By Martha Whiteley
Strategic planning is at the heart of all public relations. Launching a PR campaign without a strategic plan is like embarking on a trip without a map or GPS. In today’s business environment, with limited resources and ramped up accountability, it’s not enough to head off in a general, vague direction. A GPS-like a strategic plan requires you to input your destination. It keeps you on track.
The ability to think and act strategically is the key that enables professionals to advance from tactical PR practitioners to sought-after strategic planners. Today, effective communicators not only need to know what to do and why, they also need to know how to evaluate the effectiveness of the chosen approach.
It’s such an exciting time for public relations. The landscape of the profession is rapidly changing and new methods and tactics are emerging. It is shedding its past approach from disseminating information to a focus on promoting engagement, identifying influencers and developing brand advocates. But the basic principles for excellence in effective PR still apply: strategy, creativity, integrity and follow through
My experience in corporate communications and PR consulting has exposed me to many real-world success stories. I’ve learned that one of the best ways to sharpen strategic thinking is to critically evaluate case studies of PR campaigns. It’s worth the time to analyze campaigns you have worked on and other programs you come across. What worked well and what was not so effective? See if you can uncover any takeaways or insights that might apply to current or future PR challenges.
The easiest way to develop a strategic PR plan is to break it down into four main components: analysis, research, execution and evaluation.
The first step toward a successful campaign is to perform an analysis of all aspects of the PR situation. This leads to identifying and establishing the communications objectives. Keep in mind that goals and objectives are not the same thing. Objectives are clear and measurable statements based on an organization’s goals. Goals, stated in general terms, articulate an organization’s mission or vision. The next important step is to determine all the relevant publics and key audiences. Once the objectives and audiences are identified, it’s time to make strategic choices from a multitude of tactical options.
Along with the analysis phase is the research phase. Think of research as the GPS of the planning stage. It will position your message and set you in the right direction. An important aspect of effective public relations is strategically crafting your message to build relationships and engage your audiences in conversations.
After the situation analysis, research and message development are complete, you can formulate the timeline of the plan and begin executing the tactical components of the plan. Now is the time to establish metrics for measuring results and evaluating effectiveness of the program.
The final phase is to evaluate the campaign and report on its reach and results. It is important to be able to articulate quantitative and qualitative measurements of effectiveness.
I think it was Richard Bach who said: “You are all learners, doers and teachers." Isn’t that the truth! A big part of life is learning from one another. By critically evaluating real-world case studies of other PR campaigns, we can enhance our creativity and strategic thinking. Awareness of the mistakes of others can help us avoid similar scenarios. More importantly, we can benefit immensely from observing, understanding and emulating best practices. With each successful PR campaign, we gain the opportunity to advance in our field and elevate the profession as a whole.
Martha Whiteley, former corporate communications manager for Panasonic headquarters, is a corporate communications and public relations consultant. She is an adjunct faculty member at Seton Hall University, and joins the Rutgers University Public Relations Certificate Program, where she will teach strategic public relations.