Strategy vs. PR-narrative

by TekhneMakre2 min read15th Aug 20213 comments

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[This is me trying to state simply for myself a conceptual distinction I think is well-known.]

The point of PR-narrative is to make your actions understandable to other people. The point of strategy is to make high-level decisions about the (more local) aims of your thought and action, that you expect will have the consequences you want.

For whatever reason, good or bad, your PR-narrative may contain lies of commission or omission, and ontological confusions--thinking something "is even a thing" that really isn't, or vice versa. (E.g. because you want people to approve your actions more than you want them to understand and predict them.)

You might confuse your strategy with your PR-narrative. Both of them summarize your behavior in terms of purpose, but strategy is trying to modulate your more-zoomed-in aims to contribute to your larger aims, while PR-narrative is supposed to modulate other people's expectations of your more-zoomed-in aims. You might have both a PR-narrative and a strategy of doing X. "Going through the motions" is sometimes like, you're having the PR-narrative guide your zoomed-in behavior and not having your strategy guide it, so your behavior kind of looks like what it's supposed to look like. You can tell it's not guided by your strategy because it's not ongoingly answering to your detailed judgements about "will this result in X". (That could also happen e.g. because you've reached a local maximum in the motions you're going through.)

When you become aware that the activity you're doing is inconsistent with your PR-narrative, there's a rising tension. Should you keep going, and cover up that you're doing it? Or admit that you're doing it, but say you're trying your best to do better, spending some social capital? Or should you try to convince people that what you're doing is actually consistent with your PR-narrative? Or force yourself to stop, so you can say you did the right thing?

A similar thing might happen when you become aware that the activity you're doing is inconsistent with your strategy. A difference is that you have read and write access to everything involved in the conflict, so you could resolve it by comparing different possible strategies. Another difference is that it's more clear there shouldn't be a conflict if only you could think things through, it's all just you after all.

When you've done something that's consistent with your strategy but not with your PR-narrative, you might find yourself "scrambling to get your story straight" for if/when someone asks you about what you did. "Oh, I was just trying to [...]", "Oh, oops, I didn't realize that [...]", etc.

When you've done something that's consistent with your PR-narrative but not with your strategy, you might feel mysteriously sad or depressed. Or tired or "unmotivated".

This is only a phenomenological description, not a normative prescription. It might be normative if you're assuming that you're inevitably in conflict with the people your PR-narrative is addressed to.

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I think what you mean when you use PR-narrative is more like projected brand, rather than narrative (in the PR sense). Narrative (to my understanding and how I use it professionally) is generally limited to a topic, a situation or an event, as opposed to the whole of the organisation. Practically, an organisation might have multiple narratives on different topics.

Another important distinction between the strategy and brand, I think, is strategy is more prescriptive and brand is more interactive. Yes, strategy is informed by the environment, players, etc but then describes a situation, includes predictions, identifies challenges and defines actions to overcome those challenges. The brand is more interactive because even though you can project image and morals, in the end, the impression of your actions on your target audiences and their reactions, therefore your reputation also plays a huge role in that.

You always want to control your brand (and most of the time the narrative in a situation) to create an advantageous position. But it might not always be the case. And yes, the disconnect between the actions and the brand might create tension that might damage reputation if allowed to grow.

Interesting, thanks!

I think I still want to say narrative, rather than brand, but you're right that the concepts aren't quite fitting right. I want to say "narrative" because that sounds like "story about what we were doing and why". "Brand" sounds less like it involves agency, choice, situations, purpose, and more like a sort of associative impression.

Maybe what's up here is that for literal companies using PR, the people at whom the PR is aimed aren't tracking *any* narrative about the company as a whole across all time. So there's no call for a coherent legible story about how actions contribute to a supposed strategy, but rather just local calls for PR. Maybe a closer analogy between what I mean as PR-narrative (for a person) would be mission statement (for a company; along with narratives in particular situations that are trying to appear consistent with the mission statement). On the other hand, you've reminded me that PR-narrative even for a person is almost intrinsically less coherent than strategy, and does have some of the brand-nature rather than story-nature.

Cool. Sometimes people use "meta-narrative" for that kind of thing if I am understanding your point correctly. Like the overarching message-focused story of an organization. But, sure, use narrative, as long as people understand what you mean, all cool.

Yeah, your observation is on point - most of the time people (audiences) do not actually "track" about an organization. But that doesn't mean it does not matter - on the contrary. The narrative is generally absorbed subconsciously, by being exposed to multiple stories from the organization.

I'd say the mission statement is something else than the narrative and more of a part of the strategic-domain than communications-domain. But definitely, the mission informs communications.

On your last point, I'd not say "less coherent" but maybe "vaguer". If you are trying to control a narrative, I wouldn't say it is not coherent. It is hard to control, yes. But I am not sure if it lacks coherency. But I think, both strategy and narrative are hard to understand when you are looking outside-in but feels more coherent from inside-out.