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Surround Message PR Strategy: Make the Box Smaller To Win

Create more PR buzz with less time and resources.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer


The sur­round mes­sage PR strategy is one of my favour­ite PR strategies.

I was in Italy in the middle of summer.

I was meet­ing up with an Italian fash­ion brand. They had thought adding some “PR and digit­al mar­ket­ing” would be great for their new col­lec­tion launch. 

The prob­lem was that the launch was less than a week away. I wanted to help them get the word out, but how?

Let’s dive right in:

A PR Strategy for When You’re Out of Options

The Italian-fash­ioned brand had brought me on board late in the pro­cess. The cam­paign was less than two weeks away. No PR and no digit­al activ­a­tions were prepared.

The only thing that stuck with me was a single item in the col­lec­tion — an icon­ic hand­bag being re-launched.

Since there was­n’t enough time to cre­ate fancy cam­paigns, I decided to stick with the handbag.

So, I pro­posed anoth­er strategy:

In all digit­al chan­nels at your dis­pos­al, you won’t talk about any­thing except for your icon­ic hand­bag for four con­sec­ut­ive weeks. No talk­ing about the rest of the col­lec­tion, okay?”

Not a single tweet, not a single post on Instagram, not a single press release, not a single inter­view with the media, not a single blog post, not a single Facebook update, not a single live event, not a single influ­en­cer activ­a­tion, not a single email list send-out, abso­lutely noth­ing went live dur­ing these four weeks unless it was about the product.

The reg­u­lar mar­ket­ing cal­en­dar had to be wiped clean, and for four weeks, the mar­ket­ing team had to come up with whatever — as long as it was only about the product. We even added product mes­saging to every employ­ee’s email signature. 

We put all reg­u­lar brand mes­sages on hold, which took quite some con­vin­cing on my part, until the end of those four weeks.

The strategy worked like a charm. The mes­sage got through to their com­munity without adding any spe­cif­ic online cam­paign activ­it­ies, and people star­ted talk­ing and shar­ing about the brand’s icon­ic product again. 

I’ve since tried this approach many times with much suc­cess, call­ing it the sur­round mes­sage PR strategy.

The Art of Relevant Variation

But won’t people get sick and tired of repeatedly being exposed to the same mes­sage? And in every chan­nel, no less? I know I would be.”

Yes and no.

Bombarding the email list with the same mes­sage repeatedly (spray-and-pray) would­n’t work.

However, the Italian fash­ion brand was­n’t send­ing out the same tweet five times a day for four weeks; it always had dif­fer­ent types of updates with dif­fer­ent images, copy, and call-to-actions. The only thing these updates had in com­mon was that they all dis­cussed re-launch­ing their icon­ic product.

Putting togeth­er many vari­ations of the Surround PR Message can be a cre­at­ive chal­lenge, espe­cially if the brand has­n’t tried this strategy before. But I’ve also seen how adding these con­straints can spark cre­ativ­ity.

Content Variations - Content Theme - Surround PR Strategy
Finding rel­ev­ant con­tent vari­ations on a single top­ic is not as dif­fi­cult as it may seem initially.

The Surround Message PR Strategy: A Tight Ship

It’s not as if every per­son in a brand’s online com­munity is exposed to every brand update. Most online cam­paigns end before most of the com­munity has even seen them.

Only a tiny per­cent­age of a brand’s online com­munity is exposed to single updates. 

As it turns out, most online cam­paigns are too short:

Due to algorithms and social graphs, a brand com­munity often has zero chance to keep up before the brand decides to talk about some­thing else — or sev­er­al things at once.

The real chal­lenge, there­fore, was to stop the brand from talk­ing about the things they, accord­ing to the strategy, should­n’t be talk­ing about.

The prob­lem­at­ic aspect of this strategy is being dis­cip­lined enough to go dark on everything but the top­ic you want to push. Communicators like to com­mu­nic­ate, and some­times over-com­mu­nic­a­tion can be a problem.

