Strategic communication is the art of focus.
Photography plays an important role in my life, so I choose to look at strategic communications through the metaphor of a lens.
- A lens can sharpen focus (or diffuse it).
- A lens carries illumination (sometimes it opens wide or narrows to a fine point).
- A lens functions by adjusting to the environment it reflects.
- A lens works best in the hands of someone versed in operating it manually (but is often used thoughtlessly by amateurs in a risky reliance upon technology).
- A lens can clarify or distort.
- A lens is selected based on the ends sought.
- A lens requires delicate care to avoid getting messy or shattered.
Strategic communication brings focus and consistency to an organization, coordinating themes, messages, or products that are integrated into a larger effort to create, strengthen, or preserve interests, policies, and objectives.
Naturally within existence, information flows, perceptions evolve, and reputations rise and sink. The strategic communicator guides these processes like a pilot aiming for a narrow runway or a bull rider hanging on in spite of volatility.
All strategic communication brings into alignment three basic elements:
- a message,
- a channel
- an audience.
Strategy works to enhance positioning, sell ideas and survive crisis. Strategic communicators are storytellers who raise awareness, articulate vision, establish identity, and tap into our collective consciousness.
Our world presents more noise than at any other time in human history as competing messages bombard us in a frenzied contest for our attention. Strategic communicators refine a message and devise clever ways to avoid getting lost in that noise. A jingle. A slogan that embodies a guiding philosophy. A logo crafted to express the soul of a brand.
At the same time we find a world of information available at our fingertips, disruptive technologies shatter the status quo. We try to grasp this change, anticipate it, capture it in a bottle and sell it. Try as we might, technological developments spread like wildfire and can’t be contained – only met head on.
Newspapers close their doors as consumers take their classified advertising to Craigslist and seek out information for free online. As professional journalists run a race to the bottom, ordinary people are empowered by connectivity and become the new storytellers and the new distribution channels. We share our thoughts in blogs and status updates, broadcasting to the world that we have a voice as powerful as our capacity to harness the channels we built.
The Internet becomes more ubiquitous as our devices grow increasingly powerful and portable. The things we say, the images we capture and the things we like become fixed in our permanent footprint, a sort of informational DNA that increasingly defines us.
We introduce our most precious possessions, our children, to a virtual world that can shape their potential to achieve, yet also poses risks to their safety and their innocence. We arm them with wisdom and rely on rules and the decency of others to mitigate harm.
Too often, more information translates into more inaccurate information.
Geography and distance no longer limit our ability to create and preserve relationships that we previously lost to obscurity. We no longer lose friends in the process of making life changes – we get a daily glimpse into the world of those we care about by browsing their adventures shared online.
We are discovering that human beings aren’t as easily batched into demographic categories as advertisers have always assumed; rather, we are complex, marvelous beings who are witnessing the start of technology-aided personalization to find needles of data in informational haystacks. We unite based on common interests and goals, equipped with tools that deliver the information we find most relevant to our perceptions, values and identities.
What is the role of strategic communication in all of this?
As complex as the world grows day after day, we are still left with the fundamental elements: a message, a channel and an audience.
I feel privileged to live during a period of history in great revolutionary flux. I imagine things must have seemed similarly overwhelming in the wake of 1450 when Johannes Gutenberg introduced Europe to the printing press with moveable type. Progress came swiftly with the wheel, the steam engine, the railroad, telegraph, the telephone, radio, television, and now the Internet.
I hope I live long enough to tell my grandchildren I remember when you had to sort through cards of paper in libraries full of books to find nuggets of information. That may be the equivalent of my grandparents telling me how they walked five miles to school… uphill… both ways!
What comes next?
That’s a fascinating question. One could speculate all day about that, but signs point to the proliferation of raw data across borders in such a way that scientists share their findings to unlock new cures and treatments while citizens gain bold new insights into the effectiveness of their governments.
The truth is that technology will likely throw us a curveball or two in the next 20 years. I can foresee a day when we are able to map and control the human brain and body, the same way we are able to map the Human Genome and construct the Internet. Can you imagine altering the way our minds are hard-wired the same way we change a line of code in a page of HTML?
Along with any positives we see, we’ll also likely encounter some new threats. Unfortunately, human nature stays pretty fixed, ensuring a future still occupied by thieves and predators who will exploit vulnerabilities. Innovation will rise up from necessity, and one only hopes to live in a world of sufficient prosperity and justice to realize innovations in efficiency rather than tools to redistribute by force.
Strategic communicators will occupy important roles in that future web of unleashed information. People will need curators to isolate that which matters most: the message that needs distinguished from the mundane and irrelevant. A focused message – like a lens fixed on the barrel of a camera pointed ahead — will remain key to public perception, crisis response and creating brand identities.