Answer This Question: What’s Your Story?
The first step (already discussed) in creating a PR plan and communications strategy is the same as in the creative process of painting a picture: envision the company you want to become at the point that your success can be declared. Now, you need to move forward with the creative process.
The more details you integrate into the vision of your organization, the easier it will be to actually “see” what that vision looks like. Assuming your “command post” will be behind a desk, imagine yourself sitting there (or on top of a bulldozer or wherever you can see yourself working at the time the success of your company has been achieved). Imagine the details that make the vision come to life: what the desk looks like, the papers spread out over the desk, the photos, where the computer might be, etc. Of course, that exact image is not likely to be what the real desk and office will ultimately become, but adding details to the image at this point is an exercise that makes this a much more productive exercise.
Superimpose on that image the values, standards, mission and other “soft” qualities that you defined in Step One of this process as the values that you want to characterize your organization. So now you have a fairly comprehensive image of what success looks like in the future. You’re ready for Step Two: imagine the story that a future historian will write about how you got from today to your vision of success.
How would that story unfold? Would it be a story of overcoming hardships or one of just steady persistence? Would it be a story of a small executive team with a strong hand on its employees, or a more laid-back environment where all the employees could provide input into decisions? Is this story going to include chapters about raising outside money? Will it be a story of creating breakthrough products that sell at high premiums or will it be about inventing new ways to do things cheaper and faster?
The answers you provide to those types of questions will be the core of your communications plan. Here’s why:
The path from today until that ultimate vision of success is not going to be achieved by next Thursday. In all likelihood it is going to take years. During the evolution of your organization you are going to want to hold the interest and build the loyalty of your constituencies. “Big news” – the major events that become benchmarks and turning points and grab the attention of your audience – will not be very frequent during this process, but you are going to want to hold the attention of your audience. And that brings us to this critical question:
How can you hold the interest of your constituencies when the really interesting “headline” big events are so infrequent?
You are going to have to rely on small incremental events that, by themselves, may be insignificant especially to outsiders. But those insignificant events can acquire meaning within the context of the story of the evolution of your organization from today to the image of success you are seeking. This is very similar to a soap opera, as discussed in this video and this article.
Here’s an example of putting a relatively insignificant event into the context of your story:
Let’s say that your vision is to become the world’s best developer of software that manages channel distribution issues, and that your products will sell at a high premium (and generate a high margin) because it is known to be the best. Now, let’s say that you have just hired somebody new to lead your HR efforts. You are going to make an announcement about hiring that individual. In an “ordinary” news release you will talk about the person, where they came from, and some nice words about how that person will be a great addition to the company. But instead of that release we can issue one that advances the story:
ABC Company said that it just took a major step forward to producing the best channel distribution software by hiring Jack Smith as the company’s new head of HR. Mary Brown, ABC’s CEO said, “Jack has a record for recruiting world class software developers. He did that for MNO and QRS companies, and we have challenged him to bring 10 software developers to ABC within the next 12 months who will be able to help us develop the world’s greatest channel distribution software ….”
That approach isn’t simply a personnel announcement – it is the advancement of the story about how ABC Company is going to evolve to the image you envision.
With this logic, we will move to Step 2.5: how to create – and, even more importantly, how not to create your organization’s story.