The term “Strategic Counsel” or Strategic Communications has become increasingly popular in the global communications counsel marketplace over the last two decades and more so over the last half decade in India. It implies the counsel and advice that consultants like ourselves provide to clients for communication efforts with a specific agenda, a master plan and key points of connectivity that enable execution.
Typically the master plan revolves or focuses around certain key issues close to a client company or entity in question which could involve building the brand, addressing the challenges that a brand or product or service might be facing, managing or diffusing sensitive issues pertinent to the business or operating environment, influencing opinions, urging stakeholders to undertake specific actions or in advocating a change (in business process, legislation).
Companies and corporate entities have always searched for the right partner to enable and execute the right plan to bring favourable outcomes for their respective businesses. The Tatas used Vaishnavi successfully as a consultancy in building their corporate brand, in building bridges with successive governments at the Centre and States, advocating policy changes and so on… and for a decade they did so pretty well, up until the 2G fracas pulled the entire operation down like a pack of cards… and in the process impinging the very fabric of trust and credibility on which the Tatas prided themselves on.
Nevertheless, while the case of Vaishnavi leaves a lot negative connotations behind, there are several positive learnings as well. Many of the learnings come by way of studying the interplay and process of how strategic messaging or information is pushed to the larger public through journalists, public speakers and commentators, subject experts, researchers and /or policy makers.
Today, when consumers’ and Key Opinion Leaders’ (KOL) mindspaces are cluttered with information overloads of brands fighting hard to create a niché, a share of mind higher and differentiated from all else, it is strategic communications counsel that puts together the engines of conventional and new media. Strategic communications will help identify not just the challenge, or the right stakeholder, or the primary content but in focusing upon the right channels, adding tweaks and spins to the content, thus deriving correct messaging and building newer levels of intermediary, influencer or consumer access that would otherwise be prohibitive to a company or brand… both by way of complexity of process and commercial considerations.
We have brands which have begun asking themselves the question “Are we doing enough to reach out to all our stakeholders?” or “What should be doing to be heard and taken seriously by our stakeholders – whether a consumer, influencer or policy maker?” I have been approached by clients to try and understand what it is that they can do differently to try and build or enhance their current levels of trust, credibility or faith in their companies or brands. The answer is both simple and complex at the same time. This is to say that while the tools are simple, the process is complex and longwinded. It requires oodles of time and patience to be able to make things happen!
Brands can benefit by touching upon the yet unexplored areas, and mind you, no matter which company says what… the fact remains that many only just aspire to delve deep… the magnitude of the challenge or the cost preventing them from going further.
Therefore, the solution for companies, corporate entities and brands is to look at some essentials:
a. Deep market knowledge. Does your consultant or advisor provide you with deep market knowledge? This directly implies that research, insights, information or intelligence, whichever way you look at it, is critical.
b. Network and outreach. Does your consultant have an understanding and access to the right channels, the key stakeholders or opinion makers who’s view and perceptions affects the business and brand, as well as to multiple touch points whether offline or online media, digital platforms, industry platforms and so on?
c. Customized and Segmented approaches. Not every message is adaptable to every environment, so does the consultant have the ability to help construct the right message and content – adapt and customize the content for different audiences?
d. Measurement. How do you measure your success, what are the milestones and are they realistic?
Most strategic communication counseling mandates are about promises which can fall flat because they are unrealistic in terms of their time-resource-goals proportioning. So there is an opportunity out there for all of us in addressing new client needs and looking at solutions from a new perspective. Yes, there are challenges… but then that’s what gets us excited, doesn’t it?