by Dan Berkowitz

All the efforts of conducting public relations research and developing program objectives culminate in the strategy statements of a public relations plan. Unfortunately, there are conflicting discussions in the various public relations texts about how to write a strategy statement. Often, discussions are too general to make distinctions clear between strategies, objectives, and tactics.

This guide covers specific details about what should be included in a strategy statement. Bear in mind that this is not the only way to write a strategy statement, but for the purpose of this course, this is the one you should use.

What a Strategy Is and Isn't

A strategy is the logical approach that will be employed in a public relations plan to help achieve the plan's objectives. The general plan of action should be described, but avoid identifying specific activities in the strategy statement.

A strategy, therefore, does not describe desired outcomes of a public relations plan--those are objectives. The specific actions taken to achieve the desired outcomes of a public relations plan are not strategies either--those are tactics. A strategy, however, encompasses some elements of both objectives and tactics. Strategy statements specify the key publics involved and lead toward certain kinds of activities; tactics become more-specific versions of strategies, taking several key, but abstract, elements of a strategy and turning them into something concrete.

Strategies should not be chosen until objectives have been established, because they suggest how objectives can best be achieved. Similarly, tactics, when chosen apart from objectives and strategies, often have little relation to an organization's desired outcome, and do not have an explicit link to those outcomes.

Specific elements of a strategy statement

In general, a strategy statement should contain the following elements: publics, logic, communication channel, type of medium, timing. These items are defined as follows:

Publics. These have already been identified in your objectives. Each strategy should therefore be directed at a specific public in order to keep the focus on program objectives.

• Logic. This element presents the foundation for the tactics that follow. Specifically state what should be emphasized to publics in the tactics and why.

• Communication channel. These include mass media channels (print and broadcast), interpersonal channels (such as meetings) and special events (but a specific event should not be included in the strategy statement). Channels can be directed toward internal publics and external publics.

• Type of medium. Media can be controlled (advertising, meetings) and uncontrolled (news stories). Different attributes are attached to each type of medium.

• Timing. The implementation of many strategies requires careful timing. Key publics most directly affected by an organization's actions often need to receive information before other publics (such as with implementing layoffs). Prioritizing publics, then, can help identify timing considerations.

Writing the statement

After reading the above discussion, writing a good strategy statement might sound relatively simple. It is not. Here is where creativity and clear thinking merge to choose an effective course of action. An example shows how a strategy statement can follow from a public relations objective.

As part of a program to enhance employee awareness of company safety policies, a survey was conducted to assess the proportion of employees who felt adequately informed about company safety policies. Then, the following objective was written:

Increase factory employees' awareness of company safety policies by 20% over a one-year period.

A strategy statement would then be written to suggest a way that the objective could be reached. It could read:

Create a controlled, mass media communication tool that is regularly distributed to factory employees, emphasizing safety policies and stressing the importance of safe work practices.

Notice that all the elements except timing are incorporated into the above statement. Also, no specific outcome is described (an objective) and no specific activity is mentioned (a tactic). A tactic that might follow from this strategy statement, then, could be:

  • Begin a weekly, two-page safety newsletter for factory employees.
  • Notice in this tactic that the logic is not specified (this is in the strategy). Also, the tactic statement does not go into depth on how these tactics should be produced--that is for a later section of a plan that focuses on implementing details.

    Although many public relations people might be tempted to spend a great deal of time describing a tactic in detail here, it is much more important at this stage to present a tactics in a way that simply shows the general form it will take, with perhaps a paragraph or two of description.

    In summary, writing public relations strategies is an important, but often unclear task for practitioners. By understanding what a strategy is and isn't, and considering the outcome that a strategy is designed to achieve, public relations planning can become more straightforward and more effective.