Academic journal article Public Relations Journal

Applying Strategic Management to Public Relations

Academic journal article Public Relations Journal

Applying Strategic Management to Public Relations

Article excerpt

In my article, "Leaving the newsroom for the boardroom" (May 1991, page 30), I wrote that the CEO is looking to public relations professionals for strategic counsel, not for in-house journalism. Since then, I have had many requests for a definition of "strategic counsel." It seems that there are many of us who have only a hazy understanding of strategic management, although it is in the vanguard of current management thinking.

Strategic management is a process that enables any organization -- company, association, nonprofit or government agency -- to identify its long-term opportunities and threats, mobilize its assets to address them and carry out a successful implementation strategy. In short, it is the flip side of the reactive, short-term thinking that has pervaded so many U.S. companies and hobbled their ability to compete internationally.

Strategic management can be summarized as a six-step circular process: scanning the future; building scenarios; reviewing the mission; setting objectives, strategies and policies; implementing strategy; and evaluating and updating the plan. Let's look briefly at each step and then consider how the process applies to senior management and to public relations.

Step 1: Scanning the future -- More profound changes have taken place in the world in the past two years than in the past 20. If the organization is to stay on top of change instead of being swept away by it, the future must be anticipated and understood. The organization must have a formal process for looking at least a decade ahead for opportunities and threats posed by social, economic, political, technological and environmental trends. Then the organization should inventory its structural, cultural and resource assets and liabilities in addressing these challenges.

Step 2: Building scenarios -- Since it is impossible to predict the future with certainty, the trends identified in the future scanning process should be translated into three scenarios: an optimistic outcome, a more pessimistic outcome and another outcome somewhere between the two. This should serve as the basis of contingency planning for each of the three possible outcomes. Contingency planning is the best form of crisis management.

Step 3: Reviewing the mission -- After considering likely future challenges, a mission statement should be drawn up for the organization and for the public relations department. A mission statement should not be immutable. On the contrary, it should be reviewed annually, to keep it relevant to the emerging future.

The mission statement should define what business the organization and the department are in. Sometimes the world changes so dramatically that the organization and/or the public relations department must get into a different line of business. Certainly many industries that have been based on the continuation of the Cold War will have to rethink all their assumptions.

Step 4: Setting objectives, strategies and policies -- The mission statement, once adopted, is then translated into a series of objectives -- where the organization and/or the public relations department wants to go -- and strategies -- how to get there. Then a series of policies must be established to serve as a framework for the implementation of these strategies. Added together, future scanning, scenario building, mission review, and setting objectives, strategies and policies make up what is generally known as strategic planning.

Step 5: Implementing strategy -- Strategy implementation consists of the development and execution of detailed action plans and budgets that carry out the objectives and strategies set by senior management. …

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