Consider developing a public relations plan before you need public relations. The essential point to remember here is to plan, not react. With a plan in place that enhances your business image, you're prepared to act on the true purpose of public relations.
What Public Relations Is Not
First of all, it's not free advertising. That is a common misconception. The definition of public relations, according to the Public Relations Society of America is "activities that help an organization and its public adapt mutually to each other."
It's also different from publicity, which is better explained as when your organization or company is mentioned in the media. However, your public relations plan may involve publicity on many levels.
Finally, public relations can't mask a product, service or approach that is inherently wrong. Think of an unsavory politician: the truth comes out, regardless of the how well-manipulated "the machine" is. So when developing a public relations plan, make sure it has secure footing.
Understand What Public Relations Can Do
This is very similar to understanding the need to advertise. Reflect upon the actions and intent of your company or organization and what the public perception might, should and will be.
Isolating objectives, targeting the correct audience, anticipating results and measuring effectiveness are crucial elements to any successful business, hence the overlap.
As you develop your public relations plan, highlight the main reasons for it:
- Do you need to strengthen internal and external communications?
- Are you positioning the company or organization in a new way or expanding the brand?
- Do you want to be known as a viable and trusted news source with your product, service or area of expertise?
- Are you building a new audience for the product, service, relationship, identity or activity?
- Is it necessary to become more integrated into the community?
- Is there a need for stronger placement within your specific industry?
Notice that these are just a few of the possible proactive objectives. There's also a need to cement aspects of the plan that handle image or performance problems, such as:
- How do you respond to an accident, product failure or human error?
- What external factors might affect the progress or image of your company or organization?
Be specific in your analysis and objectives. Establish a form of measurement so you can clearly assess the results of the plan.
Developing a Public Relations Plan
Once you've identified what public relations can do for you, here are other fundamentals to establish:
- Develop a budget. Remember, a foray into public relations is not free advertising. Depending on your company's objectives, your plan may require event funds, guest speaker fees, the purchase of media contact guides and the like.
- Designate a reliable spokesperson. This person is on the front line, plain and simple. Not only should they be trusted with primary company objectives, they need to be comfortable with the media and the community and know the boundaries.
- Cultivate a reputation of responsiveness. For good or bad news, nothing will tarnish a company's image faster than delay or avoidance. Members of the media are on constant deadline. They will return to you again and again if you demonstrate courtesy, and treat you with respect if you provide the information they need, when they need it.
- Keep your contacts up-to-date. It's effective relationship building that reinforces your company's image and purpose.
- Work on a timeline. This is based on your company's proactive objectives. If you've identified a need to raise company awareness in the community, for example, then your yearly plan should clearly outline how many boards to be a part of, what events require a presence and the projected number of media mentions. From these factors, you can measure results. Timelines change based on the purpose for developing a public relations plan.
How to Write an Effective News Release
One way to generate publicity as part of your public relations plan is to send a news, or press, release. News outlets receive literally hundreds of news releases each day. These outlets don't have time for cute, so stick to the basics:
Provide at least two contacts that will be available when the release is issued. Nothing will kill a story faster than no one available for comment.
This article displays a wide view of public relations and how a well-constructed public relations plan can benefit any company or organization. For a more in-depth look into public relations, try these books:
- Public Relations Kit for Dummies by Eric Yaverbaum and Robert Bly. The ever-popular Dummies series breaks public relations down into easy to understand terms and action plans.
- Full Frontal PR: Building Buzz About Your Business, Your Product or You by Richard Laermer. Reviews state this is a great book for professionals and small businesses alike.