How to write a communications or public relations plan

How to write a communications or public relations plan

Planning should be the starting point for your public relations campaign. This ten step approach can be applied to any size of organisation and market.


You should be able to summarise a plan on a single piece of paper and be able to explain it in five minutes. This doesn’t mean dumbing down the planning process, but is good management practice.

Taking a 12 month, or even quarterly, outlook is challenging when operating in a period of such economic and political uncertainty but organisations need to continue to take bets on investment and talent.

Take the longest term outlook feasible for your organisation but test, measure and adapt your plan over time. Real time measurement and agility is a reality for any modern public relations team.

This is a write up of a workshop that I ran yesterday at Future Communicators Accelerator, a learning and development programme for public relations and marketing management professionals.

Planning, research and measurement are fundamental to every campaign that we create at Ketchum. Let me know if we can help you with yours.

#1 Objective

What is the objective of your public relations campaign? This should be the objective that is set by your management team. It’s a good place to start a discussion within your organisation.

#2 Goals and measurement

What do you want to achieve and what will success look like? Measurement is typically an afterthought in public relations programs. That’s a mistake. It should be defined at the outset and be included throughout a campaign.

The AMEC’s Integrated Measurement Framework should be your guide. Use the online tool. Real time performance measurement is increasingly playing a role in public relations.

#3 Publics or audience

Who do you want to influence? The key to good practice is defining your public, or audience, as robustly as possible. This may be based on behaviour, location or a demographic.

#4 Research

We have access in public relations to first, second and third party data to help understand publics better than ever before. Ensure that you focus on your public and the media it uses.

Tools such as SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) and PESTLE (political, economic, social, technology, legal and environmental) analysis are useful to help define a micro or macro environment.

#5 Insights

The ability to identify publics and use data to understand behaviour and motivation is the point where art and science meet in public relations. Data science is increasingly becoming part of practice.

There’s a huge amount of information that can be accessed for free. Use Facebook Audience Insights, Google Consumer Barometer or AnswerThePublic as your start point (see case studies below).

Government departments such as the Office for National Statistics in the UK publish statistics on almost every aspect of society. It’s a good source of data.

#6 Strategy

Your strategy statement should summarise how you plan to achieve your goals, in a simple action focused statement. Measurement aside, it’s the most debated part of the public relations planning process.

"It is also worth defining what you're not going to do. It's a useful and powerful means of communicating your strategy with other people," said Gary Preston, founder and managing director, CoverageBook.

#7 Creative

What content do you need to develop to engage your publics in a conversation? This relates to channels. Traditionally our business has been focused on pitching press releases to media, but it’s changing rapidly.

#8 Channels and media

Modern public relations campaigns need to work across all forms of media. Earned or owned media typically leads with paid and social used as a means of amplification and engagement. Activity needs to be planned around your audience.

#9 Work plan

I grew up in the public relations business 20 years ago using news grids that set out campaigns against time. The modern equivalent is a content calendar that sets out campaigns against media channels and time.

#10 Resource and budget

I’ve already set out many of the skills required to execute a modern public relations campaign including data science, planning, measurement, insights and creative. Set out the resources and investment you need for each element of your programme.

How to use Facebook Audience Insights for planning

The population of the UK is 64.5 million according to the Office for National Statistics. Facebook’s usage in the UK is around 37 million. It’s a good proxy for the public.

Facebook Audience Insights is intended to help marketing professionals plan advertising campaigns but it can also be applied to a public relations planner. It costs nothing and is a really useful free tool to use as part of your campaign workflow.

Gathering insights as part of a planning exercise means that you are better informed, can develop more effective creative and make better media choices. It’s also useful for quick fact checks.

Facebook reactions and actions

Every action we take on Facebook, such as a check-in, post or reaction, leaves a data trail. It’s this aggregated data about behaviour, demographics and locations that we can use to inform campaigns. Using Audience Insights you can access information about:

  • Location – people who live in a location, were recently in a location, or who have travelled to a location
  • Gender – male or female
  • Age – you need to be 13 to set up a Facebook account and so the age scale runs from 13 to 65+
  • Language – the native language of the user
  • Demographics – this scrapes information from profile pages and immediate networks
  • Interests – this relates to the data that you leave around the platform in the form of likes and other reactions
  • Behaviours – arguable the most useful data point, this tracks actual behaviours such as travel via location check-ins or purchases

Case study: exploring an audience in Newcastle

To use the tool you run through the process of building an ad campaign. Here’s how:

  1. Log onto Facebook via the web and select ads from the drop down menu bar.
  2. Select Clicks to Website as the purpose of your campaign and enter a URL (it doesn’t matter what you select as you’re not creating a live campaign).
  3. Tweak each of the variables above to match the audience or public that you’re seeking to engage with as part of your campaign.
  4. You’ll notice the audience definition dashboard shifts back and forth as you make different selections.

