If your first thought when presented with a public relations problem or opportunity is to brainstorm tactics – e.g. "let's do a newsletter" "send a tweet", "post on Facebook", "hold a meeting" -- then you are planning, but not strategically.
If your first thoughts are: "how does this opportunity fit with our overall goals?", "what behaviors do we need from our priority stakeholders?", "what are the underlying psychological or structural barriers in the way of achieving those behaviors?", "what communication/behavioral theories or case studies could support or guide our decisions?" … then you are being strategic.
Most of you are already strategic thinkers. However, it’s often easier to default to tactics that are in our comfort zone and can be quickly implemented. The problem is that just executing tactics without strategic direction could end up being a waste of our time and our organization’s resources. In today’s environment, public relations practitioners are being held accountable to the bottom line … we need to be able to justify our actions to senior management and provide measurable results, just as legal, finance and other departments do.
The strategic planning process consists of five distinct areas of work:
1) Establishing Direction, 2) Gathering/Conducting Research, 3) Objective Setting by Priority Publics, 4) Determining Strategy, Tactics, Evaluation, 5) Setting Timeline, Budget and Staffing. Once the plan has been determined, we need to stay flexible, knowing the environment we are operating in could change; a “triggering event” could impact the effectiveness of our strategy; or research could show that our priority audiences are not responding to our key messages.
Before we even begin the implementation of our plan, we must have a clear idea of what success will look like …for example: our internal audience will buy-in to and support our process; senior management will lead by example; our budgets and person power will increase; we will achieve the behaviors we set out to change or reinforce; and we will become an integral part of the leadership team charged with achieving the organization’s overall goals.