The Business Case for Strategy Before Tactics


“We talkin’ about tactics. Not a strategy. Not a strategy. Not a strategy. We talkin’ about tactics.”
– Allen Iverson (OK, maybe not an exactly transcription of what he said.)

One of my favorite YouTube clips is Allen Iverson’s infamous press conference where he bemoans the criticism directed at him over missing practice. His point, the games are what really matter, but people are obsessing over the wrong thing.

While this metaphor certainly isn’t entirely transferable, many companies fall victim to a similar trap – jumping to tactics before identifying a clear strategy. It’s understandable. Tactics are easier to understand. They are “bright and shiny.” They are the “doing” stage of any PR or marketing effort.

Strategies are more abstract, designed to answer how you’ll achieve your company or department’s overarching goals. If you’re a planner, you love this space. But those more focused on results (read: leadership) can get restless with this stage and want to see action.

But jumping into tactics without any consideration to strategy is akin to spontaneously deciding to go to the beach without any thought as to how you’ll get there, what you should pack and if you can afford it. Sure, it might work out fine, but you could easily drive in the wrong direction for days without ever seeing the ocean.

Any seasoned PR or marketing professional worth their salt understands the necessity of a well-developed comms strategy, but that doesn’t mean they are immune to the pressure from leadership to begin showing results right away.

Here are a few reasons to help make the case for strategy when there’s pressure to jump to tactics.

Wasted time, energy and money

Bypassing strategy development might seem like a huge time saver, but you’re essentially testing out ideas in the dark, without a clear rationale to guide your efforts. Your company will spend valuable time and resources implementing ideas that could fall flat or do little to move the needle. Even if you strike gold, you won’t necessarily have a clear understanding of why your tactic was successful – making it difficult to replicate down the road.

No way to determine success

Part of the strategy phase is setting goals by which you’ll measure success. It’s tempting to overly simplify this step and say, “Our goal is to increase sales.” But broad goals like increased sales are the result of many interdependent factors. And each of those needs to be monitored and measured to see how they are contributing to your main objective. For example, how will you leverage a media placement to increase awareness? Or, how will you qualify leads when a new prospect downloads your company’s white paper?

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Less opportunity to be a thought leader

The best thought leaders are consistent and have a clear and informed point of view about their respective industry. Tactics absent of a strategy rarely demonstrate either of those characteristics. Be cognizant that diving into tactics likely will have an adverse impact on how your company and its leadership are perceived in your industry.

PR and marketing professionals easily can feel like a small child asking “why?” when told to go implement a tactic haphazardly. But our questions aren’t from a place of incessant curiosity. We know taking a breath and thinking through the rationale and overall business goals ultimately leads to better results and a stronger brand. Sometimes, we just need a little bit of help making our case.

Greg Surber

Greg Surber, APR, is a public relations strategist through and through. He works on a variety of accounts, leading research projects and content strategies, but he also has extensive experience with more traditional PR efforts including national and trade media relations campaigns.

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