Setting goals and objectives makes your PR planning more effective
Knowing how to set goals and objectives in the planning of your communication activities makes you much more effective.
Setting communication goals and objectives creates several benefits. It lets people 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.
A widely held myth for many years was that public relations 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 and achieving measurable objectives for your activities.
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.
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 public relations:
- Reputation management goals, which deal with the identity and perception of the organization. Example: “We aim to improve stakeholder 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.”
- Task management goals, which are concerned with achieving tasks. Example: “Our goal is to increase attendance at our staff ‘town hall’ meetings.”
Many public relations practitioners are satisfied to express their intentions in the broad terms of goals. This allows them to rationalize the outcomes, to ‘gild the lily’ and take the credit for the results. It also allows them some ‘wriggle room’ to rationalize about a disappointing result. However, this means they can’t actually prove their worth and therefore senior management may subjectively question their contribution.
On the other hand, experience in corporate PR shows that PR pros invariably surpass their intentions, and if the intentions are measurable, the PR pro can easily prove their worth.
Setting measurable objectives helps the planning of future campaigns and offers you the political benefit of enabling you to justify more resources for your subsequent activities. Specifying objectives is also the best practical way to make senior managers understand the public relations role.
Measuring the overall impact of a PR program or strategy can be difficult unless the individual elements or components of the program are clearly defined and measured, eg publicity activities, a particular community relations program, a special event, government affairs, speaker program, investor relations activity, etc.
It is often difficult to separate PR programs and activities (such as publicity, distribution of information material, special events, etc) from other activities such as marketing (advertising, point-of-purchase promotional activities, give-away activities, etc).
Also, the setting of challenging but realistic objectives can be a difficult exercise requiring arbitrary selection of target figures that depend on a range of underlying assumptions.
Life seldom consists of black and white issues; it largely consists of shades of grey. Accordingly, objectives should never be ‘all or nothing’ – they should refer to the extent of accomplishment along a continuum of performance. An ‘all or nothing’ approach to objectives will subvert the value of the process because people will always go for ‘low hurdles’ to maximize the chances of attaining them. If someone achieves 95% of an objective, how can they be considered a failure? To treat anything less than 100% as a failure…will surely lead to game playing, ‘low-balling’ and the massage and manipulation of data. To use objectives…in such a simplistic way invites reactions inconsistent with execution success.” 1
Setting objectives and measuring results
It is helpful to think of objectives comprising four 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
- a target date or timeframe for achieving the outcome.
To produce an 8-page quarto-sized newsletter about the organization’s planned structural changes, to be distributed on the 21st day of every second month at a cost less than $5,000 per issue, starting in June.
Results and process objectives
Objectives and the measurement of a PR activity ideally should be expressed in terms of results gained. Results, or outcomes, are the key measure. Results or outcomes measure whether the communication material and disseminated messages have changed awareness, understanding, opinions, attitudes, preferences, and/or behavior by target audiences.
Setting quantifiable results objectives will enable you to specify the end result intended and then you can measure whether the intended result has been achieved. Setting results objectives and achieving the results enables you to judge the effectiveness of the programs.
Having planned the intended result, you use your professional judgment to decide which communication activities or processes will be necessary to achieve the result. Objectives can be set for all these activities or processes. They are called process or output objectives and are stated intentions regarding program production and effort or output. The combined impact of all the process objectives should be to create the result specified by the result objective or objectives.
Each process objective should be written in quantifiable, measurable terms that allow the result to be easily compared against the objective. The wonderful thing about using specific, measurable process objectives is that they effectively spell out the implementation as well – they detail all the steps involved in achieving the end result. Therefore time spent on the laborious construction of specific and measurable objectives saves a large amount of time spent in preparing the implementation details.
Process objectives help to determine the exact details of the activity, including its cost and timing in contributing to the end result. Generally, process objectives should include as many as possible of the following measures: time, quality, quantity and cost.
A suitable process objective for a hypothetical project would be:
To meet with all 40 local branches of the Lions community group throughout the State before June to discuss the proposed charity project.
The results or outcome objective for the same project could be:
To persuade a majority (21 of the 40) local branches of the Lions community group to vote for the charity project at the annual meeting of the organization in September.
In organizing a conference, a results objective for the PR practitioner might be:
To achieve attendance of at least 250 exporters at the conference on 10 September by sending a promotional direct mail letter to all members of the Export Council of America by 15 July.
Many people use a SMART acronym to help them set their objectives, which are written in one sentence:
- Specific – as discussed above
- Measurable – as discussed above
- Agreed – it is important that all relevant stakeholders should ‘sign off’ to the proposed objectives, eg you, your boss and other parties relevant to the activity.
- Realistic – don’t overstretch; make the objectives challenging but achievable
- Timed – always put a time limit so there is a clear finishing point
Other types of objectives
Other types of objectives could also be used for communication work. For instance, you could decide to use output and impact objectives. The output objectives would relate only to what the communicator produces while the impact objectives would relate to the effect of the activities on the target audience or stakeholders. Impact objectives can be divided into three types of impact: informational, attitudinal and behavioral.
Informational objectives concentrate on message exposure, comprehension or retention. Message comprehension informational objectives can also be measured by readability formulae, audience survey or focus groups, eg:
To increase to 85% the extent of staff awareness of the organization’s Equal Employment Opportunity policy by 31 December 2006 by arranging a staff briefing and producing two newsletters over the next four-week period.
Attitudinal objectives need to be measured by formal or informal audience surveys. Attitudinal objectives create attitudes, reinforce existing attitudes or change existing attitudes, eg:
To produce two newsletters and hold a group meeting to create a favorable attitude among more than 50% of potential users of the new telecommunications service by 1 September within the target area.
Behavioral objectives are the most difficult to achieve because it is difficult to change behaviors. The objectives may set out to create new behaviors, intensify existing behaviors or reverse existing negative behaviors, eg:
To influence 60% of women in the 50-59 year old age group in the Binningup area to undertake x-rays (mammograms) for breast cancer between 1 July and 31 December by writing a letter to each person with a telephone follow up for those who don’t make an appointment by 31 October.
Sample objectives used in a public relations project
A good example of using objectives as the basis for planning is the following program of activities intended to create stronger employee support for a proposed change in pay conditions.
- To gain the support of at least 70% of employees for the new pay package, as measured by an employee survey conducted in the week following the completion of the communication program on 5 November. [The support or satisfaction rate could be measured on a 5-point Likert scale.]
- To draft a briefing note in the name of the CEO, to send to all directors by 1 September, outlining the details of the planned change in pay conditions.
- To produce two special 8-page, quarto-sized newsletters on the new pay package for the 1,500 employees by 31 October and 30 November respectively at a cost less than $3,000 for each newsletter.
- To support the briefing of wages employees by their 35 supervisors by producing, by 1 October, printed briefing information material comprising information cards and a summary letter from the CEO explaining the new pay package at a maximum cost of $1,000…and so on.
1 Hrebiniak, Lawrence. Making strategy work: leading effective execution and change. New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc., 2005, pp. 191-192.