12 Steps to a Successful PR campaign! – Stephen Davis


Stephen is a communications consultant based out of the UK. You can connect with him on Twitter or check out his LinkedIn profile. | Email Stephen

Campaigns are a significant part of the public relations profession and should be carried out with meticulous planning and thorough management. Specific step-by-step measures should be taken when planning any PR campaign to ensure it meets the objectives set or, in other words, achieves what needs to be achieved.

Thorough planning processes in PR campaigns demonstrate that whatever results occur are deliberate or, indeed, have be taken into consideration. Here I’ll list the 12 stages of planning a successful PR campaign.


No matter what kind of PR activity you’re involved in, research will be at the core of it. Depending on what you’re doing, different research methods can be used at various times. For example, if you’re working on a campaign to influence teachers that a school drug testing programme will help eradicate drug abuse among pupils, you might want to find out their current opinion by carrying out a nationwide questionnaire among teachers. Or maybe you’re embarking on an internal communications audit and want to speak more in depth with employees. Initiating a focus group might be a good means to do this.

Research methods are categorised into two groups:

This is finding out the information you want first hand: Questionnaires, one-to-one interviews, telephone interviews, focus groups, blogs etc.

Often called desk research and involves gathering information from already published sources: Books, journals, papers, libraries, Internet etc.


The research you’ve carried out should clearly define the current situation with regard to the campaign. Depending on what’s involved, this might include an organisation’s current situation in the market, how it’s perceived by customers or staff or how it’s fairing financially. Going back to the drug testing in schools example, it might include the current situation with regard to public opinion on the issue or how it’s been portrayed in the media. Whatever your campaign involves, you must be absolutely aware of everything both internally and externally.

From this you can carry out a situation SWOT analysis to examine Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of the current situation, and a PEST analysis to examine the external environment Politically, Economically, Socially and Technologically.


Once you’re aware of the problem(s) your organisation is facing, you can then define the objectives of the campaign. The objectives are what is hoped to be the end result of the PR activity. Each objective must be SMART.

Specific: Are they clearly defined and comprehensible?
Measurable: Can each objective be measured in the evaluation?
Achievable: Considering other factors (e.g. budget and timescale) are they achievable?
Realistic: Are you being realistic given the resources you have?
Time: When do you want to achieve the set objectives?

Depending on the situation, sometimes the objectives set can initially be before the research has been undertaken.


Who do you want to talk to? The research carried out in the initial stages of the planning process should have identified each public relevant to the campaign. This is crucial to ensure your key messages are communicated efficiently as possible. The research also should have identified each public’s current attitude to the situation allowing you to tailor your key messages appropriately. Using the drug testing in schools example, publics can also be sub-categorised into:

Latent publics: Groups that face a problem but fail to recognise it – pupils
Aware publics: Groups that recognise a problem exists – teachers, media, parents
Active publics: Groups that are doing something about the problem – Drug organisations, the Government.


Once the publics of this campaign have been categorised, it is then important to identify who the stakeholders are. A stakeholder analysis is not as specific as identifying publics as it looks at everyone that is involved in the campaign as opposed to only those who need to be communicated to. Publics can also be categorised as stakeholders also. A stakeholder analysis may involve:

* Employees
* Identified publics
* Suppliers
* Senior executives
* Investors
* Etc


Once you know the issue you’re facing, the current situation of the organisation (both internally and externally) and who you want to talk to, you then have to plan what you want to say. Every PR campaign needs to have a set of messages that forms the main thrust of the communication. These messages need to be clear, concise and readily understood. Key messages are important for two reasons. First of all, they are an essential part of the attitude forming process and second, they demonstrate the effectiveness of the communication. Key messages must not cross over or conflict.


The strategy in a PR campaign is often confused with the tactics. However, the strategy is the foundation on which a tactical programme is built. It is the theory that will move you where the current situation is now to where you want it to be. The strategy is usually the overlying mechanism of a campaign from which the tactics are deployed to meet the objectives. A good example, albeit a rather gruesome one, of strategy and tactics is noted in Gregory’s Planning and Managing Public Relations Campaigns where she describes the US’s plans to move against Iraq following its invasion of Kuwait:

The objective: To get the Iraqis out of Kuwait
The strategy: According to General Colin Powell was to cut them and kill them
The tactics: Pincer movement of ground forces to cut the Iraqis off from Iraq, carpet bombing, divisionary tactics, cutting bridges and so on.


The PR profession has a number of tactics (or tools) in its armoury. The challenge is choosing the right tactics to meet the objectives. Again, depending on what type of campaign you’re involved you might use media relations, lobbying, events, interviews, blogger relations, presentations, consultations, newsletters, competitions, podcasts, stunts, websites, conferences, photography, video news releases, etc etc.

Remember, don’t use no new fangled tactic because it’s perceived to be cool, cutting edge or the in thing. Only use the tools that will best help you meet your objectives. Although, creativity is always paramount.


Now you know the overall strategy and which tactics you’re going to use, you’ve then got to allocate a time to do it. A timescale allows you co-ordinate your tactics appropriately and helps you be aware of certain deadlines. Not only that, if there are certain future events that relate to your campaign, you can tailor a tactic in your timescale to coincide.

Take the drug testing in schools example I mentioned earlier. If you know that 10 July is National Drugs Awareness Week then you might want to mount a media relations campaign throughout that week. Or on the flip side, if there are more prodominant happenings in the news agenda you could hold off until things have died down. An example of an annual planner might look like this:
This campaign tends to drip in the beginning stages, burst through the middle and then drip toward the end


Allocating the budget is an essential part of a campaign so all costs should be taken into consideration. The primary reason for a budget lets you know what you can or can’t do, but it also allows you to allocate money to the specific areas of the campaign:

Operating costs
Distribution, administration, travel, production, seminars

Overheads, expenses, salaries

Telephones, furniture, computers


Risk is an inevitable part of some PR campaigns, so being thoroughly prepared in case a problem does occur is paramount. For detailed information on devising a crisis communications plan (CCP) see this post I made earlier.


The evaluation is an ongoing process particularly in a long-term PR campaign so it is critical to constantly review all specific elements. Evaluating a campaign should be done in two ways:

The ongoing review is what will be carried out throughout the campaign. It is not calculated at the end of all the campaign activity, but constantly throughout. If certain elements of the campaign are not working as effectively as thought in the planning stages, it can be re-focused or re-jigged to fit.

The end review will take place after all PR activity has finished and where the final results will be compared against the campaign objectives. To do this, the tactics for each objective will be analysed individually and critically.

The evaluation is vital to discover which parts of the campaign were successful and which were not. Not only that, it helps determine what the current situation is after the PR activity has ended.

The evaluation process is the ‘added value’ of PR and is something that should not be neglected.

Happy campaigning.



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