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Thinking in the Long Run

Posted At: September 29, 2008 12:59 PM
by Jacob Summers

“No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.”
—Helmuth von Moltke

These words, while slightly more aggressive than the field of PR is normally perceived as being, ring true for the practice of PR nonetheless.

Many companies, agencies and corporations—whether PR-based or just in possession of a PR department—ace the struggle of staying alive and growing in today’s competitive world, where so many large and small businesses are also struggling to make a name for themselves. Add to this the compounded struggle of everything these entities do being caught on camera, recorder or cell phone, and many CEOs, CFOs, managers, trainers and consultants find themselves scrambling for the right PR plan to save them.

The problem is … many don’t have one. They have emergency plans for the day, week or month, but few have a sustainable framework in which to make their decisions or on which to lean back when something unpredictable arises.

Now, no PR plan is perfect—you cannot plan for every contingency, and even if you did have a plan, it would be foolish to just play by that. PR must be adaptable and actively changing in order to progress and evolve. However, having no plan is like hitting the open sea without a chart, compass or means of communication. Sure, things might be interesting for a while, but eventually you’re going to drown, starve or have to give up and come back … if you can find your way.

Let’s look to examples of how this affects the current practice of PR. Typing a search in Google for failed long-term PR plans is pointless, as it will turn up just about every company, so let’s take a look at a success story.

Here, the Center for Media and Democracy explores a PR company that manages to create a positive reputation for breast implant companies in both the public’s eyes and in the courts. In this case, through the collaborative efforts of Burson-Marsteller and its subsidiary, Gold & Liebengood, as well as the firms of Kent & O’Connor, along with Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly, Dow and plastic surgeons managed to pull through the PR debacle in several ways:

  • Responsibility was taken for those patients who had suffered medical side effects of breast implant surgery.
  • Grassroots efforts were used to poll public opinion on the subject of breast augmentation.
  • In order to continue to keep the field of breast augmentation afloat, during the trial period, the PR practitioners also built the case that breast augmentation, while perceived to be superficial and harmful by many, can be used to help patients who have suffered from breast cancer.

This is just one example of how PR plans that combine short-term goals with long-term goals and a plan can form a framework that will last.

So what all is involved in an effective long-term plan? It’s different for each company, but some rules apply universally:

  • First, remember the four-step communication process. Many companies, agencies and fields fail in remembering the basic framework for any effective PR plan: research, planning, communication and evaluation.
  • Research: Many companies in today’s marketplace of ideas, products and services fail to remember to do their homework, and this is critical. Just because news is 24/7 doesn’t mean you don’t have time to do your homework first. Better five minutes late than five years sorry.
  • Planning: Any idea, product or service can only be made better by proper planning, which involves taking in as many viable sources as possible without hitting information overload. And key to planning is ensuring that, just as with research, the proper amount of time is taken. In this stage, it is crucial to understand where the current plan fits into the bigger picture—long-term planning.
  • Communication: Communication is key in the PR field—communication with clients, customers, media and within the organization. No matter how strong your current or long-term plans are, they cannot be executed if only a few individuals have the necessary information.
  • Evaluation: Ensure that once each step, sale or acquisition of your company is executed, you learn what you can from the faults and failings of the plan, to apply to future endeavors, and how well it fit into your bigger picture.
  • Second, continue to set up contacts, no matter how far along you are in the game. Even if you’re a 30-year-old company, it never hurts to continue to send someone to new events and opportunities with other PR practitioners or other companies. In this way, should things go negatively, your contact pool is extensive, reaching the greatest audience possible with accurate, current information, and your pool of resources is much greater. This works for both the companies themselves and for individual PR practitioners, on a grassroots level. Many companies believe their reputation or global multimedia will send the right message, whereas the intimate, personal interaction of a PR practitioner, a handshake at community events, networking conferences and grand openings are what stick with people best.
  • Third, think three steps ahead, plan three steps ahead. It never hurts to be over-prepared, unless you are far understaffed. In this way, you have a plan for the current timing of things, as expected, on which to fall back, and should something arise, you have time to develop a new, more appropriate plan. You’re not forced to adapt when your competition rolls out something new—because you most likely have your own plan with new and brilliant strategies, and are not scrambling to reinvent the wheel.
  • Fourth, don’t expend your resources too early … or ever. Often, many companies pool a large amount of resources to plug into one PR campaign—in terms of money, time and other commodities. While it is important to give each project proper attention, an intentional conservation of funds and other resources for future projects and emergencies is just as important.

Ultimately, the success or failure of a company is in the effort behind the branding—a combination of advertising and public relations. The way to approach this planning begins with how the company treats its customers, and continues with the attitude of the company towards where it seeks to be in 10 to 15 years: does the assumed model work, or or is it better to adapt to the times and never rest? The answer lies with constantly adapting—setting up not a long-term battle plan, but a long-term framework in which to work.

For more useful information and tips on how to properly plan for the future, here are some sites of note:

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