Strategic Planning for Public Relations
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Strategic Planning for Public Relations

Ronald D. Smith

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eBook - ePub

Strategic Planning for Public Relations

Ronald D. Smith

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About This Book

The sixth edition of Strategic Planning for Public Relations offers an innovative and clear approach for students wanting to learn how to develop public relations campaigns.

Ron Smith shows how to implement research-driven strategic campaigns, drawing on his experience as a professional in the industry and his teaching in the classroom. He turns complex problem-solving and decision-making processes in strategic communication and public relations into easy-to-follow steps, flexible enough to apply to various situations and organizations in the real world. This new edition includes real-world, diverse examples of cases and current events, along with classic cases that stand the test of time. It includes new research on opinions and practices, covers award-winning public relations campaigns, and significantly increases information on social media, with a reformatting of the Tactics section to highlight internet-based and social media.

As a leader in teaching public relations strategy, this text is ideal for students in upper division undergraduate and graduate courses in public relations strategy and campaigns.

Complementing the book are online resources for both students and instructors. For students: chapter overviews, useful links to professional organizations and resources, and an overview of careers in public relations. For instructors: an instructors' manual, lecture slides, and sample course materials. Please visit

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Phase Two


Strategy is the heart of planning for public relations, marketing communication, and related areas. All the elements of strategic communication are rooted in the research already undertaken in the previous phase and growing toward the eventual choice of communication tactics.
Just as rushing through the research phase would have jeopardized the foundation for your public relations or marketing communication plan, so will failing to give adequate attention to strategy result in weak messages and pointless activity.
Simply stated, strategy is the organization's overall plan, determining what it wants to achieve and how it wants to achieve it, offering direction in both proactive and reactive organizational activity and messages: theme, source, content and tone.
Refer to strategy in the singular, because each program should have a single, unifying strategy. Note that strategy has a dual focus:
  • The action of the organization (both proactive and responsive).
  • The content and presentation of its messages (theme, source, content, and tone).
In the Phase Two steps, you will map the course toward your overall destination, deciding both where to go and how to get there. By building on research from Phase One, you will anchor your program in the mission or vision of the organization.
Specifically, this phase of the planning process leads you to a closer look at your organization's intentions, a focus rooted in the mission and vision you identified in Phase One. These intentions will be fleshed out as goals, positioning statements, and objectives.
Then this strategy phase will focus your attention on two key aspects of your planning: what you will do, and what you will say about what you will do.
The first of these delves into both action and response, following the premise that actions speak louder than words. First you focus on the things you do; then you turn your attention to how you communicate about those actions.
The entire strategic process is interrelated and interdependent: Goals guide the development of objectives, which in turn help drive decisions about what persuasive strategies to use. Later, in Phase Three, this strategy will guide your selection of tactics to employ to address the problem or opportunity.

Two Approaches

Be aware that there are two different approaches to strategic planning, specifically the issue of which comes first. Here's how the approach often differs between planners coming from a marketing versus a public relations perspective.
  • Marketing-oriented planners sometimes set goals before they identify and analyze publics. This approach begins with the organization's sales or promotional goals, then leads to the identification of potential customers who might be or become interested in the organization's products or services.
  • Public relations planning begins with publics. We generally build our strategic plans from an understanding of the ongoing relationship between our organization and its various publics. Then we look at how the organization's goals and objectives potentially impact on these publics. That is the approach developed in this book.

Confusion of Terms

Some people confuse strategy and tactics. Others use the terms loosely, sometimes interchangeably.
However, the most common understanding of the relationship between the two is that strategy is the overall approach to problem-solving, while tactics are the various actions and communication channels to implement that strategy.
The terms themselves originated as part of the military vocabulary of classical Greece (fifth and fourth centuries BCE). They reflect the time of war between Greece and Persia and later between the Greek city-states of Athens and Sparta.
  • “Strategia” referred to the office of the general who makes the military plans to create a comprehensive victory plan involving threats and use of force.
  • “Taktikos” was seen as the art of ordering and arranging, as in positioning troops on the battlefield.
The terms also are linked to the Eastern Zhou period in China (fifth century BCE), a time associated with Confucius. In The Art of War written 2,500 years ago, Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu observed the same relationship the Greeks used.
“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory,” he wrote. “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” Master Sun also noted that “all the men can see the tactics I use to conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which great victory evolved.”

