|On-line Readings in Public Relations by Michael Turney|
|Public relations planning:
Tactical planning steps
|© 1998 Michael Turney||Table of contents||Practicing Public Relations||About the author|
Although some people try to do tactical or project planning without first having a strategic plan, it's rarely successful. It's far more common to view tactical planning as an extension of strategic planning. Thus, the steps discussed here are numbered as a continuation of the strategic planning process and frequently refer back to previous steps.
Tactical public relations objectives are developed by analyzing the organization's strategic plan, particularly responses to question 7 which reveal how each audiences' current view of the organization differs from what the organization would like it to be. In addition to identifying which relationships are most in need of attention, this analysis allows the organization to identify common threads among its various relationships and its audiences' perceptions of it:
These findings then become the basis for developing a prioritized list of objectives--specific, short-term goals--which often include or are linked to a project, publication, special event, or other task whose achievement can be readily measured. The assumption and intent is that successfully completing these objectives will, over time, ultimately lead to the realization of the organization's long-term goals.
11. What short-term objectives will lead to the goals of the strategic plan?
There are any number of potentially useful ways public relations objectives can be identified, organized, and prioritized. Two of the most common are described below.
Project-oriented objectives focus on specific work products (e.g., news releases, publications, etc.) or tasks (e.g., holding an open house, testifying before a legislative sub-committee, etc.) that end up on a giant "to do list" of projects that will enhance the organization's public relations. These can be either new initiatives or a continuation of current activities.
Usually the first consideration in trying to prioritize such a list is predicting how many people will be affected. The more people it will impact, the higher its priority is likely to be, although some consideration is also given to cost, ease of completion, and precedent. If it's relative cheap, easy to do, and is something the organization has been doing for a long time -- e.g., publishing a monthly employee newsletter -- continuing to do it may rise to the top of priority list regardless of how many people are actually affected by it.
Relationship-oriented objectives focus on the organization's various publics and the quality of its relationships with each of them. Recognizing that the ideal of having a perfect relationship with each and every public is rarely attained and that it's almost impossible to devote equal time and attention to every separate audience, this approach tries to list the organization's relationships in the order in which they should be given attention.
The priority given to any particular relationship is based on a combination of that public's importance to the organization and an assessment of how far from ideal its current relationship with the organization is. The more important the public is and the further from ideal its relationship is, the higher its priority becomes.
Generally speaking, performance or production oriented planners, especially public relations practitioners who are using a first or second phase approach to public relations, are likely to prefer the first approach and to emphasize task-oriented planning. Third-phase public relations practitioners and relationship-builders are more likely to use the second approach.
Regardless of which approach is used, the end result of this step in tactical planning is a list of objectives the organization will attempt to achieve. However, given the wide variety of tasks/relationships that may be included in this list and the differing degrees of complexity that they're likely to have, a grid format is no longer suited to reporting the plan. From this point on, it may be far more effective to use a page by page planning format in which each objective is placed on a separate page and questions 12-15 are answered in whatever length and detail is required without worrying about the fact that the plans for meeting some objectives will be longer than others.
Steps 12-15 are applied to each identified objective to fully specify how it will be achieved.
12. What specific actions or messages will lead to achieving this objective?
This is a deceptively short and simple question that really requires multiple answers and may involve far more members of the organization than the public relations staff if the actions that appear to be needed involve more than communication activities, require large expenditures of time and/or money, or if they will require any changes in established policies and procedures.
Planning the communication aspects alone can be an enormous task requiring that media choices andformats be specified down to the level of identifying a spokesperson, selecting styles, tones, themes, and linked appeals, as well as message content. And, each of these decisions needs to take into account all available information about the audience's media preferences special interests, and issues or appeals that are of particular concern to them as shown in their responses to questions 5 and 6 in the strategic planning process.
13. What resources will be needed for these tasks?
This is another deceptively simple question that may take a lot of time and effort to fully answer. However, honest and realistic estimates of thepersonnel, time, equipment, and money required to achieve each objective let planners compare the expected effort and expense of completing the project with the likely outcome, a rudimentary cost-benefit analysis. It also helps with scheduling and work assignments when/if the project is actually undertaken. For both reasons it's important to estimate the necessary resources as accurately as possible.
Resource estimates need to include routine staff time and effort plus everyday office expenses such as postage and copying in addition to obvious and extraordinary expenses such as hiring freelancers, purchasing materials or outside services, or renting special equipment. When appropriate, estimates should be reported on both a per instance basis and as a total cost over the life of the plan.
A weekly employee newsletter, for instance, that appears to be a bargain when described on a per issue basis as costing $1,200 for printing and 75 hours of staff time may look very different to management when it's annual printing costs are reported as $62,400 and it's staff-time is described as 3900 person-hours per year, essentially the entire work time of two full-time employees. It will appear even more costly when the salaries of the two relatively inexperienced pubic relations staff members (say $50,000 plus fringe benefits) and other incidentals are included. This so-called "bargain" newsletter is actually costing almost $150,000 per year.
14. When should it be done?
In some instances, this answer is a specific day, date, or time or perhaps a recurring, periodic response, e.g., once a year, once a month, or each pay day. In other cases, the answer may outline a contingency that may, or may not ever, occur, e.g., when the company's stock price drops below 15 times earnings or if a high level executive is indicted.
15. How will success in achieving each objective be evaluated?
In selecting or setting up evaluation mechanisms, public relations people need to keep a sharp eye on what it is they really need/want to measure so they're don't inadvertently end up measuring something easy to measure but irrelevant. Not everything measurable is meaningful in all contexts.
Keep in mind that the ultimate goal of public relations is helping an organization maximize the benefits of its relationships with all its various publics. It's goal is not necessarily getting news coverage or publishing employee publications or having a large turn out for an open house or ... You get the idea. Whatever evaluation methods are used must focus on how well the organization's relationships are being handled, not how quickly or how well a
to do list is completed.
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