The Strategy Imperative

Let me begin with the obvious:  The election is over.  We know who won.

The reason I bring this up is that until November 6, America’s business leaders and the economy as a whole seemed stalled in neutral.  It wasn’t as if we collectively were doing nothing at all, but uncertainty about the outcome, or at least uncertainty about what would come after the outcome, gave corporations in nearly all sectors a general sense of pause. The challenge now is to break out of that inertia and use what remains of 2012 to make decisions about 2013 and beyond.

The best communicators already have some sort of skeleton plan in place likely dotted with various contingency scenarios.  The very best are activating a strategic planning discipline to seize maximum advantage from post-election clarity and build initiatives that take the new reality into full consideration.

The key word is discipline.  Strategic planning too often is a back-of-the-envelope exercise.  Research may be done and focus groups may be convened, but making the information gained from those efforts fully actionable requires a structured approach rigorously applied.

In communication strategy, we learned long ago that the optimal point of departure is a clear articulation of business goals.  As communicators, we bear a responsibility to align internal and external outreach with measurable outcomes that advance the enterprise.  Communicators are essential to the dynamic process of finding out what the target audiences or customers want and how they wish to interact with the organization. To foster and activate that interaction, we strive to learn their immediate needs and preferences and what they value.  When we do this successfully, we help our organizations enhance customer loyalty and encourage loyal and satisfied customers to advocate for the brand.

Beyond the statement of business objectives, sound strategic planning transitions to Stakeholder Enrollment. This is a face-to-face protocol for building core audiences into the plan by gathering their insights and perspectives, seeking their reactions to preliminary assumptions and engaging their participation in further plan and program refinements.  We can no longer presume that our audiences will follow our lead if we are boldly creative.  Creative is catchy.  Strategy is breakthrough.

Consumers are smarter and, frankly, under greater pressure than ever before.  They no longer can afford to act solely to their desires.  They require substance, content and a reason to act.  Since audience segments have different motivations and needs, the strategic plan must reflect these differences.  When we compile this information from interviews, polls and focus groups,  we literally create a communication chart in map-like format, so the path of communications, its intersections and road blocks all can be identified at a glance. We call this Architecture and find for our clients it is a far more useful depiction of communication strategy than another mind-numbing PowerPoint or narrative of the past.

From there, we use the graphic to build consensus and establish the metrics by which the program will be held accountable.  It’s a clear and unambiguous process and it works for organizations in diverse industries and sectors.  Far more important, it doesn’t require months to complete.  Following this structure, a solid strategic plan can be in place before 2013 arrives.

The election is over.  It’s imperative to get serious strategic planning moving again.  And it is past time we all did so.

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