How to avoid a PR disaster – Bob Dearsley reveals all

Setting up a PR campaign is a nervy process for companies. What can you do to make sure you avoid a PR disaster? Bob Dearsley reveals all.

With many businesses launching their own PR campaigns with mixed results, it can be hard for CEOs to cut through the noise and create a campaign that works for them. Recent disasters with Pepsi and United Airlines show precisely what not to do when you hit a PR disaster, so what is it that makes a successful PR campaign?

Bob Dearsley, CEO of The B2B Marketing Lab, thinks you should be logical with your set up.

“When deciding how to tackle your business’ PR campaign you should aim to set goals, asking yourself what your business is looking to achieve. These goals should be SMART.

“Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time specific.

“Think in terms of inputs, outputs and results.
What content do you have to give to the agency or consultancy?
What news announcements do you have coming up? What can you provide for them to work on? If you have nothing for them to work on they will need more time to create things for you.

“What are the topic areas that you are experts in? Often thought leadership is a key part of what you want to achieve from PR but there may be a need to position the business for a funding round or to launch new products or services. All of these will provide a different slant to the campaign.

“How are you going to measure the success of the campaign? Pieces of coverage generated – that’s pretty basic stuff! Impact on the website? Do you need specific pieces of media coverage to show on your website – think about copyright implications! – or are you just looking for lots of positive placements of news because you have lots of bug name brands that use your products and services?”

Dearsley adds, “Results and timetables are key. If you are thinking that you want specific coverage on specific days, then you may need to consider buying media as well. PR is imprecise. You cannot guarantee coverage on a specific day just because you announce something new (unless you are a ‘gorilla’ in a market like Google or Amazon!)

“Timetables will affect the campaign as well – speed to market = more cost, because if you want something done quickly you need more people working on it. Online news coverage is almost instant once the content is created, but if print publications are your target – nationals and some vertical markets still do this – then you need to allow more time to see results.

“Look at what your competitors do – see where they get media coverage and make sure that your goals are realistic.”

In terms of managing your PR campaign, there are pros and cons for outsourcing . your campaign, as Dearsley explains.

“Obviously internal PR is much more focussed on your business specifically but external agencies can often be more flexible, have a larger creative resource and they should have people who know and understand your market. Key word here is ‘people’ – you are likely to have one person on PR – they should have a team of people, all with their contacts and experience.

“It just depends how you think it will work best for your business, often an internal marketing department finds it beneficial to liaise with an external consultancy who can take a view from the outside of a business.”

Plan for any eventuality

There is no surefire way to guarantee high results from a PR campaign. No checklist exists that will guarantee success, but Dearsley advises that you plan for any eventuality.

“No-one ever plans for a ‘disaster’ but things can go wrong. Having an agency or consultancy to advise you will be your biggest checklist item. And make sure that the campaign is clearly planned from the outset.

“Getting an experienced practitioner involved in the strategy is absolutely key to getting a successful programme or campaign planned, engaged and in to action.

“Do a risk assessment at the outset. What could go wrong? Know, before you start, what you would do in any such circumstance.

“Have a ‘crisis comms’ plan in place and this should be shared across the company so everyone knows what to do, and what to avoid, and your company spokespeople are trained and prepared to step up.”

Keep calm and carry on

“One key piece of advice when something goes wrong, is to take a minute – or five – and make sure you are reacting to a crisis in a calm and efficient manner, the worst thing you can do is rush into a response and find that you’ve made the situation worse.

“Never, never, never compound a problem with a hastily considered, half-truth response!
And remember that if you make any statement you fuel the fire. Don’t do a “Sean Spicer” – short-lived Press Secretary at the White House who was fired for making long-winded statements that just made things worse! Sometimes it is better to say nothing and if you do comment, ‘short, sharp and considered’ is the mantra!

“Don’t respond quickly and flippantly to negative comment on social media. Wait and see how it plays out, then look for tactics that divert the conversation to your strengths.”

What makes for a successful campaign?

“A successful campaign is one in which you achieve or exceed all your initial goals, which you should have set out at the beginning of your campaign. Take a moment to work out what ‘good’ looks like. Most successful business campaigns help the business to make it easier to sell more products or services. Articulating the business proposition in the media is a key way to make it easy for someone to say, “I want one of those.” Especially when it’s a complex business.

“Most businesses are trying to explain to their prospects that they know and understand the sector that their clients operate in, that they know and understand their ‘pain points’. The media is a great place to make this work for you, as its not ‘you’ saying you are great its that publication!”

Taking a measured and steady response is nromally the best policy for Bob Dearsley.

“Many organisations who engage in PR in the belief that it is a quick win, end up failing. Failure often looks like a quickly prepared press release campaign – news that is intended to sustain a profile but which peters out quickly after two or three announcements and there was never enough thought given to sustaining the campaign with in-depth content and well crafted articles.

“PR is something that you manage over a longer period of time, building contacts with journalists and influencers, building a positive ‘winning’ profile for the business.

“Carefully executed, the campaign can make a relatively small organisation appear to be a market leader in a space that the PR team have identified and targeted. But it does not happen overnight!

“24/7 news and social media have totally changed how people interact with information and react to events, and the biggest challenge now is cutting through the noise and actually getting your message across.

“Be bold, be positive and be active on all media. Prepare your messaging carefully then, concentrate on getting those clearly thought through articles out to your audiences.

“There is no wrong or right choice, only wrong or right people. If you choose to outsource your PR, make sure you pick an agency or consultancy filled with people who believe in your vision and are eager to work exceptionally hard to achieve it. The same can be said if you choose to delegate PR internally. Recruit superstars for superstar results.”

Owen Gough

Owen Gough

Owen Gough is a reporter for He has a background in small business marketing strategies and is responsible for writing content on subjects ranging from small business finance to technology...

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