Laura Petrolino

Improve Your Communications Strategy By Asking These Questions

By: Laura Petrolino | September 26, 2016 | 

Eight Questions to Improve Your Communications StrategyA good communications strategy requires both short- and long-term perspectives.

You need to be able to zoom in to the minute and zoom out to see the big picture.

Likewise, your tactics (zoom in) must support all of your objectives and goals (zoom out), not just those directly connected.

Water Guns, Bossy Girls, and Your Communications Strategy

And now boys and girls, it’s communications analogy time….yay!

When I was five, I was out playing in the yard with the little boy next door.

It was a typical super hot summer day in the south and I had just gotten a bright green water gun, which I loved.

We were playing cops and robbers and on my order (bossy much?).

I was the cop and he was supposed to be the robber.

While I understood his role as robber to simply be running around while I shot him with my awesome water gun, he understood it to include stealing said gun from me.

I was furious.

I chased after him, kicked him in the shin, and took the gun back (I was a peaceful child…who didn’t take crap from anyone #Sicilian).

He kept after it and out of pure anger and stubborn will to prevent him from destroying my water gun, I threw it against the side of our house where it shattered into a million green, plastic pieces.

When Successful Tactics Fail

I was devastated.

And while I did keep the gun out of his hands, I failed to reach my overall goal of taking the neighborhood siege with my water gun.

This tragic experience taught me a very important lesson which has carried through to this day: A communications strategy can only be successful if ALL tactics are evaluated within the context of every strategic objective, as well as the overall goals.

So, let’s say, hypothetically, I had two main objectives:

  1. To be in control of my water gun.
  2. To prevent neighbor boy from playing with my water gun.

The tactic I chose worked to accomplish objective number two, but in the process made objective number one impossible.

Hence I failed to reach my overall goal of total world domination….um, I mean blissful water gun play.

This concept holds true across many life situations including developing, executing, and evaluating a successful communications strategy.

A really good example of this would be if you have an opportunity for a big media placement in an article which is completely (and possibly dangerously) off message to what would resonate with your core consumer base.

This might accomplish an objective of a top tier media placements or brand “awareness,” but fails to help your overall goal of increased sales.

You also often see this scenario play out when a short-term gain is put as priority over a long-term strategy.

Sure you could buy 10,000 Twitter followers and suddenly have a large following overnight, but in doing so you miss out on the entire point of having a large social network: Engagement, community, brand advocates, quality referral traffic, and qualified leads (to name a few).

These nameless, faceless “followers” you just bought might increase your Twitter numbers, but with no resulting purpose.

Developing Strategy with Purpose

Unless they are unethical, individual communications tactics cannot be evaluated as bad or good out of context of the goal.

There are very few stand alone “you must do this,” or “you should never do that,” instead we have a lot of different options, all which represent opportunities.

Choosing the right opportunities for your business is part art (understanding messaging, human motivation, and how to communicate in a way that resonates with your audience), part science (knowing where and how your consumers prefer to receive messages, understanding SWOT, search engine optimization, keywords, and what your consumer is searching for), and part experimentation (using Google analytics and other data measurement metrics to understand what’s working, what’s not, and where you can improve).

Obviously, a successful communications strategy is not as simple as getting a story in the New York Times, or being on the first page of Google.

Goal-focused Questions

So how do you decide what in your communications strategy makes sense and what doesn’t, within the context of your business goals?

A good place to start is to focus on the following four areas: Brand, message, consumer, resources.


  • Does this tactic align with our company purpose, brand values, and mission?
  • Is this tactic consistent with our brand voice and guidelines?
  • Will this tactic dilute or strengthen our brand?


  • Is our message consistent? Does this tactic maintain that consistency?
  • How broad of interpretation does the messaging of this tactic allow?
  • Does this message translate consistently and properly through all communications mediums and channels it might transverse?


  • Which consumers or buyer personas will this tactic most effectively reach?
  • How does it do so? (this is included to help you avoid the “bright, shiny” tactics. That might be flashy or trendy but really have little or no affect on your goals.)
  • How will it affect the others?


  • Do you have the resources? Both financial and human?
  • Does the return on investment justify the resources that will be used?

Then take an overall look. How does this integrate in with the other tactics you are using, the other objectives you are pursuing, and your goals overall?

Start by answering everything from a short-term perspective (less than one year), move to middle range (one to five years), and finally long-term (more than five years).

Do your answers change? If so how should that effect the tactic itself or it’s implementation?

Not only will this type of questioning help guide you when evaluating the value of individual tactics, they will also most likely help you see some additional opportunities you might have been overlooking.

A version of this post originally appeared in ArCompany 

About Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is the chief client officer at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She also is a weekly contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

  • An entertaining article as always Laura! Your analogy really helps to drive home the point that we do not want to be so focused on winning battles and end up losing the war. It is certainly important to keep our larger goals and objects in mind when deciding which communications strategies to pursue.

    • Laura Petrolino

      Yes, that’s such a great way to put it. Often we want instant gratification so badly we will sacrifice the war for the battle….we need to be aware of what our main goal is and make sure everything we do aligns with that.

  • Resources is where I nail all the one trick hypsters. So many in social media evangelize things that 1] have negative ROI and 2] will never be approved by the CFO as a budget item.

    Resources in all orgs are competing for funding. The achilles heal of PR, Marketing, and Advertising (not Sales btw) is CFO’s who have Finance Degrees like me, like concrete numbers. So buying impressions or vanity stuff feeds the ego but not the soul.

    When you are pitching a campaign or a tactic as worth the investment….even if it is positive ROI….how will it compare to other investments like technology or a machine or a new sales person. CFO’s are trained in school to use IRR and NPV to compare investment opportunities for highest return.

    There is a reason you wait on hold for 2 hours with your cable company. The CFO has determined it is a negative return to have as many people as they need to answer your call in a timely manner. I mean companies with 100m’s and 1b’s in profits can afford to hire more people if needed. It is 100% a calculated decision.

    It is possible gaining control of the water gun and keeping it from said neighbor isn’t as valuable and schmoozing dad for a banana split. 8)

    • Laura Petrolino

      Yep, totally agree and that’s why it’s CRUCIAL marketing isn’t siloed on their own, but understands the company operation as a whole. Part of our job is to help our clients make choices about how to spend their budget, sometimes those choices mean spending less money with us or on the communications front, until they can get a few foundational things laid out or accomplish other priorities (that will then in turn making marketing spend more valuable). Too often those leading communication have no idea or understanding of the company’s needs or goals and so their “strategy” is single focused…which then isn’t really strategy at all.

      And there is always a high ROI in banana split