Our results indicate that there are differences; however, those differences are very slight. PA and PR practitioners across the spectrum have similar ideals as to the value of their field and how to approach solving an issue. The difference lies in the minds of each individual practitioner. On paper, the military services easily document the importance of using the three-pronged approach to planning with one service in particular documenting the process in-depth. However, a deeper understanding of how PA practitioners operate is reflected by the field interview responses. The respondents gave insight into how PA is actually conducted in the field. One point in particular we were searching for was whether or not PA practitioners utilize the three-pronged approach to solving issues. Our results counter our assumptions. In fact, we found from our respondents that a large majority of PA practitioners do consider all three functional areas of PA when approaching an issue. What we found was that not all respondents actually use a plan to respond but rather react to a situation. It should be noted that if the research team had not originally targeted senior military practitioners solely as respondents, those PA practitioners at the lower level offices may have had different opinions regarding the subject. Therefore, our results cannot be generalized to the greater PA population. Although the results are not concrete, they do give an indication that military PA practitioners may not be using the most effective planning methods to communicate messages.
As a result of our research, the team advanced a planning model that can assist the PA practitioner. In the rapidly changing environment of the information age, PA must continue to search for and implement innovative ways to effectively communicate, helping commands stay ahead of the curve. This model, The Walton et. al. Planning Model & Worksheet, provides a comprehensive framework that can be included in any PA toolbox. The model maximizes functionality within the PA arena by incorporating all three subgroups of the PA organization at the planning stage. The following table is a detailed description of steps to take when approaching a PA issue. This table has been transformed into a worksheet that is attached at Appendix A.
8. RESEARCH METHODS USED IN SITUATION IDENTIFICATION AND ANALYSIS
Before you can begin working an issue, you must first fully identify the situation and conduct a thorough analysis of the situation. Doing so will require research. The PA planning process begins with determining which research methods you will use. When gathering all this information, try to make it as scientific as possible. However, time and cost may prevent a purely scientific study. In that case there are a number of informal research methods at your disposal, including: personal contacts, key informants, focus groups, community forums, advisory committees and boards, ombudsman, call-in telephone lines, mail analysis and field reports. If you are fortunate enough to have the resources to conduct a more scientific study of the problem, you should consider more formal research options such as secondary analysis and on-line databases, content analysis and surveys.
9. SITUATION IDENTIFICATION
The first step in the PA planning model is getting a handle on exactly what the issue is you are facing or planning for. Start by identifying the problem, concern, or opportunity. Whats happening now? What is the source of the concern? Why is it of consequence to the command?
10a. INTERNAL AND
EXTERNAL SITUATION ANALYSIS
This should be followed
by an analysis of the internal and external situations. This two-part
step should provide background information needed to expand upon and illustrate
in detail the meaning of a problem statement.
Second, take a thorough look at your command and determine the organizational strengths and weaknesses within to identify opportunities and threats related to the problem.
11a. INTERNAL TARGET AUDIENCE
Formulating a strategy on how to deal with the situation is the next step. First you need to define your publics. Who internal and external must the program respond to, reach, and affect? Its also important to define your publics as narrowly as possible. Do this by identifying sub-targets of your public.
11b. INTERNAL SUB-TARGET(s)
You can define them
in a number of ways with various characteristics including:
12a. EXTERNAL TARGET AUDIENCE
(4) Geographics -
natural or political boundaries indicating location
12b. EXTERNAL SUB-TARGET(s)
opinion leaders (not always VIPs)
After dividing your publics into sub-targets you will be prepared to devise specific strategies for reaching each audience.
But first its time to finalize your objective. Again, it is exceedingly important that this goal have the strategic goals of the command in mind. This is a good point in the planning process to make sure you and the boss are on the same sheet of music. When setting objectives it is important that they not be abstract or generic. Start with a broad goal and refine it until it becomes an operational goal or statement of intent so that it motivates and directs immediate action on the part of the targets.
14. METRICS THAT WILL BE USED TO MEASURE OUTCOME
Traditional four-step PA planning processes usually include the evaluation portion of the plan at the end. This one does as well, but the strategy step is the phase where you want to establish some evaluation parameters. You need to determine at this point how you will measure the outcomes specified in your objectives. Set measurable, scientific metrics ensuring reliability and validity of the data they produce. The best measures of PA effectiveness are those that look for attitude change. In order to measure change you need to start from a baseline. A simple, easy to use global attitude scale that has been repeatedly tested for reliability and validity is included in appendix 1. The scale can be used to test attitude about any questions.
15a. INITITIAL ATTITUDE MEASURE RESEARCH QUESTION(s)
Conduct research about attitudes of the issue you are looking at before building a plan.
15b. INITITIAL ATTITUDE
18. MESSAGE STYLE
Also, remember the best communication strategy does not impose change from the outside, but helps change evolve from the inside facilitated by communicators (or change agents).
