4 Factors When Building a Data-Driven PR Strategy

If you work in public relations, you must use data to inform your PR strategy.

Why this matters:

  • Data takes out the guesswork.
  • Data ensures your PR programs will perform.
  • Data can help discover influential media outlets.

It would be amazing to launch your public relations strategy, sit back, relax, sip on a glass of wine, and watch the results come pouring in. But, sadly, that will never happen.

Every brand must learn to develop a PR strategy that delivers results. However, not every organization knows how to do this the right way. In this post, I’ll walk you through creating a strategic PR strategy for your business. I’ll start by laying out your media relations goals and objectives, developing critical messaging, and identifying your target audience. Finally, we’ll outline some tips for implementing your public relations plan and improving your PR media strategy.

What is a PR strategy?

Before we jump into the content, defining public relations for those new to the industry is critical.

A public relations strategy is a plan to protect and promote a brand’s reputation. It involves developing positive relationships with the media and using key messages to create a positive image externally.

Establishing a solid public relations strategy is critical to the success of any business, but it’s also important to understand that not all press is good. So before creating plans for promoting your business and forging positive relationships with the media, consider the repercussions of receiving bad publicity and devise strategies for handling negative media coverage or a PR crisis. Trust me, it’ll happen.

Public Relations vs. Marketing

Brands use public relations and marketing strategies to promote their products and services. Public relations is more about the general philosophy and approach for communicating company and business values to various stakeholders. A PR strategy enables brands to reach their target audience using key messages and PR tactics. Marketing is more about customer acquisition and retention. However, having strong public relations and marketing are equally important and should always work together. Many PR pros are using the PESO model for public relations, which helps ensure that communications and marketing are integrated and working together.

Public Relations: This communications and PR media strategy influences public opinion through systematic efforts or campaigns. This could be done through day-to-day pitching stories to the media (e.g., strategic media relations), executive communications, internal communications, and event activations. The goal is to manage brand reputation by engaging with external stakeholders like journalists, reporters, influencers, and key opinion leaders to grow awareness of brand messages.

A media relations strategy is a subset. It’s more focused on relationships with the media and influencers. It aims to secure earned media placements in the top media outlets that matter to your business.

Marketing: Marketing focuses on how marketers reach their target audience of potential customers and prospects. It includes advertising, creative, paid media, demand generation marketing, influencer engagement, customer insights, content distribution, and a general customer engagement strategy. A marketing strategy should always include tight integration with earned media.

The 4 Pillars for Building a Strategic PR Strategy

Four critical things need to get done to make any public relations program deliver results–data, storytelling, agility, and distribution.

Data-Driven Storytelling is the Only Option

When I say “only option,” I mean it’s the “only option” to ensure your media strategy and campaigns can deliver against your business goals. Otherwise, you will do what most PR people do, hoping for the best.

For context, when I talk about data-driven storytelling, I am talking more about data and analytics used to inform a PR strategy versus measuring the results. Don’t get me wrong, PR measurement is essential, but it’s not necessarily a building block of a good PR strategy.

A smart and strategic PR strategy will start with a media coverage analysis. This analysis will help define which media outlets should be prioritized to gain exposure based on the volume of coverage about an industry, topic, or narrative on various media channels. You could also cross-reference reader engagement at the media outlet level to understand whether those stories resonate with the target audience. Finally, you can layer on the reach of each media publication to better understand potential impressions.

Data in this context can also uncover the top journalists writing about various topics, including their specific volume of coverage, engagement on their articles, and reach of their personal social media profiles.

Lastly, you can use data to uncover hidden narratives from an extensive data set of media publications or just one media outlet. With text or network analysis, you can understand the context of stories and specific coverage.

For example, if you are researching which media publications are writing about cloud security, an analysis like this can uncover the actual “cloud security” topics that are being written about the most (e.g., scale cloud, cloud migration, AI, firewall). This media intelligence can help shape a PR strategy, brand messaging, and even pitch emails.

The Lost Art of Brand Storytelling

The problem with many companies is that they don’t have any stories to pitch to the media. They think a product launch or hiring a new CEO is “newsworthy.” It’s not. Pitching interesting story ideas is excellent as long as it fits into a larger narrative relevant to the media.

However, a savvy PR pro should frame a product launch story within a larger industry narrative in which the media will be interested. So, again, data analysis is essential; because you can uncover those hidden narratives that are already relevant to what the media is writing about and frame your pitches accordingly.

