Conversations at the Intersection of PR, Traditional & New Media

What is PR Strategy?

PR Strategy

First published in (

Suggest a good PR Strategy… These have been the scariest words for me till date as I have no shame in admitting that I have never truly understood what it actually means. While in an agency, my boss once called all the Account Managers in his cabin and asked us ‘Explain, what do you mean by a PR Strategy?’ We all came up with one smart answer, which were basically what we can tactically do achieve PR coverage. So after ridiculing us for 15 minutes, he explained us that Strategy means an ‘Art of War’, it means the macro plan of what you will do to achieve the desired results. And the activities? That you will execute on a daily basis are all tactical approaches to achieve the overall strategic objective. Rest of the managers must have got enlightened with this thought but I could only understand that whatever we have been suggesting to our clients till date was only a tactical approach and not a strategy. Clients who bought our plans were probably as smart as us, but I still couldn’t figure out what Strategy actually means. Request all readers to help me in building my understanding on this super buzz word of our business.

All the PR books that I read, conferences and seminars that I attended again and again repeatedly claim that Media is just one component of a well thought our PR Strategy. It is about deploying a combination of communications tactics used across mediums to continuously shape and influence public opinions.

And in reality all these years I have been running behind media only to get what is obviously expected out of me i.e. Coverage. Even when I moved to the corporate side, no matter what is suggested in the plans, what we actually run behind is the laundry list of things that can be done to get more and more and more Coverage.strategy

Does Strategy include coming up with few bright ideas that are synergistic with branding/business objectives of the company? Does it mean that the ideas suggested should communicate the key messages that the brand wants to share with its publics/stakeholders?

If the above is correct then the starting point in developing a PR strategy is to first understand the company’s business and communication objectives, and what  is the overall marketing plan   but how many of us really have access to the above information. Ofcourse if we are part of an Integrated overall marketing approach then we can easily come up with a plan on how we can integrate PR in the multi-layered marketing plan.

Then comes creating those key messages and I am sure that most of the PR plans fails to achieve its desired objective because the messages that we create sound like Advertising Slogans and fail to create messages that resonates with the target audience?. Why should a journalist turn into a company’s sales representative and start broadcasting your ad messages? Hence understanding and drafting the appropriate key messages becomes the most critical part of a PR Strategy. To do this probably we need to dig deep into the company’s business, understand the objectives, challenges faced and link it up to the industry that it operates in and the overall environment that can impact the business sector.

Next may be to try and figure out how we disseminate these messages using various tools that are not as misused, abused and beaten to death like our poor Press Releases. May be through creating Industry relevant White papers, case studies, hard hitting opinion pieces that can go on to establish the company as  an industry thought leaders. Working along with the media or industry bodies in creating round tables for industry relevant discussions can also go a long way in extending credibility amongst the company’s stakeholders. Tracking and negotiating speaking opportunities in seminars, conferences can also increase the chances of company spokespeople to been seen as opinion makers by the journalists.

But to achieve the above it is important that the company top management works with its PR partners more actively. They may agree with you but in the end nothing may actually happen and the reasons can be many such as lack of content, lack of time quick approvals from the company’s end  on content that  is  quintessential to drive the above. Spokespersons may not be adequately trained or lack confidence to speak at various forums etc., So the responsibility of the PR partners is to then gauge the problems and help bridge the gap by aiding the client to develop the required materials using their own in-house resources and domain expertise. Invest in training the spokespeople and help build their confidence.

Again easier said than done but if we are able to do that then, we would be the most valued partners for the company and the CEO. We would not be seen as postmen/vendors/aggregators but knowledge partners.

Now, coming back to my earlier question. Do the above qualify to be called as a PR Strategy? If not then please enlighten me and folks like me and help to understand  how to draft a PR strategy? Your comments, feedback will be most welcome. You can leave your comments on my blog or just drop a line on Twitter @vikramkharvi.


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Categorised in: Public Relations, Vikypedia Exclusives

26 Responses »

  1. Vikram – your understanding of strategy is right. While working with KPMG, we rejected every single idea of the PR agency because they were so superficial and tactical. And because they never bothered to understand our business, looked at our competition and market scenario, they could not understand what we wanted.

