Get S.M.A.R.T. When Setting PR Objectives

Before you can effectively measure the results or return on investment (ROI) of you public relations programs, you have to know what you’re measuring. Review a bunch of PR plans and you’ll see a consistent them – great-sounding goals and objectives, that upon further inspection are a little better than loosey-goosey guesses at program outcomes.

I suggest if you really want to improve the performance of your public relations programs that you work harder on getting S.M.A.R.T. with your objective definition. If you haven’t heard of the S.M.A.R.T. acronym before, it’s an acronym (and a pretty nifty mnemonic device) used in project management for setting objectives for the project. It’s more than relevant and applicable to public relations strategy and planning.

There are many different versions of this acronym that have popped up since the early 80s when it first surfaced (according to Wikipedia), but here’s the one I’ve used over the years for PR planning:

  • Specific – clearly define your objective so that everybody will know exactly what you are trying to accomplish, rather than “double coverage among A-level trade publications, your goal might be secure on placement in the New York Times’ Bits Blog each quarter). It could also be as simple as distribute two news releases per month on the first and second Monday of the month.
  • Measurable – can you measure your progress against the objective with relative ease? In the examples above you can, though you may want to be more specific and report on activity specific to the objective (e.g. what activity is directly tied to that objective?). If you don’t know how you will measure your objective, you need more definition.
  • Actionable – you should be able to complete your objectives within a reasonable amount of time. If your objective is too far in the future, or too complex, break it down into a shorter-term objective. In the two press release per month objective for example, your first specific, measurable and actionable step might be to create and share a press release calendar with your team by Friday. Step two might be to conduct interviews for the first release and so on. Write two press releases per month is NOT actionable, because it’s too broad a task. You could check it off at the end of the year, but you need to break it down into bite-sized pieces to be more effective.
  • Realistic – be honest with your objective setting. While you want to be aggressive, you also need to be realistic about what you can achieve by your project deadline. If your organization has historically sent out one press release a quarter, is it realistic to believe you can do two a month? Do you have enough news to maintain that pace? Are your sources able to provide information quickly? Does your legal department need more than a week to approve releases? These are all important questions to ask when setting an objective. Don’t just trust your gut for objective setting – if you have available data on current or past performance, use that as a guide. If you increased website traffic by 50% last year, can you increase by 60% this year? If you set and measure against S.M.A.R.T. objectives, you’ll get more accurate with your forecasting in the future. You may be way off on your projections the first time you do it, but you should also nail it next quarter.
  • Time-Based – your objective should be tied to a date (or time). The more specific you can be with this deadline, the better. This has always been the biggest wake-up call for me. There is often a big gap between when I think I can complete a task and when it actually gets done. Use any task or project management system that encourages you to set deadlines for tasks and shows you overdue tasks. Basecamp and ActionMethod are two of my favorites, because they enable you to track tasks associated with project components or milestones (rolling up to your objectives). There are free versions of both tools you can play with if you’re not familiar already.

Getting Started

Review your current goals for Q1 or 2011 – do you have them defined? How do they hold up to the S.M.A.R.T. test? Will you have a hard time justifying your bonus or a raise based off the objectives? It’s not too late to revise them to be more specific, measurable, actionable (attainable), realistic and time-based.

What do you think? Is the S.M.A.R.T. approach to objective-setting helpful for PR professionals. How do you currently set goals and objectives for your PR programs? Do you measure ongoing campaign performance against these objectives? Do you think some campaign goals are too loosey-goosey? Please share your thoughts below.

Additional Resources:

About Jeremy Porter 214 Articles
Jeremy Porter has been passionate about the intersection of public relations and journalism since studying both Public Relations and Journalism at Utica College of Syracuse University in the late 90s. Porter launched Journalistics in 2009 to share his ideas and insights around both professions and how trends and developments in modern day marketing, communications, and technology impact those working in these fields. Porter also values the traditions and history of both professions and regularly shares his perspective in these areas - and related topics geared toward the next generation of journalism and public relations professionals.


  1. Thank you for sharing this concept– it’s very helpful and easy to remember! I think what we often overlook is the “realistic” aspect of our PR objectives. I’ll definitely keep this top of mind the next time I set any campaign or client objectives.

  2. Jeremy, Good acronym and like Krista my favorite cautionary point is Realistic. Looking at the field – your goals and objectives, are the tools and tactics you will use to achieve them the right ones? Is it realistic to expect that double spread or NYT blog mention without the right (actionable) stories and experts and news to share? Part of managing expectations, identifying what results you really want vs. those you need vs. those you reasonably achieve via the plan. FWIW.

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