How do you get good PR for winning a spot on a major government contract when you don’t know whether you’ll win as a prime or a subcontractor, whether you’ll win at all (of course), when the awards will be announced, and whether the subs will be amenable to publicity? You can play it by ear and see what happens. Or you can plan for all contingencies and be ready to roll no matter what happens. You can guess what the right answer is: #2 – plan, plan, plan!
As a PR firm focused on government contractors, we find ourselves in this situation frequently and recently garnered much success from a well-laid plan and crafty execution. The plan was to remain silent if our client got little to no role in the contracts. But if they were on a number of winning teams then we would leap into action. The question was how to do it without having to run everything through the primes and end up issuing news that was hopelessly old.
Initially, our client wanted a press release prepared in advance. We didn’t think that was the most efficient vehicle for this announcement but did draft a release in the event we were selected as a prime and to use as our main source of messaging for other outreach.
Then we planned for all the other possible scenarios. We decided to position our client not as the contract winner but as an informed source on the subject by virtue of being on several winning teams. We drafted and circulated message points for this scenario, lined up a few spokespeople, and created a Q&A.
Then we waited. And waited, as hearsay deadlines came and went. Finally we learned of the decision early one morning on Twitter. We called our client to confirm, were informed they were on multiple awards as a sub, and quickly contacted our top reporters – ending up breaking the news to them. Meanwhile we had tracked down our highest ranking spokesperson at an off-site retreat and offered the media interviews with him, securing about 10 interviews throughout the day. We then lined up a few more slots for the second highest ranking spokesperson. For reporters who didn’t have time for an interview, we resurrected the quotes from the approved press release and sent them out, generating more coverage.
The whole plan worked beautifully. Because we were the first ones out of the gate with this news and had our talking points and spokespeople ready to go, our client got the lion’s share of the press – even as a subcontractor. They were thrilled, and we also made an impression on some key reporters as a respected and reliable source on these issues.
Granted, the process wouldn’t have worked without rapid action on the day of – including following social media doggedly. But it wouldn’t have been nearly as fruitful had we not put a whole lot of planning into the “what if” scenarios. Weeks of planning came down to a day’s worth of execution, and every minute of those weeks was worth it.