This guide will teach you how to create an effective public relations campaign.
Do you want customers to increase their spend or use your service over competitors? Great, then a well-crafted public relations campaign is vital.
Persuading people to take a leap of faith toward your business doesn’t happen overnight.
You need to gradually build trust and, more often than not, people need to hear your message more than once.
One of the most effective marketing ideas for small business is a strategic public relations campaign. You’ll find it in all the best marketing books.
Here’s what a public relations (PR) campaign can do:
- Raise the profile of a particular service or product for your business
- Persuade people to make a significant behaviour change i.e. choose you over a competitor
- Get involved in a particular project or initiative i.e. join your business’ membership community
- Help raise investment and improve financial trust in your business
A PR campaign is more than just a press release template, it’s a calculated burst of activity, involving all different types of media, that focuses on achieving a specific result.
Done well, a campaign can produce amazing results for an organisation.
Think the ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ for ALS – this little known charity was propelled to global fame with one campaign. Plus it raised millions in funds and gained celebrity backers that included Mark Zuckerburg and Bill Gates.
Impactful PR campaigns have traditionally only been the remit of expensive agencies.
But in this guide, I’m going to share the secrets of what makes a successful public relations campaign so that anyone can implement one for their business. There is even such a thing as free PR.
Here’s what I’m going to cover:
- What is a public relations campaign?
- How to plan a campaign
- The best way to choose a standout message
- What media collateral will you need
- How to maximise your campaign media coverage
- Using influencers in your campaign
- Integrating social media in your campaign
- What are the risks to your public relations campaign?
- How to measure the success of your campaign
Let’s get to it!
What is a public relations campaign?
A public relations (PR) campaign is a series of planned activities that are all focused on achieving a specific outcome for a business.
This could be creating a behaviour change such as buying a new product or investing in a new service.
It could be a campaign asking for support or with a particular call to action. For example, making a donation to a charity or writing to your politician to ask for the government to take action on an issue.
Agreeing to a specific objective at the start of the activity not only makes it easier to plan and execute the campaign, but also to measure its success.
A well-crafted public relations campaign often uses a combination of both earned media/mainstream media (TV, radio, digital, print) and owned media (website, social media, newsletter, etc).
Often a company will choose spokespeople or celebrities to head up the campaign and drive engagement.
Increasingly organisations are working with influencers to share their message with their own audiences.
Like Influencer and Love Island star Alex Miller who supported the #Mentalhealthistrending movement pioneered by Heartknoxx. The campaign generates awareness days for mental illnesses and raises profits for the Mental Health Foundation.
Whilst much of the PR work is planned in advance, there is also a reactive element to any successful campaign, particularly as it builds in momentum.
It’s the job of PR to continually manage the message, to keep the campaign focused and ensure it achieves its goal.
How is a PR campaign different from a PR Plan?
A PR campaign is a planned series of activities over a relatively short period of time, focused on one main objective. PR plans map out activity over a longer period of time, often with multiple objectives and focusing on different brand elements.
How to plan a public relations campaign
The saying, ‘Fail to prepare then prepare to fail’, couldn’t be truer when it comes to public relations – this is why you need a PR plan.
Successful PR campaigns are, without exception, well researched and meticulously planned.
Before you do any media work or reach out to influencers, you need to nail down the following:
- Objective – what do you want to achieve
- Message – what you are going to say to ensure you achieve your objective
- Audience – who is your campaign targeting
Once these are agreed, all activity can then flow from them.
For example, the type of media you approach during the campaign will depend on the audience. Who do you want to target during the campaign? What behaviour do you want to change?
The media you work with will also be dependent on the message. What does the campaign need to say to get the people you want to respond. And which media will be open to that message?
Start by clarifying your objective. Be as precise as possible.
If you want to raise brand awareness, think about which element of the brand you want to promote specifically and for what purpose – increasing sales, driving web traffic or even recruiting new staff.
If you want to change opinion amongst your customer base then understand why they hold their views and how you need to reassure them.
The devil is in the detail.
Don’t forget to measure
Most importantly make sure that your objectives are measurable. Set targets and time frames.
