Ann Pilkington details six steps to create a public relations plan
Public relations, or PR, is often misunderstood. It can be seen as “spin” or as being about organising parties and events. There is certainly plenty of this! But PR is actually a much more strategic practice. The Chartered Institute of Public Relations definition describes it as being about reputation: ‘the result of what you do, what you say, and what others say about you’.
So how do you go about developing a PR plan? These steps will help you to design your own PR plan and also understand your organisation’s PR activities.
Step 1: Find out what you can about the situation
It’s important to understand where you are starting from and what your stakeholders already think, feel or do. You may need to do some original research but often there is lots of data within an organisation, for example in the marketing department, or in the public domain.
The other important thing at this stage is to understand what the organisation wants to achieve. For example, increasing sales, winning planning consent for a new building or launching a new product. This sounds obvious, but the PR plan needs to be designed to support an organisational objective.
Step 2: Work out who your stakeholders are
The term is generally accepted to have been defined in 1984 by Edward Freeman (an American professor in business) as ‘any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of the firm’s objectives’.
Think about who you want to talk to but also about who you need to listen to. Good PR is as much about listening to your stakeholders as it is talking to them. In this way good relationships can be established.
Step 3: Set some PR objectives
It’s good to make them SMART if you can. A SMART objective is:
This means being really clear about what you want to achieve and who the stakeholder is
How will you know if you have succeeded? Try to include a measure, for example increase something by 10%
Set objectives that you think can be achieved
The PR objectives need to support the organisation’s objectives
When will you have achieved your objective?
Setting objectives is important because it gives focus to a PR campaign and also enables it to be measured to see if it was successful.
Step 4: Think about what you want to say
What is the message you want your stakeholders to take away? What do you want your stakeholders to know?
It sounds easy doesn’t it? But remember that just telling somebody something doesn’t mean that they will agree. We all have our own perspective and will see any messages through that ‘lens’. This is why listening is so important. Having a conversation and reaching mutual understanding can be more effective than broadcasting a message and hoping it is received in the way you want.
Think about culture – a message that works in one country might not make sense in another.
Step 5: How are you going to say it?
How will you reach your stakeholders? For example, via the media using a press release. Or perhaps an event? Will you use social media influencers to help get your message across?
Your organisation will have its own channels too – for example, a website where you can host video and podcasts.
Draw up a plan that covers what you are going to do and who you are going to talk to day by day. It’s important to make sure that this plan is aligned with anything else that is going on in the organisation because you don’t want conflicting messages going out on the same day or for your story to be lost in another big company announcement.
Step 6: How do you know if it worked?
You’ll know the PR campaign has worked if you have met your PR objectives. In a longer campaign it’s a good idea to measure as you go – that way if something isn’t working you can adapt your approach before it’s too late. You could set some KPIs (key performance indicators) which are checks along the way to see if you are nearing your target.
Evaluating PR campaigns is really important because you want to know what worked and what didn’t, and this knowledge can help for the future. It’s also important for the organisation to see that their money was well spent on the campaign.