Setting goals and objectives is vital to successful communication activities.

Setting PR goals and objectives creates better communication results

Setting PR goals and objectives creates better communication results. The benefits include letting your comms team know what is expected of them, it lets others know what is planned, it helps to quantify the resources that are needed and when, it helps to improve communication between the participants, and it creates measurable results, which provide evidence of a tangible contribution to organizational performance improvement. This is vital to proving the success of the activity to senior management, and thus paving the way for their ready support of other communication projects.

A widely held myth for many years was that public relations/communication performance could not really be measured and therefore couldn’t be expected to undergo the performance and budget scrutiny that other areas of the organization were obliged to accept. These days you can prove the value of your PR work by setting PR goals and objectives which lead to achieving measurable organizational performance improvements.

Key definitions in strategy development

As several terms are used frequently in communication planning, their meaning is best clarified at this point:

  • A project is a single communication activity, generally with a defined start and finish date, intended to fulfill a communication objective. An example is a project to produce a staff newsletter on a new industry issue.
  • A campaign is a planned set of communication activities, each with a specific defined purpose, continued over a set period of time and intended to meet communication goals and objectives relating to a nominated issue, for example, a campaign to improve industrial safety. Although a campaign may run for a finite period, it may be repeated as required. An example is a seasonal or annual campaign to promote a regular festival or sporting event.
  • A program is a continuing set of communication activities intended to meet several communication objectives supporting a communication goal. In turn, the communication goal supports an organizational goal. Programs usually focus on particular stakeholders or on a particular topic. An example is an organization’s communication activities relating to a residential community adjacent to a new highway or manufacturing plant. A campaign can run within a program, but not vice versa.

Defining goals and objectives

Be clear about what you mean by a goal and an objective. 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 management guru Peter Drucker, who originated the concepts, used goals and objectives in the way I do in this article, as do knowledgeable people like David Grossman, for instance in his internal comms strategy and template, 2021. Also, I noticed this approach is used in the Semrush content writing workbook. You can read Drucker’s goals and objectives summary on pages 65-68 of his book, The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization.]

Goals are the means to express the end points towards which effort is directed. They are broad, relatively abstract and may be difficult to quantify (“Our goal is to increase our share of the marketplace 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.

Setting goals

A set of goals is achieved only by achieving a subset of interrelated objectives, even if those objectives are not clearly stated or articulated. Therefore, an objective is a strategic step along the way to achieving a desired goal.

There are generally three types of goals in professional communication activities:

  • 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.”

Example

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.

Setting PR goals and objectives that achieve successful results

Communication activities either are recurring or non-recurring projects or programs. The process involved in recurring activities is comparatively simple because the process is already established and precedent can be followed, compared with once-off activities. The production of employee newsletters and annual reports are good examples of recurring activities.

After analyzing what is needed to achieve your department’s overall annual communication mission in support of the corporate mission, you outline the agreed broad goals and objectives of your annual communication plan. For the sake of convenience, it is probably better to separate the plan into internal and external activities even though they may be communicating about the same matters. Also, some activities such as visual communication and employer branding apply internally and externally.

Some companies run internal communication quite separately from external communication. For instance, in BHP, the third biggest mining company in the world, and the 68th biggest public company by market capitalization the internal communication manager reports to the HR director and has little to do with the external affairs role. This is probably counter-productive in the long run because separating the functions can lead to inconsistencies in communication strategy, implementation of strategy, and timing.

You bring together the various parts – the projects and programs identified and selected earlier in this section of the plan. In many ways, the sum of the parts is the total plan, ie the macro-level plan comprises a range of broad programs, each with its own micro set of goals and objectives. Over the course of a year, various micro components of the plan are likely to shift in response to shifts in the surrounding operating environment, internally and externally.

It is important in setting PR goals and objectives to document for easy reference the progress of programs or projects over the year and to show how and why changes were made. This will create an audit trail to enable you to justify your actions, pinpoint the changes in direction in individual projects or programs, and enable you to measure the effectiveness of outcomes.

The discipline of setting PR goals and objectives assists in planning:

  • Communication staff know what is expected of them.
  • It makes communicators establish targets and target dates.
  • It improves communication between the participants.
  • It makes staff more aware of organizational goals.
  • It makes the evaluation process more equitable by focusing on specific accomplishments.
  • It lets staff know how well their work is going in relation to the organizational goals.

