Laura Petrolino

How to Create a Successful PR Plan in Five Steps

By: Laura Petrolino | October 2, 2017 | 

How to Create a Successful PR Plan in Five Steps

Your boss calls you into his office. Motions for you to sit down and says:

Tell me about our PR plan.

What do you say?

Do you have a targeted and strategic PR plan in place?

One with clear, measurable goals and objectives? Goals and objectives which directly effect business goals?

A PR plan which provides a clear road map of where you are, where you need to go, and responsibilities of all parties involved to get there?

Can you show your boss, with data, how your PR plan and associated investment (both in time and money) produced real business results (leads, sales, and revenue)?

Or maybe you are the boss, and you need to lead the communications planning effort for your own company.

It is planning season (oh, hi fourth quarter), so many of you are probably working through the public relations planning process right now (or about to start).

Either way, if you answered no to any of the above questions, the steps below will walk you through the process of creating an effective and measurable PR plan for your business.

Understand the GSOT

No, that doesn’t stand for a special episode of Game of Thrones, but I’m sure I could find some fantastic analogy between a PR plan and GOT if I watched it.

Sadly, I don’t….so you all will have to do the analogizing on your own this time.

GSOT Stands for Goals, Strategy, Objectives, Tactics

These are the building blocks of your PR plan, so it’s important to understand what they are, how they are different, and how they work together.

You’ll find slight variations in explanations of these from different people, but this is what resonates best for me:

  • Goals: These are your primary outcomes
  • Strategy: How you will achieve your goals
  • Objectives: Measurable steps you take as part of your strategy to achieve your goals.
  • Tactics: Tools you use to pursue the objective associated with your strategy

Your PR plan must include all of these elements.

There is a tendency, especially if you don’t spend a lot of time flexing your strategic muscle, to create a “PR plan” (not quotation marks) stuffed to the brim with tactics and not much else.

Determine Your PR Plan Goals

Let’s start at the very beginning.

That’s a very good place to start.

The biggest mistake smart, well-meaning people make when they develop a public relations plan is not first look at goals.

It’s easy to get lost in the excitement and creativity of the plan development and the plethora of communications tactics available for modern PR (ohhh shiny). And completely lose track of the reason we do public relations in the first place: To grow our businesses.

So the first thing you must do before you even begin to think through tactics and timeline is determined goals.

These should be tied to real business results.

If you are building the strategy for a client or in-house as part of a larger organization, you need to work with the executive team to determine these goals.

This might be new for some clients, especially if they are accustomed to public relations professionals who work in the fairytale land vanity metrics, AVEs, and impressions and ride a unicorn named “brand awareness” back and forth to work every day.

Think Both Long- and Short-Term

You want to think in the long-term and then break it down to shorter milestones.

Let’s say in five years you want to make X in revenue, launch X product lines, and have 50 percent of the market in X cities,


Now we work backward and break that down first to where you need to be at the end of year one to make that happen.

Then divide that up into monthly or quarterly milestones and objectives to track.

It’s crucial you work in both the long-term and short-term space.

Things must be done in the context of the long-term but planned within the scale, realities, and agility of the short-term.

Strategy Drives Your Goals

Your goals are your “what,” your strategy is “your” how.

A strategy is still not tactics though.

Strategy is “how” in approach, whereas tactics are “how” in action

So a SUPER general strategy statement might look something like this:

Execute an integrated communications plan which uses the PESO model to drive leads, nurture them through the funnel, and convert them to sales.

I then like to go through each media type and write out how it supports the overall strategy.  This might not even be something I share as part of the official document. It simply helps me keep the purpose in focus when I work through objective and tactics.

If your plan is a play, the strategy is your plot and the different media types are the actors.

We will use owned media to…

We will use earned media to…

…and so on

Objectives Are Proof of an Effective Strategy

Let’s say your goal is to increase revenue by to X dollars by the end of 2018.

What needs to happen to achieve that goal?

Objectives force you to break down goals in a specific and measurable way.

They serve as “proof” you are executing your strategy effectively (or indications you need to make adjustments).

Here’s an example:

I want X dollars of revenue.

How do I achieve that?

  • How many widgets do I need to sell to do that?
  • What’s the number of leads I need to bring in?
  • Can I increase my conversion rate from leads to sales?
  • What measurable markers do I need to achieve to reach that goal?

Objectives are always going to be centered around action verbs, such as:

  • Drive
  • Increase
  • Convert

These objectives, in turn, determine your tactics and help you focus, so you execute your strategy in a way that drives results aligned with your goals.

Tactics Achieve Your Objectives

It is not until we’ve laid out allllll of this we finally look at tactics.

Unfortunately, tactics are where many people like to start.

What we’ve seen while coaching clients and students is that the people who struggle with PR plan development the most are those who get caught up in a few tactics and try to work backward. They develop objectives that fit tactics and then get stuck trying to make some huge leaps from unaligned or non-strategic objectives to goals.

Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t work. And in theory, everyone knows it. But it’s super hard when you’re really jazzed about a tactic you love to not want to make it fit (and feel disappointed if it doesn’t).

This is why we recommend not even thinking about tactics until you’ve set your goals, strategy, and objectives.

Tactics Are Strategy’s Action Items

To outline tactics we want to go back to the strategy we laid out, as well as the measurable objectives that strategy will drive.

What I like to do is lay out each of my objectives and then build tactics that integrate together to drive each.

So let’s say you have a software as a service company and your goal is to double the number of subscribers to your service in 2018.

The objectives you’ve laid out are:

  • Generate 10,000 leads
  • Convert 10 percent of those leads
  • Retain 80 percent of current subscribers

Then you look at the four media types and build out tactics to achieve those objectives.

I like to start with owned media, since that’s the alpha and omega of so much of what we do and then build out from there, integrating each media type together and adjusting as we do.

Don’t Forget PR Metrics

As you build out tactics for each media type, you’ll also build out metrics to measure those tactics and follow your prospect through your marketing funnel.

Metrics whose growth supports the objectives, which in turn support the goal.

Things like Domain Authority, keywords search rank, and website visitors and engagement are metrics you might want to measure for owned media.

Whereas, click rate, downloads, and conversion rate at certain goals or milestones would make sense for paid media

You’ll lay out metrics for each media type and use them, along with your objectives to measure and analyze progress of your PR plan.

This allows you to adjust, based on data, to keep your strategy focused, on track, and driving your goals.

What Questions Do You Have?

Because it’s planning season, I’m going to focus my next several blog posts on common struggles communications pros have when building a PR plan, especially one that is built upon the PESO model.

Leave your questions here or in our free Slack community.

Better yet! Join the PR Dream Team and you’ll get actual help with your PR plan.

About Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is chief marketing officer for Spin Sucks, an integrated marketing communications firm that provides strategic counsel and professional development for in-house and agency communications teams. She is a weekly contributor for their award-winning blog of the same name. Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.