Strategic planning forms the cornerstone of what we do as communications consultants, and provides the foundation that allows us to gain consensus and chart a strategic course for – and with – our clients.
What differentiates top consultants from others – including many PR agencies – is an ability to look beyond the public relations (or other communications discipline) hat we wear and focus on our clients’ business goals. This post outlines formats, elements and top tips, so you can develop plans that are immensely useful (and set you apart!).
There is no one-size-fits all approach to PR plans, but there are common components including communications goals, objectives, strategies, tactics and measurement. Your plan may be for a single project or a long-term campaign. The depth, breadth, scope, length and presentation of your plan can all vary.
Basic Building Blocks
Before you begin crafting your plan, you must first research and understand both the internal and external environments in which you’ll be operating. This involves fact-finding and data collection on the organization and external stakeholders and landscape (e.g., news, competition, political climate, social issues, etc.), as well as the challenges the PR plan is being designed to address.
As for the basic building blocks, PR plans typically include the following elements:
- Research and Situation Analysis – Armed with the information gathered during your research, this section includes information regarding the product/service, organizational description, positioning and prevailing attitudes, as well as an overview of existing (or the absence of) communications initiatives and activities and the results of those to date. A SWOT analysis may also be included here, outlining the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing the organization.
- Goals – Goals are overarching and should reflect the organization’s strategic business goals. They tend to be long-term and open-ended without regard to time or concrete quantification.
- Target Audiences – Target audiences are the “who” in your PR plan. They are the people you wish to reach.
- Objectives – Objectives need to be measurable by nature and outlined in quantifiable terms. They also have a specific timeframe attached for when they’re to be achieved.
- Strategies and Tactics – Strategies are typically general statements that focus on the “how,” while Tactics outline the specific activities at an operational level that will be completed during the plan’s implementation.
- Evaluation/Measurement – The evaluation section of the PR plan outlines the methods you’ll use for measuring outcomes and determining whether the communications objectives have been met.
- Budget – The budget allocates specific dollar amounts for the plan’s communications activities to achieve its objectives. In addition to fees, don’t forget to include out-of-pocket expenses and other hard costs – travel, printing, hardware, office supplies, etc.
In addition, the following elements can be included as part of a plan, depending on the client situation:
- Timetable – Especially if there are a lot of moving parts in a plan, including a timetable (even at a high level) can be helpful.
- Key Messages – Key messages, the short, succinct statements that the organization wants to communicate to target audiences, can be presented as a separate document or within the PR Plan (a detailed message map can also be created for this purpose.)
- Influencer/Analyst/ Media Lists – If outreach is part of your planning, some PR professionals choose to include the list of targets within the plan document.
Contingencies/Critical Success Factors – If you’re planning for a program that will have a lot of dependencies, having a section that calls out the potential pitfalls can be an excellent idea.
A public relations plan is an important roadmap that allows you to help your clients chart the course to success. You should clearly define the desired outcomes before you begin creating the plan, and make sure you have buy-in (in writing is preferable) from your client on the plan.
How do you approach the planning process? Share your tips in the comments below or on social media using #solopr.
For a full PR Plan template and more tips, education and in-depth explanations of communications planning, Solo PR PRO Premium members download our full Guide to PR Planning and Templates!
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