The best communications campaigns start with well-conceived plans

I’m teaching a class on integrated marketing campaigns at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, this semester. The students are working with a real client, The City of Las Vegas Office of Cultural Affairs, on a real project – to develop an integrated marketing plan for the Cultural Corridor Coalition, a group of seven historic and cultural organizations located near downtown. More than anything, the class has reinforced to me (and hopefully to my students) the importance of solid fundamentals in communications planning.

In the hurry-up world of casino management (or business in general) it’s easy – even tempting – to jump ahead into tactics of a communications plan before laying a good foundation. “Write a memo.” “Issue a press release.” “Create a direct-mail piece.”  “Design a new logo.” We’ve all heard this before. When time is of the essence, the first and perhaps most natural, reaction is often fast-forward to tactics – in terms of “what” needs to be done.

But even more important when time is of the essence, it can be critical to explore the “why” behind a project and do some solid – if fast-track – planning. Even a basic plan is better than none, if you ascribe to Gen. George Patton’s philosophy: “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” One-shot tactics are not likely to produce a desired end result such as building a brand, enhancing your property’s reputation or moving your employees to new levels of engagement, nor are they likely to connect with the bigger-picture perspective of your overall business goals. Taking the time to prepare even a brief plan can help you think through key points of any communication piece or campaign, and help ensure that everyone involved gets, and stays, on the same page.

Research is the first part of any well-conceived communications plan. Understanding the product, consumer, market and competition is crucial. Yet the response is often: “Research? There’s no time!” Knowing what are you “selling” and to whom you are selling is the first step toward having your message reach its target. In any case, a quick SWOT analysis can help shed light on potential issues, or opportunities upon which to capitalize. The greater the risk and investment on your part, the more important thorough research becomes. Involving key constituents, especially internal ones, in the research phase of a project can also help lay the groundwork for buy-in for the finished product, greasing the skids for a smoother approval process. Research should also help you define and understand your target audience.

Next, set objectives. You’ve probably heard your boss tell you this as you prepare annual goals: objectives should be measurable, specific, realistic, time-bound and output oriented. The same goes for effective communications objectives. The best planners know it’s pointless to attempt to boil the ocean – rather, they are focused and targeted, with an emphasis on outcomes. The bottom line may always be a goal such as “increase sales.” Yet it’s also critical to identify the interim steps necessary to get there. Perhaps it’s increasing awareness, reinforcing your connection with loyal customers or maintaining good relationships with community leaders – whatever will move the dial toward your ultimate goal.

Now it’s time to pose the question: “how can we get there?” Once research is complete and objectives are identified, message, media and communications strategies can follow. It’s at this point, and not before, that it’s appropriate to get into nitty-gritty campaign tactics. What to say, using what vehicles, when, to whom, and how to orchestrate the overall campaign? Whether it’s announcing an enhancement to your benefits plan, a new property amenity, or a major acquisition, this process leads to a cohesive, well thought-out campaign, not just a series of disconnected messages.   

Finally, don’t forget to ask: “Are we there yet?” Perhaps the most often overlooked element of any communications campaign is evaluating results. It’s easy to see why this can happen: The campaign has run its course. You’re on to the next big project, and it seems like a waste of effort to cast a glance in the rearview mirror. Adding to that is there never seems to be a straight-line, clear-cut causal relationship between your campaign and a resulting uptick in sales or visitation, or whatever your goal. Yet this is the critical point to identifying important lessons learned, evaluating ROI, and improving efforts and results the next time around.

Your property’s PR or marketing professionals can add maximum value to your organization as true strategic business partners when you call upon them to guide you through this process. Take advantage of their expertise as strategists – not simply tacticians – and you’ll be sure to see the kind of results that only well-thought-out planning can deliver.