Should you focus on proactive or reactive PR strategies?

The two approaches offer different benefits and downsides that PR pros and brand managers should consider—and savvy communicators should employ both.


Public relations is enjoying a bit of a resurgence. As businesses strive to stand out in a noisy digital environment, they’re turning to PR to help achieve those goals.

“The rising need to gain competitive advantage is driving the public relations market,” says a survey published by Wise Guy Reports. The report says the market is expected to grow at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 7% from 2021, reaching $117.8 billion in 2023.

As PR pros everywhere will probably tell you, while this is good news, it’s not without its challenges. More competition for the attention of journalists makes it tougher to land earned media coverage for clients. More than 42% of journalists report receiving 11 to 100 pitches a day, and almost 5% receive 100+ email pitches per day, according to research conducted by Fractl.

As public relations pros, we have to discover which methods are most effective at catching a reporter’s eye. A solid media relations strategy should encompass proactive and reactive approaches to increase a client’s visibility.

Proactive PR

To develop a proactive PR strategy, practitioners should determine where a client’s audience is. That might not always be The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. More likely, it’s trade publications or maybe even local news outlets.

Then, a PR pro puts together a list of media outlets they want to target, as well as reporters at those outlets that would be a good fit for the client’s news, stories and press releases.

After determining the media list, it’s time to focus on story angles and news announcements that can be pitched. It’s a process that involves research, relationship-building, writing pitches, reaching out and following up, along with integrating owned content and social media. Like any part of a robust digital marketing effort, it requires some legwork and consistency to be effective.

Reactive PR

There are a couple of common scenarios in which reactive PR can take place. One is when a reporter or media outlet contacts your business as a source for a story they might be working on.  If you’re a company like Amazon or Google, of course, this happens frequently. For the typical smaller business, it probably doesn’t happen as often.

Another reactive PR scenario is when you see a journalist searching for a source for a story they’re working on. One place to seek out reactive PR opportunities is via Twitter. There’s been an upsurge in journalists posting there, looking for story sources. You can search using a term like #PRRequest or #JournoRequest—or if you spend time on Twitter and follow reporters you’re interested in working with, you may see opportunities appear in your feed.

Then there’s HARO. You may have heard of HARO, which stands for Help a Reporter Out. This is a free source anyone can subscribe to. Reporters can use it to find sources for stories they’re working on. It was founded in 2008 by Peter Shankman, who later sold it to Cision.

In its early years, HARO was a helpful source with credible journalists in both B2B and B2C sectors looking for stories. It’s evolved into somewhat of a mixed bag, with bloggers looking for free products to review and some less-than-credible media outlets, some who choose to remain anonymous, posting queries.

Another way to seek out reactive PR opportunities is through a site called Qwoted. Its motto? Let the story come to you.

There are others, as well, but HARO is probably the best known and has been around the longest.

What’s the drawback to reactive PR?

There’s nothing at all wrong with factoring reactive PR into a public relations strategy. If you’re a small business owner working on doing your own PR, HARO might be helpful—if you have the time to review it each day and respond to queries.

But if you’re relying on reactive PR alone to achieve your goals, that could be a problem.

First’s it’s time-consuming to weed through all the HARO requests to find the one or two that may be a fit. Then, say you do find an opportunity that looks like a match. To have a chance at being considered—again, you’re usually competing with many others who respond—you have to act fast. Will a client be able to approve the response quickly enough for you to meet the reporter’s deadline?

More importantly, would this time be better spent working on proactive media outreach? It can be a lot of effort for a low return on investment.

How do you get the right balance?

When you talk with a PR consultant or agency, be sure to ask them how heavily they rely on reactive PR opportunities. Are they doing their own proactive research and outreach?

Relying on reactive PR should not be the whole strategy. Of course, a comprehensive digital PR strategy should encompass all the potential methods of finding and helping clients secure relevant opportunities.

In my own work, I view reactive PR as a very small piece of the overall plan. It’s a nice-to-have additional perk of working with a PR professional if you will, but certainly not something to rely on to get your business seen.

It’s fine to use reactive PR as a minor part of your overall strategy, but proactive PR is a much better way to spend your time and budget.

Michelle Garrett is a PR consultant and writer with a focus on B2B clients. A version of this article first appeared on her blog.



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