The Four-Step Process in Public Relations

19 mins read
The Four-Step Process in Public Relations.

The start of the year isn’t just a perfect time to set goals in your personal life. Also, it can be a great opportunity to reconsider your company’s public relations strategy and check if your efforts will bring your desired results all year long.

The best way to boost public relations plans is to follow the four-step RPIE method, which will help you analyze all of the communication activities that are part of your campaign and guarantee they connect to the broader goals of your organization.

The four-step process can help you drive awareness, change attitudes and impact behavior. The four-step process states that to be effective, public relations must be used as a management function. PR managers should be proactive in identifying the issues and scanning the environment. 

Whether you’re a beginner who is new to the world of RPIE or an experienced PR communicator who just needs some updates, here, in this article, you’ll find the core things you need to know about this four-step method for your PR success.

Key Elements of the Four-Step Process in Public Relations

#1 Research

Each step is as important as the others, but the first one is crucial. Research should start from gathering information to diagnose the problem. The information you find and understanding you gain in the first step impact other steps in the process and shape the final result. 

While the term “public relations” is often associated with big international events like black-tie galas and celebrities’ social media campaigns, those working in the industry know the reality: a significant part of any PR routine is actually gathering data. 

So part of this first step in the research is knowing and understanding your target audience. This also means knowing where the audience receives information and news and what media they consume. 

Before you start brainstorming about the creative ideas for a successful PR campaign, you have to do the research and carefully consider questions such as:

  • WHO are you trying to conquer with the campaign?
  • WHAT do you want the audiences you reach to do?
  • WHAT are the key messages you want the audiences who are involved in your communications activities to take away?

Many PR experts will tell you that proper research almost guarantees you some surprising findings and new useful insights. You must hold primary research (focus groups, surveys, and interviews—

the most expensive) and secondary research (Internet/social media research, literature reviews, and fact-finding) in order to find real data that will help you find true answers to the questions above.

#2 Planning

In the planning stage, you have to focus on the best ways to find a solution to the communication problem or PR goal. Goals and objectives are created in this phase. Your objectives have to be SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable 
  • Achievable 
  • Realistic 
  • Timely 

These features will help you create and evaluate the implementation. 

No matter what is the goal of your public relations plan is—whether it’s raising awareness for a cause or increasing attendance to an event—carefully defining these five elements will provide the roadmap your plan needs to be successful:


Goals are broad, long-term declarations that often attempt to capture a future state of being for a brand.

Example: To become the state leader in your industry


A company’s publics are the key groups of people who have a stake in that organization.

Example: Shareholders, customers, employees


Objectives are shorter-term statements than goals and help to clearly define the attitude shift or behavior change you’d like to reach from one of the given audiences defined above. Objectives should have SMART features—being specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-specific.

Example: To increase downloads of agency’s guide by 10% by the end of the year


Strategies detail how to achieve your objectives.

Example: Spend more money on ads to improve your company’s messaging.


Tactics are the specific public relations activities that will be completed in order to implement a strategy.

Example: Published articles, social media posts, organized events

#3 Implementation

The third phase of the public relations plan is where you actually execute all the actions from your plan. These are the tactics presenting our strategy. What are tactics? Tactics mean the tools you use to execute your plan, like writing a press release, organizing a special event, sending a newsletter, posting on social media, and more. Tactics are the doing part of public relations.

Some of the most important factors to remember during the implementation phase are:

  • Timetable: Especially for longer-term campaigns, creating a schedule that sets the specific dates when key processes will be finished and the next one should start. (Just remember, the deadlines have to be realistic.)
  • Accountabilities: In addition to defining when specific stages of the plan must be finished , it’s also important to define who is responsible for executing them.
  • Budget: Make it a point to clearly call out the money assigned to each part of the campaign. (Update it in real-time as elements came in under- or over-budget.)

#4 Evaluation

Although it can sometimes be disregarded, this final phase of the plan is one of the most important. Evaluation is a focus on results. It helps understand whether the communication actions you performed as part of the campaign actually fulfilled their desired goals. Did you reach the objectives? An evaluation improves public relations because this is how PR managers show value to clients. 

The first step in a successful evaluation phase is collecting information that will help you determine the success of your program against the objectives defined in your plan. For example, if your plan covers outcome-based goals (not including awareness increase, changes in opinions, or behavior), you must have some tools and methods to correctly estimate those objectives, whether it’s conducting a survey or looking at fundraising information.

Nevertheless, simply looking at data and then proceeding from that isn’t enough. To fully evaluate the success of a public relations plan, it’s important to analyze individual elements and understand what aspects of the plan were successful—and, just as importantly, which weren’t. Identifying your strengths and weaknesses will go a long way toward helping you choose ways to improve and adjust your plan, messages, and materials going forward.

Most often, the outcome you find during the evaluation stage will become the start for the next plan you complete. Hence the cycle repeats, bringing your company closer to achieving goals next year.

An Example of the Four-Step Process in PR

Now let’s dive deeper into the four-step process in public relations with an example that will better illustrate how to apply RPIE method. 

