There’s a popular myth that public relations people can organise a good party and talk the talk, but serious business planning…?
The reality is very different. Effective public relations professionals use all the business disciplines including strategic planning. Indeed, one of the most frequently used definitions of public relations is: ‘Public relations practice is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics’.
Note the words ‘planned’, ‘sustained’, ‘establish’ and ‘maintain’. Planning is at the heart of public relations and puts the PR professional in control.
The ten points below outine the areas to cover when planning and managing your campaign.
Establishing the context of campaigns and setting the benchmarks is vital. This involves analysing the external and internal business environment using techniques such as EPISTLE (Economic, Political, Information, Social, Technological, Legal, Environment) and SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). It also means analysing the publics or stakeholders of the organisation. Who is or will be affected by the campaign? How? When? And what is their likely response? What is their position now? All this information needs to be analysed carefully to ensure the important issues and key players are covered.
Setting realistic objectives is crucial to measuring success and providing direction. Objectives should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-based) and do one or more of three things: create awareness, affect attitudes or opinions, encourage specific behaviours.
This involves identifying all those groups who will be affected by the campaign, including those who will oppose it as well as those who will be receptive to it. These publics then need to be segmented depending on a range of priorities, their own characteristics and according to the nature of the campaign.
4. Messages or Content
Sometimes a simple, informative message is appropriate. Other times ongoing dialogue is required, especially if issues are complex, developing and open-ended. A precise understanding of what is desired along with a sophisticated knowledge of what is possible, makes campaign content origination a highly skilled business.
Campaign strategy provides the rationale or route map for the whole programme. Having a strategy ensues the campaign has focus, coherence and momentum. The tactical programme is built upon it.
The detailed raft of communication activities, or tactics, should flow directly from the strategy. Each activity should make a clear and obvious contribution to satisfying one or more of the objectives of the campaign. Getting the tactical mix, timing and frequency right is essential.
Every campaign should have a comprehensive action plan with carefully considered timescales. This helps busy practitioners keep control of events and also pinpoints where the pressures will be.
Having the right number of people with the right skills set is essential. Budgets are also required for implementing the programme and to buy essential equipment, especially IT. Budgets, integrated with timescales, provide the basis of the project plan.
If the objectives have been set correctly, evaluation is simple – objectives met equals success. Remember to measure the end result, i.e. awareness, attitudes and/or behaviour as well as the intermediate stages such as the amount of media coverage or the number of people at an event.
Long term programmes need regular review to keep them fresh and effective. Completed campaigns also need careful review not only to evaluate success, but to look at processes, mistakes, good ideas, unintended benefits and any issues that arose so that lessons are learned for the future.
Anne Gregory FCIPR is author of the PR in Practice title Planning and Managing Public Relations Campaigns, which provides a ten-point template for doing just that. Order your copy online at http://www.cipr.co.uk/content/policy-resources/books.