How to create a successful PR strategy for an uncertain 2021

How to create a successful PR strategy for an uncertain 2021

A solid strategy is the very basis of great PR, but much like New Year's resolutions, it can be tricky to stick with past January. Don't worry – Gini Dietrich & Laura Sutherland are here to help.

This is no ordinary year. In the fallout of the global tailspin that was 2020, we're all having to reassess how we plan and deliver our comms. For most of us, that means reframing what our strategic goals look like – not an easy ask, with purses tightening and the world still in turmoil.

That's why we asked strategy gurus Gini Dietrich of Spin Sucks and Laura Sutherland of PRFest to share their best advice for creating a great public relations plan in the first PR Roundtable of 2021.

Together, they covered a few topics, like...

  • How to use data to create an effective comms strategy for 2021
  • How to plan content that actually aligns with your strategy
  • How to set & measure realistic goals with your clients

If you have an hour to spare, I do recommend giving the full episode a watch here; otherwise, read on for all the juicy details.

Laura Sutherland
Laura SutherlandPR Fest

Quite simply, I don't work with people that don't do strategy.

Get ready to strategize

Establish a working PR strategy

Part 1: Why you need a strategy for public relations

  • To demonstrate the value of your work
  • To get better (and measurable) results
  • To know what tasks are worth your time
  • To stop clients derailing your work
  • To advance in your public relations career

Without strategy, you're pretty much resigning yourself to a life of repetition without learning or advancing, and days, weeks, months, years spent doing tasks that don't really mean squat.

Sound harsh?

Perhaps. And there'll always going to be room for people who don't do this – that's no problem so long as you are being instructed by someone who has a strategy, and you are doing the legwork of executing on their instructions.

But the bottom line is if you want to lead, you need to get used to thinking strategically.

Laura Sutherland
Laura SutherlandPR Fest

How are you then going to move forward to move up to manager, to director level, if you can't demonstrate the value of what you're doing and you can't discuss that either?

You need to be thinking more about the impact of what you're doing.

No, no tweeting! Strategy first!

Part 2: What people mean by 'strategy'

Laura Sutherland
Laura SutherlandPR Fest

We talk about strategy, but I still think that a lot of people think tactically before they think strategically.

Yup, apparently there's a difference!

What Laura means is that so often, we plan our work according to the tactics we can use: post on social media 4x a week, plan a series of blog posts.

In other words, we get caught up in the things we can do, rather than thinking about whether we should do them.

So wise.

That's the difference between tactics and strategy: strategy is informed by data.

So before you plan out that TikTok posting schedule, ask yourself:

  • What is my (or my client's) goal?
  • What will I measure?
  • What does that data currently look like?
  • What will success look like?
Gini Dietrich
Gini DietrichSpin Sucks

20 years ago, we had media impressions and advertising equivalencies, which are bunk. They're not real metrics, but that's what we had.

And as things have evolved, and as the internet has provided us the opportunity to really pay attention to data, it's given us a huge opportunity to measure the work that we do to something that matters to the organization.

And most importantly, you must ask yourself...

Do those goals align with my (or my client's) business objectives?

It's tempting to go for quick wins, but those are empty calories, weekends spent binging Netflix. Sure, they're great to indulge in, so long as you know that's all they are – an indulgence. If your goal is to come first in a marathon, a cupcake isn't exactly going to move the needle towards achieving that goal.

☝️ You working on tactics without laying down a strategy

If you want to spend your time doing things that bring you closer to meaningful change, go for long-term goals that align with your client's business objectives.

Don't know what those business objectives are?

Then ask.

Part 3: Work with a team

PR should never be done in isolation from the rest of the company – that only leads to a waste of effort, money and mental health.

Laura Sutherland
Laura SutherlandPR Fest

I think there's a resistance commercially from agencies who are worried that they will put clients off, and they just want to go deliver what the client wants. So if the client says to them, I want media coverage on my product or my service, the agency will go and take that brief and deliver that media coverage. 

But what they don't do is scrutinize the brief to the extent where they're questioning, why? What are you trying to achieve? What are your business goals behind this? What is the purpose? What's the value? 

Actual footage from your last client briefing

Part 4: Do the research

And factor in everything. Speak with key stakeholders, employees, customers, people who might not be fans of the company at all. Talk to everybody and start to get a picture of the things that would have to change in order for the business to achieve its goals.

Then do more research to see what you can do to help make that change happen.

You are still not thinking about tactics at this point.

And this sort of research doesn't have to cost a million bucks.

Gini Dietrich
Gini DietrichSpin Sucks

We have one client who, three years ago, was trying to figure out where to spend their time online. And so they sent a Survey Monkey and they just said, when you're on social media, which social networks do you participate in? 

