Public Relations has changed dramatically in the last couple of years. Media landscape is evolving to include social and digital channels. Technology has changed forever how and when information is broadcast and consumed. News flow is constant 24/7. Everyone with a Smartphone, tablet or computer with internet connection is now a news reporter. Social media is now a key medium for breaking and propagating news. The media is no longer dominated by gatekeepers. In fact, there are no gates anymore. The changes in the media system have made planning PR campaigns much more sophisticated than it used to be. Integration of online and offline insights is crucial to success. But that does not come cheap. You need a foothold on both worlds and a handle on the good old rules for effective campaign planning to understand what has changed in order to incorporate new thinking and new perspectives into planning a PR campaign that will deliver the desired results in the new digital environment.

The Foundation

The foundational guideline for planning a PR campaign is the RPIE Model, which stands for Research, planning, implementation and evaluation. This has not changed. Every other PR planning model draws its strength from it.

You cannot plan a successful PR campaign without understanding your organization and your industry, who your target audience is, including their media consumption habits, their issues, their attitudes and behaviour towards your organization. It is research that fills in all the information gaps to enable you devise the right PR strategy or strategies for a successful campaign.

In planning, you set the courses of action you need to take to bring the PR campaign to fruition. It involves:

  • Setting a clear goal for the PR campaign. A campaign goal is the broad outcome expected after implementing the plan. It is the overarching end result of the campaign that you hope to achieve.
  • The definition of who your target audience should be
  • The definition of key PR objectives.  Bear in mind that PR objectives are short-term communication-oriented targets that lead to campaign goal attainment when achieved. They help focus resources for efficiency and effectiveness, link PR to business objective and address the changes you expect in the opinion, attitudes and behaviours of your target audience. The best practice is to set objectives that are measurable and that address the needs of your target audience.
  • Selection of media channels and the PR techniques to use.
  • Deciding on the key theme and other supporting messages for the campaign.
  • Estimation of financial and other resources for the campaign.
  • Deciding in advance how the campaign will be implemented and
  • Determining which methods will be used in evaluating and measuring the effectiveness of the campaign.

The end result of planning is a PR campaign blueprint that guides actions during implementation or launch of the campaign and during the evaluation and measurement stage when the effectiveness of the campaign is assessed against set PR goals and objectives.

What Has Changed?

The foundational guideline for planning an effective PR campaign has not lost its usefulness, but some key elements of the model have expanded to take advantage of the digital revolution. This is how:

  • Evaluation and measurement now have digital footprints. PR professionals should know how to quantify the effect that PR efforts have had on search, lead generation and web traffic. Measuring referrals from earned media and blog mentions, benchmarking referrers of traffic to website, assessing the impact that earned media mentions has made on search rank, the use of relevant Hashtags on social media to drive visibility for corporate messages and traffic to key digital assets and assessing the number of downloads, registrations and form requests are all ways of doing that. New metrics such as Search Rank, Twitter Reach and Average Daily Visitors have emerged. And, in addition to traditional metrics, such as readership, engagement now has new metrics like repeat visitors, subscription, follower mention percentage which PR professionals should understand.
  • Media channels have expanded. Today PR needs a combination of paid, earned, shared and owned media in order to reach its target audience. Social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat have pitched in as powerful media for advocacy, relationship management and crisis PR. PR campaigns can hardly succeed without them.  The use of digital marketing tactics such as SEO, Google adwords, search engine marketing and even email is now a norm in campaigns.
  • Opinion leaders are still relevant to PR campaigns. But today,  much more attention is paid to digital influencers. The right influencers on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and other social networks can have a great impact on the success of a PR campaign.
  • Content creation and distribution has taken a whole new life. In fact, content is king in PR today. Strong shareable content woven around your brand is the way to go in the digital age. Understanding the current trends in content creation, distribution and user habits plays a big part in the success of PR campaigns today.
  • Message tone has changed. Now, your message is not expected to be promotional. It turns off your audience. Your messages should be captured in contents that address issues and problems of vital concern to your audience. Another way is to tell stories that show the human side of your brand.
  • PR campaign is no longer run by PR department alone. An integrated approach that involves IT, HR and all others who bring in different tools to drive the process is the order of the day. CRM platforms that enable you to manage all communication activities from email to social media and influencers while providing automatic reporting are now used.

Planning a successful PR campaign in the new digital environment requires an expanded mindset with a vivid understanding of both the traditional and digital PR worlds. It also requires a firm grasp of media consumption habits of the target audience, and the way the world works in this digital age.