Using Push-Pull Strategy In Public Relations

By Craig Miyamoto, APR, Fellow PRSA

(This is an expanded version of the 2000 Fourth Quarter issue of Public Relations Strategies, a quarterly publication of Miyamoto Strategic Counsel)

Push-Pull Strategy is not a new concept; it's been around for a while. Its two components - Push Strategy and Pull Strategy - can be utilized either exclusively or in combination, and it is probably more useful to discuss each separately, because Push-Pull simply is the combination of the two. Although often thought of as marketing tools, Both push and pull principles fit very well into the public relations model and are used in strategic campaigns to determine the efficacy of persuasive methods.

One of the earliest definitions of public relations I learned was, "Public relations is doing good things and talking about it." You could say that Pull Strategy has "doing good things" at its heart, and that Pull Strategy is more concerned with the "talking about it" element.

PULL STRATEGY involves talking directly to your primary audience with the express purpose of persuading them to take a specific action favorable to your organization. It depends on your organization's ability to "pull" the target audience into the fold, and is most powerful when you have developed a solid reputation as a leader in the field.

In other words, an organization's strength and exemplary actions are used to attract supporters.

Consistent, exemplary action leads to people trusting your organization. This earned trust boosts your credibility, and when people can believe you, this in turn solidifies your company's reputation in society. And, it is this reputation that serves as your operational foundation and determines the image that people have of you. I call this the Action-Image Continuum.

All of this smooths the way for acceptance of your message and your calls for support. In short, exemplary action pulls your potential supporters toward you and makes it easier to persuade them to take action on your behalf. A good example would be a member of your organization personally taking a potential member by the hand and walking him or her through the recruitment process.

PUSH STRATEGY uses the benefiting organization's communications channels and influencing audiences to convince potential supporters that it's in their best interest to join your organization or support its causes.

You generally will be communicating with a large group of potential supporters, and will choose from a gamut of communications tools in Push Strategy. It's everything from brochures to direct mail, from newsletters to phone calls, from speeches to exhibits, from email to websites.

Basically, the purpose of push is to get the word out about your organization or cause.

However, you must give something of value to the audience - something that will push them, that will nudge them toward you, that will position them to be enlightened by your organization's good name and image, that will break through the inertia and get them to do something on your behalf. That something of value could be entertainment, knowledge, expertise, "how to" or "did you know" tips, perhaps even samples.

PUSH-PULL STRATEGY is a combination of the two strategies - planning and timing your "pull" initiatives with your "push" initiatives. You use persuasive methods directly with your primary audience (pull), while at the same time, you utilize existing or new targeted communications tools (push).

A good example of "push-pull" would be a college-level pre-professional organization whose members are often "lost in the cracks" before they join the sponsoring professional association. The pre-professional organization can "talk up" and "push" professional membership until their faces turn blue, but once their members leave the fold (graduate), it then becomes the responsibility of the sponsoring association to latch on to them and "pull" them into the professional group.

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