PR Needs To Shift From Reactive To Proactive

I’m convinced that public relations practitioners need to flip their thinking. Simply: from reactive to proactive. In a world where every company is a media company, PR should lead. But only if they can become truly proactive in their approach to the practice.

Media companies are far more proactive than reactive. They plan their content through editorial calendars. Their leadership teams have the executive perspective on content and have a long-term vision with the goal of influencing an industry. They react to news and happenings, but they plan for it. And the reactions happen through the lens of the publication.

Most PR professionals flirt from opportunity to opportunity. It’s tactical and not sustainable. It leads to results here and there but not necessarily in a way that steadily contributes to a larger marketing funnel for a brand.

From watching what other PR firms do as a marketing consultant, my perspective was probably 70% or more was reactive. Reactive to company news, industry trends or reporter queries. It’s the bread and butter for many in the practice. But in a world where it’s possible to go direct to consumer and create true leverage in the marketplace by building a community you need to flip this.

And the 30% of proactive PR most companies and agencies spend in proactive mode? It’s probably wasted. It involves planning events or big ideas to catch media attention. Gambling to get attention from others through a one time splash. If this was in unison with a solid publishing venture (and there was some thought behind how the buzz would contribute – i.e., net links or subscribers as part of the plan) this would be fine. But this isn’t generally thought through.

My sense is that PR needs to be 80 – 90 % proactive. And this involves restructuring your PR to be pull, not push. And that 10 or 20% left over to be reactive? Use it to strategically to feed your critical KPIs that boost inbound. Structure everything around a hub and you’ll grow.

Some additional thoughts on this…

Become less reliant on pushing messages to media and you’ll get more media

By being mostly reactive and always pitching media to tell your story you’re not in a real position of strength. That’s because if you’re always relying on externalities to tell your story, you have no power of your own to disseminate messages to market. But when individuals have more of an audience than entire companies, no company can say it’s too difficult to become a publisher. And a funny thing happens when your brand of media breaks through a threshold of popularity. They actually get more media. And it’s organic.

Being proactive lets you take an iterative approach to content

It’s now possible to get feedback from your communications. In near real-time. For free (or cheap). If you organize your PR around execution and test out lots of ideas and stories direct to an audience (every day, bit by bit) you’ll get really good at pushing your industry’s hot buttons. Especially since it’s no longer about your news, product or announcement: it’s about the stuff in between. What you have to say on the day you have no news is what speaks loudest about your company. It shows you have real passion.

Strategic vs. tactical

A reactive approach to PR is inertially tactical. That’s because you are sitting there waiting for opportunity or having to seek it out vs. planning your attack and executing on it. Pursuing outbound as a small percentage of time makes sense, but in a world where all people and companies have power of distribution you should be doing this surgically. Your new bread and butter is building an owned asset for a brand as a hub for the industry.

Laser-focus on specific digital KPIs

I’ve had clients before where they knew the specific KPIs they wanted us to focus on. Some were so specific and nuanced, it almost seemed myopic. There was a clear halo affect of results beyond those specific metrics. But in retrospect there is an unstated elegance of focusing on (and being held accountable to) specific metrics that are definitively and predictably known to impact a company. You have to take a proactive approach to achieve this and win.

I’m not saying throw out the reactive PR entirely. Just make it a secondary focus and supportive of proactive.