Have you been tasked with writing a PR plan but you’re not sure how to develop your tactics – beyond sending out press releases or using a press release distribution service?
Do you need to learn how to write a PR plan but are confused about how to make it connect with your marketing ideas for small business?
Have you read all the best marketing books but you’re still not sure how to proceed?
Perhaps you’re even afraid to ask ‘what does PR stand for?’
Don’t worry – you aren’t alone
Once you understand the process, you will be 10 steps ahead of your competition.
Public Relations and Marketing, when executed properly, work hand in hand to build a trusted and much-loved reputation for your brand.
But to get the most out of this relationship you need to be strategic and your PR activities must go beyond simply knowing how to write a press release.
And yes, you have to know how to write a media pitch. But don’t fret, we’ll cover that too.
In this article, I’m going to walk you through a step-by-step process so you can create a successful public relations plan that:
- Builds brand awareness
- Earns trust with your target audience
- Gets your customers engaged and excited
- Keeps you ahead of the competition
- Positions you or your company as thought leaders
How do I know this PR plan works?
We’ve been running Arc Seven Communications, a leading healthcare PR Agency in the UK, for more than a decade, and this public relations plan is what we use with each and every one of our clients.
And if you follow my process, it will work for your business too.
If you can’t wait and want a free PR Plan Example to get started right now, then download our free PDF here.
But if you’re here for the instruction, let’s get into it.
First up, let’s agree what a PR Plan actually is.
What is a PR Plan?
A PR plan is:
A document that outlines how you are going to interact with your audiences, customers, and stakeholders for an ongoing period of time.
Its purpose isn’t just to create a buzz around one-off events or anniversaries. Instead, it delivers ongoing results that have a lasting impact on your brand’s reputation.
Here’s what a PR plan does for your business
- Details the stories and content that you intend to create. These stories strategically include your brand’s key messages – what you want your audience to know about your brand.
- Maps out the channels that your audiences trust and use to consume information. It removes all the guesswork so you can be incredibly targeted when reaching out to your audiences.
- Schedules how and when to pitch stories so that you generate the most impact for your brand.
It is a comprehensive document that is aligned with business objectives, sales targets and the marketing strategy.
What makes for a successful PR plan?
It’s simple. For the plan to work, ALL content must be newsworthy.
Whether you’re pitching stories to the national media, trying to learn how to get a story on the local news, to social influencers or sharing them on your own channels, if your content is not newsworthy then it won’t generate engagement.
Newsworthy is another way of saying relevant – relevant and of interest to your audience. A story that makes people sit up and take notice. A story that won’t be ignored.
Here are 46 proven public relations examples to get your juices flowing.
PR professionals have, through years of practice, developed their sense for which stories are news, and which aren’t. Fortunately for you, there are nine questions you can apply immediately. These questions will enable you to think like a journalist and decide what stories have genuine news value.
The 9 steps to creating a PR plan:
- Map out your brand elements
- Define your target audience
- Formulate your key messages
- Identify the channels to reach your audience
- Find newsworthy stories in your business
- Write your PR plan
- Plan your media pitches
- Boost the success of your story
- How to measure the success of your PR Plan
Once you understand the formula for a successful PR Plan, with these nine simple steps, you can create a bespoke strategy that sets you apart from your competition and guarantees the results you want.
Let’s start with making sure PR and Marketing are working together in perfect harmony.
How to map out and prioritise your brand elements
Fake News Alert – PR is about getting media coverage, isn’t it?
PR plays an important role in reputation and brand management.
So in order to create an effective PR plan you need to understand your brand and what it stands for.
The first question you should ask is, what do your stakeholders think about your brand? How do they feel?
Brands mean different things to different people
Your customers will see your brand differently than your employees will. Your investors want will interact with your company in a contrasting way to the companies that you partner with to deliver your service.
Without getting into too much brand theory (you can do PhDs in this stuff!) it helps to know that there are different brand elements. And knowing which ones your PR plan will focus on will help you achieve more targeted results.
Some of the most common brand elements are:
- Consumer brand: how your customers view your brand
- Financial or company brand: how your investors, shareholders or anyone interested in the financial or legal set up of the company views your brand
- Employer brand: how your employees view your brand
- Community brand: how your company engages with your local community/charities/campaigns/causes (and how this affects your brand)
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when writing a PR plan is to try and cover every single brand element.
There will be the cross over between your brand elements. A story can be relevant to more than one, but the more focused and targeted you are, the more impactful your PR Plan will be.
There is no blanket approach to PR. No one size fits all tactic. Each brand element needs a tailored and targeted approach.
