Fun vs. Frivolity: Why Strategy Matters Most in Successful Communications

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I spend lots of time helping clients consider the profound difference between strategy and tactics. Mostly because people love tactics, and when they hire a communications consultant what many staffers are really hoping I’ll do is walk into the room and say: ”Let’s build a Twitter! Here we go!”

People are enamored with tactics because, let’s be real, who doesn’t like to point at something creative, clever, or kitschy and say to their supervisor, “see look what we/I did!” Tactics are fun. Tactics capture an initial “wow” and feel like fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Tactics also can easily disguise themselves as meaningful activity.

The problem is that without a clear, measurable, goal oriented, value driven strategy, tactics are the root cause of an organization feeling uncertain about their communications success. Often, staff don’t realize that this is what the problem is, but trust me—it is.

Without strategy, people find themselves routinely scratching their heads asking, “is what we’re doing making an impact?” “Do people really know who we are?” “Is social media worth it?” “What’s the ROI!?” (I particularly love that last question when it is raised in organizations that, when you ask for a hard copy of their current communications strategy, cannot produce it.)

Tactics without well articulated, comprehensively implemented, and constantly evaluated strategy are a waste of time and a misuse of resources that will not allow the organization to truly engage its network as powerfully as it could.

At purePR, we want to create organizations filled with strategy freaks and tactical geeks. Teams I’ve led in the past probably get tired of how I’ll continuously force the process to revisit, revisit, revisit the goals and objectives of the project. We’re constantly using them as a lens by which we gauge the targeted precision of our tactical work. If it’s too tough a sell to explain how a tactic meets the objectives and pushes us toward our goals, it’s dropped like a hot rock (or at least parked on the parking lot for future reference, because sometimes we have super terrific creative ideas that are really great, just not right now.)

Great strategy says no more than it says yes.

I’m not saying you don’t get creative midstream. I’m definitely in favor of flexibility, but I firmly believe that flexibility is only effective when the strategy is firmly established. Mid-work creativity is only beneficial if it so beautifully gets us at our goals that we just can’t help but change course to incorporate it into the plan. And we’ll only be able to decide whether or not that’s the case if we know our strategy inside and out.

We want to have fun without being frivolous.

It’s no secret to my clients or to folks reading this blog that I am a big fan of Brian Solis. Brian is a thorough guy, a communications theory nut with a total attention to sustainable, substantial, strategic work. Recently, he blogged about a review of his work in Engage that said, “Brain takes the fun out of social media.”

Ouch, right? Party-pooper, social media buzz-kill Solis just doesn’t get it, right? Social media (and heck, all of that fluffy PR/communications stuff) isn’t supposed to be lock-step. It should be a big happy roof-top after party social free-for-all.

Wrong.

This example of the subtle difference between strategy-focused and tactical-focused communications, while specifically being applied to social media in Solis’ post, is really a great opportunity to unpack the need for fun, not frivolity in all aspects of meaningful communications work.

I found Brian’s response to this jab pretty compelling for several reasons, most notably because I coach my clients using a great deal of his measurement-intensive approach, and yet I always end my coaching with something like this:

“But just have FUN. You really can’t screw this up, as long as you’re working from a clear, strategic foundation and as long as you push yourselves to use the strategy to guide your tactics. Have fun! Your social media use will be a reflection of your brand’s social identity and that looks different for everyone.”

Maybe it’s the former high school teacher in me, but I believe structure can unleash tremendous creativity. Even Michelangelo had the boundaries of a ceiling when he created his Sistine masterpiece.

I have to agree with Brian when he writes,

In the end, the reality is that you get out of social media what you invest in it. But at the same time, experimenting with social media is not anything to discredit. The difference between today’s media and the networks of yore is nothing less than the democratization of information, from creation to consumption to sharing and the equalization of influence.  The marketing landscape has been reset and thus requires a shift from a casual approach to genuine leadership.

It’s really the difference between fun and frivolity, between being strategic or tactical, between feeling like you’re doing something substantial vs. wondering what in the heck all the effort is accomplishing.

Clients, organizations, and especially nonprofits benefit from taking the time to be strategic and measured. I say especially nonprofits, which make up the bulk of my clients, because person-power is at an absolute premium, and the opportunity for engaging passionate people with your mission is astounding.

To get it right, to feel truly energized about your efforts, to be able to point to those tactics (be they print, digital, social, video, etc.) and say THIS is what this is doing for our mission and THIS is how this effort is pushing us toward the realization of our vision, requires us to be ferocious about strategy.

Buzz-kills unite.

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