Step 4

Setting Goals and Objectives

This step is about deciding what you want to achieve. You will need to understand the twin concepts of goals and objectives. Public relations and marketing strategists generally agree that goals are general and global while objectives are specific.
However, also realize that advertisers and other specialists rooted in business disciplines sometimes reverse the meanings of the terms or use them interchangeably. Here are short definitions of key concepts used in this step. They will be fleshed out in the subsequent pages.
  • A positioning statement is a general expression of how an organization wants its publics to distinguish it vis-à-vis its competition.
  • A goal is a global indication of how an issue should be resolved, presented as a statement rooted in an organization's mission or vision, acknowledging an issue and sketching out how the organization hopes to see it settled.
  • An objective is a statement of specific outcomes for a public, emerging from an organization's goal, presented in clear and measurable terms, pointing toward specific levels of awareness, acceptance, or action.


As you set out to articulate the desired interaction you can have with your publics, first focus on positioning. Having previously identified the relevant public relations situation in Step 1, ask these simple questions:
  • What do we want people to think about us?
  • What position do we seek with our publics?
A successful approach to strategic communication in a competitive environment is to position the organization according to its own particular niche.
Positioning is the process and result of managing how an organization distinguishes itself with a unique meaning in the mind of its publics. That is, how it wants to be seen and known by its publics, especially as distinct from its competitors.
A positioning statement is the articulation of how an organization wants to be seen and known, especially vis-à-vis its competition.
In many ways this is like a vision statement. (Be careful not to confuse positioning statement with a position statement, which is a specific public relations tactic that will be addressed in Step 7.)
The concept of distinctiveness is an important one for all organizations: large and small businesses, educational and charitable organizations, political and human service groups, hospitals, churches, government agencies, and sports teams.
In most settings, organizations are known more by their distinctiveness than by their similarities.
In the field of higher education, for example, a dozen or more schools might be located in a particular metropolitan area. Each is likely to be identified by its unique characteristics: the large public university, the small church-affiliated college, the high-priced two-year private school, the community college with open admissions, the midsized public institution that used to be a teachers' college, and so on.
Problems can occur when the niche is not unique. For example, if your school is one of two small church-affiliated colleges in the area, you will emphasize what distinguishes it from the other, such as lower costs, a suburban campus, graduate degrees, evening/weekend programs, or sponsorship by a particular denomination or religious community.
The concept of positioning is fluid, and some organizations have made successful attempts to reposition themselves to keep pace with a changing environment.
Cadillac went from stodgy to trendy, with ads featuring sporty red cars rather than black luxury models. Competitor Ford Lincoln hired actor Matthew McConaughey as its spokesman for a repositioning campaign to appeal to a new generation for luxury autos.
Old Spice updated its 75-year-old brand—and significantly increased sales—with a new slogan and new social media tactics centered on new spokesmen such as rapper LL Cool J, NFL veteran Isaiah Mustafa, and Black-ish star Deon Cole.
On the other hand, some reworking attempts have failed miserably. Pizza Hut had to issue a news release that it really wasn't changing its name to The ...

Table of contents

Citation styles for Strategic Planning for Public Relations
APA 6 Citation
Smith, R. (2020). Strategic Planning for Public Relations (6th ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from (Original work published 2020)
Chicago Citation
Smith, Ronald. (2020) 2020. Strategic Planning for Public Relations. 6th ed. Taylor and Francis.
Harvard Citation
Smith, R. (2020) Strategic Planning for Public Relations. 6th edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Smith, Ronald. Strategic Planning for Public Relations. 6th ed. Taylor and Francis, 2020. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.