PR book On-line Readings in Public Relations by Michael Turney
"What's the KFD?" can be the basis of a simple PR plan.
© 2013; 2020 Michael Turney Table of contents Practicing Public Relations About the author

Unexpectedly encountering an acronym or mnemonic device for something you've been doing for years can hit you like cold water poured over your head. It's terribly annoying if it's done by your mom or significant other to wake you up in the morning, but it's exhilarating when it's done by your team to celebrate a victory.

My first reaction to such an acronym is usually positive. "Wow," I might say. "What a clever way to summarize and remember this process!" It's only later that I sometimes get annoyed with myself for not thinking of it first.

That's how I felt about "What's the KFD?" when I first heard it. It was originated by Chakisse Newton of Cardinal Consulting (Columbia, South Carolina) and I first heard it when I attended her presentation entitled "Communicate to Motivate: How to Persuade Others to Act" at the 2013 IABC World Conference in New York City.

One of my earlier articles about public relations planning explained that public relations planning at its most basic level can be approached as an outgrowth of a classic set of basic questions proposed by Professor Harold Lasswell (Yale University) to analyze mass communication:

Lasswell's questions, which are often referred to as his model of communication, became immediately popular almost as soon as he published them in 1948. Some users, however, preferred to treat them as four questions instead of five and combinined the first two into a single question. But, whether they were treated as four or five questions, they were widely adopted and soon being used as a basis for analyzing interpersonal communication as well as mass communication. And, it wasn't long until they were applied to various specialized areas of communication including public relations.

Too many authors and public relations practitioners to list here tweaked these questions in various ways to make them more suitable for addressing public relations and how it was being practiced at that time. The most common of these efforts transformed Lasswell's five questions into four and proposed asking them whenever you were confronted with a situation that seemed to call for a public relations response.

They were meant to be used as a basic planning tool before any action was taken. And, at the time these questions were formulated, they worked very well as a basic, "quick and dirty" method of planning.

Today, however, most saavy public relations practitioners would re-order the questions to make it clear that identifying the most appropriate target audiences is their first priority. Understanding whom you want to address and affect is now almost universally accepted as the starting point of thoughtful public relations efforts. The purpose, goal, and/or reasons for communicating with this audience come next. Only then can practitioners effectively and rationally develop what is to be communicated and how it is to be delivered.

Any public relations practitioner who can't clearly and concisely answer these four questions, regardless of their order, about whatever public relations campaign, project, or production task they're undertaking, shouldn't have started working on it. They obviously have little, if any, idea of what they're trying to accomplish.

Those who can answer these questions have done at least rudimentary planning and are ready to move ahead.

What's the KFD?

As a planning mnemonic, "What's the KFD?" is even shorter and more compressed than Lasswell's questions. It can be used as a focusing question to get you started on developing a public relations plan, or it can be used to challenge the clarity and thoroughness of a proposed plan. But, before you ask about KFD, you have to know whom you are going to communicate with.

Once those target audiences have been identified, it's time to ask "What's the KFD?"

It's a shorthand way of asking ...

... as a result of the public relations efforts you are about to launch at them.

That's all there is to it. It's deceptively simple, but it can be invaluable. It can help you focus on what you want to accomplish and save you from rushing into things half-cocked or without a clear idea of where you're headed. Please consider making it a frequent part of your professional self-reflections.

Public relations is often a reactive process, especially in crises, and it sometimes needs to be instanteous. But, it must always be carefully aimed if it's to have the effect you want. As a practitioner, your most critical challenge is knowing exactly what effect you want to achieve.

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PR planning is essential
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