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PR Planning: Mapping Out Your Strategies, Tactics

With all due respect to all those stereotypical males out there who hate to ask for directions, the fact is that even if the territory is somewhat familiar, if you don't have a roadmap and follow its directions, you're going to get hopelessly lost.

So it goes with your PR program. If you truly intend to have a proactive media relations program, rather than one that just reacts to news developments, a plan is essential to ensure you stay on track with not just with tactical details, but with your organization's overriding business goals and objectives.

Here are some guidelines to establishing a plan that will put and keep you on track:

Start by analyzing your organization's positioning and how it is perceived by the markets you serve, particularly vis a vis your competitors. Look at your menu of offerings, in terms of products, services or areas of expertise, or at the underlying challenges your organization faces.

Identify and prioritize your key imperatives according to your organization's most pressing business needs. Your mandates from management, for example, might be to develop PR approaches to help support the trial and launch of a new product or service, to support an existing specialty that may have been neglected for past lack of resources, and to generally help bolster the business' brand.

A mini plan of attack should be designed for each imperative that incorporates the overall strategy for the project, how it will be supported tactically (audience and media markets targeted, vehicles used, such as news releases, surveys, or bylined articles), implementation timelines and assigned responsibilities, and, ideally, how the PR tactics will dovetail with marketing tactics in terms of everything from messaging to timelines.

To better support an existing specialty service, for example, perhaps the strategy is to develop a program that underscores your expertise and thought-leadership in that arena. You'd identify markets of your buyers, media markets that cater to their interests, ideas for a series of bylined articles on issues or trends tying in with that service to be positioned with those media outlets, a timeframe and responsibilities for article development and pitching, and a plan for how the placed articles should be used (e.g. links to a PDF incorporated into a direct mail piece or client newsletter).

You should also figure out estimated costs, in terms of internal staff time, PR agency fees (if you use one) and ancillary costs (reprint permissions/PDFs, clipping service, etc.), as part of the plan. You may, in fact, have to pare back ? or bolster ? your initiatives depending on what the numbers tell you.

Moreover, those numbers tie into another important component of the plan: how you anticipate measuring the effectiveness of the program. Return on investment is one (though not the only) way to go ? for which you'll need total spendings as well as a way to tie those spendings to such measurable results, like more business coming over the transom.

Developing a PR plan takes time and energy, but is essential to bringing focus to your PR program. Ideally, you'll get the structure in place so that each year, the planning gets easier, the metrics help prove out where refinements are needed, and your value is substantially demonstrated to management.

Sally Saville Hodge is president of Hodge Communications, Inc., specializing in strategic public relations and marketing communications for businesses, entrepreneurs and professional associations. Formerly an award-winning financial journalist, she brings over 30 years experience to client engagements. Subscribe today to Communic@te! our free bimonthly e-newsletter and get a free special report: "Using Buzz To Create a Groundswell For Your Business." Visit http://www.hodgecommunications.com

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