Wisconsin Historical Society

Guide or Instruction

How to Create a Public Relations Plan for Your Historic Preservation Group

How to Create a Public Relations Plan | Historic Preservation | Wisconsin Historical Society

A public relations plan can serve as a roadmap for your historic preservation group to effectively communicate your story and message. 

Your PR plan should correspond directly to the top priorities outlined in your strategic plan and advocacy plan. Form a committee to hash out the details of the PR plan. When completed, share it with anyone who represents your group in an official way, whether they are staff or volunteers. All of them should have an excellent understanding of your group's PR goals and the plan for achieving them.

Your group can also boost the impact of its communication efforts by incorporating a public relations mindset into day-to-day activities.

Analyze Your Current PR Efforts

Your group's first step should be a baseline analysis of its current PR efforts and public image. Take a hard look at your existing PR strategies and evaluate how your community perceives your group. Here are two ways you can gather information about your public image:

  • Survey your members to help you detect trends in perception of your groupand understand how your members came to learn about you. A web-based survey tool such as Survey Monkey or Constant Contact can be helpful to gather this information. Your survey might ask individuals to describe, in one sentence, what your group does. 
  • Review your existing PR work and presscoverage. What was successful? What ultimately seemed like a waste of time? If an effort did not pay off, why not? If a particular effort brought good attention, what made that work?

Once you understand what your community thinks about your group, compare this perception to your priorities and the role your group wants to play in the community. Consider your group's role in key preservation issues in the community. Then consider whether your group has yet to address those issues.

Determine Your Objectives

Your group's PR plan must include objectives. They identify what you hope to achieve with your outreach efforts. Your group might have PR objectives such as these:

  • Promote your group or a specific preservation issue
  • Recruit new members or retain members
  • Attract more participants to your programs
  • Advance an advocacy agenda

Define Your Audience

The target audiences of your PR plan will follow from your PR objectives. For example, if your group is trying to attract members, you should target audiences that are likely to be preservation-minded community members, such as residents of a district designated locally or on the National Register. If your group wants to sway public opinion on an advocacy issue, you may target a broader audience and elected officials. Make a list of your target audiences and prioritize them.

Also, when bad things happen to good buildings, your preservation group will get calls from the press and the general public. As part of your PR plan, your group must think through responses to potential questions these audiences may ask, even if you eventually delegate action to another entity.

Craft Your Message

Regardless of the specific issue you are tackling, you need to condense your group's story into a standard message. Each of your group's representatives must be able to deliver that message with enthusiasm, whether they are sharing it with the press, a government representative, a potential member, or neighbors at a community meeting. The delivery of this message will lay the groundwork for building relationships. Your representatives should have a short version, a longer version, and a conversational version of your story.

Also, it's a good idea to keep a list of three to five talking points by the phone and at the desk of everyone who represents your group in case they are in a situation where they need to comment on something.

Include Core Staff and Volunteers in Planning Sessions

It is extremely valuable to include all of your core staff and volunteers in PR brainstorming and planning activities. If the core people are engaged in message creation, they are much more likely to share this message easily and often among their friends and colleagues. Also, community members who respond positively to the people who represent your group and the message they deliver, will be more likely to support your cause.

Identify Strategies to Spread the Word

Your message, objectives, and audience will all factor into the strategies you use to get the right ideas to the right people. You can use more than one strategy, but all your efforts need to complement one another and suit your group's resources (that is, your scant time and meager budget). Your PR strategies may include any of the following:

  • Press releases
  • A web or social media campaign
  • Direct mail
  • An email campaign
  • A one-time event such as a fundraiser to draw attention to an issue
  • A word-of-mouth campaign

Designate Your Primary Press Contact

Your group will need to identify a single contact for press inquiries. Your press contact should be the individual with the greatest knowledge of your public issues and the best impromptu speaking skills. If your group has only one staff member, that person will likely be your press contact. Whether or not you have staff, your press contact needs to be able to speak fluently about issues and not read from a script. This person also needs to be readily available with a cell phone, especially when a public issue heats up.

Designate a PR Manager

Designate someone in your group to be the manager who will coordinate these aspects of your PR plan. The primary press contact and the PR manager may or may not be the same person.

Review Your Impact Regularly

Once your group has prepared a PR plan and implemented some PR strategies, regularly review your efforts. Decide how you will measure effectiveness. Some elements of your plan may be more successful than others. Recognize that some strategies may take longer to produce results than others. Abandon strategies that aren't working, and correct your course as you move toward your objectives. Be nimble and don't get discouraged if your initial plans fail. Finally, learn from your mistakes, and move on.

Learn More

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