Google has two definitions of the word “agile.” The first says, “Able to move quickly and easily.” The second, says, “Relating to or denoting a method of project management, used especially for software development, that is characterized by the division of tasks into short phases of work and frequent reassessment and adaptation of plans.” When we talk about agile PR, we combine both of these thoughts. To us an agile PR strategy is one that embraces short-term planning with a constant feedback loop in order to enable teams to move more quickly and easily. We’d argue that it is really the only way to effectively leverage PR in today’s digital world.
Go Where the Ball is Going to Be
I’m not much of an athlete, but I do remember my middle school basketball coach drilling into my head that the best players don’t go where the ball is, they go where it is going to be. How do they know where it is going to be? They learn subtle signs and watch the behavior of the other players very carefully. When conditions on the court change, the best players recognize that they need to move.
This same approach is necessary for PR success. The goal is to be talking about the story that is about to gain traction and get attention. You don’t want to wait for everyone to be talking about something and then say, “Me too!” To go where the ball is going to be, in PR terms you must monitor industry influencers for clues on what topics will be hot, find authors who write about similar topics, and watch social shares of articles to determine topics that have potential to go viral. When this is done effectively, your audience will think that you can predict the future.
Plan, But Improvise
We are not advocating that PR teams shouldn’t have a plan or that there is no room for a staged campaign, but these days you get almost instant feedback about what is working and what isn’t. Adjusting to actual data should be far more important that checking items off a list. Modern PR pros and marketers need to be able to iterate quickly and make smart changes. We also need to be willing to give up on approaches, campaigns, and messages that aren’t producing the outcomes we are after. If the play that the coach drew up isn’t coming together, you have to get creative.
Work with What You Know and What You Don’t
Another title for this section could be, “Plan to be agile.” One effective PR tactic is to tie your brand’s message to something that is getting attention for another reason. A great example of this happened during the 2013 Super Bowl. When the power went out unexpectedly, Oreo famously tweeted, “You can still dunk in the dark.” Of course, Oreo didn’t know that the power would go out, but they did know that the Super Bowl was happening and that people would be all over Twitter, so they put themselves in the position to pounce when something of note happened. It turned out to be one of the most talked about ads of the game that year and it didn't cost a thing.
Get Better Over Time
Agile PR teams constantly optimize their activities to take advantage of lessons learned. They carefully track success metrics like SEO impact, website visits, lead generation, and sales in order to find out which tactics and messages move the needle in the right direction. Whether it is a press release, earned media mention, or an owned content promotion, agile marketers take the time to discuss what worked well and what didn’t in order to make the next activity more successful.
Coordinate Across Functional Silos
PR can be a force multiplier for marketing and product teams. All parts of the organization should know that PR can work fast and be leveraged to take advantage of something positive that is happening in the organization, or to react to bad news. PR has the ability to amplify marketing messages and create sentiment that is receptive to promotions and advertisements. Whether working for a company or an agency, PR professionals and marketers must work together to coordinate campaigns and content. A client case study, for example, might serve well as a press release, quote source for ad copy, and an infographic to use on a landing page and for social sharing.
Agile software developers use an approach called a “Scrum,” which is a short meeting to plan the next set of activities and assess the success of those just completed. A scrum approach is a great way to get cross-functional teams together to ensure a coordinated plan.
Try Rapid Prototyping
Another tactic that PR teams can borrow from software developers is the concept of prototyping. Rather than creating a finished piece of content or campaign plan, and then asking for feedback, try creating an example of what it might be, a model of it, if you will. Get feedback on the partial concept or design, make adjustments and then take it further. By the time you are finished, feedback will be built in and your approach will be more likely to succeed.
The old days of having a focus group, then going off to work on a strategy and a set of planned activities for the year, or even the quarter is just not enough anymore. Information flows too fast and freely in this day and age. If you hold on to any particular strategy or plan too closely, you’ll likely miss the opportunity to benefit from new developments and to improve based on your own results. In this always-on, hyper-competitive, and fast-paced world, being agile is the only way to survive.
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