Software Spurs Strategic Planning and Creativity

Article excerpt

Every public relations professional is stumped sometimes. It may be a department whose work you have handled so long that you're burned out. It may be a challenge that looks so difficult you don't know where to start.

When this happens to me, I turn to a software program that has been on the market for several years called IdeaFisher. You can find IdeaFisher in most software stores and major catalogs, and it comes in PC and Macintosh versions. It's hard to describe the program, but it's both a consultant in a box and an idea generator.

IdeaFisher is for practitioners who approach challenges with an open mind and desire to find workable and powerful answers. The program is a disciplined way to work through knotty problems and arrive at answers you might not have reached on your own. IdeaFisher does not give you five easy solutions after asking 10 questions. It is not "PR in a box." It is a systematic way to think through problems from many different angles.

You might only use IdeaFisher once a month or a quarter, but even one successful journey into its heart may reward you with new business or save an old program from the scrap heap.

IdeaFisher is not easy to use. When it first appears on screen, you get a box called an Idea Notepad and a series of words on a command bar across the top of the screen. None make much sense. If you click through the program with your mouse, it is even less clear what IdeaFisher does. This is a program in which you practice the tutorials and stay at it. It is not for the impatient.

The best way to understand IdeaFisher is to use an example. I chose an exercise which has stumped me time and again: how to do something new and creative with a parity product.

The challenge

XYZ Bank provides all-in-one personal financial services, including a credit card, home banking, single-statement monthly reports, mutual funds, insurance, retirement planning and portfolio analysis. XYZ wants a new campaign to help it gain market share against 10 other banks which offer the same basic all-in-one service. XYZ turns to you and asks, "What can public relations do to help, if anything?"

You think of several ideas at once, such as affiliate marketing, co-sponsorships, sweepstakes, charitable donations for card use and seminars in bank branches. All have been tried. All were marginally successful. None has gained XYZ ground against the other banks and for a good reason. The other banks are doing the same kind of promotions. What to do? We need something different, something compelling, something so right that users will say, "I want it."

Dialogue with computer

To begin the creative process, I used the feature of IdeaFisher I like best, Qbank. Qbank contains hundreds of questions about people, products, services, promotions, marketing and distribution, broken down by categories. You should never need them all, but they are there in case you do. With Qbank, you start with a category of questions appropriate to your challenge and answer questions by typing into a Question Notepad which records the question and response. If a bright idea lights up your mind while answering questions, you flip the notes onto the electronic Idea Notepad that hovers in the background.

Qbank's questions are a personal consultant in a box. You can write dumb answers, and it won't snigger at you. You can write "don't know" and it won't arch an eyebrow. There is one obligation with Qbank and indeed, with all of IdeaFisher. Answer questions honestly. Answering honestly shows you what you don't know and what you need to learn.

I chose the category, "Orient-Clarify" from Qbank because it would help me gain a better understanding of the challenge as a whole. Under the category of "Orient-Clarify," Qbank gives me six options and a seventh personal file to add personal associations. The options are developing: a story or script; a new product or service or modifying a product or service; a name, title, theme, or slogan; a marketing strategy or promotional campaign; an advertisement; or a solution to a general problem. …