In the previous column, “Being
Strategic,” we looked at examples of how three companies utilize
different approaches to public relations to market themselves -- the
reactionary, product-focused program; the intermittent hit-and-run
approach; and the “big bang” theory. While each of these programs may be
effective with the media in the short term, none of these programs will be
successful over the long term. Each one fails by that important benchmark
because they lack two key interrelated factors: A thorough understanding
of how the media works and the long-term perspective and related
commitment necessary for success.
By understanding both of these factors, you can lay
the groundwork for establishing an overall strategy and then the
communications programs necessary to make the media at first aware of your
company and then interested in writing about you over the long term.
The first step in developing an overall strategy is
to conduct an internal audit of what makes your company unique. Your
uniqueness becomes the foundation of your company’s strategic
differentiation in the eyes of the media. While the phrase “internal
audit” conjures up a costly and lengthy process of surveys, interviews and
meetings that can often center more on the process than the results, we
have found from our experience with companies of all sizes that a focused
half-day session with a company’s key executives is the optimum approach.
By gathering this core group of executives, we
establish a forum that enables everyone to contribute their views of what
makes your company unique. Members of this group range from the obvious
top-level positions as CEO and division heads to the not-so-obvious, such
as those more responsible for the day-to-day operations at your company,
such as product and sales managers. Corporate communications staff and
outside agencies would of course be included as well.
The strength of this approach is in the numbers; the
secret is to be inclusive so that all key viewpoints are represented, but
at the same time limit the number of participants to a workable
number. From our experience, this group has been as small as three people
at a startup to as large as 20 at a Fortune 500 company.
To maximize the output of this group session, we always prepare a document
that presents our own, studied “outsider’s” perception of your
company. This marketplace SWOT (“Strength Weakness Opportunity Threat”)
analysis is designed to focus the meeting and get “everyone on the same
page” prior to its start.
In order to prepare this document, we research a
number of areas:
- Media coverage -- both quantitative and
qualitative -- and interview key journalists;
- Analyst coverage, including interviews with key
analysts that follow your company;
- Marketplace analysis and positioning of your real
and perceived competitors;
- Your own marketing communications and public
relations materials, such as sales and promotional literature and
company-issued press releases; and
- Your Web site and an analysis of how it compares
to your competitors’ Web sites.
This preliminary overview document is distributed
well in advance of the meeting to give everyone attending time to review
it and provide feedback prior to the meeting. If necessary, the document
may be revised prior to the meeting based on attendees’ feedback.
THE REAL WORLD
After reviewing the agenda and the desired outcome of the meeting, the
overview document serves as a springboard for discussion. Everyone’s input
is valuable during this session, and we have found that those “in the
trenches,” the product managers and sales staff, often provide the real
world experience that gives the necessary perspective to more senior level
executives. This context is essential in establishing your strategic
differentiation. Let’s face it, the product and sales staffs are the ones
out there selling every day. They receive direct feedback on the key
reasons your customers and clients should buy your product or
service. They learn firsthand what determinant attribute -- whether
quality, price, availability, distribution, brand reputation or some other
factor or factors -- is the key to closing the sale.
These determinant attributes are the characteristics
that are important to your customers, yet distinguish your products from
competing products. By identifying the product or service attributes that
your customers use to differentiate among competing products or services,
we learn why your products sell and begin to understand what makes your
Once the meeting attendees have agreed upon a list of
attributes, we then determine the importance of each attribute and how
strong your differentiation is on each one as compared to your
competition. We then focus the discussion on refining the analysis of each
of these attributes. If you have, for example, the most efficient widget,
we might ask these questions to gain more meaningful information:
- What company is in second place?
- How much more efficient are you than them?
- How does the rest of the competition stack up?
- What company looks to be a short- and/or long-term
- Are there outside factors that affect this
- Are new companies moving into the market that
might affect your leadership position in this particular area?
It is important that the focus of our strategic
thinking be on those attributes that clearly set your company apart from
the competition – this list may be as short as one or as long as a dozen.
The end result of this meeting is powerful source material for developing
an overall marketing strategy as well as a communications program for your
product or service.
next column, we’ll take the results of this meeting and discuss the next
step in putting strategic differentiation to work – the development of
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. He has
designed strategic plans, managed communications programs and obtained
major news coverage for such Fortune 500 companies as IBM, Fujifilm,
Motorola and Sony, early stage companies like Arbinet, Dialogic and Juno
as well as startups like Barnesandnoble.com, ClubMom.com, New Paradigm
Software and Viaweb. As President of
Communications Worldwide, he helps companies gain mindshare and
win market share by improving their communications to their key audiences
through the use of outside experts. He welcomes your comments and
questions on how to put his ideas to work and can be reached at (516)
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