Goals expressed in the annual communication plan are likely to be a combination of broad overall goals and goals for individual programs that are conducted during the budget year. Some goals may be ongoing while other goals may relate to single programs or projects that are initiated and completed within the year. The same goals for single communication programs featured in the annual communication plan will also be used in the plans for individual communication projects that are run during the year.

Internal goals and objectives

The Gallagher State of the Sector Report 2022-23  reminds us of the importance of team managers – “The untapped power of people managers” in their communication role with their employees. But Gallagher found in the survey that “34% [of internal communicators] still view their people managers as a cascade channel.” That means a third of the respondents from the 2,000+ organizations around the world in the survey still retain this disappointing view that managers should just pass on information to their team members rather than engaging with them. Yet, as Gallup has previously found, “Managers account for 70% of variance in employee engagement.” Therefore, setting goals and objectives for internal communication (IC) should prioritize the training of managers to be better communicators.

Similarly, the 2022-23 Gallagher report found that “58% [of the respondents] fail to articulate a clear change narrative or design a consistent calendar of [change]  activities.” Again, IC staff should review and develop a much more effective approach to change communication, reflected in more IC goals and objectives relating to change, and actively supporting change management programs. After all, change is all around us, as we all can see.

The Gallagher State of the Sector Report 2021-22 is based on a global survey of internal communication and employee engagement. It provides many insights into best practices and not-so-good practices in the internal communication sector around the world. Worth giving good consideration of the aspirations outlined at the end for internal communicators:

  1. Have a defined purpose and strategy — and make sure you’re clear on this. Think about how your function supports your organization, what it’s there for and what your value proposition to business leaders is.
  2. Construct a clear narrative. This will not only ensure that every single communication you output is clearly aligned, it’ll help you to make best use of your budget and support your strategic narrative too.
  3. Remember, it’s YOU that drives change, not the platform(s) on which you share your ideas. So manage your channels effectively — make sure they are fit for purpose and review them regularly.
  4. The core purpose of any internal communication team is to support its leaders to become ace communicators, so build a robust communication capability that helps them maximize employee buy-in.
  5. Promote open dialogue and collaboration with a focus on listening. Your ability to keep your finger on the pulse and see things through a human lens is what will keep that employee voice at the top table — don’t lose sight of this!
  6. Being able to demonstrate your value is key to building your influence where it counts. So focus on insight, measurement, and evaluation to prove your concept by concentrating on impact.
  7. Become the experts that people go to when it comes to driving new behaviors. This is all about your ability to influence change and transformation — so work with those in the know to keep things people-focused.
  8. As a communicator, you have an opportunity to shape your organization’s EX and change the way people feel about work. So champion the importance of your people’s wellbeing — physical, emotional and career — which fosters a better company culture and overall organizational wellbeing.
  9. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a seat at the table when the decisions are made — it’s the end game, after all. So become a trusted adviser and make your presence felt where it counts.

Sample goals

Some examples of typical broad internal communication goals are:

Ongoing

  • Our organization’s reputation with employees is consistent with our external reputation.
  • We are achieving the optimum combination of communication channels with our employees.

Fixed term

  • Most of our employees will understand the changes to our product line this year.
  • Our communication activities this year will contribute significantly to higher employee engagement than last year.
  • A crisis management plan will be developed to enable a crisis simulation to be conducted by the end of the financial year.
  • We will produce our next annual report earlier than we produced it last financial year.

Each broad goal would be supported by specific and measurable internal communication objectives.

Sample objectives

Always try to make objectives consist of 5 parts:

  • an infinitive verb
  • a single outcome stated as a receiver of a verb’s action
  • the magnitude of the action expressed in quantifiable terms
  • the targeted public or stakeholder group
  • a target date or timeframe for achieving the outcome.

Result objectives are achieved by a combination of process objectives. For instance, the following result objective could be achieved by taking actions summarized in three process objectives, which are the end result of process or contributory objectives.

Sample goal

  • We wish to make internal communication a significant measurable factor in improving our employee engagement level over last year’s level.
    [Bearing in mind that communication is not the only reason for engagement]

Result or outcome objective

  • To achieve a result in our annual employee survey that shows at least 60% of our employees are more engaged in their employment than last year.

