Public Relations Writing: Planning Memos

What does a planning memo look like?

Use your Message Planner as a skeleton. You will be able to use the elements of the Message Planner in putting together your planning memo.

A planning memo begins with a situation analysis. You don't have to use those words (but you can). The first paragraph should lay out the essential elements of the "story" -- whatever it is that you're proposing your plan for.

  • It might be the fact that "Evita" is going into rehearsal, and that tickets are now on sale...

  • It might be the fact that Wollmann and Wiess are planning a chain of Natgo stores...

  • It might be the fact that the student association is launching an ambitious program of free meals for the homeless...

  • This corresponds to the 5 W's.

The first graf also outlines the objectives of your campaign. The first or second paragraph should go on to spell out what you intend to accomplish, in connection with the PR campaign you're going to propose. (I prefer shorter paragraphs, so I break this "first" graf into two "first" grafs.)

    This corresponds to the Objectives

Next comes your most important original thinking: who cares? (in other words, So What?)

    Here's where you tell why it matters... Here's where you make it clear that the activity you're taking on is important. There are a thousand activities going on in your daily life, from international crises to family events. Most of them are submerged into the background hum of your existence, and only a few of them are elevated, for short periods of time, into the top rank of your conscious priorities.

    Why is it important that "Evita" is in rehearsal? Why is it important that Natgo is offering a fuel alternative? If it doesn't address some social need, if it doesn't spark some public curiosity or concern or interest, then why are you considering a PR campaign around it.

    "Important" doesn't mean that it's simply inherently important. All people are "important," in the broad sense of the word. We know you love your grandmother. She's very important to you. We know it's her birthday. But why would an editor care?

    This corresponds to the angle

Now you lay out your message. You can introduce this paragraph with a simple statement, something like, "The message we need to send is:" -- and then put the message down on the paper.

    This is especially important, because others on your team may want you to change your message, or refocus it. Pay attention to the feedback to your planning memo. This is your first message test -- almost like a focus group -- and you may be well-advised to make some changes.

    Once the planning memo has been circulated and accepted, it will be essential for everyone to "stay on message"... that's why it's important for them to buy into now, in advance... and for them to take ownership may involve their input in sharpening or clarifying the message.

    This corresponds to the message.

Now you tell how you plan to deliver the message. This is where you outline your intended schedule of press activities that you will include in your PR campaign. We will talk in more detail about PR campaigns later. For now, think in terms of

  • an initial press release...
  • a broadcast release...
  • a PSA (if there's a non-profit angle)...
  • development of a press kit...
  • a second follow-up press release (for example, after an initial release when tickets go on sale, another when performances are about to begin, with some duplication of information, and some new information, but the same message)...
  • a feature release (perhaps a biographical profile) after the show has opened
  • pitch letters to arrange interviews

For a look at an actual PR campaign plan online, look at these pages from the National Council for Social Studies. It's an advocacy campaign to promote social studies education. There's also an earlier version that may be interesting as well: at this Public Relations Toolkit -- web page

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