Strategic Public Relations Planning Essentials: Refresher

By Kathleen Donohue Rennie, Ph.D., APR, Fellow PRSA

Public Relations practitioners earn a seat at screen-shot-2014-04-15-at-12-39-05-pmthe management table by proving the strategic value of communications to the organizational bottom line, linking communication objectives to core business goals, and enhancing measurement of outcomes against objectives.

Creating research-based communication goals, objectives, and strategies is central to quality campaign planning. An understanding of how to do this is also essential to those preparing for the APR and Certificate in Principles of Public Relations examinations.

Guiding elements of a strategic plan are often confused with one another. In fact, in APR preparation classes, candidates ask more questions about these parts of the planning process than any other.

Here is the differentiation:

Quality plans start with a statement of the client/organization’s business goal. How much does the client want to increase sales? Is the company launching a new product or service? A business goal states where the client’s business aims to be at the end of a defined time period. It’s the goal of the entire organization, not just the public relations team.

Based on the business goal and appropriate research, the communication goal is developed. A goal is an overall, global statement about the outcome of the public relations plan. Has research showed that the goal should be to raise awareness? Educate people about the specifics of a product? Introduce more people to a client’s service? Here, public relations practitioners need to “be in control” of their verb. Verbs should be communication based rather than sales/bottom line centric as they are in the business goal. While one communication goal is often enough, no more than three are recommended.

Next comes the heart of the strategic plan, the communication objectives, or measureable steps toward the goal. Objectives, like goals, must be derived from research findings and be communication-based. Unlike goals, objectives must include:

  • Measurement of the desired outcome, a number or percentage increase/decrease,
  • Public(s), and
  • A timeframe when the objective will be met.

An objective that states “To educate people about the new program” is not strategic anddoes not meet the requirements of an objective. To do so, this objective should read: To educate 10% (measurement) more middle school parents (public) about after-school clubs by December 2015 (time frame).

A public relations strategy follows the objectives. A strategy is an approach or theme for the plan. What framework will be used for all tactics? For instance, will the strategy be to engage community partners in communication efforts? Employ positive messaging? How will plan activities be approached?

Only after a clear and research-based roadmap is complete can public relations tactics be developed. If a proposed tactic is off strategy, or does not move the client closer to reaching an objective, it should be shelved. At the end of the campaign, outcomes are measured against objectives.

Want to learn more about developing a strategic plan? Consider PRSA’s workshop on Public Relations Strategic Planning, December 10 in Boston:

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