A Practical Guide to Public Relations Strategic Planning

By: Nikki Little

Critical thinking and developing strategic plans are core components of any communications program or campaign. However, the public relations strategic planning process can be quite cumbersome and tedious, particularly if you’re the only person charged with creating the plan.

Have you ever been faced with analysis paralysis? You can’t see me, but I’m raising my hand. It’s safe to assume most people have been stuck in this rut at some point in their career. I know from experience that analysis paralysis can come on strong when it’s time for strategic planning. You know what you want and need to do, but you overthink and overanalyze things so much that it’s impossible for the actual plan to come together.

So, if you feel like strategic planning is often a daunting task, how do you overcome this? What can you do to hone those strategic thinking skills?

Whether you create strategies for a week-long or year-long campaign, there are small steps you can take to improve your strategic thinking capabilities. These include:

  • Carve out “big thinking” time. This could happen on a monthly basis with your team, or this could be time you carve out in your own schedule (cadence will depend on the program and frequency of planning). One thing I highly suggest is brainstorming with people outside of your immediate team. Maybe finance and HR don’t have anything to do with your program, but a good idea can come from someone with a different expertise. If you don’t make it a priority to dedicate time to thinking about new ideas, you’ll easily get stuck in the rut of day-to-day deliverables, making it tougher to get out of that “daily task” mentality when it’s time for strategic planning.
  • Get out of the weeds and think critically about whether what you’re doing ties into our company goals. We already addressed how it’s very easy to get lost in the day-to-day “stuff” that absorbs so much of our time. However, to hone strategic thinking skills, it’s imperative that you take time to assess whether what you’re doing, or what you’re recommending, from a communications perspective is truly in sync with your company’s overarching business goals.
  • Read, research and listen. There are tons of websites, blogs, TED talks, podcasts, etc. that you can read/listen to that can help spark ideas and inspire strategic thinking. There’s always something new to learn. Voraciously reading and consuming relevant content is an excellent way to expand those strategic thinking skills. If you’re going to put together a strategic plan for an upcoming campaign/program, it may help to see what other companies have done. While you shouldn’t use another company’s exact program, seeing where others have found success (or challenges) can help inspire ideas to get you started with your strategic plan.
  • Have confidence in your decisions and recommendations. I truly believe strategic thinking and confidence go hand in hand. You must be confident in your knowledge, skills, expertise, abilities, etc. in order to devise a great strategic plan. Making choices is a critical part of being strategic – and it all starts with being confident about those choices.

Now that you have some tips to enhance strategic planning, let’s talk about what that plan actually entails. While plans may vary based on the dynamics of the company or program, when we put together a strategic plan for our clients at Identity, it has these core elements:

  • Goals – the overarching summary of what you want to achieve.
  • Objectives – the sub-goals of your main goals. Objectives must be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.
  • Audience – who you want to reach. This could include things like:
    • Geographic regions
    • Industries/professional titles
    • Age groups
    • Employees or non-employees
    • People at specific companies
    • People who read specific publications
  • Strategy – the course of action you’ll take to achieve your objectives/goals.
  • Tactics – the specific steps you’ll take and deliverables you’ll execute that tie into your strategy/course of action to achieve your goals and objectives.
  • Measurement – how you’ll measure success to determine whether you achieved your goals.
  • Results (analysis and recommendations) – At the end of every campaign/program, whether it lasts for a month or a year, you should put together a recap document or presentation outlining your program, the steps taken/deliverables executed and whether you were successful in achieving the established goals. This document should include a mix of quantitative and qualitative results, along with an analysis of what worked well, which contributing factors were out of your control, what could have been done better and what you recommend changing/improving upon should you do this again.

Hopefully now you feel more equipped to tackle your next strategic communications plan. If you want to learn more about how we approach strategic planning and thinking for our clients, get in touch at any time.

Do you have other tips to improve strategic thinking skills and plans? Share in the comments.