The Smartest Thing About PR SMART Objectives Is Not What You Think

We’ve been thorough about being SMART, so buckle in for a ten-minute read.

21 April 2021 by

You already know about the importance of SMART objectives for your PR programs: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely (we’ll discuss each of them below). But what you might not know about your objectives is the most important thing—the indispensable thing, really: Everyone who matters must agree on them.


Agreement on objectives from all the stakeholders on your PR program and its measurement is vital. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter how smart your SMART objectives are, your program is likely to meet resistance down the road. Doing measurement is hard enough without someone dragging their heels because they “weren’t consulted.” Or sniping from the corner office because they “didn’t think this was the right way to go anyway.”


What’s the objective of objectives?

Let’s back up for a minute and consider the purpose of objectives. Public relations work can be really, really exciting. We change people’s attitudes and behaviors in strategic ways that advance our organizations’ missions. Those of us in PR often feel that our work is so exciting, and so obviously important that we neglect to carefully consider its purpose. This is where objectives come in.


Your PR program objectives are a way to be precise about what success will look like. But they are also a critical means to confirm that your work fits in with the mission of your organization, and with the work of others in your organization.

That’s why it is so important that everyone involved gets on board with your program’s objectives up front. Undertaking a PR program and measuring it properly usually requires the cooperation of several people. When everyone agrees on the objectives, then you’ve insured that they are part of your team. Even if their role is relatively minor, agreement means they’ll feel invested. And supportive later on, if and when challenges occur.

Word to the wise: For a complex PR program, getting agreement on objectives can be time consuming and involve multiple different stakeholders. You may need to locate benchmarking data or source preliminary research. Don’t take this step lightly; be prepared to put in the required time.


There is a lot more to objectives than just being SMART about them.

Here at CARMA it’s our job to help you achieve your PR goals through meaningful and relevant measurement and evaluation. Richard Bagnall, CARMA’s co-managing partner and the chairman of AMEC says: “Media intelligence is a powerful tool for strategic PR. The way to make best use of it is to run results-led campaigns that map back to your organizational objectives and baselines. If you don’t know where you are, and where you want to go, how can you ever know whether you’re on the right track?”

PR measurement wasn’t on the mind of George T. Doran way back in 1981, when he set out to develop a general way to focus business managers on achieving results. Over the years since, all sorts of business divisions have adopted his SMART mantra.

SMART is smart, but there’s nothing about it that’s sacred to PR. The words within the acronym have changed over time, and they vary depending on what general area you apply it to. In fact, for PR people, SMART can be a vastly over-simplified summary of the goals and strategy of your programs.

Here’s Richard again: “PR professionals have to shape their activity against organizational objectives and desired outcomes. Just because a dashboard is counting something, doesn’t mean that it actually counts. Meaningful evaluation comes when PRs link their tactical activity to the outtakes (what people think as a result of the activity) and the outcomes (what your key audiences have now done).”


The S,M,A,R, and T of SMART

Now let’s go through just what our objective acronym means:

First off, there is Specific. “Specific” typically means “achieve what, by when.” Like, for example, “Increase web page product demo requests by 10% over the next six months.”

Ask yourself and others: “Is the objec­tive clear, pre­cise, and unambiguous? Does it advance the business goals of our organization?” Think ahead to when the project is complete and imagine asking yourself, “Did I achieve the objective?” If you think confusion will be possible, tighten things up.


Measurable means that it is both quantifiable and that you will be able to quantify it. It’s useless to set an objective of changing the state of mind of several million people if you will be unable to field an adequate survey, or otherwise evaluate their state of mind.

You want to have specific metrics in mind (see Specific above). You can’t always get exactly the data you want (like, for instance, “How many widgets did our excellent press release sell?”), so you may have to get your team to agree to a suitable proxy (“How much did our orders increase in the three months after our excellent press release went out?“).

Ask yourself and others: “Does the objective say what success will look like in terms of quantity or quality?”


Attainable means an objective that is possible to achieve. No, not that you or somebody just thinks it might be possible. Attainable means that everyone agrees that it is reasonably possible. You don’t want someone to be able to say later, “I never thought that was possible anyway.” (Some people use the A in SMART to stand for “agreement.” We’ve already covered that above.)

Ask yourself and others: “Is the objec­tive real­is­ti­cal­ly achiev­able given the time-frame and resources available?”


Relevant means aligned with organizational goals. As Richard said above, this means outcomes and outtakes, rather than just outputs. Your job here is to draw as straight and firm a line as possible between your PR work and the mission of your business or organization. It’s best not to just assume that this is obvious, even when it seems to be. You will often want to track trends and your competitors. And remember, relevant means no vanity metrics.

Ask yourself and others: “Will the objective(s) support the achievement of the overall goals of the organization?”


Time-bound may have been covered under Specific, above. But just in case it wasn’t, here is where you state by when. Usually six months or a year, depending on the program, when your data is available, and when you will need your results to plan or budget.

Ask yourself and others: “Does the target date allow coordination with other projects that we need the insights for?”


Now that you are familiar with SMART objectives you can plan your next PR program with success and proper measurement in mind. Don’t forget that the main objective of your program is to help your organization achieve its business goals. Get to work.

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