Strategic Planning Gives a Whole New Dimension to PR

Article excerpt

Former advertising planners with key strategic skills are bringing vital knowledge to the consumer PR sector.

It's not so much a wave, more of a trickle. But an important trickle, nonetheless, and one that reveals a great deal about the way consumer PR is developing.

Strategically minded men and women, most of whom have honed their skills in advertising, are moving into the PR consultancy sector to take on a planning role. This is a role that hardly existed at all within the industry a couple of years ago and is indicative of PR's fight for a seat at the top table; its struggle to be regarded by clients as a discipline as reliable and effective as other forms of marketing communications.

Over the past year or so an impassioned debate has raged over the best ways to evaluate PR activity, one upshot of which has been to sharpen the focus on the planning of campaigns. At the end of April this year, trade bodies the Institute of Public Relations and the Public Relations Consultants Association, jointly launched the 'toolkit', a five-step standard for measuring the effectiveness of PR. While steps four and five deal with fine-tuning campaigns and quantifying the outcome, the first three steps cover planning issues: initial research to develop a brief, setting measurable PR objectives related to clients' business aims, and building measurement into the PR strategy and plan.

The growing emphasis on planning and evaluation has even persuaded some o f the smaller agencies that having a specialist planner on board is a sound investment. Lawson Dodd, a 16-strong consumer agency with clients including Pentax, Lavazza and Fyffes, has recruited Mediapolis associate media strategy director Peter Bennett as its first media director. Bennett, who joins at the start of August, worked on accounts such as Camelot while at the media agency.

Joanna Dodd, director of Lawson Dodd, says: "We're going the strategic route because we really think it will add value for clients. It's all to do with understanding target markets, lifestyles and habits. Out of that will come a clearer media strategy. It's about spending our time and therefore our clients' money more effectively to achieve better results."

Cohn & Wolfe media planner, Sarah Hill, who joined the agency at the start of 1999 from Young & Rubicam's The Media Edge, agrees. "What someone like myself can really add is an improvement to the focus," she says. "As media becomes more diverse, you can't get everywhere. You have to work out where and why and how."

Time to feel the breadth

PR planning generally starts with a far broader outlook than a media plan alone. The media targeting component follows on from the clear identification of the target audience and the development of key messages. In the case of the former, the process is far more complex today than a few years ago.

"Consumers are no longer acting their age or sex or class," says Manning Selvage & Lee (MS&L) planning director Claire Spencer. "Many of the traditional market segmentation tools that relied on demographics are now defunct. If you are going to plan and implement effective campaigns to target groups you have to get inside the head of the target audience."

Spencer describes the way to do this as isolating an "ah-ha factor" on which to base campaigns. In other words, working out what clusters of consumers have in common and then, taking into consideration that commonality, devising a means to get them interested in a brand.

Ketchum planning director Ruth Yearley holds similar views. "It's absolutely making sure that creativity is grounded in understanding brand need and consumer context. Knowledge and insight give you strategy." The agency's consumer division, Ketchum Life, which represents clients such as Procter & Gamble, Gillette and Mars, also has an in-house 'future trends unit' called Future Life. …