Sherrilynne Starkie

Four Ways to Use Agile Communications in Your Marketing Mix

By: Sherrilynne Starkie | February 2, 2016 | 

Four Ways to Use Agile Communications in Your Marketing MixBy 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.

Adaptive Planning

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.

Evolutionary Development

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.

Rapid Response

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

About Sherrilynne Starkie

Sherrilynne Starkie is the President of Thornley Fallis, a Canadian integrated marketing communications firm. She is also Past President of IABC Ottawa. For more than 20 years, Sherrilynne has been providing communications consulting and services to blue-chip organizations in Britain, Canada and the United States. She focuses on helping clients leverage digital and social media to achieve organizational goals and objectives.

  • I’ve been a part of a change management project and we are using the AGILE method. It’s been very beneficial in not only engaging with the affected audience, but also keeping management engaged and moving forward in approving the solution.

    • We are also using it in a change management program we helping a national union with and are seeing huge impact. We also see a lot of benefit from the approach with public consultation projects and even marketing communications. Thanks for reading my first Spin Sucks story.

  • Patti

    I currently use Agile in website development (as the platform owner) within a large corporation. I would love to see it expand to our internal partners – like marketing and legal. The article has some great ideas on how to propose the benefits and opportunities. Thanks!

    • I’m glad you found it useful Patti. Let me know if you need help selling the concept to your team.

    • Julie Harrison

      My GF works in development and I am fascinated by how her team uses agile. Especially the daily scrum meetings.

      • Same offer for you Julie, let me know how I can help in selling the concept to your team.

        • Julie Harrison

          Thanks Sherrilynne!

  • I have had some exposure to AGILE, especially back when I was with Healthy Kids and had responsibilities related to IT. It takes infinite patience BUT the commitment to measure and adapt pays off in the long run.

    • Thanks Paula for the affirmation for agile. I think we’re on to something here.

  • I actually recently downloaded SCRUM from audible, so this is really well timed. We have a current client who we are applying this concept full force with, since they have a big learning curve to understand their target market well. So that research and market analysis stage really has to go hand in hand with real time testing through initial strategy execution. We are breaking the campaign up into concentrated phases of learning, analyzing, tweaking, and then we will move to the next phase better informed with the intelligence we collected through the actual execution itself.

    • Sounds like an exciting project Laura. I’m looking forward to hearing how it goes. Let us know.

  • Julie Harrison

    I love this concept, Sherrilynne. In fact, I love it so much that I’d like to see it pushed beyond the boundaries of marcomm. Before even getting to the marketing stage, I’d love to see the product team using agile to determine whether a product should even go to market. On this vein, I’d argue that Pepsi Zero (was this the name? I thought it was Coke who tried to pull this off) and its sales flop wasn’t due to flawed marketing, but rather flawed product management.

    • It was Crystal Pepsi . The story goes that the product was tasty and tested well, but the marketing strategy failed to attract customers. Iterative marketing would have delivered opportunities to adjust the strategy along the way. Bye the bye, there are rumours that Pepsi is working now to bring it back. I did have Crystal and a link to the case in my draft story, but I think something happened as it was published. I’ll get that fixed. Thanks for spotting it.

      • Julie Harrison

        Now I really, really want to taste this Crystal Pepsi! I can’t remember if I ever tried it when it came out.

        • Julie Harrison
          • Julie Harrison

            In my googling, I realized I had been thinking of “New Coke” not Crystal Pepsi.

          • Yes, that’s the link I had in my original seems to have gone walkies (as they say in England). ☺

          • Julie Harrison

            or walkabout … as we say in Australia 🙂