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An introduction to planning in public relations

Planning has always been an important part of public relations; by planning your campaign you give yourself the best chance of success in communicating with your target audience.

Whilst there are planning specialists like myself for the nuttier comms tasks and brand dilemmas, everyone can be a planner by accommodating five key principles within their work.

Because planning, once you’ve sifted through all the bullshit, can be broken down (in PR at least) into 5 things: rigor, research, insight, analysis and application. Here are some simple tips on how you can incorporate these into your day to day.

Every agency and every brand has their own snazzy way of approaching planning but the underlying process is always the same. Do your RESEARCH, find your INSIGHT, write your STRATEGY. These are the 3 simple steps that everyone can go through, whether they have 2 months to respond or 2 days. A response which has not been backed up with research and insight (and which lacks a clear strategy) will always be poorer, so even spending a couple of hours on these 3 things can make all the difference.

Many in PR hear the word research and think: this is going to take a lot of time, I’ll just do a coverage trawl. The media is a great place to find brief-cracking information but we should all cast the net wider. It’s useful to break down the task into territories and I tend to work with 3 – the audience, the competition and the client.

If you’re lucky enough to have access to client insight (always ask), you can use their attitudinal research and data to seek audience insight, if you don’t, explore trends or mine the likes of Global Web Index or Quid.

For competitors, always check out websites and look for the first thing they’re trying to tell visitors (it’s their shop window, after all). Finally, we often assume we know the client, but it always pays to explore their mission, values and founding story afresh – you may find something that they take for granted that’s communications gold. Explore these 3 thoroughly enough and you’ll likely hit on an insight that can help you answer the brief.

What is insight? It’s often described as a ‘revelation hidden in plain sight’. It’s not something that no one knows (necessarily), just something that casts a new light on the problem at hand. It’s the fact that people eat wonky cakes first because they feel home-made, the fact that people felt they had no control (so voted Brexit) or the fact that people went a bit more analogue than usual in lockdown.

Insights are critical because they are the focus of the idea, the leading light on which much of a pitch may focus in the response to a brief.

Look for insights in the way people behave around a client’s product or brand, or in the connections between what you’ve found out about the competitor, audience and client. Remember, it’s impossible to change behaviour if you don’t first understand it.

Spend time with the nuggets you’ve dug up, discuss them with others, then let your brain relax. Sleep on it and try not to force it.

Once you’ve had your light bulb moment (or moments), you can start to strategise. Now’s the time to revisit the brief and you’ll see it with a new pair of eyes. The first thing to do is to fully grasp the real problem you’re trying to solve – often the brief doesn’t make this clear but once you’ve identified it, your strategy will be half written.

This is where you need to be at your most inquisitive and challenging. Where has the brief come from? Why now? What business goals will it drive? How is it impacted by what I’ve found out about the competition, audience and the client’s own story? Answering these questions will help you write what should be a very simple strategy – the solution to the problem at hand. Do [X] to [X AUDIENCE] so that [Y] happens, thereby solving the problem: tell non-metropolitan England that they can get control back by voting for Brexit; celebrate peoples’ new lockdown hobbies to drive product sales; etc. Keep it simple, keep it brief.

Strategy is worthless if it sits in a drawer and fails to inspire great creatives or campaigns. So whatever your agency set-up, work with a creative counterpart to finesse and refine it. A good planner should be moderately creative and a good creative should be at least a little strategic. The magic tends to happen when the two are in a room together. Alternatively write a brief or simply brief the insight and strategy into a brainstorm and watch the ideas fly.

Do all of these things and I guarantee you’ll end up with better ideas, more often – and, as result – more grateful clients.

Thanks so much to Adam Mack for writing this Introduction to PR Planning feature for us, we really appreciate it.

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