Luke Blair: When to be proactive and when to be reactive

One way of judging an organisation, especially a public sector organisation, is what kind of proactive or reactive stance it takes to communications.

Luke Blair: Balancing being proactive and reactive is key
Luke Blair: Balancing being proactive and reactive is key
At one end of the spectrum are bodies who regard anything other than a holding line as too risky, like to hide behind endless sign off and approval processes, and are too busy staying well below the parapet to ever raise their heads above it.

At the other end are those who want to turn any opportunity into a major media circus, complete with a press conference, TV training for participants, and a full release across nationals, regionals and trades.

Most organisations of course will not be quite so polarised, and take a mixed approach, seizing proactive opportunities where they can, but being more prudent and less ‘out there’ when more sensitive issues are concerned.

And one should neither caricature nor generalise here – public organisations have much in common but are never quite the same, even within the same sector, and do not always behave in quite the way you might expect.

However, what is true is that the way each responds to its circumstances, and the extent to which a proactive or reactive approach is taken, tells you a lot about that organisation’s leadership, its vision, and its self-confidence.

Over the years I have worked with some seemingly very timid organisations who, when backed into a corner by a particularly knotty or challenging issue, suddenly find their voice, tap into their courage, step up to the plate, and do exactly the right thing.

The leadership grows stronger and wiser from the experience and is from that point on a little more robust about communications forever after, having been through a period of collective corporate pain.

Equally I have advised organisations who have all the right answers, have every weapon in their armoury to come out fighting, actually have the public on their side if only they would accept it, but at the final hurdle stop just short and end up doing the wrong thing because they have not been brave enough at the final jump.  Those organisations often make the same mistake again.

Of course it would be wrong to conflate simply being proactive with being brave.

One sees people being proactive every day when, frankly, it was not courage that was lacking when they put their communications together, but better judgement and more wisdom.

Our advice is about judging the unique circumstances of each case for communication, measuring these against the appetite and courage of the organisation itself, and then advising on just how proactive or reactive its behaviour should be.

That is what makes the job so interesting.  Organisations are made up of people, are led by them and defined by them. 

Their reaction to communications challenges are very human reactions, and our advice needs to be based on an understanding of human behaviour.  

Luke Blair is a director at London Communications Agency

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