How to Implement a Competitive PR Strategy – And Three Mistakes to Avoid

An effective communications strategy has many interesting components, but one that stands out is competitive PR. Outmaneuvering a competitor requires a unique blend of strategy, agility and more than a little game theory—like 4-D chess. Unfortunately, many companies don’t play it well, instead defaulting to an ad-hoc, figure-it-out-as-they-go approach. There is a much better way.

A More Effective Way to Compete

A more viable approach starts with identifying the optimal narrative at an industry level. Think of this in terms of the types of industry conversations that would be most beneficial to you—conversations that lean into areas of unique strength for your organization, while (conversely) highlighting weak spots for others.

As you do this, it’s important to think through what will realistically resonate at that industry level, such as broader trends or customer insights, as well as tools you have to support and sustain that desired narrative over time. This could include everything from first- or third-party research to customer testimonials to third-party advocates, all reinforcing your desired message.

Ultimately, there are many ways to do this. The point is to ensure you are in the driver’s seat shaping the overall industry conversation in a way that makes your organization’s strengths the most important things for your industry and for customers.

At the same time, it’s crucial to think like your competitor: what narrative will they be trying to push and how will they try to land it? How will they respond to the narrative you are driving? The idea is to safeguard your approach against that without getting distracted along the way or giving competitors too much of your valuable airtime. You need to play your hand, not into theirs.

Integrate the Competitive Perspective

Make this a component of overall planning, since anything you do from a competitive perspective should naturally align with your overall communications program. It’s definitely not something you want to think about after the fact. It’s also important to educate key stakeholders early on how you plan to approach competitive PR. Trying to explain something like this in the moment to someone who is angry or frustrated about a competitive win is not a great situation.

Signs You May Need to Rethink Your Approach

Now, if that’s the better way to approach competitive PR, what are the signs you may be headed down the wrong path? If any of the following three scenarios sound familiar, it’s time to pause and rethink your approach:

    1. Knee-jerk reactions – Your main competitor announces something revolutionary or lands great coverage. Now, every stakeholder on the planet is in your inbox asking what you plan to do about it. You are being asked to drop everything and come up with an action plan to respond in the moment to something your competitor has probably worked on for months.
    2. Giving competitors more airtime than they deserve – Your organization is starting to spend A LOT of time... talking about another company. Your execs call them out by name, publicly demo how their products compare and answer questions about their capabilities. In an effort to show why you are better, you are giving someone else a lot of free publicity.
    3. Not expecting competitors to fight back – Your company has been landing some great shots at the competition—and it worked (at first). Maybe a clever social campaign or a surprise announcement before their big event. But they just landed a great countermove that you weren’t expecting. Cue reactive mode (again).

There is something about trying to outmaneuver another company—and another company’s PR team—that is particularly invigorating. Done correctly, it can elevate any communications strategy. Checkmate.

Tara Smith is Managing Partner at Voxus PR.