How do you do communication planning?

Planning is SO crucial to effective PR that I can’t even when I encounter communicators who don’t or can’t do it. Fortunately, there are fewer of those all the time, and I really respect those who ask for help. Here’s a short primer on doing effective strategy.

My two cents is that you have to start with objectives. Objectives are everything. When they are SMART, they set the stage for cogent strategies and effective tactics, and for measurement. If your objectives are too broad and high level, it’s much harder to make them work.

Even the term, “objectives” is a bit fraught, because of the war between “goal” and “objective.” Some models use goal as the more specific and objective as the more general. The OGSM model does this. It’s an excellent model that specifically connects different departmental plans to one another.

For our purposes, we will use goal as general, and objective as specific.

I have two templates to share with you. One now, and one later. First is the AMMO model. Audiences, Messages, Methods, Objectives.  You put a 2X2 box together with Audiences and Objectives on the top row and Messages and Methods on the bottom.


For this purpose, Audience is equal to stakeholder. We typically prefer the latter term, as audience implies passivity, but stick with me. For each audience, you articulate what you want them to think, feel and/or do.  Then you push that information through the SMART filter — specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. This is probably the hardest part of the planning effort. Keep driving to get each SMART element into your objectives.

Next, you determine messages — what information do you need to transmit to realize your objectives? What do you have to hear back from the audience? The message platform isn’t ad copy — it’s the thoughts and ideas that guide development of content.

Finally, methods – which communication tactics will effectively transmit your messages and bring your objectives to reality?

The construction of effective objectives relies on your ability to continue refining and narrowing your focus.

For example:

You may hear “We want media coverage.” That’s not an objective, even if we quantify the type and amount of coverage. It’s a strategy designed to reach your end audiences. So, we ask, “Why?”  Answer: We want to elevate awareness among our target audiences. Still not a SMART objective. What is the current state of awareness? By how much shall we increase it, and over what time period?  Good objectives have a benchmark, a target, and a timeframe.

But we still are expressing this in “output” terms — what about the effect of increased awareness? What we really are asking for is increased sales, improved attitudes and beliefs about us, actions to recommend us, etc. Our objectives have to include outputs (what we do and that immediate result), outtakes (also known as communication outcomes, like web traffic), and outcomes (business results).

Our objectives must include all three levels – and the relationship among those levels must be valid.

Strategy is a road map — objectives are the destination. The messages are the fuel and the methods the vehicle.

Below, two resources I highly recommend — a paper from Anderson, et. al. on objective setting, and one from Rawlins on stakeholder priorities. Both are Gold Standard papers from the Institute for Public Relations Measurement Commission, of which I also am a member.

Anderson, F., Hadley, L., (2009) Guidelines for Setting Measurable Public Relations Objectives: An Update. 

Rawlins, B. (2006) Prioritizing Stakeholders for Public Relations. 

There is TONS of great stuff at — it’s free, there’s no membership or registration, and it reflects the cutting edge of measurement research for the practice. Please consider supporting the IPR — it relies on donations to keep going. 


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