Liaise with your marketing communications or business development team and ensure that your goals are aligned with the overarching business objectives.
There’s no point trying to raise awareness about a product if it’s set to be discontinued in a couple of months.
And it’s not worthwhile trying to change opinion about one element of the business if there’s another issue which is a far greater risk to the company.
Once you’ve agreed your objective then you need a razor-sharp message to help you achieve it.
How to choose a standout message
Your message is the single most powerful element of your campaign.
Get it right (and get some media training) and it will drive engagement and generate a huge media buzz for your business. Get it wrong, people will switch off and the media will ignore you.
Here are my top five tips for choosing a standout message:
- Be newsworthy
- Have a clear call to action
- Include audience participation
- Be informative
- Dare to be different
1. Be newsworthy
If you want to get traction with the media from your campaign then your message needs to be newsworthy. It must be topical, current and make the journalist sit up and take notice. You must help a reporter out.
Situate your message within the wider news agenda, explain how it is relevant to the media’s audience and what impact it can have on their lives.
This is often quite challenging for businesses, particularly those whose products or services are not typically thought of as newsworthy.
This is where PR needs to become creative, imaginative and humorous. And successful campaigns contain a little bit of all three.
A great example is Paddy Power, the online betting shop, who managed to gain a huge amount of media attention with their ‘Brexit Bunker’ campaign.
Headed up by former Manchester United footballer and Frenchman, Eric Cantona, the campaign suggested that anyone tired of Brexit madness should join them in their Brexit Bunker in the middle of the English Channel.
Timely, humorous and headed up by a football legend, it was a winning campaign.
Was their message taken seriously, did anyone show up at their Brexit Bunker? No, but it did wonders for brand awareness.
2. Have a clear call to action
The most impactful messages are the easiest to understand and have a clear instruction for the audience to follow.
Make it simple for your audience to complete an action (that benefits them), and it will be a no brainer for them to take part.
A great example is the recent ‘sleepover PR campaign’ from IKEA who, having conducted their own research (always a good PR tactic), set about tackling people’s poor sleep habits.
To encourage people to prioritise a good night’s sleep, they invited customers to have a sleepover in one of their stores.
Think, “Hey, struggling to get the perfect night sleep? Then come over for a sleepover and we’ll show you how.” type of message.
Such a quirky and unusual request was bound to get a good response and a tonne of media coverage. All the while increasing brand loyalty and customer engagement in the brand.
3. Include Audience Participation
Get your audience involved in the success of your campaign and not only will they feel more connected to your cause or product, but you’ll benefit from them sharing your message across their networks.
Think ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ for ALS – this little known charity was propelled to global fame with a very simple message. Participants were dared to pour a bucket of ice over their heads in exchange for charity donations, and then nominated a friend to do the same!
The campaign went viral, raising millions in funds (not to mention producing some very amusing ice footage) and gained celebrity backers that included Mark Zuckerburg, Bill Gates and Victoria Beckham.
But the ultimate result is that the millions raised have been credited with funding an important scientific gene discovery – the identification of a new gene that contributes to the disease.
4. Be informative
PR campaigns are a great way to educate consumers. But the best campaigns don’t preach, they engage and inform through opening minds and raising awareness.
A fantastic example is from environmentally friendly cleaning brand, Ecover, who opened a pop-up venue called The Rubbish Café, where consumers were asked to pay for food using plastic rubbish.
Bring in a plastic bottle and get a coffee in return. Genius.
The Ecover message was that 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic have been produced throughout history — 60% of it ended up as waste and more than three quarters of plastic waste goes into landfills.
The promotion was part of the company’s “Clean World Revolution.” It’s aiming for all its packaging to be made from 100% recycled plastic and 100% recyclable by the end of 2022.
5. Dare to be different
Don’t be afraid to turn your existing brand perception upside down. For example, if you’re a serious, conservative charity then do something pretty out there or if you’re a lesser known charity think BIG to get noticed.
To get traction with your campaign you will need to be creative, or even better, disruptive.
One of the best examples of this is from The Dollar Shave Club from back in 2012 (but it’s so good I just had to include it!).
