Developing a Public Relations Plan

Although public relations and marketing strategies vary widely, the same basic steps go into planning any communication effort.

Define your target audience.
Who do you want to reach?  Your list of stakeholders may include both internal stakeholders (current clients, donors, volunteers, and employees) as well as external stakeholders (potential donors, people who qualify for your services but don’t currently use them, future collaborative partners or funding sources, elected officials and their constituencies, etc.)

Define your goal.
What do you want to motivate people to do? Your goal could be to increase individual donations, generate more participation in your programs, or educate the public about a particular issue. This question will help narrow down your stakeholder focus and identify key information that needs to be communicated.

Define your message.
What will motivate your target audience to act? This should include a short, easy-to-understand description of what your organization does and why it is important. Depending upon your goal, it may also include specific information about a particular need, program or issue.  Try to put yourself in the place of your target audience and come up with a message they will find compelling. For example, a violence prevention program will develop different messages for reaching out to gang members than those used to communicate with potential funders. If possible, test out your message on a few members of your intended audience before committing.

Choose methods for delivering your message.
How you get your message out depends upon your target audience and your budget. What is the most cost effective way to reach your chosen stakeholders? For example, if you are trying to reach teen mothers, a press release to the local newspaper is not likely to generate useful results. However, perhaps you can determine what the most popular radio station is with youth in your area and work with the station to develop a public service announcement.


Some low-cost strategies include:

  • Brochures
    Many word processing software can produce attractive tri-fold brochures.  Brochures are fast becoming a common form of advertising.  The brochure can hold a plethora of information if designed correctly. 
  • Newspapers
    If nonprofits come up with an angle that makes their organization seem interesting, appealing or newsworthy, the local paper may write a story. This could involve tying in with a national story of great interest or highlighting a creative new program or fundraising strategy.
  • Web Pages
    A basic web page doesn’t have to be expensive, and you may be able to get a skilled volunteer to do it for free. For maximum impact, learn how to make changes yourself and keep it up-to-date.
  • Editorials & Letters to the Editor
    Nonprofits often have unique insight on community issues and can generate good, free publicity by writing short (200-800 word) pieces for the local paper.
  • Press Kits
    Press kits typically include a brief history of the organization, previous articles, a fact sheet and/or common asked questions about the organization, copies of brochures, etc. Keep these up-to-date so you can respond quickly if a reporter calls or shows up at an event.
  • Press Release
    A press release is a media alert sent to local newspapers, radio stations and, where appropriate, television stations, describing a special event or issue.
  • Public Service Announcement
    PSAs are usually free announcements made by local radio or TV stations to publicize nonprofit events or organizations.Contact  your local station to find out how your organization can submit activities for announcement.
  • Special Events
    Special events include granting an award, an open house, announcing a major program or campaign.  With thought and creativity, special events can be designed to attract considerable attention at little cost.

Voinovich School, Building 21, The Ridges, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio 45701 · 740–593–9381

Copyright © Ohio University