PR, Please Think It Through

March 6th, 2009 | Shonali Burke | 11 Comments

Twitterverse was buzzing about Skittles’ foray into social media this week. No, I’m not going to give you my take on that, there are quite enough of those already. I did find Laura Fitton’s early summary of it extremely interesting, though, and Lauren Vargas’ and Liana “Li” Evans’ posts summed up my opinion beautifully.

My point is this: when you embark on PR of any kind, have you thought it through?

In my mind, it doesn’t matter how edgy your tactics are, or how many layers you’ve put into your campaign (and let’s face it, we PR people love layers almost as much as a bear in Antarctica).

What does matter is whether you’ve thought it through. Because if you haven’t; if you haven’t configured a response or action for every possible scenario, your campaign could fall flat, and all that time you put into it will have been wasted.

What’s the Plan, Stan?

Before you get ready to pelt me with M&Ms, I’m not saying the Skittles campaign bombed. That remains to be seen, based on what their goals and measurable objectives were.

The success or failure of your campaign will depend, in large part, on the contingencies you put in place. If you’re planning a media tour, what will happen if your main spokesperson falls through? If your kickoff event is outdoors, have you considered the weather gods?

If you’re planning a new site launch, are all the additional bits and bobs in place and ready to be rolled out at the touch of a button – and what happens when something goes wrong? Do you have a communication network, whether it’s as simple as a phone tree, or a more sophisticated system of communication that includes mobile, so that the key players can reach each other?

Sometimes, It All Works

The other side to this coin is making sure you’re poised to take advantage of those rare moments when synchronicity rules – and everything works just right. Your live reveal is perfect, the weather doesn’t interfere, your key messages are beautifully represented in the media, your public is excited, and even the media wants more (shock and awe!). Are you ready to capture this excitement?

Or, will you bravely enter the “new world” of social media, turning your website into a platform for conversation – and then not talk to the folks who flock there?

Our plans don’t always work perfectly, but when they do, it’s magic. And if you’re not ready to roll with the flow (which you wanted, I might add), you could lose a great many opportunities to engage your audience further and prime them to be future customers, donors or evangelists.

Contingency planning is draining and time-consuming -  no arguments there. But it’s well worth the time you put into it because, believe me, something will go wrong… or unbelievably right.

Just ask Skittles.

(Photo: Chovee)

What do you think? How important has contingency planning been in your PR endeavors? Can you share tips on what has and hasn’t worked for you? I’d love to know.

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Shonali Burke
Head honcho of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke is President & CEO of Shonali Burke Consulting, Inc. Based in the Washington, D.C., area, she loves helping for- and non-profit clients, both small and large, turn corporate codswallop into community cool™. She also loves ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
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11 comments
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frank
frank

I love what you have to say here. Thinking it through, having goals/objectives and things you want to measure is important. It doesn't seem likely that we will ever know what Skittles was shooting for :) - though it would be VERY cool to see a case study where they really exposed what went on internally and how they came to this decision.

I make a bit of a counter point or maybe even a complementary post because I'm purely coming from the angle that what Skittles did was crazy bold & never been done before (at least i've not seen it done).
Skittles and Your Nonprofit

Their campaign may crash and burn, but i give'em credit for going for it - that's just me :)

Thanks for the links to the other posts also.

http://twitter.com/franswaa

frank
frank

I love what you have to say here. Thinking it through, having goals/objectives and things you want to measure is important. It doesn't seem likely that we will ever know what Skittles was shooting for :) - though it would be VERY cool to see a case study where they really exposed what went on internally and how they came to this decision.

I make a bit of a counter point or maybe even a complementary post because I'm purely coming from the angle that what Skittles did was crazy bold & never been done before (at least i've not seen it done).
Skittles and Your Nonprofit

Their campaign may crash and burn, but i give'em credit for going for it - that's just me :)

Thanks for the links to the other posts also.

http://twitter.com/franswaa

Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

Wow - I'm loving the comments! Thank you all for taking the time to share your thoughts. What a great conversation we're having.

I do think Skittles deserves credit for at least trying to do something new and, like Chuck, I am assuming that some research was done prior to launch, along with setting some goals and measurable objectives - simply because of the scale of what they did.

