Try this projection exercise. You are in a dressing room casting
your eye across a wardrobe containing the many metaphorical garments
symbolising the wondrous diversity of our industry.
The leopard skin leotard of the car launch bunny girl hangs next to the
Armani suit of the corporate PR man. A sweatshirt belonging to Darren in
sponsorship rubs against the sober pin stripes of a City spin
Then your gaze reaches the end of the rail, where you see a zipped up
clothes protector bag labelled ’strategic planner’. You are curious to
find out what it contains. Is it something mysterious, the precise
function of which eludes you? Is it an old pair of trousers, the seat of
which looks as though it has been flown on more times than it care to
Is it an anorak? Or, horror of horrors, do you discover nothing in the
bag at all?
Here lies the fundamental problem with strategic planning in our
industry: there is little consensus about what it actually is. In
certain City circles, strategic planning refers to the conversation that
goes on over lunch between the agency account director and the client
CEO at the Savoy. More intellectually rigorous corporate advisers will
say that strategic planning is about assimilating market and other
research to give direction to the implementation and evaluation of PR
activities. And then you have consumer PR-ettes to whom strategic
planning is about brainstorming to come up with whizzy ideas.
My own view is that effective strategic planning is the creative
application of market intelligence. But the point is, we all need to
feel comfortable about what that definition is - not just to tidy up our
collective semantics but, more practically, to win business.
No one should be in any doubt that strategic planning, particularly of
the research-driven variety, is increasingly being recognised as the
foundation on which successful PR campaigns are built.
In tandem with the massive financial growth of the PR industry in the
last five years has been the rapid sophistication of its clients.
Clients have become far more demanding in their expectations of their PR
advisers, understanding that a strategically sound rationale for
conducting a PR programme, as well as an appropriate means of evaluating
it, are no longer an optional extra.
Agencies are responding, hence the increasing frequency with which
strategy-conscious advisers present potential new clients with planning
documents a week or so in advance of a pitch, showing exactly what
thinking underpins the creative proposals they are about to make.
Competitor agencies, unable to provide such an understanding are simply
viewed as intellectual lightweights.
Getting to grips with strategic planning is not just a necessity in the
battle for billings within the PR industry. As PR assumes greater
budgetary importance as a communications discipline it is inevitably
beginning to find itself battling for influence over the high ground of
communications control, territory traditionally occupied by
Strategic planning has been a mature discipline within advertising for
over a decade. Advertising planners are not only veterans in relative
terms, they also speak with the might of massive budgets behind
And, when the advertising planner opens up the metaphorical wardrobe of
his industry there is just the solitary mantle of advertising hanging
inside. Compare this to the vivid and multifarious collection available
to planners of PR activity. It’s time we agree on what, we as PR
planners, should wear ourselves.
David Michie is the author of The invisible persuaders - how Britain’s
spin doctors manipulate the media.