Planning for Success: PR and the Olympics

By David Heil | August 18, 2016

Over the weekend, whilst the intrepid Team SG were out tackling the Welsh Three Peaks as part of our charity drive, most of the nation were glued to their TVs watching Team GB rack up enough gold, silver and bronze to fill Gringotts.

Speaking as someone whose earliest Olympic memories are of watching Jonathan Edwards, Colin Jackson and Co. fail miserably at the 1996 games, the transformation has been nothing short of incredible.

So how have UK Sport turned things around? Increased funding is certainly a big factor, but simply throwing money at the task is not enough, it is the meticulous planning, and successful enactment of those plans, which has really helped Britain to become world leaders in sports such as cycling.

Whilst most of us won’t be running 100 metres in under 10 seconds, there is still a huge amount that public relations teams can learn from the success of Team GB:

Be prepared to innovate

One of the most common pitfalls in any job is to continue to follow a process simply because “It has always been done that way”. Olympic history is riddled with examples of athletes reaching new heights precisely because they were willing to go against the grain, regardless of how odd it might first seem to others – just ask Dick Fosbury.

The changes don’t always have to be earth shattering, it can be as simple as switching from Excel to Google Sheets to allow team members to work remotely and simultaneously on the same documents. The key is to stay on the lookout for better processes and approaches and to keep refining the small details (although I wouldn’t recommend taking this quite as far as the GB Cycling team!).


Choose the right tools

From Adolf Dassler’s experimentations with footwear to the data-driven weather playbook of the US sailing team, having the right equipment can make all the difference.

For years, the spreadsheet has been the workhorse of PR planning and it certainly still has its place within the strategic armoury, however, its functionality is fairly limited when it comes to actually enacting plans. Basic task lists, such as those included within Outlook, can bridge the gap to an extent but often require a fair amount of unnecessary duplication from the spreadsheet.

Project management tools such as Asana and Basecamp offer a more holistic solution. The latest versions of these tools are far more intuitive than their predecessors and at their best, they can roll up visualisation, task organisation and tracking in one place. What’s more, many of the tools are available for free or at low cost for smaller businesses.

Of course, even project management tools have their limitations. One of my biggest quibbles with the current project management offering is that they are overly focused on large, multistage projects. Whilst this is ideal for firms such as web developers or for running specific public relations campaigns, it means more creativity is required in order to use them to plan small, everyday tasks across a wide client base.

Ultimately, finding the right solution for your business will take a degree of trial and error. Just remember to keep an open mind and be willing to completely rethink processes.

Stick to the plan

When things get hectic it is easy to put off planning administration tasks and to jump straight into the work. Knuckling down is fine but if you’re not careful work can easily be missed or resources wasted. The planning processes are there for a reason, they’re your catch-net against disaster and they also make it much easier to spread work effectively so that no-one gets overladen.

Maintain the amateur spirit

Whilst commonly used to describe learners or beginners, the term ‘amateur’ actually derives from the latin ‘amare’ – to love. Amateurs are people who practice a sport, hobby or role because they love it and not just because they’re being paid to do it.

Now I’m not suggesting that public relations staff should work for free, or that everyone should try and love every part of the planning process (let’s face it, few would admit to enjoying filling in a timesheet), simply that we remember that planning is fundamental to the success of any PR work. So, whether your true passion lies in designing infographics, running events or writing technical articles, keep upholding your planning principles and stay on the lookout for ways to take them to the next level.

Developing, refining and maintaining a plan is not easy. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication. However, as the athletes continue to show, the rewards at the end make it all worthwhile.

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