Turn the focus from tactical to strategic for better value
Many communicators are pressured by managers or clients into doing tasks that have little strategic use – they are just short-term fixes. The person who gives the briefing may not understand much about communication, and they may not understand that communication activities need to support strategic priorities rather than just be one-off product promotions creating low-level results. What’s the point of doing something tactical if it is not creating strategic value for the organization?
What’s more: PR professionals believe a strategic outlook will be important in the future of the profession. In the Annenberg Global Communications Report 2017, survey participants stated that strategic planning will be the most important skill for future growth. This was the first time a survey didn’t show writing as the most important skill of the future. (The survey was international, and the sample size of 875 usable responses enabled various insights to be made rather than enabling totally definitive conclusions.) The survey results:
What you can do to turn the focus to strategic
Don’t just jump to it when a senior executive says, “We need a brochure to promote our new [product]” or “Please write a press release to support the new product launch” or “Can you put this on Facebook…?” Many communicators are pressured by managers or clients into doing tasks that have little strategic use – they are just short-term fixes. The person briefing you may not understand much about communication, and they may not understand that communication / public relations activities need to support the broad organizational / client goals rather than be just a one-off product promotion. If a manager or client asks you to do this sort of thing without discussing its strategic purpose, your alarm bells should be ringing.
Doing the right thing
Astute management thinkers, led by the legendary Peter Drucker, have observed that doing the right thing is more important than doing the thing right. Drucker apparently said there is nothing so useless as doing efficiently something that should not be done at all.
Sooner or later, your value will be questioned if all you do is the low-level stuff or if you do only what you are told by people who don’t understand communication. But how can you turn the conversation to a more strategic approach?
Look closely at the context of the request to see how you can best support corporate goals and objectives. This can be the foundation for preparing the communication plan responding to the request, but directly supporting corporate and operational priorities.
In speaking with or meeting with the other person or committee, you can ask some vital questions that add value to the task in question and increase the respect shown to you:
Lead by asking questions
Facilitation, or asking questions, is a powerful way to guide the other person to take a more strategic point of view. It is vital for you to guide the other person from their limited understanding to a better way of thinking by asking tactful questions such as
- “Do you think it would help to…?”
- “What about…?”
- “Have you considered doing …?” etc.
An example of how you could redirect someone from a low-level approach to a more strategic and effective approach is to ask questions like:
- “How will a single brochure / media release drive [innovation, productivity, change management, new product launches, etc], in accordance with our organizational goals? Do you think we could look to create a more coordinated campaign that reinforces the message in several ways.”
- “Do you think one [marketing email, etc] is enough? What about reinforcing the message from other channels/avenues? Can we provide it in a more interactive and lasting way? This would support the business unit strategy more directly.” etc…
In this way, you are not pushing your ideas on the other person, or showing them up; instead you are allowing them some ownership of the approach you are suggesting. You are much more likely to gain their cooperation and approval in this way.
Gaining ground for your role
Basically, you are aiming to lead them to agree for you to put together some ideas for a concise communication plan which you can submit for their approval. Much of PR is no-cost or low-cost, so you wouldn’t need extra funding for the extra work, which is a big advantage to the case you are making.
And basically you should be leading them to the understanding that they should include you in the planning of their future activities. Again, ask them questions. You could gently suggest things like:
- “Would it help if I speak directly to [person or member/s of the committee] to clarify this point?”
- “Perhaps we could meet with … to explore some of these points further”
- “What if I should attend future meetings of the committee so these types of points can be clarified on the spot?”
Checklist of key questions you should be asking
- ‘How does the goal / objective of this activity connect to our organizational or business unit goals?’
- ‘What value will the business gain if we achieve the goal of this activity?’
- ‘What is important to our stakeholders / publics / target audiences?’
- ‘What do we want them to do, think and feel as a result of this action?’
- ‘What will it take to get them to do that?’ (types of messages)
- ‘What changes can we make from our end that can genuinely accommodate stakeholder views in this matter for a win-win solution?”
- ‘Can we integrate this with another tactic for better leverage?’
Be positive with the other person
In trying to move other people to take a more strategic approach, don’t disagree head-on with them to put your own unsupported view because this will backfire on you. Try to think of tactful ways you can accomplish this. Here are some ideas for making positive comments that are respectful to the other person or group:
- First offer (genuine) praise and credit to the other person for common views and conclusions.
- Pick up on the best aspects of their thinking.
- Redirect their flawed thinking to another angle: “This [alternative] approach could position you really well.”
- “If we do it this [different / new] way, it could be easier to go to the next steps.”
- “The ROI for this approach could be useful for other projects.”
- Be flexible in your thinking – give ground on small points if necessary, but stay firm on the big points.
- If you are pointing out problems, make your points clear; don’t talk around in circles.
- Offer alternatives to the other person’s point; don’t just contradict them.
- Support your case with suitable facts, background information and logic.
- Use case studies and input from other industry and professional sources.
- Offer your ongoing support – you are a team.
By being prepared to get out of your comfort zone and take a more strategic approach with managers and clients you will find yourself becoming much more effective in your career.