Book Review: Inbound PR: the PR Agency's Manual to Transforming Your Business with Inbound

New model thinking takes on the modern PR challenge to do things differently

Padraig McKeon, FPRII, reviews Iliyana Stareva's Inbound PR and finds if you are looking for something accessible, useful and thought provoking, and about PR, this book offers something for all. 

Stareva, I (2018) Inbound PR: The PR Agency's Manual to Transforming Your Business With Inbound, John Wiley & Sons Inc, Hoboken NJ

One of the perennial challenges of Public Relations is the demand to ‘be creative’ – to find new ideas and new ways of getting through to an audience. Creativity is a sine qua non of PR – “essential and absolutely necessary” (the Oxford dictionary). 

In the relentlessly noisy world of multiple media formats, finding variations that will make a difference isn’t just about a creative new idea to cut through the noise - it’s about finding new ways of doing things.

That’s easy to say but harder to do in the time poor, resource stretched reality of day to day PR management. Inevitably we default to tried and trusted tools. As a result, for most of my 30 years plus involvement with public relations, it’s fair to say the market is not a very welcoming place to explore ‘new ways of doing things’

But that is changing.  The visibility we now have across geographies, markets and organisational structures – not to mention business disciplines – offers the prospect of new ideas, new models and new examples for PR to learn from… if not take on.

In that context, Iliyana Stareva’s ‘Inbound PR’ is of its time – exploring and challenging what PR does as a discipline, picking apart how it approaches its task and giving the reader the a, b, c, on a new way of delivering PR.

In a foreword to the book, the much-published PR and marketing strategist David Meerman Scott (@dmscott) notes that our new world of real-time engagement has moved emphatically beyond the job of PR being to get ink and airtime with an explosion of channels that organisations can now use to reach their audience directly.

In 140 well-structured and easy to follow pages the Dublin based Stareva (a Partner Program Manager with HubSpot) brings together her combined experiences – of working in agency PR and in Inbound Marketing – to both make the case for a new way of doing things and then set out the steps by which to do so.

The Inbound method she tells us involves four stages of activity that an organisation undertakes to “turn strangers into promoters”.

  • It starts with attracting the stranger through content and analysis.
  • It then converts the connection that has been created into an engagement though customised content.
  • That leads to an opportunity to close a ‘transaction’.  
  • Once the customer is onboard, the organisation then focuses on continuing to delight them with further customised content offerings and engagement. 

The key difference between Inbound and traditional (outbound) marketing, Stareva notes is that “outbound interrupts, inbound attracts… with content”. 

In her first three chapters, she sets out the case for the Inbound method generally, arguing it is tailor made for the PR sector as it builds on a core strength of the PR professional – the ability to generate quality content – but also provides the capability to measure precisely the outcome and value of the work done, something that in her experience the PR sector is very poor at doing.

The following chapter goes on to set out ‘How to do’ Inbound PR in seven steps that start with understanding ‘who’ the target for communication is and builds from there towards measurable outcome or impacts for the organisation.

Of course, Inbound PR presumes that the organisation has a current and well-tended online presence and is capturing and assessing all online interaction. This Stareva emphasises has to be reality for organisations of any type – “without an online presence, you do not exist”.

She also highlights the essential need to understand the audience before jumping into planning and preparing content, and the importance of listening in that context. “Listening” she notes, “is all about diagnosing before prescribing. Don’t skip this step

Whereas the earlier chapters apply to the practice of PR generally, the final two are addressing the specific challenges of PR agencies to win new business and deliver a service to clients.  Like the earlier chapter on campaign planning, they offer clear step by step strategies based on the author’s own experience working in and with agencies.

Inbound PR does draw its examples largely from experiences of PR agencies and on dealing with the media as an audience for PR activity. The author argues however, fairly in my view, that the model is valid and can be transposed on to planning for stakeholder communication in many and varied formats.

For me generally, there isn’t enough evidence or discussion around original thinking among PR professionals so anything that makes us question how we could do things differently, and possibly better, is a good thing.  

Stareva’s Inbound PR does that, and at the same time sets out well explained steps to enact Inbound PR for those with a more pragmatic coalface need.

The book doesn’t answer every question it raised for me but it does set out a baseline for a ‘new way of doing things’ in PR that provokes thought, that makes sense and that I have no doubt will grow with time.

If you are looking for something accessible, useful and thought provoking… and about PR… Inbound PR offers something for all.


Padraig McKeon, FPRII, September 2018 


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