Giles, I suppose it's possible that they did put the conversation piece "out there"... but I'm just not sure what the point of doing that was if they planned all along not to participate. Another mystery only Skittles can shed some light on.

Thank you ALL again for taking the time to "chat." It's made for a great start to my week!

Chuck Hemann
Chuck Hemann

Shonali - a fantastic post and definitely right on point. I'm not going to pass judgment on what Skittles has done. I found it pretty cheesy, but I am assuming (rightly or wrongly) that a fair bit of research went into that project. Otherwise, why launch it? Just because some of us weren't fans of the end product doesn't mean a hill of beans. How would we know if we were the target audience for the campaign? We probably weren't in fact. What I think would be worth criticizing is if they launched that page just "thinking" it would be a good idea and not knowing whether or not there audience would be receptive to such an approach. If that were the case, you'd have a huge line of people willing to bash them - with me right there with them. Thanks again for the post. excellent read!

Ike
Ike

Shonali, Shannon, Lauren...

I agree, it's not up to us to judge whether the campaign was a success, because we're not privy to the metrics.

Let me add something of an aside here.

I merely posited the notion that SocMed and Internet Marketers on Twitter refer to the effort as Sk*ttles. Why? Really, I see it as a favor to those behind the campaign. It gives them a way to weed out the chatter about the brand from the chatter about the buzz.

When I started talking about Sk*ttles, I got several queries from Social Media Marketers who wanted to know "Why I was hatin' on Skittles?"

I'm not "hatin'" on anything. Then it dawned on me:

There is a class of Social Media Marketer that needs EVERY effort to be a success, because their livelihood depends on promoting Social Media.

Then, I had another epiphany:

There is another class of Social Media Marketer that needs to TEAR DOWN every effort, because they need to differentiate how they could have served clients better.

It made me vomit in my mouth a little bit.

Thank you -- ALL THREE OF YOU -- for not sitting on either extreme. You give me hope.

Lorne Pike
Lorne Pike

Skittles deserves some credit for sticking their necks into new territory. Willingness to experiment is always high on the list of prerequisites for successful companies. However, willingness to risk without understanding the full range of potential outcomes is about as low on that list as you can go.

Whether or not Skittles actually had a long-term plan in place -- and know how to execute it -- will probably remain a mystery for most of us for a bit longer yet. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see not only how they take their next steps, but how other corporations will respond to Skittles' new marketing flavor.

Li Evans
Li Evans

Thanks for including my post in with your write up here! :)

Giles Crouch (Webconomist)
Giles Crouch (Webconomist)

Good post and agree the campaign isn't ready to be deemed a success or not...yet.

Perhaps though, Skittles simply put the "conversation piece" out there and didn't want to "participate" on purpose. It may have been the plan to just let people run with it. If so, then it is a growing success.

I think there's always one part of a Social Media campaign you can never plan for - and that's how the community takes what you've put out there and runs with it. We call this the "bargain" component of a campaign - and that can only be determined by the public.

Lauren Vargas
Lauren Vargas

Whoa! Keith, not all publicity is good publicity and if you haven't seen any adverse comments about Skittles stunt, you are mistaken. In social media we have the opportunity to do more than throw something up against the wall and see if it sticks.

Shonali and Shannon, I agree with you that it is too soon to lay down the gauntlet of judgment, but it would have been nice to see a response from Skittles. It looks like lazy social media to me. A great learning experience. All of us make mistakes. We just have to get up and try again. I just want to know what Skittles was trying to do...

Shannon Paul
Shannon Paul

"I’m not saying the Skittles campaign bombed. That remains to be seen, based on what their goals and measurable objectives were."

Amen, sister! This is why so much of the punditry and talk in social media is just that... TALK. Before we run around pulling out yardsticks to proclaim whether any campaign was effective/ineffective we need to know what the goals and objectives were. Sometimes a little experimentation is necessary simply to show the higher ups what is possible and how things work. However, you're right to point out that thinking it through helps even when the goals and objectives are modest. I've learned to champion companies for taking baby steps in social media even when they seem frivolous to the pundits.

Keith Veseleny
Keith Veseleny

The fact that almost every single person in Social Media is talking about Skittles this week means that it was a success. Seriously, when was the last time you thought about skittles?

None of the conversations about Skittles have been adverse about the product.

I think they won!

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