Siddhartha Mukherjee: PR Communication Management needs the Science of Pre-mortem

19 May,2016

By Siddhartha Mukherjee


Pre-mortem, the opposite of Post-mortem, is an approach in which a management team imagines that a project or organisation has failed, and then works backward to determine what potentially could lead to the failure of the project or organisation.


The Public Relations Industry, which is working hard to claim custodianship of Corporate and Product Brand Reputation, can use this approach of Pre-mortem to showcase its effectiveness to the CXOs, the actual consumers of the service.


If you look at a typical average monthly PR Plan that the Client-Agency work on, it smacks of:

a) Absence of any thought process of the desired end result

b) No detailing of past trends and scenarios

c) Prevalence of Tactics over Strategy

d) More importantly, no detailing of how to achieve what the plan proposes


As a double whammy, a common disease that still plagues most of the Corporates even now is the lack of clarity on “Why do we do or need PR”


The final nail in the coffin comes at the stage of doing a post-mortem of our communications initiative through monitoring, measurement and audit. However, this becomes an absolute waste of time given that the PR planning phase has been unkempt.


The immediate advantages that Pre-mortem will bring to the PR Communications machinery will be as follows:

a) It will force us to set tangible and intangible desired targets or scenarios

:: The flipside of this is that it will help us ideate on “What if we fail to achieve the desired targets”?

:: What could be the reasons for failure one, two, three …and so on

b) It will help us work backwards and build the various possible blocks of media plan

c) It will help us set targets/benchmarks

d) This will help individuals, desks and groups be accountable towards specific KRAs and KPIs

e) This act of Pre-mortem or backward planning will ensue excitement within the CXO desk

f) PR and Corporate Communication desk will get further boost of status internally within the Organisation


What will ensure that Pre-mortem gets inculcated as a habit and works successfully day on day, month on month?

a) Corporate Communications team will have to first convince its internal customers (CXOs) of the benefits Pre-mortem will accrue for the Organisation. Only then will CXOs find a reason to involve and consult Corporate Communications in their business and communications planning exercise.

b) Corporate Communications desk will have to help their internal team members and more importantly, their agencies to transform their way of thinking from reactive to proactive. Pre-mortem is all about being proactive.

c) The Training and Orientation facilities – both for Corporate Communications team and its Agency – will have to undergo a strategic facelift. For example, revisiting monthly and annual PR Planning will mean a sea change of approach and detailing.

d) The KRAs, KPIs and appraisal system will need revision.


Advertising industry, in a way, has long imbibed on the science of Pre-mortem. No wonder, looking at the size and stature of the Industry, it needs no argument to prove the effectiveness of Pre-mortem. Public Relations Industry has every reason to take it up quickly and prove its worth because of two reasons – a) effectiveness of conventional advertising in declining b) there is enough science readily available to implement the culture of Pre-mortem within team members.


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