TAKING A STRATEGIC APPROACH
Long-term strategic planning is far more effective than uncoordinated flurries of activity. Map out your public relations campaign so that your purpose is clear, activity can be planned, progress monitored, and outcomes measured.
To achieve a proactive approach to PR, you will need to produce a PR strategy. Your strategy must support your organization’s corporate strategy, as well as linking with your company’s marketing strategy. Because of this, it can be helpful to involve those responsible for corporate and marketing strategy when planning PR strategy. They can help explain the organization’s wider strategy, while you can explain to them how PR can be used to support corporate goals.
The first step in strategic planning is to establish objectives, a set of goals that define what you want to achieve. These might focus on improving your organization’s reputation, raising its profile, or building stronger relationships with key groups for example. Clear objectives will help you to reach your target, to chart progress, to measure results and to assess effectiveness. Set objectives at the outset, but make sure that you allow ample time for this. All PR activity that you undertake will be aimed at achieving these goals.
IDENTIFYING TARGET AUDIENCES
Most organizations will have several audiences or ‘publics’, so as strategic approach to PR involves clearly identifying all of them. Some will be regarded as more important than others. Audiences might include:
- Market analysts
- Other stakeholders
- The local community
- Local, regional/state, or national/federal government
DEFINING KEY MESSAGES
Every organization will have key corporate messages that need to be conveyed. You might, for example, want to tell everyone how innovative your organization is, or how caring. In addition to these, there will be a sub-set of messages personalized for each principal audience. When launching a new product, for example, investors will want to be told of any impact on share price. The media and the community’s focus of interest may be on the environmental impact. Try to give each audience information tailored to its particular needs and view point.
Strategic PR involves considerable research, planning and decision. How will you meet your objectives? What ideas do you have for conveying the desired messages to your principal audiences? Draw up a series of ideas to help you meet each of your objectives. Calculate the cost of each idea; decide which ones you will implement then produce an activity timetable. Include details of who will be responsible for each activity, with start and completion dates. Hold regular meetings with those involved in implementation so that you can chart progress and solve any problems.
DOCUMENTING THE PLAN
A PR strategy is written document, not a set of ideas to be carried around in your head. Writing down your strategy also helps you to focus on what you need to achieve, how, and when. Record details of your key publics, along with the principal messages per audience. You will also need to include your objectives, and – in broad terms – your ideas for achieving them. Specify what measures you will use to evaluate success and set a date for an interim evaluation. The final part of the strategy is your activity timetable.
Measuring effectiveness is an important element of strategic PR. The aim of measuring is to assess whether or not objectives has been achieved. Use questionnaires, focus groups, and other research methods to measure whether your messages have reached their target and achieved the desired outcome. You may need to conduct research before a PR campaign, as well as afterwards, to obtain an accurate measure of shifts in behavior or attitude. Use evaluation to learn which tactics and techniques worked, and which did not. This knowledge will help you to be more effective next time.