PR Best Practices: Strategies Before Tactics

Hands on whiteboard working on business strategy
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By Polly Winograd Ikonen and Andy Lowe

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe – Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan, the renowned cosmologist and science evangelist, used the above quote to illustrate the order of existence – but it can also easily be applied to public relations.

As a strategic communications agency, we spend a lot of time working with clients to articulate the “why” of what they do. Why is “why” so important? Because it’s what differentiates our clients from their competitors, it’s what resonates on an emotional level. It’s what drives good storytelling.

But there’s another important role that “why” has to play.

Group in office gathered around notebook.
Photo courtesy of Pexels.

First, let’s define PR strategies and tactics: A communication strategy is the north star that identifies target audiences, key messaging, and communications channels. This applies equally to a product launch, leadership announcement or any news moment at the company. A PR tactic is how the strategic plan is executed, e.g., a press release, media alert, event or social media campaign, just to name a few tactical options…

It’s PR best practice to determine the tactics only after you’ve confirmed your strategy. “Why” then becomes a critical question your PR agency should ask you with every new announcement or moment. Why do you have this pitch idea? Why stage a media event? Why issue a press release?

It’s important to circle back to your goals and objectives when thinking through tactics. Here’s a short checklist of questions to ask before taking action:

  1. Does this tactic help reach the target audiences we’ve identified as a priority?
  2. Does this tactic position my product or service in alignment with my plans?
  3. Do I have the messaging in place to support this new tactic?
  4. Have I gotten the support of key internal and external stakeholders to support the tactic’s success?
  5. Is this tactic one that will appeal to the media or just my team?

At its most productive, a PR agency brings value to our clients by not just jumping into action on command but by being a strategic partner and providing checkpoints and thoughtful insights honed from years of working with the media. And sometimes, that means pausing to ask: why?

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