Public Affairs Vocabulary Decoded Part I: Communications Strategy

Public Affairs Vocabulary Decoded Part I: Communications Strategy

Let’s take a few minutes to discuss some terms we use in the public affairs world: communications strategy, pitch development, government affairs, media relations.

What the heck do they mean in real life?

Well, before we answer that important question, let’s imagine a fictional company. We’ll make it on the smaller side, perhaps 25 employees. Let’s say they are in the clean energy sector (but it could be local food, health care, a software company, a law firm, a daycare center, or anything else).

Further, let’s imagine that the company just installed its 50th wind turbine/500th solar panel/1st geothermal heat pump. The team is high-fiving, excited by the milestone. Profits are going up, a new client includes a major research institution in the northeast, and customers are sending in their energy bills as thank you notes to the company. And a person on the staff says, “You know, this would make a really good story. We should tell the newspaper or something.”

And everyone agrees, enthusiastically. And then the CEO takes a phone call from the aforementioned new client. The sales rep heads to a meeting. The installation crew is off to a new work site. The CFO turns her attention to payroll.

And the person on staff who suggested calling the newspaper begins to wade through the day’s various tasks at a small business: responding to incoming messages, upgrading the IT system, requesting additional street parking from the town to accommodate the increased staff that has resulted from all this positive growth.

And — poof! — not an hour later, no one is thinking about the newspaper anymore.

Which is normal and acceptable in today’s economy.

But it is a huge missed opportunity.

Because the story is worth telling.

Now, let’s imagine if someone could help bring that story into the broader world. Someone who could distribute it to all the key operators and advocates and government regulators in the appropriate fields. Someone who could teach this small business how to publicize its successes in the most effective manner. Someone who could write press releases, web content, and advertising copy. Someone whose relationships and deep roots in Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and the rest of New England could deliver this positive story directly to the ideal clients the company wants to find, but doesn’t know how to locate.

What you are imagining is called a “communications strategy.” (In the future posts, we’ll talk about how, exactly, each of these steps happens.)

With a good strategy, this small business is going to see a new surge in activity and interest.

Which is good for everyone.

In your business, do you have a good story to tell? And do you know how to tell it?

Mark Lilienthal

Mark Lilienthal collaborates with Ellis Mills Public Affairs on a number of projects in Vermont and beyond. Previously, he was a speechwriter for former Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick. He also writes a bimonthly column for the Valley News, a newspaper covering the Upper Valley area of Vermont and New Hampshire. Fluent in French, he has been a tour guide in the vineyards of Burgundy, a local press correspondent for a French newspaper, and a lecturer on the American political process.