How to use agile development for communications planning

The IT department can teach marketing and PR professionals some new tricks when it comes to communications planning. 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, I don’t know what does.

What is 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 Analyse, Communicate then Evaluate. This framework served us well until about 2004 when all heck broke loose 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.

What is 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.

Delivering Early and Continuously Improving

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 quicker 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.

What is 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).

Are you ready to take your communications planning to the next level?  Put the Thornley Fallis strategy team to work for you.  Click here to find out how.

 A version of this article was originally published on Spin Sucks

Leave a Reply Text

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *