By Sherrilynne Starkie
Marketing and PR people can learn a lot from our colleagues in the IT department when it comes to strategic planning and agile communications.
They’ve been using agile software development methodologies for years now, and have made huge gains in creativity and productivity as a result.
Who among us doesn’t want better ideas and to get more done with less?
Wikipedia tells us that agile software development, “Promotes adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, continuous improvement and encourages rapid and flexible response to change.”
If this doesn’t describe the perfect environment for communications planning and implementation in the connected age, I don’t know what does.
For the past 50 years or so, PR professionals have relied on the RACE method as a framework for communications planning.
It’s a linear method: Research then Analyze, Communicate then Evaluate.
This framework served us well until about 2004 when our worlds turned upside down with the advent of social media and digital publishing.
The speed of digital and collaborative aspects of social media created a new, dynamic environment for communicators yet, to this day, strategic planning often remains linear.
For us, adaptive planning means we take chances and experiment more, knowing and accepting that things can go wrong.
Failure is not our enemy; it’s a learning opportunity.
The key is to recover quickly and move on from a flop.
From this we learn about our skills deficiencies, technology issues and about any erroneous assumptions or flawed thinking.
Being iterative and incremental in communications saves time and money (and blood, sweat, and tears!).
The process of starting a new initiative with something small, observing and then correcting course can provide crucial strategic insights, reveal new opportunities, and inspire better ideas.
Just think of the time and money saved by avoiding massive audit, testing, and consultation processes.
The immediacy, volume, and richness of web and social media data now available to communicators can often negate the need for costly focus groups, public opinion surveys, and town hall meetings.
If an idea is not right or an approach is not working you’ll know quickly—often within minutes.
And, these insights will usually inspire ways to improve an idea and move it forward quickly.
Agile Communications: Early Delivery and Continuous Improvement
Evolutionary development doesn’t spell the end of the big launch in communications campaigns, but it redefines it.
It’s no longer the start of a campaign or program, but is a major milestone in a continuing journey.
Delivering earlier in the process—way before the launch—is part of agile communications.
Testing messages via Twitter, running social ads to see what attracts engagement, or posting a question online to learn of people’s opinions are all examples of delivering early.
And it gets content and ideas out quickly, much more quickly than the RACE methodology.
No need to wait until the third phase of the campaign strategy development: Communication now IS research.
What these exercises teach us will help continuously improve communications.
Today’s generation of communicators adapts to changing requirements more easily than their predecessors.
Old school marketers usually had to wait until all the research, analysis, and planning phases were complete and the campaigns were actually in market to see if the needle moved.
Timelines were described in quarters, seasons, and months with little opportunity to make a course correction before things went awry.
Remember Crystal Pepsi?
Probably not, but this was an early 90s launch of an alternative to cola which was seen to undermine the company’s flagship product.
Its novelty initially drove sales, but they quickly plummeted—a result of flawed marketing.
Today’s real-time insights coupled with digital media’s low costs and ease of use means making adjustments on the fly can be almost effortless, if communications are nimble and bright.
So let’s transform the old fashioned communications RACE formula.
Perhaps what makes more sense for today’s marketing and PR professionals a new formula: CREACREACREA (repeat forever).
image credit: shutterstock