When entrepreneurs or business managers sit down to write or update a business plan, a slew of topics likely comes to mind, such as industry analysis, budgeting and SWOT analyses. Public relations and marketing communications may not be among them–but they should be. Using effective, data-driven public relations and marketing communications strategies is one of the best, most cost-effective ways to strengthen or restore a brand’s perceived value.
While PR and marketing communications may seem more abstract among the many issues a good business plan needs to cover, the best time to start thinking about them is when you start working on your plan. PR is among the last topics that should be covered in a business plan, but its role is greatly informed by how other parts of a business plan are put together.
Let’s say you decide to assign marketing communications work to one of your managers or hire a communications consultant. What does your company need to get out of a PR campaign to make it financially worthwhile? And what assets does your company already have that could help with accomplishing marketing communications strategies? It’s a lot easier to answer these kinds of questions while you’re mapping out your business’ future and your company’s profile is fresh in your head.
So where do PR and marketing communications belong in a business plan?
Public relations and marketing communications part of one of the four “marketing Ps.”
Marketing is often divided into four categories, all denoted with a word beginning with the letter “P”: product, price, place and promotion. In general, product means the many benefits and features of a company’s products or services, as well as how it’s “positioned” in the market compared to competing products. For example, if you manufacture hand tools, are your products bargain-priced and low quality, or something akin to Snap-On or Matco? Price means the total of what a customer is willing to give up to obtain the product or service (e.g. money, time); and place covers how a product is distributed to customers.
The last P–promotion–encompasses how a company engages its current or prospective customers in the other three Ps. Promotion includes advertising (paid promotion) and public relations (unpaid promotion, like social media and media relations) sales materials or stakeholder communications.
Promotion often should be one of the last things covered in a business plan. It’s hard to say what you want to do promotion-wise until you have the other three Ps are set and you’ve determined your business’ short-term and long-term goals and objectives are.
It also important to know public relations, marketing communications and advertising aren’t interchangeable. Each form of marketing communication has strengths and weaknesses, and each needs to be tailored to your specific business. There’s no such thing as a good “canned” business communications plan.
If you’re starting a new business, it may not be worth it to spend half your budget on advertising when you still need to prove to potential customers that your company is worth taking a chance on. You’re better off working on earning coverage of your brand in print, radio or television media or working on developing top-notch sales materials that make your brand look the part. Likewise, it’s probably not worth it for a large, established company to spend a lot on sending out press releases when it has a large social media following it can access quickly and with a lot less effort.
Getting PR into your business plan
Here are some tips on how to best incorporate good public relations and marketing communications strategies into your business plan.
- Start thinking about PR/marketing communications from the beginning: While promotion is one of the last things you write about in a business plan, there are plenty of things you can do in the first sections of a business plan to be better prepared. For example, when your doing you analysis of your competitors, take a couple minutes while you’re on their websites or social media feeds to see what they’re doing PR-wise. What do you like or not like about their strategy? Which topics or types of content seem to be generating the most engagement on social media? What’s something you can do better or different than they’re doing?
- What role(s) should PR/marketing communications play?: Once you’re established the other three Ps and set your goals and objectives, review them before you start writing the promotion section to figure out how PR may be the most useful. If one of your goals is to re-position your brand, how could PR help you effectively reach prospective customers? And what about your marketing materials may need to change to adhere to the new market position? If you’re a small company that’s aiming to grow, which of business successes need to be broadcast to potential clients to show them it’s worth making the switch to your products or services?
- How much to spend?: Thinking about money during the budgeting stage can greatly lessen the stress of pursuing a PR strategy. It makes you think about how much you want to commit to promoting your company, as well as identify how much promotional campaigns would need to generate to be profitable.