Proactive vs. Reactive Public Relations

Proactive public relations

The Pros and Cons of Proactive vs. Reactive Public Relations

The PR landscape changes every minute of every second. Proactive vs. reactive communication strategies have both positives and negatives, so it’s important for all PR professionals and brands to strike a balance between the two.

Today’s rapid news cycle and changing algorithms make it more challenging to proactively plan ahead, leading to more reactive public relations. For example, when a new hashtag or challenge appears on social media, brands often consider whether it’s worth investing time to develop engaging content, or waiting for the next opportunity. Meanwhile, it’s important to keep in mind that trends come and go, and when there isn’t something actively trending or requiring an urgent response, brands still need regular, evergreen content scheduled and ready to go.

Proactive Public Relations

While reacting to timely news and comments can help boost a brand’s identity quickly, a proactive approach helps a brand build and strengthen its image and credibility. It can also boost thought leadership within an organization and result in more free media placements. By planning ahead and determining the optimal time to launch a product, pitch an article for an upcoming issue or even publish a blog, PR professionals can better predict the outcome and deliver on their promises.

Tactics like outreach to the media, planning events and building an online presence can all be categorised under proactive public relations. It can also be helpful when it comes to placing print advertisements or managing social media ads.

Reactive Public Relations

It’s impossible to predict the future, so being ready to jump on a trend or address a negative comment on social media in real time is essential in today’s PR landscape. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many companies within the professional cleaning industry relied on their skilled PR and communications teams to develop reliable, accurate information for their customers as well as the public. This reactive approach to the crisis was essential as new findings and guidelines often contradicted previous information.

Reactive PR is often the best tool when it comes to responding to negative and urgent situations, but it can also be helpful in reaching new customers through active and relevant trends.

Which Approach is Best?

Some organizations rely solely on a proactive approach, which means they consistently develop content, regularly seek out media opportunities and keep their audiences informed on the latest products and announcements. However, relying only on this tactic means there’s room for negative reviews or news around the brand to go unattended, leading to frustration from customers and reputational damage. In fact, 60% of customers who complain on social media expect a response within an hour.

A lack of response and addressing significant topics, including social change, global health and sustainability, can be interpreted as a lack of care and responsibility. Additionally, too much messaging around company products without a balance of relevant, customer-centric content can turn customers off. A report found 65% of B2B customers say they receive too much messaging from businesses, most of it deemed useless.

That said, having only a reactive approach creates missed opportunities and will result in inconsistent brand messaging and awareness. Striking a perfect balance takes time, and often trial and error, but is essential for an effective marketing and communications strategy. To do this, consider the following tips:

Schedule with purpose.

The news is unpredictable, and some days a worldwide tragedy or significant social cause may dominate the headlines. If you have a press release planned or a social media post scheduled, consider holding it back for a day or two. Customers respond negatively to brands that come across as tone deaf, even if it wasn’t on purpose.

Plan to react.

Sometimes you can plan for the future by pulling together quick responses to common comments, questions or complaints. Whether it’s an inquiry about a product or a negative review, it’s best to reply swiftly. Work with your team to develop a database of generic responses that can be easily adjusted for specific instances.

Monitor media daily.

First thing in the morning, consider doing a quick search on trending topics and whether there’s anything noteworthy. If it does not relate to your brand or industry, it’s likely not worth addressing. However, if there’s a news story that directly impacts you or your customers, consider creating a quick social media post to keep your brand on top of the trends. If you’re responding to something sensitive or highly controversial, consider a press release with carefully crafted statements or a notice on your website’s homepage. It’s best to have content reviewed by multiple communication professionals within your company to ensure it accurately reflects the brand’s beliefs.

Utilise auto responses.

Most social media platforms allow brands to craft a personalised auto response, assuring a customer that their message has been received. Make sure your auto response is turned on and aligns with your messaging and branding. It’s also critical to make sure someone is responsible for directly responding to that message and helping resolve issues.

Putting the “P” and “R” in PR

There are pros and cons to utilizing a proactive and reactive approach. While determining what works best for specific campaigns, events and launches, always strive for a balance between the two. If you’re looking for a team that is well-versed in both approaches, we’d be happy to chat. Get in touch today.


Alex Weiss is an Account Supervisor at Mulberry Marketing Communications, an award-winning full-service B2B communications agency based in Chicago, London and Australia. She combines her creative writing background and B2B experience to bring client campaigns to life.