PLANNING TO SAY NO

Oscar Wilde would have struggled had he chosen a career in public relations. Few professions offer the range of daily temptations to do ‘just one more thing’.

We can always write another press release, sell-in to another reporter, post another blog or tweet, draft another speech or two or pitch the CEO’s public speaking abilities to another event producer.  The downsides of giving in to these temptations, however, are often an upset work-life balance, unpaid over-servicing by the agency and the undermining of key message delivery.

The roots causes of the problem are easily understood.  They include fear and targets; everyone wants to succeed and to please their boss; no one wants to fail.  Journalists and competitors, meanwhile, don’t always buy-in to our neat sequencing schedules. Sometimes, of course, the unexpected happens.

So if the volume of press cuttings is coming in below par, issuing another press release or organising a quick press round table might help get the cuttings analysis across the line.  We can always say yes to an unexpected speaking invite at short notice, even though the topic and audience is of secondary interest – someone in management will deliver the presentation.  And we can never do too much with social media, can we?

The biggest challenge comes when this work, which is usually performed outside normal working hours, dilutes rather than enhances the company’s public positioning.  This is where campaign planning has to earn its keep.  Without a strong plan, with clear objectives and clearer, scheduled deliverables, saying ‘no’ to anything becomes nigh on impossible.  Only a solid plan can give us the permission to do that.

Sometimes, the PR plan can be bit front end heavy.  Unchallenged, implementing all the good ideas in the first few months of the year can leave the comms dept on its knees and the customers, employees and other stakeholders a bit confused over exactly what the key messages are. It can also lead to bouts of random PR activity for weeks on end throughout the rest of the year.

Saying ‘no’ more often would be a very good thing, but that requires a plan that tells both ourselves and our bosses what it is we’re saying ‘yes’ to and why.  The right plan will enable us to say: “No, we’re not prepared to put a spokesperson up to talk about that. Sorry,” or “No, our CFO won’t travel to Warsaw to deliver a keynote on corporate financing to a room of 30 people next week.”

The focus that a good campaign plan provides is the ability to say ‘yes’ more often.  “Yes, I’ll be there on time,” or “Yes, I will meet you for a drink.”

Planning can be dull. It can make your head ache.  It’s time consuming and complicated.  But strong planning at the outset helps us all to remain clear on what’s strategically important for the business and on our priorities. That can be very liberating indeed.

The US military’s ‘7Ps’ puts it more succinctly.  “Proper prior planning prevents pitifully poor performance.”

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