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Guest Blog: Sandra Cain - Better public relations!

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations defines Public Relations as, ‘…the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.’ In the case of the writer/author, the author himself is considered the organisation. Central to this activity is the fact that PR is planned and managed. It is not an ad hoc process, but a well-thought out activity and as such any writer wanting to sell his books and engage with his readership must understand the ten step planning process.

The traditional publishing business model has changed dramatically with the shrinking of marketing budgets and the emergence of independent and electronic publishing. The days of the agent and legacy publisher as gatekeepers of taste and access are rapidly diminishing. Any writer now realises it is up to him to market and PR his books. This is of obvious concern to many writers … it is a rare beast who can specialise in both the skills of marketing communications and creative writing. The one eats into the time of the other and the result can be a frustrating experience.

The author should ask himself the following planning questions:

  • What do I want to achieve? What are my objectives?
  • Who do I want to talk to? Who are my publics?
  • What do I want to say? What are the messages I want to get across?
  • How shall I say it? What tactics and techniques shall I use to get my message across?
  • How do I know I’ve achieved it? How shall I evaluate my PR plan?

There are ten logical stages to the PR planning process and include the following:

1. Analysis: is the first step in the planning process and is based on research to identify the issues on which the PR plan will be based.

2. Objectives: are vital if the campaign is to have direction. Objectives should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely, (SMART).

3. Publics: research and analysis should have indicated who the target audience is. Each writer will have their own specific audience or ‘publics’.

4. Messages: the author needs to determine his central ‘message’. He will then need to decide how that message should be presented. Format, tone, context and timing will need to be considered and whether the message needs to be repeated to become credible.

5. Strategy: is the overall approach that is taken to a PR campaign. It is the co-ordinating theme or ‘big idea’ … the rationale behind the tactical programme.

6. Tactics: are the tools and techniques the author will use to get their message across. These can be many and varied and range from social media marketing to live readings.

7. Timescales: identify deadlines to be met in order to complete the campaign successfully.

8. Resources: fall under three headings – human resources, operating costs and equipment.

9. Evaluation: helps the author focus effort and demonstrate effectiveness and value for money.

10. Review: a six monthly review should check the strategy for the PR programme and establish if it is still working.

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Sandra Cain is a senior lecturer at Southampton University lecturing on Creative Writing and Public Relations. She is the author of eleven books and founder director of Wordshaker, a PR and editorial consultancy for authors.

Southampton Solent University is a partner in the VIVID project

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