Planning to Succeed in 2018
The PR year is rarely predictable, but one thing we can always count on is that January will be a busy month for reporting, measurement and planning.
It is the time we look back on the previous year’s activity, take stock of what we learnt and challenge ourselves to meet our clients’ new objectives.
There are many reasons to put time and effort into the planning stage. These include:
- Using research and insights to create effective strategies and tactical plans to ensure our activity doesn’t stray from our clients’ objectives
- Ensuring we use our resources most effectively
- Helping us to keep our focus on the audience and stakeholders
- Gaining the appropriate approvals for our work
- Ensuring we put the right tracking, measurement and evaluation tools in place
Of course, there are counter arguments against planning: there are occasions where we have to react, where there is little time for planning and where the programme of activity is not significant enough to justify the time.
Some people also say that planning can stifle creativity. I believe that the opposite is true. Planning allows us to be more creative; taking the time to ponder the audience, unpick the problems and reveal the insights will spark creative, but strategic, ideas.
There have been countless times I can recall that exciting lightbulb moment, which has arisen while reading a piece of research; or how using tools like PESTLE has helped to anticipate potential issues.
Start by Asking the Right Questions
PR academic Anne Gregory suggests that there are six questions a PR plan should answer:
- What’s the problem?
- What does the plan seek to overcome?
- Who is the plan talking to?
- What should be said?
- How are those messages communicated?
- How is success judged?
These translate to the cornerstones of a good plan:
- Aims and objectives
- Key messages and content
- Strategy and implementation tactics
Referring back to PR academia again, there are numerous planning models that we can apply, including SOSTAC and Gregory. SOSTAC is the more straightforward:
S – Situational analysis
O – Objectives
S – Strategy
T – Tactics
A – Action
C – Control
I prefer the slightly more detailed approach to planning that Anne Gregory established. This method starts with the organisation’s aims, from which we can develop our communications objectives. These should be SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely.
I also find it useful to remind myself that objectives should be:
Cognitive – raising awareness of an issue, service, organisation or person
Affective – changing public perceptions of something
Conative – changing behaviours, provoking a determined action
Analysis and research of the situation as well as insights into the audience and publics help us to develop the messages. From this melting pot of intelligence, we can develop a strategy. At this stage, we will often develop a campaign theme – a thread that will run through our tactical approach.
From the strategy, tactics flow along with the timeframe and resources required for implementation. Resourcing will include identifying the talent and skills needed to conduct the activity, time and budget. Continual monitoring takes place during the implementation stage, and we evaluate based on the agreed objectives.
Finally, a review of the stated aims and objectives will measure the success and value of the campaign.
Publics and Stakeholders
As part of the research stage, stakeholder mapping and research into the different publics is critical. During this, we gain insights that will spark ideas and ensure that our work is properly targeted.
Mapping the power and interest of stakeholders will help to determine the tactics and resources that should be allocated to properly engage them.
We insist on working with clients on key messages, right at the start of a campaign. Not only does it help focus a client’s minds on their ‘why’, ‘what’ and ‘how’, it also lays the groundwork for effective communication and measurable outputs.
Messages must stand up; we ask our clients to give us proof points, and this can result in a healthy debate.
Spot the Risk
Depending on the nature of the client and campaign, we may also use risk or gap analysis tools. We may need to reduce risk or simply be aware of what might be on the horizon and have the right tools in place, ready to use if and when needed.
Getting SMART with Measurement
Measurement continues to be a thorny issue for PR teams. It often requires a budget to do a proper job; some campaigns just don’t justify a large budget allocation for sophisticated measurement.
However, measurement comes back to SMART objectives; for example, if the aim is conative, direct measurement is doable without expensive customer research.
What we must do is stay focused on outcomes, not just outputs, and be more proactive about determining what success looks like at the time of setting objectives.
Don’t Plan to Fail
Black Vanilla has been busy in January, drawing up plans for our clients’ activity in 2018. We are firm believers in the saying ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail’.
Our planning process often includes in-depth research, strategy workshops with clients and brainstorming sessions. It is both fun and very rewarding to develop intelligent plans which can then be executed throughout the months ahead.
A good plan will excite both the client and agency teams; it means that we have a clear direction and a shared vision for the year.
If you would like to talk to Black Vanilla about a planned and strategic communications campaign for 2018, please get in touch.