Every quarter to six months, we work with clients to create a new PR plan for the following quarter or remainder of the year. Naturally, this includes a review of the company’s goals to ensure the program is supportive, trends/topics the client should continue to own, what worked and what hasn’t during the program, and new metrics to measure success.

If you’ve been working in the PR business long enough, the PR planning process can become rather formulaic, especially if you’ve worked with the companyover a long period of time. Company goals can often remain the same and a radical change in topics and trends is not typical. Sometimes a team, conditioned to hear “no” on certain tactics or ideas, leaves out recommendations that truly should be discussed throughout the year.

What tends to happen if you aren’t vigilant is that the strategy and tactics blend together and each PR plan starts to look very similar to the others. It’s critical that senior team members – vice presidents and directors – push the client (and team) to create a PR plan that is truly unique.

A business’ goals may be the same, but once you review company performance against those goals, you can start to see where PR is needed most. Perhaps there has been less traction in a specific vertical, a new competitor is on the scene that has been winning more proofs of concept, a new sales director has been hired to grow a certain region of the company, or a particular product has failed to meet sales goals.

Armed with this information, the team should:

  • Start with data & insight – Any good PR plan should be data-driven and have a scientific approach to inform its direction, i.e. contains creative ideas that are rooted and backed by good ol’ analysis. It’s ok to have a good “feeling” that a story or tactic will bear fruit (that’s the art and experience we all bring to the table), but it’s critical that we all gut-check feelings around strategy and tactics by looking at data. Here are some of the areas SHIFT team members will dive into during the planning process:
    • Topic analysis – Use analysis tools to review all the relevant coverage or social media conversations over the past year. Are there topics that are resonating the most within the industry? Where is the white space (i.e. the areas that the company can own because no one is dominating that just yet)? Are there topics that the company wants to own that is clearly decreasing in popularity?
    • Competitive check – Ensure the competition isn’t gaining speed by reviewing their earned, paid and owned results. What publications have driven the most traffic back to competitors’ websites? What topics are competitors owning (through their own content and earned media)? Have the competitors changed the keywords they are placing ads against? How much are they spending on paid?
    • Influencers and topics – Use influencer engagement and conference content to learn more about the current state of the industry. What are the themes discussed the most during a conference on social media? Are there influencers being talked about more (i.e. the influencers we need to reach)? Are there publications and story themes being shared the most? While you’re at it, analyze and visualize conference agendas using IBM Watson and Tableau to map the topics that the conference thinks attendees care about.
    • Review content – Learn more about engagement by analyzing content. Which pieces of the company’s content has been shared the most socially to determine the topics that are resonating (SHIFT has a proprietary social scanner that helps us do this quickly)? Which content and topics are getting the most clicks when marketed through owned and paid channels?
  • Take a step back – If you were going to pitch a plan to the stakeholders for the first time ever, what would you tell him or her about their current PR program? What would you do differently; what suggestions would you make?  When done consistently through a client engagement, this exercise can push teams beyond “the usual” and removes frustrations that can fester after a client continuously declines opportunities.
  • Be ready to convince – Pushing stakeholders beyond a comfort zone requires smart strategy, solid arguments and data-driven recommendations. For clients that are used to the status quo during the planning process, it’s critical that the team is ready to show the data and evidence that backs the new recommendations.

When PR programs enter into the execution phase, there is often less time, ability and tolerance to reset and try new ideas. While any good PR program should be nimble and change with real-time information like breaking news or company fluctuations, the best time to really push the envelope and think differently is during the planning process. We’ve found that clients are often more open to hearing new ideas – especially backed with data analysis – during this phase and we should embrace experimentation during times of planning. This is when award-winning programs are born.

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