Planning and Managing Public Relations Campaigns – review of an excellent book

Planning and Managing Public Relations Campaigns has been one of my ‘go-to’ books ever since the first edition was published in 1996. It is now on its fourth edition and I’ve finally been able to replace my well-thumbed second edition with the latest fifth edition published in December. Unfortunately it’s a digital review copy which is why it has taken me longer to read than it should have done as despite being known as a digital advocate when it comes to books I’m firmly in the paper camp.

While the fundamental principles of effective planning and managing public relations hasn’t changed since the first edition much of how we actually do it has. The fourth edition is packed with up to the minute case studies, such as how the World Health Organisation evaluated its social media communications for its Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator.

Before I continue with the review I need to give a quick disclaimer as I contributed to this edition and am quoted in the ‘Knowing what has been achieved: Evaluation and review’ chapter. I have to confess that I was disappointed that Anne had kept this chapter title because the obsession with using measurement to ‘prove success’ is one of the biggest mistakes I see when I’m providing measurement and evaluation consultancy or training, which is my main focus today.

However, I needn’t have worried as Anne makes crystal clear all of the other benefits of measurement and evaluation. It is far more than simply demonstrating effectiveness. The chapter explains how measurement is an ongoing process and if done properly actually improves effectiveness and performance. Most importantly she also explains succinctly how evaluation is about looking forwards and providing “vital intelligence for future decision-making”. This aspect draws on some great work Anne had been doing with Professor Jim Macnamara.

To get my disclaimer in I started by reviewing the final chapter. The first chapter was also a bit of a disappointment because it has a different title to my edition. I start some of my PR planning training courses by quoting the title of my edition which is ‘Planning and managing can be fun!’. This edition has the less catchy ‘Planning and managing in a changing world’. I’m still going to keep telling people that planning and managing public relations is fun!

The second chapter explores the role of public relations in organisations. This is an important one as I see a lot of public relations practitioners who have amazing practical skills, but who don’t really understand the big picture of what public relations really is.

One of my favourite chapters is ‘Research and analysis’ as it provides an excellent explanation of the importance of research and how the insight gleaned is vital to successful public relations planning. It includes an interesting case study on how the Co-op uses social media monitoring to spot potential issues and crises.

The other chapters look at communication theory, setting aims and objectives, stakeholders and content (including messaging), strategy and tactics (including the difference between them) as well as timescale and resources. Every chapter has case studies and while quite a few are UK examples they are all still useful and relevant for practitioners in other countries.

Planning and managing public relations

I suspect the best known and most referenced section of Planning and Managing Public Relations Campaigns is the planning process in logical steps diagram. I’ve seen this used by PR practitioners without any reference to the original source. This has been updated and I’ve included both versions here. You can see the latest is a 12-step process while the second edition version was a 10-step process. The additions are Aims and Monitoring with Publics changing to Stakeholders/Publics and Messages becoming Content.

One critical point, which is well explained in this chapter, is that “objectives must be carefully scrutinized in order to see if they are appropriate and to ensure the objective is a public relations objective or whether it masks a problem that cannot be solved by public relations alone”.

The published book has a wealth of endorsements but the one I’d highlight is from Professor Gregor Halff, dean of Copenhagen Business School, who says: “It combines the action-orientation needed in the practice with the contextual wisdom achieved through research.”

For me this is the book’s real value. I am constantly frustrated by how many public relations practitioners have so little knowledge or understanding of the theory and best practice which is produced by public relations and communication academics. However, I also understand why as their perception of academia is that it is simply theory and doesn’t offer them practical tools to do their jobs. This book is the evidence they couldn’t be more wrong. If public relations is to be taken seriously in the board room, and get its fair share of budgets, then it’s essential that public relations practitioners become much better at theory and learn from public relations academics.

Planning and Managing Public Relations Campaigns is both practical and theoretical. It is a practical handbook that tells you exactly what you need to do on everything from setting objectives through to defining stakeholders and messages as well as tactics, timescales and resources needed. Its real value is that it doesn’t just tell you what the best practice is, but justifies and proves why it is best practice by citing rigorous research, case studies and other evidence.