Play your PR cards right

I play a bit of poker from time to time and a lesson you learn quickly is that variance is all part of the game. You can be robbed by the nature of randomness.

Don't go 'all in' too often, warns Chris Blackwood
Don't go 'all in' too often, warns Chris Blackwood
As a result, many a good poker player will remind you not to be ROT(ty), which means avoiding Results Orientated Thinking (ROT).

Results Orientated Thinking is allowing the result of an action to reinforce a positive or negative disposition towards that action.

You keep 2/7 off-suit and flop a full house – you suddenly think it's the way forward (when it's actually the worst hand in the game).

Equally, if you play with two aces and your opponent beats you, you could fall for the trap of thinking 'bullets' aren't so good after all (when they're statistically the best starting hand).

Basically, being ROTTY can make you question your decision, even when you knew that it was the correct play in the circumstances.

PR is far from gambling, but the nature of the media means a strong degree of variance. A polar bear shows up on the tube one day and your picture story takes a beating, or breaking news can call time on your spokesperson's interview.

Similarly, a quiet news day can really give your campaign a boost.

I'll often remind the guys in the office not to be ROTTY. Chance a weaker idea and get lucky – you were still wrong to do so. Nailing the hard work and planning in the days and weeks before a campaign hits is what matters. Get that right every time, and by-and-large the variance will level out over time.  

But saying that, there are also a few rules of thumb – akin to those used around the poker table – that can help you minimise the impact of variance: 

1) Don't go 'all in' too often
It's a risky move to go 'all in'. You're betting the farm on one big move and if it doesn't come off, you're outta there. Bear this in mind when it comes to events or news that has to land on a specific day. Imagine a major political scandal dominating the media – could you afford to have your best laid plans fold? 

2) Play against your opponents’ cards
Understanding your rival players and what they're likely to do is crucial. In PR this means planning around what else is unfolding in the media and avoiding when the big hands are being played. 

3) See as many hands as you can
The more hands you play, the more you can smooth out the variance. There's a limit to the maximum amount of activity you can put out – but by building a campaign with longevity and multiple opportunities to land a result, your hard work is more likely to pay off. 

So enjoy the game, work hard and don't make rash decisions. But if things do go awry, remember – don't be ROTTY about it.

Chris Blackwood is an associate partner at Third City

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