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How to develop a PR strategy

February 22, 2023
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When most people think “PR,” they probably picture that iconic, power-suited PR professional with a flip phone glued to their ear (think: Samantha Jones from Sex and the City). The industry  has changed considerably since the 90s, and so has the process of creating a public relations strategy that has what it takes to secure attention in the digital era.

Today, companies are working with a public that generally doesn’t trust “the media.”1 Successful PR strategies must prioritize purpose, transparency, and parity—and rather than shape top-down communications,  PR efforts should strive to start conversations.

PR success is built gradually, and rarely linearly, with each strategy bespoke to the organization it’s designed for. That said, there are six questions brands must answer to create a PR plan that seeks a two-way relationship with its target audience (as much as it tells a captivating story).

Public Relations agency

#1 What type of story does our business want to tell?

Businesses that are just beginning to plan a successful PR strategy might begin by considering the following question: Are they striving to maintain their current reputation? Or are they seeking to shape it?

Beyond these two objectives (which can alternate over time), there are several sub-disciplines of PR that most publicists recognize:2

  • Finance or investor relations communications.
  • Governmental or NGO communications.
  • Corporate communications.
  • Executive communications.
  • Internal communications.
  • Media relations (digital or traditional).
  • Crisis communications.

Ultimately, every successful PR campaign is a form of storytelling. Each of the above PR categories tends to lend itself to a certain flavor or tenor of story layered alongside that initial PR goal: reputation maintenance or reputation enhancement.

As a comparison, take the following examples:

  • A sneaker brand undergoing a manufacturing scandal – They’ll likely need a crisis public relations strategy designed to shape—specifically, recuperate—public trust to stay solvent.
  • A local college that wants to showcase its value in the local community – Depending on its current reputation, this college may be looking to maintain (or enhance) public perception. They might take a cue from Community PR, Corporate PR, or even Internal PR to tell a story about their farm-to-table dining program designed to support local agriculture as well as student health.

#2 Who needs to hear our story?

Once the brand story has been decided, the next step is to define who would benefit from hearing it: their target audience (in PR terms, their public).2 

For this endeavor, every good PR strategy benefits from calling on data acquired from their marketing wing. A few of the best ways businesses can determine their target constituents include:

  • User data about things like location, age group, interests and so on acquired through website audits.
  • Customer or audience personas that indicate the type(s) of demographics a business was designed to reach and build a relationship with.
  • Issuing user surveys, which collect self-reported data from voluntary participants.

There are plenty of PR initiatives that may speak to a vast public full of many different audient segments. For example, the CDC might pursue a PR campaign to shore up public faith in credibility in the aftermath of a global health crisis. 

That said, the majority of businesses can paint a much more nuanced portrait of who their public is, which might include:

  • Their age range.
  • Their interests and hobbies.
  • Their education levels.
  • Their social media habits.
  • A shared problem they possess.
  • Their spending power.

Defining a brand’s public is equally indispensable for deciding how they’ll relate their story as well as which media outlet heir story is likely to gain positive traction within. 

#3 Why do they need to hear our story?

One of the publicists’ primary roles is to crystallize why a business’ story deserves its audience’s attention in the first place. Justifying why a brand deserves press is evermore important today, when consumers have a deep desire to support organizations that do more than voice their purpose—they act on them.3

Two examples of brands that have epitomized actualizing their “why” include:

  • Patagonia – One of the top companies leading the environmental charge today, the outdoor apparel brand Patagonia has performed exceptionally in defining and standing by its mission.4 Their core values—like high-quality products and low-impact manufacturing—align with a public whose “why” is proactive environmental stewardship.5
  • Airbnb – Airbnb defines its nuts-and-bolts mission as “creating an end-to-end travel platform” that can help travelers organize every detail of their journey. This nuts-and-bolts goal underpins a more philosophical objective: global citizenship. As such, Airbnb says its mission is “to create a world where anyone can belong anywhere.”6

#4 How does our audience currently perceive our brand?

