A modern, adaptable approach to planning will help you stay relevant when the media landscape changes.
Strategic communications plans can be difficult to put together. Not only do they have to generate quality content that will grab your reader’s attention, they also need to reflect positively on your company, and align with your wider business goals.
As such, communications professionals put a lot of time and effort into planning their content, often working weeks or months in advance of any scheduled distribution.
But in today’s world of information overload, things change fast. Keeping your strategy flexible is increasingly important if you want to stay relevant and meet the demands of your audience.
Of course, having a flexible strategy does not mean that you don’t need a plan at all. That forethought and structure is still crucial in creating a solid base and identifying subjects you want to talk about. But the way you get from A to Z should be open and adaptable. That will allow you to follow the media landscape closely and stay on top of the topics and trends that are happening in real time.
Here, we look at the value of flexibility in strategic communications, and how you can stay relevant to your audience regardless of what is happening in the wider world.
Newsjacking and real-time marketing
Audiences today are diverse, unpredictable and fickle in their tastes.
Hot topics can rise and fall. It can be almost impossible to predict what the next trend will be. We have seen brands take advantage of this numerous times with so-called ‘newsjacking’ campaigns: Dunkin’ Donuts and the great dress colour debate; IKEA’s homage to Bernie Sanders; even Norwegian Airlines offering cheap flights to the US in the wake of Brad Pitt’s split from Angelina Jolie.
In this environment, it is all about staying relevant and tapping into the topics your audience are already talking about. If you aren’t flexible, you run the risk of missing the boat completely.
Your press release or blog post that was perfectly aligned with a subject last week, might be utterly irrelevant by the morning it is due to be published.
The success or failure of a content plan is dependent on how willing you are to adapt your strategy as the media landscape changes around you. Because, if your content doesn’t resonate with your audience, it will fail, no matter how passionate, clever or well-written it might be.
The Risk/Reward dilemma
Staying relevant means keeping your options open and making your plan adaptable. Your timings need to be fluid, too. Can a piece of content be held back if it is likely to be ignored while your audience is talking about something else? Can it be adjusted to incorporate new information? Are you able to take advantage of a current trend by creating new content quickly that will allow you to join the conversation and engage new audiences?
The more serious or far-reaching the topic, the more this flexibility matters. Sensitive topics that provoke strong opinions need to be delicately managed.
The recent interview given by Harry and Meghan to Oprah Winfrey created global talking points around modern attitudes to race, gender and mental health. In the immediate aftermath, everyone wanted to have their say. Mental health charity, Mind issued a powerful statement, knowing it could generate positive conversations and help people that were struggling. TV host Piers Morgan voiced his reservations about the legitimacy of Meghan’s story, and promptly lost his job.
For brands, there is a clear risk/reward dilemma in choosing to connect your content to controversial topics while public opinion is running hot.
Before you ‘hit the button’ on your content, you need to be really confident that it is striking the right tone.
The benefits of being data-driven
Data allows us to make decisions based on facts rather than gut feelings, which is a crucial factor in understanding how your messaging resonates with your audience.
More and more companies are using data to stay relevant, increasing the number of parameters they measure to drill deeper into what their customers really want.
Today’s PR tools, such as newsroom and content distribution platforms, can deliver valuable insights on how your content is performing on various channels. You get a better understanding of what your different audiences like, and dislike, which helps you identify what you should do more of, what you should do less of, and – crucially – what you should stop doing altogether..
The data will help you vary your distribution channels. What didn’t work for one audience segment might be perfect for another. If your plan is flexible, data can provide you with the insights you need to make every piece of the content count.
But it is not enough to simply listen to the data. You have to act on it. Even if that means making difficult decisions about the content you have spent a long time working on.
The right content at the right time
Much of this is about striking the right balance between careful planning and spontaneity.
A modern communications strategy is about embedding flexibility into your plan. That might sound like a paradox, but, actually, it is perfectly possible. If you can read the landscape, and be unafraid to make quick decisions that will keep your content relevant and compatible, it will give you much better results than sticking to a rigid strategy.
‘Planning to be flexible’ is a phrase that might have previously been popular in crisis communications and contingency work, but now it should apply to all forms of content.
Staying on your toes and having an agile mindset will make achieving this flexibility much easier. Even if your original plan took months to conceive, a little creativity and a willingness to change course at a moment’s notice will give you a dynamic strategy that can stand up to the demands of today’s audience – and also tomorrow’s.
“You have to pick the right topic, for the right audience, and communicate your story through the right channels.”
Jens Bohl, Sky Broadcasting Company
Find out what Jens and our other experts have to say about flexible strategic communications by downloading our ebook.