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Is planning now the most important element of public relations? No, but undervalue it at your peril…

At last week’s media consumption event, produced in association with Meltwater, the question was asked: ‘is planning now the most important element of public relations?’ 

As someone who works in planning, you might expect my answer to be a resounding ‘yes’. Is planning important? Yes. Is planning often undervalued? Almost certainly. But is it the most important? Well, no.

Planning is crucial, but for me it’s the first link in a chain - which also includes creative and campaign delivery, and all of them need to be effectively aligned, with a strong relationship between all of the teams involved to get the best work out of the door. To borrow my fellow panellist Nathan Kemp’s analogy, you can’t build a house without foundations, but you still need a roof and walls to have a house.

Fundamentally it’s become clearer to more people that investing time and effort into planning helps you make better work. It’s never been more important to show that you really understand your target audience and your client’s business, not just to make great work but also to get that work signed off in the first place. There’s a greater appreciation that ideas need to feel rooted in something and show that they’ll work. That’s why planning is so important - but it’s also why planning can’t be seen in isolation.

Planning needs to work seamlessly with creative to create effective work. It should always be planning and creative, not planning or creative. We may operate in a world of binary extremes, but battling to determine which area of PR is most important is reductive and ultimately not conducive to actually getting the job done well - you need to have mutual respect and a good relationship to do good work.

Whether or not you have a planning department or dedicated planners, if you skip straight to ideas you’re normally going to waste time in the long run. Whether you spend ten minutes, ten hours or ten days, everyone involved needs to be aligned on who you’re talking to, how you want to reach them and what you actually want them to do. I’m a massive proponent of outcome-focused planning - if you don’t know where you want to get to, then you’re probably not going to get there!

Planners need to give the creatives a strong jumping off point for ideas, working together to find the most effective creative route, and making sure we’re framing insights and strategic thinking in the right way to help sell those ideas - and executing them in the right way. When it works well, we’re working together to create work that truly works, earning the right kind of attention with the right audiences to deliver measurable success.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether or not planning is the ‘most’ important element of PR. What matters is its relationship to the entire process, and it’s crucial to deliver work that’s both creative and truly effective.

Article written by Daniella Graham, Senior Strategist, Engine Mischief

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