PR Oh – it's not what you think!

January 4, 2010

simplifying strategy

Filed under: PR — Surekha Pillai @ 9:52 pm

this post is dedicated to @Frank_Strong who is one of the two key reasons why i shook myself out of my slumber to revisit blogging. when my blog was dormant, Frank liked my post on Twitter and included me in his blog roll (not sure if i’m still there now!). when i pointed to him that he might be laughed at for including a dead blog, his response was: “so what if they do? doesn’t mean what’s there isn’t good. besides maybe you’ll pick up you pen again! ;-)” so, frank, you did it. here i am.

my disclaimer and some background first:

there are two things (among several others) i cannot do:

i cannot jargonise – i don’t even know if that’s a word – and i can offer no impressive-sounding, complex that-makes-me-look-like-an-expert opinion on matters that anyone could actually gain from.

when i started exploring the blogosphere reading communications blogs years back, i often wished what i read could somehow change the way i worked or lived. what i got instead were opinion and ‘insights’ many of which only added to my confusion about certain issues. let’s not even get into the why of this, i am sure i didn’t do everything right.

what emerged from all this is that when i worked with my colleagues in agencies, i tried simplifying things wherever possible. presentations became story telling, elaborate plans became simple checklists, paragraphs became bullet points.

there are several thought leaders out there who stimulate minds, there are very few who trigger action. i believe we need more ‘action leaders’ out there. since there aren’t many, perhaps what we could do is share simple practical tips, our secret sauces that helped us deliver results better. i hope to do a bit of that here. i also hope communications professionals, particularly the youngsters, find it useful in their daily work.

the first in this series is a communications strategy check list.

two words i see most abused in the communications field are strategy and insight. any activity, tactic and sometimes outcome miraculously become ‘strategy’ and simple facts and observations are presented as valuable ‘insights’. it is particularly frustrating when seasoned professionals often replace activity with strategy in their plans and presentations.

here is a quick definition of strategy from wiki for those interested:

A strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal. The word strategy has military connotations, because it derives from the Greek word for general.

Strategy is distinct from tactics. In military terms, tactics is concerned with the conduct of an engagement while strategy is concerned with how different engagements are linked. In other words, how a battle is fought is a matter of tactics: the terms that it is fought on and whether it should be fought at all is a matter of strategy. Military strategy is the overarching, long-term plan of operations that will achieve the political objectives of the nation. It is part of the four levels of warfare: political goals, strategy, operations, and tactics.

in order to get some of my colleagues familiarised better with strategy, i had developed a strategy check list. without getting into a preachy mode, i am sharing the list with you here. i hope you find it useful. a pdf version of the checklist is available at for download and easy reference.

A communications strategy check list:

To ensure you deliver the Extra Mile Initiative (EMI) to your clients and new business pitches, have you:

Primary research – Perceptions

1)    Gauged perceptions among key target audiences?

2)    Spoken to at least two senior journalists/analysts to understand the industry and the company?

Secondary research – Data collation

1)    Identified the latest news on the company through

2)    Visited the company website? Visited the press room to get an idea of recent announcements?

3)    Gone through news on competition?

4)    Done a search on the company on the google web page for old news?

5)    Identified the top industry bodies relevant to your client?

6)    Zeroed in on at least three events in the near future that you could recommend to the client?

7)    Identifed five key journalists who write regularly on the industry?

8)    Created a sample database of influencers and opinion leaders such as industry analysts, columnists, industry experts, celebrities, etc.?

9)    Created a sample media list across geographies and categories for the client?

10) Identified blogs that are relevant to the client?

11) Monitored conversations around the company and its brands on Twitter?

Information analysis

1)    Done a SWOT analysis on the company?

2)    Done a PEST scan on the environment?

3)    Gone through industry related information to identify the top three recent developments in the industry?

4)    Identified top two trends in the industry?

5)    Spotted an area of growth in the near future for the industry that is relevant to the client?

6)    Identified at least one policy issue that will impact the industry?

7)    Compared the company spokesperson vis-à-vis competition spokesperson on “pet subjects”; industry quotes; policy involvement; etc.?

8)    Done a profile of target audiences and the key drivers?

9)    Understood peculiarities if any of geographies that are important to the client?

Pitch/plan elements

1)    Incorporated elements from the above in the pitch/plan?

2)    Done a situation analysis and positioned client in the overall industry landscape?

3)    Identified top four objectives for the client?

4)    Zeroed in on key challenges and strengths?

5)    Developed three key messages that you think are important?

6)    Created a communications plank that would help in achieving these objectives and deliver the messages, and at the same time helps in differentiating the client from other players?

7)    Spent enough time on finalising the COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGY – the backbone of your campaign?

8)    Recommended at least three tactics that support the strategy?

9)    Suggested routine and creative activities under each tactic?

10) Evaluated if crisis preparedness is relevant for the client? If yes, have you incorporated these elements in your plan?

