Public relations can be defined as the practice of managing the information exchanged between an organization and those who are interested in – or potentially affected by – that organization. Effective public relations can be carried out by an organization’s own internal PR team, or it can be entrusted to an external agency. In any event, it is wise for an organization wishing to conduct public relations to devise a solid plan before acting.An effective PR plan is one that satisfies the needs of both the organization and its various “publics” (i.e., those who are interested in and/or stand to be affected by the organization and its future actions). The organization itself benefits from a PR plan because the plan can help organize its thinking and actions related to how to best get their intended message out. Meanwhile, the intended recipients of the campaign’s message – and often many unintended recipients as well – stand to benefit from the process by being better informed about something that matters to their lives.Whether your organization chooses to conduct its own PR work or to be represented by a PR firm specializing in the field, it is important to start with a solid plan.Here are 5 tips for writing an effective public relations plan:Step #1: Determine what message you want to convey, and to whom: Every organization has its own challenges in terms of public perception. Some are looking to get more exposure, while others are looking to influence or change the public’s pre-existing perceptions. Still others want to highlight recent achievements in order to gain the attention of prospective investors, partners or customers.Your public relations plan needs to start with a clear sense among the members of your PR team as to the nature of the message your company wants to convey. Then, your team needs to clearly define whom you would like to receive that message. For both items, be as specific as possible during the planning phase: they set the tone for the rest of your campaign.Step #2: Gauge the current public opinion about your organization: It is very important that your plan include your conducting of some formal or informal research about the nature of public opinion vis-à-vis your organization as it stands today. Rather than making assumptions about how your stakeholders – as well as your prospective investors, customer and partners – view your firm, it is important that you find out more about what they actually think. This type of research can take the form of secondary research such as reading opinion polls or articles about your firm, or it can take the form of primary research such as via interviews, surveys and focus groups. The bottom line: you need to know where you are now in order to know where you are going.Step #3: Set a budget: Effective PR can be done cheaply or even for free in some cases. However, as a rule you should anticipate some level of expenditure for your campaign,. Budget concerns are an important factor. Since your PR budget has a strong effect on the resources you can afford to put behind your plan, be sure to carefully set an appropriate budget by including all of the relevant stakeholders. Tip: if your CEO (or equivalent organizational leader) can be convinced of the potentially wide-ranging financial and reputation-related effects of the issue you are trying to convey to your publics, he or she will be much more likely to earmark the appropriate funds for your PR initiative.Step #4: Decide how you will get the word out: Good public relations work is a multi-faceted area of practice with a multitude of options available in terms of ways to communicate your message. For example, you may find ways to entice reporters to write special-interest articles written about your organization. Or, you might hold a public relations event, submit your organization for consideration for an industry award, or hold a press conference – just to name a few. The mode of communication you ultimately choose will depend upon many factors, including the nature of the message you want to convey, the current political climate around the issue (if applicable), the degree to which the issue is of general public interest, your PR budget, and other factors.Step #5: Create a plan of execution, including a detailed timeline: Every good public relations plan must include a step-by-step plan that outlines the key milestones of your PR effort and fills in the specific details for executing the plan. An important element of your plan of execution is to assign each task to a particular person, along with a deadline; this creates a sense of accountability for each task. Of course, once the execution phase is launched and some time passes, you will likely find yourself needing to adjust your tactics to meet an ever-changing environment. Still, this need to make ongoing adjustments to your plan is no excuse for skipping the mapping out of the tactical steps ahead of time. During periods of relative chaos, you will be glad to have a plan to which you can refer in order to keep things on track.Every solid public relations plan should be built upon the basic framework highlighted above. Whether you conduct your own campaign or entrust your PR campaign to an expert PR firm, your plan – and the thinking you go through to formulate it – will go a long way toward helping you reach your PR objectives.
Too many people relate public relations with splashy events they think reporters will throng to and write about and — as a result — make their organizations famous and successful.Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way.Effective public relations is not the result of one or more showy events. Quite the contrary. Numerous integrated elements power the engine that moves every successful public relations program forward.The need to drive that point home occurred for me once again when I was launching a public relations program for a small, New York City community college. Until then, the school had never initiated a cohesive public relations program of any kind.I developed a 12-month program designed to support the college leadership’s goals to increase student enrollment, bolster the school’s stature as an important community resource and increase local business leaders’ reliance on the school as a rich source of educated employees. The program consisted of many large and small elements including:Establishing the college president, other key administrators and scholastic faculty members as responsive, knowledgeable information sources and professional experts who all New York City news media could call and rely on;Developing media contacts to generate frequent and favorable television, radio, print and Internet coverage to highlight the school’s strengths, courses of study, student successes and newsworthy school activities;Expanding, updating and improving the school’s website to make it an important news and information resource;Working closely with community organizations, libraries and civic centers to educate residents in a variety of “life skills” through free lectures, seminars and continuing education classes;Meeting with local businesses and professional organizations to stay abreast of the business community’s needs for skilled, educated employees.In short order, the new public relations program got the college on the local media’s radar and began building neighborhood goodwill along with a positive local identity for the college. It also reinforced the school’s reputation among local businesses as a source of talented, educated employees.Then, by chance, I met with a department head who’d had nothing to do with the initial PR program’s development or determining its objectives. He asked me, “When are you going to do something really big?”I asked, “What did you have in mind?””Let’s throw a party for the neighborhood on the traffic median in front of the college.” (The 20-foot-wide median ran about five city blocks.)”Why would you want to do that?””For the publicity. The whole neighborhood would turn out and have a good time. The newspapers and TV stations would cover it.””Why would they want to cover a block party? And what do you expect them to say other than the school threw a big party?””Well, you should do something really big.”We never threw a block party, and this guy was never satisfied with the solid, incrementally expanding and successful public relations program I’d put in motion. Over time the program continued to build the school’s positive reputation as an institution of higher learning and an important resource for local residents and the business community. And, as intended, it helped to increase the school’s student enrollment.For some people, public relations is all about sizzle and nothing about substance. Sure, a large, meaningful event can jumpstart or enhance a cohesive public relations campaign. But by itself, the public relations impact of a single noisy event is as enduring and meaningful as a puff of smoke.Remember, effective, long lasting public relations is a continuing, structured process, not a single glitzy event.