Repeat after me: Media relations is a tactic, not a strategy
By Sara Veltkamp, Account Manager, Minerva Strategies —
We are a strategic communication consultancy and like other good groups who occupy this space, we believe that all clients, without exception, will be most effective if they follow these fundamental steps:
1. Outline communications goals that are informed by the overall organizational strategy;
2. Create a communications strategy that helps the organization achieve its communication goals and is feasible considering bandwidth and budget;
3. Support the communications strategy with the appropriate tactics.
Prospective clients will often tell us that they do not need strategic guidance. Instead, they need Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times to profile their work, or they need help making a video that will “go viral.” Then they ask us how we are going to make that happen.
The answer is simple: We’re not. At least not without considering how that one tactic would fit into a larger communication strategy.
This article on Spin Sucks, a popular public relations blog, shows that our counterparts in the business world struggle with similar confusion between strategy and tactics. The author Gini Dietrich of Arment Dietrich, a digital communications agency based in Chicago, argues that agencies and communicators often exacerbate this misunderstanding by not educating prospective clients about what goes into the strategic planning process. Instead, when pitching potential businesses, agencies will lead with promising media relationships or past success of communications tactics to hook new business – even if the business or organizations they are pitching will not be able to pursue similar tactics.
To counteract this damaging trend, she has written a vow that all and communication professionals can take. I’ve abbreviated it below:
“I, NAME, do solemnly swear to start with the business goals in mind. I will never start with the tactics again. I will start every program with a strategy and use the tactics that make sense to help us achieve the organization’s goals.”
I agree that many organizations would benefit from a viral video or a placement in the New York Times, but these wins are very often the result of years of strategic work and investment, with the occasional exception of a well-timed, “Hail Mary pass.” At Minerva Strategies – as football fans – we love Hail Mary passes, if the opportunity is strategically aligned and does not limit capacity for ongoing implementation. But those successes are rare, while strategy works – every time.
We aren’t willing to gamble the daily successes of our clients’ work. From helping people with heroin and other opioid use disorders in the US to girls and women’s health in Ethiopia – there’s just too much at stake.