Noted PR pundit Shel Holtz recently shared his favorite communication planning model – which he actually attributes to Wilma Matthews. At a high level, I endorse this basic model and strongly agree with the premise that careful planning prevents communication (or PR) for its own sake. Too often PR professionals – across all disciplines – give in to the tide and begin to communicate without a clear target, plan or purpose…beyond perhaps getting “hits” or spiking the tone and focus of media coverage or customer feedback.
Where I stray somewhat from the basic recipe suggested by Holtz and others is that their models invite a simplicity and superficiality which belies the complexity and nuance of most communication scenarios. One example is the selection of audience(s) – which in many of the real-life programs I’ve developed and executed requires a miniature plan in itself…with a range of discrete audiences demanding their own tactics, messages, channels and even metrics. Another element that is not evident in the model is timing…as in what happens when. Too often, tactical plans and message platforms are developed as if they have a static shelf-life, while in reality they should probably evolve in conjunction with changes in audience awareness, perception and behavior. Another example where subtlety is often lacking is in messaging, where too often plans prescribe blunt, aspirational (if not disingenuous) messaging without consideration for supporting evidence, tone, context, customization and feedback from target audiences. I won’t even mention metrics, which is often sorely lacking in both the planning and execution of PR programs.
My final reservation is really more philosophical than tactical. What many communication plans seem to miss is a dedicated section prescribing what to do – with regard to a policy or corporate decision – as opposed to just what to communicate. This may seem like a small nuance, but it’s not; it’s the difference between sitting at the executive table helping shape the critical decisions and being asked to help communicate a decision that’s already been made. I intentionally frame my plans to feature our recommendations on what the organization should do in response to a particular situation.
In the final analysis, smart communication planning is rarely a bad idea, but using basic cookie-cutter models should be a starting point rather than the final step.