Moving Communications from Tactical to Strategic Implementation

Inspiration for this post came from sports radio of all places.  Washington Nationals superstar, Bryce Harper, is in a contract year which creates a general sense of “outcome anxiety” that can become a major distraction for the player and organization.

I couldn’t believe my ears when the host suggested that the front office needs to have their PR team close at hand to prepare them for what the team, the manager and Harper himself are likely to face in terms of media scrutiny on the contract issue at every stop as the season unfolds.

10888776353_9c71574e19_z-620x248It struck me that this was both an excellent idea so that they can proactively prepare messaging adequately, and it is also a unique concept to elevate a PR team to a more strategic function within a baseball team.

Communications teams in organizations of all sizes are often brought in after a leadership decision (often semi-informed or outright flawed) to either promote a campaign, to clean up a bungled initiative or forced into an uncomfortable position to reactively handle a crisis response.

So many of these botched efforts (think the recent Dodge Super Bowl ad that used a sermon from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the various customer service fiascos perpetrated by airlines to very questionable celebrity endorsements) could have been triaged more appropriately, or avoided all together, if only communications professionals were at the table from the outset.

When everyday people are bemoaning how badly even a global brand handled a highly publicized issue, it’s high time to flip the script and work to showcase the bottom-line value of having communicators be an integral part of an organization’s strategic planning.

Here’s how:

  • Package your successes for leadership and don’t just share high-profile media coverage or a well-executed campaign – give the backstory on the strategic approach and any obstacles overcome that led to positive results. This will build your own credibility and value proposition to big-picture organizational thinking.
  • Ingratiate yourself into various business units to get a better sense of good story telling opportunities. This can help you stay in front of major organizational decisions that you can offer communications advice on.
  • Ask pointed questions that make leadership or decision makers think beyond their own narrow focus. This way you can advise on both how to best promote an idea, but (more importantly) you can share some worst-case scenarios that might ruin an initiative unless a few items are fine-tuned.
  • Create a brief PPT of well-known examples of “worst practices” of tone-deaf marketing campaigns or clumsy and debilitating crisis responses. Save to present to leadership soon after a well-publicized blunder happens – and these days, you won’t have to wait long to showcase instances of “we don’t want to be this.”
  • Read the room in meetings and see who might be most inclined to your point-of-view through body language. Be active in these meetings, but also be judicious as to when you speak up. It’s wise to wait until many perspectives have been put forth and you, through the communications lens, can give your perspective to help sway the strategic direction of whatever is being discussed.

The more you can position yourself as an asset to your organization’s everyday function, not merely the one who writes a press release to announce fill-in-the-blank, the more your counsel will be listened to and ultimately sought out.

It’s all about positioning yourself or your team to get crucial buy-in from leadership that communications needs to be an integral part of the overall planning process.

We will see if this happens with the Nationals this season or if they endure a constant drumbeat like the Redskins forced themselves into with the Kirk Cousins contract situation that has been a communications albatross around their neck for two years!

Internally, you want to function like one of the more famous advertising campaigns of the 1980’s, when EF Hutton talks…people listen.


By: Scott Frank, president of ARGO Communications and former Senior Director, Media Relations for the American Institute of Architects.