Nick Bird – Account Director at Spreckley
A great myth exists this time of year. No it’s not the logistics behind a giant fat man in a red suit delivering toys and goodies to children the world over – it is that for PR professionals December is very much a quiet month.
A couple of weeks ago I met with a friend who works in the communications department of a giant, global enterprise. Chitchatting away we discussed schedules and they mentioned that they couldn’t wait for December to arrive. It was to be a month of end-to-end parties, boozy lunches with minimal taxing tasks. It got me thinking. Working in an agency I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a December like that. Sure, the office might have the odd tin of festive treats laying around and you might hear the odd chime of slay bells over the radio but from my experience the last few weeks are one of the busiest times of the year.
It’s typically the time when clients want to push through those last few big announcements or plan one last trip over to see the media to talk about their plans for the new year. It is a time when they will want to see your plans for their business for the year ahead and also presenting your achievements to date – you might have agreed targets for the last 12 months and this might be the final push to make sure you achieve them.
As the weeks whittle down you can often find yourself reaching a point when plans, releases and press tours all come to ahead. Coupled with colleagues trying to take those last remaining holiday days, the situation can sometimes lead you to clamoring for a few hefty swigs of Santa’s sherry. The truth is it doesn’t need to be this way.
While admittedly it might be a little late in the season to save yourself now, there are certainly hints and tips which can be adopted for next year.
Firstly, identify what needs to be achieved in the time you have left before shutting down for Christmas. Speak to your clients and understand what work is required and when they need this by. Different account structures might mean that not every client will require a plan for the year ahead but just because they don’t ask for one doesn’t mean they are not expecting it. There is nothing worse than getting to a week before finishing and a client then asking for a call to run through plans. Simultaneously, talk to them and look at what they need to achieve before the year is out – clients can be tough cookies but invariably they are under pressure also from those above them to meet targets. Speaking and working together lets you both understand what needs to be achieved – from this you can then plan how to effectively do this.
So once you have determined what needs to be achieved a plan then needs to be in place as to how it can be achieved. When planning a suggested programme work with your clients to understand what it is they want to achieve. Look at what worked well on the account and what needed to improved. Understand their key aims for the year ahead and build a plan to align with this. As a rule of thumb I generally start this process in late Q3 / early Q4 giving yourself plenty of time then to research, analyse data, brainstorm, speak to the media and then execute.
While this process is going on it is easy to put other jobs to the back of your mind. This is often where the biggest pitfalls lie as things can creep up on you. Understand what announcements are in the pipeline – if it is a major piece of news suggest it might be better off holding until the new year in order to ensure momentum is not lost over the Christmas holiday. If they are planning a final press trip determine the likelihood of journalists’ availability – like PRs, they too are under tight deadlines and simply put it might not be feasible. Also, speak to the members of your immediate team – understand if they have holidays in the pipeline and identify alternative means of support if it is necessary in their absence.
When it comes to executing the plan, communication is critical. Putting together PR and strategy plans is not an easy feat – allow yourself dedicated time to achieve this, as it is easy to take on quick-win jobs, pushing the more taxing projects to the back. Speak to your colleagues and assign them tasks to ease the burden on yourself. Set yourself targets as to what you want to achieve by a certain point and stick to them as best possible.
Finally, remember that we work in PR not ER. While it might be a stressful time remember that there is an end in sight. In the midst of all the chaos there will be time with family, friends and loved ones at the end of it all – keeping focused and planning effectively, will ensure your Christmas working period remains jolly without risking you turning into the Grinch!