I’m exaggerating, but I do think the plunge that companies have taken into the new media space has largely ignored the importance of strategy in a way we haven’t quite seen before.
The field of new media “gained” on us very quickly, it changes every day, new tools pop up while others disappear, and one thing will work for one company while it’ll wreak havoc on another. The focus on tools lends itself to a focus on tactics. A company that “gets it” and becomes successful either gets those tools, or they’re lucky, but the success alone makes more people want to jump in and get a piece of the action.
One of the big factors in this field is exactly the speed at which it’s developing: It’s so hot right now that people feel like they should be in it or they’ll die, but at the same time, it’s a different field almost every day.
Coupled with that is the fact that the field is open and can be used by anyone. It’s not industry specific. It’s not like a few car companies with a new technology (which can certainly cause failures for some and huge successes for others). EVERYONE wants to be in the new media space and it can theoretically be used by ANY company or individual with access to the internet. Successes and failures start adding up a lot more at that level, and it becomes harder to identify best- or worse-practices.
What I’m seeing more and more, however, is companies that both jump-in-blind and shoot-from-the-hip. Not only do they not really get some of the technologies or platforms, but they more often than not don’t think about an overall strategy for their entry, let alone incorporating their moves into overall company strategy.
I’ve seen the following trends (some of these are very general and not meant to be all-encompassing):
- Companies are going to PR agencies first, because PR agencies are the ones that tend to implement the tools. Companies aren’t consulting marketers or strategists, and often times they aren’t even consulting the marketing department inside their own companies as much as they should. Somehow they’ve decided that the two are separate functions.
- PR agencies tend to use tactics over strategy. They gather up the new media tools and develop a process behind one or a few, and focus on the implementation. Strategy is downplayed, if brought into the equation at all, and the campaign ends up being sporadic or misaligned with company strategy because it’s separated and made to be simply a process.
- Companies sometimes try and take new media involvement on themselves, and again, lose sight of strategy, and develop a very ad hoc system to play around with in the new media space, tool-by-tool.
What this leads to is a colossal waste of resources on a program that isn’t cohesive and doesn’t get the results one hopes for.
Fixing the Problem
Using a military example, any successful military commander that has ever lived will tell you that tactics are useless without a good strategy (or without a strategy period). You can’t patch things together into a successful fort seizure unless you have the entire plan laid out and the objective made clear.
Any great marketer or any basic Marketing 101 book will tell you the exact same thing. This was pulled from one such book, which stresses both the importance of top-level strategy to any strong marketing plan as well as the need to develop tactics and programs to support that strategy.
A few things companies can do when thinking about diving into this space:
- Internally align yourself with your own marketing department and make sure that everyone is clear on how this works into overall company strategy. There have to be reasons why you think it would benefit the company and clear ways in which it can remain cohesive. As Zach said last night in his talk on Corporate Blogging: “if you want to set up a corporate blog just to set up a corporate blog, you’re not doing it for the right reasons.” [disclaimer: his talk was far more interesting than that simple statement, for more check out his blog].
- If you choose to do the process internally, do not go tool by tool and use them separately. Develop a plan, do research on what others have found beneficial or detrimental, know how to use the tools and how they can work together. Then make sure that transfers into a clear strategy. Make the strategy detailed and focused, too general will lead to the shooting-from-the-belt syndrome.
- If you go to an external firm for help, I would suggest going with one that highlights strategy in their process. If they’re not asking you for overall goals, what you hope to gain, they may not know themselves.
Obviously I’m a little biased, since I work for a marketing strategy firm that deals in the new media space, but I would suggest going with a marketing firm first. Most of them have relationships with PR agencies that will then help you with the tactics and programs (although, for the record, we can help on the tactical level as well). For instance, we have a relationship with Spotlight Communications for some of our PR needs: we can develop the strategy and then pass it to the communications folks. Usually, since the project is split, the cost doesn’t end up being that much more, but you get a heck of a lot more in terms of taking the process from strategy straight through to program (which is what you should be doing anyway!).
You can also easily go with just a PR agency, but choose ones that are asking the right questions and identifying the right things concerning your strategy before they start talking about all the great tools out there that you can use.
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