Why Listening is a Key Part of PR Strategy

August 19, 2020 | Angelica Flynn

As public relations pros, we find it easy to communicate. Whether we’re speaking or writing, communicating is what we do best. We know what to say and when to say it to our audiences … it isn’t a guessing game. Because before we speak or write, we listen.

Listening is the often-overlooked but essential tenet of a smart and deliberate PR strategy. Informed through listening — via focus groups, surveys and other two-way communication — communicators effectively craft messages to best resonate and create impact. Reading the news, trends and social media conversations that constantly take place also is part of listening. By understanding the news and social media content an audience consumes, PR practitioners can better tailor the tone of messages, strategize on content and ensure appropriate timing for the delivery of communications.

Consuming news and social media content also can help gauge an audience’s sentiments and provide a sense of the circumstances surrounding the audience’s position. If you distribute a news release or send a pitch, it could get lost or not have as big an impact if you aren’t aware that a big event or research study is the focus of your local media. If you issue a statement without first seeing how community members are reacting in the news or social media, the organization could come off as tone-deaf or out of sync with its audiences. PR pros yield better results and more effectively communicate with audiences when we listen.

“Find channels that allow you to identify the essential information that affects, or could affect, your organization.”

Communications and marketing professionals should make it a rule to always be looped into:

  • Industry news: You need to know what’s moving and shaking in your industry. Knowing what’s hot in the organization’s industry helps media relations specialists hijack the news, position subject matter experts as thought leaders on important topics and understand what might be coming down the pike.
  • Local and regional news: Seeing what else is on the forefront of your audience’s mind can help with content development and timing. An organization is part of a community of organizations and companies, and it’s valuable to understand how you fit into what else is happening in your area.
  • National news: Organizations don’t exist in a bubble. What larger factors — politics, environment, culture, society — are impacting your audience? Your news will be seen in context to what else is happening not only at the local and regional level, but also on the national scale.
  • Social media trends and conversations: Oftentimes we see trends or stories on social media well before they turn into bona fide news. Keeping a keen eye on what people are talking about online is essential to staying relevant.
  • News about yourself: On any given day, any number of media clips could mention your organization. You should have your finger on the pulse of all the external media coverage and social media conversations about your organization to ensure you are listening to what your stakeholders are saying, insight that might influence your messaging.

With so much content out there, it can be tough to find the time and focus to digest all of the news you need to consume. Besides reading newspapers, watching newscasts and listening to talk radio, media monitoring tools can help flag important topics related to your organization as they emerge. Subscribing to newsletters or podcasts published by specific trade and general publications also can help you stay in the know.

Personally, I’m an avid news consumer and am always reading something, and at AKCG we strive to stay up to date on our clients’ industries and the news of the day. If you’re a solo practitioner or have a team, find channels that allow you to identify the essential information that affects, or could affect, your organization.

Whether you are working on media relations or thought leadership programs, preparing for crises or responding to an active issue, news and social media conversations can be your best barometer in gauging sentiment and informing your next communication.