|On-line Readings in Public Relations by Michael Turney|
|Public relations planning is essential|
|© 1998 Michael Turney||Table of contents||Practicing Public Relations||About the author|
"Like Columbus, you can sail west and reach new land by accident. But if you have charts, you can do better; you can arrive at a destination decided upon in advance. ... It is careful planning more than anything else that distinguishes modern public relations from old-time hit or miss publicity and propaganda."-- Edward L. Bernays
The Engineering of Consent (1969 ed.)
At one time or another, probably from your mother, you've heard: "You should eat more vegetables. They're good for you; they'll make you healthy." You probably even believe it, or at least accept it as reasonable conventional wisdom, but that doesn't mean you eat as many vegetables as you should. Nor does it make you to like them.
A similar observation can be made about public relations planning. At one time or another, probably at a conference or workshop, most public relations practitioners have heard: "You should do more planning. It's good for you; it will make you more successful." Most practitioners probably believe it. Some even bemoan not having more time to devote to planning, but that doesn't mean they do as much planning as they should. Nor does it mean they like planning.
The fact is: public relations planning is a lot like vegetables.
Planning is good for public relations people, and it can contribute to the success of public relations activities. But, it takes time and effort. It can be tedious, and it's neither glamorous nor exciting. It lacks the appeal and the challenge of media relations or crisis communication and, for most practitioners, falls short of providing the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that completing a publication or a special event does. It's generally viewed as one of those things that should be done rather than something people want to do. It's like eating broccoli instead of a hot fudge sundae.
But, all public relations planning is not the same. It's as diverse as spinach, corn, and squash. Some public relations planning is like radishes. It requires very little preparation and is easy to take advantage of if you simply notice it. Other approaches to planning are more like spaghetti squash. They require much more time and effort to prepare. And some planning methods are like brussel sprouts. They're easily overdone and often become unpalatable.
In simplest terms planning is figuring out the best way to accomplish whatever you want to do or to get wherever you want to be. The basic concept is clear, simple, and straight-forward. But, over time planning has become a specialty field in its own right and has developed its own special jargon.
Jargon aside, public relations planning is simply identifying with whom you want to have a relationship, what you want from that relationship, and what you can do to achieve it. It seems rudimentary, but it's surprising how often such basic forethought is overlooked. Consider, for example, the Midwestern adult literacy program that printed a text-filled booklet to try to convince illiterate adults to sign up for reading lessons.
A public relations plan helps maintain self-discipline as well as being an excellent informational tool. This is especially true for public relations practitioners who have recently changed jobs or taken on new clients. Planning forces them to ask questions and review their underlying assumptions. Each successive step in the planning process sharpens their focus on how the organization operates and where it's going, as well as clarifying public relations' role in that operation.
Sometimes "quick and dirty" planning is all that's needed.
Despite its current overuse, the term"strategic" still has important meaning for planning, especially when it's used in the traditional sense to distinguish strategic planning from tactical planning.
The best public relations practitioners are equally comfortable doing both types of planning. They work together. Think of an organization's strategic plan as its global view of the world and its tactical plan as its local street map. The tactical plan converts the broad brush strokes and goals of the strategic plan into a series of objectives which are practical, do-able tasks involving specific campaigns, audiences, programs, or activities. Each of these tactical objective--or project--can be completed independently of the others, but they are ultimately intended to move the organization toward its long-range goals.
"Tomorrow's communicators will be people who can think strategically and deliver tactically. A well-written annual report or brochure is of no strategic value if it does not contribute to meeting corporate goals and objectives."-- Keith Sheldon
IABC Communication World (Oct. 1993)
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