Tactics or strategy – that is the question?

23 March 2015, Blog

In his latest book, Winners And How They Succeed, former Blair PR right hand man Alastair Campbell points out his mantra – Objective, Strategy, Tactics (OST), specifically in this sequence. For him far too many people fail to understand the difference between strategy and tactics. It is ironic that the comment has come from someone with a PR background as our industry is often guilty of developing plans that are very creative and tactical but aren’t always on the mark strategically.

The strategy thing is obviously a bugbear of Campbell. He wrote the following in PR Week in 2012: “Everything else flows from strategy. You have to start with your objective – what you want to achieve – and your strategy – your approach to achieving it. Only then do you start thinking about tactics, which are the actions and tools needed to deliver the strategy. Without an agreed and clear strategy, you will not develop effective, coherent tactics or successfully promote or defend reputations.”

In addition to his OST mantra, Campbell’s other golden rules for strategy include:

  • Strategy development is about having arguments, not avoiding them.
  • Strategy is about involving the whole team and getting their support
  • Effective strategy creation is based on thorough analysis and understanding.
  • Consider the business goal, not just the comms goal.
  • Ensure flexibility to be able to adapt the strategy over time.

One area that PR firms are now investing significant time in is analysis and understanding as clients increasingly buy into the strategic value of PR. Arguably this has been an area where historically public relations companies have lagged behind their marketing counterparts.

Such insight gathering  to build up a complete picture of an organisation holds the key to unlocking Campbell’s OST. In my firm we call it the discovery stage and this covers:

  • the organisation’s business plan and vision (key stakeholders, markets, growth strategy, investment plans)
  • the  wider operating environment of the organisation and its opportunities and challenges
  • what success from the communications campaign looks like for the organisation
  • the effectiveness of current communications activities
  • current perception amongst key stakeholders
  • what differentiates the organisation
  • what the competition is doing

Armed with such knowledge there can be no question of the thinking behind the communications programme.

Chris Lawrance is Managing Director and based in JBP’s Bristol office

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