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A Sample Media Plan for Public Relations

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Writing a media plan is tougher than doing an advertising or marketing campaign. You don't typically have an advertising budget, and there are no hard numbers on sales, because you're not selling anything.

What you are selling is an idea.

So how do you write a plan to sell an idea, and how do know whether it worked or not?

Here's an example from real life: the State Patrol and police where I live, in Washington state, wanted to boost the use of seat belts with the passage of a new law making failing to buckle up a primary traffic offense.

This is a classic case. It affects everyone who drives, or rides in a car. You don't have much of a budget, if anything. And it's a common sort of thing. Public officials are always trying to raise awareness about health and safety issues.

Let's create a media plan to get more people to use seat belts, then compare it to some of the things they actually did.

Step 1: Who's the Target Audience?

The first rule of rhetoric is, Know your audience.

Who's the audience in this case? When failing to use your seat belt was a secondary offense -- meaning police couldn't pull you over for not doing it, and only cite you for it once they'd gotten you for some other offense like speeding -- only 82 percent of citizens wore seat belts.

So the target is the 18 percent of drivers who wouldn't buckle up. It might be tough to target only them. On the other hand, it could be tougher to every driver in a state with seven million people.

I'd experiment and try to use a little science. The State Patrol and local police keep good track of statistics. They could certainly tell you which counties and highways had the highest rates of accidents where drivers and passengers weren't wearing seat-belts. Maybe it's a regional thing, with rural counties more relaxed about seat belts and city dwellers buckling up before fighting traffic.

The numbers will help tell where to focus resources.

If you really wanted to be scientific, I'd test out different messages and campaigns in different counties to see what works and what doesn't.

The State Troopers did a little of both. They had billboards and Public Service Announcements (PSA's) on radio and TV, to reach all drivers.

But they also did an awareness campaign, where if they'd pulled somebody for not wearing a seat belt, the driver and passengers would get a warning and a little education about the new law. Not a ticket. A warning.

That was smart. If you flipped a switch and started handing out big tickets to people who didn't know about the new law, they'd be resentful. By having a bit of a transition period, where the police were friendly about it, and simply informing drivers about the new law without giving out tickets, they boosted awareness and persuaded more drivers to start wearing seat belts.

Step 2: Craft a Message.

You won't convince people to wear seat belts with a fact sheet or statistics. Even if you could, there's no money to send out mailers or print seven million flyers and hand them out.

The message has to be short, catchy and simple. It can't be three paragraphs long. The fewer words, the better.

They came up with "Click it or ticket," which was perfect. Short. Catchy. Simple. It rhymed and told people exactly what they needed to do and the consequences for not doing it.

They've used a similar message for a drunk-driving campaign with the message, "Drive hammered, get nailed."

Step 3: Raise Awareness and Build Alliances

With a public service campaign like this, radio stations, TV stations and newspapers will typically be happy to help by running PSAs.

They did exactly that. When they ran PSAs, it was local police and the state troopers who patrolled that area who showed up on TV and in the radio spots. That meant the spots weren't as slick and well-done, because they were shooting hundreds of them instead of perfecting a few statewide spots.

Yet that trade-off was worth it. If something like this seems too slick, people resist it. Having faces and names they recognized, from their backyard, boosted the ethos of the message and helped persuade people.

It's also smart to get allies and stakeholders to help shoulder the burden and spread the word. In this case, local police, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and similar groups are natural allies and stakeholders.

Step 4: Measure Results

I don't know if they looked at different regions of the state and boosted efforts where seat belt use was low.

I do know the state patrol and police were smart about tracking the number of warnings and tickets, and that they didn't trust anecdotes and feelings on whether their media and awareness campaign was working or not.

They looked at the numbers, and they tracked actual seat belt use. Not just during the start of the campaign, but every year, continually improving the numbers.

According to the State Patrol, they still cites about 47,000 people a year for not buckling up. But the rate of people who don't use seat belts has declined every year, year after year.

In 2010, 97.6 percent of drivers were clicking it. Washington went from one of the worst in the nation for seat belts to among the best. The plan worked.

Related:
How to Write a Media Plan for Earned Media

How to Write a Media Plan for Social Media

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