Choose your preferred brand element based on business objectives and make sure the PR priorities are aligned with the company-wide focus.
It’s vital that you spend time agreeing which brand element requires a PR focus at the start as it will inform which audiences you interact with and what stories you share.
How to understand your target audience
Once you’ve agreed which brand element will be your focus, you can drill down into your audiences.
Simply put, your target audience is the group of people you want to communicate with, the people you want to hear your stories.
You can have a singular target audience or more than one, but it is important that you identify them and understand who they are.
Important audience details to understand:
- Demographics: age, gender, income, marital status, occupation/industry, educational level
- Location: country, city, neighbourhood
- Psychographics: likes and dislikes, attitudes and opinions, hobbies/interests
Sharing stories and content with a targeted audience is proven to increase engagement. So it is essential to understand your audience prior to creating content.
Knowing this level of detail is an essential foundation for your PR plan. It will help inform the key messages and stories you create and share.
How to formulate your key messages
Key messages are concise and clear sentences that articulate important information about your brand. Simple, short, and specific.
Why the emphasis on brevity? Your audience is inundated with news and advertising. It’s your job to keep your key messages simple and focused on one thing – attracting the attention of your target audience.
Have you ever tried remembering a poorly written paragraph someone has put in front of you, or a waffling advert you heard on a podcast? It’s pretty much impossible.
Key messages contain particular information that you want your target audiences to hear and remember about your service, product or your public relations campaign.
The messages are deliberately chosen to create the brand image and reputation that you desire, communicating your unique selling points so that your company stands out from the competition.
Each brand element needs its own targeted key messages
These messages need to be tailored to the demographics of the audience, and not trying to attract everyone. Knowing these is critical if you want to make the most of your media training.
For example, a 20 something student hip hop fan living in London will need a different message than a 75-year-old in a retirement village in Florida who likes playing golf.
To get started on your key messages, ask yourself these questions:
- What’s the most important thing about my product/service/campaign?
- What is the most interesting thing about my product/service/campaign?
- What does my product/service/campaign do differently to my competition?
Once you have a draft message, here’s a checklist for you:
Did you pass the PR Plan checklist?
Great! Then onto the next step – testing your message.
You can do this with focus groups, surveying your database, or more informally within your own team.
Don’t be afraid to adjust messaging based on constructive feedback, but make sure it stays focused and retains its clarity.
How to identify the channels to reach your audience
So now you’re in an awesome place, the foundations of a successful PR plan are coming together. You know:
- Which brand elements your PR plan will focus on
- What audience your PR plan will engage
- What messages your PR plan will share
The next step is to identify what channels you can use to communicate your messages to your audience.
Unfortunately, there’s no shortcut here, you’ll need to research where your target audience consumes their information.
Do they watch YouTube, follow influencers on Instagram, or are they more likely to listen to podcasts or tune in to the 6 o’clock news on the television?
Here’s a selection of popular channels:
One of the biggest benefits of identifying your target channels before you start your public relations planning process (that’s the next step) is that you’ll know what type of stories each channel is usually interested in.
There are three types of story
- A news story: must be timely – it is happening today, tomorrow or next week. It could be an event, or breakthrough that occurs and due to its importance (or triviality in some cases), it is deemed to be newsworthy. Note – make sure you know how to write a press release for an event, a boilerplate and an attention grabbing headline.
- A feature story: much more reflective and examine current trends, patterns, mark an anniversary or take a more in-depth look at a current news story. Features can include case studies or discuss a particular issue.
- A product placement story: describes the detail of the product and general information
Learning the difference between a news story and feature story examples takes practise and patience, but it is essential to the impact your PR efforts.
Although it depends on the channel, generally the type of stories each channel wants is as follows:
- Mainstream media: print and online – a combination of news and feature stories
- Niche media: trade and specialist – a combination of news, feature stories and product placement
- Digital influencers: product placement and feature stories
- Podcasts: feature stories
- Blogs: product placement and feature stories
If you’re thinking about approaching social media influencers then check out our definitive guide to Influencer Marketing.
How to find the newsworthy stories in your business
Now it’s time to start looking for stories within your business.
Your stories are the heart of your PR plan, and they are essential to sharing your key messages with your target audience.
A well-crafted story becomes the vehicle to get your key messages to your target audience.
We use the analogy of a train: The story is the engine, which pulls the key message carriages along the channel’s track, to the audience’s station.
If you just share a list of reasons why your product or service is brilliant, who will care? No one, because it’s just an advert. And we are inundated with them!
When you engage your audience with a compelling and relevant story, then you’ll be much more likely to keep their attention. Plus you’ll be able to build a more informal and conversational dialogue with your customers, which is proven to build brand loyalty.
