Not all communication planning requires the same level of detail
At its most basic level public relations planning is very similar to the four-question technique Professor Harold Lasswell developed for analyzing and modeling mass communication. His oft-quoted approach to studying communication boiled down to asking:
- Who says what?
- In which channel?
- To whom?
- With what effect?
- What needs to be said?
- In what way?
- To which audiences?
- For what purpose?
If you can't clearly and concisely answer these questions, you obviously don't have a clear idea of what you're trying to do or why you're doing it. But, if you can answer them, you can be said to have done at least enough planning to articulate what needs to be done and how you can go about accomplishing it.
When more formal and detailed planning is needed, there are dozens of communication planning models employing anywhere from four to thirty or more steps you can employ.
- The challenge for every communication professional is finding a planning process that suits the situations and organizations with whom he or she works. Only by trying several of them will you learn which works best for you.
- The fifteen-step public relations planning process outlined in my online readings is just one of many useful and usable approaches. This one is a medium-complexity approach that combines both strategic and tactical public relations planning in a single sequence.
My online readings in public relations were written to supplement typical PR textbooks. Topics run the gamut from basic terms and concepts of public relations through the evolution of the profession to performing various everyday tasks. Click here for the complete table of contents.
The following readings address communication planning:
Strategic PR Planning
In June 2009 I helped present a multi-day seminar on strategic public relations planning for the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), the folks who facilitate ocean-going shipping and travel into and out of most of the countries in the western hemisphere. It was the best organized, most comprehensive, and least dogmatic workshop on strategic planning I ever attended. Happily, the speakers' PowerPoint presentations are available on the AAPA Web site.
It began with back-to-back sessions on the value of strategic planning and an overview of the main elements included in most strategic plans. Subsequent multi-presenter panels, including the two I was on, offered more detail about specific aspects of the planning process, and the last presentation urged the integration of crisis communication planning in overall strategic planning.
In the capstone session on the third day participants who had never written a strategic public relations plan or who wanted more practice writing one participated in an interactive workshop where they collectively drafted a strategic public relations plan for one of the ports. It let them put what they had learned into practice with a group of supportive colleagues before going home to try doing it for their own organization.
All of presenters were adamant about the need for strategic planning and offered loads of useful suggestions and interesting observations from their own experiences, but they didn't push one "right way" to do planning. They emphasized the need to tailor your planning to the specific personality, needs, and circumstances of your organization and its key publics.
Reviewing their online notes won't be as dynamic as the actual presenters were, but it should be helpful for novice planners.
The discussion of handling public relations during crisis situations presented elsewhere in this Web site contains a set of readings and tip sheets that include suggestions about planning for these eventualities. They are quite relevant to a complete understanding of communication planning.
The first sample below presents an overall mission statement and the communications team's mission statement for an actual organization to illustrate the relationship between these two different types of mission statements and show how the organization's view of public relations is reflected in these mission statements. The remaining samples will walk you through and explain the first steps in developing a strategic communication plan for a hypothetical organization.
Turney's Tips are how-to-do-it guides for PR tasks such as writing news releases, formatting speeches, and developing communication plans. Originally developed to help students complete class assignments, they're equally helpful as desktop reminders for working professionals. Click here for a list of links to all my tip sheets. The following should be useful in drafting a PR plan: