and advertising based on the value it delivers back to your business. Now consider the perceived value of Public Relations. What would earned media coverage, enhanced public perception, a repaired or enhanced reputation, and the control of crises give your business? What about the peace of mind for you personally? Make sure this value is matched in the budget you set for Public Relations. Sure, it’s not as black and white as “this is what a billboard costs” or “this is the market rate for a drip email campaign” – but the value can be the rocket fuel to your business that lights everything else on fire. The same is true for the timeframe in which you hope to accomplish your PR goals. It won’t happen overnight or even in one quarter. You must lay the foundation and build the “machine” that will churn out continued success down the road. If you can, look to invest in your PR strategy for at least a year to start. Only after 12 months can you confidently set a baseline and identify real trends. Stopping any sooner will be like stopping a building during construction. You’ve still invested quite a bit to get to where you are, yet you don’t have the finished results to show for it.

Examine the tools and treasures that are already at your disposal to help with PR.

Here’s the good news. You likely have already invested in tools that can be repurposed for your Public Relations strategy. Is your business involved in the community? Does it give back to charitable causes? Have you forged any media relationships through your marketing and advertising efforts? All of these are gold for a PR professional to work with. We can take these treasures and place them strategically into a plan where you gain more recognition for your good work. Remember, this is work that’s already taking place behind the scene, now PR gets to shine a light on it! Best of all, this low-hanging fruit can begin yielding results for you quickly, so long as you know how to best leverage what you have.

Create a clear and concise action plan.

Simply put, you have to have a plan. Often I step in to help clients in exactly this area. There are a lot of great ideas surrounding Public Relations and conversations that have taken place, but no one has stepped up to create a strategy. Mostly, I find this is because people believe a strategy has to be complicated and full of fluff – think the 80+ page document a traditional Public Relations agency will overcharge you to create. And the result is something that’s not functional or realistic. I always preach that your strategy needs to fit your budget, timeline, and human resources. Next, create a clear and concise action plan – this might even be as simple as a to-do list to start! At its core, it’s still a strategy, but it’s far less daunting when you break it down one step at a time with actions assigned to individuals with a deadline to complete them. This brings me to…

Name your leader(s).

Who will be your PR champions? The best ideas in the world won’t hold water if you don’t have anyone within your organization who has the capacity or interest in helping to bring them to life. After your PR strategy meeting, if you look around the room and see blank or nervous faces, this might be a tell-tale sign that you’re lacking a leading for this important initiative. As a PR consultant, this is where I specialize. I lead these meetings, hold everyone’s hand, and start assigning roles where I know they’re a good fit for interest and bandwidth. It takes a team effort. And when you stick to a clear and concise action plan, you only need to assign several core tasks at a time to keep the big pieces moving. But if you know your team is already working at max capacity on other initiatives, this may be a time to closely consider the value of outsourcing your Public Relations strategy.

Measure, assess, and revise – again and again.

Growing any new initiative requires consistent and intentional oversight and maintenance, especially in the beginning. You must treat this like anything else you’d nurture in your business – a new idea, employee, or customer. Investing in a strategy is a great start, but you need to make sure steps are being taken by those who have been assigned tasks. Are they meeting deadlines and goals? And are those goals, if met, producing the intended results? You (hopefully) do this for your marketing and advertising strategies, so you need to do this for Public Relations as well. Schedule regular team meetings where someone is responsible for keeping an accurate and updated agenda and leading the meeting. This keeps conversations productive. Be sure to have well-developed metrics for success. What are you measuring to assess the success of your Public Relations strategy? Focus on what you can control versus what you cannot. You can’t control outcomes, especially in PR, but you can control your effort. Measure effort.

Here’s the most important point. Just start. I know I’ve thrown a lot of advice your way, but take each step a day or a week at a time. Whatever you do, don’t stand still. Public Relations is too important for any business to continue putting off incorporating this into your business development strategy. I can say confidently that every business I’ve worked with, their biggest regret over PR is that they didn’t realize its value and invest in it sooner. This is your sign to move PR to a top-priority spot for your business this year!

As you consider this advice, what questions or challenges come to mind? Most importantly, what’s holding you back from investing in a PR strategy for your business? Drop a question in the comments and I’ll gladly share more insights!

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