The power of preparation

Take advantage of opportunities by being in the right place at the right time.

Outside of digital, my big passion is sport. There's something fascinating about a team of individuals trying to plan and control such a fluid and changeable series of events, yet they somehow manage to do it. There's a reason for this, just as there's a reason that Manchester United have won so many Premier League titles - it's not just about having the best players.

It's the planning and preparation that make teams like Man United great, that allow them to come from 3-nil down to win 4-3. They not only know how to make their own opportunities, they actively plan them. It's this kind of thinking that the PR industry needs when operating in the digital arena.

What I mean is that sport is more planned than you think. Think about set pieces in any sport: this is about taking advantage of an opportunity. There's a plan and every player knows where they should be, what they should do and they execute against that plan. How many times have we heard things like 'they got lucky with that corner'? No, they didn't. They perfectly executed a predetermined plan to take advantage of the opportunity.

Too often, PR folks get caught out when an opportunity comes their way in digital - sure, they may spot it, but they're not in a position to take advantage of it. The reality is they should have their own series of set pieces or plays - every person in that team should know exactly what to do to make the most of the opportunity. What topics can we jump on? What content do we need? What's the fast track to get the right content produced and signed-off now? You don't see Wayne Rooney trotting over to Sir Alex Ferguson when he wins a corner, asking what he should do and to get approval. As PR agencies, we need to have these conversations with our clients so that we are prepared to act quickly.

There's another element to this: making your own opportunities. When Jonny Wilkinson kicked that drop goal in the 2003 Rugby World Cup final, it wasn't luck; it was an opportunity that the whole team made possible. Again, everyone was exactly where they should have been and doing the job they had prepared for. The same goes for PROs: we can make our own opportunities by being in the right place at the right time. We can pretty much map out the types of opportunities that will come our way and we can also determine what we can do with these. We can use search and monitoring techniques to help us further mine for opportunities. All that remains is getting ourselves in the right place at the right time - just like Mr Wilkinson did in 2003.

At GolinHarris, we put a lot of focus on generating the right stories for our clients. We look at the whole story across earned, owned, shared and bought media. We think about integrating these together, making it easy for consumers to move between the media. The real difference, though, is the mechanics we use. We map out our story to include proactive elements and opportunistic elements. To deliver this, we have a real-time storytelling centre called The Bridge that allows us to constantly monitor our activity, spot emerging trends and identify opportunities. For example, we recently created two infographics for McDonald's in real time, based on a Twitter trending topic #fastfoodaddiction. With a little quick Radian6 work, we developed these infographics, which McDonald's published.

The key to digital greatness is not only making your own opportunities, it's planning them and perfectly executing against that plan.


Do you see a distinction between your personal and professional use of social media?

Professionally, I am subject to a lot of checks, approvals and sign-off. However, the ethos of transparency, the sense of community and the inherently social elements of my personal use heavily influence my professional use.

How would you deal with a Twitter account spoofing one of your clients?

I'd contact Twitter first - it now does a lot more to protect brands. If the terms and conditions didn't protect us, I would contact the user. I'd make clear on the client's channels that we weren't responsible and we were resolving the issue.

Alan Parker is executive director, digital, at GolinHarris.



From PRWeek's Digital thought leader supplement November 2011

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