Rachel McCallister and Allison Thomas

First of a four-part series.

What do businesses and movie stars share in common? Their need for a public relations strategy.

In today’s sophisticated media universe, there are very few accidental overnight sensations. Whether it’s fame for the movie star or awareness for a new or existing product or service, the starting point is a public relations plan, usually consisting of a situation analysis, goals, strategies and tactics.

However, instead of dealing with these areas as abstract concepts, let’s create the Blue Streak Co., to serve as an example of how a plan is developed, executed and changed to reflect the needs of the company.

Blue Streak has been set up by Tom Jones to manufacture and market blue, glow-in-the-dark widgets. Tom is a well-regarded, 10-year widget veteran, who believes his creation will rejuvenate an industry that has had no innovations for a decade. Tom wants to introduce widgets to a younger generation.

Our first step is the preparation of a situation analysis. In Tom’s case, it’s obvious that he’s launching a new company and product, but this is not being done in an industry vacuum. We also need to assess the competitive landscape. This requires answering a series of questions.

Who are Tom’s principal competitors and why are they successful? What differentiates his product/company from the competition, and why is it better? What type of demand exists for Tom’s product/company? Is his company creating a new market, refreshing an old one, or going to have a significant impact on the industry or its practices?

Whether launching a new company/product or re-positioning an existing one, prevailing perceptions about the company, its services/products and principals or investors need to be addressed.

This requires a “mini-audit” to determine what the media and Tom’s potential customers already know or think about Tom and his product in order to know whether we are building on a positive image or changing a negative or neutral one.

Since this is a company and product launch, one of our goals will be to generate awareness. Other goals involve using competitive differentiators to establish the company/product in some type of leadership position, generating demand for the product among a particular group, educating the marketplace as to the need for the product or service, creating a positive image for the company’s role in its respective industry or need for the new product or service in the marketplace.

Our goals for Tom and Blue Streak address both his business-to-business concerns, as well as reaching the final consumer in order to sell product.

The goals include the following:

1) Establishing Blue Streak as an industry trendsetter; the first to introduce a new product in 10 years.

2) Positioning blue, glow-in-the-dark widgets as having the potential to rejuvenate a flat industry.

3) Generating awareness among a new generation of widget buyers.

4) Establishing blue, glow-in-the-dark widgets as edgy, hip and cool.

With goals established, we’re ready to consider implementation.

Strategies and tactics are closely intertwined and often confused for one another. A strategy is a broad-stroke approach to reaching a stated goal, while tactics are the steps you take to actually implement the strategy. Strategies will stem directly from the goals.

For example, to establish Blue Streak as an industry trendsetter, we will want to:

1) Establish Tom Jones as an expert in the field who is well-positioned to educate media on the potential of the widget industry.

2) Secure third-party endorsements from industry analysts and key influential media who believe the widget world is ready for a new innovation.

The tactics needed to carry out these particular strategies would include:

1) Preparing press materials that would consist of a company profile, reflecting company and product positioning, a product fact sheet and biographies of senior management.

2) Identifying and scheduling a series of one-on-one meetings with key industry analysts and business press to tell Tom’s story.

3) Commissioning a research study by a respected third-party organization to secure data that reinforces Blue Streak’s position vis- & #341;-vis potential growth in the widget market.

4) Arranging to speak or demonstrate Tom’s amazing new product at appropriate industry functions and trade shows.

5) Scheduling demos of the new blue, glow-in-the-dark widgets for key retailers and trade press to start generating an industry buzz about the product.

6) Creating some type of blue, glow-in-the-dark premium item that could be used as a leave-behind or mailer to remind your contacts about this exciting new product.

Because another one of our goals is to position blue, glow-in-the-dark widgets as hip and trendy, our consumer-oriented strategies would consist of:

1) Arranging for the first public showing of blue, glow-in-the-dark widgets to take place at a major stadium rock concert or at a nationally prominent evening sporting event.

2) Securing the services of a pop icon figure to serve as product spokesperson.

3) Securing reviews in national consumer press, alternative Gen-X publications, etc.

Tactics would then consist of leveraging some relationship with MTV or contacting appropriate rock or sports promoters to determine the viability of the promotional idea, contacting agents or managers to secure the services of a celebrity, and arranging for appropriate reviewers/editors to see the blue, glow-in-the-dark widgets.

A good public relations plan is a living document. Although your goals should remain constant, be prepared to change strategies and tactics as the industry and media landscape shift and you discover what works best.

Next week, putting the plan into action.

Allison Thomas and Rachel McCallister are partners in KillerApp Communications LLC, a Los Angeles public relations agency for the interactive entertainment and online services industry.

Small Business is a regular column contributed by EC2, The Annenberg Incubator Project, a center for multimedia and electronic communications at the University of Southern California. Contact Dan Rabinovitch at (213) 743-2344 with feedback and topic suggestions.

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