Process objectives

  • To develop and implement a training program for managers to improve their staff communication skills, to be completed within 12 months from now.
  • To run a series of monthly articles in the staff newsletter highlighting staff achievements in the workplace, commencing in the next issue.
  • To initiate a program of emails from our general manager to all staff to announce all new projects won by the company, commencing immediately.
  • To introduce an internal social media program within 6 months, in which staff can engage in work conversations with all their participating colleagues.

External goals and objectives

Sample goals

An example of a broad external goal may be:

Ongoing

  • We will maintain positive relationships with our key stakeholders.

Fixed term

  • This year we will email all relevant legislators to inform them of our sponsorship of the State conference on industrial safety.
  • We will improve the relationship between the business unit and the government’s legislative committee for our industry this year.
  • We will resolve the public issue about the property redevelopment planned for our Fouracre site.
  • The communication branch will support the launch and marketing of our new product by achieving significant positive media coverage.
  • We will assist our marketing team to brief senior managers of our key customers about our new product strategy.

Sample objectives

Each goal would be supported by specific result objectives and process objectives.

Sample goal

  • We aim to persuade the State government to adopt our road safety plan.

Result objective

  • To persuade the State government to pass new legislation that this company believes is necessary for improved public safety by the end of April next year.

Process objectives

  • To convince the members of the government’s standing committee on road safety to draft legislation in support of our plan to improve road safety measured by their vote on the issue.
  • To meet with the advisers to the government’s committee on road safety to demonstrate the merits of our plan for improving road safety by 15 October.
  • To brief all legislators from both major political parties about our new road safety campaign by 31 October.
  • To prepare a report outlining our plan for improving road safety, by 30 September.
  • To start a publicity campaign to raise public support for our proposed road safety plan by 5 September.

Target audiences/stakeholders

Fill in as many blank sections of the tables below as you need to (adding new rows as required), for your business unit or organization.

Internal

Head office stakeholders

Sample head office stakeholders:

Stakeholder groupKey participants in groupMain actions
Head office executives and corporate department headsHead office Communication Manager and staff

CEO (indirectly)

Respond promptly to their information requests.
Other companies within groupSenior managersSharing of crisis communication information.

Business unit stakeholders

Sample internal business unit stakeholders:

Stakeholder groupKey participants in groupMain actions
ProjectsOperational managersCreate stronger communication links with them.
Own regional officeBusiness unit branch managersNeed to establish regular update meetings.
Own regional officeBusiness unit branch managersRegular contact to find out how well they are participating in employee recognition activities.

External

Business unit stakeholders

Sample external business unit stakeholders:

Stakeholder groupKey participants in groupMain actions
Peak industry body – regional officeCEO and heads of divisions of peak bodyBuild reputation through their word of mouth
Local mediaIndustry reportersInvite key reporters to individual briefings

Stewardship

Beyond the individual projects and programs in your annual communication plan, you need to keep in mind the overriding importance of preserving good relationships with ongoing stakeholders. Take the initiative to be a steward of your relationship with them. Not only could they be important over time, but they may also simultaneously be part of more than one stakeholder group and more than a single issue.

Such stakeholders are likely to include legislative committees, political advisers, regulatory bodies, government departments, consumer associations, suppliers and shareholders. Internal stakeholders should be on the stewardship list as well – directors (if applicable), CEO, members of the dominant coalition, operational managers, internal opinion leaders etc.

The principle of reciprocation relates to key stakeholders – you recognize them for their supportive attitudes and behaviors by providing useful information to them in publications and documents, by acknowledging their involvement and stating positive public comments about them, and by taking steps to directly maintain positive relationships such as inviting them to privileged briefings.

Setting PR goals and objectives for stakeholder interactions and for relevant members of their relevant industry group will strengthen relationships with stakeholders and stewardship of the resulting ongoing relationships.

Read more on setting PR goals and objectives

  • For further insights, read my article, “How to set effective PR goals and objectives.”
  • 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 immediately at your side!

Kim Harrison

Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. As he has progressed through his wide-ranging career, his roles have included corporate affairs management; PR consulting; authoring many articles, books and ebooks; running a university PR course; and business management. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.

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