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It is surely self-evident why strategy should come before tactics in public relations. But there are many instances where, in fact, it is better to get on with the job of achieving visible results before contextualising, exploring, rationalising, framing and articulating a game-plan.
This is not to say an individual tactic or campaign cannot be implemented strategically without a formal strategy being in place – whether it be a whole-or-organisation exercise or one which is more narrowly defined (say for social media, for instance).
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There will be many salient factors staring a competent strategist in the face (e.g. the sorts of messages and/or positioning to include and to stay away from). In fact, the continuing articulation of some of these factors may come across as condescending to communication professionals, employees and even external stakeholders – and thus counter-productive to pontificate on.
Testing public relations strategic thinking to build momentum
The day-to-day operations of an organisation do not stop just because a new or revised communication strategy is being developed. Iterations of strategies occur all the time. In fact, one of the chief characteristics of any good strategy is fluidity – the ability to integrate new learnings into its fabric so it can better meet organisational communication strategy and business objectives.
An advantage of rolling out tactical campaigns whilst a strategy is being developed is the latter can integrate findings and reflections on these findings, identified through the campaign process.
This ‘on the run’ market research is an excellent way in which to test and strengthen what will, ultimately, be embedded into the strategy (or not, as the case may be…!).
As more and more campaigns are rolled out, the pillars underpinning the strategy will become more and increasingly more refined. This also has the benefit of building momentum for the strategic approach and providing evidence of their appropriateness to the organisation.
Any excellent strategy will be built on market research, so this ‘on the road’ or ‘in practice’ less formal market research is invaluable to the leading communication strategist.
Very importantly (and usefully) to the strategy development leader(s), by the time the formal strategy is presented to senior organisational stakeholders such as CEOs and Boards, there may well be evidence specific to the organisation of the positive impact this strategic approach is having. This will help gain support and sign off for the strategy.
And just as importantly, as the tactics are being rolled out, they have the very practical advantage of schooling the communication team in how the emerging strategy manifests itself through campaigns. So by the time the strategy gets full organisational approval, the momentum (that word again) has been built to a sufficient level that it kicks into a higher gear more quickly, with positive results accruing with greater alacrity than would otherwise have occurred.
Runs on the board for PR credibility
The necessity of getting runs on the board in public/stakeholder relations is, I imagine, no different to any other professional discipline. Speaking from personal experience, there is always pressure to show your worth within a PR role almost as soon as you occupy the seat.
And whilst the most inexperienced professionals might get some grace on this, you only need a couple of years under your belt before that pressure kicks right in. And in a PR agency environment, you might not even get those couple of years. This is partially because many practitioners in PR agencies have served time in an admin role within PR first and, almost certainly, have spent an extensive amount of time in an intern role (though the internship dimension is certainly not exclusive to agencies).
Whilst the ‘ease’ of achieving ‘runs on the board’ varies greatly, the first port of call for most PR professionals is still getting some media coverage for your organisation/client. This could be suburban/regional and or vertical industry sector media, which is generally the easiest sort of coverage to generate.
Perhaps the next best, or most common, outcome to achieve ASAP is the generation of quality content. Even up to one year ago I would have said this entails researching and writing a media release, or writing a fact sheet, case study or section or two of an annual report. Writing content for Facebook or LinkedIn could also tick the box.
More recently, I’ve come to the conclusion generating quality photographs or video footage (not necessarily editing the footage into shape, however) will be equally as valued. My advice, in fact, to any less experienced PR practitioner or one studying PR at university is to develop these skills as much as possible. They are rapidly becoming almost as valued as writing skills due to visuals’ impact on content marketing in digital spaces.
Strategy in public relations: a necessity but not a suffocation
As much as I am arguing the value for proceeding with tactical campaigns before a strategic approach and full communication strategy has been delivered and authorised, I assert even more stridently the absolute necessity of having a communication strategy in place.
Over the longer term, no business function will deliver what an organisation requires without this strategy, which:
- provides a game plan for the various multitudes contained within it to be implemented in a coordinated and consistent manner, helping achieve organisational business objectives and fulfilling organisational vision
- enables the ongoing building of the ideal organisational positioning and differentiation
- helps ensure reputation and brand activity are travelling in the same direction, giving stakeholders the clearest possible picture about what the organisation stands for
- ensures those public relations and marketing professionals responsible for implementing tactical campaigns and developing supporting strategies have the strongest possible framework from which to work effectively, as well as giving them confidence to implement their full professional capability. It will also help these professionals proactively add value to the communication and to stretch their capabilities, including where they should best focus their own professional development.
In short, whilst tactics rock, strategy wins the gold medal every time.
Where have you put in place tactical campaigns without having an articulated and authorised strategy in place? What were the outcomes? Is strategy overrated – would it be best, do you think, if we took many things for granted, curtailed the navel-gazing, and just got on with doing the job?
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