Platform: Co-ordinating the strategic advice ensemble - Strategic planners in PR need to be less nebulous in the service they provide if they want to gain client confidence, says David Michie

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.

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.

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