This is such a crucial part of the PR plan but it’s often the most challenging.
Many people get stuck at this point because they don’t know whether or not their business has a story or where to find those stories.
So we’ve created a special guide on How to Find The Story in Your Business.
It comes with a free Story Finder template – a tool for thinking through your business in a systematic way to uncover all the areas in which your stories might be hiding.
Once you have your list of stories, the next step is to start populating your PR plan.
Match your stories, and the key messages you’ll share through them, with media channels that will love them. This simple formula will give you a super effective PR plan that will bring you amazing results.
Let’s talk through how it’s done.
How to write your PR Plan
Get your free PR Plan Template here or create your own grid with the following columns.
From left to right these are your column headers:
Part 1 – your own research
Date: everything must be tied to a date to make sure you achieve your goals within a set period. Awareness days can help here to give you a news hook.
Row input: you’ll put the month or quarter that you are working on this story.
Story: every story you work on should have an easily recognisable title, one that is shared across teams (marketing, business development, fundraising) for consistency.
Brand element: use this column to identify which brand area you are working from.
Row input: You can list more than one brand area per story, just make sure you are being as targeted as possible.
Audience: use this column to detail the groups of people that you want to target.
Row input: As with brand areas, you can list more than one audience per story, but by being more targeted you’ll generate greater success.
Key messages: the clear, concise and important information that you want your target audience to remember.
Row input: As with brand areas, you can list more than one audience per story, but by being more targeted you’ll generate greater success.
Part 2 – media research
Channel: the media that you want to share your story through.
Row input: With big stories, you may have a number of target channels – prioritise them, you may not be successful with all of them so focus on the ones that will create the most positive impact for your brand.
Media outlet: the name of the individual show, magazine, podcast that you want your story to be featured in.
Row input: Be specific and do your research, list individual shows rather than channels etc.
Frequency: this describes the frequency of the show or publication – how often they are on air, how many times do they post content etc.
Row input: This is vital information that informs when you pitch your story to ensure it is featured on the correct show or date.
Story type: news, features or product placement story.
Row input: Include the detail – is it an ‘Industry Round Up’ news story, ‘Best 10 FinTech Apps of the Year’ product placement story, or ‘How to lose weight quickly’ feature story?
Contact: the name and contact details of your target journalist, influencer or blogger.
Row input: Don’t spam, do your research and find the contact details of the exact person you need to speak with.
How to plan your media pitches
If you’re at the point in your PR where you’re writing a PR plan then I’m assuming you understand how to pitch single stories to a media list.
But here we’re talking about pitching a number of stories to many varied outlets, coordinating content and meeting deadlines, so you need to have nailed the perfect media pitch already.
If you need help with your pitching then check out How To Write a Media Pitch: The Ultimate Guide 
The purpose of a PR plan is to run multiple stories throughout the year and consistently earn media coverage and increase engagement for your brand.
Every media outlet, whether mainstream media or digital creators, works to their own editorial calendar – not yours.
Editorial calendars vary between outlets depending on the frequency of the show, publication or broadcast.
But one thing’s for sure – if you want to secure media coverage, you need to work to their deadlines and give them stories when they want them.
Timelines for pitching the media your stories:
- Magazines: 3-6 months in advance
- Newspapers: anything between 1 day and 1-3 weeks
- Social media influencers: 1-2 months
- Podcasts: 2-6 weeks
- Radio: 1-2 days
You need to ensure that everyone who’s involved in the creation of your story understands these deadlines.
That could be:
- Photographers supplying the media-ready images
- Your digital team who may be making video content to accompany the story
- Spokespeople who supply the quotes
- Senior team members who provide sign-off of facts and figures, get consent for photographs etc
- Your marketing team who need to create complementary material for social channels
Never go to the media with an incomplete pitch
If you’ve got a great story but the accompanying photograph is not ready, you’ll lose out to another story.
And worse still, if you promise a journalist something but then can’t deliver it, because it’s not signed off or not ready, then you’ll have seriously let them down.
They need to supply stories to set deadlines. If they trust you to provide something and you don’t, they won’t ask again.
How to boost the success of your stories
Once you’ve secured coverage then don’t rest on your laurels, here’s a checklist to help you share your story far and wide.
How to measure the success of your PR plan
The best PR plans produce data, both quantitive and qualitative, that can help measure the success of your media relations strategy.
You can measure:
- Share of Voice
- Tone of Voice
These are two really useful metrics to analyse how you stack up against your competition. They will enable you to see how effective your PR has been in raising awareness and influencing the conversation around your brand.
