Are PR pros planning to fail because of failing to plan?

In the latest column from our partner AMEC, Richard Bagnall explains the importance of clear, actionable planning in achieving meaningful measurement and evaluation of PR and reputation programmes.

"If you’re failing to plan, you’re planning to fail." We’re likely to have heard that catchy expression before. When we hear it, we all nod wisely in broad agreement. It makes so much sense. After all, who wouldn’t plan before embarking on any major piece of work?

PR leaders: 'Time to bin vanity metrics and focus on measuring impact'

Well it seems that the harsh truth is that it’s often us, the time-poor, resource-constrained and under-pressure PR and communications profession, that is most guilty.

I was first alerted to this a number of years ago at a private meeting of senior PR leaders held at the CIPR.

Speaking under strict condition of anonymity, one of the UK’s leading PR practitioners exclaimed in frustration that PR’s dirty secret is that too often it just ‘does stuff’ without first planning what it is that the activity is designed to achieve.

Alex Aiken, the executive director of UK Government Communications, echoes this when he describes PRs doing ‘SOS’ – ‘Sending Out Stuff’, without first thinking through carefully what it is they’re trying to accomplish, why they’re doing it, and whether it’s the best approach – or even whether the right audiences might be made more aware and ultimately take any meaningful action.

Tactics and activity always seem to get in the way of credible planning and objective-setting. It’s easy to understand why. The role of PR and communications is more pressured than ever before. In these frantic environments even the best intentions can quickly go out of the window when confronted with the sheer amount of ongoing day-to-day activity. There just doesn’t seem time to pause, take stock and plan.

But perhaps that’s just half the story? More recently I’ve seen a number of data points that suggest the industry may be deceiving itself over this issue. Results from more than 400 companies’ completed AMEC Measurement Maturity Mapper surveys suggests that this is an industry that knows the importance of proper planning. More than two-thirds of respondents report that they believe planning is important for PR.

Measurement and evaluation are largely meaningless in the absence of a plan. A plan will set out clear objectives, identify desired outcomes, define success and set appropriate targets

Yet when we look at how many of these organisations are actively planning and attempting to link this work to their measurement and evaluation, we see that it's largely lip service, with less than one-third actively doing this. As Rod Cartwright recently tweeted from a conference (quoting Jenny Scott of Apella Advisors): "80% of companies have a purpose statement, but only 17% have a plan to execute it."

Measurement and evaluation are largely meaningless in the absence of a plan. Planning is an integral part of the process. A plan will set out clear objectives, identify desired outcomes, define success and set appropriate targets. If the industry has a problem with planning, this, by definition, will hold back the ability to drive relevant and meaningful evaluation and insights.

It’s for this reason that I can announce that AMEC will be launching a free educational resource to help the industry embrace the importance of taking the time to plan thoroughly. It will set out tips and strategies to plan properly and link it through to a meaningful evaluation programme.

Led by Gemma Moroney, AMEC member and Mischief PR head of insight and strategy, the new AMEC Planning Guide will be launched at an event in London on the evening of Thursday 21 November. Please get in touch if you would like to attend – email events@amecorg.com.

I'll leave the last word to Gemma: "For me, planning is inseparable from good measurement and evaluation. We need to move from thinking of it as just writing a plan to being the voice of the consumer (and their influences) and the voice of effectiveness within the agency. As we see more and more creative directors in the industry, we need to see more planners, so I’m delighted to be part of this new guide."

Richard Bagnall is chief executive of Europe and the Americas for CARMA International, and Chairman of AMEC

Thumbnail image: ©GettyImages

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