The first step to consider is what communication problem is there to solve or the what goal needs to be achieved.

Sometimes clients or brand managers will self-identify a problem, or maybe you are pitching new business and setting the goals yourselves. Whatever it is, it’s important to define it.

Let’s learn the four-step process implementation with the next task example: to fill the football stadium of a university team. 

Before we start to think about how to increase attendance, it’s important to find a reason why the games at the stadium are not popular among the students. Remember, research is the first step in the public relations process. 

So first, begin with research. For this, it will be helpful to conduct an environmental scan, monitoring the internal and external environments. 

This includes gathering information about segments of the audience, the reactions to the team and university in general, and people’s opinions about issues important to the organization. It’s also useful to carry out a SWOT analysis identifying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of the organization. 

These methods provide context for the communication problem you are working to solve. The better you will know the organization, the situation, maybe even the history, the better you can strategize on how to solve an issue or reach your PR goal. During the research step, you should conduct both primary and secondary research and use different methods, such as interviews of focus groups, surveys, etc. 

So the research revealed that this particular university and residents of this city had a huge interest in basketball. So the reason students didn’t attend football games was because of a low fandom for football. This university football team became a victim of the university’s reputation—

students who attended the university were interested in basketball, and therefore attending football matches was not their goal and interest. So the first reason was found.

Providing a proof motion may fill the stadium once or twice, but remember, public relations is about the long game. Thus, it was important to drill down past the superficiality of the stadium attendance and find more reasons why were students are not attending. Why were locals not attending football games as well? 

Answering those questions will help define brand value and brand equity. So here’s further situation analysis. As it was mentioned earlier, the culture of the university was basketball. There wasn’t a lot of interest in football. The university’s football team also had bad results, perhaps a consequence of the empty stadium. But does a full stadium, a winning team make? Absolutely not. 

Students needed to become fans or brand ambassadors. What happens when you like a team? You wear their clothes, you take part in their events, you cheer for your favorite players, you engage on social media, you care about the results, and you still keep on attending the games even when your favorite team is loses in the championships for years. 

So one part of the research helped determine the goal of public relations for this sporting organization— to create brand ambassadors or fans.

To find more information, conduct a SWOT analysis and discover the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the organization concerning the communication problem. These methods include survey, content analysis, digital analytics and others.

Beginning with the strength: the university administration was ready to help by all necessary means. In addition, the space around the stadium was perfect for entertaining fans. Moreover, the city where the university was located had large enterprises, and that provided an opportunity for sponsorships and partnerships. This means the football team had new stakeholders to build relationships with. 

The weaknesses included low game-day attendance, little expression, little school spirit, or minimal fandom. Another weakness was the university’s use of social media. They had too many pages that spread out attention. 

After this, let’s move from research to the second step — planning. This is where we plan the messaging strategy. Defining objectives help to keep us on track and decide what it is that we want the communication to do or achieve. This is where strategy comes into public relations.

So we wanted to find a way to increase the brand value of the football team. Find a way to create emotional contact with students and provide benefits for engaging with the brand. The objectives here are focused on interest, prestige, engagement, raising awareness and education. Point out the objectives are not about filling in the stadium. PR is not about short-term actions or stunts. Instead, we want to achieve long-term goals for the mission of the company. It’s better to eliminate the root cause of the problem and try to make some useful changes there. We have to push forward the mission of the brand. That’s a long process. If we are successful with these objectives, the results should have a bigger effect than an increase in the attendance in the stadium. 

Then, let’s go over the third phase — implementation. This phase is often thought to be more interesting and creative side of public relations because this is the execution of the strategy phase or where we put the tactics into action.

In this case study, these are some of the tactics that were appropriate to implement. First, it is important to create hype around football games. It was a good idea to organize pregame concerts and invite students to participate in pregame contests and events engaging with the brand. 

Then the university website was updated with photos from these events and the social media accounts also featured them. And it gave an opportunity to gather the fans, listen to the reviews, and involve the target audience via a new source. Many people also had difficulty attending games due to all of the unknowns involved. So building an app to centralize information about game day was important, as it provided benefits for users attending football games. 

Also, this university initiated the traditions like singing fight songs and using crowd engagement tactics. It’s great to provide fans with a memorable experience so they talk about it and become brand ambassadors. 

Finally, it’s important to realize the fourth phase of the process — evaluation. It is about showing value. What did the PR efforts achieve? Did they meet the objectives? Is the issue solved? This is what the evaluation stage is about in public relations. In this particular example, public relations absolutely helped fill the stadium with fans. This university’s football program has continued to improve and now it’s hard to get a ticket to their football games. The brand value has increased and the stakeholders are proud to be associated with the team. This is ultimately the goal of public relations.

I hope this example showed how much the four-step process can assist in successfully executed PR work. When PR is used as a management function, meaning strategically, not tactically, that’s when it is the most productive.

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To Sum Up

Following these time-tested steps in executing your PR campaign is sure to help you succeed —whether that success means winning an award or helping your brand achieve its business goals.

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