Setting PR Objectives: Forget About Complexities and Dive Right In

Setting proper PR objectives: Sounds like a PR 101 activity, but you’d be surprised, says Karla Wachter, senior VP at Waggener Edstrom. “We have some clients who are very diligent about it, and some who are not,” says Wachter. “It’s not something that they prioritize.”

Yet, continues Wachter, it’s imperative for PR pros to make their service valuable to other departments, particularly the C-suite. And clear PR objectives—which link to business objectives—allow PR to prove that value. Sometimes, however, PR is hampered by layers of complexity when setting their objectives, and “many just throw their hands up,” says Wachter. “But we all need to continue to chip away at this problem.”

In the wake of the PR News PR Measurement Conference held last week in Washington, D.C.—in which objective setting was a major topic of conversation— PR News decided to do a little chipping away on its own, to chronicle the challenges faced by PR pros when setting objectives, and reveal best practices they’ve learned.


In our 2/21/2011 issue, Mark Weiner, CEO of PRIME Research, touched on setting PR objectives in his “PR Myth of the Month” feature. Weiner recommends starting the process with a clean slate, and not to rush, particularly when consensus building among stakeholders is required. “Objectives that key internal and external stakeholders can agree on are critical in proving value and minimizing risk,” says Weiner.

Yet it’s the idea that building a consensus is laborious that often takes PR pros off track. It doesn’t have to be that way: Weiner recommends an annual “executive audit” that will help align key executives to programs and campaigns prior to their launch. “Objectives then become an exercise in incremental adjustment rather than just starting from scratch,” says Weiner.


Consensus building and simply being on the same page with other business units is critical for Evan Welsh, director of global media relations at SAP, the maker of enterprise software. Everything Welsh and his team does is connected to sales and marketing activities, so he huddles at the end of the year to set his communications objectives—closely aligned with sales and marketing’s goals—for the next year.

“At a simple level, we want to see where marketing is spending its dollars,” says Welsh. “It doesn’t make sense for us to pursue coverage in publications that aren’t even on marketing’s radar screen.” A little more complex is PR’s linkage with marketing’s KPIs, a key process in proving PR’s value, says Welsh.

Meanwhile, at Marriott International, Jay Hamilton, senior director of digital media and PR, says his group cuts a wide swath throughout Marriott, so while the main alignment is with brand marketing. “We’re involved with almost every part of the business—even architecture and construction,” he says. Like Welsh at SAP, Hamilton’s goals are hammered at in the fall for the next year. However, not all of Hamilton’s PR objectives are set in a conference room. More informal locations, like the company cafeteria, have been the site for specific campaign objectives to be discussed.

But, Wachter says, no matter what your business is, there should be a formal framework. She recommends following.

1. Understand the broad business objectives that have been set by the C-suite and the brand. “Is it driving X percentage of growth, or X percentage of sales growth,” says Wachter. Not sure what these objectives are? If you have a marketing division, ask the CMO or their direct report.

2. Once you have those objectives, determine how you can drive the highest degree of impact. “Maybe you can be of value to some but not all of these objectives,” says Wachter. Decide where will you focus your finite resources.

3. Once you’re clear on objectives, go out and collect data. “This is where data and research pros come in,” says Wachter.


There are, however, research options for smaller organizations with limited budgets. Access free data online, which doesn’t take a whole lot of time, says Wachter. “Scan your industry’s landscape for gaps and opportunities,” she says. Your research may not as in-depth as from a research firm, but it should be enough.

How much emphasis should you place on your competitors? It’s one area that the C-suite will look at, so it is important, yet the competition shouldn’t be the driving force behind setting objectives. Just as important, says Wachter, is considering what customers are saying about your brand. “If you know what their pain points are with your product or service, you can adjust your objectives accordingly.


Once you have your objectives in place within your initiatives, measurement of those objectives is paramount—as Measurement Conference attendees learned last week.

Measurement is certainly important for SAP’s Welsh. His campaigns are measured by global media analyst company CARMA. Share of voice, influence and brand perception are all key KPIs that link closely to objectives. For example, sustainability is a key business message at SAP. CARMA tracks all sustainability KPIs, and comes back with a dashboard that shows how his team fared, and how it performed against competitors. Learning is key: “Customer stories may be lacking, so that’s an area we’d improve on,” says Welsh.

Improvement is paramount for Tim Keefe, VP of internal communications at JPMorgan Chase, but he cautions against having unrealistic objectives. That’s why periodic checks with business units and senior leaders are done at Chase, “to discuss long-term and short-term objectives,” and changes that might be affecting them, he says.

Keefe also affirms the importance of business goal alignment, because if objectives are set around business goals, communications is able to demonstrate value. “If we don’t take a tangible business goal and apply our PR rigor to it, internal communications will forever be known as a party planner.”

And being a party planner is what any PR pro should avoid at all costs. PRN


Karla Wachter, [email protected]; Mark Weiner, [email protected]; Evan Welsh, [email protected]; Jay Hamilton, [email protected]; Tim Keefe, [email protected].