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Setting goals and objectives makes your PR planning more effective
By Kim Harrison,
Consultant, Author and Principal of www.cuttingedgepr.com
Knowing how to set goals and objectives in the planning of your communication activities makes you much more effective.
Setting communication goals and objectives creates several benefits. It lets people know what is expected of them, it lets others know what is planned, it helps to quantify the resources that are needed and when, it helps to improve communication between the participants, and it creates measurable results.
A widely held myth for many years was that public relations performance could not really be measured and therefore couldn’t be expected to undergo the performance and budget scrutiny that other areas of the organization were obliged to accept. These days you can prove the value of your PR work by setting and achieving measurable objectives for your activities.
Goals are the means to express the end points towards which effort is directed. They are broad, relatively abstract and may be difficult to quantify (“Our goal is to increase our share of the marketplace for [our product].”)
Objectives are subsets of goals and should be expressed in concrete, measurable terms. (“Our objective is to increase our share of the market in the largest city in this State for [our product] by 15% by the end of the next financial year.”) An objective is something that can be documented; it’s factual and observable.
A set of goals is achieved only by achieving a subset of interrelated objectives, even if those objectives are not clearly stated or articulated. Therefore, an objective is a strategic step along the way to achieving a desired goal.
There are generally three types of goals in public relations:
Many public relations practitioners are satisfied to express their intentions in the broad terms of goals. This allows them to rationalize the outcomes, to ‘gild the lily’ and take the credit for the results. However, in tough times, they can’t actually prove their worth and therefore senior management may subjectively question their contribution.
But if you can show that you have achieved specific, measurable targets, you are able to prove your worth. Setting measurable objectives helps the planning of future campaigns and offers you the political benefit of enabling you to justify more resources for your subsequent activities. Specifying objectives is also the best practical way to make senior managers understand the public relations role.
Measuring the overall impact of a PR program or strategy can be difficult unless the individual elements or components of the program are clearly defined and measured, eg publicity activities, a particular community relations program, a special event, government affairs, speaker program, investor relations activity, etc.
It is often difficult to separate PR programs and activities (such as publicity, distribution of information material, special events, etc) from other activities such as marketing (advertising, point-of-purchase promotional activities, give-away activities, etc).
Also, the setting of challenging but realistic objectives can be a difficult exercise requiring arbitrary selection of target figures that depend on a range of underlying assumptions.
Life seldom consists of black and white issues; it largely consists of shades of grey. Accordingly, objectives should never be ‘all or nothing’ – they should refer to the extent of accomplishment along a continuum of performance. An ‘all or nothing’ approach to objectives will subvert the value of the process because people will always go for ‘low hurdles’ to maximize the chances of attaining them. If someone achieves 95% of an objective, how can they be considered a failure? To treat anything less than 100% as a failure…will surely lead to game playing, ‘low-balling’ and the massage and manipulation of data. To use objectives…in such a simplistic way invites reactions inconsistent with execution success. ”1
Setting objectives and measuring results
It is helpful to think of objectives comprising four parts:
To produce an 8-page quarto-sized newsletter about the organization’s planned structural changes, to be distributed on the 21st day of every second month at a cost less than $5,000 per issue, starting in June.
Results and process objectives
Objectives and the measurement of a PR activity ideally should be expressed in terms of results gained. Results, or outcomes, are the key measure. Results or outcomes measure whether the communication material and disseminated messages have changed awareness,understanding, opinions, attitudes, preferences, and/or behavior by target audiences.
Setting quantifiable results objectives will enable you to specify the end result intended and then to measure whether the intended result has been achieved. Setting results objectives and achieving the results enables you to judge the effects of the programs.
Having planned the intended result, you use your professional judgment to decide which communication activities or processes will be necessary to achieve the result. Objectives can be set for all these activities or processes. They are called process or output objectives and are stated intentions regarding program production and effort or output. The combined impact of all the process objectives should be to create the result specified by the result objective or objectives.
Each process objective should be written in quantifiable, measurable terms that allow the result to be easily compared against the objective. The wonderful thing about using specific, measurable process objectives is that they effectively spell out the implementation as well – they detail all the steps involved in achieving the end result. Therefore time spent on the laborious construction of specific and measurable objectives saves a large amount of time spent in preparing the implementation details.
Process objectives help to determine the exact details of the activity, including its cost and timing in contributing to the end result. Generally, process objectives should include as many as possible of the following measures: time, quality, quantity and cost.
A suitable process objective for a hypothetical project would be:
To meet with all 40 local branches of the Lions community group throughout the State before June 2006 to discuss the proposed charity project.
The results or outcome objective for the same project could be:
To persuade a majority (21 of the 40) local branches of the Lions community group to vote for the charity project at the annual meeting of the organization in September 2006.
In organizing a conference, a results objective for the PR practitioner might be:
To achieve attendance of at least 250 exporters at the conference on 10 September by sending a promotional direct mail letter to all members of the Export Council of America by 15 July.
Many people use a SMART acronym to help them set their objectives:
Specific – as discussed above
Measurable – as discussed above
Agreed – it is important that all relevant stakeholders should ‘sign off’ to the proposed objectives, eg you, your boss and other parties relevant to the activity.
Realistic – don’t overstretch; make the objectives challenging but achievable
Timed – always put a time limit so there is a clear finishing point
Other types of objectives
Other types of objectives could also be used for public relations work. For instance, you could decide to use output and impact objectives. The output objectives would relate only to what the communicator produces while the impact objectives would relate to the effect of the PR activities on the target audience or stakeholders. Impact objectives can be divided into three types of impact: informational, attitudinal and behavioral.
Informational objectives concentrate on message exposure, comprehension or retention. Message comprehension informational objectives can also be measured by readability formulae, audience survey or focus groups, eg:
Attitudinal objectives need to be measured by formal or informal audience surveys. Attitudinal objectives create attitudes, reinforce existing attitudes or change existing attitudes, eg:
Behavioral objectives are the most difficult to achieve because it is difficult to change behaviors. The objectives may set out to create new behaviors, intensify existing behaviors or reverse existing negative behaviors, eg:
Sample objectives used in a public relations project
A good example of using objectives as the basis for planning is the following program of activities intended to create stronger employee support for a proposed change in pay conditions.
This article is based on a chapter in the e-book, How to create a top public relations plan, by Kim Harrison, which you can access at www.cuttingedgepr.com
About the Author
Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website, www.cuttingedgepr.com, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.
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