Last week the CIPR Health Group welcomed the focus on public engagement in NHS England’s recently published Long Term Plan, and urged them to value and protect PR and communications.
It was an excellent demonstration of support for the profession, the benefits of it and quite frankly, the need for good communications and PR activity. It contained a lot of thought-provoking commentary, but a few lines resonated strongly with me.
“We urge health leaders to involve their communication teams from the beginning in the development of their plans.”
“The work delivered by your communications and PR teams should be valued, and truly be at the heart of the planning, implementation and delivery of the NHS Long Term Plan.”
The key words here are: ‘from the beginning’ and ‘heart of the planning’.
This should ring true with any organisation – big or small, local or international, public or private.
It’s true that communications and PR should be considered at every stage of a project or campaign or new product launch, but particularly early in the planning stage.
So many companies – big or small, local or international, public or private – consider communications and PR as an afterthought. Something to think about towards the end of a project, when a product is nearly ready, or a service is about the be lunched. This is their undoing.
If communications and PR is not considered early, how do you know you will be able to communicate your project? How do you know you will target the right audience and gain the right customers? How do you know if your target audience even want or will respond to your new product or campaign?
Here are just a few reasons why it is important to include communications and PR at the beginning of a project:
Identifying the right audience
I’ve seen organisations create a product before even knowing if there is a want and need for it. What a waste of time. By implementing a communications plan early, alongside the product planning stage, you will be able to identify the right audience and ensure the best return on investment.
Builds trust early
Trust and respect are fundamental to an organisation’s success. A targeted communications and PR plan will raise an organisation’s profile across different channels and create awareness of its culture and ethos. This allows audiences to buy-in to the organisation, support them and importantly, to trust them. There is then, more chance of them parting with their money or changing their habits. If communications and PR is at the planning stage, your messaging will be embedded within the project and help shape the project, adding value and enabling it to resonate with your audience.
Creates buzz before product goes to market
A communications and PR plan at the beginning of the project can create awareness of a product before it becomes available. This can build suspense for the product and hopefully increase return on investment. However, a word of caution. Don’t over egg the pudding. There still needs to be authenticity in the messaging and the activity still needs to be true to your brand. Don’t go too far off course otherwise it will confuse and potentially alienate your audience. For example, the Game of Thrones marketing campaign for the final season is proving to be not to everyone’s taste, according to a recent article in The Guardian.
A campaign needs to last. It’s no good putting all your messaging out over a short period of time. Including communications and PR activity at the planning stage of the product will allow you to plan over a long period of time to ensure the product or campaign takes hold and continues to resonate with people. Think ahead and plan new and exciting content that will keep audiences engaged. This will improve return on investment.
It can take years to build up a positive profile with the public and just one bad day to tear it down. Implementing a communications and PR plan early will help identify any potential pitfalls or crisis and allow an organisation to either avoid them completely or at worst, prepare for them so potential damage is at a minimum.
The CIPR Health Group piece ended with a paragraph that included the line: “Communications professionals are essential to protect trust and respect in the NHS.” They certainly are. The NHS needs and has extremely talented, experienced and dedicated communications professionals – I was one of them.
But I believe every organisation should have communications professionals – either in house or freelance – that can help protect that organisation and raise its profile to build trust with its customer base. And those professionals need to be there at the beginning – not as an afterthought.