Strategic Communications Starts with a Communications Strategy

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Strategic Communications Starts with a Communications Strategy

 

Western City Strategic CommunicationsHaving the media write about your company and its products and services in the most consistent and positive light goes a long way in influencing each and every one of your other key audiences – from customers and prospects to business and sales partners to employees and stakeholders.  It’s part of a sound “gain mindshare, win market share” philosophy.

The underlying element in every successful public relations program is developing an overall strategy.  In other words, what’s vital is being strategic. 

Establishing a Communications Strategy

“Being Strategic” – sounds simple, doesn’t it?  And isn’t every company strategic in how it approaches the marketplace?  Well, when it comes to how companies market themselves and specifically how they approach and execute their public relations programs, you would be surprised at what you’d find.  It's a shame how many companies miss the mark.

Having been given the privilege to “peer under the hood” at many companies – from global brands and market leaders to early stage companies and start-ups – I’ve personally seen just about every type of approach to public relations.  Some of these approaches have been key ingredients in companies’ successes, while others have unfortunately served to hold companies back, limiting their success by making them work harder to gain mindshare and eventually win market share.  (And please don’t think that the best public relations programs are only those of the global brands.)

Like I said, I’ve seen programs of all types from companies that think they are “being strategic.”  But let’s take a look at three companies and how they approach public relations:

  • Company A -- Reactionary, product-focused
  • Company B -- Intermittent, "hit and miss"
  • Company C -- The "big bang" theory

Company A

The key word with Company A and is “reactionary.”  Any time a company puts itself in a position only to react to media opportunities, it misses out on at least half of the media game.  Yes, the media may take the active step of contacting a company for news – if the company is a market leader or the journalist is writing an industry round-up story, where he or she contacts many companies to get a feel of the current state of the industry.  (I did many of those myself.) 

However, by taking this approach, Company A has put itself in the position of taking only what the media gives it; Company A has missed he opportunity to create a position where it can set its own media agenda and strongly influence how it will be portrayed in the media. 

To “turn this frown upside down” we recommend replacing the word “reactionary” with the word “proactive,” and at least – from a product perspective – Company A is now starting to take the initiative.  Company A is now “out in front” of the media.  With this strategy, Company A is now looking to “feed” the media news about its products and giving the media more chances to hear about it.  In the best case, by being proactive, Company A can shape how a writer approaches a particular story or subject – and how Company A is covered in that story.

Company B

With Company B -- the intermittent hit-and-miss approach – it’s just that.  It has taken a haphazard approach where it sporadically decides to do some type of public relations activity once in a while when it has something to say or feels that the time is right.  With this approach, the media may receive a press release from Company B one month, then hear nothing at all for two months, then receive two press releases the next month and then again hear nothing at all over the next three months.  You get the picture, and it’s not a pretty one.  (From my journalist days, I remember seeing quite a few of these, too.)

However they may differ, public relations is much like advertising in that consistent impressions over time are needed to make your audience aware of your company and what it offers.  The media works the same way – they like a steady flow of news so they know what Company B is doing and that it is committed to the market they cover. 

To fix Company B’s approach, we recommend establishing a proactive, on-going program with a defined time frame (six months or one year) that contains an overall objective, strategies and specific communications initiatives defined on a monthly basis.  With this approach, “hit-and-miss” comes steady “hits,” ideally leading to media coverage (“hits” – from singles to home runs!).

Company C

Finally, Company C’s “big bang” approach begins with a bang and ends with a whimper (at best).  Like the scientific theory about the origin of the universe, Company C has reduced the intermittent hit-and-miss approach of Company B to a single major public relations initiative.

Simply put, the media hears news about Company C once, and like the cosmic background radiation that is still in existence from the “big bang,” it is expected to pay attention months (or years) later based on that single initiative.  Companies like Company C often take this approach for the major trade show they attend annually; they produce a press kit for the show – and nothing else before or after the show -- expecting the media to be interested immediately and maintain interest months after the show is over.

To fix Company C’s approach we again recommend a proactive, on-going public relations program, much like the recommendation for Company B.  With this program, the trade show serves as the focus point of the program, but there are initiatives that are put in place three or four months prior to the show and then continue well past the show.  This strategy makes the trade show the centerpiece of a proactive, six months long program, serving to increase interest in Company C prior to the show, at the show and immediately post-show.  (And increasing show ROI.)

Strategic Communications

There you have it – three examples of companies “being strategic.”  Does your company fit into any of these profiles?  If so, what are you doing to change that and really have a strategic communications program that connects with your business goals?

Comments

Great article Randy! 
You're right on with the starting point for PR.  
In fact, if more companies would think through strategy first, they would waste less money on marketing.  
Mainly because there was a plan in place.
Posted @ Thursday, February 09, 2012 7:13 AM by AJ Perisho
Thanks for this .... and for also posting at the Public Relations & Communications Professionals group at LinkedIn, where I posted similar comments as those below: 
 
In each instance, as your examples illustrate, communications strategy starts with an understanding of the value proposition. But I have begun to wonder whether we have an accurate understanding of the attributes a value proposition should have. This questioning on my part arose as a result of reading research undertaken under the leadership of Michael Tomasello at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology that focuses on why early hominids began to communicate in the first place and how those reasons have shaped the human's very unique communications skills. Basically, what Tomasello's research shows is that humans communicate to collaborate ... and that the unique differentiator of human communications versus any other creature's communications is that humans communicate with "shared intentionality." Frankly, I am still in the process of thinking this out, but at this point I am inclined to believe that the value proposition needs to start with the question of: what is the "intentionality" I (the communicator) share with my audience. From the for-what-it's-worth department, some more background on this research and my initial thinking can be found here: <http://dougporetz.com/blog/rethinking-how-the-value-proposition-should-drive-communications-strategies/>
Posted @ Thursday, February 09, 2012 8:23 AM by Doug Poretz
Thanks AJ and Doug.  
Interesting to see these comments in larger light. 
Agree that you must have a plan to get to where you want to go not only in business but in life. 
The "shared intentionality" is a very intriguing concept which makes sense from the "how can we work together for our mutual benefit" perspective. This would be a driver for much of human behavior and certainly for public relations as a service business.
Posted @ Friday, February 10, 2012 7:07 AM by Randy Savicky
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