Public relations: PR Strategic Planning: What should communicators be doing?

With an approach best described as hit and miss, or at worst, a host of fire-fighting tactics, it’s a miracle you are to remain hired.

By Lenox Lizwi Mhlanga

If you are not reviewing your communication strategy or planning one before 2022, then you are lining up to be fired.

Sorry to be so blunt, but you should know that you are setting yourself up for failure next year.

With an approach best described as hit and miss, or at worst, a host of fire-fighting tactics, it’s a miracle you are to remain hired.

It’s that or you are being allowed to tread water before ultimately drowning for lack of impact on the bottom line.

The C-suite (the executives) will not take you seriously, which happens to be the greatest weakness of those in the PR profession.

As people prepare for the end-of-year break, the last thing that you should do, and your corporate life depends on it, is to review your strategy.

The New Year is not as far as you may think.

A strategy saves you the blushes at planning meetings, as well as going a long way in justifying why your post remains relevant and you on the company pay sheet.

And it’s not as if it’s rocket science. You must have heard the adage, failing to plan is planning to fail.

It does not get simpler than that. If you can list stuff, then you can plan!

All those great ideas that are floating around in your head are of no use to anyone until you put them on paper or on the screen.

One then gives them shape and form through a scientific process that will ensure they are executable to produce results.

Yes, results, the perennial curse of a PR practitioner who is under pressure to prove his worth within the organisation.

I should admit that I am among those who used to moan that it was difficult to measure intangibles.

How could one measure perception or emotions?

Well, the world has progressed since then. Data is no longer the mathematical conundrum that they trumped it up to be.

It has become the form and substance of measurement and evaluation or M&E, and is there are many online applications that can do the job for you.

When you wave a fist full of figures and presenting those colourful graphs at an executive meeting, it earns your kudos.

Even when they seem to make no sense at all.

The trick, if one may call it that, is to sound strategic and resourceful for the team.

Now, back to why you exist as a communication practitioner. It’s because you are being more than useful to the organisation.

You are the glue that holds an entity together because, by nature, organisations communicate in a kind of Morse code that requires deciphering and sharing with all stakeholders.

Having a strategy is telling your colleagues that they do not employ you to be the fire brigade.

Placing a strategy on the table is telling them that not only are you proactive, you can be productive and are indispensable.

And they can hold you accountable for your actions as well!

In my early years in the profession, I rendered myself rudderless by the lack of a strategy. To avoid being sued by my former employers for theft by false pretences, I pulled off some spectacular PR stunts by duplicating successful strategies which were enough to prove my worth in the company.

But that was not ideal. Any communicator can admit that smoke and mirrors have an incredibly short shelf life.

A crisis that could strip the organisation of any semblance of dignity can expose one.

It is the real value that you bring to the table (and the jargon) that will make you sound you belong.

With no pretence, you possess the knowledge that your colleagues need to make informed decisions.

Impact that leaves a legacy that lingers long after you have left the organisation.

The kind that makes your former employers regret why they let you go. A strategy leaves your aura. It is the template that your successor should adopt easily.

However, we might not all be great strategists, and as one sage once said, never say you don’t know.

Tell them to wait and run like hell to find an expert. Hiring consultants or an agency, depending on your budget, to facilitate your strategic communication sessions could be the best thing to do.

We are there to guide the process professionally and help you draw up an executable document.

While you are pondering over what form your communication strategy will be, share your thoughts and ideas with your colleagues.

That it is the beginning of a great collaborative journey. In the end, as they say, the proof of the pudding is always in eating it.

  • Lenox Mhlanga is the managing consultant at Sunshine Corporate Communications, a boutique agency that specialises in reputation and brand management. He also lecturers part time in the Post-Graduate diploma in Public Relations and Corporate Reputation with MAZ/Bindura University of Science Education.

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