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  • Writer's pictureAlexson Calahan

How to Plan a PR Campaign in 24 Hours

Planning makes up about 70% of the work we do for clients. This is where we dig into business goals, understand the target audience, and draft SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) objectives for a public relations campaign. It's where we let the strategies reveal themselves through what we learned in the research phase and combine the tried-and-true with inventive tactics. It's where we figure out budgets and responsibilities, and timelines.

A hand holds a yellow stopwatch. Tick tock!

Planning is so much fun, and our general advice is not to rush it. It takes time to do it well.

But, occasionally, opportunities pop up or something gets deprioritized, and our clients may have to rush to devise a plan.

That's OK. Thanks to my own background as the tactical communications manager for local offices of global non-profits, I know how to work quickly, work scrappy, and make PR magic with just a few great sources, a thoughtful approach, and solid messaging.

Here's what I'd recommend as an approach to having just 24 hours to plan a PR campaign.

Grab your coffee and buckle up, because we'll be moving quick!

Step One:  Research

Your goal here is to understand your landscape, your audience and your organizational goals. Without this foundation, any plan is just a loose collection of tactics that may or may not move you in the desired direction. Here are key questions you should be asking:

·        What business or organizational goal are we working toward? Increased donors or sales? Legislative advocacy? Changing a health behavior?

·        Who are the people we need to take action to reach that goal?

·        What news outlets, podcasts and other media do they reach for? Who are the social media accounts they follow and engage with? What community groups are they involved with?

·        What barriers to action exist for this group?

·        What is their current thinking around the action we need them to take? Are they unaware of the benefits or completely resistant?

·        What have we tried in the past and what were the results?

·        Do we have any primary or secondary research to help us understand current behavior and attitudes?

Step Two: Write PR objectives

When we write a PR objective, we are basically writing down the future state that will let us know this plan succeeded. Writing it using the SMART objective format (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound) ensures that there is no ambiguity about success. The line can blur here between objective writing and research because at a minimum, you need to understand what change you are trying to influence, it’s current state, and desired future state. That may require primary research like a survey or series of focus groups. Here's what you need to know to write strong public relations objectives:

·        The organizational goal you are trying to effect. If you are trying to drive participants to sign up for a fundraising walk, for example, you will want to understand how many people typically register, how they hear about the walk, and what drives them to register. You will also want to know marketing objectives and plans that are driving to this same goal so that the marketing and public relations plans support each other.

·        What audience are you targeting for this objective? You may have several objectives, each aimed at different groups who can help you reach organizational goals.

·        The outcome you are looking for. It may be that you want people to learn something new, change or form an opinion on a topic, or change a behavior. Select one outcome for each objective and note that people cannot change a behavior until they have an opinion and that opinion cannot change until they have learned something new.

·        How will you measure success? In smaller organizations, it may not always be feasible to do primary research studies to see if awareness campaigns made an impact on your target public's opinion. In that case, inbound referrals or website visits or a growing social media base may be an acceptable measurement, though more often, I have found success with engaging those core folks who already support or are close to an organization and working to move opinions and behavior change when faced with short resources.

·        Deadlines. The final piece or a SMART objective is "time-bound." When we write objectives, we need to be clear and realistic with the timeframe in which we hope to see results.

Step Three: Strategy

Once you know what you are trying to do and the environment you are trying to do it in, you can focus on how you will do it. This doesn’t mean diving straight into specifics like “Posting four times weekly on social media.” This is a mid-point and a time to categorize your actions and channels.

By this point, the research you have done and the objectives you have written should be illuminating your way on strategy. It still requires creativity and thought, but you should be able to check each possible strategy against your objectives and audience and get a rough idea if it is a good fit or not.

A few things to consider:

·       For each objective, what channel is most appropriate? A live event? Social media? Earned media?

·       For each objective, how do you need to position your organization or its leaders? Do you need to change any current perceptions or increase visibility?

·       What has worked well in the past and is it worth adapting for this campaign?

·       What layers of visibility are going to be needed to build awareness, have consumers gain understanding, increase trust, and actually take action?

Step Four: Tactical Planning

Here we are - time to pull together the right tactics to reach those objectives and determine budgets, responsibilities, and get feedback from internal stakeholders. By this point, the research you have done and the objectives you have written should be illuminating your way on tactics. It still requires creativity and thought, but you should be able to check each possible tactic against your objectives and audience and get a rough idea if it is a good fit or not.

My favorite way to organize tactics is using the PESO model - Paid, Earned, Shared, and Owned.

Paid: Usually, when we think of paid placements, we are thinking of traditional advertising, but it is important to note that paid PR opportunities exist and can be helpful for some campaigns. These may include opportunities like advertorials, product placement, paid influencer strategy, and sponsorship. Here’s what you’ll need to consider:

·       Do we have a budget for paid opportunities?

·       What is it?

·       What is the CTA?

·       What audience should we focus on?

·       What messaging will we test?

·       What assets are needed to enact this?

Earned: Here we are! My favorite part of public relations and also the trickiest. earned media means that you have found a story worthy of coverage and brought it to an outlet. You've prepped all you can and then, you turn it over to the reporter, trusting them to tell the story you've shared. It takes a lot of pre-work and research, as well as a keen understanding of the media landscape, your target reporters, and the intersections of your audience and theirs.

Questions you'll need to answer about earned tactics:

·       Do we have a compelling story to share with earned media?

·       If so, how do we catalog our story library?

·       If not, how can we find these stories to tell?

·       Who are we targeting with earned media (audience)? What outlets should we consider?

·       What hook can we use to tell our story?

·       What CTA can we offer that is not transactional?

·       What media training has taken place?

·       What messaging structure exists and needs updating?

Shared: Partnerships, funders, collaborators, vendors, and even employee personal social accounts fall under the shared umbrella. One easy way to ensure partners have what they need to amplify their messages is with a simple toolkit. At a minimum, these should include the correct messaging they can use to amplify you campaign and any assets you’d like them to share – such as a social media graphic or video link. Here’s what you need to noodle on to develop your shared tactics:

·             Who are our partners who can amplify our messaging?

·             What audiences do they have?

·             What messaging should we prioritize?

·             What role does organic social play?

·             What topics should we cover in organic social and at what cadence?

·             What is our dialog strategy for organic social?

·             Are there additional partners we should build relationships with?

·             What assets do we need to create or edit to make amplification easy for partners?

Owned: Corralling all of your owned channels and determining tactics for each can be deceptively difficult. Start with a list of all of your owned channels – social, email, digital, in-person, text, phone lines, internal communications, etc. Then, determine if it makes sense to activate each channel for this campaign and if so, how. That’s not all you’ll want to consider, though. Here are a few other questions to ask:

·       What are all of our owned channels?

·       Who manages these?

·       Who views these?

·       What is our growth strategy?

·       What is our engagement strategy?

·       What assets do we need to create or edit for our editorial calendar?

·       Are there additional channels we should consider adding?

·       What is our content flywheel and the process for repurposing one piece of content?


Now, with a clear vision of the role of public relations in this campaign, SMART objectives and strategies and tactics supported by research – you’re good to go! Time to start sorting through the delicious tactical plans – timelines, budgets and RACI outlines (detailing who is responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed).

Truthfully, this type of work is what we find most thrilling at Small Adventures Communications. If you read through this and felt energized – yes! We want to celebrate with you. If it left you feeling a bit overwhelmed or exhausted, don’t worry. You have friends in PR. (It’s us, duh.)


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