PR Insider: Planning, Engaging and Improving for 2014

Howe_SusanThis is the time of year when our clients and teams focus on what’s next – as in next year’s marketing plan. What are the ingredients for developing the most powerful and effective communications plans? It takes part knowledge, part art and part teamwork.

At Weber Shandwick, we lead dozen of clients and agency partners through the planning cycle every year. And today, it obviously doesn’t end when one plan is written for the year. But what are best practices that marketers should follow as they gear up their planning process?

Measure, adjust and be honest with yourself about last year’s results. Before planning can begin, it’s vital to truly examine results and outcomes from the current period and program. Weber Shandwick has developed a proprietary scoring system that evaluates how client communications perform over time and relative to competitors. Tools such as the Engagement Index provide ways to level set as planning begins and measure and adjust the work. The analytics process shouldn’t be about simply looking back but to gain insights into what audiences care about and what stories will engage them going forward.

The hardest part can be admitting when it’s time to move on from an internally beloved platform or program. But remember that even the best ideas aren’t forever. Use data to determine when the moment to move on is right.

Get closer to the consumer. The best consumer engagement strategies start with an appreciation for and understanding of the target and his or her world. Engaging people means knowing their wants, likes, needs, hopes, fears. Engaging people means using those insights to incite action.

A strong consumer immersion is the foundation for ideas. Armed with real findings, a planning team is able to create communications concepts that fuel a change in thinking and drive action.

If you come away from a briefing thinking “so what? who cares?”, what’s likely missing are the kinds of insights that get the creative juices flowing. When you really get inside the consumer’s need state, ideas seem to spark and multiply.

Look around the corner for trends. In the fast-moving, ever-shifting virtual space, it is critical to stay ahead of what’s current and look ahead to what’s next. Many of our clients are working with us on innovation sessions to harness intelligence on emerging platforms, technologies and global trends. It is critical to be as creative in the medium as we are in the message. Advanced listening models can identify opportunities as they begin to emerge. And a great idea will work across multiple platforms, the platforms of today and the platforms we don’t know about yet.

Consider the plan in beta. Not only is technology highly dynamic, the media landscape is constantly shifting. The best plans account for this dynamism, and have structures in place to recognize and take advantage of opportunities in real time.

Much has been said this year about the growth of real-time marketing. What it means is being present for the always-on consumer and sharing a brand story in a relevant way in a relevant moment. It is a way of thinking and philosophy that requires the convergence of search, social and real-time content production and distribution. So the best plans for the year include opportunistic mechanisms to take advantage of the unplanned.

Live collaboratively. We take seriously our role as client partners, stewards of brands and, hopefully, creators of tremendous work. We know that great work comes from partnership and an authentic commitment to collaboration.

For clients, it’s critical to set up an integrated agency team for success. Define roles, provide strong leadership and empower the advancement of the best idea, regardless of the creator.

For agency partners, it means sharing and supporting ideas that drive the business forward (regardless of channel) while being active and honest in feedback.

Susan Howe is President, Global Consumer Marketing at Weber Shandwick.

Follow Susan: @showe

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  • Jim Nico

    Great insight by Susan Howe and much appreciated. Jim Nico, CEO/Founder/SNi and The Social Network.Show worldwide