Updated: Dec 5, 2022
Creativity is at the heart of #communications and #publicrelations functions. But to earn support, project ROI and justify budget for goals and objectives, it is important to align plans to the goals of the business. Pros who understand and speak the language of business leaders are the unicorns of the communications world.
In my second article for Ragan Communications and PR Daily in a series on business fluency, I offer best practices on strategic goal setting. These include: working across departments, leveraging the marketing funnel, message mapping for disparate audiences and stakeholders and identifying business priorities.
Yearly business planning and goal setting usually means weeks of meetings, presentations to senior leadership and many rounds of revisions. For communications and public relations professionals, it also often means rounds of revisions, justifying requests for budget and resources and explaining how the projected ROI will support the business.
Creativity is at the heart of communications and public relations functions. Yet, it is important to align our plans to the goals of the business.
I remember well when a large, reputable PR agency team first presented to me their ideas for the upcoming year for one of my brands. They researched trending topics, influencer activity and culture trends before presenting me with their campaign centered around the use of a hashtag slogan. My question—”How will this support our new launches and focus on bringing back lapsed customers?”—sent them back to square one. In their effort to be creative, they neglected the business priorities, resulting in misused time, precious agency hours and money.
Goals, objectives, mission and vision are terms that are often used interchangeably. However, for the purpose of communication planning, a goal should be a restatement of a core problem or opportunity. An objective is an activity or effort that will help accomplish the goal.
Below are best practices to earn support, effectively communicate and justify budget for your goals and objectives:
1. Don’t work in a silo.
Ensure you know the goals of your immediate manager, his or her manager, and continue to work your way up. You should be able to track and align goal setting from the top of the organization to how it cascades down to your goals and the goals of your team.
Seek input from management and agree on expectations and outputs.
Work with an integrated and holistic mindset to partner with other functions, such as marketing, digital, retail operations, sales, advertising and human resources to learn about their goals and objectives and see where there is opportunity for collaboration. Write down your own goals and objectives and share with others to support shared accountability and vision, avoid redundancy and conflicting priorities. Written goals and objectives serve as “guardrails” to prevent scope creep or distractions throughout the planning process.
Include business context when briefing agencies and functional partners within the organization.
2. Reference the marketing funnel.
Communications and PR are critical to the top of the marketing funnel (awareness, interest and consideration), as well as most stages of the customer journey –(awareness, consideration, preference, purchase, loyalty and advocacy).
3. Speak their language.
Consider how your efforts support each of the above important customer- and sales-focused buckets and use the same vernacular when presenting plans. Become familiar with your company’s revenue, profit, market share, shareholder value, customer acquisition or retention goals and budget. Public and nonprofit organizations might seek to cut overhead, educate the public, secure funding and expand research efforts.
The ROI and intent of a social media campaign featuring a paid influencer becomes more apparent if it is aligned to business goals of targeted customer acquisition, increased awareness and competitive brand positioning.
Media outreach and press placements are “top of funnel” activities, attracting new consumers, supporting customer loyalty, driving business credibility and market positioning.
4. Make goals SMART-er.
The SMART objective-setting framework is widely used because it works. Objectives should be:
Specific and clearly articulated. The more specific your objective, the easier it will be to plan your supporting tactics and how you will measure success.
Measurable and include clear evaluation criteria. If, for example, your business partners don’t know the difference between engagement and impressions, or the impact of each, include descriptions and rationale on why one measure is more relevant than another. If statistics, growth percentages and other numbers are not easy to calculate (awareness, opinion and favorability are notoriously challenging to capture), an estimate is reasonable. If an objective can’t be measured at all, reconsider including it in your plan.
Attainable and realistic. Business leaders like stretch goals, but manage expectations on what is possible, especially when additional resources are needed. Conversely, objectives that are too easy to accomplish are likely to be seen as frivolous.
Relevant, in line with the company’s important objectives as well as the short- and long-term communications strategy.
Time-bound with a deadline and expectation of when an outcome will be achieved.
In addition to the SMART framework, objectives should also be:
Cost-conscious and take into account the budget available. Presenting a costly plan when a company is cutting budgets or headcount can be perceived as “tone deaf” or out of touch. If you’re uncertain about the budget allocation, present three different options, each with their own projected outcomes and budget and allow business leaders to decide.
Efficient and designed for maximum impact with the least amount of complexity, cost and effort, making use of existing resources and demonstrating how deliverables can be scaled across channels.
Flexible. Communication and public relations plans should be as dynamic and responsive as your business. External factors like competitor activity, marketplace trends, consumer needs, problems and opportunities can quickly and dramatically shift business priorities. Keep abreast of important cultural and business trends and adjust plans accordingly to support them.
5. Map it out.
Message mapping is a very useful tool in demonstrating how different target audiences (potential investors, current shareholders, consumers, press, industry partners) will be targeted with appropriate messages, and for which purpose. This is especially important for startup businesses, which are often juggling multiple priorities at once (securing investors, establishing business credibility and reputation, and attracting customers).
6. Make a business case for organizational mission, vision, values and brand.
Product-focused campaigns are historically easier to translate to business ROI than efforts driving company reputation, corporate social responsibility and culture. Yet, the latter is becoming increasingly crucial and there are a growing number of studies that link a positive reputation to a healthy balance sheet.