Here’s some examples for different audiences around Newcastle, UK.

  • Parents with teenagers living within 25 miles of Newcastle - 62,000
  • People under 18 that use Facebook and live within 15 miles of Newcastle - 52,000
  • People currently visiting within 10 miles of Newcastle - 1,600
  • Men living within 25 miles of Newcastle that are interested in Italian food - 22,000
  • Women living with 10 miles of Newcastle that are interested in bodybuilding - 36,000

Facebook Audience Planning is a powerful tool for quick checks on your public.

If you get a large number you need a broad awareness campaign. Alternatively you need to work harder to segment your audience.

If you get a small number then a more selective approach would be best suited.

Using Google’s Consumer Barometer for public relations planning

Google makes a huge amount of data available to educate on how people use the internet.

Google’s Consumer Barometer is a free tool that provides insights into how people in more than 60 countries actually go about researching and purchasing 20 different types of consumer product and service.

Data is pulled from two sources: the core Consumer Barometer questionnaire, which is focused on the adult online population; and the Connected Consumer Study, which seeks to tally the total adult population and is used to weight the Consumer Barometer results.

“The data was gathered using good old fashioned market research. In the past, access to this information would have been expensive or provided in an unhelpful format, Google has given it away. And wrapped it up in an easy to use, online interactive tool,” said Andrew Bruce Smith, director, Escherman.

Case study: booking hotels in the UK

Let’s consider an example that explores how people choose hotels.

  1. Open Google Barometer in a web browser and select Graph Builder.
  2. Chose filters and select country, and then product purchased.
  3. You’ll be served a graph that breaks down how people make their purchase.

Almost 70% of hotels booked in the UK are booked online. Paging through the datasets provides more granular information.

87% of people use a computer for bookings. Smartphones are used on 5% of occasions.

94% research online, and 40% offline. Website reviews have a minimal impact; likewise word of mouth on social networks.

This suggests that owned websites and print have the greatest impact on decision making.

A word of caution. Check the sample size for each of your searches. The smaller the sample size the less robust the result.

Free data driven insights

You can also use Google’s Consumer Barometer to segment the research and purchase behaviour for any of the 40 consumer product and service segments by age, gender, educational attainment and broadband access.

Granular segmentation of this kind may well offer further insights into what an appropriate public relations strategy might look like. And it’s free.

Understanding purchasing behaviour: Google Autocomplete

Google Barometer and Facebook Audience Insights are useful for understanding consumers. They work well for consumer to consumer campaigns.

Business to consumer is trickier. However we know that a web search is often the start point for both business and consumer purchasing.

There’s a free tool that allows you to understand how people search the web for products and services.

When you type a word into the query box on Bing or Google it attempts to complete your search. It’s a time saving exercise but the responses that are served to you provide an insight in human behaviour and motivation.

We’re all searching for something

As you type a query you’re presented with the aggregate view of questions of people search the web. Try it for a product or service and see what you get back. It’s a valuable and frequently used sourced of insight.

AnswerThePublic goes further. It’s a visualisation tool built by the team at Coveragebook that searches around your topic and serves the result in a single page.

These are queries that people have volunteered. There’s no need for a focus group or poll. If you serve content that answers these queries you’ll be well on your way to building a successful public relations campaign.

Searching for tap washer insights

Let’s give it a go for a tap washer. Yes, you can uncover data from AnswerThePublic about tap washers. If you can search for it the tool will turn up data.

Enter keywords in the query box and hit search. The tool will search a series of questions grouped by how, when, what, who, which and where.

  • how change tap washer
  • when to replace tap washer
  • what tap washer do i need
  • who to change a tap washer
  • which tap washer do i need
  • where is tap washer

There’s also a list of prepositions. This is where the query start with tap washer and another word or phase is added.

  • tap washer tool
  • tap washer too big
  • tap washer toolstation
  • tap washer reseating tool
  • tap washer removal tool
  • tap washer hole too small

There’s also searches organised by alphabetic queries comparisons and related phrases.

  • tap washer replacement youtube
  • tap washer replacement
  • tap washer kit
  • tap washer price
  • tap washer sizes uk
  • tap washer valve

AnswerThePublic provides terms in a list, visualisation and downloadable excel spreadsheet. It’s impossible not to find an insight to help inform your campaign.


AnswerThePublic – visualisation of autocomplete results provided by Bing and Google

Facebook Audience Insights consumer insight tool that interrogates Facebook data

Google Consumer Barometer – online research and resources that shows how people around the world use the internet

Office for National Statistics – UK statistics related to the economy, population and society at national, regional and local levels

So what’s your purpose?

So what’s your purpose?

Making the Facebook newsfeed algorithm work for PR

Making the Facebook newsfeed algorithm work for PR