The most important consideration when implementing public relations and communication plans is to understand why and how the plans can be implemented effectively. Once those factors are understood and decisions made based on them, actions can be set in motion aiming to maximize the results. This is the first of the key insights to implement PR plans.
The implementation stage of your PR plan will need to outline the various communication methods or channels to the key stakeholders. It is important to identify measurable actions that each stakeholder group or sub-group needs to take to fulfill the selected goals.
For example, if the CEO wants to change the corporate culture, you should discuss first, before developing a communication plan, what observable and measurable behaviors will be different if people respect each other more or have more integrity, etc. Once the behaviors reflecting each desired cultural value are defined, the behaviors can be measured before and after the communication plan is implemented.
Third party actions may solve the problem first
Sometimes comms pros get carried away with the power of communication, believing that communication in itself is enough to solve most public relations problems. However, in reality, action is often needed in combination with communication. In fact, the PR role may first need to persuade others to act to solve the problem rather than engage in communication up front with affected parties. For instance, employees may be upset about a new workplace policy, which could potentially sour long-term employee attitudes, so the comms pro may advise management to change the policy. The same may apply to a product return policy that a retailer’s customers may perceive to be unfair.
Accordingly, a pragmatic first step in a public relations activity is to review the situation to determine whether any third party actions, such as those above, would be desirable to solve the problem either alone or in combination with communication. On the other hand, communication itself may be the solution.
Set measurable objectives
When you implement PR plans, you need to check that the communication activities support of your organization’s mission and strategies. Each communication activity should be based on an objective – either a process or a results objective – so that completing all the planned activities means that all the objectives have also been met. This should signify successful achievement of the plan.
The results should be measured against the objectives, which should have been written in quantifiable terms to see how closely the actual result for each objective has matched the intended result. In total, all the component results contained in the plan should add up to successful achievement of the overarching results objectives so that the overall plan is achieved.
The communication techniques (also known as communication processes or tools) used to achieve objectives can be categorized into activities such as:
- issues management
- crisis communication
- stakeholder communication
- employee communication
- change communication
- safety communication
- investor/financial relations
- media relations – corporate and marketing publicity, social media activities
- community relations
- risk communication
- event management
- marketing communication
- sponsorship activities.
The individual channels may be widely varied. In this era of electronic communication there are many more channels available to communicators than in the past, and research has shown that a combination of channels generally provides the most effective result. However, too often the communication method used is employed for its convenience to the sender rather than its effectiveness in changing the behavior of the stakeholders receiving the message.
Key insights for implementing PR plans
Hugh Mackay’s ‘Ten laws of human communication’
Australian social psychologist, researcher, and author of 19 books, Hugh Mackay, summarized some timeless principles in his ‘Ten laws of human communication’ in his book, Why don’t people listen? (Mackay, 1994, pp. 331–2). These fundamental principles of human behavior are valuable to keep in mind when shaping the planning and implementation of PR strategic plans, in interpersonal communication, and, indeed, in personal life. Although some time has passed since Mackay’s book was published, his insights into human behavior are valuable and timeless.
Many examples from real life show where groups have ignored these principles and been unsuccessful with their public communication. For example, aggressively telling people they are wrong on an issue only entrenches their existing views, eg, telling people they should not support Donald Trump won’t get you anywhere with them if they already believe the opposite. Another example is the way the principles advocated by Mackay can guide us in our communication with employees who fear retrenchment. In fact, you would benefit by posting these Mackay’s ‘Ten laws of human communication’ for reference in your office. His book is still available on Amazon Kindle. Mackay’s ‘laws’ are:
- It’s not what our message does to the listener, but what the listener does with our message, that determines our success as communicators.
- Listeners generally interpret messages in ways that make them feel comfortable and secure.
- When people’s attitudes are attacked head-on, they are likely to defend those attitudes and, in the process, to reinforce them.
- People pay most attention to messages that are relevant to their own circumstances and point of view.
- People who feel insecure in a relationship are unlikely to be good listeners.
- People are more likely to listen to us if we also listen to them.
- People are more likely to change in response to a combination of new experience and communication than in response to communication alone.
- People are more likely to support a change that affects them if they are consulted before the change is made.
- The message in what is said will be interpreted in the light of how, when, where and by whom it is said.
- Lack of self-knowledge and an unwillingness to resolve our own conflicts make it harder for us to communicate with other people.
Mackay’s ‘laws’ provide very practical guidelines. For instance, an anti-abortion campaigner in an Australian State publicly and aggressively attacked everyone who didn’t agree with him. In accordance with Mackay’s ‘law’ 3, the campaigner’s aggression had actually helped sway uncommitted members of parliament to turn against his campaign. Within a few months, members of parliament had passed legislation actually making abortion regulations more flexible, based on a ‘conscience’ vote in which their political parties allowed them to vote according to their own conscience on the matter.
Also, ‘laws’ 4 and 5 contain vital principles for dealing with employee redundancies. Employees feel very insecure when redundancies are real or rumored, therefore messages need to address their fears very carefully or the employees won’t believe management. When that happens, the best employees are the ones who resign first. ‘Laws’ 6, 7 and 8 would apply as well. Managers and supervisors in that situation should listen to employees’ concerns with a great deal of empathy, they should consult employees beforehand about changes in their immediate workplace, and the employees are likely to respond more positively if change messages are conveyed and reinforced in several ways, especially reinforced by actions of the manager.
Pragmatic assumptions for communication campaign success
Mendelsohn’s insights into campaign success
Human nature remains timeless. For instance, people continue to have the same attitudes and motivations that Shakespeare depicted in his plays 400 years ago. US researcher Harold Mendelsohn wrote an influential research article in 1973 about communication campaigns (‘Some reasons why information campaigns can succeed’). He found that public information campaigns have a relative probability of success if campaign planners:
- Conduct formative research beforehand.
- Assume their audience is only mildly interested in the message.
- Set realistic, middle-range goals and objectives.
- Segment the target audience as much as possible in terms of demographics, lifestyles, values and mass-media habits so that the messages have perceived personal relevance to the recipients.
Mendelsohn’s findings still hold true and are an object lesson to practitioners planning their messaging. Unfortunately, many practitioners, especially PR consultants, over-promise results by using overly optimistic assumptions. These practitioners tend to assume recipients will automatically react positively to their messages, and too often they spray their messages indiscriminately in the hope that increasing the volume of output will increase effectiveness when you implement PR plans.
Insights into why communication campaigns can fail
A Medium Multimedia article in 2023 identified some of the more important reasons why campaigns fail:
- Insufficient market research can lead to a misunderstanding of the target audience.
- Poorly defined goals can significantly muddle a campaign’s effectiveness.
- Inadequate budget allocation.
- Ignoring the competition.
- Ineffective use of channels.
- Poor message alignment with your brand’s values and promise.
- Lack of testing and optimization.
You can use these reasons as a guide to developing more effective communication campaigns.
Developing effective messages is very important for successful communication
- My article, “How to use framing to communicate strong messages,” provides valuable insights into implementing PR plans that succeed.
- My ebooks on developing successful communication plans offer you a generous number of helpful, practical insights. Tremendous value – just like having your own comms coach right at your side!
Article updated on 4 January 2024.