6 Things That Undermine A Strategic Communications Plan

Strategic communications is more than a business buzzword. A well-designed communications plan is a strategic asset; it can boost brand value, enhance relationships with customers and partners, and build reputation while reducing inefficient PR and communications spending. Assuming you know how to develop a plan that focuses on the right message mix, communications channels, and tactics, how can your plan fall short? Here are the most common ways.

It’s not sufficiently tied to business outcomes.  Some companies still view communications as a service function within the organization, or even as a risk-mitigation resource like legal counsel. In other cases, the communications goals are identified as brand visibility. But a strategic communications plan should have a different endgame – building or enhancing the relationships and values that lead to measurable business performance and growth.

The plan was created in a vacuum.  Sometimes the planning process is too internally focused. It’s developed to push out news of the organization’s mission and values, or it’s based on a C-level wish list. But its chances of success are greater when it’s informed by external insights – key trends, disruptors, and specific industry changes that will affect the company over the long term. The best plans also start with a thorough brand communications audit that includes insights into customer, channel partner, and employee perceptions of the business or its products.

Channel messages are in conflict.  We’ve all been there. PR is focused on communicating a product’s “higher-order” benefits while, simultaneously, direct-marketing promotes deep price discounts. While these types of messages can coexist, if not carefully aligned, they can end up fighting with one another.

Communications guidelines are absent, or inadequate.  Even in a smaller company, visual and content quality standards are critical.  In a Harvard Business Review post, strategist Georgia Everse recommends “brand standards that give ‘rules to create by’” for those tasked with content creation and that set a very high bar for quality of creative content.

The plan is a secret.  Some companies keep the communications plan private among a few senior managers. Why? It’s not a secret. More importantly, many employees have customer contact, and virtually everyone talks about the organization with others. A brand message framework is useful for everyone, particularly because informal conversations will almost always fill gaps created by inadequate brand communication within the company.

The team is lost in the tactics. Though guidelines should be shared, the actual execution of communications tactics needs to be owned by an experienced team. But in the heat of media relations battles or email marketing campaigns, we often overfocus on execution. Someone once said to me that the difference between a strategic plan and a tactical one is that the former focuses on delivered results, while the latter on delivered change.

How To Be A Winner in the PR Awards Game

By guest blogger George Drucker

It’s awards season. No, not Oscars, Emmys, or YouTube. It’s the time of year where you or your PR agency, whether doing brand public relations, B2B PR, consumer PR or the like, can demonstrate your creativity, media skills, digital savvy and communications expertise in a truly competitive setting.
Winning industry awards, particularly those with few categories and high recognition, is not just a great ego boost for you and your team, but a solid way to distinguish yourself and build a professional reputation. Don’t we advise clients to focus on their “key differentiators”? Industry recognition is by definition a key differentiator.

But don’t do it for yourself. Do it for your clients as well. It allows the client to bask in the glory of recognition, and it may enable them to merchandise PR strategies within their organization. It can create a self-fulfilling sense of pride from the communications division to the C-suite.

We’ve had the good fortune to serve on many judging panels for the top PR Awards from the Silver Anvils to the SABREs, and there are many learnings from being on that side of the table. A few tips to help ensure that you get noticed or, better yet, win!

Set a time and expense budget. This one’s in the “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well” category. It’s a waste to enter if you can’t devote the time, or if things are cobbled together at the last minute. Entries are often expensive as well, so you may choose to enter one, meticulously prepared campaign in a category that makes sense.

Definable, measurable, relevant research is essential. Gather the best information and data you can find to support and inform all elements of your campaign or activity, from strategies to goals to tactics and conclusions. And don’t make it nebulous. Make sure it’s relevant and precise.

Be strategic. Yes, it’s a cliché, but it’s vital to get it right. Make sure you distinguish between a strategy, an objective and a tactic. They are distinct and serve different purposes, so make it clear to the judges you “get it.”

Show creativity. It doesn’t matter what the campaign or activity is, whether a public affairs issue, a crisis action, or consumer campaign. Inventive thinking really matters. Sometimes it’s a simple twist on the traditional or a new execution for an “old” idea. It’s how you can get heard above the noise and make the effort remembered and recognized. Yet, a creative idea without strategic direction is creativity lost.

Choose categories wisely. Be careful and clear in selecting the right category (or categories) for your entry. Don’t try to fit a square peg in a round hole. Be very mindful of the published criteria for submissions. Judging dozens of written entries can be overwhelming and time-consuming, and sometimes the judges are looking for a reason to eliminate one to simplify the task. The wrong category will also raise a red flag about your thinking and attention to rules.
Now go home and polish your acceptance speech.

Questioning PR Measurement? Please Do!

While most PR professionals have moved well past counting “clips” or calculating ad equivalencies as a gauge of a campaign’s success, there is still no one universally accepted way to measure PR outcomes.

Perhaps there shouldn’t be. While no two campaigns have the same objectives or strategic roadmap, why would the results calculus be the same? Or does the clamor for an “industry standard” make a world of sense? The fact is, PR metrics are evolving just as the industry has.

Take social media. Do followers and fans and likes and thumbs ups translate into tangible benefits for the brand or business? Or are they mere vanity metrics? The answer depends on the brand, its baseline perception, and its goals.

No matter what type of PR campaign you’re running – consumer, product, or professional services PR, the metric that matters is how PR outcomes track to business results. Of course, the quality of media coverage a given campaign produces is vital, and brand reputation has real, measurable value, but the final yardstick is an agreed-upon business goal.

For an e-commerce company, this will often mean website traffic. For a financial services business with a monthly seminar, it may be an increase in attendees and the resulting engagement with the company. For a business with an aggressive thought leadership program in the works, we may pay attention to deliverables like bylined articles or speaking opportunities, but we are ultimately seeking that most precious of all intangibles, influence – the type of influence that creates new customer interest, attracts partners, and supports purchase conversions.

A less recognized part of PR measurement is inside the corporation. Merchandising positive press and social media engagement to senior management isn’t just playing corporate politics; it’s part of achieving greater awareness about what strategic communications can do and how it fits into the bigger business picture.

No matter what type of ROI for PR you seek, the most important measurement definition is the one agreed upon by the communications professional (whether inside the company or at a partner agency) and those who hold the purse strings. We have an obligation to help client companies focus on achieving goals like this “holy trinity” we’ve adopted.

Tangible incremental increase in sales tracked to earned media coverage

Quantifiable change in awareness, knowledge, attitude, opinion, or behavior that occurs as a result of a public relations program or campaign (most effective when PR is only awareness tool employed)

Marked uptick in engagement from:
• visits to website
• requests for information
• sharing website resources
• increased positive comments, (signs of ongoing relationship)

What PR measurements make it onto your must-have list?