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.
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.
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.
There are generally three types of communication goals:
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.]
Possible outcome/results objectives: [Any of these would be appropriate – you would need to use your professional judgment in consultation with senior management.]
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.”
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