Measuring success via key metrics is one of the sweet spots where PR and marketing overlap. Qualitative data (how audiences feel about a business) can be assessed in many ways, whether by conducting user intent surveys, performing a  social media audit on comments or even calculating the average watch time for branded content. But where PR is concerned, it’s equally important to seek out quantitative methods of measuring the scope and nature of brand awareness. Companies can look into:

  • Branded search volume, or how many people were searching specifically for a brand on search engines.
  • Organic search traffic, which assesses traffic acquired from companies’ rankings on SERPs.
  • Paid search traffic, which assesses traffic garnered through companies’ paid ad campaigns.
  • Share of voice (SOV), which compares how much of a company’s industry they dominate in comparison to their competitors.

Many newer companies, or those just beginning to build name recognition, have to ask themselves a different question altogether: Does our audience perceive us, period?

If the answer is no, most PR initiatives will be strengthened by championing a marketing plan before, or at least while, the PR strategy is taking off. Marketing is all about generating an audience, while PR is a go-to for building and shaping relationships that already exist.

#5 What are our goals, and what resources do we have to allocate to them?

Most companies treat PR as an extension of their marketing budget. The amount of money they siphon into it depends on factors like:7

  • What they’re looking to achieve.
  • How much money they have to spend.
  • How many non-monetary resources (like the internal team’s bandwidth) they’ll really be able to allocate toward their goals.

While an enormous, globally-sized streaming service may have a built-in PR wing ready to pounce on any potentially damaging headlines, a boutique supplement company might prefer a strategy that won’t eat into the budget (like team members’ relationships with music journalists). 

Not all small companies shy away from spending money on PR, however: In the tech sphere, for instance, many startups pay a lot of money for PR firms that can help them attract the attention of investors.

When deciding on PR goals and a budget for reaching them, every business should decide:

  • What types of earned media would our company benefit from most?
  • What specific outlets can we target (both attainable and aspirational)?
  • Which no-cost (typically social) media channels can we use to drum up a buzz organically?
  • How will our PR goals and our marketing KPIs work together?
  • How often will we measure our PR performance? 
  • Who will be accountable for measuring results?

Another best practice for deciding how much money and effort should be behind a PR strategy is to conduct a risk assessment. What, and how much, does a business stand to lose if they don’t put a robust PR strategy in place?

High-risk companies like financial firms or those dealing with public welfare may be inclined to spend more on their PR initiatives and reputational maintenance. And, generally speaking, if there’s a chance of a company encountering a crisis down the line, it’s a good idea to have a crisis communications plan devised that’s ready to activate if the time ever comes.8

#6 How will we measure our PR performance?

The final core question involved in creating a digital PR strategy is defining the terms with which a firm will gauge its success. Measuring digital PR performance typically involves revisiting those metrics used to gauge public perception in the first place (question #4). 

Any measurement technique will likewise be strengthened by addressing the following key data points:9

  • Where traffic is coming from.
  • Impressions and views on the quality content.
  • Sales and revenue.
  • Social media following.
  • Partner outlets’ domain authority.

With KPIs and benchmarks fleshed out, all that’s left is determining which team members will be responsible for putting the PR plan in motion. 

But like any other relationship, those with the public take work: an ongoing commitment to building trust and mutual benefit. Sometimes, all it takes is an in-house PR team—other times, it takes a village to ensure a good PR strategy is on track for sustained brand growth.

Power up your PR strategy with Power Digital

In a global digital landscape, there’s no “pause” button on the public conversation. For brands, that’s both a blessing and a curse: infinite opportunities to enter the public sphere mean it takes considerable effort to earn and maintain public trust.

If your business is looking to build a  successful PR strategy that’s authentic and adaptable in the current climate, we want to work with you. To partner with an experienced, data-backed PR team that’ll work in lockstep with your custom growth marketing plan, schedule a consultation with Power Digital today. 



  1. Knight Foundation. American views: Trust, media and democracy.
  2. Public Relations Society of America. About Public Relations.
  3. Forbes. The Role of Public Relations in 2022.
  4. Forbes. Patagonia’s Focus On Its Brand Purpose Is Great For Business.
  5. Patagonia. Core values.
  6. Airbnb. Airbnb 2019 Business Update.
  7. Investment News. Are PR firms worth the cost?
  8. Forbes. Should You Budget For PR Services?
  9. Forbes. 14 Key Metrics For Measuring A PR Campaign’s Effectiveness.

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