How to plan PR campaigns in an uncertain and unpredictable world

By Anne Gregory, author of Planning and Managing Public Relations Campaigns. 

‘There’s no point in planning, things are just so fast-moving you have to just go with it these days.’ This is something I am hearing a lot right now.

But it’s not true! The more uncertain things are, the more I need to have a clear sense of where I’m heading. Take a parallel. Companies who have a clear sense of purpose and have shown they are really living it in the tough and turbulent times of the last 12 months, have come through with their reputations intact. It’s been their compass. It’s given coherence to their decision-making and kept them steady.

If I don’t know where I’m heading (objectives), who I’m going with (stakeholders), what to say (content) and if I’m even getting there (evaluation) – then I’m heading nowhere fast.

Just like any other journey, there may be a few detours on the way but once they are over, it’s back on track again. That said, if the detour turns out better than the original plan and I can still get to where I want to be, I might just decide to stick with it. But that will be my deliberate choice from knowing what the alternatives are and what the consequences might be (I might get to journey’s end a bit later).

For me, that’s the essence of planning public relations campaigns in uncertain times – being able to make informed choices. It’s a mindset thing. It makes you ask the right questions from the get-go: What do I want to achieve?  Who do I need to talk with? What do I want to say? How shall I say it? How do I know I’ve got it right?

Getting those elements sorted out right from the beginning gives me a game plan. I’ll need to revisit it regularly and be careful not to be so personally invested in the plan that I become inflexible. It’s important to be constantly alert to what’s going on around you and be prepared to change and re-group as needed.

However, if I keep asking myself those questions, I can maintain a sense of perspective and be able to keep an eye on the longer view. I’ll also be able to demonstrate to my boss that I knew what needed to be achieved and have succeeded in getting there.

In fact, my planned work in communication can bring a sense of purpose and coherence to my whole organization. There’ll be a steady narrative, grounded in the DNA of what we are all about and that will help others make sense of the company. It’ll help protect my organization against dis- and mis- information and it will mean that my working life has meaning to it too. I won’t be constantly lurching from one thing to another because I’m forever in ‘react’ mode. I’ll feel in more in control and empowered.

I have some good Swedish friends who equate planning to playing jazz. A jazz player knows the music score – the plan; they know the rules – how to play with the group, and they know when and how to extemporise – go off script and show their brilliance. But they also know when it’s time to come back to the score and achieve a planned end.

I can’t put it any better than that.

Professor Anne Gregory is author of the CIPR and Kogan Page series book Planning and Managing Public Relations Campaigns, now in its 5th edition. CIPR members save 25% when they purchase via Kogan Page.  

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