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A Nine Inning Communications Game Plan

Crafting and executing an effective communications plan requires long-term vision, daily execution and a strategic direction. These same elements are readily apparent with a successful baseball team.

The best teams research in advance and focus on the fundamentals every game. Sheer talent is only one ingredient, and often the team with the biggest “stars” is not the winner. Rather, those that play every at bat and do not relent until 27 outs are recorded are frequently the victors.

Let’s take a look at how a professional services company can draw parallels from baseball:

Before the Game – Research, Research, Research! – The best players watch video of their upcoming opponents, looking for tendencies and weaknesses. Teams identify lineups that have the greatest probability of success given historical data and determine defensively how to shift fielders to take away hits.

Professional services companies need to know the broad issues that they are looking to comment on in the media. Awareness of developments locally and nationally is critical along with knowing the appropriate outlets and reporters to target. Previous articles on the topic need to be digested and news alerts and legislation tracking need to be set up in advance of major developments.

The Game – State Senator John Johnson Introduces Legislation Aiming to Overhaul Corporate Tax Deductions.

Innings 1-3 – Anything can happen in innings 1-3. However, let’s assume we have a 0-0 game at the end of three. Both pitchers are hanging in there, and while a few hits have been had, no serious scoring threats have materialized.

In terms of a communications plan for this emerging issue, basic execution is critical. Members of the media should be contacted at this early stage to position a designated in-house expert as a “go-to” source – “As you continue to cover Senator Johnson’s proposed overhaul of corporate tax deductions, X is available for comment.”

In addition, byline article opportunities need to be pursued at this stage. Authoring a third-party credentialed article that can be publicized through traditional (physical mail, email, handouts) and social media (Twitter, corporate Facebook page, company blog) channels serves two purposes:

1)    It educates clients and potential clients.

2)    It often educates reporters looking to learn more about the issue.

Innings 5-7 – Our hypothetical game is a tight, 2-2 affair after five innings.

Success so far has been defined by these outcomes: 1) a response from key reporter thanking your communications department for reaching out and informing them that they will keep X in mind as the legislation advances; 2) the publishing of byline article outlining the potential impact of Johnson’s overhaul bill in client-targeted trade publication. So far, in monitoring media coverage, competing companies have achieved the same or less media attention.

Errors and Pop Outs – Sometimes a routine ground ball is anything but routine. It can clank off a second baseman’s glove, extending an inning and leading to unearned runs. On the other end of the spectrum, a team can load the bases with no outs and fail to score even a run. The premier power hitter in the league can, with two outs, get jammed and hit a high, lazy pop out to end the inning.

Failing to return a reporter’s phone call is one of the ground ball, double play scenarios. Media sources need to advise their communications teams of availability and actually be there to field inquiries.

The power hitter popping out is a company source getting a call from a major publication only to lack focus and try to do too much. Instead of being thoughtful and concise, they prattle on with no cohesive point – working the count full, but resulting in an out and being left out of an article. Alternatively, a source gets greedy and makes overly bombastic claims – trying to create that perfect, home run of a juicy quote – and ends up, again, being bounced from a story (and a reporter’s contact list) entirely as they sky one to shallow left field.

Innings 8 and 9 – These innings are crucial. If you have a slight lead, your bullpen is called on to lock the win down, earning “holds” and a “save” in the process. If you are down, these same players are employed to keep the score as it is and give the offense a chance to come back. In this scenario, we have gone to the top of the 8th (as the home team) ahead 3-2.

We “manufactured” our last run by: 1) taking a walk by pro-actively reaching out to the media during a lull in the bill’s progress; 2) stealing second by catching our competitor not paying attention to media inquiries when the bill passed one legislative body; 3) bunting the runner to third by again reaching out in advance of a scheduled vote – a “productive” out; and 4) hitting a sacrifice fly by lining up a byline article opportunity in advance of final passage.

The end game is to ensure that all media opportunities are taken advantage of, positioning the company and its designated source for business development success. This is why you need an aggressive, 95 mph closer that can shut the door on an opposition. When the bill finally passes, extensive, pin-point pitching to the reporters covering the news takes place, leading to a lock down on numerous commentary opportunities.

This focused approach often leads to a whole new and different ballgame – a potential new client.

Michael Bond

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