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The NHL returns to Winnipeg. An impromptu ball hockey game breaks out as fans sporting old Jets memorabilia gathered at Portage and Main to hear and cheer the announcement.
The NHL returns to Winnipeg. An impromptu ball hockey game breaks out as fans sporting old Jets memorabilia gathered at Portage and Main to hear and cheer the announcement.

Grow: Mia Pearson

Smart promotion follows 30-per-cent rule Add to ...

A departure from tradition can have its benefits.

It might seem counterintuitive, but companies should not be locking down their PR plans a year, or even six months, in advance. Plan for major company milestones or significant product or service launches, but don’t allocate your entire budget. The new norm is to keep at least 30 per cent of your budget for creative, moment-in-time strategies that are more opportunistic in nature.

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Think about some of the PR campaigns that have generated huge buzz for companies over the past year. We’ve all read about them. The companies that have acted quickly, taking advantage of high-profile news stories and figuring out ways to insert themselves into the coverage. The 30-per-cent bucket accounts for spontaneous projects, opportunities that can arise at the last moment.

In December, we saw automotive companies and retail brands looking for thought leadership opportunities when a major snowstorm hits. Hazardous weather conditions present an opportunity to approach media with safe driving tips, survey findings around torturous winter driving, and other ideas to help promote auto-related products. Appearances on morning television and radio programs with expert drivers can demonstrate the benefits of winter tires, when we know media already wants to talk about this topic.

Setting aside 30 per cent in your marketing budget is also important as social media becomes a much larger part of your PR strategy. Conversations are happening online all the time around your brand, and ensuring you are actively listening and engaging with your customers in real time is critical. And when you see an opportunity, social networks are an amazing place to start building momentum and affinity with your brand.

The announcement of the NHL’s return to Winnipeg is a great example. Local residents took to the streets, playing outdoor hockey and attending concerts at the Forks. Not only was the city alive, but the Facebook and Twitter feeds were full of positive posts talking about what this meant to Winnipeg and hockey overall.

For the next three days, media would be covering the announcement and running follow-up stories of what it meant to the city. And that’s where the opportunity arose. One major retail brand surprised local residents with hockey sticks placed first thing in the morning throughout the city. People woke up to a “welcome back hockey” message and the media coverage spiked again.

The retailer’s surprising gesture produced its own media coverage, delighting hockey fans in Winnipeg and demonstrating its commitment to the sport. That would have never happened if the budget was completely locked down six months in advance.

Making room in your budget for spontaneous public relations campaigns can have huge pay-offs. It often means fewer meetings and more time to execute against a great idea. The end result always means more awareness at lower costs than most long-term campaigns. And because you are helping reporters fill a typical news cycle, they are much more open to ideas and more apt to pick up your story.

Regardless of the size of your business, do not forget the 70-30 rule. Businesses need to be more nimble, take risks and apply creative thinking when they see an opportunity. When you do your year in review, those campaigns will likely be the ones you are most proud of and delivered the best results.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic . She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.

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