Corporate Reputation: Alastair Campbell, Portland - Nine lessons in strategy

Strategic success relies on everyone from the boardroom down being onside.

It sounds counter-intuitive, but the comms revolution has made the job of managing corporation reputation simpler, not harder.

The rise of social media, the speed of Twitter and the explosion of the blogosphere means there is no longer much point in trying to control what is said about you.

Your priority has to be thinking about what it is you want to say about yourself and ensuring you do that as effectively as possible.

The lesson that unless you define yourself, your opponents will do it for you is one ingrained in political life. Time and time again, it has proved the difference between electoral success and failure and determines later a government's ability to drive through its programme. It is certainly the failure at the heart of the coalition's present problems.

But while the present government has not managed successfully to define its purpose and agree a strategy to deliver it, the truth is many businesses still do not think this is necessary to try.

I have heard repeatedly how corporate clients do not want strategy from their PR advisers, whether in-house or consultants; only tactics.

They see advice as a way of making a business or product look better rather than helping to develop a strategy to improve it. They have got it the wrong way around.

When I joined Portland as an adviser, my first role was to run strategic-thinking sessions for all staff, from the most senior to the most junior.

The session began with everyone being asked for a definition of strategy. My favourite reply was from a young researcher called Tim, who answered simply: 'Strategy is God.'

Leaving aside the blasphemy and the fact that I don't do religion, he is spot on. Everything else flows from strategy. You have to start with your objective - what you want to achieve - and your strategy - your approach to achieving it. Only then do you start thinking about tactics, which are the actions and tools needed to deliver the strategy.

Without an agreed and clear strategy, you will not develop effective, coherent tactics or successfully promote or defend reputations.

The steps you take might buy immediate relief but at the cost of long-term damage to your brand. If you have a clear strategy, you will find the courage to stay on course, no matter how choppy the waters.

As we have worked through our strategy sessions, both internally at Portland and with senior management teams at our clients, we have together begun to shape additional rules that help ensure focus on what matters. Here they are:

1. OST is my first rule: objective, strategy, tactics. Get these the wrong way around and you are in trouble.

2. It is not a strategy unless it is written down.

3. Developing a strategy is about having arguments, not avoiding them.

4. Strategy is a team game and works best when everyone from the boardroom down to reception supports it.

5. The best strategies can be written as a word, phrase, paragraph, page, speech and book.

6. Good strategy is based on thorough analysis and understanding.

7. Good strategy is about action, not theory.

8. Comms is a means to an end - think about the business goal, not just the comms goal.

9. The best strategies are consistent, but have flexibility to adapt.

We are still looking for the tenth commandment. Suggestions please on a postcard ...


- The biggest improvements to a corporate reputation come in the wake of a crisis - true or false?

They can do if you are proactive and effective in communicating what you have learned and what you are doing, but there are plenty of high-profile examples where, if you don't get this right, a crisis can prove disastrous for reputations.

- What is the most innovative recent example of a business partnering a third party?

The way that sponsors helped make the Olympic Torch Relay a nationwide success and build momentum to the Games was a great example.

Alastair Campbell is a member of Portland's Advisory Council

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