Charting the Course: A Guide to PR Planning

Getting Started, PR Updates

Charting the Course: A Guide to PR Planning

Nov 10, 2015 | Getting Started, PR Updates

Charting the Course: A Guide to PR Planning

Nov 10, 2015 | Getting Started, PR Updates

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!).

PR Plan Formats – Customize for Each Client

Here at Solo PR Pro, we’re firm believers that there is no one-size-fits-all approach – to anything.

Although PR plans typically are built on the same basic format of interrelated components – including communications goals, objectives, strategies, tactics and measurement – they can take many forms, serve markedly different organizational needs and may have varied purposes overall.

PR plans can also have varying breadth and scope, whether for a single project and audience or a long-term, multi-faceted campaign targeting numerous audiences. They can be short, succinct frameworks that provide a strategic guide while others can be lengthy, 50 page tomes outlining the step-by-step details for a large-scale, multi-year campaign.

PR Plan – Basic Elements

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.

PR Plan – Optional Section

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.

Top Planning Tips

Here are some key tips to keep in mind when tackling your next communications plan:

  • Even short planning documents are time-consuming and should not be done without a contract or agreement – and hopefully an up-front payment – in place before you begin.
  • Prepare to get the client’s OK on your plan – in writing whenever possible. An email response that says “yes, please proceed” is good enough, and will help provide a paper trail later if asked why you are – or are not – doing something.
  • The term PR Plan often conjures up thoughts of a huge document with a lengthy table of contents and appendices. However, for a limited project a plan can be an email, memo or a short document.
  • Perhaps most importantly: Begin with the end in mind – what does success look like? Know the desired outcome before you start!

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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Written By Kellye Crane
Kellye Crane is the founder of Solo PR Pro, which provides the tools, education, advocacy and community resources needed for indies to succeed and grow. She's a veteran and award-winning communicator with more than 20 years of experience - 19 of them solo.