10 Principles for Creating an Effective Public Relations Plan

Principles are less about what to do than they are about how to do it. Adopt these precepts and prosper.

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By Craig Cincotta


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Throughout my career I've written, read and edited countless public relations plans, and I am quite certain each one contained the essential planning elements -- objectives, strategies, tactics and metrics.

Over the years I have come to include another element for every plan, principles. Principles are important because they give you a filter for making decisions and protect the behaviors you need to embrace to ensure your plan is effective. When you start to drift from your principles, it's time to take stock of the current situation and think about what needs to change to keep you on track.

Where do you start? Here are 10 public relations principles every PR practitioner should consider as they go through the process of assembling an effective plan.

1. Know your audience.

Establish a foundation that's grounded in insights. Do your research and ensure that whatever products or services you support, actually fulfill a customer need. Will your customers be satisfied with what they're being offered? If not, voice those concerns internally. Many times PR practitioners can provide an ear closest to the customer, given their access to what press and analysts are hearing from end users. Use that knowledge to support the development of offerings that will truly delight the marketplace.

Related: The Better You Know Your Customer, the Better You Can Position Your Brand

2. Be a patient storyteller.

Many times brands and businesses get anxious and want to tell their story "right now." Whether it's the perception of momentum competitors may have or the need to "be a part of the discussion," you can do more harm than good if you go out with a plan that's half-baked. Take your time and don't succumb to the pressure of "doing something." Tell the right story, at the right time, to the right people.

3. Focus on outcomes over activities.

Navigate by a North Star. What are the headlines, perceptions, and actions you want to see delivered through your plan? What do you want readers to see/hear/feel/do? Try and align to a long term plan and work towards creating a set of desired outcomes and key moments in time that create waves over ripples. The alternative, doing a bunch of activities that are not aligned to a broader strategy, isn't the best use of your resources (nor is it the way to build a durable team).

Related: How to Set the Right Goals for Your Business

4. Know the difference between stories and news.

There is a difference between stories and news. Stories have a cascading effect and maintain the necessary elements for driving reader engagement. Great stories are shared. News announcements are fleeting, and at their worst, inconsistent over time. Press do their homework and it's very easy for them to dismiss "another press release" as noise, versus something of substance that they need to take an interest in, following and sharing with their readers.

5. Go beyond the echo chamber.

Focus your attention outside of the walls of your business. If you spend too much of your time "drinking the Kool-Aid," you're going to miss an opportunity to understand broader market sentiment. Don't dismiss what competitors do. Take an interest in learning and reading about others. What do they do well? Where can you differentiate? By knowing as much as you can about the broader environment, the more well-rounded and precise your plan will be.

6. Be humble.

Focus on your products, partners and customers. Worry about what you are doing that makes you great. Be proud, but don't be boastful. Utilize partners and customers to tell your story. In fact, all of the messaging you create should be supported by a third party advocate who is willing to engage proactively with press on your behalf.

Related: Humility: The Missing Ingredient to Your Success

7. Under promise and over deliver.

This is pretty straight-forward, but if you stick to the basic benefits and resist the urge to speak in far flung generalizations, you won't run the risk of getting out over your skis. It's okay to talk about vision and how you see the world, but be very clear on what you intend to deliver and when. If you stick to this commitment the more likely you never bend to say something that isn't accurate.

8. Have a call to action.

Think about the actions you want people to take so you can maintain a relationship. This can come in the form of a pointer that brings the reader back to your website. Once you have someone's attention, how will you keep them engaged? This is crucial.

9. Public relations is not an island.

PR is far more than a vehicle that creates awareness at the end of a product cycle. Great PR teams are woven into the fabric of the business from day one. The team should be integrated into the long-term plans of the company to ensure product and PR plans stay aligned. Spend a good amount of time with others (e.g. engineering and design). Some of the best stories will come from those closest to the product.

10. Require the requirements.

Every plan must meet a set of requirements (data, partners, launch dates etc.). If the requirements aren't met, that becomes your ultimate "go/no go" filter. PR practitioners often find themselves in a position where they are the ones to decide how, when and where a news announcement takes place. Your requirements become your rules of engagement, giving you the confidence you need to know your plan is sound.

Craig Cincotta

Senior Director of Marketing Communications at SAP

Craig Cincotta serves as Senior Director of Marketing Communications for the Business Network and Applications Group at SAP.

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