“Events, dear boy, events”: how a media strategy can be blown off course

Political policy-making has some interesting parallels with constructing a media strategy.

Sudden upheavals in the fast-moving world of domestic and international politics can throw the best-laid plans of our elected leaders into complete disarray. No-one has encapsulated this problem macmillanmore succinctly than Harold Macmillan, with his legendary (perhaps apocryphal) response, “Events, dear boy, events”, to a journalist who asked him what was most likely to blow a government off course.

In media planning the event horizon has come much closer over the last decade. Planning too far ahead increasingly runs the risk of being overtaken by the unforeseen. New media launches, short-term promotions by competitors, the effects of developments in the wider economy – these and other factors can impinge on our media and marketing planning. Tactics and testing must assume a much more important role, within the context of a firm media strategy.

Perhaps preparedness for unforeseen events is a measure of the strength of both political and media strategies?

Digital technologies and media convergence create a constant churn of new media opportunities, throwing untried and unresearched options our way. What are we to do if our client’s main competitor seems to be stealing a march on us by being first to test the new medium?

Such events are unavoidable. But the requirements to be both light on our feet – with a strategy that can adapt and be flexible enough to accommodate short-term changes in the media landscape and elsewhere – and focused on clear objectives – so that we don’t get thrown off-track and ultimately find ourselves in the weeds – should always be seen as paramount.

In my view, constant re-assessment is the name of the game. Now more than ever we need to scan the middle distance for possible opportunities and threats. “What if …?” should be a question that’s addressed on a regular basis. And, being thus prepared, we should never be worried about deciding in advance that the answer is “We’ll ignore it”.

Very occasionally, we see the worlds of politics and media buying collide. Naturally, buying media in a war zone can pose unpredictable hazards, as we found recently when insurgents took control of a province we were targeting in a war-torn state. The bill stickers were unable to get into the targeted region – so, in the event, we were forced to re-allocate our client’s funds into billboards in adjacent locations.

Buying media in China is always open to the danger of being affected by a sudden unpredictable directive from the dreaded SARFT censorship body.

saopauloIn 2007, the mayor of Sao Paulo instituted a near-complete ban on outdoor advertising of any kind. Although the policy had been discussed, it was seen as a mere threat – until it was implemented and a whole media category was suddenly wiped from the slate in Brazil’s most important city.

Fortunately, most politicians in most countries adopt a fairly laissez-faire attitude to the media. Indeed, they are more likely to cultivate a co-operative relationship with news outlets and opinion-influencing media.

Indeed, it was the media that eventually did for Macmillan. He surely could not have seen the Vassall and Profumo scandals coming. In the days before the media spin doctor became a vital part of a premier’s team, events finally did catch up with him.




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