Strategy vs tactics

I am glad that few of my PR students are generals on a battlefield- because the one thing that seems to be all too common is how young PR practitioners confuse tactics with strategy. The battels are won by good generals because they know their enemies, know their own army’s strenghts and weaknesses, and can pick the ground and the right time to start the campaign. Unfortunately, young PR practitioners are not good generals- yet.

Going through a variety of creative briefs at them oment, I am struck by how many confuse tactics for strategy. I describe it as kids rushing off to play with all the toys, rather than thinking about what they actually SHOULD be doing. So often people just look for “what’s missing” and then try to supply it, without thinking about whether it actually suits the business needs of the client. So, for example, there is a rush to “do the social media thing”- roll out a twitter campaign, embrace a facebook group, get the CEO to do a blog- without asking the inevitable “why”?

If your stakeholders are old and wrinkly, if the majority of your charity income is from big ticket corporate donations, if your cause is not soft and fluffy, photogenic and newsworthy, then a lot of the standard tools in the PR toolbox are not necessarily going to be helpful to your campaign. So, before grabbing the social media spanner, ask yourself whether the client actually NEEDs an all-singing, all dancing website, a social media facebook group or a twitter exercise. They are cheap and easy to do sure, but you wouldn’t use a hammer to unscrew a lightbulb, would you? Choose the right tactic to suit the strategy, not the other way around.


About catherinesweet
Academic, professional, communicator, stakeholder in a dozen different disguises

2 Responses to Strategy vs tactics

  1. That’s two different problems though. The first is confusion surrounding definition, which I myself struggle with sometimes. I’m sure I’ve made the mistake between tactics and strategy before without meaning too. I think my personal problem with the terms is that I can be taught them a million times in the class room, unless I get out there and start having to come up with my own, it doesn’t really sink in.

    The second problem is the concept of coming up with the solution before you’ve determined the problem or considered the audience. We haven’t really had to consider a great deal of different target audiences on the course, so far. My charity is aimed at students and young people, my 2nd year campaign was a film aimed at teenagers and our persuasive communication campaign is, one again, aimed at young people. In all three situations, social media does make sense.

    I do totally agree that social media is far too often used as a one size fits all method of promotion. In my experience an eagerness to jump on the social media bandwagon extends far beyond the classroom, and plenty of agencies are more than happy to amaze and dazzle clients with talk of Twitter and Facebook engagement without really exploring what the potential benefits are, if any even exist at all.

    • Rob, I could not agree more with the idea that “practice makes perfect” when it comes to strategy- and that it is something which we old wrinklies do almost subconsciously. Strategy comes frmo the helicopter view- being able to stand back and see the big picture. Which is why all three of the blog entries relate! You can’t really get strategy if you are only talking about one stakeholder group, even if that one is the most open to social media. Students tend to look to their own group as the cetre of the universe. But, unless your stakehodler group has all the economic cards for the client, that can be dangerous. And yes you are dead right that PR agencies like to play with the toys too much, running to social media as the latest fad to dazzle the punters with. But….it all depends on which stakeholders are the most important. One of the media comms projects is likely to be looking at just this issue, and i am really excited about it.

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