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Randy Savicky

[March 23, 2003]

Strategy + Communications Column:
Being Strategic


In the previous columns, we’ve discussed the overall importance of a proactive marketing and public relations program in helping create (and grow) successful companies, looked behind the scenes to discuss how -- and why -- we see and hear what we do every day in the media and stressed the importance of making the media your ally to help you achieve your business goals.

While making the media your ally is certainly easier said than done, the goal of this effort is well worth it. Having 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 channel partners to employees and stakeholders. It’s part of our “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.  

“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. 

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 over the years. 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 reactionary, product-focused programs to the intermittent hit-and-miss approach, to the “big bang” theory of public relations, many companies think they are “being strategic.” But let’s take a look at why the three examples I’ve just cited, let’s call them Company A, Company B and Company C, fall short of “being strategic” and fail to deliver what’s needed to achieve success in today’s marketplace.

First, let’s look at Company A and its reactionary, product-focused program. The key word here 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 the opportunity to create a position where it can set its own media agenda and strongly influence how it will be portrayed in the media. 

How to “turn this frown upside down” for Company A? We would 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 posture, Company A is now looking to “feed” the media news about its products, giving the media more chances to hear about the company and thereby attempting to influence the journalist’s mind and perspective before he or she begins writing any story. In the best case, this action by Company A can actually affect or shape how a writer approaches a particular story or subject, and how Company A is covered in that story.

With Company B, the intermittent hit-and-miss approach, it’s just that. Company B 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, but not the companies behind them.) 

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. 

How to fix Company B’s approach? We would recommend establishing a proactive, ongoing 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” becomes steady “hits,” ideally leading to media coverage (“hits” -- from singles to home runs!).

Finally, Company C’s “big bang” approach begins with a bang and ends with a whimper (at best). Like the dominant 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,” 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 afterward -- expecting the media to be interested immediately and maintain interest months after the show is over.

How to fix Company C’s approach? Once again, we recommend a proactive, ongoing public relations program, much like the recommendation for Company B.  With this program, the trade show may serve as the focal 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-month-long program, serving to increase interest in Company C prior to the show, at the show and immediately post-show. (And increasing show ROI.) 

There you have it, three examples of companies “being strategic.” In the next column, we’ll delve deeper into what’s needed to develop an overall strategy with the media.

With his unique "both sides of the editor's desk" perspective, Randy Savicky’s advice and counsel on public relations and marketing has been sought after by some of America’s largest corporations and best-known brands, including IBM, Motorola, Sony and Fujifilm. He is President of Strategy + Communications Worldwide, “the complete outsourcing resource,” which helps companies gain mindshare and market share by improving their communications to their key audiences: Media and analysts; customers and prospects; business and channel partners; government agencies and regulators; and employees and stakeholders.  He welcomes your comments and ideas and can be reached at (516) 286-7026 or [email protected].

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