By Bonnie Ulman

“Blurring of the lines” is a topic of regular conversation in public relations agencies across the country. How do we succeed in a marketplace where

[caption id="attachment_1389" align="alignright" width="150"]Bonnie Ulman Bonnie Ulman[/caption]

the grey area between what we each offer and the tools we use to drive clients’ business is shrinking? Advertising agencies will look like PR agencies and PR agencies will look like advertising agencies and both will look like digital agencies. Ultimately, who will be in the best position to shepherd client brands? Who will remain competitive? Increasingly, we see that whoever owns the knowledge and insight about a brand’s consumer wins the day. And all other skills, counsel and offerings being equal, the insight wins and keeps the clients. I doubt anyone ever lost a pitch or a client because their insights about the consumer or the industry were too precise or actionable.

Once a discipline found exclusively in global ad agencies, Account Planning has for years become an important part of the DNA of large and small firms. These agencies rely on a human truth, or insight, to set strategy and to inform creative direction. Is Account Planning playing an equally important role in public relations?

The tools of our craft are vast and varied. As an industry we deploy them to provoke consumer engagement. We establish a brand’s strategic positioning and inform its perception among purchasers, consumers, constituents and influencers. We can drive shifts in influence and recast perceptions. So why – when we are eager to own the consumer relationship – have we as an industry been so slow to own the consumer insight?

But now there’s a dynamic change taking place. Account planners working in public relations are multiplying, growing from one-person departments to fully staffed practices within agencies. Our business cards may label us as Consumer Insights Specialists, Strategic Planners, Analytics or Research Managers. Regardless of title, account planning is finding a home in the public relations space and delivering value across agencies and to client brands. Planning makes us smarter. The discipline ensures that we explore beyond a brand or issue or industry to the person we’re asking to buy our product, trust our message or even vote for us.

Early in his career, Edward Bernays was tasked with promoting Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes American tour. The father of public relations knew nothing about dance, nor was he particularly interested in the art. “I was given a job about which I knew nothing,” Bernays wrote. He was able to make connections between ballet and the things that already drew patrons to other art forms – the personalities of the artists – in this case the dancers – and the impact of dance on American life. By identifying and leveraging the key insights Bernays created interest and acceptance in the Ballet Russe and ultimately sold out the performance before opening night. Account planning has been and should continue to be in the DNA of public relations.

As we embrace the growing complexities of the media landscape, shifting consumer sentiments and competitive fields of the future, Account Planning will become an invaluable practice providing the knowledge to succeed.

Bonnie Ulman  is chief insights & planning officer for M Booth.