    And what I don’t understand is that despite knowing what PR in strategic terms means, you say you always worked on the media plan. Is it because that (media) is what your leadership is looking for or your clients were looking for? I know sometimes, this is the handicap of a PR person but trust me, in the last 15 years, I haven’t come up with more than a couple of people who really got the strategy. And this is probably the reason why PR remains very low in the value chain in India. And that is why, most of the PR guys and agencies are poorly paid.

  2. Another hard-hitting article Vikram! There is an urgent need for both agencies and clients to discuss their marketing plans in detail and see how PR can be aligned with it in order to complement it. A PR strategy made in isolation can never achieve the results that clients truly appreciate. Most of the work that agencies do in India is tactical and media coverage-driven.
    May be in the years to come, the industry will mature and PR will become more strategic in nature. PR pros will earn more respect and agencies can charge higher fees and establish credibility in the minds of clients and media.

  3. Good article. Vikram. I wish the corporate sector here in India had more thinkers like you who “get” it. What you touch here is equally applicable to strategy as a whole. We are in the knowledge business and so many of us just dont realise it. Perhaps because it is easier to come up with tactics? Perhaps it fits with our obsession with immediate results. Coming up with tactics gives us a sense of “action” and keeps us busy and away from the difficult questions. Also, in my experience we clients sometimes give you enough information to take you from tactics to strategy.

  4. The most important thing is targeting very well the stakeholders of the company to which launch a PR campaign, understand very well the business of the company (you can interview the top managers of the company about the different areas of business), and the goals of the company to be reached, that could be different in the various life’s circumstances of the company about goals/problem to reach or resolve. And it is important to understand also that different stakeholders have different desires and need to satisfy their wants.

    Just after that the messages of the company will be strategic. And strategy means, as you already said, which is the best way (art of war) to reach the goals. The different industries in which the companies work need different way of strategies and influence the approach.

    But it is important in writing a message to be easy, clear and honest and not overloaded and superfluous about the company. To be neutral as possible. Messages aren’t advertising and media is just one of the deeds to disclosure your message. Companies need to prepare a “communication platform” with brochures, information material, internet site, but need also to organize events, to talk with different stakeholders (inside or external the company) and to address the right communication to the different stakeholders.

    And now good war!

  5. Vikram, you have nailed in your above paragraphs with regard to your question, What is a PR Strategy?

    1. Understand the client’s business and who are the customers (could be B2B OR B2C)
    2. Get hold of the Marketing Plan
    3. Understand the objectives very clearly (Marketing, Financial, Communication and overall objectives of the company)
    4. Do a thorough research about the company (Quantitative & Qualitative) which should include all the stakeholders of the company
    5. After the research, match all the results with the company’s Objectives (Marketing, Financial, communication and overall, relevant to all the stakeholders)
    6. Come up with the one “Big Idea”
    7. Build your PR tactics around the Big Idea – How would you deploy the Big Idea using all the communication tools to target various stakeholders

    Unfortunately, Indian PR agencies do not have a dedicated Research and Planning Department, this is very critical to understand the client’s business without which we cannot come up with “Big Idea”. Internationally this is a very common practice and there also various tools which help you to conduct an in-depth client research and also to arrive at a “Big Idea”.

    I hope I have been able to Sum up and explain in brief! In Fact I must congratulate you to have come up with such a thought!

  6. Dear Dipankar,

    I couldn’t agree with you more on the steps to adopt prior to building your plan and for creating a sound foundation for it. But sadly speaking in the Indian business scenario try digging so deep to create a PR plan and you will be met with a wall. Not a single company will be willing to divulge their data as we will find many chinks in the armour so to speak. Maybe that is why in India PR is not used as an important tool in building the brand and the image and that is why the PR Industry does not get its due.

  7. Public Relations is the strategic crafting of your story, your message.
    Publicity is the result of your story being placed in front of your target audience through social, print and electronic media. Public Relations goes beyond telling your story to engaging your public in conversations. It’s about connecting and building relationships.

  8. Traditionally PR has five components that can be leveraged to create an image in the audience’s mind – Events and sponsorships, Media relations, Corporate communications (Internal and External), counseling, community relations and lobbying. A PR strategy should be based on most of these parameters. Unfortunately businesses have traditionally seen PR (and promotion at large) as tactical tools to achieve visibility and therefore PR practitioners have little exposure to the business objectives of their clients. Typically interaction with the client would be based on a brief, were the client talks about what he wants the PR agency to do for him but will never discuss what his original need is (which is sales valued at Rs X) and allow the PR company to come up with the best strategy to help achieve that over time.

