Whether it’s a new client-agency relationship, the start of a new quarter, or time for a six-month refresh, creating PR plans are the first step to ensure the PR program is strategic and is a success.

In order to truly have a successful program, you’ll need a planning process that is comprehensive and creative, no matter how long the team has worked with the client or how much knowledge the PR lead has about the industry.

The best planning process is when all communications stakeholders come to the table well informed. If the client is new to the team, the PR team should conduct research into the industry, trends, publications and competitors prior to the meeting so that questions are relevant and specific to challenges they may face. The company stakeholders should come to the table prepared to talk through the company goals, the marketing plan, an idea of the challenges they need to solve and their thoughts on key market trends.

When everyone gathers with this information, the PR team is able to walk away with a better understanding of the client’s needs and the goals they need to accomplish. All of that is then baked into a comprehensive PR plan that serves as a compass for the program.

So what are the must haves for PR plans?

Expand on what worked, remove what didn’t: When creating PR plans for an existing program, it’s important to have a frank conversation about the elements of the PR program that didn’t work so that the team can pivot away from those activities (or topics) and move toward elements of the program that will drive traffic, increase awareness and help with sales.

Overview of the goals: All PR plans should include an overview of the program goals so that all sides understand what the team is working toward and why the team included specific ideas in the program. For example, if one of the goals is to increase traffic back to the website, the team should include ideas for securing coverage in publications with a high domain authority and that include backlinks to the website. Having all the goals outlined means that both sides understand the “why” behind the strategy.

Outline all the details: Now is the time to think through the details on pitches and creative initiatives, and discuss those with the client so you can gain the necessary approval during the plan review process. This is a smart way of cutting down on back-and-forth later throughout the quarter and/or avoiding delays kicking off initiatives. For example, if you suggest a data program, include the headlines/topics the survey will focus on, the suggested questions, a cost estimate and the pitches and publications that will be part of the outreach process once data collection is over.

Push creative: While creative ideas should be suggested throughout the engagement (every week, every month), the team should include new, creative ways to reach the goals set in various PR plans. Outlining quarterly campaigns that may have include experiential events, new ways to reach influencers or a unique advertising strategy to drive downloads ensures your clients know you’re thinking of creative ways to get the job done.

Make it integrated: PR plans should always go beyond traditional media, even if the team is only tasked with securing coverage. As an agency, our job is to show how our program can be part of the larger marketing mix. PR plans are a great way to illustrate an idea executed across earned, paid, owned and social to help make it come to life. Yes, we may tap the brand’s internal team to execute some of those channels, but proposing integrated tactics ensures the PR program’s success by increasing the value beyond just a hit.

Create a realistic timeline: It’s imperative that PR plans include a tangible timeline, otherwise the team and the client run the risk of never getting the ideas off the ground. The team should go through the PR plan and assign months and weeks for when they’ll launch each initiative (including when proactive pitches will go to the media). The timeline should consider internal events (new products or other marketing campaigns) and external events (the week of SXSW is not the best time to release news if your reporters will be caught up in the event). When the timeline is finalized, the team can then use this as a way to organize the work each week and speak to the client about upcoming initiatives on the weekly call.

Include aggressive measurement: No PR plan is complete without metrics. The planning phase is an important time to recommend ways the team can measure its success, especially against the goals. Measurement should always go beyond the number of hits and share of voice; the best PR programs look to measure PR’s impact on traffic, content downloads, engagement on social channels, progress with influencers, and lead conversion.

When it comes to PR, there’s a lot we can’t anticipate and any stellar team can roll with the punches and secure results despite the chaos. That being said, having a thorough planning process, including the creation of a comprehensive PR plan, is an important step to ensuring the program delivers on the client’s expectations and meets metrics.

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