In these fast moving times, PR will have to find a quicker and more
efficient method of strategic planning, says Dr Joachim Klewes
‘Public relations lacks strategy’ is a common enough complaint about the
reactive mentality of many PR practitioners. This complaint - usually
expressed by those in related disciplines such as advertising and
management consultancy - is often justified. The failure of PR people to
use a scientific approach is as alarming as the lack of strategic
planning models within the discipline.
The first part of this observation - lack of utilisation of theory -
may be explained by the gulf between science and practice. It stems from
the inability to articulate the outcome of scientific research in an
understandable way on the one hand, and PR practitioners’ reluctance to
receive and process that information on the other.
The second part, that there are almost no strategic planning models in
PR is far more worrying. Not that the hot air generated by our
colleagues in the advertising business on this topic produces better
results, but the lack of strategic creativity in PR concepts is matched
by the workmanlike simplicity of many PR teaching seminars.
Strategic planning procedures which are both scientifically-based and
manageable in practice - such as methods for determining the relevance
of PR target groups, for example, or defining the strategic PR messages
for these groups - are rare. This is why ‘gut feel’ improvisation and
‘decades of experience’ are apparently so highly valued as planning
resources in public relations.
In our time of high-speed management it is often perceived to be more
important to be the first to arrive at a solution than to go by the book
every time. In other words, it seems that the reality of management has
become too fast for public relations strategy. Before they are
conceived, formulated and agreed upon, your PR plans may have already
been overtaken by new developments. More speed is needed in
communications as well as elsewhere.
We need a planning process that is not merely a formal instrument for
structuring facts and opportunities, but a process using a limited
number of proven tools which can be swiftly applied. For it is even more
important in these fast-moving times to define goals correctly and not
lose sight of them.
The key to this new type of PR strategy is that it must be integrated
with overall business planning and must be compatible with
communications disciplines on either side of PR.
There is also another more important requirement - one that is more
difficult to fulfil. The problem here is not so much the time needed for
the intellectual development of the strategic public relations plan.
Rather the challenge lies in finding the right balance between a
sensible, but time-consuming, integration of several corporate levels
and external consultants, and the rapid implementation of a concept
developed jointly with top management.
The bad news is that there is no longer time in today’s professional PR
set-ups for the traditional view of ‘strategy’. The good news is that,
with a selection of a few theoretically-grounded planning tools, and
staff who know how to use them, strategic PR planning is possible.
But top management must devote sufficient time to this type of strategy,
if it is to work. Is strategy dead? Not at all. The era of high-speed
public relations strategy has just begun.
Dr Joachim Klewes is managing partner of German PR agency Kohtes and