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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Public and Analyst Relations Should Be Housed Under One Roof

An increasing number of technology companies are seeing the wisdom in assigning public relations (PR) and analyst relations (AR) under the same in-house communications manager. That is, at least, the observation here at 3Point.

In recent weeks we've met with a number of companies who have asked us to include a treatment of market analysts, aka industry analysts and never to be confused with financial analysts, in RFP responses and proposals.

I don't know if I'd call it a trend quite yet.

And things could flip the other way -- housing PR and AR in separate departments within the same company -- at any time.

But for now, I'm going out on a limb and saying that more companies are integrating the reporting responsibilities and activities of their in-house PR and AR teams.  To me, these are companies that get it.

If you've worked at a PR agency for some time, you've probably had this experience:  you're meeting with a prospect and talking to the chief communications officer or head of corporate communications to understand their communications challenges and needs.  You ask about how AR is handled.  The communications chief grimaces and reveals that AR sits elsewhere in the organization, sometimes even reporting into the the office of the CFO. 

What?  The CFO?

In most cases, the head of communications wants to own AR.  One reason is that at many large companies, AR pros are considered to be more "strategic" than the PR folks (subject of a forthcoming post) and their compensation may reflect this. Also, AR budgets can be substantial as they must fund "paid" analysts relationships.  So it's the golden rule: he/she who has the gold, rules. 

But there are other, more concrete and important reasons why a corporate communications chief wants and should have responsibility for both. A proactive, well-managed and quantifiable AR program works hand-in-glove with a PR program. After all, the two programs are striving to meet the same goals.  Here are just a few: 
  • to build and sustain positive, productive relationships
  • to build positive visibility
  • to highlight competitive differentiators, and
  • to ultimately generate more revenue by selling more products.
I'd love to hear your opinions on this issue.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Moving Strategy from SWAT to SWOT

Companies have to move fast in the world of a voracious 24-hour news cycle that feeds on the slightest development and then spits out an issue for digestion by vast social media networks.  Small issues can become tidal waves in hours. We see it happen every day. There are no ideal solutions for dealing with the reality of instant access in a highly transparent environment. As in everything, advance strategic planning helps.  But situations that call for rapid fire decision making are usually caused by unexpected issues that are difficult to anticipate. Prior direct experience helps, but the range of possibilities confronting a business in assessing its choices can make an an individual's relevant experience one dimensional.

So, how do companies identify strategic choices when the pace accelerates or the pressure increases?

How do you try to provide a context that can rapidly find the major points you need to consider in coming to the right course of action?  Using three basic elements can provide a very useful solution when fast paced strategic decisions need to be made.

  • Process:  It is surprising how many companies don't have a defined and tested process for dealing with rapid fire strategic issues. This is like responding to a fire without an escape plan. So we counsel companies to develop a clear process for identifying what to do when fast strategic decisions are required.
  • Team: The second element is to assemble a small team of the right people -- usually 5-7 members who either have direct involvement in a situation and/or a cross section of related and authoritative backgrounds in specific areas. For example, if a competitor announces a disruptive technology aimed directly at a company's core market, sales, marketing, research, and product development teams are rallied together. When a new product is delayed, marketing, sales, finance and engineering meet to decide the potential impact from several aspects. When a CEO leaves, HR and PR teams are quickly aligned to develop a plan for internal and external communications.
  • Tools: If a company has done 1 and 2 -- defined a process that includes access to the right SWAT team for a particular strategic choice -- the third element is to define the choices and their potential impacts to reach the best decision as fast as possible.  This is where SWAT teams need to become Strategic SWOT teams.  

Strategic SWOT starts with a traditional approach identifying internal Strengths and Weaknesses and external Opportunities and Threats.  The key to turning SWOT analysis into a strategic tool comes in the filters you apply. Here is a brief four-step process anyone can use to master this:

  • First, use the S-O filter to match the internal strengths with external opportunities and list these in the upper left quadrant of a two-by-two matrix.
  • Next, match internal weaknesses with external opportunities and list these as Weaknesses-Opportunities (W-O) strategies in the upper right hand quadrant.  
  • Align internal strengths with external threats and list these Strengths-Threats (S-T) strategies in the lower left hand quadrant.
  • Finally, use the lower right right quadrant to list Weaknesses-Threats (W-T) strategies by aligning internal weaknesses with external threats.
At this point, your SWOT list should be transformed into a number of potential strategic options to consider.

In a perfect situation, most companies would choose offense: strategies that applies company strengths toward the greatest opportunities -- S-O strategies. But rapid fire strategic decisions don't always involve opportunities to show your best stuff. In general, here is what the the other three quadrants will lead you to consider:
  • W-O strategies overcome a client's weaknesses to pursue opportunities.
  • S-T strategies identify ways to reduce vulnerability to external threats. 
  • W-T strategies establish a defensive plan to prevent the firmʼs weaknesses from making it susceptible to external threats.
Strategic SWOT is not a perfect solution, and the strategies are not automatic.  But used properly with the right cross section of team members, it can get you a lot closer to better decision making when time constraints are the most pressing. If you've had experiences -- good or bad -- using this or another form of SWOT, we please let us know.