Most PR professionals are familiar with the need to set objectives in communication projects. Despite the agreed need, it is tempting not to bother in cases when an activity is repeated every year, or when senior managers direct something to be done at short notice or when the need for the project seems blindingly obvious. However, it is best for several reasons to ensure you set objectives before embarking on an activity.[Please note that some US business writers and commentators reverse the definitions of goals and objectives, ie they refer to goals as specific and measurable, and objectives as broad. I don’t understand why they do this, because Peter Drucker, who originated the concept, used goals and objectives in the way I do in this article.]
The whole world is a more uncertain place than previously. Senior management of business and government organizations more carefully review all operational budgets including public relations / corporate relations activities to stem losses, preserve fragile profits or meet budget expectations. PR activities are being scrutinized more heavily than ever before. We need to justify our programs, or at least justify budgets to people who may not understand PR and who are looking to make deep cuts.
In these times, we need to demonstrate that PR is effectively supporting the achievement of organizational goals and ideally is doing a better job at it than alternative communication options such as advertising and promotions. In fact, during tough times such as with COVID responses, many organizations have come to realize that PR offers a better return on investment than other options.
Prove your PR value by directly supporting organizational goals and objectives
The best way to demonstrate the value of PR is to create communication objectives that directly support organizational goals and objectives. This may seem to be a non-issue because we are supposed to set objectives for significant communication activities as a matter of course. But all too often,we fail to plan and document the objectives for activities that demonstrably support organizational priorities.
The penalty for this is found in research findings. Research shows organizations that don’t set PR goals and objectives to evaluate performance experience the greatest downsizing in corporate communication staff and budgets.
Explained: How you set PR goals and objectives
Some management observers say the difference between goals and objectives is that a goal is a description of a destination, and an objective is a measure of the progress that is needed to reach the destination. More specifically:
Goals are the means to express the end points towards which effort is directed. GThey are relatively abstract and may be difficult to quantify (“Our goal is to increase our share of the market 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 goal is achieved by achieving a subset of supporting objective/s. Therefore, an objective is a strategic step along the way to achieving a desired goal. This is how you set PR goals and objectives effectively.
Three types of communication goals
There are generally three types of communication goals:
- Reputation management goals, which deal with the identity and perception of the organization. Example: “We aim to improve [stakeholder group] opinions of our organization significantly within the next year.”
- Relationship management goals, which focus on how the organization connects with its stakeholders. Example: “We aim to improve communication with our shareholders during the coming year so we form more positive relationships with them.”
- Task management goals, which are concerned with achieving tasks. Example: “Our goal is to increase attendance at our staff ‘town hall’ meetings next year.”
Goal: [You would need to decide in consultation with senior management as to how much employees should know to be at a satisfactory level of knowledge.]
- Make sure company employees know enough about next financial year’s 3 key corporate strategies.
Possible outcome/results objectives: [Any of these would be appropriate – you would need to use your professional judgment in consultation with senior management.]
- To have 80% of employees know where to access next financial year’s written corporate strategy.
- To have 50% of our employees able to identify our 3 key strategies for next financial year from a list of 5 possible ones. [Multiple choice answers.]
- To have 67% of employees know what percentage of market share we are trying to achieve by the end of next financial year.
After you decide which of the outcome objectives you will use to measure, you will need to decide the process (activity) objectives you wish to put in place in order to measure progress towards the outcome you want.
- To produce an emailed newsletter about the planned structural changes by the 21st of every month, starting in June.
- From this, can you see how to set PR goals and objectives?
Link PR objectives to business objectives
It is easy to set individual project and program objectives, but more complex to show that the activity links PR objectives to business objectives.
The act of setting the objectives helps you get your mind around the key points of a project. Going to the effort of producing specific, measurable objectives will spell out how the program or project will be implemented to reach the desired outcome.
Although it may seem obvious that the organizational goals and objectives need to be directly supported by communication programs, we quite often forget to emphasize the link when we seek to explain and justify our activities.
Linking PR effectiveness to the organization’s corporate plans is not easy. It requires careful thinking on what the communication program seeks to accomplish to help the organization achieve its goals.
In setting communication objectives, it is usually important to recognize that measuring overall impact of a communication program or strategy can be difficult unless the individual elements or components of the program are clearly defined and measured, especially the response of key stakeholder groups.
Key questions to ask yourself
When planning communication activities, you can increase your value to the organization by asking some key questions to yourself that can help your organization achieve its highest-priority goals with your astute communication support:
- What are the stated goals of each operational area of your organization, as well as the stated corporate priorities evidenced by the latest strategic plan for each operational area and the corporate area? If you are unsure what they are or can’t get access to them, ask the manager from each area – they will invariably be impressed that you are going to the effort of finding out the information directly from them – either from their documents or from interviewing them.
- Who are the key stakeholder groups for each of the most important operational and corporate activities outlined in the above plans? Be sure to define and segment those groups as tightly as possible. Prioritize them by their importance to the respective operational area, eg by their financial power, influence with decision-makers, voting power, media contacts, productivity etc.
- What is the range of possible responses from those stakeholder groups to the plans outlined in point 1 above?
- What is the ideal stakeholder (segment) response that your organization is trying to achieve in each case?
- What communication activities can help you reach those key stakeholders in the most effective way, ie a way that will persuade the stakeholders to respond in the way that would best suit your organization (and ideally suit the stakeholders as well) in each case? Detail the most targeted ways you can reach each segment so the messages are personalized as much as possible. Decide what combination of communication channels might be the most cost effective.
- Can you put a persuasive case to management outlining the effective ways that communication will help your organization to attain the goals and objectives developed above?
- What about other communication disciplines? Can PR be more effective than marketing, advertising, promotions etc? For instance, frequently PR people can manage sponsorships more effectively than other disciplines can.
By setting PR objectives in this way, you will form the basis for effective programs that support the organizational goals and objectives. This applies to consulting work as well as corporate activities.
Ensure you get sign-off for your objectives, and you can then safely evaluate results against your objectives
Having set measurable objectives, you need to ensure management or client sign-off to them. Get senior management or the executive committee to endorse your objectives and the way they support organizational objectives. Then evaluate the results at the completion of the activity. If senior management ever query the value of your activities, you can show proof that you achieved the objectives, which they endorsed, through the evaluation reports for the activities. Invariably, PR activities show a very healthy return on investment. Thus this makes it very difficult for them to question your PR achievements in tough times, whether you are in-house or a consultant.
For further details on how to write effective PR goals and objectives, you can read my article, “How to set PR goals and objectives to make your planning more effective.”