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The Art of PR War
By: Elizabeth Friedland
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Stop me if you’ve heard this in a meeting before:
 
“What’s our strategy for Client Project X?”
“Well, we’re focusing heavily on media relations.”
 
or
 
“We’re reaching out to consumers through social media.”
 
or
 
“We’re planning a guerrilla marketing event.”
 
Did you catch the glaring problem with the responses? The answers are all valuable tools to achieve client goals, but they’re tactics, not strategy.
 
Sun Tzu said in, The Art of War, "Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat." While we might think differentiating tactics versus strategy is a concept to be mastered sometime before college graduation, time and time again PR campaigns are presented with great emphasis on tactics, and hardly any thought on overall strategy.
 
Strategy, of course, is the master plan outlining desired outcomes. Tactics are the tools used to carry out the strategy. A strategy should be personal, unique, and tailored to the specific goals at hand; two strategies should never look the same. Tactics, while still tailored to each initiative, are more universal: media relations, social media, experiential marketing, focus groups, etc. Put another way, strategy is the blueprint of the house; tactics are the hammer and nails.
 
Occupy Wall Street is the latest (and most notable) example of a campaign with plentiful tactics and absolutely no strategy. Its tactical tools are numerous: Twitter, Facebook,  a website, live stream, group forum, chat room, user map, guerilla tactics, media relations, and so on.
 
Yet their strategy is still nowhere to be found, even with the addition of a Manhattan-based PR firm representing the group pro bono. The group doesn’t have a list of goals or demands. There’s no specific mission or vision statement. They haven’t outlined how they’ll measure success. In fact, Occupy Wall Street hasn’t even defined success. They don’t declare their target audience, stakeholders, allies, partners, or adversaries.
 
It isn’t just large-scale campaigns that fail to produce coherent (or any) strategies. Nearly everyone has been told to send out a press release announcing the hiring of a new big wig in the corporation. Even this seemingly routine task needs a strategy. Is the goal to appear stronger than the competition because of this new hire? Obtain ten new accounts because of the draw of the CEO? Overshadow the news of the company’s poor fourth quarter financial showing? If you think your strategy is, “Get the press release out and get a hit or two in local outlets,” you need to go back to square one or don’t release the information at all.
 
To avoid the same pitfalls of Occupy Wall Street, and so many other more run-of-the-mill PR campaigns, clearly outline the following at the start of any initiative, no matter how small:
  • What are we trying to accomplish on a large scale?
  • What specific actions do we want to come out of this?
  • How will we define success? What does success look like now and in the future?
While the "wars" of the PR professional may not be exactly what Sun Tzu had in mind, his advice, given more than 2,000 years ago, rings true today. Take the time to solidify a strong strategy before contemplating tactics and you're sure to win the battle.


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About the Author
Elizabeth Friedland in Senior Digital Strategist, specializing in PR, at Hirons Advertising & Public Relations. To learn more than you ever wanted to know about her, visit www.elizabethfriedland.com.
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