Strategic Public Relations Planning

This page provides easy, "one-stop" access to planning resources I originally created at different times and posted in disparate locations on-line. It includes links to my relevant online readings, how-to-do-it tip sheets, hypothetical examples, and other planning materials. It was developed in response to requests from participants in a public relations planning seminar I conducted for the American Association of Port Authorities.

Michael Turney, Ph.D., ABC
Professor Emeritus, Northern Kentucky University

Public relations planning starts with four fundamental questions.

They're very similar to the four questions Professor Harold Lasswell used to analyze mass communication. He asked:

  • Who says what?
  • In which channel?
  • To whom?
  • With what effect?

Someone doing public relations planning should ask:

  • What needs to be said or otherwise communicated?
  • In what way?
  • To which target audiences?
  • For what purpose?

If you can't clearly and concisely answer these four questions, you simply don't have a clear idea of what you're trying to do or why you're doing it. If you can answer them, those answers constitute a very basic public relations plan. -- You know what needs to be done and how you can go about accomplishing it. -- Sometimes, that's all the planning you'll need to do. Other times, a more formal and fleshed out plan will be necessary. But, why take those extra steps unless you need to?

When more formal and detailed planning is needed, there are dozens of communication planning models you can use. Most of them are based on anywhere from four to thirty or more steps you should take one by one.

The challenge for communication professionals is to find a planning process that suits their own personal working style as well as the situations and organizations with whom they work. In some cases, your organization or your supervisor will tell you which planning practices and formats you have to use. In other cases, you may be allowed to choose the approach you prefer. If so, you'll probably have to experiment with several approaches before learning which one works best for you.

The fifteen-step public relations planning process I describe in the online readings listed below has worked well for me and for many other people over the years, but it is just one of many useful and usable approaches to planning. I'd say it's of medium-complexity, and I like the fact that it combines both strategic and tactical planning in one set of steps. Try it. See if you like it. But remember, you have lots of choices, and you should try to find the one that works best for you and the situations you're most likely to face.

Public Relations

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Online readings in public relations

Turney's Tips
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Public relations bookshelf


Understanding PR planning

prbook   My online readings in public relations supplement many PR textbooks with such topics as basic terms and concepts of public relations, the evolution of the profession, and performing everyday tasks. Click here for the complete table of contents.

The following readings focus on public relations planning:

Speakers' Notes from the
AAPA Seminar on Strategic Public Relations Planning

In June 2009, the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), the folks who facilitate ocean-going shipping and travel into and out of most countries in the western hemisphere, offered a multi-day seminar on strategic public relations planning. It was the best organized, most comprehensive, and least dogmatic planning workshop I ever attended, and I feel honored to have been a part of it.

The upside to this workshop for you is that all of the speakers' notes and PowerPoint presentations are openly available on the AAPA Web site.

Reading these online notes won't be as dynamic as seeing and hearing the presenters, but it will be insightful for novice planners.

They were adamant about the need for strategic planning, and each one offered useful suggestions and observations based on their own professional experiences. None of them, however, tried to push a single "right way" to do planning. They emphasized the need to tailor your planning process to the specific personalities, needs, and circumstances of your organization and its key publics.

Hypothetical planning exercise

These three articles walk you through the first several steps in developing a strategic public relations plan for a hypothetical organization known as First Prize Glass.

How to develop a PR plan

pen and paper    Turney's Tips are short how-to-do-it guides for various PR tasks and desktop reminders for working professionals.
Click here for a list of all available tipsheets. The following ones be useful in drafting a PR plan:

Crisis situations require special planning.

Strategic planning centers on organizational goals and tries to keep organizations moving consistently and smoothly toward achieving them. It assumes "normal" operating conditions and optimal functioning. But, stuff happens, and sometimes, that stuff reaches crisis proportions.

When it does, a standard strategic plan isn't enough, A special crisis communication plan is needed. Click to jump to the Crisis Communication section of this website with additional readings and tipsheets specifically focused on crisis situations.