11) Included a plan for internal audiences?

12) Suggested at least two big non-media activities?

13) Given a sample of story angles that you would explore for the client?

14) Included an integrated communications approach?

15) Created an activity calendar spanning the first quarter?

16) Touched about processes and modes of measurement to gauge effectiveness?

Points to note

1)    Not all of the above would be relevant for all pitches

2)    Bigger the pitch, more the timespent on all of the above

3)    You run the risk of giving it all away to another agency to implement – so take a call on how much you want to put down. Large professional companies don’t need to steal ideas.


Please send your feedback and suggestions for improvement. Thank you.



  1. Great stuff – explains the bare basics really well. Good read for communication pros.

    Comment by Karthik — January 5, 2010 @ 11:17 am | Reply

    • that feedback, coming from a PR pro, is really encouraging. thanks karthik!

      Comment by Surekha Pillai — January 8, 2010 @ 1:22 pm | Reply

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Surekha Pillai, Karthik S. Karthik S said: Good read for communication pros – RT @surekhapillai: [ed] Simplifying Strategy […]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention simplifying strategy « PR Oh – it's not what you think! -- — January 5, 2010 @ 11:22 am | Reply

  3. This is good stuff. Finally some one has made the effort to put it all down. Sometime back we had a few agencies pitching in for an account and quite like what Surekha has mentioned here, there was a whole lot of nothing! I am sure if a checklist like this would’ve been followed we’d have had our task cut out. Actually , this is not rocket science, I am sure everyone knows that this kind of careful preparation would only make things easier for all the stakeholders and one reason why many still do not bother is because the “clients” are equally blinded. Unfortunately,a less jargonised presentation often finds itself being termed as mediocre and shallow because it doesn’t quite ring in the in-vogue words.I am sure though that there are always those who would appreciate the simplicity of a message which highlights a carefully researched strategy. The task now is to have more of these people 😛

    Comment by Saad — January 5, 2010 @ 12:13 pm | Reply

    • saad, you made me really happy there with that comment 🙂 and you hit the nail on the head. yes, it’s no rocket science. yet many of us approach planning and research the quick-fix and short-cut way. thank you for the kind words.

      Comment by Surekha Pillai — January 8, 2010 @ 1:25 pm | Reply

  4. Dear Surekha,
    1st before I forget. – I am definitely going to share this ‘to the point’ strategy check list with who-so-ever I know in PR.

    A brilliant stuff. It was good revisiting the school. The new entrants to the communication world would find it easy to connect and we, the middle level managers and our seniors would find it as a great info to share with our juniors and even at times for our own reference  Thank you for the post.


    Comment by Rahul Rakesh — January 5, 2010 @ 12:16 pm | Reply

    • rahul, delighted that you found it useful. thanks for the comment.

      Comment by Surekha Pillai — January 8, 2010 @ 1:26 pm | Reply

  5. exactly Saad, its no rocket science… a little more concious level and connection with the pitch would automatically lead us to follow these stpes uncounsiously.

    Heard yesterday itself on twitterworld – Simplicity is the most complex thing to follow (& maintain) and perhaps thats the reason most of us are not able to connect with the term!!!

    Comment by Rahul Rakesh — January 5, 2010 @ 12:25 pm | Reply

  6. graet work, surekha

    Comment by kuki — January 5, 2010 @ 1:47 pm | Reply

  7. Thanks for the shout out! A great analysis Surekha — and I have a special appreciation for your military analogy. It’s spot on in terms of distinguishing between strategy and tactics. In military circles they have another saying about strategy that often causes me to think, “Amatuers talk strategy, experts talk logistics.” In terms of PR, I’ve come to believe it’s how I will sustain a strategy once it’s put in place. Unfortunately, I do not have a well concieved list of useful questions as you have done for the former!

    Comment by Frank Strong — January 7, 2010 @ 10:44 am | Reply

    • thanks for the comment, frank. i don’t know what it is with me and military. a communications framework i had developed uses examples from sun tzu’s ‘art of war’ on tackling competition. i agree with you on strategy and logistics, we have to get both the ‘what’ and ‘how’ right. make art meet science to deliver a great communications outcome for clients.

      Comment by Surekha Pillai — January 8, 2010 @ 1:39 pm | Reply

  8. Thanx a ton Surekha. This really helps.

    I am new to PR & while pitching to our clients we use to do quite a few of the things mentioned by you. But having them all at a place really helps u think in a straight line.
    This Work Break Down process given by you is really helpful surekha. Thanks a ton!

    Comment by Snehal — February 19, 2011 @ 1:32 pm | Reply

  9. While I was going through the post I was just ticking off points that I always cover while working on a strategy for a prospective or existing clients. Happy to report I learnt 20% new things and 80% are already covered.

    Interesting and in simplified manner- USP of your writing

    Comment by delhizen — June 17, 2011 @ 5:00 pm | Reply

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