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. How does RPIE fit in?

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.

Ban the Fuzz

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.

Step 1: Situational Assessment

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.

Steo 2: Investigation an Organization’s Strategic Direction

The second step is to investigate an organization’s strategic direction. Here, Wilkinson drops the specifics. He 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.” A values statement, per 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.

Step 3: Implementation Planning

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. The strategies “must drive achievement of the strategic direction by controlling the critical success factors and overcoming the barriers.” So the implication of a conceived strategy which does not address either side of the implementation plan? It needs to either be changed or jettisoned from the plan.

Step 4: Monitoring of Process

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. “The 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? More importantly, evaluation is the only real way an organization can 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.

Not everything works. But campaign plans with germane and well-thought out research have a far better chance of success than one from rolling dice. Sarbanes-Oxley, it seems, would require at least the R, P, and E portions of RPIE, and probably implementation as well.

Relating it to Social Media Industries

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 like Facebook or Twitter, to not understand buyer personae or the use of their platforms 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. It did not realize that its public was growing out of usernames and becoming interested in real name-style authenticity. And it 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.

The Communications Field

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. Not if a communications organization (such as a newspaper online) falls short on implementation.

The Real World and RPIE

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 is online was tossed out 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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