Making PR Plays

At PRSSA National Conference 2010, our first speaker was a man by the name of Alan Kelly. He is the founder of Playmaker Systems, LLC a management consulting firm that gives the public relations industry something completely new: the standard table of influence strategies. It is the first attempt to develop a framework of how to react strategically in order to achieve a desired outcome and comes complete with a glossary of PR jargon. It is accessible to everyone, free of charge at

What are these plays, you ask? The website explains, “You run plays. Plays are run on you. In business, it’s what Pepsi does to thwart Coke, and vice versa. In politics, it’s what White House strategists do to propel an agenda and win elections. In pop culture, it’s what Oprah Winfrey does to build her personal brand and seduce her public audience.”

These individuals, the clients if we are discussing PR agencies, are the playmakers. If they aren’t making plays, then their publicists need to be or they will surely suffer the affects of others’ plays. Is this method foolproof? Surely not, but it is constantly being developed by the strategists at Playmaker Systems and serves as a more than sufficient guideline to those of us who are just getting our foot in the door. Without this table (or the daunting 5-10 years of experience required by most agencies) under our belts, we newbies are simply without direction.

With my strong recommendation to familiarize yourself with this system comes a brief explanation of how it works. According to the “Playmaker’s Process” there are 5 steps to successfully utilizing this tool:

  1. Fit and Friction: each play must attach itself to something either embraceable or debatable in order to have impact
  2. Call the Play (using the standards table): determine which class of playmaking your play will fall under (assess, condition or engage), select a subclass (these can be found below the class they fall under) based on what you hope to accomplish with your play, then choose a play from the column below the subclass you selected (these plays are explicitly defined in the glossary)
  3. Run the Play: executing the play requires knowledge of where to run the play (markets, segments), who to run the play with (targets, clients, media) and when it would be most affective to run it
  4. Run a Pause: after a play is made you should remove yourself from “the game” in order to observe the changes your play has caused your client’s reputation, brand, etc.
  5. Keep Going or Pass: if the play is working, go back to step 1 and build on the play by running a complimentary play otherwise, reevaluate the entire process and start over entirely

The website even offers a way to manage what plays have worked for you/your competitors called Strategy Mapper.  By following competitors and seeing what is has been helpful to their brand’s development, you can more clearly identify what needs to be done for your own.

Confusing?  Maybe so, but it is a lot more clear than mapping through a crisis or building a brand from the ground up with no compass.  See these plays in action on the website’s Plays of the Day blog.


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