Tuesday, July 07, 2009

But what about leadership? (Redux)

Ugh! Over the past few days there has been a lot of communications about an article in the New York Times about PR in the Silicon Valley. First, there was the original story, then there were a variety of follow-up pieces commenting on it. Not surprisingly, though pretty amazingly, this discussion was really about "publicity" and none of the discussion (that I have seen) has focused on what we at Roeder-Johnson believe is the key issue: the question isn't publicity, "ink" or "buzz"; it's about LEADERSHIP.

At Roeder-Johnson, we believe that the goal of our strategic communications and public relations efforts is to help position clients as market leaders. That's really different from short term "buzz" or publicity. We can all think of companies that have gotten plenty of attention (either in the press or in the "buzzosphere") and ultimately didn't attain leadership in the long term.

What are the benefits of leadership? The most basic benefit is to enable a company to define its environment, rather than following others that do the defining. And resulting from that core benefit are some fundamental business benefits: companies that lead can:

-Charge higher prices
-Enter into better partnerships
-Hire better employees; and ultimately,
-Lower the cost of capital of the company.

So you probably wonder how leadership is attained if it doesn't come from buzz. We believe there are a few key steps needed:

-First, there is the decision by the company that it wants to be a leader and in what way.
-If the choice is made to target leadership positioning, we believe a basic architecture needs to be defined for how the company wants to be perceived in the long term.
-That architecture includes many dimensions -- from business and product strategy to thought leadership and communications strategy.
-In the communications realm, the first step is to put some language around the vision. We call that a High Concept(R): What is the fundamental disruption we represent and how is it simply articulated?
-Following this, it's key to understand how will we get people to understand the high concept: the need, the requirements and what it will take to accomplish the vision, why the company is in the position to accomplish it, and how it plays out for the long term.
-Then, on an ongoing basis, the communications strategy is implemented and refined to help lead the market to understand the High Concept.

This is a very short description of an alternative view to the conventional wisdom about public relations as publicity. I want to note that ink and/or buzz is certainly a part of any communications strategy. But it is NOT the end in itself.

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