Moving clients from tactical to strategic is a two-way street

It's easy to complain about clients that seem firmly set in tactical mode.

It's easy to complain about clients that seem firmly set in tactical mode. We're also all aware of clients who have let an agency go because of its lack of strategic insight or inability to drive a successful PR program.

Clients seek PR support because they have a business challenge or a goal in mind, but it is sometimes presented in tactical terms and short timeframes. For example, the client wants to launch a product next month, secure an industry award, or garner more coverage than competitors. Or the client may just want you to handle media relations and speaking opportunities. As PR counselors, we need to guide their thinking.

These thoughts on thinking strategically and staying on strategy can help to ensure everyone is reading from the same PR plan.

PR professionals should ask questions that will help client executives think in larger terms about overall business and marketing goals.

They should also establish expectations for PR and educate clients on the role PR plays in contributing to sales and business success. Be upfront and honest about what is and is not achievable.

PR practitioners should also be objective, while showing that we understand the client's technology and industry, that we know market conditions and the competitive landscape, and that we can respond creatively to communications opportunities and challenges.

Show we understand how PR fits within the larger marketing mix and amplifies and extends other channels. This is critical to building agency credibility and hence the client's willingness to seek out and accept PR counsel.

PR professionals must also demonstrate a systematic approach to PR planning and goal-setting. Gaining client buy-in to a PR plan that identifies measureable goals and objectives by audience, and that links key strategies and tactics to them, is critical to success.

Another goal should be to maintain the agreed-upon PR plan as a living document, regularly reviewing and updating it according to results-to-date and changing realities.

PR practitioners should also refer to the PR plan to focus both client and agency on what is or is not a strategic use of time or budget. The agency should spend its time on projects of greatest strategic impact, not on seductive but low-value opportunities or standalone tactics.

Ultimately, being a strategic partner in achieving results and managing resources is the best way to ensure that clients also behave strategically.

Jeannette Bitz is owner and principal of Engage PR.

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