PR book On-line Readings in Public Relations by Michael Turney
Public relations planning:
Planning formats
© 1998 Michael Turney Table of contents Practicing Public Relations About the author

A public relations plan is meant to do more than look nice sitting on a desk or bookshelf. It's meant to be a working document that gets used and consulted as a day to day reference. How helpful it is and how easy it is to use are far more important than how it looks or how well it conforms to a preconceived layout.

Some planners prefer to organize their information in a grid of rows and columns where each row represents an audience and each column is a different category of information related to that audience. Other planners prefer to organize their work in terms of pages (separate sheets of paper, different displays in an electronic spreadsheet, or discrete records in a data-base file). For them, each page, or series of pages, represents a different audience and is used to organize all information related to that audience.

Some planners use a grid.

Grid planners say their approach does a better job of representing "the big picture" by physically showing the interrelationship of all audiences and audience characteristics at one time. Grid plans also look impressive hanging on a wall or being used in a presentation.

On the negative side, grid plans can be a pain to prepare, update, and reproduce. If all that's needed is a single copy, a large wall chart may not be a problem. But, for a large work team or an organization that wants to circulate copies of its plan to all managers, reproducing a grid plan can be difficult and costly unless the grid is somehow broken down and reproduced in small sections.

The other disadvantage is that the sizes of the cells are interrelated; increasing the size of any one cell automatically increases the size of every other cell in the same row or column. For example one unusually long description of one audience will make the description cell for every audience the same size, even though much of the space in those other cells will be unused. This can waste a lot of space or pressure the planner to inappropriately shorten the long entries. The latter may look better and save paper, but it may also eliminate what would otherwise have been useful information.

Others plan by the page.

Page planners counter those criticisms by saying their approach allows them to use as much room as they need for the information they have, even adding extra pages if necessary. They also claim their approach allows information to be more easily evaluated and edited on the merits of its importance rather than arbitrary space constraints or concerns that a cell looks too empty. And, the plan can be easily updated by adding, deleting, or revising pages as necessary.

On the other hand, plans organized in a page by page fashion appear much less impressive during a presentations than a large, elaborate grid. The use of separate pages for each audience may also tend to overemphasize differences among audiences rather than highlighting their similarities and the common approaches that can be used to reach them.

Combined formats may be most effective.

By the time practitioners have developed three or four complete plans they have a pretty good sense of what works best for them and may have their own ideas of what questions to ask and which formats to use. That's as it should be. However, beginning public relations planners may find it helpful to combine grid planning for their overall strategic plans with page planning for each objective they identify in their tactical plans the first few times they do planning.

Strategic plans which provide a broad overview of what an organization is trying to accomplish often work well in grid format. This is largely because the same types of information are needed about each of the organization's publics, and the amount of information that's needed about each is also very similar and usually in a short capsule form that will fit into the cells of a grid.

On the other hand, tactical planning which addresses specific projects and tasks is much more varied and inconsistent. Some projects simply require more explanation and more planning than others. Consequently, it's more difficult and confusing to employ a grid in tactical planning. With different projects needing different numbers and types of cells (rows and columns) to adequately explain them, a standardized form becomes impractical. Planning an executive's appearance on a television talk show, for instance, might be done in five or six cells outlining the necessary information and steps leading to its completion while plans for publishing an annual report might require 20 or more cells. Thus, starting a new page for each objective and not being overly concerned about consistency in their content or appearance makes much more sense than trying to force this information into a single uniform format.

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Developing a PR plan
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Strategic planning
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Tactical planning
Practicing Public Relations
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22 Sept 2013