By Betsy McCloskey / Guest Column

Public relations planning can be a beast to tack­le, and unfortunately, many companies don’t put in the time or effort needed to take their marketing to another level. Historically, if you have not taken a piece of your marketing mix to create an effective PR plan, it would be in your company’s best interest to start now. Marketing departments, CEOs and business owners are starting to evaluate budgets and goals for 2019, so the timing is perfect.

Still not sure? Here’s why it’s worth your effort.

When PR is done well, it is the best brand­ing you can do. When public relations connects effectively with your audience, it gives your brand depth and personality. It is the most effective and credible way to communicate your brand’s story. What do you want people to feel, think and imagine when they interact with your company? This is the first question to ask when starting to plan PR for the coming year. The objectives and tactics necessary to achieve the answer to that question will form the basis of your strategy.

You can leverage media opportunities. What key messages do you need to get out to your clients, customers or patients in 2019? Plan for these efforts. Your press releases, guerrilla mar­keting and other PR efforts should reflect your key message to attract relevant coverage from the media. Whether you have a unique event or position yourself as an expert, you want jour­nalists and reporters to have a reason to call you and help you tell your story.

An effective PR plan will also prepare your company spokesperson with key talking points and messaging so they can convey the correct tone and accurately represent your business at a moment’s notice.

Your company will recover from a crisis more effectively if you have a plan. We all dread that moment when we know our com­pany is in trouble — when an employee or ex­ecutive says, posts or does something that puts everything at risk. It happens, so avoid the guesswork and plan for the worst in order to be prepared for any potential crisis situation. The “recovery” section of the plan should walk your team through the entire situation, starting with the moment an issue arises, and work its way through each of the needed steps until the problem is resolved.

You can optimize your SEO. Search engine optimization, or SEO, is an important step for reaching your target audience through online channels. To increase your SEO rankings, post positive stories on your social platforms and website. Fresh content drives not only your ranking, but also your brand.

It can lead to free promotion. Press releases are still an important way to communicate your events to the public. The key is to know the dif­ference between a newsworthy story and an ad­vertisement for your organization. Journalists and news outlets will likely not promote your reduced pricing in a press release, but if you are having a BBQ to benefit a charity, send it over! Be sure that you keep it short, sweet and pro­vide all the facts they need to share the news, including why their audience would benefit from the story.

It can build your credibility. A paid ad sells your company; a good PR effort tells your story. Consumers will feel a more intimate con­nection with your company when they learn about what happens behind the scenes and what values drive the organization. Whether you are sponsoring a do-good event, announc­ing a new employee or giving away free coffee, these stories leave people with a warm feeling about your brand. In the end, when your story makes someone feel positive emotions, it is the best marketing in the world.

Betsy McCloskey is a partner at Plaid Swan Inc. with offices in Cedar Rapids and Dubuque. Plaid Swan is a female-owned and operated marketing communications firm.