Ready, Aim, Fire – 2 Ways That Poor Planning Can Hurt You

Ready, Aim, FireWhen someone asks you to help communicate an initiative, what do you do?

Do you immediately find yourself coming up with cool ideas about how to gain attention and generate coverage? It feels good to do that, right? It certainly impresses non-communicators – “oh, we could do a media event for the launch, podcast this and that, and approach this reporter I know at the Globe & Mail.”

If you do that, you’re doing your clients a disservice. You’re guilty of failing to plan – of putting tactics before strategy.

Plenty of people have written about the importance of proper strategic planning, whether in social media, in communications or in marketing.

Here are two strategic planning approaches that can hurt your company.

Ready, Fire, Aim

I recently left the public sector after several years in government communications. That experience gave me a few insights into the way communications is conducted in that environment.

One thing I noticed is the possibility of this kind of planning discussion:

“We’re announcing this on Friday… so we’ll need a news release and backgrounder, ok?”

This ‘ready, fire, aim’ planning process leaves the strategic thinking to hindsight. There’s little opportunity for consideration of alternative strategies, of the wider context or of stakeholder needs. That results in sub-optimal approaches and a resulting lack of awareness and understanding of how the public sector is serving the public.

As any communicator will tell you, unfortunately this problem isn’t just limited to government. Fortunately, the people I worked with are aware of this potential and are working diligently to address it.

Ready, Aim, Aim, Aim, Aim, Fire

Another tendency I’ve experienced falls on the other extreme – a tendency to over-plan, to think of every single possible scenario, to eliminate every single risk. This is especially prevalent when dealing directly with the public – for example, through social media. The fear of the unknown can lead to an ultra-risk averse approach, to constant checking and re-checking and a failure to act.

This ‘ready, aim, aim, aim, aim, aim, fire’ approach can be as risky as the ‘ready, fire, aim’ mistake I mention above. By taking way too long in the planning process you can:

  • Miss a time-sensitive opportunity, for example an ideal time for an announcement or a gap in the market before competitors appear
  • Stifle an initiative with overly bureaucratic rules and procedures
  • Kill any enthusiasm that your people have for the initiative.

Ironically, by planning too much you can increase the risks within your communications.

Ready, Aim, Fire

Good communicators, in an ideal environment, will research, analyze and plan before executing their communications. However, they also let go when the time is right. Once you’re at that point, you can only achieve ever-decreasing returns on the time you spend fine-tuning your plan.

It’s obvious, right? Time to set your plan free.

How have you addressed these tendencies when you’ve noticed them?

(The guys over at the Manager Tools podcast have some great terms that they use to describe personality traits in the DISC model, which I’ve appropriated to describe these situations. I highly recommend you check out their show – it’s the only podcast that I pay for to get their premium content.)

(Photo credit: .:: LINUZ ::.)

  • This article realy makes me slow down on the release of my new website business. I think I’d like a program that is based on marketing strategy to help with the process. Does any exist for Pc or better yet Mac?

  • Craig Huffstetler

    This is right on target. Many people in Marketing and Communications do get in the mode of “Ready, Fire, Aim.”

    Maybe this is out of habit, maybe out of demanding qualities, maybe even out of fear of competition “getting the word our first. But /then/ they (or we!) realize there is fallout or do start to see, as you pointed out very clearly, and eloquently, I will add, the points they could have addressed.

    We also have to keep in mind quality over getting out there as fast as possible (or firing as fast as possible). It’s just one of those things that also has to be measured and is quantifiable on a major level. We also don’t want to be the laughing stock in our industry because of our constant, bad communication style and lack of “aim”/research (or whatever it may be).

    Excellent post. It will hopefully stir some cauldrons that are the human minds.

  • Jason – I don’t think there’s an automated program that can help you with that, beyond filling out a template with your words. Strategies need thought and consideration from real people – in my experience, cookie-cutter solutions won’t cut it. Let’s chat some time.

    Craig – glad you found this thought-provoking. Thanks for your comment!

  • Craig Huffstetler

    @Jason
    Really I think a lot of it just comes down to thought and process. Process it back and forth before release cycle.

    Process can be internal thinking or work flow (group work flow, or again – internal work flow). Internal work flow meaning: Is it good enough to hit the wire? Is it good enough to hit our web site or intranet? Is it good enough to distribute to the inside sales team? Is it good enough to distribute to the e-mail list (no matter the campaign)? Is it good enough for competitors to view? —

    Or take it a step further and think: Will our competitors chew it a part? Will customers or sales people have a lot of questions?

    I understands questions will arise (as they always do). Questions are a part of our lives. Thought provocation is our life and part of our job. But needless (and let’s say grammatical errors, bad structure, non-impressive…etc. are NOT) releases are things we need to shy away from if at all possible. Everything needs to add value to our brand, strategy and marketing communication plan. This is our ultimate goal.

    Or even think about it in hindsight and ask the question (which may be hard, but try): Will this press release, internal release or document have an effect that is desirable, for you, and cause YOU or YOUR DEPARTMENT to REDO ENTIRELY or even REVISE it X from now (X = days, weeks, months from now).

    I think that might help you some. Sorry to barge in…

    That’s just my take.