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Using SWOT as a Public Relations Planning Tool

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Used properly SWOT analysis is a remarkably simple and powerful PR planning tool. Here are a few thoughts on using the technique in the analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats when developing a PR campaign.

  1. Gather the team. Ideally you need a task force of four or five senior people from different disciplines with in-depth experience of the business. These may be drawn from marketing, finance, human resources, production, operations, research, logistics or other areas, depending on the type of organisation. It may also be useful to include a specialist outsider.
  2. Have a goal. Unless there is a clear vision, then the SWOT will lack focus and may become an exercise in either self-congratulation or doom mongering. For PR planning purposes, the brief should focus on communication analysis. Here is some advice on SMART goal setting.
  3. Brief the team. Every member of the team should be aware of the SWOT methodology and the kind of data needed for each phase of the process. They also need the correct mental attitude that is both positive and creative, but realistic.
  4. Gather data. SWOT is about looking at both the company and the business environment. The internal part of the process, examining the strengths and weaknesses, requires key performance indicators (KPI’s) and other data about communication performance. The external analysis requires information about issues, trends and events in the business environment – things that are outside company control or influence. Look at media coverage, look at web presence and impact, and consider focus group feedback. Think qualitatively rather than quantitatively. Here is a useful guide to selecting the right key performance indicators (KPI’s).
  5. Consider company strengths. A good starting point is to ask what communication advantages the company has. Examples may be reputation, customer loyalty, positive perceptions, good CSR programmes, strong brands, good media and internet presence and so on.
  6. Consider company weaknesses. Ask what constraints a business faces, currently or in the future. These may relate to the identified strengths. For example, a company with strong brands may have a potential weakness if it lacks the resources to invest in their proper development.
  7. PEST analysis. This acronym is a reminder to examine the political, economic, social and technical environments in which the business operates. It is a useful way of identifying influences and trends in the business environment that give rise to opportunities and threats:

    - Political analysis should consider factors such as legislation and regulation, current issues and the effects of government foreign and trade policy.
    - Economic environment includes factors such as growth and performance of the national economy, interest rates, inflation, employment levels, taxation and exchange rates among other factors. There are also soft issues here to consider such as the prevailing sentiment – is the market feeling confident or cautious?
    Social factors may include overall demographics and population structure and trends, relative size of the working patterns and population, family structures, levels of education, attitudes and the influence of language, religion and culture.
    Technology – just consider the example of the revolution in the media environment over the past 10 years: the explosion of broadcast channels, growth of the web, mobile video, and emergence of public media, social networking. How will technology impact on your business?
  8. Consider the opportunities. The PEST analysis is likely to identify a range of issues that impact on the business. Some of these may be clear opportunities others may be more elusive because many issues will have both positive and negative effects, requiring some imagination and creativity to see how they can be turned to advantage.
  9. Examine the threats. For most businesses the greatest threat is competition. Apply the same communication KPI’s to your competitors. How do their brands, reputation, media presence, innovation record, and so on, compare to yours? Does your share of voice equal or exceed your share of the market?
  10. Develop action scenarios. Because of the dynamic nature of business and the world economy the analysis is unlikely to lead to a single perfect action master plan. However it should be possible to develop a series of action scenarios that will take the business towards its long term goal, deal with issues of greatest impact and immediacy but retain the flexibility to respond in different ways as situations develop.

  1. Don’t confuse internal and external factors. It is a common mistake to equate strengths with opportunities and weaknesses with threats. There should be a clear distinction between internal factors and external. The test is one of influence and control, firms cannot easily sway government or affect demographics, interest rates or levels of employment – but you can alter the elements in the marketing and communication mix.
  2. Don’t be afraid to use iteration and imagination. It is unlikely that the task force can complete the analysis in one session. Have several meetings with gaps for reflection and further research in order to build up a full and rich picture.
  3. Don’t fight the environment. It is better to accept that politics, economics, social trends and technology will run their natural course. Swim with the tide and see how you can exploit these trends for advantage.
  4. Don’t be afraid to change. Many companies have entrenched practices and views of themselves. These may be strength but can also often be a barrier to change and development.
  5. Don’t forget to have fun. Conducting a SWOT is a serious business process but generating useful answers to problems may require use of brainstorming and other creative techniques to develop radical new ideas to take the business forward. Overcoming problems is an intellectual challenge that can often be rewarding and a lot of fun.

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