Strategy is one of the most abused, misused words in the entire lexicon of business. Ask 100 executives what strategy means and you’ll get 150 different answers. In this six-part series, we’ll look at how to choose a PR strategy based on visible, measurable criteria and a meta-strategic framework. Today, we’ll examine the traditional PR environment.
Recall that our framework for choosing a PR strategy is based on two dimensions: pace (how fast things change) and voice (how easy it is to be heard).
The traditional PR environment, the one that most companies default to, is defined by slow pace and weak voice. In this environment, change doesn’t happen quickly. Companies in the traditional environment face a communications environment that is relatively fixed, and winning is a balancing act of voice and power. The more power you have, the stronger your voice can be in a very crowded environment. The traditional environment is also effectively a zero-sum game when it comes to voice; because of the crowd, for you to gain voice, someone else must lose theirs.
What are some examples of a traditional environment? Consider the fast food industry. Name five fast food brands in your head. Chances are that you came up with McDonald’s*, Burger King, Wendy’s, Subway, and struggled for a fifth (probably KFC or Arby’s, depending on where you live). This is an industry that is exceptionally traditional; voice is determined largely by resources available, and significant disruptions are rare. Another example of a traditional environment is the telecommunications industry. Name five mobile providers in your head. Chances are you’ll struggle for that fifth provider as well.
How To Choose Traditional Strategy
In a traditional environment, resources define whether you win or lose. The more resources you have – money, people, time, etc. – the more likely it is you’ll win. Success begets success – the more resources you can bring to bear, the more share of voice (and thus eventually customers) you’ll attain, giving you more revenue to re-invest.
What strategies fit well with a traditional environment? Brand-building strategies such as social media awareness campaigns, large-scale advertising, press tours, and national/top-tier publication outreach work best in a traditional environment. The more visible you are, the better, but because you’re competing on power, expect to invest top dollar budgets to win.
Because of its slow pace and success-begets-success nature, traditional environments also benefit from an incremental approach, where every small victory builds momentum. Your PR strategy likely will not be able to go for national publications/top influencers out of the gate. You’ll instead need to earn small victories in local publications or niches, then use those victories as leverage to get to the next tier of publications. As your story grows in recognition, you will be able to land bigger and bigger placements until you can compete for the top tier.
Where You’ll Go Wrong
With a traditional environment, there are no shortcuts. You can either buy your way to success with massive advertising budgets, or work your way to success through leveraging media opportunities over time. There aren’t many alternatives because power is the defining characteristic of the traditional environment. Attempting to shortcut the process by either demanding top-tier coverage immediately or insisting on spending like a pauper but being treated like a king will result in failure to achieve your goals.
In the next post in this series, we’ll look at the opposite of a stable, structured environment: chaos.
How to Choose a PR Strategy
Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology
* McDonald’s is a client of SHIFT Communications.