PR Strategy: It’s Chess, Not Checkers

Cedric Brown Avatar

Last night’s class with professor Bill Jasso reminded me of one of my favorite Denzel Washington films, “Training Day.”  As we talked about the difference between tactics and strategies, I was reminded of one of the movie’s quotables, “…it’s chess, not checkers!”

When done correctly, PR isn’t a tactical race to capture all of your opponent’s pieces, similar to checkers.  It really is a strategic game of chess to capture the most important pieces – in this case, your publics’ attention – to communicate your message.

To carry out a strategy effectively, you need to follow the R.A.C.E. process:

  1. Research – The first step to solving a problem is admitting that you have one. When conducting research, we’re trying to define what it is that we want to accomplish by doing our homework on our clients’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as their external opportunities and threats.  While it’s not shown in the movie, Washington’s character, detective Alonzo Harris, already did his “homework” by the time he first appears in the movie.
  2. Action – Once you’ve gathered enough information about your objective, you now have to create a plan for how to reach it. The best plans are usually “smart” – or specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely – as it provides you with a way to stay focused on the task at hand. Harris created his plan with his recruit, Officer Jake Hoyt (played by Ethan Hawke), in mind based on the “homework” he did on a drug dealer whose house he had to raid for money.
  3. Communication – This is where tactics come into play in the overall strategy as communications tacticians make their living by carrying out the steps and procedures put in place. Through constant communication and reassurance, Harris is able to coax Hoyt into his plan to set him up as the trigger man for the drug dealer’s murder. Harris also safeguarded his strategy by convincing Hoyt to smoke marijuana before the shooting, just in case Hoyt decided to turn Harris in for his true intentions.
  4. Evaluation – The only way to know that you achieved what you set out to accomplish is to measure yourself against your objectives. That’s why evaluation is a crucial final step in the process as it determines how successful you really were. One could argue that Harris didn’t properly evaluate his strategy to pay off his debt to the Russians, which is why Hoyt ultimately came back to attack him and take the money Harris was going to use from the murdered drug dealer. Needless to say, Alonzo’s strategy failed as he was gunned down by the group of men he owed money to.

In public relations, effective strategies are needed to achieve a clients’ organizational objectives.  Executing this strategy involves the utilization of carefully planned tactics.  From this perspective, patience in developing strategies is the key to success in PR.  After all, “it’s chess, not checkers.”

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