Thought Leadership

Thoughts on Strategic Planning from the PRSA 2011 Leadership Assembly

Editor’s note: This is the final post in a five-part series of guest commentary pieces from PRSA 2011 Leadership Assembly Delegates focusing on five key strategic areas within the public relations profession.

During the PRSA 2011 International Conference in Orlando, Fla., PRSA Leadership Assembly Delegates had the opportunity to join in a number of roundtable discussions. I had the pleasure of participating in a strategic-planning discussion facilitated by Jane Dvorak, APR, Fellow PRSA, with other PR professionals representing both the public and private sector. The following are some of the highlights of that discussion.

How are public relations professionals currently contributing to strategic planning initiatives within their organizations?

Participants said they used strategic planning as a way to augment marketing budgets. Several reported that their employers didn’t require a strategic plan, and that they had taken the initiative to develop one to position the value of public relations in the planning process.

We discussed the importance of aligning our PR plans with the overall business plan and objectives as helps open the conversation with senior management. Doing so enables PR professionals to act as counselors for the management team and take advantage of the opportunity to bring the value of PR to their attention. Including PR in the overall strategic-planning process also allows for the connection between PR and marketing in achieving organizational goals.

What are the challenges to public relations professionals concerning their role in strategic planning?

Having supporting data that can show the value of PR in the planning process is critical, but there are often challenges with quantifying this data, and showing hard measurement of success. Education and clarification of expectations are important for management. Including industry and national trends can be helpful here, too.

Another challenge is that entry-level PR professionals tend to focus on tactics and not measurement, and this can be overcome with more mentorship and education.

Other barriers mentioned included:

  • Practitioners are left out of the conversation;
  • Misperceptions about the role and about the opportunity to educate others;
  • Divisions with strategic planning units;
  • Being part of the conversation at the front end and not after-the-fact;
  • Getting people to understand that not everyone knows PR and communications; and
    • Getting employees and clients to understand what strategic planning is and why as PR professionals we must have to that to tie our communication planning to it.

What are the opportunities for public relations professionals regarding their contribution to their organizations’ strategic planning initiatives?

There are a lot of opportunities, but public relations professionals have to see those opportunities and take the initiative. We must educate our clients and management and help them see how PR should be part of the conversation. We recommend doing this by identifying goals and objectives and then tracking and reporting/communicating back to management on a regular basis. Ultimately, we suggest public relations professionals become thought leaders within their organizations, develop clear messages and share best practices.

With respect to the regular theme of the lack of preparation and experience for entry-level professionals, there was a great deal of discussion around the importance of mentoring and developing leaders for tomorrow (succession planning). Certainly PRSA — and even chapters and districts through their regular programming — have resources available. Entry-level PR professionals need to reach out and understand these principles by utilizing those resources. More experienced professionals need to react when they are in a position where they can help provide education and experience. There are also a multitude of tools to help communicate these principles and best practices.

Other thoughts included perhaps creating a leadership institute to groom future leaders, as is done in other professional organizations and even communities through business and community-based leadership programs. PRSA’s efforts to expand PR education at the secondary level is also a strong step towards ensuring the professionals of tomorrow are better-equipped to lead strategic planning efforts. Finally, encouraging entry-level professionals to volunteer or work with their local non-profit organizations provides both an excellent training ground, but also an opportunity to network with local business leaders who also serve on these boards.

The ultimate question we must all ask is this: What is our value and what can we do to communicate that value to our clients, management, our profession? How is that value demonstrated? There were no silver bullets offered in our discussion, just reminders of the importance of our role in actively participating in the strategic planning process up front so that we can make a difference.

Mary Davis is a past president of the PRSA Southern Arizona Chapter and currently serves as its delegate. She is the senior director of business development and marketing for the Tucson Airport Authority.

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