Planning is great in PR, but there should always be room for spontaneity too, writes Lucy Stephens
New Year, new start.
Gone are the flabby attitudes of the pre-Christmas season, when we all like to let go and enjoy life with a bit of razzmatazz and sparkle.
No, January is the time for knuckling down, for planning ahead, for looking down the calendar into the cold, dark days and forging our path ahead.
I’ll bet that stationery shops across the land have enjoyed ringing tills at the end of last year and the beginning of this one with queues of people buying new notebooks as they resolve that this year they will be more organised than the last.
And who doesn’t love a new notebook, with its crisp, clean pages just waiting to be filled with resolutions, ideas, and a glorious sense of purpose?
A resolution to plan ahead is a great way of tackling the annual problem that is mainly called January. Planning is, after all, a key cornerstone of any business. Without a clear plan and a strategy, it’s very difficult both to make, and measure, progress.
As former journalists whose background is in print, at Penguin PR we all know that planning ahead is also key to the success of newspapers, too.
We’re all veterans of the planning book which generally sits, with a faint air of menace, on newsdesk. In it, key anniversaries, birthdays of notable local figures, and other milestone dates in the regional calendar are noted down so that on a quiet news day (believe me, there are some!) stories can still be written along a contemplative, “looking back through history” theme. Those of us who cut our writing teeth in regional papers will still remember the dread of a visit from the news editor, bearing aloft an old photo showing an event few still remember, and the words: “Lucy, can you write me 500 words on this?”
But note that phrase, too. “A quiet news day.” Planning ahead, and the structure that creates, are an important backdrop to story writing, marketing, and PR. Social media posts work brilliantly if they proceed along a plan, but for all successful PR campaigns, there has to be room for spontaneity too.
From our days in newspapers everyone at Penguin PR knows this very well. News is much more reactive than it is planned. Anything can happen at any minute, and the best story-telling is able to react to unfolding events in a nimble fashion. New Government announcement that’s highly relevant to your business? Your PR account manager will relish being on the phone to get you talking about it on the radio, or crafting a story on your behalf that places you and your company at the heart of the debate. Who cares if this wasn’t written down in advance – it’s the best thing you can do right now.
All of that doesn’t mean ripping up the plan. No, a great PR plan shapes your message and your story, so that when there is the need to be agile and comment fast on the news agenda, you can be there to offer an opinion that has been carefully thought through in those dark, early January days when things were quiet.
That’s why when it comes to promoting your company, it’s important to remember when at the PR planning stage that there will be times when you won’t necessarily do – in July – what you set out to do in January. That might be because the news has happened. Events have changed. There are other priorities, other stories, that will work better for you now. Your PR team will be able to identify any stories that may have cropped up in the meantime that will work well. But having a solid plan to add structure to your thinking will be very important, too.
And when it comes to demonstrating our results, in PR we love to check out the coverage our stories have achieved when they have been based on an unplanned opportunity. Often, it’s these stories which turn out to have had the best media traction – and we have tools to clearly demonstrate when this is the case.
So when putting those plans into place right now, our best advice at Penguin PR is to use them as a framework and a guide. A general plan that focuses on your brand, your values, your key messages and how you might communicate these over the year is what is important. Drilling down into too much precise detail months in advance may turn out to be a waste of time.
It’s important to remember your goals. But never forget that you don’t know what’s round the corner either. It’s how you react to it that counts.