Storytelling isn’t all about math. It’s a strategic framework that aligns a brand narrative with core topics and themes and then clearly documents a messaging strategy that isn’t all about the company. Remember, it has to fit into a larger construct so that the media can understand how your product or service is helping the industry move forward or solve a particular business problem.

It’s also critical that your PR strategist has the “gift of gab.” So they can talk, persuade, and influence others through written and verbal communication.

Being Agile Like a Newsroom

A traditional newsroom moves fast. First, everyone is “guns blazing” when a story breaks to ensure they are on the scene and ready to report. Then, the reporter, editor, producer, and creative team are either on location or producing the “breaking news” segment back in the newsroom. It’s a well-oiled machine.

Brands need to operate in the same way. Years ago, there was a term that many industry pundits used to describe this brand movement. It was either “brand as publisher” or “brand as a media company,” but it means the same thing. So in 2013, I wrote a book called “Your Brand: The Next Media Company,” a blueprint that enterprise brands could use to transform their marketing and communications teams to operationalize their brand storytelling.

The industry doesn’t talk much about this anymore, but it’s still a critical shift that needs to happen within PR and communications teams. The media doesn’t just wait around for companies to pitch them stories. They are always hunting.

Real-time listening to the media, journalists, and reporters is one way that brands can get ahead and insert themselves into relevant stories because the state of media today is shifting. But they have to be agile to do so.

Surround Sound Target Audiences with Content Distribution

It saddens me to hear a PR person say, “Oh, we don’t do paid media. It’s not a part of our public relations plan. We’re the PR team, so earned coverage is all we do.”

This is not the right way to think about public relations and PR strategy. Public relations aims to increase brand reputation and change perceptions and behaviors. You can’t do that by writing a press release, distributing it through a wire service, and calling it a day.

There are several tactics that PR teams can use to distribute content into the marketplace, but I’ll highlight a few. For example, instead of writing a press release, I would do the following:

  • Write a blog post optimized for the keywords and phrases you want to rank for. Remember, it has to address a more extensive narrative than just your product.
  • Record a video of how your story impacts the industry. Use a spokesperson who has some level of influence.
  • Post the video on YouTube and optimize the titles and descriptions.
  • Embed the video on the blog post.
  • Cut the video into smaller segments for social media channels and link back to the blog post. This will increase website traffic.
  • Invest in small and strategic paid media buys through Google paid search and YouTube ads. You’d be surprised at how far a $500 investment in paid media will take your PR strategy.
  • Upload a list of journalists to Twitter as a custom audience. Then, create social media content and target just the custom audience. The journalists may not click on the content, but they will see it, which could benefit future conversations or pitches.

This approach isn’t as straightforward as I am making it out to be. First, thinking through all the social media channels, key messages, and PR objectives takes time. Second, it takes effort to create different versions of content that should be tailored to fit into the construct of each channel. Third, planning using content collaboration platforms and research for each PR tactic takes place. Planning for successful PR strategies isn’t a task that should be done quickly.

The Basics of a Public Relations Strategy & Campaign

There is a lot that goes into building a long-term PR media strategy. Here’s a general outline that may help with your PR efforts:

Target Audience: The best PR strategies start with understanding the target audience–who they are, what media publications they read, their values, and the basic demographics. Many companies have several target consumers, so it’s common for them to build a buyer persona. This is essential for all earned media programs.

Goal Identification: The first step of the process is to identify the goals of the PR campaign––what do you want to accomplish? If it’s crisis management, that goal would be pretty straightforward. But most PR programs will have multiple plans to address brand awareness, media coverage in targeted media outlets, etc.

Core Message: Identify the core messaging your brand wants to be known for and then use that to inform all outbound communications. Remember, data should inform the formula for this.

Messaging Goals: Decide whether supportive key messages are necessary to convey a specific angle or emphasize the main message. These could include interesting facts about the company, executive experiences, or personal anecdotes.

Strategic Media Relations:  This is the backbone of all PR tactics. It’s critical to identify the top media outlets where you want coverage, and don’t just say, “The New York Times.” Based on the above data points, other media outlets might be more suitable for your story. You should also consider hiring the right PR agency or consultant with relationships with these media outlets. It’ll make your PR efforts much easier.

