Goals and Objectives, Strategies and Tactics

Over the past 20+ years, I’ve seen a lot of communications plans. And I have marvelled at how often the authors of these plans have been unable to discern the difference between goals and objectives or strategies and tactics.

Chris Clarke Student PRIn a recent episode of Inside PR, Chris Clarke asked asked listeners if they could explain the difference between communication goals and communication tactics.

Shel HoltzShel Holtz provided an answer that linked strategies and tactics to goals and objectives. I found his explanation to be one of the most useful I have ever heard. Simple clear and concise.

Of course, because it was an audio comment, you had to hear it. And because podcasts aren’t as readily searchable as blogs, I’ve decided to write down the essence of Shel’s explanation so that I, the people I work with and other practitioners can refer to it in future.

Shel recalled a presentation by Wilma Matthews, the Co-Author of On Deadline: Managing Media Relations. In her presentation, Wilma described a four step strategic planning model:

  • Set a goal: the business outcome. What you want your communications to achieve.
  • Establish strategies: The broad approaches you are going to take in order to achieve the goal.
  • Define objectives for each strategy. Objectives are the measurable tasks that will be undertaken in order to realize the strategies.
  • Develop tactics – the tools that will be used in order to achieve the objectives.

Wilma used the example of World War II in order to illustrate the application of these concepts.

  • Goal: Win the war.
  • Strategy: Surround Germany to choke off the resources that fueled its military force.
  • Objective: Invade France. This is measurable. You’ll know if you’ve succeeded and to what degree.
  • Tactics: What will you use to do this? e.g. ships, planes, soldiers, etc.

In summary:

  • Goals = the broad outcomes
  • Strategies = the approaches you will take
  • Objectives = the measurable steps to achieve the strategies
  • Tactics =  the tools you will use

Makes sense to me. What do you think?

  • Thanks for sharing this with us. I popped over on your recommendation in the comments at Communication Overtones.

    I always like Shel’s clear explainations, and this is also clear. The only thing I added was identifying and prioroitizing your publics, since we are communicating and not attacking. Still, even in this example, you have to pick Germany and France somewhere in the process. 🙂

  • Great stuff Joseph – this will certainly be useful.

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  • Joseph, thanks for recapping it. When I heard Shel speaking on FIR I was at the gym. I planned to replay the segment and write it down, but of course did not!
    So glad YOU did!


  • OOPS. I meant Inside PR, not FIR!

  • Great post – I’ve seen my share of communications plans that have made this mistake as well.

    I’ve also noticed in both the PR and the ad world that there are a number of people who don’t understand the difference between a strategy and a plan.

  • Richard

    This article although short and sweet really helped me complete a paper in which i had to make a communicationplan for a virutal organizaiton. thanks for the simple and well said info.

  • Audrey

    This summed up the meaning of goal, strategy, objective and tactics very nicely. Very user friendly as it were. Thanks for sharing this information.

  • Jenny Young

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!
    This concise summary of strategies and tactics has made clear to me what my instructors and textbooks could not.

  • Mama Gaea

    Thank you so much for this. I have been receiving conflicting information in my classes and this clears things up for me so much. I only wish I had received this information weeks ago.

  • warda

    Great! Simply put! elegantly understood!

  • tk

    Great recap and summary. Clear and simple. In describing Tactics, I think it is useful to not only include “what” tools will be used, but also “how” and “when” the tools will be used

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  • akshaya

    i want to know if strategies goal are same as objective or are they different ???

  • Michael

    This is a great general overview, but I’ve always thought that perspective was a key element in discerning strategy vs. objectives vs. tactics (whether in PR planning, or business planning in general). I think of it this way: If you’re the General, responsible for winning the war, then what’s articulated above works. But I think that if you’re the guy (or girl) responsible for making sure the landing craft are operational on D-Day, then your Goals, Strategies, Objectives and Tactics need to pick up way downstream from where the General left off. Your plan is going to look more like: Goal: Ensure Operational Success of Landing ForceStrategy: Institute rigorous maintenance and repair programTactics: Checklists, spot checks, team sharing of identified problemsI think one of the reasons organizations struggle in communicating/implementing plans is that the high-level business goals/strategy/objectives are set forth but the work isn’t done to cascade them down to the front-lines, as I’ve done above. As a consequence, they don’t resonate w/people in the organization who might understand the priorities, but not what they should be doing in the context of the big-picture plan.

  • Katiemaree

    I find it funny that people always use non-PR examples (eg. the war) to highlight Goals through to tactics – it just proves to me that it is clear that it IS often (usually) confusing trying to work out the difference between a goal and an objetctive, or an objective and a strategy when it comes to comms or PR plans.

    • Peter

      The original article is great! And your addition very valid. Essentially if one looks down the results chain: outputs, outcomes, impacts….each level has its own goal/strategies/objectives/tactics. The key thing is that at each level each item (g/s/o/t) are written in the same styles, just with lower level content.

  • Big D

    Good explanation.  However in the business world I have seen often where objective comes before goals and the definition that was rendered in the post was flip flopped.  Non the less if you maintain the order and explanation that is given in the post then all is good.   

  • Kate Robins

    Even though this post is old, I still appreciate it. Thanks.

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