Strategic Planning for Public Relations

The Importance of Planning

Effective public relations requires planning. Planning allows us to make well-founded decisions, not based on hunches or instinct. Moreover, without planning, the PR practitioner would have to operate on a day-to-day basis. At the end of the year, it would be very difficult to show what has been done and to what effect. You’ll find more on the importance of planning in the text entitled: Why Planning is Important.

The Planning Process

Planning is a process, a series of actions you take in order to achieve a result.

How many steps are involved in this process? Opinions differ on that matter. Most public relations textbooks present a four-step process. Some use acronyms to help us remember these steps. In Public Relations Cases (2000), Jerry Hendrix used the acronym ROPE (research, objectives, programming, evaluation). Other textbooks use different acronyms, or simply refer to a four or five step process without giving it an acronym. This process always starts with “research” and ends with “evaluation”; only the names of the steps in the middle vary.

Other authors (Baines, Public Relations, 2003) favor a six-point planning model:

  • Situation analysis
  • Defining objectives
  • Defining publics
  • Media selection
  • Budgeting
  • Implementation and control

For our part, we will use our own acronym: ROSE (research, objectives, strategy, evaluation).

The Planning Process in Detail


Look objectively at how you operate. Find out what the current image of your organization is and how its products or services are perceived. Combine this with an audit of your methods of communication. Look also for unintentional messages. Every aspect of your work communicates something about your organization, including premises, reception area, offices, customer care…


Set your objectives—what you want to achieve. Objectives must be clearly defined, measurable, and incorporate a time frame. If objectives are measurable, it becomes possible to assess the results. 

Who Do We Want to Talk to?

Identify your target audiences—the various groups of people you want to reach. The “general public”, or “everybody”, is too vague. You have to narrow it down. There is no such thing as a “general public” in public relations. You have to be more specific. There is no point in addressing people who cannot do anything for you.

Prioritize your target audiences so that your communication effort is directed toward the most important among them.

What are the best ways to reach them? Find out how your target audiences get their information. Select the most appropriate media to reach each group.

What Do We Want to Say?

What exactly is it that you are trying to tell your target audiences? Define your key messages. Write down your key messages as short, sharp, bullet points. Try to limit the messages to three or four. They should be clear, concise and easily understood. If you can make them memorable, even better. Try to weave these key messages into all your communications.

How Shall We Say it?

What kinds of arguments are likely to persuade each target group? Try to give each audience information tailored to its particular needs and way of thinking. Tailor every message to appeal to that group.

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.

When Are We Going to Do it?

Produce an action plan with a timetable, including details about who will be responsible for each action, with start and completion dates. 


Assess the results. How did you do? Did you meet your objectives?

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