Back in summer, the team at Cookies HQ hosted a Smart Cookies Breakfast Club where award-winning PR pro and comms strategist, Mel Beeby Clarke, shared her top tips on developing your PR strategy.

For Startup Month at TechSPARK, and to celebrate their recent acquisition from Amba Health and Care, we wanted to reshare the nuggets of information.

You know your business is up to exciting things, but how do you tell the world about it?

From writing press releases to developing contact relationships, the world of PR can seem overwhelming if you’re not sure where to start.

In this Smart Cookies session, Mel Beeby Clarke serves up an easy-to-digest breakdown of what a PR strategy is, how to build one and why it’s worth having.

She cuts through the jargon to help you elevate your current PR and comms activities to the next level and walk away feeling inspired!

You can watch the replay below or read on for a summary.

How to develop a PR strategy

"Without a plan, it can be difficult to convince the board or investors to get on board with what you’re doing. If your strategy is well defined, you can demonstrate clear and tangible links between the investment in your PR efforts and business growth."

What is PR a strategy?

The Chartered Institute of PR (CIPR) says, “Public Relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. Public Relations is the discipline that looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour.

“It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.”

Why do you need a PR strategy?

There are a few good reasons to get a PR strategy in place. Mel explains that any PR or communications you put out as a business (including everything from social media posting to analyst tours, product launch, a consumer round table, etc.) must be linked to your business plan. If not, it’s a waste of money!

Additionally, you can’t measure any kind of return on investment if you don’t have a business plan that your comms strategy is linked to.

Having a PR strategy can give others confidence in what you’re doing too. Without a plan, it can be difficult to convince the board or investors to get on board with what you’re doing. If your strategy is well defined, you can demonstrate clear and tangible links between the investment in your PR efforts and business growth.

Plus, if you have a plan and your spending, effort, and activities are all coordinated, it works as hard as possible.

How to build a PR strategy

Next, Mel walked us through a very condensed version of what she takes her clients through before working with them. If you’re a business owner, these are the questions you need to ask and answer yourself.

If you’re working with a board of directors or chief execs, it can be slightly more challenging but, going through this with them will lay good foundations for your strategy.

1: Why are you doing this?

People usually say something like “we want to get some great engagement online” or “we want a PR plan in place” to Mel when she asks this question.

But commercially or strategically, why are you doing this? Is it because you’ve got investment and a plan – you’re launching a product for SMEs in three years time you want to go from 20% to 80% of your revenue coming from that market? Are you, for example, wanting to sell your business in five years time, so you need to raise the profile of it to attract attention and raise your profile?

2: Your audience

The second step is to really narrow down your audience. It’s tempting to say that your product/service is for anyone and everyone. Let’s say you have an app that shows people where to find the cheapest groceries near them. Yes, anyone aged 18-80 might benefit from that, but it will likely really resonate with students.

So focus on your key markets. Even if you have millions of pounds in your marketing budget, it’s ultimately very difficult to target everyone.

Even huge brands like Coca Cola will target their Diet Coke adverts at women and Coke Zero ads at men of a certain age.

3: Response

Then you need to understand who your audience is. So what do you know about them? You might have had conversations with your existing clients, or you might have been out to meet investors or try and get new clients on board.

What always resonates with this audience? When you’re talking to people or posting things online, what consistently gets people interested?

On the flip side, what are the barriers? Do people often object to the price? Do people not really understand the full scope of what you offer? Are you in a competitive space? It’s important to understand your customers’ objections as much as what attracts them to your product,

And finally, you need to know where your audience is and how you can reach them. Some of Mel’s clients might say something like, “We’re targeting legal professionals, so we want to start a group on LinkedIn and build that out as a channel.”

But the key here is to go to where your customers already are, don’t try and bring them to you. Sponsor the events they attend, interact with them in groups their members of.

4: Proposition and messaging

Even if you’re really clear on your business plan and you know what sectors you’re targetting, are you clear on your proposition? Essentially, what you stand for, what sets you apart from your competition and why people should buy from you. It’s also useful to revisit your proposition if you already have one – does it still work in the context of where your business is moving?

5: Landscape

It’s important that while you’re working away on all of this for your own business, you don’t end up in a bubble. Keep an eye on the landscape.

Who are your competitors? What are they doing? And what market insight do you have? It might sound obvious, but it’s worth phoning some of your existing or previous clients and find out what they liked about working with you, the value they feel they’re getting and why they chose you above your competitors.

Proposition and messaging

So your proposition is what you stand for, what makes you different and why a customer should buy from you instead of a competitor. It’s essential because if you don’t know that, you can’t develop a set of kind of core messages which tell your story and underpin all your marketing and communications activity.

Plus, it helps you maintain consistency across external communication. That includes face-to-face and new business meetings and proposals.

When you’re looking at your comms/PR strategy, your proposition should be reflected in a social media post and a deck that you’re going to take to an investor. It’s one voice, and it’s permeated in everything. In different ways for different channels and communications, but it’s central.

That enables customers to buy into a coherent, consistent brand that they come to trust and believe in. And of course, customers aren’t the only audience, that includes potential employees, journalists, investors and stakeholders etc.

Your messaging

Once you’ve got your proposition, your messages need to run through all of your activities.

Umbrella messages are business level messages. So for Cadbury’s, for example, that might be their “Glass and a half  in every bar”.  That applies to everything they do. A targeted message is more like Freddo’s being a perfect on the go treat for kids.

Building your comms plan

Your website, your social media, your literature should all reflect the proposition and the messaging. You’ve got consistent descriptions and taglines across platforms – this is your base or ‘hygiene.’

Then you’ve got your ‘hub activity’, which is where a lot of people are. Regularly blogging, posting, emails, but with a real focus on your key audience and topics to talk about and your plan.

The hero section is your campaigns. Two or three bold campaigns a year that you hang your hat on. You might be launching a training programme for apprentices, of which you’re going to do a launch event.

Then over the next six months, you’re going to have a trickle of different events, all linking back to this one campaign. That’s what elevates you, and that’s what people will remember you for. But underpinning all of that, you’ve got the structure and consistency of the hub and the hygiene activities.

Some things to remember…

To close, Mel shared some of her top tips to remember.

  • Stuff changes quickly; strategy never goes out of fashion – TikTok and Clubhouse are two of the latest channels many brands have added to their arsenal, but these things change quickly. Strategy, however, remains the same.
  • Try not to get ‘channel blindness’ and focus on where your audience actually is, rather than getting swept up in the latest channel craze.
  • Go deep or go home – if you don’t know why you’re doing it, and it’s not planned, there’s no point!
  • You can’t polish a turd – if your product or service isn’t good enough, all the marketing and PR in the world won’t rectify that. Especially with tech companies, don’t put your product out to market if it’s not good enough just to hit a launch date.
  • All things are not equal – say you have five different departments in a law firm. You don’t get your budget and split it among those five equally. If one of those departments is 20% of the workforce, but they’re creating 80% of your profit, you need to spend more money on getting more work in for them and building up that team.
  • Find your Van Tam – Mel calls Professor Van Tam her comms hero of the pandemic. He was able, on television, to speak about really complex situations to the masses in a way that’s easy to understand. It’s particularly important within tech companies to find your spokesperson that has the technical knowledge and can disseminate complex information to people easily.