Questions that confuse students: strategy or tactics?
Introduction: strategy or tactics?
I have written this article as a guide to the differences between business objectives, communications objectives, communications strategy and tactics.
Much of the advice stems from training programmes I attended at the global pubic relations consultancy Burson-Marsteller (B-M) when I worked there from the late 1970s to the early 1990s.
Training at B-M was directed by PR gurus like Harold Burson and Robert S Leaf and their deputies. In their day Harold and Bob were as famous as David Ogilvy of the hallowed Ogilvy & Mather advertising agency.
B-M was reputed in its primacy in the 1980s and 1990s to be the best agency in town for training on the job and in the classroom and I want to share their thoughts on strategy and my reflections on what I was taught with you.
To help you further I have added at the end an example from my former employer Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics. It’s pretty up-to-date because it comes from a document I prepared for the management board of the company in August 2010. It’s an environmental example.
Business objectives give the business a clearly defined target to reach.
The most effective business objectives meet the following criteria:
S – Specific – objectives are aimed at what the business does, e.g. The low-cost Jet2 airline might have an objective of filling 95% of all its available seats during May, June, July, August 2012 at Leeds Bradford Airport.
M – Measurable – the business can put a value to the objective, e.g. £1.5 million in ticket sales in the four months of trading from May to August inclusive in 2012.
A – Agreed - by all those concerned in sales, marketing and public relations department trying to achieve the objectives set by the board of the airline.
R – Realistic – objectives should be challenging, but they should also be able to be achievable by the resources available e.g. number of aircraft, landing and take-off slots at Leeds Bradford Airport, destinations served, and frequency of flights to those destinations.
T- Time specific – the airline has a time limit of when the objective should be achieved, e.g. by the end of August 2012.
Communications objectives are goals that an organisation and/or company seeks to achieve through its promotional activities (whether they be PR, advertising or marketing communications) in terms of its communication goals such as creating awareness, knowledge, effecting behaviour change etc.
Your communications objectives should describe what you want your target audience to think, feel, and do after they are exposed to your public relations message(s).
The word strategy derives from the Greek word strategia which translates as “the art of the general”.
The term is often confused with tactics, from the Greek taktike. Taktike translates as “organising the army”.
In modern usage, strategy and tactics often refers to warfare. You only have only to look at what they teach at The Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, Surrey, to realise that they are grand masters of what strategy is and how it is applied. Generals like Bernard Law Montgomery applied it well in their campaigns during World War II.
Strategy is how to achieve an objective, goal or aim. It is the overall approach that is taken to a programme or campaign (Gregory 2010). It is the coordinating theme or factor, the guiding principle, the big idea, the rationale behind the tactical programme.
Strategy is the principle that will move you from where you are now to where you want to be. It is sometimes called ‘the big idea’.
The big idea can be an all-embracing concept. Sometimes it isn’t, and you shouldn’t be overly concerned if you can’t come up with a big idea. You should, however, be very concerned if you don’t have a clear rationale.
Strategy is dictated by the issues arising from your analysis of the information at your disposal (ie the answers to your research). It is not the same as objectives and it comes before tactics. It is the foundation upon which a tactical PR programme is built.
The following are examples from Prof Anne Gregory’s latest book, Planning and Managing Public Relations Campaigns: A Strategic Approach. A clear, if unpleasant, example of ‘strategy’ and tactics’ was demonstrated in the war conducted by the combined forces that moved against Iraq following that country’s invasion of Kuwait.
Objective To get the Iraqis out of Kuwait
Strategy Cut the Iraqis off and kill them
Tactics Pincer movement of ground forces to cut the Iraqis off from Iraq, carpet
bombing, diversionary tactics, cutting bridges and so on
Further examples of the relationship between objectives, strategy and tactics are:
Example One (Single-objective short-term campaign)
Objective Publicise new product or service
Strategy Mount media relations campaign
Tactics Press conference, press releases, interviews, etc
Example Two (Longer-term strategic positioning programme)
Objective Establish market leader perception
Strategy Position as industry voice of authority
Tactics Research-based reports, media relations, speaker platforms, industry forums, award schemes etc
Tactics are public relations devices or actions taken to achieve the business objective(s).
Speeches, special events, newsletters, annual reports and news releases are examples of PR tactics.
- The business objective is your ultimate business mission
- The communications objectives are the communication needs
- The communications and/or PR strategy is the overall plan you come up with to reach that business objective/goal
- The tactics are the specific methods you employ to implement the strategy
Here’s my take of an example to demonstrate the use of these term for the car maker Jaguar LandRover.
Business Objectives/Goals – Achieve share of market leadership in the family premium car market.
Communications Objectives – Enhance and build the awareness of a new family premium car in the minds of A-B socio–economic families.
Strategy – Convince consumers that your new car is the best premium car in the market aimed at families.
Tactics – Get a high profile personality e.g. Victoria Beckham who is both a style icon and a mother of two children to trial the new five-door SUV you are launching
In a nutshell strategy is how you will achieve an objective and tactics are what you will do.
For large programmes with several elements e.g. community relations, employee relations, and customer relations, you will have a strategy for each part of the programme.
Here’s another real life example from my work with Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics (WWL) in 2010
Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics – The Background
- Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics (WWL) is a $2.4 billion (USD) transoceanic shipping company which specialises in shipping automotive, agricultural and construction equipment.
- WWL employs 3,200 people and operates 60 modern eco-friendly cargo ships that trade on 20 routes serving five continents.
- It transports 3.3 million vehicles annually.
- WWL has a strong environmental focus and is an industry leader in developing innovative solutions to reduce the impact of its operations on the environment.
- In September 1994, WWL forged a partnership with the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) to protect and preserve marine life on the world’s oceans.
The Environmental Issues
- WWL is operating in a challenging and rapidly changing global business environment.
- WWL’s customers are expecting increasingly more for less.
- Shipping is coming out of a period of strong global economic growth.
- The industry is facing a record build-up of new tonnage.
- Emerging global markets (India, China etc) are gaining in importance as traditional markets like Europe and United States begin to wane.
- Customers’ focus on environmental issues is increasing rapidly and they are starting to monitor the carbon footprint of their logistics suppliers, like WWL.
The Business Objectives
- Derive competitive advantage by aiming to be “the best” in the shipping business on environmental matters.
- Reduce impact of any shipping activities on the marine environment.
- Work in partnership with WWL’s customers to achieve common environmental goals.
The Communications Objectives
- Demonstrate that WWL is investing in state-of-the-art environmentally-friendly ships and terminals.
- Endorse the view that Wallenius Wilhelmsen is a customer-driven company dedicated to meeting the needs of its customers in a future ‘zero’ emissions environment.
- Reinforce the view that WWL cares about the marine environment
The Environmental Communications Strategy
- Partner with Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) to develop regular and consistent contact between key opinion formers to highlight environmental innovation on protecting and preserving the maritime environment.
- Create and develop mechanisms to create newsworthy stories and feature ideas on environmental initiatives that the media want to publish and exploit environmental media opportunities with key media.
- Build links with senior corporate affairs/communications executives within Tier I and Tier II customer companies to gain mutually agreeable environmental outcomes.
- Demonstrate that WWL is cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the supply chain.
- Build a model of a concept green ocean terminal that runs on renewable energy – solar panels on the roof, electricity derived from wind turbines etc and launch the concept to port authorities, key customers and the media.
- Launch a maritime club that would enable journalists to debate and discuss matters that are important to the maritime environment. Involve key customer environmental managers in the club’s activities.
- Place authored features by WWL’s vice president of environment and chief executive officer in global business-to-business publications.