In “The Art of War” Sun Tzu says, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
In today’s technology age, it’s easy to get caught up in the bells and whistles of shiny new campaign features or tactics, without taking time to consider whether those tools will actually advance your strategic goals.
Before biting, or signing on any dotted lines, it is imperative to have an answer for how any of the tactics and tools you choose to advance your client’s campaign fit into a larger strategic vision. Winning and growing in competitive environments requires clearly defined goals and for tactics to flow from strategy in their pursuit.
Once a client’s goal has been defined, a strategy must immediately follow. Building that strategy requires you to plot a course from their current position, via key achievements, to their ultimate goal, which frequently means beginning with that goal and walking backwards from there.
The critical components of this strategic plan must include a comprehensive evaluation of the client or candidate—you need to know and understand their issues and history, their narrative, their strengths and their liabilities. You also need to factor in environment dynamics—political, market, social and regulatory—as well as the capital and assets (existing and potential) the client is willing to leverage toward achieving their goal.
Accessing Assets and Allies
Assets and capital come in many forms. But in advocacy and grassroots coalition building, none are as important as human capital. Every client brings with them a network, or at least a natural constituency—even if that audience has yet to be assembled.
To implement a client’s strategic plan, you must build and mobilize an audience comprised of individuals with high engagement potential who can play a role in your client’s success. These people may be consumers, they may be voters, or they may be high-profile opinion leaders. The tactics are the methods whereby this audience-building and mobilization is done.
Tactics come in many forms: public relations media blitzes, digital campaigns, mail programs, advertisements and town hall events to name just a few. Understand that not every client requires each of these tactics to galvanize an audience, and no two goals or strategies require the same tactics. But each of the tactics employed must be evidentially integral to advancing strategy and bringing a client closer to realizing their goals.
One of my favorite quotes from a client came some years back when websites were the newest thing in public affairs. “We know we need a website,” the client explained. “It just can’t say anything.”
Clients tend to have a strong vision of where they want to go, but upon examination of their tactics, we often find that while some are actually moving in the right direction, others seem to exist independent of the overall mission.
In a world of limited resources, it’s essential to edit out the superfluous. If a tactic is not building toward a client’s goal, show them how they can stop wasting their resources and change their strategy or their tactic.
It’s critical to listen to your clients and properly ascertain their goals. Then you can build strategic plans tailored to fit both their target decision-makers and their constituencies, which then integrate the specific tactics they need to get to where they want to be.
As part of that effort, be meticulous in showing how every tactical expenditure propels clients toward their strategic goals, and judge yourselves just as meticulously—did the strategic guidance you offered to clients and tactical execution achieve the victory the client sought?
Winning teams, winning campaigns and winning strategies constantly evolve. Winning requires honest and frequent metric assessments of how strategies and tactics are performing.
When those numeric come-to-Jesus moments reveal failures in strategic machinery, or any sort of underperformance, it is imperative to adapt. That can come in the form of changing tactics and strategy, or in reallocating resources among existing tools.
Crafting thoughtful, informed strategies from the get-go, and building upon tactics that will reliably perform well for clients and their audiences should be the standard industry practice, along with refection and flexibility. Constant measuring is needed to ensure the strategies and tactics employed are still those best suited to deliver a client’s win, and when change will bring improvement, adjust.
The marriage of strategy and tactics toward a specified end, and an enduring commitment to self-scrutiny and adaptability within that relationship is what it takes to deliver the win today.
B.R. McConnon is chairman and chief executive officer of DDC Advocacy, an international full-service public affairs firm.