The planning process is taught in linear fashion: A leads to B, then to C and so on. This provides reassuring templates to help people (appear to) cope with complexity.
In an intriguing passing comment, Phillips and Young challenge this rational, linear approach in the new edition of Online Public Relations:
‘Put simply, we need to be able to plan for surprises in this fast-changing world… The idea that one can run a ‘PR campaign’ is now flawed. A ‘campaign’ once had time limits and could thus be dropped after the event, but this does not apply today.’
I suspect the variables have always existed that could blow a campaign off course. Online conversations do not change this, but they do exacerbate the effect.
CIPR Diploma candidates were working on a communications campaign around swine flu vaccination in the summer: a very real and substantial challenge. Most coped very well with the linear process, but few submissions that I saw had fully assessed the range of risks to the campaign. How to manage the rationing of the vaccine? How to address the concerns about safety and efficacy of the vaccine, even amongst health workers and at-risk groups?
For those still interested in the complexities of this case, Simon Garfield has investigated the role of pharmaceutical companies and the challenges facing government in the campaign against swine flu in the Observer magazine today: Catch it! Bin it! Profit from it!