Their disruptive offering, subscribing to razors rather than buy overpriced ones from the supermarket, was coupled with a revolutionary viral video that generated 12,000 new customers in the first 48 hours.
Their message, “Our Blades Are F***ing Great,” was so direct and unashamedly bold that it made everyone sit up and take notice, earning them millions in revenue.
The Dollar Shave Club are an excellent reminder that fortune favours the bold.
What media collateral will you need
You’ll need a variety of different types of media collateral for your campaign depending on the story you are telling and the media you are approaching. Make sure you have them in advance so you can supply them as soon as they are asked for.
Here is a selection of the collateral you’ll need to produce:
A Press Release
Learning how to write a press release is still the most important part of any PR campaign. It must be a well crafted, news ready story that clearly communicates the relevance of your campaign and why a journalist or influencer should take notice of it.
Gone are the days of tedious lists of information and promotional messages about a product. First and foremost a press release must contain NEWS!
A press release has 11 sections so that the story flows just as a news story would. Amongst others, these include an attention grabbing headline, first paragraph, quotes and a boilerplate.
Browse through these public relations examples and see what you can use in your public relations campaign.
Working with the media is not just about having a good media list and calling in favours for your campaign.
What matters most is your presentation of the news story. This holds true for how to get a story on the local news and also for getting national media coverage.
Whether you email or phone journalists you must clearly and succinctly articulate the importance of your campaign and why it will be of interest to their audience.
Use this guide to know how to find someone’s email so you make sure you get to the right journalist.
Then know how to write a media pitch.
Be targeted and personalise everything. Journalists HATE spam. Using a PR tool such as Response Source can help you get to the right person fast.
Respect deadlines and always be prompt in responding to the media. You need to build a relationship of trust ASAP and that means giving them what they need when they ask for it.
If you are just looking to blast your campaign out to 100s of places at once, you can always look into using one of these press release distribution services.
Media ready photos
All media is image-led so make sure you have a library of high res, professionally shot and perfectly styled images to tell the story of your campaign.
Prepare these in advance and ensure you have a variety of portrait and landscape images available. Save them in Dropbox or similar folder so you can easily share them with journalists.
Don’t forget to include your logo too.
News platforms now include video content in most of their stories. Create a short video that summaries your story and gives the audience the headline points in a short space of time – it can be as little as 30 seconds.
The video can be a combination of photos, infographics, interviews and event footage to communicate why your campaign is relevant and what action the audience should take.
Most of the most impactful PR campaigns are made up of human voices to create an emotional connection with the audience.
So you’ll need spokespeople for your campaign, who can be company representatives, celebrities or from case studies of actual customers or people affected by the issue you’re addressing.
Human voices bring personality to a story and make it more relatable for the audience.
Summarising the main points of your campaign story in an attractive infographic is proven to boost engagement because it is easier for the audience to understand.
Not only are consumers overwhelmed with information in the digital world, but they have increasingly short attention spans, so use infographics to stand out and make your campaign as accessible as possible for them.
If your campaign ignites you’ll be inundated with new people interested in your organisation or business. They’ll want more details on your product, extra information about how they can support your work.
You must be equipped to deal with new enquiries otherwise the campaign will be a wasted effort.
Make sure you’re prepared with the necessary marketing materials e.g. brochures, product information sheets, website content and merchandise, so you don’t miss out.
How to maximise your campaign media coverage
Earning media coverage for your campaign is competitive. Journalists are inundated with PR requests, so you must stand out in their cluttered inboxes.
Here are my top 5 tips to help you rise to the challenge:
- Have a newsworthy story
- Work to deadlines
- Think visually
- Make your spokespeople available
- Create media briefings
1. Have a newsworthy story
If you want to earn serious amounts of media coverage the first thing you must do is package your message up in a newsworthy story.
Journalists do not care about your campaign per se, they are only concerned about whether you have news which will be of interest to their audience.
A newsworthy story is, in a nutshell, something which is relevant, topical, and makes people sit up and take notice.
The news is about firsts, innovation or changes in behaviour that affect people en masse.
Sometimes business owners get the imposter syndrome at this point. Does my business really have a story?
