How Strategic Communications Drives Business Outcomes

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In recent years more companies in a wide range of industries, from manufacturing and entertainment to financial services and package goods have come to the conclusion that strategic public relations works – sometimes better than other marketing efforts, and at a fraction of the cost.

Jennifer Risi
Jennifer Risi

A well-conceived communications strategy drives business outcomes and the return on investment delivers in ways that surprise even the most hardened business executives. Of course research and measurement in public relations is essential because it helps to set objectives that are meaningful, measurable and reasonable.

PR is not just about impressions, number of interviews or column inches any more. Success of any plan boils down to business impact for our client. Success is about research and strategy needed to inform a campaign that drives to a positive outcome.

First, let’s take a look at how we put together a strategic communications campaign. We create integrated campaigns that focus on earned media, social media and content. We zero in on building the business of our clients using these methods to bolster reputations by:

  • Making them industry leaders
  • Driving consumer engagement
  • Increasing market share

To build a successful campaign we use a myriad of research to drive communications strategy, such as looking into understanding consumer/customer perceptions about the client brand. We identify key characteristics and interests of target audiences, identify benefits, challenges and needs within the industry, and assess perception of the competition to determine how and where competitors are positioning themselves. We also identify brand/category advocates and detractors for campaign outreach and benchmark metrics prior to campaign launch (e.g. sentiment, awareness, etc.).

We use this research material in working with our clients as we develop our activities in what we call a playbook. The playbook provides the objectives, which informs the business outcome to which research and insights in the communications plan supports the outcome.

From a theoretical standpoint, when working with clients we often develop a campaign architecture with the goal of helping them gain more loyalty with their customers and lead the industry they are in. We achieve this by sharing big picture stories. We engage well-known global media influencers to build brand loyalty and capture customer attention. We create “moments in time” by securing global, national and regional media attention around initiatives, announcements and milestones. We also push to “own” the conversation. And, we create consistent global dialogue offline and online via the establishment of a proactive news bureau.

Once we have the architecture in place we engage in the following three disciplines:

  • Develop messaging: identify and create messages specific to product lines and focus areas
  • Coaching: train key spokespeople on messaging
  • Engagement: set up media interviews and speaking opportunities to reach targeted audiences

There are many components that make up a strategic campaign. They include a few of the following:

  • News Bureau – Proactively inserting commentary from executives into current news stories and taking advantage of opportunistic media relations across select media outlets
  • Collateral Creation – Craft and update messaging, press materials, social content
  • Feature Stories – Includes print, broadcast and online stories on corporations and executives
  • Influencer Campaign – Expand sphere of influence beyond industry media
  • Speaking Engagements – Set up high profile speaking engagements for executives and extend opportunities by developing opinion pieces and content
  • Social Studio – Create an online newsroom that complements a traditional news bureau that pushes out written and video content

Another important factor of driving business outcome is the ability to “prove the value of PR”. The difficulty sometimes with “value” is its subjectivity. On the other hand if you can define what value there is, there’s not a more relevant or inexpensive way to make a connection with the executives who fund PR campaigns.

Keys to a successful measurement program are developed at the outset of a campaign, are reasonable and actionable, customized to goals and desired outcomes, include interim, mid-term and long-term metrics and provide guidance for course correction. Shared results equals shared success and that’s why it's good to create a customized report card to showcase effectiveness, which ensures consistency of reporting and provides opportunity to share results up the line.

You can also map PR’s contribution to the overall business goals and since PR is only one part of the marketing mix, you cannot isolate its impact on business outcomes. Try and show shared role in effectiveness such as leads, new accounts, new relationships, information requests, sales and company awareness.

Jennifer Risi is the managing director of Ogilvy Media Influence, North America and NYU professor of strategic communications. Follow Jennifer: @JenRisi. Follow Ogilvy: @ogilvypr