Strategic Forethought not Tactical Afterthought…

 …a cheesey but useful slogan I use in dozens and dozens of lunch ‘n learns, client meetings and speaking engagements to drive the much written about (Jim Grunig, KD Paine, Mark Weiner, multiple contributors to and members of the IPR measurement commission) theme about the importance of using a data driven / focused / centric approach to communications.  Bringing science to the art if I can borrow a theme from the IPR.

It’s not (at least exclusively) about measurement.  It’s about research.  In fact, as many who do measurement for a living would say, I don’t see the distinction between the two.  And when I say this in lunch ‘n learns, client meetings and speaking engagements, this is where I feel like I’m starting to loose half the room. 

I say that we (the industry writ large) often think of measurement as something that comes exclusively at the end of a campaign and research as something (if it’s thought of more than strictly as a pitch hook) that is formative pre-campaign.  And while unfortunatley and in reality there may be some truth to that, it’s also ture that we use one to accomplish the other.  We use research to measure.  Research IS measurement.  Measurement IS research.     They are one in the same.  They are part of the same continuum.  They are part of the same thought process. 

While I’m not a huge fan of the RACE (research, analysis, communication, evaluation) formula, at least it urges us to think about the “R” and the “E.”  The irony, however, is that the industry is often in such a race to get a pitch or a plan out the door and to get to the end of a campaign that it’s all too often heaved to the curb.  We’re often so focused on telling that we’re not listening..  Research is listening.  Critique of the RACE formula aside, there’s a reason why it’s in text books.  It works.  

Perhaps it’s largely the speed, among many other reasons (budget, expertise, fear) that sets up a situation where the industry gets bogged in the micro tactical, silo’d, episodic measurement muck.  It’s difficult but necessary to pull up and out of that micro measurement muck and look at the macro and strategic.   And that macro and strategic view is hardly rocket science.  It’s a management by objective approach that can be applied to any discipline.

When stuck in the muck, it can be useful to look at examples of projects that have done it right.  Where research has been used strategically, at the right stages and in all the right ways.  The award-winning case studies on the IPR’s website, for example, are a source of inspiration.      

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2 responses to “Strategic Forethought not Tactical Afterthought…

  1. Hi Alan,

    This my first time writing on your blog so I hope to stimulate discussion. When I read this entry I was surprised about your critique on the RACE formula. Currently, I’m in my second/final semester of studies in corporate communications, and often find that my instructors and classmates place a great deal of emphasis on the importance of the application of RACE when solving problems and developing solutions.

    However, I 100 per cent agree that speed and “telling” is prioritized over listening and reflection, either in the classroom or the workplace. Can you suggest what we, as junior practitioners, can do to avoid these types of problems, and keep ourselves in check when we forget?

    Thanks.

  2. Kim,

    Welcome and I appreciate the comment.

    To be clear, I’m not proposing we completely walk away from the RACE formula. It works. But I find it a bit simplistic, linear and episodic is all.

    For example, yes, one needs to research before one can analyze the communicate. But, one should also be using research at the communications stage as well. By the same thinking, one should be measuring at the communication stage too for mid stream strategic / tactical course corrections. Is the message you want out credible? Is it being understood, retained, driving change? Are you even using the right communications vehicle / method? So basically in my view everything starts with the “R”, but the “R” and the “E” play a role at all stages, no strictly on the bookends.

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