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What is PR Planning?

PR planning creates strategies to help brands and companies to create sustained value by stimulating, building and engaging in conversation, coverage and wider culture. It also helps protect value in defensive or negative situations by strategic messaging development.

PR planning covers many of the same core strategic roles as advertising planning across the planning cycle:

  • Understanding current situation

  • Imagining and defining goals

  • Develop strategic approach, identify tactics and scope activity

  • Stimulating, shaping and evaluating creative ideas

  • Measuring, evaluating and valuing progress

And works on brand positioning work, often through narrative development rather than brand definition or architecture.


PR planning fulfils these familiar roles in a different context - sometimes relatively similar to an advertising agency, sometimes very different, working to different clients outside of marketing and objectives related to investors, regulation and wider social acceptance as often as sales, usage or retention. This context requires PR planners to have different skillsets, mindsets and behaviour. There are seven distinctive properties of PR planning.


The Seven Pillars of PR Planning


1. Be culturally interesting: By definition Public Relations is mediated through communicators, journalists, citizens, or stakeholders. There is no guarantee of transmission nor of what is transmitted. PR Planning looks more for what is interesting and stimulating to the mediators than on refining propositions or getting to ‘right’. We work Outside-in rather than Brand-out. While many planners and agencies claim to focus on creating culture it is usually an aspiration. For PR planning it is the bar for success.


2. Play many parts PR agencies are less structured and have less role demarcation than advertising agencies. Many PR agencies don’t have separate creative departments. PR planners have to be as happy client handling, creating ideas and writing copy as they are working on brief. We are comfortable working without structure or putting minimal structure on the unstructured.


3. Plan at the speed of culture:

PR moves at the speed of conversation and news, often with much less production required for activity. The client decision making and lines of approval are similarly usually much shorter. Every part of marketing communications is speeding up, but PR has always worked to a shorter cycle. PR Planning has to move equally fast; comfortable working where timely is more important than perfect. We often have less data and time for research. PR planners have to pick out the interesting from disparate data points and put them together fast to build ways forward. Moving at the speed of culture.


4. Look for wider range of desired outcomes:

As many planners and IPA case studies have proven, advertising works in many different ways with at least as many effects. PR is just as varied, but has some very distinctive goals and outcomes from parliamentary legislation, regulation or a successful IPO or deal. Corporate work will often have an absence of activity (such as protest, regulation or outcry) as a goal. PR planning has to be as comfortable focusing on absence of action as creating positive response, sales and actions.


5. Reputation ≠ Brand:

A lot of PR planning deals with reputation, a less structured and more fluid concept than brand. The clarity of Stephen King’s “What is a brand?” gives advertising planners and marketers the discipline and building blocks of brand and brand architecture. A brand is almost always thought of as singular, but reputations can be plural. PR planners have to think about the reputation with investors and analysts built by an equity story, government and regulators, partners and stakeholders as often as consumers or customers. Reputation is a much less well defined and understood concept, despite the frequency with which it’s used.


6. Being a communications planner:

Paid media, and the role of media planning is still a central feature of advertising. PR planners often may not have a budget large enough to need a media agency. So we combine the skills of communications planning with the more traditional planning and strategy disciplines.


7. Work at the core of a client’s business:

PR planning, particularly around corporate and financial communications works to very different clients from advertising: communications, corporate affairs, CFOs, CEOs and Chairs. In those conversations the scope for ideas to be corporate action first before any communication means a wider canvas than much of advertising and marcomms. PR planners have to be interested in and speak to the business beyond marketing. It also means that we have to plan for capital markets as much as consumer marketplaces.



Rob Alexander

Partner at Headland Consultancy



We will be posting more about PR Planning this week, so keep an eye out for new material.

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