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Quinnipiac Assignment 14 – ICM 527 – Real World versus Academics and RPIE

Quinnipiac Assignment 14 – ICM 527 – Real World versus Academics and RPIE

This week, the focus shifted to the practical application of the academic readings. The emphasis was placed squarely into the real world.

Key Concepts of Strategic Planning – Industry versus Academic Readings

Perhaps the most industry-related reading of the week was Ashkenas, Four Tips for Better Strategic Planning. Unlike the RPIE (research, planning, implementation, and evaluation) approach covered in the academic readings, Ashkenas leads with a kind of off-shoot of implementation and evaluation, wherein he insists on first field testing to evaluate assumptions.  While the academic readings, such as Smith, seem to save the evaluative process for either the end of a campaign or the middle of one (say, after a major milestone or after an iteration), Ashkenas pushes for a form of evaluation to happen even before a campaign gets off the ground. As Smith notes, on page 331, “Program evaluation is the systematic measurement of the outcomes of a project, program or campaign based on the extent to which stated objectives are achieved.” Outcomes, by definition, come at or near the end.

Smith goes on further to say (page 331), “The key to creating any program evaluation is to establish appropriate criteria for judging what is effective. This research plan considers several issues: the criteria that should be used to gauge success, timing of the evaluation and specific ways to measure each of the levels of objectives (awareness, acceptance and action). It may prescribe the various evaluation tools, and it also should indicate how the evaluation would be used.” Yet the timing in Smith seems clear – the campaign has to be complete or near completion or at least running on all cylinders and then it’s time for an evaluation. Not so with Ashkenas, who gets it out of the way early in order to prevent the creation of a campaign based on faulty premises.

Another Ashkenas tip is to ‘banish fuzzy language’, e. g. to torch weasel words like ‘leverage’ and ‘synergy.’ For Ashkenas, a campaign plan needs to be straightforward, such as laying out clear and unambiguous goals and relating them directly to an organization’s stated mission. Similar to Anderson, Hadley, Rockland & Weiner’s objectives, e. g. “(a) clear and shared sense of purpose distills program tactics and focuses financial and human resources on those areas on which they have the greatest impact.” (Page 5), Ashkenas seeks to narrowly focus an organization’s campaigns. The plan is not much of a plan if its language is impenetrable. HootSuite, on page 2 of their Guide for Social Media Strategy, voices a similar call for clarity, where they say, “(a)ll business planning should start with defining clear goals, and social media is no exception. One of the biggest reasons why social media strategies fail is because goals aren’t aligned with core business values. For long term success on social media, choose goals based on traffic, leads, and sales.”

Wilkinson’s Four Steps – Relating them to the Academic Readings

Turning to Wilkinson, he outlines four major steps in what he called a Driver’s Model for strategic planning.

RPIE
SWOT analysis diagram in English language. Français : Matrice SWOT en anglais. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first step is to perform a situational assessment, which is a lot like a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis. As defined by Williams, “(a)t its most functional level a SWOT analysis will help you obtain information and assess a situation.” Wilkinson adds some specifics to this basic form of preliminary analysis, wherein he provides fairly universal questions for a strategic planner to use when assessing an organization’s customers, competitors, industry trends, performance trends, and more. Wilkinson provides more of a roadmap in this area than Williams does.

The second step is to investigate an organization’s strategic direction. Here, Wilkinson drops the specifics and turns to broader organizational data such as vision statements, mission statements, goals, and objectives. These are far more organization- and industry-specific, so a generalized statement about them would not be of much help to a strategic planner. Smith, on page 41, defines a vision statement as looking, “to the future. It is a brief strategic description of what the organization aspires to become.” And a values statement, according to Smith (page 42), “is a set of beliefs that drive the organization and provide a framework for its decisions.” Hence, again, Wilkinson’s methodology is congruent with the academic readings from this semester.

The third step is implementation planning, whereby Wilkinson performs a somewhat modified PEST Analysis. While Wilkinson does not look at all Political, Economic, Social, and Technological factors, the implementation plan he touts is similar. He urges the strategic planner to investigate the barriers to achieving an organization’s vision. He also suggests developing key conditions (between two and seven) that must be met in order to consider a campaign to be successful. The roadmap combines the two, as the strategies “must drive achievement of the strategic direction by controlling the critical success factors and overcoming the barriers.” The implication, also, is that a conceived strategy which does not address either side of the implementation plan needs to either be changed of jettisoned from the plan.

The fourth step is the monitoring of progress, much as is included in the Smith and Anderson, etc. readings, and in Dr. Place’s paper, although Place notes an ethical element must be included in evaluating campaign plans, on page 129, where she states, “(t)he role of ethics in public relations evaluation, according to participants, is to guide practitioners as they conduct truthful, effective evaluation and weigh an organization’s needs with its publics’ needs. Ethics’ role appears to be most salient during the reflection or reporting phases of program evaluation.” For Wilkinson and the other readings, evaluation is a crucial step. Otherwise, how is an organization to truly know a campaign’s effectiveness? And, more importantly, evaluation is the only real way for an organization to be able to intelligently determine whether a campaign should be budgeted for another year, or if it should get the axe.

Relating RPIE to Business, Social Media, and Communications Industries

RPIE (research, planning, implementation, and evaluation) relates directly to all industries, it seems.

In the business world, particularly in light of Sarbanes-Oxley, which requires financial accountability and transparency, clear and well-defined research and evaluation are paramount requirements. Corporations cannot simply throw money at a problem; they have to have a plan and that plan has to demonstrate a reasonable chance of success. While not everything works, a campaign plan with germane and well thought out research has a far better chance of success than one where the dice are rolled. Sarbanes-Oxley, it seems, would require at least the R, P, and E portions of RPIE, and probably implementation as well.

