Preparing For Battle by Preparing to Not Fight the Battle

Twenty-five centuries ago, the famous Chinese general, strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu said, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” These are powerful words for any PR pro to live by, which is why I include them as part of my email signature.

This might seem strange to the uninitiated, but a successful public relations campaign should closely resemble a successful military campaign. A public relations campaign should have clearly-defined objectives, a strategy designed to achieve those objectives, utilize an array of tactics to implement the strategy, and a set of demonstrable benchmarks to determine success.

It amazes me how often those in our industry fail to follow these very simple concepts.

In short, you need to know where you want to go, the path that gets you there, the best way to move down that path and markers to help you determine one’s progress on the journey.

C+G specializes in what I refer to as “government affairs public relations,” by which I mean we provide public relations support to achieve client’s public policy objectives. It isn’t all we do, but many of our campaigns involve achieving specific policy objectives.

We view these campaigns differently than many in our field. I don’t say that we are necessarily better than the other firms and I leave those value judgments to others. However, we have a clear vision of who and what we are, how we approach our profession and the standard by which we judge success.

Continuing the military analogy, one could consider us your air force. We provide air cover for the troops on the ground, whether they are community activists, lobbyists, regulatory lawyers or other players. We help achieve the APPROPRIATE type and amount of media coverage to achieve the team objective.

And therein lies the importance of strategy versus tactics.

Taking action solely to say you have done something, or to provide an activity report for a client is not just ineffective and wasteful. It is stupid. The key is to take action that advances the client objectives—no more, no less.

And, sometimes, you achieve the most by saying nothing. I realize that is heretical to some in the public relations business. After all, don’t we need to do something to justify our existence? How does one make money without putting out press releases, and acting busy, right?

Some people fail to understand that there are times when the single most important thing they can do is nothing: nothing but prepare to strike at just the right moment; at the time when you achieve the maximum strategic impact. Lay in wait and marshal one’s resources so that when we do strike it is fast and decisive.

After all, those who know and study The Art of War fully understand that the ultimate objective is that the war be over before a single shot is fired.