Tuesday, 6 March 2012

If Fictional Characters Conducted SWOT Analyses

One of the first things they teach you in any public relations program is how to conduct a SWOT analysis. For those of you unfamiliar with this cornerstone of strategic planning, SWOT is a handy acronym that stands for Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats. In a nutshell, it's a very helpful way of identifying the internal and external factors that stand to either help or hinder you in pursuit of specific organizational goals.

For marketers and crisis communicators, the SWOT analysis is the equivalent of the periodic table - an essential tool without on which the rest of the communications planning process depends. It is used in creating recommendations during viability testing and is also an invaluable tool in crisis management planning. It's a disarmingly simple rubric, one that strikes me as being just as applicable to personal predicaments as to organizational issues.

Just how applicable is the SWOT to personal situations? Consider the dilemmas faced by the following fictional characters - and imagine if they had incorporated this analytical approach into their strategic planning processes.

"Okay, boys, here's our strategic plan."
Case #1 - Snow White

Once Snow White had retreated to the forest and been taken in by the seven dwarves, she had successfully bought herself enough time to draw up an impromptu strategic plan for dealing with her evil stepmother who was in hot pursuit. Her end goals were straightforward enough: evade capture and death at the hands of the wicked queen and marry her Prince Charming. Having established this, her SWOT chart would have looked something like this:

  • I'm the frickin' fairest of them all! Even the queen's lousy mirror says so!
  • Prince Charming is definitely into me.
  • I've managed to evade capture - so far.
  • So far the queen's assassins have proven to have the brains of celery.
  • I got myself some protection.
  • I may be the fairest of them all but I'm certainly not the brightest of them all.
  • I'm not particularly good at taking care of things myself.
  • My 'protection' consists of men who are only three feet tall and subject to union-mandated working hours.
  • If I can hold out long enough the prince will find me and all will be well.
  • If I can off my stepmother - or get the prince or the dwarves to do it, I'll be queen.
  • My stepmother is evil, tenacious as hell and won't go down without a tremendous fight.
  • She's also a master of disguise, which with me not being particularly bright is a bad combination.
Had Snow White sat down and gone through this process rather than frolicking around the forest picking buttercups, she might have saved herself a lot of unpleasantness. As it happened, however, she would not have known that her trump card was the ability to survive a fatal fruit-induced poisoning by way of a kiss from her true love. Snow White proved to be the fairlytale equivalent of the Exxon Corporation - capable of surviving even the most botched crisis management 'cause, well, we need that happy ending.

"Damn it, that was my texting hand!"
Case #2 - Luke Skywalker

While Snow White is clearly a case of failed strategic planning that could only be salvaged by Deus ex Machina intervention by Disney's happy ending industry, Luke Skywalker presents a more fascinating case. Consider his quandary upon escaping his near fatal battle with Darth Vader on Cloud City, a duel that cost him both his good hand and his blissful ignorance about his family lineage. While beaten up and demoralized, Luke was still alive - and like Snow White had bought himself enough time for some planning.

Luke's SWOT analysis probably would have looked something like this:

  • I've got Jedi powers out the wazoo!
  • I've had training from the two greatest Jedi masters of all time.
  • I'm a kick-ass X-Wing pilot.
  • I'm friends with the toughest SOB's in the galaxy.
  • If all else fails, I can always take my dad up on his job offer to co-rule the galaxy.
  • I just lost my fighting hand - and my lightsaber.
  • I quit school before graduating - and may have lost Yoda as a reference.
  • My best friend and trusted ally has just been frozen in carbonite and has been shipped off to Jabba the Hutt as a wall decoration.
  • My daddy issues are just getting worse - and he's still kind of, well, evil and probably doesn't have my best interests in mind.
  • Prosthetics have come a long way. Hell, my dad is half artificial and he still managed to kick my ass.
  • That lightsaber-making tutorial I took a while back is certainly going to come in handy.
  • I can save Han Solo from Jabba - and after what I've just been through, dealing with an invertebrate crime lord with no legs shouldn't be too challenging.
  • I can always go back to Dagobah for more training.
  • As least now I know the truth about my father. I can better prepare myself psychologically for our next confrontation.
  • I've heard rumours about a new Death Star. That's not going to make things any easier.
  • Yoda's not exactly getting any younger.
  • I'm pretty sure Princess Leia is my sister - and we totally smooched on that ice planet. I really hope that nosey medical droid didn't tell anyone!
Looking at this breakdown, it seems clear that the SWOT analysis was part of Luke's Jedi training, shoehorned somewhere in between swinging from trees and telekinesis. When he shows up on his home planet of Tattooine ready to take on the Hutt, he's clearly a man with a plan - and he executes it perfectly.

But it's not just the heroes who can benefit from a good strategic plan. Had more fictional villains taken this approach, their villainy might just have triumphed.

"I'll SWOT you my pretty!"
Case #3: The Wicked Witch of the West

The Wicked Witch of the West is an unfairly maligned figure. A foul-tempered, misanthropic witch to be sure, she still had far more reasonable aspirations than most fictitious villains, namely to avenge the death of her sister - and reclaim those snazzy red shoes. Once Dorothy sets off on the Yellow Brick Road in the company of her three ridiculous companions, the witch knew it was only a matter of time before the girl and the stolen shoes reached the all-powerful weight-loss guru wizard. But she still had time to do a quick SWOT analysis, which would have looked something like this:

  • I'm a witch, dammit! I can fly on broomsticks, turn people into toads and all that crap.
  • I can summon flying monkeys, which, believe you me, comes in handy in situations like this.
  • I'm not encumbered by the same pesky ethical standards as that annoying, goody-two-shoes Glinda.
  • Dorothy's esteemed entourage are lacking in the brain, heart and courage departments.
  • Youthful good looks are definitely not on my side, and for a female fairlytale character this isn't good news.
  • Having 'Wicked' in my name is definitely a disadvantage.
  • My shoe obsession and anger management issues need to be addressed sooner rather than later.
  • My flying monkeys aren't always the most effective goons. What I wouldn't do for a gang of football hooligans or something!
  • I'm deathly allergic to water. Don't ask.
  • Dorothy and company are still a long ways from Emerald City - and I have flight on my side. I am a witch, after all.
  • I can always threaten to drown her dog or something. She's a sensitive thing.
  • If it comes down to a court case, I'm confident that evidence will point to Dorothy having killed my sister with her house and then callously stolen her shoes.
  • Whatever happened here, I could always reinvent myself in a revisionist novel and Broadway musical.
  • That douchebag Oz really doesn't like me, and Dorothy's cutesy routine and her little dog will win him over for sure.
  • Did I mention the whole being deathly allergic to water thing? I still haven't come up with an antidote to that.
In a SWOT analysis, the idea is to leverage your strengths so that they counter your weaknesses, and do the same with your threats and opportunities. Unfortunately, in spite of her best laid plans, the Wicked Witch of the West's last and most crippling weakness proved to be insurmountable. Barring some sort of advanced water-shield, no SWOT analysis in the world could have pointed to a solution to this problem. Sometimes the best solution really is to be nice to everyone and not make a fuss when people steal your stuff. Especially if you can be killed with a bucket of water.


  1. First, this is extremely clever. Second, this would be a great way for PR students to understand how to do a SWOT analysis. Well done!

    1. Thank you for reading - and for the feedback. Are you a PR instructor? If so, feel free to use this.

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  3. Very informative and great work for the students who really want to learn how to do swot analysis.

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