    Some good examples of international PR strategy are available online. I particularly liked the KFC PR campaign in the US. It s a good read to understand the variety of initiatives a PR professional can do.

  9. Vikram – very few really get what strategy is. As you said, it is an intimidating word. Just as “gimme a plan” is. The problem lies in a lack of training and guidance. Usually because the guides are promoted on their ability to generate new business in agencies. The unguided then proceed to do what they know best. Generate media coverage. Usually that means any coverage. So strategy will be placing a story in a leading news outlet. The simplest and shortest way to differentiate a strategy and a tactic (that generates coverage) is to assess is whether your “strategy” has created a change in behaviour. E.g. Change in consumer behaviour from a non-buyer to a buyer. If it does, you have a winning strategy. If not, you have generated noise with no impact. This is where creativity, the ability to think outside the box comes in. Strategy gives direction… What needs to be done. Tactics, support the strategy… They give the route to achieve the desired direction that the strategy has laid out… It defines the how, as against the what of strategy. Hope this helps.

  10. it should be Art of managing Corporate war!

  11. Vikram, you see to have grasped what a strategy is now, but what you mentioned to your former boss was definitely just tactics. A strategy sets out the over-arching plan of how you intend to do what you want to do. It should be informed by organisational commercial objectives and the audiences/stakeholder/decision maker/influencers you need to target. It should include the core messaging, as well as measurement. It is true that many agencies pay little attention to strategy, instead getting stuck straight into tactical activity at the coal face. It’s easier to demonstrate value, or so they believe. Without a strategy, PR activity can lack purpose, cohesion and ultimately do nothing to support commercial objectives.

  12. Very honest and real. A lot of persons practicing cannot explain what they do, and hence the constant battle for the profession to get fully recognized and be accepted as a valued contributor in the C-suite. The continuing debate between marketing and pr also is telling and the low barrier or non existent barrier to being able to call yourself a public relations professional does not help.

  13. Now this piece will definitely make us storm our mind about many such one words like “PR Strategy”, through which we tend to impress 100 of our clients but still don’t know how…, even after a year of working in PR field. It’s really important to understand such terms at an early stage of the career.

    Thanks Sir for bringing it in notice.

  14. Good one Vikram! Spoke like a teacher.

  15. Thought Provoking Article….Thanks for writing on this Topic….

    PR Strategy ….This word we use more in our college classroom less in office…. ‘COVERAGE’ word occupy more space in our Brain than PR Strategy…..So Strategy OR Coverage?? …..Is it Big Yaksha’s Question??? Nope …Strategy is the First step & Coverage is the End Result…Then why we still run behind later one….???

    We learned in our classrooms that we are Communication Strategy Professionals……& Our work is to create & enhance the company’s Goodwill, which help them to achieve other objectives of the company.

    Vikram , I am agree with you that we need to dig deep into the company’s business,developments in a company’s Market, understand the objectives, challenges faced and link it up to the industry that it operates in and the overall environment that can impact the business sector. And after understanding these things, drafting the appropriate key messages becomes the most critical part of a PR Strategy.

    But sad part is….. Background Search & Analysis lacks in our PR Industry….but How we can communicate to the world , if we don’t know past, present & future of the company??

  16. To me a PR strategy is a roadmap towards achieving the ultimate goal – Brand Identity. A well-rounded strategy would involve a long term roadmap broken up into, and / or complimented by multiple short term ones.

    Coverage is a by product, it is NOT the end result. Coverage leads to formation of opinions. How we, as PR pros, shape those opinions is what should matter. In this sense, more than quantity it is the quality that matters.

    Easier said than done! And definitely an uphill task explaining this to clients!

  17. To me a PR strategy is a roadmap towards achieving the ultimate goal – Brand Identity. A well-rounded strategy would involve a long term roadmap broken up into, and / or complimented by multiple short term ones.

    Coverage is a by product, it is NOT the end result. Coverage leads to formation of opinions. How we, as PR pros, shape those opinions is what should matter. In this sense, more than quantity it is the quality that matters.

