IN PRAISE OF PROCESS

You could have heard the wailing and gnashing of PR teeth from here.  Off they’d gone to the South of France in search of awards and recognition.  They schlepped back with little more than a hangover and hurt in their souls, and not a single Gold Lion between them to show for an industry’s best efforts.  Advertising had beaten PR hands down.

Speaking afterwards, Gail Heimann, vice chair at Weber Shandwick and one of the judges, said that PR firms needed to “think differently” if they want to compete with advertising agencies to win gold at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity (why never Solihull or Scunthorpe?).  That’s what really hurt – the PR entries were said to be short of big ideas and simply not creative enough.  The soul searching has begun, in blogs, on social media and no doubt in boardrooms too.

Clearly, not the best outcome but I sometimes wonder if we’re not a bit too obsessive as an industry about creativity at the cost of process.

How often have you observed a member of the comms department spend several hours drafting an internal announcement.  They invest time editing and refining the text, re-writing sections, getting quotes approved and coming up with a compelling or witty attention-grabbing headline, only to distribute the announcement in a rush at 4pm on a Friday with scarcely a thought for those receiving it.  That’s poor process.

How many businesses have missed calendared PR opportunities such as Mothers Day or a key client’s birthday because someone wasn’t paying attention to the forward diary?  That’s poor process.

How many opportunities to entertain key customers or potential customers at sporting events have gone AWOL because someone hadn’t checked beforehand when the tickets became available?  That’s poor process.

How many forward feature lists have fallen into disrepair or press release distribution lists fallen out of date because the process wasn’t in place making it someone’s job to manage and look after them?

There are two rules for process.  Firstly, whatever it is has to be repeatable.  This doesn’t mean ‘usually’ but every time.  If it’s not repeatable, it’s not a process.  Secondly, it needs to be people independent.  That means that if Mary and Jane do it perfectly, the same way every time, but James doesn’t, it’s not a process.  Or it’s at least a flawed process.

Good practice would also suggest that a process should be written down somewhere that’s easily accessible. Importantly, however, we need to recognise that writing something down doesn’t necessarily mean that the steps have been put in place and that they are being followed.

Process is like planning.  It’s tedious. It’s time consuming. It’s dull and it’s not PR.  Process is also as much responsible for the overall success of our campaigns as any creative work we do.  But then no one ever got a promotion or won an award in Cannes for doing it well.

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