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How to set PR objectives

Use PR objectives to signpost a clear outcome
Use PR objectives to signpost a clear outcome

I’m in the middle of judging the CIPR Excellence awards and finding that many entries have set PR objectives that are too vague.  Anyone working in PR is uder increasing pressure to set PR objectives that are meaningful and measurable so how can you do this?

It’s something we push on the professional side of things – all my CIPR Advanced Certificate students are taught how to set PR objectives and the GCS campaign framework encourages all communicators in UK government to express objectives numerically and where possible to focus on outcomes not outputs. So, how should you set PR objectives? 

Two rules for setting PR objectives:

1. Make them measureable by expressing them numerically where possible.  This ensures that you think about evaluation at objective setting stage and helps ensure that you can properly evaluate the success of public relations tactics. It encourages you to monitor progress before, during and after the PR activity has taken place which can also help as a useful check on whether key performance indicators (KPI’s) are being delivered.

You set PR objectives by:

–          Specifying an aimed destination and time

–          Considering if you want to increase, maintain or decrease that aimed destination

–          Specifying the aimed target audience

2. Focus objectives on outcomes – not outputs. (I’ll explain the jargon associated with inputs, outtakes, outputs and outcomes later.)

PR has been held back by focusing on awareness building as a communication objective for too long.  Awareness building might be the first step in helping achieve the communication aims, but Cutlip et al (2000) proposed that outcome objectives can be set at three levels:

Level 1 – what people are aware of, know or understand

Level 2 – how people feel, their attitudes and opinions

Level 3 – what people do (their actions)

The Association of Measurement and Evaluation of Communication’s  (AMEC’s)  Valid Metrics Framework encourages us to think through the effect our communication has on five variables and this can be useful for setting objectives: awareness, knowledge/understanding, interest/consideration, support/preference and action.  It is not too dissimilar to the ‘purchase funnel’ used by marketeers, but of course public relations is not always about satisfying marketing goals.  Public relations can form part of corporate communication, public affairs and internal communications amongst others.

So, how does this work in practice and what does the jargon associated with inputs, outputs, outtakes and outcomes mean?

Here’s a quick guide to setting PR objectives in practice:

Let’s take an example of the ‘Fire Kills’ campaign running in the UK.


Are a description of broader end points. Goal setting can be useful to provide a framework for the PR communications campaign. However goals are too broad to help in formulating specific directions for PR communication.

An example of a goal for the Fire Kills campaign might be to ‘Reduce the number of house fire fatalities (200) in UK homes by 10 percent over the next six months’.


These are often the PR collateral created.  These are not objectives. They are PR activities.


These are the effects of the inputs. Examples include – achieve 100 press clippings, reach £3 million people,  achieve a 30 per cent uplift in website hits, encourage 300 people to attend a fire safety demonstration event. The problem with using outputs as objectives is that they will only ever give you an indication of how many people you are reaching through the PR activity, not the effect of this.


These can be part of the ‘journey’ but are limited because they encourage you to focus on awareness or gaining understanding of something as a goal, so they stop short of using PR communications to drive people towards doing something.

An example of an outtake for Fire Kills might be ‘Within six months, to increase the number of residents in UK homes who are aware that smoke detectors halve the chance of death/serious injury in a house fire’.


Are the best objectives to use for PR planning because they encourage us to plan PR communications that will bring about real action or behaviour change.

An example of an outcome for the Fire Kills campaign might be ‘To encourage 2 out of 5 residents in UK homes to check that their smoke detector is working during the period of October 2013 to March 2014’.
I hope that this check list helps next time you have to set PR objectives.

What else do you do when PR planning? You might find this guide to PR planning useful.

I cover this topic in my Strategic PR Planning course. To find out more, please do get in touch.


Cultip, S.M., Center, A.H. and Broom, G.M. (2000) Effective public relations (8th edition)

Pic courtesy of Suphakit73 at Free Digital Photos.

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