PR book On-line Readings in Public Relations by Michael Turney
Developing a public relations plan
© 1998 Michael Turney Table of contents Practicing Public Relations About the author

Public relations plans range from single-sentence, common sense aphorisms to hundred-page, hard-bound documents, and the time practitioners devote to planning ranges from nil to nearly full-time. In a similar way, the importance they attach to planning ranges from insignificant to life-saving. There are almost as many approaches to PR planning as there are practitioners.

Planning starts with a mission statement.

The best starting point for public relations planning is to review the organization's mission statement and goals. These documents summarize what the organization is and what it's trying to accomplish, and they should provide the focus for every decision the organization -- or any sub-unit within it -- makes and every action it takes. This should be especially true of public relations efforts.

Consequently, many public relations plans start with a copy of the organization's mission and goals. The next element these plans include is a mission statement for the public relations unit which spells out what that unit does and how it assists and supports the organization in carrying out its mission.

The linked page, Planning starts with mission statements. includes an example of an organizational mission statement and that organization's public relations mission statement which shows how the latter parallels and supports the former.

Selecting target audiences provides a focal point for planning.

Beyond this point different planners structure their plans in various ways to reflect their views of what public relations is and what it does.

The latter approach is what's used throughout the rest of this reading and the linked pages that help explain it.

The approach outlined here is a fifteen-step comprehensive planning process that combines both strategic and tactical public relations planning. The first ten steps develop a strategic plan and can be used without completing the last five steps. Those last five steps, however, build upon the initial strategic plan and can be used to produce much more detailed tactical plans.

Keep in mind, however, that this is only one of dozens of different but equally valid ways of doing public relations planning. Relatively speaking, it's a moderately complex approach to planning. It's detailed enough to encompass the main elements needed to execute a successful public relations program, but short enough to avoid redundancy and not get bogged down in unnecessary and confusing minutia.

It's similar in scope to the PRSA Planning Grids recommended by the PRSA Accreditation Board and by Guth and Marsh in their textbook, Public Relations: A Values-Driven Approach. With three grids, each of which includes four columns, the PRSA Planning Grid is essentially a 12-step approach. By being just a little bit more specific and not leaving so many things to be assumed, the 15-step method presented here may be a little easier and a little less confusing for first-time planners to use.

Those with more planning experience may prefer a more abbreviated process. For the sake of comparison, note that other popular planning methods range from as few as seven or eight steps to very detailed approaches which have 25 to 30 steps.

Also realize that this approach can be handled in several different ways and can use a variety of different formats for the written plan that is produced.

Ten steps to a strategic public relations plan.

Audience and goal identification

1. Who are the organization's key target audiences?
2. Why is this audience important to the organization?
3. What view does the organization want this audience to have of it?

Reporting research findings

4. What is this audience's current view of the organization?
5. What issues and appeals are important to this audience?
6. Which media does this audience use and trust the most?

Assessment and plan development

7. How does this audience's current view of the organization differ from the desired one?
This is determined by comparing responses to items 3 and 4 above.
8. What message themes will have the greatest impact on this audience?
These should reflect the findings from question 5 above.
9. What are the best ways of reaching this audience?
These should be selected in light of the findings from question 6 above.
10. Who will serve as the organization's primary contact for working with this audience?

Add five more steps for a tactical plan.

Selecting and setting objectives

11. What short-term objectives will lead to the goals of the strategic plan?

Actions needed to reach these objectives

Answer questions 12-15 for each objective identified in 11 above.

12. What specific actions or messages will lead to achieving this objective?
13. What resources will be needed for these tasks?
Identify specific people, equipment, and funds needed for each item in question 12 above.
14. When should it be done?
Specify a timetable for accomplishing each item listed in 12 above.
15. How will success in achieving each objective be evaluated?

Public relations plans are rarely finished.

Having gone through this entire process and having answered all the questions, a first-time planner may be sorely tempted to consider the planning over and sit back to admire the plan and wait for accolades about it. Veteran planners and experienced public relations professionals know better.

Even though a planning cycle has been completed and a document prepared, no plan is ever final and the planning isn't truly finished until all the goals are reached or acknowledged to be impossible. Until then, a plan is a guide or a working paper, a suggestion of things to try to achieve specified objectives and a draft document that should be constantly changed and modified to fit the evolving conditions.

The portion of the plan which identifies critical audiences and desired relationships may remain unchanged for years, but the rest of the plan shouldn't. It should be constantly evolving. On the tactical level, objectives will be met and new ones will emerge. The latter are added to the plan, and the former removed. Objectives which remain unmet despite the best possible execution of the plans laid to achieve them require re-evaluation and another round of planning to keep them viable.

For fast-moving, high tech organizations, plans need to be checked and revised on an almost weekly basis. For others, quarterly is often enough. And, for still others, an annual review is almost too often. The speed with which the organization and its operating environment change is a better gauge of how frequently its plans should be updated than a calendar. The critical thing is that the plans change often enough and sufficiently enough to adequately reflect the changes in the conditions they're trying to describe. If you have to blow the dust off a public relations plan to use it, the odds are it won't be worth using.

"Your plan should be a living document that assists you in charting your organization's course. It can and should be changed when it is necessary to abandon or redefine a course of action. And most of all, it should not be so inflexible as to prevent you from grabbing a solid opportunity whenever one presents itself"
-- Sheryll Reid     
Public Relations Journal (April 1987)     

Table of contents
PR planning is essential Mission statements Planning formats
Quick and dirty planning Further reading on
Strategic planning steps
Further reading on
Tactical planning steps
Practicing Public Relations
main page
27 Oct 2013