    Easier said than done! And definitely an uphill task explaining this to clients!

  18. Interesting question – this has made me also ask several times what is PR strategy. Let me first share that media (today it is in VARIOUS forms, shapes and sizes) is among the most important tool in my opinion to implement the PR plan …and it is how strategically the PR plan is implemented is what I have learnt (or still learning). It is definitely ‘not about one size fitting all’ – Galvanise works with challenger brands, trust me , it is a uphill task to think how do we sell/ pitch to our clients’s end TA and we are thinking outside of the box, not only that, we are also making an effort to understand the media (different forms) on how best to leverage them.

    To build , and implement a PR Strategy, it is important for the people involved to understand the client, the industry, competitors, TA – and this in my opinion requires investment of time (there is no short cut) which could be a challenge at times.

  19. Good question Vikram! As a former journalist, I’ve often wondered about this myself. I invite all members of this group to enlighten both Vikram and me about this often-used –but probably poorly-understood — expression!

  20. Hi Vikram,
    The above asks and then pretty much answers the question. I’ll add that an agency most certainly ought to have an intimate understanding of, much less access to its clients’ business strategy. If not, why not? Only reason is there may not really be one, which frankly wouldn’t be all that unusual. That’s a problem!
    Also will offer this article which I use to help tease out strategic direction for PR campaigns.-
    Doing this can be “challenging” because often the management team isn’t in agreement or is invested in doing things the old, non-strategic way or they have some seriously mistaken ideas about what constitutes a strategy. For that problem, I highly recommend “Good Strategy/Bad Strategy” by Richard Rumelt. Its the best ever on understanding what makes up an effective strategy and what doesn’t. A CEO’s or CFO’s goals and wishes aren’t “strategies.”
    Another extremely valuable book for marketing communications and PR pros is Jack Trout’s “Differentiate Or Die.” If a PR campaign doesn’t have, at its strategic core, the aim of establishing a differentiated position for the client’s or sponsor ‘s brand in the mind of the market, then you can bet a lot of time and money are being wasted!

  21. I like Tami’s suggestion but it only goes so far along that same media relations/publicity tack (apologies if I have misinterpreted you Tami). For me the broader communications of a business or service are: Internal communications to get your staff on board, meaningful engagement with your customers (in the public sector that means consulting them about changes for example), developing relationships with partners you may want/need to work with, developing relationships with key influencers on your business (eg regulators, government local/national), developing relationships with key stakeholders.
    Your strategy means aligning internal and external messaging in concert with the organisation’s overall business strategy or corporate plan and not just the marketing strategy

  22. This is great.

    Understand the client and the organizational goals/mission.
    ID the challenge
    ID the audiences (internal and external)
    ID the PR objective and desired outcome.
    Brainstorm on strategies.
    Make a plan
    Implement the tactics
    Be flexible and adapt as necessary
    Monitor results.

  23. I guess Bianca covered very important point of Internal Assessment of the company. Whilst PR is all about Internal / External Communication, it is imperative for the organization to involve PR in major aspects of risk management in communication. Chances are marketing might overlook the most important aspect of company image in pursuit of product promotions, branding, it is the PR whose job is to see these aspects are not ignored or missed. The other thing is PR is not all about supporting Marketing strategies or customer satisfaction, these is partially well handled by the hierarchy in the company, it is the overall strategy of how to complement the HR in development of positive culture and show case the company as a Responsible Company in the business and social world. All depends on the Top boss’s what they want from their PR, otherwise there is no strategy, “PR” is just a tool for networking / liasoning with the right person in the world for the company.

  24. I might be late in commenting but a simple way to understand Objective, Strategy and Tactics is – While playing a football – scoring a goal is the objective, attacking from the right flank is the strategy and Beckham will take the free kick would be the tactic.. translating into PR .. I might open it for the group to come with some examples..

  25. The plan which can be changed as per the client requirements is currently termed as strategy. (a practical definition)

  26. agree with u vikram ,we need to think seriously on this matter

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Disclaimer: The thoughts expressed by me in this blog are my personal views and do not represent the views of my employer or the organizations I have been associated with. I believe in the principle of sharing information. Feel free to link to any of the posts in this blog.
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