Strategic communications tips from an amateur violinist

Four years ago, I decided to take violin lessons. Except for a few years of piano in  childhood, I had never played a musical instrument. I couldn’t read music. I didn’t know if I had a good ear. And as a right-handed person, I was keenly aware of how clumsy I was with my left hand – the hand that does all the heavy-lifting for violinists.

Undaunted, I began my weekly classes, pleased that I was doing something outside of work that was new and challenging.

Recently, in the middle of a practice session, I had an epiphany. It came to me that the worlds of strategic communications and musicianship aren’t really all that different.

The starting point for playing – and for solving a communications problem – is a firm grasp on where you’re at. Rule number one: If you don’t know where you are, you can’t get where you need to be.

Whether you’re a client deciding on whether to hire a communications consultant, or a small business owner trying to do it all, here are some general observations on how to tackle your communications challenges:

What key is it in?  When it comes to sight-reading music, I’m still trying to get this one down. But when it comes to talking with clients about strategic communications options, I’m all over it.  

As communications practitioners, we have a broad range of tools at our disposal for helping clients figure out what their communications problem is and how to fix it. Rather than responding to anecdotal evidence, assumptions or gut feelings, experienced practitioners make the most of research tools like surveys, focus groups, media reports, online reputation analysis, social media conversations, and direct customer feedback to help us determine the root of a communication problem.

In my opinion, objective data is the only reliable – and credible – way to develop a response plan because it tells us who exactly the target audience is, what message they need to hear, the tone in which that message should be conveyed and the timing of that message. Tone, timing, key signature and content – the same things musicians deal with when interpreting a score.

Your PR counsel should absolutely take the time to hear your perceptions of the problem. It’s an important part of the relationship-building process and it helps to provide some much-needed context. However, as a matter of professional responsibility, they should also do their homework by figuring out what ‘key’ the problem is in, before moving forward.

Know where you’re going, and then go there.  Put another way: Don’t start playing until you know what note it’s in. The same goes for writing proposals, pitches, even emails…but that’s a different post, for a different day.

Next time, I’ll talk about the tools of our trade and why it’s important for communications practitioners to keep their instruments tuned and ready.