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You Don't Want Me As Your Judge, Unless ...Part 8

By Richard B. Barger, ABC, APR

Originally Posted

Okay, quick. Recite the IABC five-step planning process. Yeah. Neither can I. How about the PRSA four-step process? That one's a little easier, but you may not be completely sure of it, either. For years, I'd heard IABCers talk about the five-step communication planning process espoused by the organization. I even vaguely remembered seeing it at one time or another. But when I started looking for a list of the steps, it turned into quite an exercise. Although everyone agreed that the five-step process was important to the type of communication that the association encourages, no one I spoke with -- including several folks at IABC headquarters -- could locate a copy; no one I asked could accurately tell me all five steps. I finally found the list, in the October 1988 issue of Communication World. And I know that Anne Baber, ABC, used it in her classes at Webster University. So, if you're Anne or one of her students, you probably know the five steps. But otherwise, I'll bet you don't! The IABC Five-Step Program However, IABC pays homage to the steps. So here they are, for you to ponder and use to your heart's content:

  1. PROBLEM/OPPORTUNITY: Determine the problem or opportunity and define the target audience(s).

  2. GOALS AND OBJECTIVES: Define the objectives of the program, select the proper media in relation to the project, and keep the program's objectives in line with those of the organization. Structure your objectives so results can be measured and set up methodology to measure your results.

  3. BUDGET: Devise a budget based upon the defined goals and objectives, and keep a running record of incurred costs to stay within the parameters of budget guidelines.

  4. IMPLEMENTATION: Put your plan into action, keeping in mind the program's and the organization's objectives. Be consistent in executing your program, and be original, innovative and imaginative.

  5. RESULTS AND EVALUATION: Measure the results using the methods you incorporate into your plan. Tie the results into the original goals, making note of any changes that occurred. Be specific, so no questions are left unanswered.

PRSA's Four Steps PRSA favors a four-step process:

  • Research

  • Planning

  • Execution

  • Evaluation

Its four items are a little more intuitive. The four- and five-step processes are used, in one way or another, in Silver Anvil and Gold Quill judging, in evaluation of accreditation portfolios, and in PRSA and IABC communications competitions around the globe. Other models abound. An experienced strategic planner would festoon every surface of the room with charts and butcher paper and felt-tip marker hieroglyphics and would impress you with his 71 steps. You Grab Whatever's Available And these processes certainly are okay; they are far, far better than doing no planning at all. The IABC and PRSA methods have the additional advantage of being compact and PRSA's is easy to remember. They are good, basic starting places for communications planning, if nothing else is available. However, as models for developing a communications project or a public relations program, IABC's version seems to be structured wrong. (Anne would point out that it seems to begin somewhere in the middle of the planning process, doesn't pay enough attention to the details of planning, and doesn't deal at all with one of the key purposes of organizational communications: changing behaviors. She's right. But that's her column, not mine!) In trying to simplify the process to just five steps, IABC seems to have also included four or five additional -- and not always intuitive -- sub-steps. PRSA has the opposite problem: Its model is simple enough. Indeed, it's too elementary. In the interest of simplicity, it omits too many steps; it assumes that you will think of and do a whole bunch of things that aren't directly mentioned. While I don't like the design of either the four-step or the five-step processes, they do contain many of the elements needed to develop a good communications plan, if you're willing to go to the trouble to extract or extrapolate them and mold them into usable form. They just need to be put together in more logical fashion. Where to Find Better-Looking Models Neither is a useful model that can be applied to every communications or public relations situation. To improve communications, you need to be thinking about the topic in the right way. And I'm going to give you a way to think about communications, public relations, and communications problems that will serve as a guide you can fall back on again and again. I use it on almost every project. Even when I don't write out a plan, I quickly tick through the elements, because I've made them easy to remember. But first, … IABC Fellow Les Potter, ABC, is a fascinating, wonderfully knowledgeable communications professional from whom I have learned much and who rocks and rolls from an international strategic communications consultancy in Vienna, Virginia. A former chairman of IABC, Les is a true communications guru -- an excellent consultant and extremely popular fixture on the lecture circuit, speaking around the globe and appearing on the program at the IABC International Conference year after year. After listening to Les at the 1993 IABC International Conference, I blended his information into a mnemonic that my friend Reg Rowe had used for years in the Kansas City PRSA Chapter's accreditation program. It turned out like this:
It's Ol' Potter's Stupid Memory Method That Makes Better Communications
Coming up with any kind of mnemonic was a stretch for me, but Les understands that I mean it with affection and honor, not malice. As I said, it's my own dumb mnemonic, so the first letters of the words each stand for something important in the communications process. One disclaimer: This isn't exactly the planning model that Les himself uses. It's my adaptation. However, it's one that works for me and one that has seemed to be useful for others. Like that wonderful old Alka-Seltzer commercial said, "Try it. You'll like it!" Okay, let's begin. Say it, class. All together now: It's Ol' Potter's Stupid Memory Method That Makes Better Communications.

  • I - Issues. What are the issues that necessitate action? What is the problem you are dealing with? What issues force communication?

  • O - Objectives. Once you know the issues, or problems, what do you intend to do about them? What do you want to accomplish? How do these communications objectives fit with the organization's objectives? Are they stated in terms of changing behaviors or beliefs or attitudes or actions? How will you know if you have achieved a successful outcome?

  • P - Publics. What publics are affected by these issues, by the problem you're addressing? Some people would call these your target audiences.

  • S - Stake. What stake does each of these publics have in the issue(s) you're dealing with? What is their interest? Their information need? How does this affect their priority and how and when you choose to communicate with them?

  • M - Messages. What messages do you need to convey to each of the publics about the issues or problems that necessitate the plan? Do you have to adjust the message from one public to another to meet their information needs?

  • M - Media. What media do you use to communicate these messages to each of the identified publics?

  • T - Timetable. What is the timing of your communication in each medium, to each public?

  • M - Measurement. What means of measurement and evaluation have you built into the project, to determine the degree to which you reached your objectives? Have you included research for planning purposes? Or studies to track the project while it is in process?

  • B - Budget. What is the budget you have to work with, and how should it be structured?

  • C - Communications Elements. Often called the implementation step. This is where you set forth the communications tactics and elements -- the things we all do intuitively -- that flesh out the rest of the plan and put it into action.

Now, see? Potter's Stupid Memory Method contains all the valuable elements of the PRSA four-step process and the IABC five-step process -- plus a couple of bonus items -- in a form you can both remember and put into practice day after day. It works well on the job and it certainly can be used as a guide to preparing a contest entry or answering questions on an accreditation examination or, for that matter, during a job interview. And isn't that the really important test of a planning model? Whether you can -- and do -- put it to practical use? If you memorize my moronic mnemonic, and quickly tick through it when you're about to embark on a project, it's a pretty good bet that you won't forget anything important. In fact, I can just about guarantee that your plans and programs -- your work as a professional -- will improve in both quality and consistency. You'll improve your own professional skills and, at the same time, will do a measurably better job for your organization. All because of Potter's Stupid Memory Method. Think kindly of Les when you use it.

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