The Surround Message PR Workshop

I’ve tried the sur­round PR strategy many times for dif­fer­ent brands. To get star­ted, I like to run a sur­round mes­sage PR work­shop. It sounds fancy, but it’s a coördin­ated brain­storm to find some­thing spe­cial with­in a more extens­ive campaign.

Surround PR Strategy - Surround PR Workshop
Do a Surround Workshop to brain­storm your next Surround PR Strategy.

It’s not help­ful to think out­side the box in com­mu­nic­a­tion — some­times, you must make that box incred­ibly small instead.

Focusing on one sur­round mes­sage for a set peri­od is closely related to using con­tent themes in your con­tent strategy. Getting every­one onboard with the sur­round mes­sage PR strategy can be chal­len­ging, but the res­ults make it worth it. 

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Thanks for read­ing. Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing art­icles with oth­er com­mu­nic­a­tions and mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als. You might also con­sider my PR ser­vices or speak­ing engage­ments.

PR Resource: The 1‑Page Strategy

If you can­’t explain it simply, you don’t under­stand it well enough.”
— Albert Einstein

Spin Academy | Online PR Courses

How to Write a 1‑Page PR Strategy

My inspir­a­tion for writ­ing “no-bull­shit” strategies comes from the clas­sic “Good Strategy, Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters” by Richard Rumelt. The 1‑Page PR Strategy focuses on how to win. 1Rumelt, R. P. (2011). Good Strategy, Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters. Crown Business.

The most basic idea of strategy is the applic­a­tion of strength against weak­ness. Or, if you prefer, strength applied to the most prom­ising oppor­tun­ity.”
Source: Good Strategy, Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters 2Rumelt, R. P. (2011). Good Strategy, Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters. Crown Business.

Here’s how you can write a 1‑Page PR Strategy that fits one page — using the myth­ic­al battle between David and Goliath as an analogy:

1. Analysis

  • David can­’t beat Goliath using his size or raw strength, but he has an advant­age in speed and accur­acy from a distance.

2. Guiding Principle

  • David should­n’t engage in close com­bat but rather use tools that will allow him to strike from a distance.

3. Coherent Actions

  • David should­n’t use any heavy armour because that would slow him down.
  • David should use a sling­shot, a weapon he is famil­i­ar with and can strike from a distance.
  • David should lever­age the sur­prise ele­ment and not advert­ise his advant­age beforehand.

If you write 1 – 2 clear sen­tences per bul­let, your strategy should fit nicely on one page.

Read also: The Easy Street PR Strategy: Keep It Simple To Win

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PR Resource: How To Identify a Good PR Strategy

How To Create a PR Strategy - Spinning Top - Doctor Spin - The PR Blog
Spin for the win. (Photo: Jerry Silfwer)
Spin Academy | Online PR Courses

The Magical PR Strategy Question

Your PR strategy should answer one simple question:

  • Does this strategy provide a guid­ing prin­ciple for how your organ­isa­tion should defeat com­pet­it­ors in the battle for atten­tion, trust, and support?

Whenever your PR strategy fails to answer this ques­tion, it also fails to provide a roadmap to success.

Competitiveness is derived from per­man­ent infra­struc­tur­al char­ac­ter­ist­ics of organ­iz­a­tion­al design, rather than just rely­ing on tem­por­ary stra­tegic assets.”
Source: Strategic Change 3Connor, T. (2007). A con­sid­er­a­tion of stra­tegic assets and the organ­iz­a­tion­al sources of com­pet­it­ive­ness. Strategic Change, 16, 127 – 136. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​0​2​/​J​S​C​.​789

Learn more: The Magical PR Strategy Question

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PR Resource: More PR Strategies

1, 2 Rumelt, R. P. (2011). Good Strategy, Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters. Crown Business.
3 Connor, T. (2007). A con­sid­er­a­tion of stra­tegic assets and the organ­iz­a­tion­al sources of com­pet­it­ive­ness. Strategic Change, 16, 127 – 136. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​0​2​/​J​S​C​.​789
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Cover Photo

The cover photo isn't related to public relations obviously; it's just a photo of mine. Think of it as a 'decorative diversion', a subtle reminder that it's good to have hobbies outside work.

The cover photo has



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