Public Relations (PR) is a crucial marketing factor for any business. It offers an asset toward building or defending one’s brand image, and it can inform one’s marketing efforts. Moreover, precisely because it’s so overreaching, it is now subject to a distinction; reactive PR vs proactive PR. As the names suggest, each of these types focuses on different timing and messaging. In turn, each has different goals and employs different tools to achieve them. Thus, let us devote this article to exploring both in-depth to best highlight the differences between the two.
Reactive PR vs proactive PR in the post-COVID digital era
First and foremost, it is crucial to establish why this subject bears discussing. After all, PR has been a mainstay in business for decades, and large-scale conceptual reroutes have only been gradual.
Indeed, reactive PR has arguably been the “default” PR type in most regards. However, among other long-term factors, there are two main reasons that warrant this debate; COVID-19 and accelerating digitization.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the business world. Immediate, short-term effects aside, it has fueled long-term changes to customers’ behaviors, as safety measures affected their daily lives. For this reason, brands are conveying different messages nowadays – ones that emphasize humanity and empathy.
A similar product of our times, digitization is now far from a buzzword. From the internet itself surging in popularity to the advent of mobile devices and the immense impact of social media, the digital age flies on swift wings. As such, brands face a shifting digital landscape to navigate – one with different tools and different challenges.
The “default” type of PR in most regards, reactive PR seeks to react to events. It is frequently distilled as crisis management; damage control and reputation recovery. However, while it does indeed include crisis management, it also entails reacting to emerging opportunities.
In essence, reactive PR seeks to respond to events after they occur.
In terms of crisis management, it entails responding to negative events and coverage frequently while adhering to internal response protocols. In terms of responding to opportunities, it relies on using such practices as “newsjacking” to respond to emerging trends. This is why reactive PR is frequently seen as “passive”, even though it too hinges on preparation and readiness.
Now, in terms of crisis management, reactive PR typically has the following goals:
Counteracting bad press
Minimizing or preventing a crisis
Limiting brand image damage; damage control
Recovering reputation and rebuilding trust
However, reactive PR also entails reacting to potentially favorable circumstances. In this regard, reactive PR also aims to respond optimally to:
On both fronts, reactive PR hinges on projecting a single, unified message. It thus requires preparation, despite the name; the right staff needs to be prepared to respond at optimal times.
To meet such goals, reactive PR employs such tools as:
Press releases and press conferences
Social media channels
Content; blogs, videos
Of course, utilizing these and other tools effectively hinges on timing. Reactive PR does not simply depend on broadcasting a defensive, rebuking, or conciliatory message, but also on doing so timely.
In contrast, proactive PR seeks, in most regards, to establish a healthy brand image foundation for marketing. It may do so through active outreach, news distribution, or other means, but it typically revolves around building public trust and credibility.
At its core, proactive PR seeks to bolster one’s brand image and prevent crises before they occur.
To do so, it typically overlaps with standard marketing practices that bolster brand awareness and brand trust. It thus entails comparatively more initiatives, being seen as the more “active” type of the two. Indeed, LeRon Haire notes, “being proactive allows an organization to control the conversation instead of allowing [it] to control the organization”.
As outlined above, proactive PR typically sets proactive goals, including:
Strengthening the brand image
Raising brand awareness
Fostering trust and building brand credibility
Moreover, since it entails demonstrable marketing benefits, it may extend to such goals as:
Producing low-cost, cost-efficient advertising
Revealing potential business opportunities; partnerships, coverage, etc
Increasing conversions and sales
Proactive PR seeks to build the groundwork for favorable coverage and business interactions. In doing so, it aims to prevent crises instead of responding to them.
While proactive PR tools will likely differ, depending on one’s exact goals and scope, they will typically include:
Social media channels; outreach to influencers and trend setters
Content; blogs, videos
New technologies; live chat and chat bots, AI, etc
Unlike reactive PR, proactive PR hinges on using such tools to promote one’s brand and seek opportunities and exposure. Thus, it is much more similar to contemporary marketing than crisis management and can vary in scope much more significantly.
Reactive PR vs proactive PR
Now, having explored both of these types, we may briefly delve into their core differences.
#1 Crisis management
Reactive PR seeks to respond to crises and minimize potential damages. In contrast, proactive PR delves into preventing crises from occurring.
In terms of marketing, proactive PR seeks to use positive media coverage as an effective, mostly free advertising tool. It thus overlaps with other marketing strategies and can inform marketing decisions. In contrast, reactive PR overlaps less with marketing, as it focuses on damage control. It does, however, capitalize on emerging trends through media coverage, revealing potential marketing opportunities.
Finally, both PR types use similar tools, such as press releases, content, and social media. However, they use such tools differently, in accord with their goals. Moreover, proactive PR may explore outreach to influencers to bolster one’s brand image, which reactive PR rarely resorts to.
To summarize, the debate of reactive PR vs proactive PR hinges on the fundamental difference in each type’s goal. Reactive PR allows for crisis aversion, while proactive PR allows for crisis prevention and building trust. Needless to say, both are invaluable assets toward ensuring business prosperity. Thus, it is advisable to engage in both, focusing on either depending on one’s needs, goals, and industry.