Businesses big and small seem to fall somewhere on a wide spectrum when it comes to planning their public relations campaign: either it's all by the seat of their pants, done haphazardly and with zero consistency, or there's so much strategizing and detail that it never really gets off the ground. So how do companies create a plan that is both doable with limited resources yet grounded in enough detail to ensure success? Start with a template.
PR campaign template
The best part about templates is they give you a roadmap to follow into what often can be some scary territory. If you're not a seasoned PR professional, this template can give you a starting point to see more results from your PR campaign.
1. Situational/SWOT analysis
Teams often skip this step, but they do it at their own peril. Knowing your starting location critical to any successful road trip. To get started, use a SWOT analysis:
2. Target audience
Here's where you identify exactly who you're talking to — what they value, where they hang out, what their pain points are (and how you'll help alleviate them), etc. The more clear you can get on who it is you're trying to reach, the better you'll be able to craft a PR campaign that moves people to action. Many organizations create "buyer personas" — imaginary customers with names that represent your ideal targets — to help them get very clear on who it is they're trying to reach.
3. Strategy & objectives
Once you've established your SWOT analysis and target audience, you can then use it to start defining your strategy. It always helps me to think of strategy as a sort of war plan that answers the questions where do we want to go and how do we want to accomplish it? The Harvard Business Review does a really good job of defining strategy as:
"A set of guiding principles that, when communicated and adopted in the organization, generates a desired pattern of decision making... A good strategy provides a clear roadmap, consisting of a set of guiding principles or rules, that defines the actions people in the business should take (and not take) and the things they should prioritize (and not prioritize) to achieve desired goals."
Strategies are NOT tactics. We'll get into those in a moment. But along with strategies you should also have objectives (a word often interchangeable with goals) —and they should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based. These are usually associated with a number of media placement, increasing revenue or adding customers by a specific amount within a specific timeframe.
These are all the little (and not so little) activities that you'll do to accomplish your objectives and carry out your strategies. Tactics are press releases, emails, events, partnerships, blog posts and all those other things that you can put on a calendar and spend money on to accomplish your goals. I usually start out with a big list of potential tactics that I might want to use to accomplish my objectives, then narrow it down to a manageable/reasonable amount. Again, every organization's list of tactics is going to look different. Yours will depend on your budget and what you're trying to accomplish.
The most successful PR campaigns live and die by their calendars. Here is where you can lay out in a table all the tactics you will use to accomplish your objectives, with exact timing on when you need them and where you will use them to greatest the effect. Think of your calendar as the 5 W's + H (who, what, when, where, why + how) personified. You might issue a press release in May, hold an open house in June, and publish three different articles relating to an industry trend on your blog in July. The more detailed you can get on your calendar, the easier it will be to execute three months from now.
Begin with the end in mind. If you know what you want to achieve (i.e. your objectives), you need to know whether or not you'll be successful, and the evaluation will be a valuable learning tool for the next PR campaign you launch. Evaluation often involves surveys of your target audience to find out if your strategy and tactics were effective. It also involves thinking about your options if you find that your campaign was not successful — what's Plan B?
Drill sergeants and mothers the world over have said it: "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." Sometimes it's enough just to go through the exercise of creating a plan in order to get really clear on what it is you need to do to position your organization to make the most of their public relations efforts. If you don't have a plan to get there, you may as well start driving with a blindfold on.