Sharpening the axe – more effective campaign planning

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”

Abraham Lincoln understood the importance of planning when you need to make an impact. Ok, as PR professionals we’re not trying to solve the tensions of a civil war, but we would do well to take on board the message in the Lincoln quote. Planning is essential. Dive straight in and you’re likely to chop down the wrong tree, botch the job, or do yourself physical harm.

Figuratively speaking, PR also runs the risk of making these errors. By using flawed data and insights at the planning stage, we’re likely to chop down the wrong tree. Then, it’s easy to botch the job by employing the wrong mix of messages and tactics, misunderstanding the audience, or a combination of all these. Ultimately, this will result in tangible harm to the brand or organisation. Therefore, we need to stop and think, to protect our own credibility.

A recent and extreme example of what can happen when communication goes horribly wrong is the collaboration between Budweiser Light and trans influencer turned brand ambassador Dylan Mulvaney, which resulted in the responsible marketing executive taking a ‘leave of absence’. The brand’s owner Anheuser-Busch lost $6 billion in market capitalisation within a week after a fierce consumer backlash. Arguably, this debacle happened because a naïve and over-excited individual thought they had the answers to ‘revitalising’ the brand, failed to understand the audience and executed tactics that misfired spectacularly. Not only did they chop down the wrong tree, but they also destroyed the corporate forest.

Not every campaign has the potential to be this controversial, of course. Nevertheless, solid planning goes a long way towards increasing the effectiveness of communication, focus effort and maximising efficiency. It’s essential to start with the right data and insights, to understand what has happened previously and, more importantly, why it happened. To consider what works well for your brand, organisation or audience and perhaps benchmark against the PR outcomes of some key competitors.

Good planning requires honesty and critical self-appraisal. Not the large numbers that result from traditional media evaluation, which are often inflated and based on a false starting point – volume of coverage. It’s about being able to ask, ‘What went well?’ and ‘How might that be improved?’ using robust, statistically sound data that explains how your PR actually impacted the audience and, consequently, produced genuine business results – from enhanced reputation to sales.

Another reason planning is often cursory or completely neglected is perceived cost. It takes time and resources. However, with Metricomm data, it’s less expensive than you might think to obtain solid information about past campaign performance and competitor intelligence. Clients typically use our data in the planning cycle to learn

  • Which PR activity sparks a genuine audience reaction, through Google search, website visits, sales or other independent metrics
  • Which named publications, content or spokespeople produce the best results for the brand / organisation
  • Which campaign messages reach and influence the engaged audience, rather than the potential audience
  • How the results compare to competitor campaigns

Our insights are based on sophisticated statistical analysis and AI that allows us to understand how PR produces real-world impact. Don’t bark up the wrong tree with your next campaign – contact us on for an informal discussion about how we could help you plan for success.