Influencer Marketing: There is a difference between influencer relations (influencer relationship marketing) and influencer marketing. Influencer relations is more about treating “non-media” influencers as if they were actual journalists. In other words, the media strategists would pitch influencers the same way they would pitch a reporter. On the other hand, influencer marketing typically falls under a different team and involves paying influencers to create social media posts as a part of integrated marketing campaigns. In either case, influencer analytics can be essential in identifying which influencers you want to collaborate with on a project.

Measurement: One of the most critical factors in measuring the success of your PR strategy plan is to ensure that you raise awareness and reach your target audience with your brand stories. This is much easier said than done. But building a PR measurement strategy that accounts for more than reach and impressions is critical. It must address all of your PR objectives.

SEO Visibility: One non-traditional method to measure the success of a PR strategy is if it can be sustained over time and has a long shelf-life. This is why having a strategic content distribution approach is critical. When you focus on creating long-form content on your owned media channels, you will rank for the targeted keywords and phrases and reap the long-term benefits of increasing brand awareness over time.

PR Software: Hundreds of PR tools and strategies are available in the market today. The top players in the space are Cision and Meltwater. Still, I have prepared a comprehensive list of what I think to be the leading media monitoring tools available today that can support your PR efforts.

Collaboration: It’s 2022, and still today, I see PR and marketing teams operating independently and in complete silos. This has to stop. PR teams should always strive for synergy and collaboration between different marketing teams and a concerted effort to work together. A rising tide raises all boats and will benefit all PR efforts.

Crisis Management: A crisis will happen. I guarantee it. So building a crisis management plan should be core to all PR strategies. It’s critical to always prepare for the unexpected because you never know what will happen. News travels fast, and we all know that all press isn’t always positive press. There’s usually a separate crisis management team, but a PR team may be asked to help with damage control or respond directly on the company’s behalf.

Timeline: All PR strategies and campaigns should have a specific timeline and deadline to avoid dragging on indefinitely and losing momentum. It helps keep everyone on the same page and beating to the same drumbeat. However, a PR timeline should always be flexible enough to account for those real-time moments where brands can insert themselves into trending industry and media coverage.

Budget: A PR strategy will need a budget for headcount, a consultant, a PR agency, media software, award submissions, tradeshows, events, and presentations. Even though PR is “earned” media, it’s not free.

Last Thoughts building a data-driven PR strategy

Integrating data and analytics into public relations will help you go from “hoping” to “knowing” that your PR strategy will make an impact and deliver results. First, it will give you the insights to push back to your CEO when they ask for coverage in the New York Times. It will help you prioritize your PR strategy to focus only on the top business media outlets that deliver business value. Finally, it will help fine-tune your messaging to ensure it aligns with the media narrative.

And data will make you look like a media rockstar when you present your PR media strategy at the next QBR and show all the fantastic coverage and results.

Building a data-driven PR strategy takes time. It requires strategy alignment, stellar execution, and a solid measurement approach. I hope you enjoyed this content. I do my best to create actionable content and provide value to the work you do. For reference, we put together this influencer marketing eBook to help you identify new ways to integrate influencers into your PR strategy.


Q. What’s the difference between a PR campaign and a PR strategy?
A. A PR campaign is short-term. It has a start date and an end date. It’s usually tied to a product launch, event, or specific announcement. A PR strategy always incorporates data and analytics to measure results. A well-executed media strategy should result in an uptick in your company’s business objectives, leading to increased sales leads/revenue, positive brand awareness, and thought leadership in your industry.

Q. What are some tips on integrating data into a public relations media strategy?
A. You must set clear objectives and associated metrics to measure your PR efforts against specific business goals. Also, use the same key performance indicators for short-term and long-term success. For example, if your goal leads/revenue, tie media mentions and coverage to that.

Q. How do you prioritize PR activities?
A. Mainly through data but also with brand impact metrics. For example, you should be able to measure the number of industry influencers reading your media placements, blog posts, or local media coverage. Or look at website traffic/conversions for content published on your site. Then use those metrics to prioritize where you allocate your budget to PR campaigns.

Q. Is writing a press release still an excellent public relations strategy?
A. Yes. It’s still important to promote your company and brand through the wire. For example, you should write a new press release whenever you have a product launch or if your CEO delivers a keynote speech at a major industry event. However, it’s best to use actionable insights from PR software to track the readership of the media outlets that write about your business.

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Michael Brito

Michael Brito is a Digital OG. He’s been building brands online since Al Gore invented the Internet. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter.