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The case for questioning everything (at least when it comes to strategy)

January 31, 2020

Question everything. 

This sentiment sounds both philosophical and vaguely punk. It’s both, but we’re not here to start a conversation about Socrates or Johnny Rotten. 

We’re talking very specifically about PR strategy, and the argument for getting in the habit of always asking how and why

By virtue of having experience, seasoned PR teams often have a sense of what tactics will work for a client. Every client is different, of course, but depending on a the audience and goals, PR pros often have gut feelings about what kind of campaign will help their clients meet those goals. 

But regardless of a PR team’s experience and knowledge, asking why can help inform and differentiate client campaigns—and can help prevent strategic mistakes. Here’s WHY (heh, see what we did there? / we’re so sorry). 

A good strategist would never recommend anything that doesn’t have a purpose and data behind it. Sure, you could spend $400,000 for a single influencer post on Instagram, but how, specifically, would this post ladder up to this client’s marketing and sales goals? How would that expenditure compare to other, more trackable expenditures? How does the influencer’s engagement rate compare to less pricey influencers? How does the influencer’s audience align with the client’s goals? How would it look if the tone of the post was less than stellar? 

If the answers to these questions are insufficient, marketers need to put more into developing the strategy or the methods by which they’ll track the campaign. 

(And if the primary answers are ego-driven [e.g.: “It would make the CEO look like his company could afford to pay $400K for a post - he’d look like a baller”] it’s time to get clear with your client or team on why the client is doing what they’re doing.) 

Another reason to question every piece of a PR strategy? Despite it feeling like Month 4 of January 2020, we live in an extremely fast-paced world—even more so when it comes to how fast things move on social media. Strategy from a project that was executed 6 months ago might be completely irrelevant today. When searching through past projects for inspiration, it’s always critical to ask how those tactics are still relevant, and whether the technology, platform, or larger circumstances have changed. 

For example, we’ve seen an enormous amount of change around the #MeToo movement; behavior that was once considered normal in many workplaces is no longer acceptable. Imagine some cave-dwelling marketer copy/pasting tactics from a 2016 campaign. Say the campaign was set in a 'good old boys' office environment - imagine how that would play to audiences in a post-#MeToo 2020.

(Sidenote: here’s some excellent reading on the advertising industry in the #MeToo era.) 

Questioning our work can also spur curiosity and creativity, two elements that are crucial to the work we do as marketers. Operating the same basic campaign for clients not only does those clients a disservice; it also robs us of the benefits and joys of our own critical thinking and creativity.

Lastly, questioning the rationale behind a PR strategy can bring out this response: “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it.” If you hear that, rework it immediately. That response is lazy and is not grounded in data or, frankly, reality. 

All this is to say: PR pros should question everything when it comes to execution and strategy. We’ll leave the rest up to the Sex Pistols.