I always respond with a resounding YES. Every business, entrepreneur, charity, community organisation has a story you just need to know where to look for it and how to present it.
So we’ve created a special How To Guide on How to Find The Story in Your Business. It comes with a free Story Finder template – a tool for thinking through a business in a systematic way to uncover all the areas in which your stories might be hiding.
2. Work to deadlines
Remember back in the second section of this blog I emphasised the need to plan your campaign if you want to achieve the success your business deserved?
Well, there was a good reason for that.
All types of media work to editorial deadlines and to achieve the most coverage then you need to coordinate the launch and more stories of your campaigns with their deadlines.
When planning your media outreach it also pays to understand the difference between a news story and feature story examples. Each has different deadlines so you’ll need to factor those into your campaign.
But one thing’s for sure – if you want to secure media coverage, you need to work on their deadlines and give them stories when they want them.
Here are some general timelines for pitching your stories:
- Magazines: 3-6 months in advance
- Newspapers: anything between 1 day and 1-3 weeks
- Social media influencers: 1-2 months
- Podcasts: 2-6 weeks
- Radio: 1-2 days
You need to ensure that everyone who’s involved in the creation of your story understands these deadlines.
3. Think visually
Impactful images and compelling video content are essential to the success of your campaign so it’s crucial that you think visually about your story.
Your story might sound good on paper but what does it look like on camera?
If you are successful in approaching TV then where would the feature be shot? If a news crew turns up on your business’ doorstep where is good to look good on camera?
If you have a multi-story campaign then prioritise which stories should be pitched to TV by their visual appeal.
For example, our agency Arc Seven Communications worked with a UK based dementia research charity and supported them to celebrate their 30th birthday.
Instead of issuing a generic ‘We are 30’ press release, we focused on the most visually interesting aspect of their work – a brain bank that homes more than 1000 human brains.
We provided exclusive access to TV and the local newspaper (who filmed the tour) and both generated a tonne of coverage and increased awareness of BRACE’s work.
4. Make sure your spokespeople are available
This might sound obvious but make sure your spokespeople are available to give media interviews.
Time and time again I have worked with businesses and charities who launch fantastic campaigns but when it comes to media work their spokespeople let them down.
Don’t pitch to the breakfast news if your spokespeople aren’t available for a 6 am interview. If you don’t have anyone comfortable on camera then don’t approach TV.
And make sure they have transport available to get them to the studios on time – you can’t be late for live broadcasting!
5. Create media briefings
Remember all that time you spent carefully planning and articulating your campaign’s message?
The last thing that you want is your spokespeople going off message. They’ll miss the opportunity that you’ve worked so hard to create.
It’s not about creating robots but there is a very short space of time to deliver the message during an interview. You only have the audience’s attention for a moment before they move on to the next story, so you need to nail it.
Ensure that every public face of your campaign has been briefed on the message. Why it was chosen and what it is trying to achieve.
Create briefing notes that they read through before every interview. Work with them prior to filming to make sure they are comfortable with what they have to say.
How to use influencers in your campaign
Partnering with influencers or micro influencers is now an important tactic in many public relations campaigns – we call this influencer marketing.
It’s a no-brainer. Influencers have an organic and engaged following, who want to hear more about the influencer’s life and experiences.
So if you and your campaign can strike up a genuine relationship with an influencer, one where they truly care about your product or issue, then the gain can be huge.
But be cautious of insincere partnerships. If your campaign is not a good fit with the influencers values or the audience can tell that the support is disingenuous then there can be a backlash.
An example of an influencer partnership done well is the campaign to raise awareness about the importance of cervical screening in the UK.
The number of women in the UK who are participating in cervical cancer checks has hit a 20-year low.
Public Health England and cervical cancer charities worked with Michelle Keegan who vlogged about her smear test.
The influencer admitted she had been putting it off “for quite a long time”, ignoring numerous letters and encouraged other women to get theirs done.
The partnership ran alongside other media work and events and has resulted in a great deal of media interest.
How to integrate social media in your campaign
Effective use of social media is an integral part of any PR campaign.
