“I work for a strategic communications firm.”

It’s a sentence I say often. And one that, especially outside of the D.C. bubble, is met with silence and a look of mild confusion. It’s clear what begins to percolate in the minds of the people I talk to- something along the lines of, “Yeah, yeah. We get it. She lives in DC for a few years and now she’s using “buzz words” and “insider jargon.”” And hey, I won’t deny that I occasionally let words like “corporate synergy” and “move the needle” slip into my conversations. But strategic communications? That’s not a buzz word. It’s a critical component of building any successful business. Whether your company operates Inside-the-Beltway or in the Bible Belt, considering how you communicate with the world and how the values you have chosen to emphasize are reflected in the work that you do is becoming more tied to your bottom line than ever.

Get noticed in a good way…

In today’s reality of the 24-hour news cycle and social media, sometimes all it takes to transmit information and ideas to people across the globe is 280 characters and a send button. Pair that with volatile social and political realities not just in the U.S., but worldwide, and it’s easy for the work you or your organization is trying to accomplish to either get lost in the melee or go viral for all the wrong reasons.

It can seem overwhelming. No longer is simply having a business plan and a good idea for a company sufficient. You must have a clear vision for where you want to take your company and craft a blueprint for getting there. But once long-term goals are set, your next, critical step is a strategic communications or public relations plan that clearly outlines values and ideas that you want your company to reflect. Once written, stick to it. You must work judiciously to make sure that everything your company does follows that plan. That’s not to say the plan can’t change. But if it does, make sure you know how it fits with your long-term goals, and make sure it’s implemented across every aspect of your business.

…or you could go viral in a bad way.

One wrong step and months or years of progress can be undone in an instant. Last week, Snapchat allowed an ad to run that made light of domestic violence. The blowback from Snapchat’s users and celebrities like Rihanna caused its stock to lose more than $800 million in value. In a day. Fallout from Facebook’s role in the developing Cambridge Analytica scandal has caused its stock to decline more than 7% since Monday.

But this is about more than just stock prices.  Today, the explosion of digital and social media has blurred the lines between the corporate world and the rest of the world. As these two things blend into one another, many companies have begun using this reality to advance their agenda or promote their product. Which can be incredibly effective. It can also backfire spectacularly if it’s done wrong. Pepsi’s Black Lives Matter ad featuring Kendall Jenner went so viral and reaction was so incredibly negative that people are still talking about it almost a year later. Just before Pepsi released its ad in early 2017, on the heels of the Women’s March, Audi of America ran an ad promoting their commitment to closing the pay gap between men and women. It was an emotionally compelling ad that promoted their brand through their social justice beliefs. And in a vacuum, it may have worked. It certainly went viral. But ensuing backlash regarding the lack of minority (both gender and race) representation on their board of directors and their tone-deaf response to backlash on social media undermined their position on the issue.

This isn’t all to say that it can’t be done right and that social justice issues can’t be used effectively to promote a company’s brand and values. At the same time, Pepsi was bombing on their approach to the Black Lives Matter movement, Heineken’s “World’s Apart” campaign was a home run, as was Nike’s Equality ad. Both effectively communicated their respective brand’s stances on issues in a way that was received as authentic.

The Power of Your Audience

So, what’s my point? Remember the inspirational posters you’ve seen hanging up in your grade school gym or doctor’s office? They say things like “practice what you preach” and “actions are louder than words.” Well, they were put up for a reason. These days, it’s critical to remember who you’re advertising to and the power your audience holds when it comes to driving the narrative around your brand. Regardless of whether their response is positive or negative, considering the merit of their opinion is critical. It’s become clear that consumers have increasingly little tolerance for hypocrisy from the companies they buy from and they’re making it known online and with their wallets.

It’s a lot to keep track of, but you don’t have to go it alone. The Moak Group is here to help. We’ve worked with clients across industries and around the globe to help them achieve their goals while staying true to their mission, and we can help you get there too.

Sarah Heine

Sarah Heine

Sarah Heine at The Moak Group
Understanding the transformation of political and policy arenas as a result of technological innovation and social media’s rapid development has always been a passion of Sarah Heine’s. She joined The Moak Group to support clients’ efforts to reach their digital and communications goals.
Sarah Heine