The following is an extract from my upcoming book Strategic Communications: The Science Behind the Art. It’s a practical guide to creating integrated communications campaigns and achieving optimum PR outcomes.
The ideal time to start creating an annual Public Relations plan is September of the previous year. In many organisations, it’s left too late, meaning you spend the first quarter of the year playing catch up, or that you rush through it as a box-ticking exercise and don’t feel the benefit through the year.
A successful annual plan involves quite a bit of groundwork before you start filling in details on the calendar. Research should include the following elements:
- Clear objectives: As seen in Chapter 3, it’s almost impossible to achieve optimum PR results without a clear objective and supporting goals. Communications objectives should always support business objectives, so it’s wise to consult sales and operational teams on what they’re setting out to achieve in the coming year. Action: Create your annual PR plan document and write your objectives in it. PowerPoint is a useful for creating a plan that’s easy to amend.
- Key messages: Once objectives have been set, the PR and Communications teams should work with their colleagues across operational and sales departments to hone key messages for the year. A maximum of three key messages should be set, and all Public Relations activity for the year should support those key messages. To figure out what your organisation’s key messages might be, ask this question: “If the public only knew three things about our company at the end of the year, what would we want those three things to be?”
Action: Set a meeting with relevant colleagues and decide your three key messages for next year, and document them in your plan.
- Target media: What websites, TV shows, radio, newspapers and magazines are likely to talk about your company? Go back to your customer profile to decide what’s likely to work. Do you approach your target markets by region e.g. “We’re aiming to grow our business in Latin America”, or by segment e.g. “We’re aiming to grow our business among millennial-aged women”.
Action: Create a list of all relevant media outlets in a spreadsheet, along with their social profiles and contact details, to be added to the plan. (Note: Every day, new companies are launching flashier software and other ways of reaching media organisations, but for a reliable, low-budget PR calendar, the good old spreadsheet works just fine.)
- Intelligence gathering: Most media outlets will be able to provide a media kit which gives details of their focus as well as their audiences and circulation. Many will also be able to provide a list of features they plan to run through the following year. By getting your hands on this, you can spot relevant opportunities well ahead of time and capitalise on them. Action: Collect media kits for each publication including target audience details, deadlines and most importantly forward features.
- Media Relations: Our top tips from journalists on pitching are documented in the next chapter but for now, the most important thing is to know who the right journalists and other influencers are, and how they can be contacted. It really doesn’t matter how perfect the pitch if it is going to the wrong person. Including social profiles is a good idea, because journalists phone numbers and email addresses may change if they switch from one media outlet to another, but they’re social profiles are likely to be the same.
Action: Create a list key national and trade journalists including their contact details and social profiles.
Once the groundwork above is complete, it’s time to start scheduling things into your calendar. Although a 12-month calendar is recommended, a quarterly approach might be more useful depending on the industry.
Go through the calendar year, month by month, marking important dates. Here are some you should definitely include:
- Important company dates: High level dates to include here may be the beginning and end of the financial year, budget deadlines, expected product launches, the organisation’s anniversary and major annual events.
- Holidays: What day does Christmas fall on this year? What public holidays do your target audiences celebrate? What dates will kids break up from school for the summer? These things impact your own employees as well as consumers.
- Planned PR activity: Using a colour code, mark off planned press releases, interviews, forward features, social media posts, advertising campaigns and blog activity.
- Planned events: Mark off exhibitions the organisation plans to attend, as well as conferences and speaker opportunities. Does the company hold a sales conference, an annual think-in, or a corporate team-building exercise? Include that too.
Now, pencil in how you’re going to hit each one. Maybe you’ll create a press release and post it on your website (owned media), send it to your media contacts to gain earned media coverage and share it on your social sites to hit your shared media audiences. Maybe it’s a really visual project, so you’re going to focus more on photography or video, or if there are lots of impressive numbers, you might decide on an infographic.
Make sure your plan includes coverage throughout the year, and that it hits each of your audiences in a few different ways.
Look at each project individually and keep asking yourself – what is the best way to reach this audience? Which medium will elicit the strongest response from them? What would I want if I was in their shoes? Don’t just stick with press releases – while they’re still a tool in every PR’s kit, the world has moved on and so should we.
What else would you include on a Public Relations calendar? Leave a comment.
ABOUT KATIE HARRINGTON
Katie Harrington is a Communications and Content Creator based in Dublin, Ireland. Her e-book, Strategic Communications: The Science Behind the Art launched in November 2016. Katie has worked with global brands including Accenture, EY, Emirates Airline, and Allianz, as well as in the Irish parliament and Qatar’s semi-government oil and gas company Nakilat.