And then they broke it down personally and professionally, and it was really easy to get that kind of information. 

Wait for it...

Part 5: Define goals and objectives

Now is the time to take all that research you did in Part 4 and make it tangible. What will success look like in the short, medium and long term?

Part 6: Ok, now you're thinking about tactics

Once you know what you want to achieve (so, the thing that aligns with the business goals) and you've done your research into what needs to change in order for you to achieve that (the measurable thing that will tell you that you're making progress), you can start breaking that down into the hands-on, day-to-day tactics you will use to make it all happen.

Just remember, you don't have to do everything all at once.

Gini Dietrich
Gini DietrichSpin Sucks

So you want to start with research first, and then figure out, OK, where does the PESO Model fit, and what kinds of things do I do? 

You wouldn't necessarily launch with everything – 'We're going to do paid, earned, shared and owned.' We might start with owned, and then go to shared, and then go to earned, and then go to paid. So there's a lot lots of different things that go into it.

FYI: If you aren't familiar with the PESO model, head on over to this excellent PESO guide over at Spin Sucks and take some notes. You won't regret it.

Part 7: Keep measuring

Once you know what metrics you're trying to affect, having outlined your PR strategy and the tactics that will carry you through to victory, measure everything.

Measure before you start doing anything, so you know where the starting line is.

Measure at regular intervals as you carry out your plan, so you know if you're on the right track and can demonstrate the value of your work.

Measure at the end to show the difference you have made.

Just keep measuring

You might even want to measure the things you aren't directly trying to impact to see if there's a correlation there, and to show how your work is having broader impact on the business.

Laura Sutherland
Laura SutherlandPR Fest

The analogy I give is very simple. Say you're set with a behavior change of getting a community to eat more fruit. You go and ask them the question, how much fruit do you eat a day? Where do you buy your fruit form? What fruit exactly do you eat? And you do that at the beginning so you find out what you're dealing with. 

You've then got your objectives that you set afterwards so you know what you're going to increase it by, you know what your goals are. You then develop a strategy. You then have the tactical plan. 

But you then go back at the end, and you do the same research so you can find out what fruit they eat now. And that is where the whole thing comes together.

Channel Cameron's energy and get your client on board

Part 8: Stay on track

Ok, you've done your research, figured out a PR strategy, set your goals and made sure everything's aligned. So how do you stick to it in the weeks that follow?

Well, here's how Gini does it.

  1. Write out the strategy and the goals
  2. Drill it down into a two-page document that can actually sit on your desk
  3. From there, create a one-page slide and make sure to include it in everything you do

When you have weekly meetings or monthly check-ins or quarterly results reporting, make sure that one slide is in the document that you present, and that everything you do goes back to that.

It also helps a lot when it comes to saying no.

Gini Dietrich
Gini DietrichSpin Sucks

What happens is clients will say, well, let's do this. And you can say, great, where does it fit in here? And if it doesn't, is it a priority? Or is it something that we need to shift? Or is it just something that we'd like to have and we don't really need?  

Ok, that's all well and good on paper, but what about when it comes to real life, where your client is pushing and pushing to run a campaign that completely ignores your strategy?

Well, sometimes you just have to let them learn the hard way.

Part 9: Actually carry out your strategy

When you've developed your strategy, you have to develop your tactical plan. Once you develop your plan, that's really what you need to be sticking to so that you're on time, you're on budget, so that you're constantly moving.

You want a something that will keep you accountable to your strategy and your timeline, where you can break down big projects into tasks and assign those among your team, that gives you an overview where you can spot any issues before they cause a blockage.

Luckily there are millions of tools available to help with this, both free and paid. Try out a few and find one that you and your team are comfortable with.

Google 'kanban board' you'll get at least another 50 suggestions, but these are my tried-and-tested faves:

  • Asana (really effective and user-friendly)
  • Notion (also great for documentation, building a knowledge base and more)
  • Linear (this is what we use)

These days there really is a tool for everything. We built a free, open-source site for PRs to suggest their favourites – you can find it at

Laura Sutherland
Laura SutherlandPR Fest

There is no one size that fits all. You have to to understand strategy, and measurement, and evaluation before you can go in and speak to a client and start promising them value, real value.

Hungry for more?

We're big fans of strategy and data here at Prezly, which is why we put together a free downloadable guide to enacting an effective email pitching strategy based on the ~16million pitches our clients sent via Prezly back in 2019. You can grab your copy here.

Download your free pitching pack
Download your free pitching pack

See what the most effective pitches are made of, based on 15,976,113 emails.

Kate Bystrova

Chief Storyteller, Prezly

Posted Tuesday, February 16, 2021