I’m reading a booklet at the moment by Ronald Buijsse and Goos Kant of Dutch software company ORTEC.
ORTEC makes software and systems for logistics companies It’s complicated stuff that makes all those moving parts required to move goods from A to B mesh properly. (Yes, people and companies do still make things!). So they know a thing or two about planning, and what they say in this booklet has direct relevance I think to the PR world.
(Disclosure: ORTEC is a client. This is not a less-than-subtle PR trick to publicize my client. Unless you’re in logistics yourself, ORTEC has no special relevance to you. But their thoughts on planning might have.)
Whilst we all plan (of course we do!) we can learn from what Buijsse and Kant say.
First, why plan? Here’s their answer: the most concrete reason for effective planning is due to situations that involve
- high levels of complexity in supply and demand and the balancing of both
- high degrees of uncertainty about supply and demand
- highly pressurized decision-making
- high risk of making wrong decisions
How do these assertions apply in the PR world?
We certainly deal with complexity, not least in balancing resources to deliver programmes and to meet expectations. Do our organizations have the right level of resources? Might formal planning help us communicate that we do (or don’t) with management colleagues?
We also deal with uncertainty about supply and demand, especially on the consultancy management side. PR budgets are tight, and more often than not resources are never quite enough. Although we’re not alone in that, formal plans that reflect resource requirements (people and services) and their related costs can help in the debate about resource planning for PR programmes.
Pressure can vary markedly of course in the PR world, and in any case differs from the pressure felt by planners in logistics operations. Planning scenarios to predict and model pressure and our reactions and decision-making under pressure are useful.
Finally, how can we predict, in a discipline as open-ended as PR, the consequences of our decisions? Planning will again allow us to model alternative results.
How might a planning process work?
This is where Buijsse and Kant’s views struck a chord with me.
According to them, there are three parts to a planning process, and I’ve altered them slightly to bring them into a PR context.
This considers the challenges of the proposed PR programme.
What’s the business objective that the PR programme seeks to meet? (Why are we going to do this?)
What are the resources required to make this successful, and does everyone understand the positive and negative consequences of getting those resources out of balance?
And where do we get these resources from?
Second: Plan, the actual process of planning.
There are six parts:
- determine the scope;
- collect information and data;
- make decisions, which might be an iterative process with…
- execute and adjust;
- and report.
Some of these are obvious and familiar.
But as one example, how often do you report on progress back to management and others who have a stake in the project, and how automated (accessible) is that reporting process?
Finally: Performance, the results.
In Buijsse and Kant’s world these are increased profit; management quality; customer satisfaction; employee satisfaction; and sustainability.
I think these apply equally to the PR world. Profit might be code for membership, funds raised, or something else, but connecting PR effort with commercial success (define success) is essential. (It’s not to do with coverage or sentiment, just as a pallet of drinks delivered on time is not the sole measurement of “success” in the logistics world.)
Management quality relates to the effectiveness of the plan in its execution. Was everyone kept informed? Were PR services delivered on time? Did everyone understand their stake in the success of the project, and did they deliver?
Customer satisfaction means both the internal customers and external customers.
Employee satisfaction embraces both the internal employee audience, and those working on the project. Their sense of achievement, satisfaction and an understanding of their performance and contribution all influence the next project and its success.
Finally, sustainability, something that is often overlooked in PR programme and resource planning. A successful project becomes a coup, a stunt even, if it can’t be repeated in a predictable way.
Taking planning to what Buijsse and Kant call the New World of Planning requires discipline but promises much.
(The New World of Planning, by Ronald Buijsse and Goos Kant, can be found at the ORTEC web site.)