Let’s directly address what too many leaders or managers are thinking about when it comes to strategic communications and PR, shall we?

If I had a dollar for every time I was asked about the value that communications/PR can bring to the table, I would have done a FIRE and be somewhere in Bali enjoying the sunset.

The general line of conversation goes something like this.

“Why does communications not bring in sales or close deals?”

“Why do you need so much budget to earn reputation?”

“Can you measure reputation?”

“What measurements do you use? Why are they so broad and indirect? These metrics make it so challenging to determine impact on sales figures, volume sell-in or out and market share.”

“Where are we going to get resources and why are you aiming at big targets such as policy, regulation, awareness?”

strtgcommsgrp - factors for strategic communications

These are short-sighted questions when it comes to thinking about benefits to the business.

For example, sales, because it tends to be what leaders/management spend the most time focusing on. Communications was never meant to replace or substitute relationship or account-based sales. Nurturing, developing and closing a lead continues to be a sales function. If the sales team is unable to close a deal due to the lead’s lack of context or understanding of the product, that is an opportunity for sales and marketing to work together. Instead, we see tension happen between the functions.

The gap here is not one where teams are not able to work together.

Instead, it is a narrow perspective by management, to not seek alignment of goals, and integrate business and functional objectives into an over-arching framework.

Let’s define what strategic communications is.

Strategic communications is critical to a business succeeding.

It is about creating and executing against a master plan, by coordinating the various channels of communications an organisation has in order to support outreach to decision makers and stakeholders and influence, promote or defend against outcomes.

This includes the sum of all actions, content as well as intentions that the organisation puts out, as well as those that it chooses not to.

All of these must be aligned to support the organisation’s goals.

The communications/PR process breaks down when units/functions/teams are working in siloes or on different timelines and chooses specific mediums or messages to push out.

This creates confusion that can confuse customers, and negatively impact a brand’s reputation.

And what it is not.

Communications/PR is often consistently confused with the following areas and scenarios.

Communicators do not create a shield for other functions so they can justify their activities as support for the business. For example, distributing a press release to share about a product change of colour/spec/sales channel only makes the product team look like they are incapable of creating better products.

Communicators are not helping to draw the attention of the  audience or competitors away so the business can do some sleight of hand and surprise everyone with a new approach/strategy/product.

While the communicator is supposed to be familiar with the customer profiles, characteristics and preferences, it is not meant to be a replacement for a sales person, relationship manager or front-of-house team member.

Many outcomes relating to awareness, discovery, reputation and credibility are driven by communications/PR and these indirectly support other functions in their role. For example, familiarity of the brand by a cold lead can be the way in for a sales person to ‘warm’ them up, or a positive reputation can help the procurement team build a good relationship with the supply chain. 

Why is it important to your organisation?

An organisation can benefit from the structure and rigour that a strategic communications plan and execution can bring.

As a result of the structure, communications/PR can help optimise ROI by integrating efforts across different units and efforts – whether from a budget, talent or timing perspective – which can help with execution. This ROI can be obtained by either securing maximum output, or increasing efficiency from execution thereby using lesser resource, or both.

The strategy in this process comes showing how the organistion is providing better value to the customer. This outcome is earned by demonstrating differentiation, that is, by doing things differently, or in a superior manner instead of providing mere incremental improvements.

Communications/PR is both proactive when it’s about sharing news to customers, and it can also be a defensive play when it is about protecting reputation.

Having a well-formed strategic communications plan is a form of risk management and insurance for the organisation. The plan actively identifies risks and mitigation tactics as outcomes of pursuing specific business directions and projects. This will help organisations avoid potential crisis scenarios while providing a roadmap for managing the scenario if it happens.

For example, the communications team might have identified cultural nuances to take note of when translating product names or information into local language. This can make the product team aware of a potential customer issue down the road and search for alternative names prior to launch instead of dealing with issues post-launch.

What are 3 benefits of applying strategic communications/PR to the business?

The top 3 benefits that communications/PR can help the business with includes: earn more revenue, defend against competition and save more resources.

Earn more revenue by demonstrating value-add to the customer

A brand can proactively use strategic communications as part of business strategy to demonstrate understanding of their customers’ environment and needs. Despite solid product-market fit, a brand also must demonstrate that they know their customers’ challenges, problems being solved for, and explain how they can provide a solution. This requires goal setting, audience/customer planning, messaging and activating relevant channels.

