April 16, 2012 | last updated June 4, 2012 12:02 pm
TALKING POINTS

Five rules on the road to strategic success

Bernard L. Kavaler

There is more than just springtime blossoming around us. In our pervasive media environment, one can't help but notice campaigns promoting the work of businesses, nonprofit agencies, associations and organizations of every stripe.

In an ever more crowded marketplace, a handful of strategic rules of the road are worth keeping top of mind as the messaging intensifies.

• Rebounding matters — Most of us tend to focus on the high scorers, the guys who put the ball in the basket and ring up the points. But basketball strategists often suggest that the statistic more critical to success is rebounding. You can't score if you don't have the ball — and the more frequently it's in your hands, the better your chances.

The same is true in getting the word out about your organization. The more you talk about it, promote it, provide examples or samples of it, and establish connections to it, the better off you'll be. Seize those opportunities. No one knows what you do and how you do it better than you. No one understands the difference your organization makes in its field, or in the lives of its clients or customers better than you. No one cares more deeply about your organization than you.

So, grab the rebound — take every chance to tell people, individually and collectively, what your organization is all about. It may not be sufficiently flamboyant to be seen on the video highlights, but every rebound is an opportunity to score.

• Tell the truth — As Richard Nixon (and many others since) discovered, the cover-up is worse. People make mistakes; so do organizations. When under media scrutiny, obfuscation may appear to be the preferable course. It is not. With a sufficient number of microscopes and spotlights trained in your direction, odds are that the truth will come out. It is always better if you reveal it first.

People tend to appreciate candor. Even if the news is bad, we would generally prefer hear it straight up then have to ferret it out later. That is certainly true when it comes to our children. It is just as true in regards to our corporations, organizations, associations, business associates, and professional colleagues. The public is predisposed to keep things in perspective. If you will let them.

• Make it real — While it may be correct that every picture tells a story and a picture is worth a thousand words, telling a good story is priceless. Give examples. Real people. Telling their real stories. Stories about what your organization does, the difference it makes, how people depend on it; about how people are personally impacted by what your organization is all about. Describe vividly the ways your organization delivers for the community, for its clients — even for its own employees and their families.

As a matter of course — and especially if you are confronting an immediate crisis — there is nothing more effective at helping people understand what your organization is really all about than through well-told, straightforward, honest-to-goodness examples. We're not talking reality TV here. We're talking reality.

• The pendulum swings both ways — Don't be too overjoyed by a run of great media coverage; odds are it won't last. When a publicity triumph occurs — in the form of a great placement of a story or a run of positive coverage — the organization whose story is being advocated is understandably pleased; at times ecstatic.

However, no matter how many wins you accumulate, your streak will end (see Trinity squash or UConn women's basketball). That does not mean your public relations effort is substandard. It is merely human nature, or a law of physics, or both, intervening. That which is built up in the media is consequently ripe for being knocked down a peg to two. Don't be surprised or annoyed. Ride out the downs and put in the work necessary to ascend again. The pendulum swings both ways.

• Be who you are — You have earned clients, customers, or collaborators for a reason. They understand, and appreciate, who you are and what you do. If you ask them, they'll tell you. Launching a public initiative that dramatically departs from that solid foundation is the earthquake you don't want to start.

Rather than attracting a new or broader audience, you risk shaking the ground beneath the feet of your most ardent supporters — and that is rarely something to build on. You can take risks without being reckless. Listen first to those who are with you, and when you move forward, be who you are. It will increase the likelihood that you won't be taking one step forward and two steps back.

If all of this was easy, everyone would get it right every time. That doesn't happen. Decisions on how to proceed are rarely faced without uncertainty and complexity. Consider your options, then make your best judgment. It is that same judgment that has brought you this far.

Bernard L. Kavaler is founding principal of Express Strategies, a strategic communications and public policy consulting business in West Hartford.

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