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First principles of effective PR

A practical guide for effective PR in the 21st century

When we attended a conference about Public Relations in London in the summer of 2015, we were overwhelmed. According to most of the specialists there, PR was dead – long live content marketing.

The amount of cynicism from PR professionals was highly uncomfortable. There was a lack of confidence in the future and complete confusion about what PR is. Instead of coming home refreshed and inspired, we felt like we had just attended the funeral of PR.

We don't think the future of PR looks that bleak, or that PR is dying.

In fact, we believe the rise of PR is only just beginning.

Yes, PR is often misused, and yes, companies often get it wrong. But that only means it’s time to get back to the core and help the field of PR mature into adulthood.

It’s always easier to say what people are doing wrong than it is to get to the root of the problem and do your PR right. Although we have the technology to make your PR campaigns that much easier and more effective, the success of your campaign depends on you.

Remember the dark patterns of PR we discussed in the previous chapters?

To help you on your way, we’ve developed guidelines that will help you nail PR campaigns and win at your job. Some campaigns will hit home, while others will miss the mark. Maybe the timing was off, or the journalists you targeted have fallen ill. Some factors are simply not in your control. At least you will be able to rest assured knowing you’ve given it your all if you follow these steps.

Begin with a purpose

The foundation of a good PR strategy lies in the purpose of your company.

Starting with your purpose seems simple enough, until you find out it isn’t. If you’ve been keeping up with the list of most-viewed TED talks ever, you’ve seen How great leaders inspire action by Simon Sinek. He carried out a major study of how great leaders and brands communicate. Guess what he found – effective communication starts and ends with purpose.

This is not a new insight. As Sinek shows, inspiring people have been communicating differently throughout history. The internet has just sped up all aspects of life, making communication more important than ever. Even if your competitors can create an instant copy of your product or service, they can’t copy the culture and purpose that back up your brand.

That’s why it’s so crucial to sell the broader idea behind your company.

If you want to build sustainable relationships with your audience, you need to realise the world doesn’t revolve around you. Your audience may consist of customers, shareholders or journalists. They should be the centre of your universe, and you should communicate with them accordingly. People care about what you stand for.

Whether it’s ecological footprints, corporate transparency or the way your company views its place in society – honest and clear communication about your products and services is key.

The importance of a strong foundation

The range of available communication strategies becomes infinite once you know the foundation on which to build them.

That’s the moment you stop selling a product and start selling a point of view.

 Which sounds more straight-forward than it actually is: too many companies fail to rise to the occasion and stop trying to push their product down the throats of consumers.

Many companies and brands act and communicate as if they are preaching the awesomeness of their product to the world. ‘We do this’ and ‘we have that’. But if companies are flowers and products are pollen, bees can simply fly on to the next one to get their fix. It’s the colour and scent that make your flower stand out.

In today’s reality, the field of flowers stretches as far as the internet can see. Your purpose is the foundation of your communication strategy. It’s the heart of the flower those beautiful petals are attached to. The more solid your foundation, the more embellishments it can carry. And the more embellishments your foundation carries, the more beautiful your flower will be.

People care about your purpose

Perception is what matters most in this consumer-centric age. Your audience is conscious and critical about your company and, above all, your intentions. It’s never been more important to plan your communication strategy around your purpose – it shows what you’re about.

One of the companies that has been nailing it for decades is Red Bull. Think about it: what do extreme sports have to do with an overly sweet beverage that doesn’t even taste particularly great?

That’s the cool thing about Red Bull. The brand is very much not about energy drinks, even though the product very much is. Red Bull has become one of the biggest sponsors of extreme sports out there and has built a veritable monster of a publishing company. If we’re talking flower petals, theirs are some of the brightest ones around. And here’s the kicker: Red Bull is synonymous with extreme sports in 2015, but when the company was founded 27 years ago the association between sports and energy drinks had never been made.

And the foundation that makes it all possible? The belief that you can do more than you ever thought you could, simply by finding the energy and creativity – in a can or elsewhere.

Key learnings

Get started

To get down to the foundation of your brand, you have to start by asking yourself ‘why’. Why did I start this company? Why does my organisation even exist? And, more importantly: why should people buy or use my product?

If you’ve answered your ‘why’ but you still can’t explain to your grandma why your business exists, you’re doomed. You need to come up with a one-sentence pitch that makes crystal clear what your company stands for. Practice it, embrace it, preach it.

Set a BHAG

Then set a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (or BHAG) for your company.

Your BHAG is your purpose on steroids. It’s an over-the-top, long-term mission statement that seems impossible and improbable. And although you may not always want to communicate it literally, you’d be surprised where chasing your BHAG may take you.