Proactive vs. Reactive in PR Planning

Executives take notes during a strategy meeting.
Executives take notes during a strategy meeting. (Image: Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images)

With a proactive public relations strategy, a company performs an internal audit, identifies positive brand or product messages, and then uses various PR tools to communicate them. A reactive PR strategy, on the other hand, is an approach for combatting negative events after they happen -- though successful companies often plan how to react to various types of negative activities before they occur.

Proactive PR and the Promotional Mix

Proactive PR means a company uses public relations opportunities as an add-on to paid advertising messages. A PR audit is a strategic evaluation by company leaders of the positive attributes, activities and honors of the business or its products. This review aligns closely with the key benefits companies plan to promote through advertising. Following an audit, the marketing department is able to build a strategy for communication, and map out a schedule for media coverage and PR activities.

Proactive Benefits and Tools

A compelling benefit of PR is that message placement doesn't have a cost. While PR itself involves some resource allocation, the actual media coverage is free. This efficiency allows a proactive business to greatly extend the reach and repetition of its brand messages beyond what its budget enables. By being proactive, the company is better equipped to control the "public conversation" about its brand. Primary tools for proactive PR include press releases, news stories, newsletters, press conferences and interviews. While there are no guarantees the media will present a message as intended, proactive PR includes efforts to build relationships with local media members.

Reactive PR and Negative News

Despite best efforts, no business has 100 percent control over the public conversation about its brand. Also, companies are imperfect, and mistakes by people at any level of the organization can lead to negative publicity. Reactive PR refers to how a company handles negative conversations in the marketplace. If the media runs a story about a business deceiving customers, for instance, the company needs a plan to react. Organizations use many of the same tools to combat negative news as they do to proactively promote positive messages. A company might send out a statement or press release to defend its position. To respond to more damaging news, apologize or directly deny a claim, company leaders may hold a press conference.

Reactive PR Limitations

Reactive PR does have some limitations, as companies can't plan for many of the more obscure or unfathomable events they may experience. However, successful companies tend to plan an appropriate reaction in the face of almost any adversity. Failure to respond in a timely manner -- or responding in a way that fuels the fire of an angry media or public -- can exacerbate brand anguish. In contrast, companies that prepare a comprehensive reactive strategy can either mitigate brand damage or even reverse negative momentum. A press release or news conference acknowledging mistakes and committing to specific improvements may appease a forgiving audience, for example.

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