Five Essential Steps to Planning a PR Campaign

By Polly Winograd Ikonen, Director

Whether you’re launching a new product, announcing a leadership change, sharing challenging news, or just issuing a standard report, there are five essential questions to ask to ensure that your PR campaign is grounded in strategy – and remains there. It’s as simple as who, what, where, when and why.

Watch below for my tips on PR campaign essentials.

If you can’t watch the video right now or want extra detail, I’ve expanded on these points below.

  1. Who is your audience? Whom are you trying to ultimately reach and influence with your announcement?  This decision will ultimately shape the what, how, where, and when of your campaign.  The answer to this question generally is multi-pronged, and you’ll need to think about how best to reach each of the following groups:
    1. Internal stakeholders (staff, board, investors)
    2. Existing Customers
    3. Prospective Customers
    4. Vendors, sponsors, partners, colleagues and/or competitors
    5. Influencers like policy makers, community leaders, or celebrities
    6. The general public
    7. The media itself

Depending on how many of these groups you want to reach, you may need to think in terms of multiple mini-campaigns, all working in coordination and in support of the overall communications goals.

  1. What do you want to say? Messaging, messaging, messaging. The first step in any campaign is lining up your key messaging:  What are the essential facts, and how do you want to position them? What are the obvious questions your audiences will have?  You’ll want to try to address as many of those as possible up front.  If you can’t fit them all into your announcement, maybe you craft a list of frequently asked questions (FAQ) that goes on your website or is shared with your key stakeholders. What are the potentially tough questions (TQ’s) that may arise?  You’ll want to come up with a list of those questions and craft answers for them in advance – and then train your key spokespeople on them.  You may even want to share the list of TQ’s with key partners or influencers who may be asked to comment on your news.  Advance preparation is critical to ensuring message coordination across all channels.


  1. Where is the best channel to reach your audience(s)? These days, you need to consider many communications channels:  traditional media, your website, social media, newsletters, blog, advertising (digital, broadcast, print, etc.)  Within each of those channels, there’s parsing to be done:  For your press release, which media outlets do you target?  Is your news local, regional, national or global? Do you deploy newswire distribution? Do you offer an exclusive to a single outlet, or perhaps several select outlets as you break the news? Is a press conference appropriate? If you don’t control access to all communications channels, you’ll need to build a small task force among your colleagues and agencies to coordinate them.


  1. When will you activate each channel? The adage that “timing is everything” really holds true for a PR campaign. Start with what you want the end result to be and work backwards. You’ll need to consider the deadlines that you’ll need to meet in order to achieve that end result. If there’s a weekly columnist you want to have break the story, what’s their deadline? In my experience, the press generally respect embargoes, but you have to be very specific about online, print and social media embargoes. Your internal stakeholders may be less disciplined about holding their tongues or tweets, so time your internal and partner news-sharing carefully.  Unless you want to use Twitter to break your news, which is happening more and more. Most of all, make sure you coordinate timing across all of your channels.


  1. Why are you making this announcement? It may seem really obvious, but many communications teams get so caught up in the mechanics of building a campaign that they forget to use “why” as a checkpoint along the way:  Why are we making this announcement to these outlets at this time?  Make sure you have a clear answer to this each step of the way.  Campaigns tend to take on a life of their own, evolving as needs change or more players get involved. You want to be sure you know at the end of the planning process why you’ve landed where you have and whether you’re still meeting your original goals.

If you are disciplined about asking these fundamental questions – who, what, where, when, and why – every step of the way, you should have an effective and successful PR campaign.

What do you think is the most important element of a PR campaign? Leave a comment below or tweet us @LandisComm.

5 thoughts on “Five Essential Steps to Planning a PR Campaign

  1. Polly, great advice: the 5 W’s! A very concise and cogent way to think about PR campaigns and how to be successful. Too often, folks jump to the what before they’ve identified the goals. And as we know, to be successful, you have to identify those goals upfront. Cheers, David

  2. Great tips, Polly. I noticed many feel the urge to make announcements without having a structured plan. Always best to plan carefully, which ultimately produces the best results.

  3. Polly,
    I like #5 and could rephrase “what do you want to get out of it” – that should help answer 1 – 4.

  4. Great points – it’s very easy to lose the original point of the campaign once it gets going, so it always pays to revisit these questions.

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