You Have to Pass GO Before You Collect $200

If I had a dollar every time I asked a client to discuss their communication goals and they’d say something to the effect of, “I want to generate buzz,” or, “I want to get my company’s name out there.”

Oh my. Here we go again…

We have discussed the process of developing a communications strategy previously – yet this horse is never too dead to beat some more so let’s review:

Tactics are easy. They’re one and done. It’s like taking one turn rolling the dice in a game of Monopoly – sometimes you land on Boardwalk, sometimes you go to jail. But it’s only one roll and rarely does that one roll decide the final outcome of the game.

Strategy is more complex. It requires patience, perseverance and often, flexibility. It’s akin to thinking, “I want to own the yellow and green properties as well as half the railroads,” in that same game of Monopoly. It will take many rolls of the dice to achieve your outcome – and other events may force you to alter your plan. But a plan it is – a plan to win.

And so I ask my client what is the purpose of “generating buzz?” What does that mean anyway? Does it lead to people talking about your product?… Buying your product?… Hating your product?… You see, buzz can come in many forms and some may be unintended.

This summer’s Ice Bucket Challenge, my issues with it notwithstanding, provides a great example of a tactic whose dice roll landed you on Boardwalk: Huge buzz. Huge. And while that’s great, you still need Park Place to make Boardwalk really pay off for you. And buzz isn’t going to help you with that one. You’ll need a few more rolls to get back around the board.

So what am I trying to get across? Successful companies develop long-term strategies.

1. Integration is the key – Good communications plans are integrated with the business plan and designed to support it through various phases of growth. Trying to implement tactics on-the-fly that support individual business objectives will leave you scurrying to figure out what to do next. It will fragment/dilute your message. If you’re not tired of the Monopoly analogies, it would be like buying every property you land on: Sure, you may own a lot, but your properties will be scattered, you will have spent all your money and your return on investment will be a fraction of what it would be if you focused your efforts strategically.

2. Slow and steady wins the race – Yes, we’ve all heard that before, but its worth repeating, especially for emerging companies or startups. Jumping into the fray simply trying to “create buzz” may just lead you to catastrophic success – that you are not yet ready to handle. What if your instant gratification “buzz” campaign leads to a flood of demand for your product – a demand your production and distribution chain is not mature enough to meet? Answer: Frustrated consumers who will not sit around and wait for you to figure it out. They will move on and won’t come back. So develop a plan that allows for incremental growth – again working hand in hand with your business plan.

3. Account for the rest of the world – As the saying goes, “Sh*t Happens.” Planes crash. Natural disasters happen. Riots occur. Supply chains get disrupted. Competitors enter or leave the market unexpectedly… Changes outside your control can impact your business in a positive or negative way, and while you can’t account for everything, you can (and should) plan for the most likely events and how your communications strategy can support success or mitigate problems.

While the temptation to opt for short-term tactical wins is hard to resist (especially given social media’s ability to gain them), the long-term benefits of developing and integrating your communications plan with your business plan will always yield you the best results by the end of the game.


Paul Swiergosz
Principal at Silicon Harbor Communications LLC, is a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel with over 23 years experience with defense, government and private sector groups. His work, primarily in the areas of integrated communications planning, branding, media relations, crisis management, communications research and executive leader coaching has ranged across the United States, Europe and Southeast Asia.