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12 steps to a successful PR campaign

Campaigns are a significant part of the public relations profession and should be
carried out with meticulous planning and thorough management. Specific step-by-
step measures should be taken when planning any PR campaign to ensure it meets
the objectives set or, in other words, achieves what needs to be achieved.

Thorough planning processes in PR campaigns demonstrate that whatever results

occur are deliberate or, indeed, have be taken into consideration. Here I’ll list the 12
stages of planning a successful PR campaign.


No matter what kind of PR activity you’re involved in, research will be at the core of
it. Depending on what you’re doing, different research methods can be used at
various times. For example, if you’re working on a campaign to influence teachers
that a school drug testing programme will help eradicate drug abuse among pupils,
you might want to find out their current opinion by carrying out a nationwide
questionnaire among teachers. Or maybe you’re embarking on an internal
communications audit and want to speak more in depth with employees. Initiating a
focus group might be a good means to do this.

Research methods are categorised into two groups:

This is finding out the information you want first hand: Questionnaires, one-to-one
interviews, telephone interviews, focus groups, blogs etc.

Often called desk research and involves gathering information from already published
sources: Books, journals, papers, libraries, Internet etc.

Situation analysis

The research you’ve carried out should clearly define the current situation with
regard to the campaign. Depending on what’s involved, this might include an
organisation’s current situation in the market, how it’s perceived by customers or
staff or how it’s fairing financially. Going back to the drug testing in schools example,
it might include the current situation with regard to public opinion on the issue or
how it’s been portrayed in the media. Whatever your campaign involves, you must
be absolutely aware of everything both internally and externally.

From this you can carry out a situation SWOT analysis to examine Strengths,
Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of the current situation, and a PEST analysis
to examine the external environment Politically, Economically, Socially and

Once you’re aware of the problem(s) your organisation is facing, you can then define
the objectives of the campaign. The objectives are what is hoped to be the end result
of the PR activity. Each objective must be SMART.

Specific: Are they clearly defined and comprehensible?

Measurable: Can each objective be measured in the evaluation?
Achievable: Considering other factors (e.g. budget and timescale) are they
Realistic: Are you being realistic given the resources you have?
Time: When do you want to achieve the set objectives?

Depending on the situation, sometimes the objectives set can initially be before the
research has been undertaken.

Identifying publics

Who do you want to talk to? The research carried out in the initial stages of the
planning process should have identified each public relevant to the campaign. This is
crucial to ensure your key messages are communicated efficiently as possible. The
research also should have identified each public’s current attitude to the situation
allowing you to tailor your key messages appropriately. Using the drug testing in
schools example, publics can also be sub-categorised into:

Latent publics: Groups that face a problem but fail to recognise it - pupils
Aware publics: Groups that recognise a problem exists - teachers, media, parents
Active publics: Groups that are doing something about the problem - Drug
organisations, the Government.

Identifying stakeholders

Once the publics of this campaign have been categorised, it is then important to
identify who the stakeholders are. A stakeholder analysis is not as specific as
identifying publics as it looks at everyone that is involved in the campaign as
opposed to only those who need to be communicated to. Publics can also be
categorised as stakeholders also. A stakeholder analysis may involve:

* Employees
* Identified publics
* Suppliers
* Senior executives
* Investors
* Etc

Key messages

Once you know the issue you’re facing, the current situation of the organisation
(both internally and externally) and who you want to talk to, you then have to plan
what you want to say. Every PR campaign needs to have a set of messages that
forms the main thrust of the communication. These messages need to be clear,
concise and readily understood. Key messages are important for two reasons. First of
all, they are an essential part of the attitude forming process and second, they
demonstrate the effectiveness of the communication. Key messages must not cross
over or conflict.


The strategy in a PR campaign is often confused with the tactics. However, the
strategy is the foundation on which a tactical programme is built. It is the theory that
will move you where the current situation is now to where you want it to be. The
strategy is usually the overlying mechanism of a campaign from which the tactics are
deployed to meet the objectives. A good example, albeit a rather gruesome one, of
strategy and tactics is noted in Gregory’s Planning and Managing Public Relations
Campaigns where she describes the US’s plans to move against Iraq following its
invasion of Kuwait:

The objective: To get the Iraqis out of Kuwait

The strategy: According to General Colin Powell was to cut them and kill them
The tactics: Pincer movement of ground forces to cut the Iraqis off from Iraq, carpet
bombing, divisionary tactics, cutting bridges and so on.


The PR profession has a number of tactics (or tools) in its armoury. The challenge is
choosing the right tactics to meet the objectives. Again, depending on what type of
campaign you’re involved you might use media relations, lobbying, events,
interviews, blogger relations, presentations, consultations, newsletters, competitions,
podcasts, stunts, websites, conferences, photography, video news releases, etc etc.

Remember, don’t use no new fangled tactic because it’s perceived to be cool, cutting
edge or the in thing. Only use the tools that will best help you meet your objectives.
Although, creativity is always paramount.


Now you know the overall strategy and which tactics you’re going to use, you’ve then
got to allocate a time to do it. A timescale allows you co-ordinate your tactics
appropriately and helps you be aware of certain deadlines. Not only that, if there are
certain future events that relate to your campaign, you can tailor a tactic in your
timescale to coincide.

Take the drug testing in schools example I mentioned earlier. If you know that 10
July is National Drugs Awareness Week then you might want to mount a media
relations campaign throughout that week. Or on the flip side, if there are more
prodominant happenings in the news agenda you could hold off until things have
died down. An example of an annual planner might look like this:
This campaign tends to drip in the beginning stages, burst through the middle and
then drip toward the end


Allocating the budget is an essential part of a campaign so all costs should be taken
into consideration. The primary reason for a budget lets you know what you can or
can’t do, but it also allows you to allocate money to the specific areas of the

Operating costs
Distribution, administration, travel, production, seminars

Overheads, expenses, salaries

Telephones, furniture, computers

Crisis issues and management plan

Risk is an inevitable part of some PR campaigns, so being thoroughly prepared in

case a problem does occur is paramount. For detailed information on devising a crisis
communications plan (CCP)


The evaluation is an ongoing process particularly in a long-term PR campaign so it is

critical to constantly review all specific elements. Evaluating a campaign should be
done in two ways:
The ongoing review is what will be carried out throughout the campaign. It is not
calculated at the end of all the campaign activity, but constantly throughout. If
certain elements of the campaign are not working as effectively as thought in the
planning stages, it can be re-focused or re-jigged to fit.

The end review will take place after all PR activity has finished and where the final
results will be compared against the campaign objectives. To do this, the tactics for
each objective will be analysed individually and critically.

The evaluation is vital to discover which parts of the campaign were successful and
which were not. Not only that, it helps determine what the current situation is after
the PR activity has ended.

The evaluation process is the ‘added value’ of PR and is something that should not be

Happy campaigning.

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