Defend by creating perceived barriers for the competition

To dominate a niche, brands must sell-in to more and more customers. They also have to convince competitors that the investment of resources and the operations of offering a competitive product is not worth the effort. To do so, they have to be messages shared that explain specifically how overcoming certain challenges required the commitment of long-term resources that will take an unattractive window of time to break-even.

These messages have to be balanced against sharing of achievements to customers as a means of demonstrating leadership and quality. If either message is dominant in the wrong channel, it can impact both sales and facilitate the entry of more players into the brand’s marketplace.

Save resources by saving on costs

A strategic communications plan can help to increase productivity and efficacy by reducing false starts, and wasted resources spent on wrong channels.

By spending initial time upfront to understand the target customer and their challenges, needs and preferences, programmes can be made more aligned and relevant for them. This increases the value-add to the customer. Through increased interaction, decision on how and where to allocate and focus resources also takes place, thereby reducing wastage.

With a cohesive set of messages to be shared with customers, activities and programmes can be structured to share these through different touch-points, timings to achieve specific outcomes. This approach saves on duplication and encourages more utilisation of the activity or programme.

By working across multiple channels, data can determine the better tool suited for the channel, increasing the effectiveness of the channel or reducing the cost per outcome achieved.   

Sidebar: If we have a tool, and do not use it, do we really have the tool?

“If a tree falls in the forest but no one is there to hear it, did the tree really fall?” is a thought experiment that raises questions about perception and reality.

From a psychology perspective, this question highlights the importance of sensory experience in our understanding of the world around us. Our brains rely on sensory input to create our perception of reality, and without any sensory input, our brains may not be able to construct a meaningful experience.

When it comes to using a tool (or not) in an organisation, the question relates more to the concept of motivation and behavior. Possessing a tool is one factor that may influence whether someone engages in a particular behavior or not, but there may be other factors that determine whether someone actually uses the tool.

If an organisation possesses a tool but chooses not to use it, it may be missing out on the benefits that the tool can provide. The tool may have been acquired with a specific purpose in mind, and not using it may mean that the organisation is not able to achieve its goals as effectively as it could.

In addition, not using a tool may result in missed opportunities to streamline processes, increase efficiency, or reduce costs. If a tool is available that can help automate tasks or improve data analysis, for example, not using it may mean that employees are spending more time on manual tasks or are not able to make data-driven decisions as easily.

Moreover, not using a tool may create a knowledge gap between the organisation and its competitors. If other organisations are utilising similar tools to gain a competitive advantage, an organisation that chooses not to use them may fall behind.

If you could do only 1 thing this week to improve your strategic communications programme or plan, what would it be?

It would be to get the distinction between goals, objectives, and outcomes in your master strategic communications plan defined and expressed correctly.

Goals and objectives are commonly used when it comes to building strategies and plans for the organisation. Many teams tend to use them interchangeably as well, without recognising that they mean different things.

Additionally, an outcome is ultimately about achieving a desired change. A change is not necessarily a goal. In fact, these two terms should be used differently.

An achievement starts with a goal and ends with an outcome. A goal is typically a beginning step in the plan, and the outcome a conclusion.

strtgcommsgrp - strategic communications: goals, objectives and outcomes

How can you go about measuring the impact of strategic communications?

A strategic communications team is typically cross-discipline and would work across areas such as branding, public relations, marketing and policy.

The objective would be to find ways to help build, protect and enhance the value of the brand and its reputation.

Using a sales lens (or a non-communications/PR lens) to measure strategic communications would be like going to a fast-food restaurant and asking for healthy meals. There will be choices on the menu, but chances are you will not be getting a healthy meal.

Instead, return to first principles, what exactly is the business goal and how would achieving that goal holistically look like? Apart from revenue, sales direction, are there other metrics such as brand recognition, easier access to the correct customer, policy/regulation support for the industry or category, third-party validation through media articles, etc.

There are things to measure that are valid, realistic and can push the brand’s agenda forward.

Brands and management owe it to their organisation to find the right mix of measurements and not use a square peg for a round hole.

I have wrote previously about why measurements/metrics matter, how to be SMART about it, and my top 3 measurements to use for communications/PR.

strtgcommsgrp - strategic communications: positive outcomes aligned to goals

I provide communications and PR solutions for organisations and practitioners through counsel, consultancy and training. With over 20+ years in the industry, I have created frameworks, methods and content that enable you and your team to launch, grow, level up and earn revenue effectively and efficiently.

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