Strategies and Tactics – What’s the Difference and Why it Matters

I’ve posted quite a bit about the importance of planning before beginning a communications program. As strategic guides for management, we need to keep our eye on the goals and objectives of our plans. It makes us look smarter to management and also guides us through the year.

Once you’ve completed measurable goals and objectives, the next steps are determining your audience (also called stakeholder) and strategies.

I find the audience part is the easier of these two tasks. Geographic and age targets are fairly easily set. When psychographics are added, it can be more difficult but is still something familiar to many. Often, actually choosing a subset of the overall market that can be the challenge. I like to explain to management that just because our focus is on Alaskans 18-34 living off the road system doesn’t mean that a 45 year old in Anchorage won’t see the message.

The confusion often sets in when it’s time to select strategies and tactics. I’m often asked to explain the difference and find an analogy that works for me:

Think of it as a road trip. The strategy is the road you choose to drive on while the tactics are the vehicles you take on the road.

On last week’s PR20chat the discussion came up again and Jeremy Pepper said a former boss who used the World War II Battle of Normandy as an example:

Goal is to take the beach. Strategy is who lands where. Tactics is what they use

In the Universal Accreditation Board’s APR Study Guide, they add that strategies determine the “how” in a plan while the tactics are the “what.”

Understanding the importance of planning and the elements therein is one of the most important aspects of public relations for professionals who want to be known for strategy.

Securing APR certification is critical for public relations and communication pros who want recognition as strategic partners. While studying for the test (which I highly recommend), professionals learn more than 30 KSAs (knowledge, skills and assessments) critical to senior communicators.

But, back to strategies. Do you have an analogy you use to separate strategies from tactics? Do you always include at least one strategy in your plans? Why or why not?

The Barber Group

Gig Harbor, Washington


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