Looking Through the Turn: Anticipate What Comes Next

April 11, 2012

Even the most accomplished PR professional struggles to help an organization achieve success during an uncertain economy.

I’m an avid motorcyclist, and the current business environment feels like some of the roads I’ve traveled — filled with sharp turns and unexpected hazards, but also with plenty of promising pavement ahead.

Undoubtedly, the events of the past few years have brought our profession into a new era of conducting business. The pressure to perform is high. We’re expected to help business partners anticipate change, enhance their reputation and deliver results with more impact — yet with fewer resources at our disposal.

The key to our success lies in “looking through the turn” — a fundamental motorcycling principle that offers a great business insight.

As you approach a turn, you must look where you want to go rather than focusing on potential hazards within the turn itself. The challenge comes in keeping your eyes on where you want to end up while using your instincts and experience to make the necessary adjustments in a split second.

Those of us in agency life, including members of the Counselors Academy, are continually focused on looking through the turn for clients to help drive their business (and ours) forward, in spite of the current environment. What’s working? Here are five top driving tips:

  • Remain relevant — Stakeholder attitudes and behavior are in flux during uncertain times. Organizations must stay relevant to meet evolving customer needs while also achieving business goals.

    Stay abreast of change by leveraging research and insights about key customers and adapt strategies as needed. Seek new sources of information whenever possible to gain unique data and a fresh perspective. Agencies can be a great resource for both.
  • Take risks — Breakthroughs require some risk, and an evolving environment is the perfect setting in which to test new ideas. We must champion unconventional approaches when we think there is potential for great returns.

    But the next big idea doesn’t happen overnight. As leaders, we can increase our odds of success by creating a workplace climate of curiosity and creativity. Facilitate this by scheduling time to brainstorm and then taking the best concepts forward to help drive innovation.
  • Measure what matters —  The explosion of channels in the digital and social space created numerous opportunities to reach stakeholders and more data to gauge impact.

    While most PR pros have a good grasp of the channels that work for their organization’s needs, the bigger challenge comes in knowing how to sift through the mountain of measurements to identify what’s important. Many agencies and clients work together to develop customized dashboards that include key performance indicators (KPIs) directly tied to business goals.

    Establish and measure KPIs as you plan initiatives. Nothing is more powerful to internal clients and business unit leaders than results that clearly speak to the role public relations plays in helping the organization achieve its business goals.
  • Listen well — Conversations between agencies and clients should include open-ended questions to help all parties identify emerging needs and unforeseen opportunities. PR pros need to listen to what is — and isn’t — said and use this information to help the business.

    In addition, we must continually stay plugged in to leaders in the organization and conduct an informal listening tour on occasion to learn what’s on their minds.
  • Become comfortable with complexity — Being prepared for anything is one of a PR pro’s greatest gifts. This trait is critical for success in today’s uncertain climate. When others need clarity, we’re comfortable with complexity and can offer calm counsel in the midst of chaos.

    At times like these, the agency-client partnership can bring value by keeping all eyes on where the organization wants to end up and not fixating on the potential hazards immediately ahead. Then, we can all better anticipate what comes next and drive the business forward, no matter what lies ahead.

Agency leaders will gather in New Orleans on May 6-8 for the PRSA 2012 Counselors Academy Spring Conference titled, “
Jazz Up Your Agency: Stylings from the Best in the Biz.”

Elise S. Mitchell, APR, Fellow PRSA

Elise S. Mitchell, APR, Fellow PRSA, is president and CEO of Mitchell Communications Group, Inc. She is the 2012 chair of the Counselors Academy. Her firm was the PRWeek 2011 Small Agency of the Year.

Email: elise at mitchcommgroup.com


Carol Cassil, APR says:

Great advice! Thanks for sharing your insights, Elise. This is particularly applicable to those of us who have been in the business for a while. I've never seen a time when remaining relevant was more important. With the rapid change of channels and technology, this is critical.

Oct. 22, 2013

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