How does having a communications strategy ensure your PR and marketing communications activity makes sense and delivers value to your business?
In a B2B context, according to Tony Langham of Lansons, communications activity either builds reputation or generates more business. Typically, each of these aspirations goes hand in hand.
And that means, when devising a communications strategy for business, you need to be crystal clear about the strengths of your business and the market opportunities you can realistically capitalise on. That might sound blindingly obvious, but it’s not always the first place that organisations begin the thinking process about communications strategy.
In fact, in many instances, there is no strategy – just a list of tactical activities.
This was brought home to me when studying communications strategy with a Chartered Institute of Public Relations trainer several years ago, who recalled an organisation approaching him on the basis that he was “someone who did press releases”. This is not to diminish the role of the press release – far from it (in fact, recent LinkedIn research puts it at the top of desirable skills for digital marketers).
However, putting together and sending out press releases just because you can (or you think you should) may be doing your business more harm than good. The same goes for creating any type of content marketing that doesn’t support your business’ overall objectives.
So, why does this happen and why is it problematic
The “pet project”
Somebody influential in a business may have a pet project/story/idea that he or she wants to communicate. However, it may not support the business’ objectives, the business reputation you’re trying to build or genuinely reflect the true value/expertise of the business. In essence, it becomes a piece of vanity activity.
Sometimes there is a top-of-mind story – or piece of company activity – that is easy to gravitate to and believe is a story worth telling. Within the business, it might be considered important and even novel. But that doesn’t automatically make it newsworthy to a journalist or of value to another reader (who might be visiting your blog, for example). The risk of this is reducing your credibility with the media or website visitor and limiting the chances of them taking future stories seriously.
Investing time, thought and planning in a communications strategy takes longer, more effort but should do two things:
A. Provide a proper foundation for any communications activity that you do because it’s based on supporting real objectives and on authentic knowledge, expertise and market understanding.
B. It should also mean less (or, ideally, no) time wasted on communications activity that is unproductive and which doesn’t feed into supporting business goals. This is where you can put pet projects – in the doghouse!
External factors affecting your communications strategy
We live in a fast-changing world in which organisations are increasingly interconnected and highly visible to their customers and stakeholders.
This means it’s impossible to ignore what’s going on in the outside world or pretend it doesn’t affect your business.
It doesn’t mean you have to suddenly turn your organisation upside down to match the latest fad, trend or zeitgeist, but it might mean being aware of social and economic shifts that will change the way you do business and, in turn, communicate.
A recent PA Media/PRCA webinar on rethinking communications strategy for 2021 looked at a number of areas that might feed into your thinking about communications strategy:
The concept of purpose is about how you can reflect a level of meaning in your business that demonstrates what you stand for beyond being an engine for profit.
Tony Langham describes it as organisations explaining why people should buy from them, work for them and why governments should listen to them.
Rhian Harries at Sticky places purpose as a response to the mood of your audience. Therefore, it means talking to your audience through conducting research and social media listening to understand better what your audience wants to see, read or listen to. In that way, you can take stock and “tap into the mood of the moment”, making it a good time for companies to gather data insights to support their business and communications strategies.
In separate, but connected commentary, Camilo La Cruz, writing on the CMO Council website, said: “…there is no question that the majority of people expect brands to pick a side and take action, a trend that has been steadily gaining traction in a year defined by a public health crisis and social unrest. Employees also expect their employers to be part of the solution on a wide range of issues from mental health to social cause.”
Reputation – or its importance – is nothing fresh (Shakespeare’s Othello, anybody?).
However, it’s worth remembering that organisations with a good reputation perform more effectively than those without.
What does it actually mean? Tony Langham makes the point that businesses don’t own their reputation; rather it’s in the gift of the people a business serves (in other words, what people say about you when “you’re not in the room”).
This needs both words and actions that form part of an authentic story for your business. And with your reputation living or dying based on what others think and say about you, it’s worth trying to exceed their expectations at every turn.
And, in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, Langham believes that – depending on the industry you work in and how appropriate this might be – introducing a “lightness of touch” (a.k.a. humour) will “reap a huge dividend”.
Ultimately, good communications are often the difference between happy and unhappy customers, employees, neighbours, regulators and any other stakeholder your business affects.
Which is why it’s worth investing time and effort in devising a communications strategy that gives you a fighting chance to be listened to, understood, believed and trusted.
Need support with your B2B business’ communications strategy? Contact Metamorphic PR.