The Rules of Engagement: PR Edition

rule of en·gage·ment


“A directive issued by a military authority specifying the circumstances and limitations under which forces will engage in combat with the enemy.”

The [PR] rules of engagement (ROE) are standing orders to public relations firms (and individual PR professionals) that define the circumstances, conditions, degree, and manner in which the use of pitching, writing or socializing may be applied. These rules provide authorization for and/or limits on, among other things, the use of said tactics and the appointment of certain capabilities. In some PR firms, the ROE have the status of guidance to clientele, while in other firms, the ROE are best practice commands. Rules of engagement do not normally dictate how a result is to be accomplished, but will indicate what measures may be unacceptable.

Below is an abbreviated description of the ROE, of which may be issued to all PR personnel:

  • You have the right to use all tools and strategies necessary to defend yourself against the competition: There are numerous tools available to help strengthen one’s own market position – from expanding your reach through press release distribution services to keeping an eye and ear on the industry at-large through social media monitoring platforms. Strategies are aplenty as well. For example, some may argue that a content marketing strategy provides the best bang for the buck, while others contend that implementing a product marketing strategy is the most direct way to gain favor by the customer. Above all, PR pros must direct resources to where they are most valued, and the fact is, you won’t know which tools and strategies deliver the most value to your clients until you embark upon the journey. The first place to start is helping a client develop a strategic narrative to gain an industry vision that helps them stand apart from the competition.
  • Hostile fire may be returned effectively and promptly to stop a hostile act: In other words, always be prepared to act in self-defense. As a PR pro, you never know how or when your client may be “under siege.” Whether it’s from a competitor publicly slamming a new product or service at a tradeshow, or a disgruntled employee taking to Facebook to explain how awful their boss is – you just never know if or when it’s coming. This is why it’s critical to be proactive when sniffing out the negativity (see Rule #1). Always be prepared with a crisis communications plan and proactively outline this objective with your clients, under the guise that you want to be prepared just in case.
  • Use minimum force to carry out the mission: This doesn’t mean using the path of least resistance, but rather to carry out your PR mission as swiftly and strongly as possible without having to call in the big guns. A successful launch for your client – whether it be a new product or strategic business initiative – means executing a well-developed, well-communicated plan of attack (see Rule #2). By first understanding the end goals of your client and setting expectations accordingly, PR pros must use a “work-backwards” approach to meeting the deadlines and objectives along the way. PR teams can then be freed up to divide and conquer workloads (content development, client relations, social media, media/analyst relations, project management, etc.) without the incessant need for managers to micro-manage every piece of the puzzle. Initiating individual responsibility and creating internal visibility is a sure-fire way to a successful program and gives your clients ample opportunity to stop and ask questions throughout the process. If and when you encounter a struggle, you can also better understand how and why it is happening and adjust the strategy and expectations as necessary.
  • Do not seize the property of others to accomplish your mission: This one is simple. You were brought on board to deliver your own creativity, critical thinking and interpersonal communication skills. In a world of ever-growing noise, do not subject yourself to plagiarism or copycatting. If caught, the consequences could be dire. Plus, do you really want your clients to sound like everybody else?
  • Treat all influencers with dignity and respect: Jim Carrey once said “The effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is.” As PR professionals, one of our main calls to action is to initiate, build and nurture relationships with those that influence our clients, and in turn, influence their respective customers. Why? They hold a key to the “market leader” castle. Since PR is a business largely built on relationships, you also know that they require a lot of work. The point being made here is simple: expecting to call up or email an influencer (reporter, analyst, or otherwise) to strike up a relationship out of thin air is a farce. This takes time, effort and discipline. Not only will anger and frustration alienate you from the influencers, but it can in turn alienate your clients as well. Plus, you are but one fisher-person in a sea of PR pros vying for an influencers’ attention. Be provocative and creative to standout, but don’t ever give a false promise or give them a reason to cut the line if you have them on the hook.

These are the first [PR] rules of engagement. Should you choose to not abide by them, you will be subject to harsh questioning and concern from your clients, or worse, face termination by means of replacement by an advertising firm.