And another thing……communications strategy Columbo style

My all-time favourite TV detective is Columbo. I know that dates me, but honestly I was but a mere child when I encountered the man in the raincoat who always solved the crime that we the viewers had first witnessed.

Years later, I find myself using Columbo parallels on a regular basis in my working life. Now – that is the sign of good characterisation and excellent scriptwriting. So please bear with me whilst I stretch a Columbo theme perhaps a little too far, in making the connection with developing communications strategy. You see it all started with the one about the Hollywood funeral director………

One of my favourite Columbo episodes is, Ashes to Ashes, starring Patrick McGoohan who was Columbo’s nemesis in three separate episodes, as well as one of the guest directors for the series. This story involves “grisly undertakings” in an upscale Hollywood funeral parlour. In his dogged pursuit of McGoohan’s supercilious character, Columbo attends a funeral directors’ convention, where a certain amount of in-jokes and gallows humour is evident.

The “coffin jokes” reminded me that every profession has a level of humour and hopefully, the ability to laugh at ourselves. Communications and PR professionals are no different, but sometimes it feels like the joke is on us. Social media is full of lists of things that we hear regularly from clients and colleagues which have us metaphorically putting our head in our hands – comments such as, “We need a logo”, “My target audience is….the general public” and a particular favourite, “Can you make this look pretty?”. Great communications is about outputs, but it is about the right outputs linked to the core objectives for your organisation.

Getting to grips with what communications and PR is and how it adds value in organisations, starts with the big picture. It is the step most often missed out in developing communications plans, because so many people want to get directly to the solution before they have necessarily analysed the problem. When we talk to people about their communications and PR needs, they present us with the output they have decided they want. “I want a video” or “We just need a few leaflets and posters”, or the infamous, “We need a logo”. Of course we can “just” provide all of these services and more besides, but there is very little point, unless we know that the outputs will deliver not just what the client wants, but what they need.

Just like Columbo, our job is to get behind the obvious and find out the detail of what is really going on, building PR plans from an evidence base that will ultimately provide a successful outcome. We are always looking for “just one more thing……”

At Sindy B we use a simple three step process to solve the PR conundrum – consider, create, communicate. Steps one and two are as vital as the final step – which is delivering the agreed communications and PR campaigns. Properly researched, integrated and targeted communications which we will identify through steps one and two will, like Columbo, always provide the optimum solution.

And in case you were wondering, yes Patrick McGoohan’s character acted in haste, missed out some vital steps in his crisis planning and failed to spin his way out of trouble at the end. But the funeral parlour had a wonderful logo.

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