Five Basics for An Effective Public Relations Program

We’re often asked about the most important PR tools and skills an organization should put in place to support a strategic and thoughtful public relations program. While needs vary depending on the organization’s goals and resources, my response usually is a version of this:

  1. Create a Communications Plan: at minimum, every organization should have an agreed communications planning document that clarifies how communications will support your business plan. Typically, this plan includes a communications goal, objectives to measure progress or roadblocks, key audiences, strategic and tactics, action plan and budget. The key here is to ensure the plan is useful rather than a PR tome gathering dust on a shelf. Most practical plans cover a year of activity, but for companies undergoing a lot of change and especially for start-ups, 100 days is often more achievable and realistic. The point is:  plan the work and work the plan if you want results.
  2. Know Your Audience: what action or attitude do you want your audience to take? What do they think or know about you now? What do they need to know to shift their behaviour or opinion? Is your goal realistic? Effective communication doesn’t need a magic wand; it needs a solid understanding of the here and now, and how to get where you want to go.
  3. Use Clear, Consistent Messages: once you understand what you want to achieve, and how you’re going to get there, you’ll need clear, simple messages that will effectively educate, inform or persuade your audiences. The key here is to convey information in a way that people care about and understand. If you’re too technical, you’ll lose them. People have to care about what you’re saying before they really hear you: heart first, head second.
  4. Tell Your Story Well: you only get one chance to make a first impression. This has never been more true than it is in our social and digital media world with rapid-fire dissemination and ubiquitous sharing and posting. Tell your story effectively with simple, practiced and polished media skills and presentation tools and techniques. Be polished, be professional, be prepared and be successful.
  5. Cultivate a PR Savvy Culture: effective public relations doesn’t just happen in the Communications office. For good or bad, virtually everyone in your organization impacts public perception in one way or another. When your team is making key decisions, ask yourself what your shareholders, customers, regulators or employees will think. Even the most operational decisions can and will impact your reputation. Add public relations to your decision tree.


In truth, almost every company has a public relations program whether they realize it or not. Each interaction with a customer; every time you explain your organization’s purpose or product; every time someone forms an opinion about you:  that’s public relations. So take the time and forethought to do it right and make P.R. work for you.