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In search of PR effectiveness

The myriad of details, which bear upon efficiency of communication, causes a company to easily roll out of control – it does not take much however for some order to appear in the chaos. And animated discussions only serve to emphasise that in the world of marketing much is going on and much is changing.

Today’s popular slogans are ousting the abused ones. Content Marketing, Digital or Generation Z are a big hit nowadays, replacing the recently trendy Generation Y, Connected Generation and other popular expressions. Words, trends and dogmas are used by the dozen. And next to the professional reality, and we cannot hide it, the world is changing as we speak. History keeps rolling faster because exchange of ideas, views and opinions is also continuing to accelerate. The technology highway is pushing into oblivion the well-worn and long-developed paths of reaching consumers. We are faster and better informed and growing scepticism gives rise to new authorities. Life teaches us to verify promises made; thanks to the network consumers are more willing than ever before to take advantage of easy access to information. We also demand more of organisations. Speaking figuratively faster and more information about the employment conditions in the company we have applied for a job in; about the new IPhone or the hotel where we want to spend the holidays is available in the internet. Many traditional channels of reach are becoming irrelevant. The meaning of this for companies is that the ease, with which they can reach the consumer, is just as great as the ease, with which they can stumble. In such an environment the price of failure, some minor insincerity or ignorance may be much more painful than it would seem. On the other hand easy building of outreach for a consumer means the opportunity to get and share opinions more easily, though for the price of quality of the content read. So, building a communication strategy, how to factor-in as many aspects as possible in order to give us maximum benefits?

Defining the communication framework let us consider four mutually dependent efficiency-building areas and four groups of risk. The first fundamental area is identity, which – if properly recognised – supports vision, which in turn is interdependent on context and if it is well embedded into the latter, coalitions may be built effectively to support the goals of the organisation. In each area it is a good idea to take the gap into account because if omitted, it may inhibit the effectiveness of our efforts. Metaphorically speaking, the approach I have described is illustrated by wind, which strikes against the windmill’s blades and at first it begins to move the mechanism and then it speeds up – adding speed with every next gust of wind. The role of people in charge of communication is to control the positioning of the blades in order for them to make efficient use of all the blowing air. A misinterpretation may cause a slowdown or in an extreme case it may even rip the blades off if they are set against the wind.

Thus let us move on to a description of how the blades of the communication windmill are controlled. When I say identity I mean all the bright spots of our constellation; the attributes, around which we can build the narrative. It is worth remembering that depending on the type of business and relations with the particular group of stakeholders we can easily identify the most important ones. For example the highest consumer value may be represented by product features, value for money or innovation as well as increasingly often also the environmental aspect. Meanwhile even the best management team or workplace will not be reflected in product preferences or loyalty. Say, when buying a computer we are not particularly interested in who the manufacturer’s CEO is and how bright a vision he has shown to his crew (extreme cases notwithstanding). On the other hand in the promotion of companies from the consulting sector talents constitute the key asset as opposed to information about sales volume, disclosure of which may bring more harm than benefit. Far and far between are financial results of consulting companies, presented in promotional content. Not to mention the working conditions there – after all when ordering a report we give no thought to how many nights have the project team spent working on it. The risk area will be the danger that we have misunderstood the stakeholders’ logic of priorities, which may result in trying to communicate on completely different wavelengths.

Having confronted facts with needs, the next step is to align attributes with the vision or rather to build a bridge between the business operation, its vision and the world of attributes. Surrounded by numerous definitions of the role of cells responsible for communication I am inclined to pay tribute to Porter, whose overriding objective is to build value. In a nutshell, from the point of view of reasonable use of engaged resources actions, which lead nowhere make no sense whatsoever. This seems to be a banal observation, but just look around to see how many actions, which are absurd from this point of view, are undertaken by companies. This is marketing art for art’s sake indeed. Such actions, while missing the point, disclose another risk area i.e. that, which I call contradiction. In rapidly changing circumstances it is thus a good idea to focus particular attention on the contradiction between the already emerging communication strategy and the traps, which we may easily fall into. Unless it is a case of force majeure, in communication one should avoid heated political debates, controversial social topics or armed conflicts, for they may distort the picture and dominate the facts. Context may change the meaning. We all remember the dramatic accident, in which a valued automotive reporter was killed. This was the beginning of a crisis in the insurance company.

The aim of the next task is to use context to make it work as an amplifier, which will allow us to emphasise signals sent to the market. A great value for communication comes from taking advantage of the positive effect of what pleases our auditorium – major successes, important ideas and social trends. Let us look at it as additional coordinates on a map, which we will use to choose the right with even greater precision. Recapitulating, we have defined the potential by selecting aspects important for our recipients, picking only those, which reach the targets. Then, having eliminated controversies, we seek the elements to strengthen our position. It is a structured process, which narrows down the field of operation, putting extremes between desired features and risk groups. The gap, which I associate with this subject, is control of uniqueness. If you do not stand out, you do not exist. Even the best strategy drawing may become an unintentional copy. You need to be very careful about this because it is only natural for us to be convinced that if we have finally come up with an idea, it could not have been conceived by anyone before us. Unfortunately this is not the case. Thus let us keep an eye on what our competitors are doing and on what goes on in this country and abroad. With an action outline prepared, we can verify with little effort.

The cherry on the cream of every strategy may be a good coalition. In this case however I encourage a broad interpretation of categories – we are looking for convergence of interests, which need not have only a sectoral dimension and it does not have to be obviou

The ambassadors of our initiatives may be institutional as well as non-governmental or academic circles; local community leaders or selected persons. Such actions must be considered on two planes – as a function of building outreach and as a credibility-building instrument. Of outreach, because joint initiatives can reach a broader target, with use of many channels. Of credibility, because initiatives, which connect entities that have not necessarily convergent aims, make ideas more vivid, often giving them a deeper meaning. Committed promoters represent value, which is very important, because it causes actions to have dynamics of their own. Referring to coalition benefits I wanted to allude to the last area of risk, which I have termed opponents. Just as promoters impart dynamics to our actions, determined opponents can paralyse all initiatives. It is not possible to say definitively when the opposing market or professional position is reached by emotions, which give new dimension to the stance and actions of our competitors. They can be very difficult to predict and to stop, often growing into crises – every such case should be monitored and considered on a case-by-case basis.

There is no simple golden rule for managing communication, however for sure when defining the strategy one should take into account dynamic factors, people with their needs and fears as well as the context, which is the catalyst of our actions. As long as there is a person on the other side, even a strategy prepared by the book may turn out to be a wasted effort. To build proper controls in our project let us switch from I to WE