How to Craft a Fresh PR Program

By Matt Mendolera-Schamann

The first quarter of each year is often filled with new launches, new goals, and even new faces. In my experience, there’s a healthy balance between looking back at what was accomplished the year prior and planning for what’s coming down the pike. Working with stellar brands, and alongside smart, creative and passionate colleagues, makes the planning process quite simple: let’s do more of what we’ve done in the past, and amplify what worked really well. That’s a no-brainer, right?

We are persistent and results-driven here, so it’s no surprise that when we take a step back and look at our work, there are numerous success stories. Yet we try to avoid resting on that past success by infusing some fresh – and critical – thinking before replicating any PR program. Even our most successful programs can benefit from a refresh every once in a while. And just because we hit most – or all – of the agreed upon goals doesn’t mean there weren’t weaknesses, gaps or other opportunities to do a better job. Given that, here are four considerations we can – and should –  bear in mind when reflecting on successful programs.

Be honest about what didn’t work out so well – and why.

This is the easy one – even if last year or the past quarter was marked with huge wins and impressive hits, there are bound to be a few misses, and it makes sense to examine why they occurred to avoid the same mistakes in the future. Perhaps we were too ambitious when identifying media targets for a particular product launch or company story? Or perhaps we weren’t ambitious enough? Maybe a tradeshow we attended was too crowded and we didn’t have big enough news to break through the noise, or an announcement wasn’t as well received as we anticipated it would be? There could even be tactical elements that fell short. Regardless of what the cause was, there are bound to be a few examples where we collectively didn’t knock it out of the park – and those are areas where we can improve in the future to deliver stronger results.

Think about what might not work again.

This is a tricky one – of course we want to keep doing what’s worked in the past. But often, an idea can turn into a great hit simply because the planets align at exactly the right moment. So a “rinse and repeat” approach may seem like a good idea, but then fail to land a second time around. What can we do to overcome this? Sometimes it’s as simple as finding a new angle to the story or a new way to deliver the news, e.g., proposing a follow-up with new data or statistics to create a new narrative for the new year or bringing everyone together for a dinner or a mixer to talk about what’s changed in the industry and with the company. Develop some creative mailers or unique experiential deliveries that introduce products to new people with seasonal or topical angles, or that spotlight any new additions since they first encountered it. The point is, mixing it up may make the most sense, even if last year’s plan delivered on every front.

Apply lessons from one part of the plan to others – even if they aren’t exactly the same.

One of the biggest lessons I learned from experience is that our best work often comes from simply asking each other about what we’re doing and taking inspiration from one another. Of course, it’s not revolutionary to suggest cross-agency brainstorms and collaboration – that happens every day. But sometimes we overlook taking that step even within our own account teams. Is there one vertical that gets considerably more media attention than another? Take a look at why, and see how we can get what we need to make it happen for the other. For one of our consumer clients, we had several small news announcements, so instead of parceling it out month-by-month, we took a gamble and created a press showcase event to tell one big holistic story by previewing everything at once. It drove excitement and collectively, felt “bigger.”

Look at what others are doing and infuse new inspiration into your program.

In PR, we sometimes run the risk of keeping ourselves in a bubble. We pay attention to how our brand is being talked about and positioned, and we keep our eyes on just about everything our competitors and partners are doing. But we can also learn from what other companies are doing, even if they are not in our exact market. A smart brand is a smart brand. That’s why it’s so important to constantly read publications like Fast Company, Businessweek, Ad Age, PR News, the New York Times and local business journals, and tune into the national morning shows and nightly news programs with regularity. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been inspired or excited by a company feature I heard on NPR, and passed it along to my teams to brainstorm how we could use it to our advantage to develop a new pitch or come up with a similar idea. To make our plans as strong as they can be, we need to pay attention to what other people are doing to experiment and learn, and come up with our own versions of what they have successfully pulled off. Because in the end, nearly every plan is exactly that – an experiment of sorts, backed by educated guesses, creativity, strategic thinking and past experience.