19. SPECIFIC MESSAGES/COMMUNICATION POINTS (SPECIFY INTERNAL, MEDIA, COMREL)
When crafting your message or messages, they should be built around a single overarching communication theme. Under that theme you can construct specific messages that will help you achieve your goals. These themes are your communication points and should be used by all communicators involved in the project to present a unified message.
20. MEDIA TO BE USED, NAME, AFFILIATION, REPORTER, CONTACT INFO (SPECIFY INTERNAL, MEDIA, COMREL)
Determine what media best delivers that content to the target publics. Again research is important. You must know the media with which you are attempting to communicate.
21. CHANGE AGENTS/COMMUNICATORS (SPECIFY INTERNAL, MEDIA, COMREL)
Who will you be using to communicate your messages to which audiences?
22. TEAM ASSIGNMENTS (SPECIFY INTERNAL, MEDIA, COMREL)
The next step is to make assign team members. Who will be responsible for implementing each of the actions and communication tactics? How will you use internal information, community relations and media relations to get your message out?
23. SEQUENCE OF EVENTS/SCHEDULE (SPECIFY INTERNAL, MEDIA, COMREL)
What is the sequence of events and the schedule?
24. POST-EVENT ATTITUDE MEASURE FINDINGS (SAME QUESTION[s] AS IN BLOCK 15a)
Many PA practitioners fail to recognize the importance of evaluation. Since it requires research, it is viewed as time taken away from more active efforts. Also they feel their goals and strategies are the best possible, otherwise they wouldnt have chosen them in the first place. But you (and your boss) can never be totally sure you achieved your goals. If youve followed this plan so far, you have already identified countable units or quantitative measures for an indication of the direction your efforts have taken preferably with an emphasis on the programs impact on the attitudes of your publics. After having executed your plan, it is important to re-test your publics to determine if your efforts affected attitudes.
25. WAS YOUR PLAN APPROPRIATE TO MEET THE OBJECTIVE? WAS YOUR CHOSEN APPROACH THE BEST ONE TO USE? WHAT WAS THE IMPACT ON TARGET AUDIENCE(s)?
26. LESSONS LEARNED
Your brief should always include a lessons learned section to help improve future PA efforts.
27. ADJUSTMENTS NEEDED TO CORRECT SHORTFALLS IN THIS PLAN OR TO REINFORCE MESSAGES
28. RETURN TO BLOCK
After gathering feedback and evaluation, compile results into a brief that provides tangible evidence of the programs success (or lack thereof). This is an especially useful tool for showing the boss and other department heads in credible terms how you were able to impact the commands mission. Keep these reports handy for inclusion in regular (monthly, quarterly or annual) how goes it reports to the chain of command.
Only careful evaluation allows you to perceive trends and make adaptations that are necessary as our circumstances change, ensuring our efforts achieve maximum benefit. After gathering feedback and evaluation, return to the situation stage where new resources are gathered, goals are developed or modified, more people are brought in (if needed), and the plan is updated to either reinforce the messages or correct shortfalls in the plan the PA planning process is a continuous one.
Time constraints played a significant factor in this study. Considering the time limitations, a significant proportion of PA practitioners responded to the field surveys providing the research team pertinent information on which to draw conclusions. If we had conducted a more lengthy study, we would have been able to reach a larger audience with the surveys. Another limitation as mentioned earlier was the fact that we had originally targeted senior military leaders in the upper echelons of the PA field. If we had opened up the field of respondents we would have possibly seen a more balanced view from the field. Considering the majority of the military respondents were senior officers, the view on whether or not PA practitioners focus on planning and the three-pronged approach was biased. Senior military leaders tend to be assigned to positions where they are required to think as the manager and tend to look ahead while the field PA practitioners fight the fires.
Heuristic provocativeness abounds in this report. As an extension of this pilot study, a more in-depth questionnaire and subsequent analysis is recommended as a guide to stipulate specific ways to effectively implement planning within the military field. Future research can also focus on resources available to field PA practitioners to thoroughly conduct research prior to developing a communication plan. Quantitative studies measuring the effectiveness and value of PA to the overall organization are also appropriate.
In summary, as a result of conducting qualitative content analysis of the military PA regulations and doctrine, as well as verbal responses to a field interview survey, data indicates that PA is on the right track when it comes to approaching issues. However, considering the nature of public affairs is situational and no two issues are alike, planning doesnt always come into play. The Walton et. al. Planning Model was developed to assist PA practitioners in the field and is the ideal situation to approaching a PA issue. Adopting this model into your PA toolbox will ensure practitioners take all aspects of a situation into consideration before reacting to a situation. This tool is also an efficient way of documenting public affairs value to the organization in achieving its overall strategic goals.