Of course, the priority focus is to earn media coverage, but generating engagement on social comes a close second.
Here are five ways you can use social to extend the reach of your campaign:
- Preview your campaign to build anticipation around the launch
- Use live broadcasting from campaign events
- Share your campaign content
- Share your coverage
- Use social media advertising to boost interaction
1. Preview your campaign to build anticipation around the launch
Offer exclusive preview content to build anticipation and warm up audiences before a launch. Include a call to action e.g. pre-book your launch tickets or sign up for launch offers.
Creating an engaged list that is waiting for the campaign material will help generate traction from the get-go, boosting the campaign’s potential to go viral.
2. Use live broadcasting from campaign events
Take advantage of the live broadcasting opportunities on social media – they’re a proven way to increase engagement in your content.
Film your launch event, interview participants, get spokespeople to talk to the camera, just as you would do if they were on TV. This content will be useful so you know how to write a press release for an event.
3. Share your campaign content
Maximise the engagement of specially created campaign content by sharing it across all your social media platforms. The content may have been created for mainstream media but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be used elsewhere.
4. Share your coverage
If you’re secured a story in the media then be proud and share it on social to extend the reach of the story with new audiences who may not have seen it. This will also help to build confidence in your campaign as you have been endorsed by a trusted media source.
If you earn national coverage then try @ing your regional media so that they can cover it too. Regional media are always looking for a way into a national story so they will respond positively.
5. Use social media advertising to boost interaction
If one of your stories is generating more traction than others, or has been featured in the media and is getting a very positive response, then maximise its impact and give it a boost by putting spend behind it.
This will help it reach new audiences. You already know that it is of interest to certain demographics you’ll be able to be a lot more targeted in your spend.
How to measure the success of your campaign
Here’s where your planning comes into its own. You can pat yourself on the back that you spent so much time clarifying your objective and being so targeted in your goals.
Now it will be so much easier for you to measure the campaign’s success – have you reached your goal? If not, why not?
I recommend reviewing your campaign as you go along, instead of leaving it all until the end of the campaign. Set your review period (a few days, a week, etc) and then be nimble, respond to the feedback as quickly as possible.
Are you generating the traction that you predicted? Is your message being well received or does it need tweaking?
Traditionally there have been challenges around quantifying the impact that PR campaigns have on a brand, because of the very nature of public relations.
We’re not in the busy of the hard sell. PR is about persuading and nudging people to take an action. Therefore, the results of a campaign can often be delayed and difficult to measure.
Here are a few questions you can ask:
- What was the response in numbers to your specific campaign call to action?
- Has there been an increase in web traffic over the time period?
- Was there an increase in followers and engagement on social media?
- Have there been more signups to your database?
- Has the rate of opt-ins to lead magnets improved?
- Have you seen online sales improve?
Qualitative data is just as important as quantitative when it comes to brand positioning and managing a brand’s reputation.
Think holistically. Look at the different ways the PR campaign has brought added value to your different brand elements.
You can do that by answering these questions:
- Has there been any change in how your brand is viewed by target audiences?
- How were your key messages received and what response did they get?
- Were they believed?
- Were there any negative responses?
Use PR to help boost your SEO
Many major media platforms have a rule that they don’t include links to companies that they feature within their stories. So if you need your PR to help boost your SEO then remember to include smaller influencers, blogs and more niche news sites in your campaign.
These sites often do include links and as long as the sites have a strong domain authority they’ll be great for SEO.
Don’t forget the power of outbound links. Even if you don’t get a link from the media, you can still include a link to the coverage on your site. SEO performance also reflects the quality and quantity of outbound links from your site.
If you’re continually monitoring your SEO, then be simply using your normal metrics, you’ll be able to calculate the positive impact of your media coverage. Make sure you use one of the best media monitoring services to track your success.
Now it’s your turn to start a public relations campaign
Define your goal, nail your message and target your media. Launch a successful public relations campaign and it will be rocket fuel for your brand’s growth, propelling your business to the next level.
And if you’re ready to take your PR work to the next level grab our PR Starter Kit.
Our must-have kit has every template, script, strategy and guide you’ll ever need to do all your public relations jobs.