Share of Voice is a popular advertising metric, so you may already be familiar with the phrase if you’re a marketeer.
Share of Voice
In terms of PR measurement, Share of Voice refers to the percentage of all online, print, and broadcast coverage and conversations about your company or brand that you have secured, compared to those of competitors.
Add up all your coverage and all of the coverage of your competitors then see how you stack up.
Each week, keep track of all the coverage you achieve through your PR plan – cuttings, screenshots, clips of broadcast coverage so you have a record of everything.
This is a very time-consuming job and unfortunately, Google search won’t bring up everything, especially if your media targets are niche and trade-specific.
To do this properly, I advise paying for one of the best media monitoring services – there are lots out there –but two that I currently use are:
If you don’t have the budget for a paid service then just try to keep on top of your own coverage as best as possible so you at least know which of your pitches were successful.
Cross check your successful media outlets against your audiences – have you achieved success where you needed to reach your targets? Have any audiences not been reached? If so, rethink your strategy and see if there’s a way to engage them.
Measuring Share of Voice on its own won’t provide you with any qualitative data, which is why I always recommend to combine it with Tone of Voice.
Tone of Voice
Tone of voice measures how your company is presented within the media – is it positive or negative?
Is the tone of the writing favourable, was the presenter kind in their presentation of the brand? Or was the interviewer accusatory, was the review critical of the product?
You can also make a list of keywords or phrases and keep a track of how often they appear – is there any repetition in how your brand is being described? Are you becoming known for something positive or negative within the media?
Most businesses and brands have an official Tone of Voice document (check with your marketing department for this) and see if the way the media are speaking about you matches how you want to be presented.
If not you can feed this back into your next PR plan and make sure you set a specific goal to address this difference in representation.
This ties us in nicely to the next measurement, how has the perception of your brand changed through the execution of the PR plan.
Building on the qualitative data from your Tone of Voice assessment, you now need to review your overall positioning for your brand.
You can do that by answering these questions:
- Has there been any change in how your brand is viewed by target audiences?
- How were your key messages received and what response did they get?
- Were they believed?
- Were there any negative responses?
The best way to obtain this information is by gathering customer feedback.
Some brands find that periodic audience surveys (mostly online) work best. If you have an engaged database then it’s certainly a method I would recommend.
Create a short series of questions which help you understand how your list feels about the brand, perhaps asking them to review your product and how it can be improved, or offer a simple star rating.
Another popular method is to actually speak with customers face to face through focus groups. A great benefit of this method is that you can do more in-depth questioning and have more detailed conversations.
Whatever method you choose it’s important that this is not a one-off event.
The key here is to make gathering audience feedback an ongoing effort, so you can measure any change in perception and feeling towards the brand.
Here’s an important point to bear in mind – not all PR success leads to immediate consumer action.
This is both one of PR’s biggest criticisms but also (as I often argue) one of it’s greatest strengths.
PR is not advertising. The media who cover your product or service don’t end the coverage with BUY NOW! Or GO TO THEIR WEBSITE NOW!
Often media outlets don’t even include a link to your website – much to SEO people’s annoyance. But that’s what editorial is, it should be a non-bias exploration of a topic or issue. Informative but balanced.
Mainstream media are very cautious and do not want to be seen to be unfairly endorsing a company or brand.
However, the halo effect of being featured in respected media outlets is VERY real and VERY impactful.
PR influences consumer behaviour more through nudging than shoving. The objective is to build trust and long-lasting loyalty.
A consumer may not take immediate action but your compelling story has been engaged with and has triggered their interest.
I recommend measuring consumer action over set periods – monthly, quarterly, etc. This way you can see a clear pattern.
Here are a few questions you can ask:
- Has there been an increase in web traffic over the time period?
- Has there been an increase in followers and engagement visible on social media management tools?
- Have there been more signups to your database?
- Has the rate of opt-ins to lead magnets improved?
- Have you seen online sales improve?
- It’s vital that you work in partnership with your digital teams for this measurement.
Every element of your PR plan should be in partnership with the other areas of your business and the measurement element is no different.
In fact, it’s important that this data is shared across all the departments involved in the PR plan.
Not only will this improve your future stories, but it reveals business-critical information about your brand awareness levels and detailed brand perception.
Now it’s your turn…
Take your awesome story ideas and follow the PR plan step by step – you’ll be impressed by the results.
Execute it properly and your PR plan will help transform your brand’s awareness levels and credibility throughout 2020.
And if you’re ready to take your PR work to the next level grab our PR Starter Kit.
Our must-have kit has every template, script, strategy and guide you’ll ever need to do PR – all in one place.