In the case of social media industries, research and planning can make the difference between staying in business, or not. For a social media organization such as Facebook or Twitter, to not understand their buyer personae or how their platforms are used is a recipe for a platform going under. In a way, this seems to be what has happened to Myspace. For a social media organization which was originally heavily social and popular, Myspace missed the boat, did not realize that its public was growing out of usernames and becoming interested in real name-style authenticity, and did not plan beyond its own website. According to Jay Baer of Convince and Convert, Myspace also fell down because it never made itself particularly business-friendly. Planning and evaluation could have helped Myspace keep Facebook from eating its lunch.

In the communications field, implementation is perhaps the most vital of the four pieces. Communications is obviously all about messaging, as is strategic planning, and these organizations are often adjudged – fairly or unfairly – based upon image, message, and look and feel. In communications organizations, research and planning have to cross the implementation finish line. Understanding what a communications organization’s publics are interested in, and planning to give them what they want, is not enough if a communications organization (such as a newspaper online) falls short on implementation

In the real world, RPIE does not just apply to strategic planning. It can apply to nearly every aspect of a business or nonprofit organization.  So much of what we see online was tossed out there with little thought to how it would look in a year or in twenty. So little of it is altered or updated when new information or technology mandate that changes be made. An organization of any type can set itself apart by following RPIE principles in all aspects of its existence.

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Quinnipiac Assignment 03 – ICM 527 – SWOT and PEST Analyses

SWOT and PEST Analyses

SWOT Analysis – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats/PEST Analysis – Politics, Economics, Socio-Culture, and Technology

In both Smith and Williams, we learned about SWOT analysis. In our other readings, we also looked at PEST Analysis.

Key Concepts

SWOT and PEST Analyses
Swot analysis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Smith, on Pages 47 – 49, refers to the following players who are external to an organization:

  • Supporters
  • Competitors
  • Opponents
    • Advocates – you stand in the way of their goal
    • Dissident – opposition to positions you hold or actions you have taken
    • Anti – a dissident on a global scale
    • Activist – similar to anti (is also seeking change) but tactics go beyond discussion
    • Missionary – self-righteous activist
    • Zealot – single-issue activist with a missionary fervor
    • Fanatic – a zealot without any social stabilizers.

Williams, however, was more concerned with how SWOT can be applied internally, particularly with reference to communications. For Williams, it’s more about looking at company goals and objectives, or at specific internal and external issues. Then the question is about the second step of SWOT analysis, which is to apply it to how that would be communicated. E. g. if a company is applying an analysis to its overhead, its strength might be in owning a building, its weakness might be that the building is in an area that is in transition and losing its cachet, that could potentially also be an opportunity, but the threat could be that customers would not visit the building in person if they felt the neighborhood was unsafe. Communicating those findings presents the strength of being able to quickly pinpoint the issue, the weakness of perhaps not being able to act decisively until external factors play out some more, the opportunity could present itself in the form of investing in an area where rents are suddenly taking a nosedive, whereas the threat could be that too much investment in a possibly dying area might hurt the company’s reputation.

Applicability to Current Events

The more I read about SWOT and PEST analyses, the more I realized they can apply to pretty much anything. I decided to take a look at Quinnipiac in the context of the White House’s College Scorecard, which was released on September 12th, and is thereby current although not really an ‘event’, per se.

The scorecard puts together basic data on various collegiate characteristics, including size, location, and the programs offered. Then the program pulls out colleges and compares them. I looked up Connecticut four-year-programs and found Quinnipiac is third-best listed for salary after graduation. The program could potentially be the subject of a SWOT analysis, that Quinnipiac shows strength in how its graduates earn after they leave, but a weakness in terms of price, as QU is listed as third-most expensive. Opportunities include showcasing the school as coming up better than U Conn for salary after graduation. Threats are from schools like Yale, which comes out as less expensive but with a far better graduation rate and a better salary after graduation. The point of the exercise is that the data are mixed, as they are for a lot of organizations. If you dig deeply enough, most organizations will have something that can be placed into each of the four buckets. No organization is perfect and without threats or weaknesses.

As for a PEST analysis (politics, economics, social-cultural, and technology), the scorecard remains applicable. Politics applies because of not only how the scorecard itself was put together (deciding what to emphasize could very well have been at least partially a political decision), but also because of how public institutions are funded. Quinnipiac is a private institution, but it can still be affected if public universities are funded (or not) due to political dealings. This can determine whether public institutions can compete effectively with Quinnipiac. Economics certainly applies in terms of budgeting but also due to financial decisions such as how much to charge for tuition and what to pay professors – and whether to offer more expensive full professorships or instead pay adjuncts. The social-cultural part applies as Quinnipiac is a part of Hamden itself. How the school conducts itself makes a difference in the fuller community. Is the campus safe? Does it recycle? Are the students loud? Finally, the technological aspect applies as the school cannot adequately function without working, up to date technology. Even for students who go to the campus and attend classes in person, there is a dependence on technology for everything from interlibrary loans to how tuition is calculated and collected.

Internal versus External Environments

I see the two as being equally important to analyze and research as an organization can be affected in either manner. For the ILSC, for example, because part of their work is done in Ghana, external threats include the possibility that the government of Ghana might not be as stable as believed. Internal weaknesses include the fact that the organization’s website doesn’t seem to have been set up for regular updating. Both can affect the very existence of the organization. A strategic planner should be researching both kinds of problems (and positives as well) as they can decide the fate of an organization.

Organizations looking to thrive – or at least to stay in business – need to look at both. No one can afford to ignore external in favor of internal, or vice versa. And no organization can afford to ignore PEST and SWOT analyses.