It’s not worth creating a B2B PR strategy – the world is far too complicated

B2B PR Myth #2

This is the second in a planned series of posts that look at B2B PR myths – you can find the first one here. Subscribe to our newsletter so that you don’t miss the next in the series.

TL:DR Agility serves B2B PR strategy

Contrary to the assumption that B2B PR strategies are rigid, true strategic planning is inherently dynamic. It’s not about predicting the future with pinpoint accuracy but about creating a flexible framework that guides decision-making in response to market changes. 

The argument for agility often confuses tactical agility with strategic insight. Succumbing to purely tactical responses can inadvertently let competitors dictate your strategy, steering your efforts away from your defined objectives.

Agility and strategy are not mutually exclusive; rather, agility should operate within the bounds of a strategic B2B PR framework. While agility allows for quick responses and operational flexibility, it is the strategy that gives these actions direction and purpose. 

The notion that today’s world is too volatile for strategy ignores the constant presence of change throughout history. Successful B2B marketing has always confronted volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA). Rather than discarding strategy the most adept marketers use their strategies to stay on track.

Instead of viewing change as a rationale for abandoning strategic planning, it should be used as a framework to anticipate and navigate challenges. Acknowledging that change is a constant and embracing the opportunities it presents, a dynamic B2B B2B PR strategy enables businesses to shape the market in their favour.

A well-articulated strategy provides a clear set of policies and decision-making guidelines, empowering those at the frontline of marketing to act with confidence and agility. By using VUCA as a lens to assess and categorise market challenges, marketers can determine the most effective responses, whether they require agile adjustments or strategic shifts. This approach ensures that agility serves the strategy, not the other way around.

Why agility can never replace B2B PR strategy.

Woman wearing a white top and black leggings balancing near a railway line to illustrate why agility and B2B PR strategy are separate but connected

It’s frequently said that in an everchanging world, where oceans are red and customers increasingly fickle there is no point in having a B2B PR strategy. 

The narrative goes: “we can’t predict what is going to happen next year let alone what is likely to happen over the medium to long term”. Agility, it goes on, lets us pivot in an instant so that we can respond rapidly to any change in our market. Lots of agile companies are thriving.

There are many problems with this story: 

The dynamic nature of B2B PR strategy

Many B2B marketers see B2B PR strategy as something that must be maintained with no changes for “the long-term”. Changes are somehow seen as admissions that “we got it wrong” or we “made a mistake”. 

It’s an understandable assumption if you believe that your B2B PR strategy should try to predict what will happen years in the future. But we all know that no one can accurately predict the next 18-months with accuracy, much less the next 3- to 5-years.

In fact, the only thing that you can predict, at least to some extent, is the impact that implementing your B2B PR strategy has on your market.

B2B PR strategy needs regular reviews and reassessments, at least annually and sooner if you hit a milestone or when major challenges emerge.  A strong B2B PR strategy will naturally be dynamic.

B2B PR Strategy vs the Tactical Conundrum

Underlying the desire to abandon a B2B PR strategy in favour of agility is confusion between tactical responses and true strategy. If you decide to price match a competitor’s discount promotion, you are making a tactical decision – not a strategic one. If you decide to abandon your middle-funnel mix plan because a challenger has gone all in on digital comms you are not responding strategically, you are responding tactically.

Even worse, by responding to your competitors’ tactical moves with your own you are allowing them to set your strategy.

Agility: The misunderstood strength in your B2B PR strategy

Agility is not a strategy:  it’s an ability. It’s a highly useful competence to have that can enhance operational capability. But it needs to be directed by an underlying strategic direction. 

A B2B PR strategy is not a plan. At its simplest it expresses choices as set of policy decisions and a guiding framework that helps B2B PR managers, executives and regional heads make decisions as the market changes.

Agility on the other hand gives you ability to plan and execute rapidly within your strategy.  During the coronavirus pandemic many marketing commentators and consultants promoted the idea of pivoting businesses. Agility made it possible to pivot quickly. But strategy made it possible to pivot successfully.

B2B PR strategy confronts the inevitability of change

Perplexed looking woman in a grey jacket and white shirt who is navigating through a maze to symbolise B2B PR strategy confronting the Inevitability of Change

However, the biggest problem with the narrative that agility trumps B2B PR strategy is that it doesn’t confront reality. Change is a consistent part of marketing.

Change has always been a reality for marketers ever since Lu-silaĝ-ĝa dragged the second bread stall next to the steps of the ziggurat of An, in Sumer and created market competition. 

Some changes in B2B markets have been relatively small while others were truly cataclysmic. Some occurred over the long-term: the Industrial Revolution, electrification, telegrams, telephony, the internet. Some happened over a relatively shorter-term: global wars, pandemics, manned flight, the resistor, space exploration, the rise of the influencer and much more. But none happened overnight.

However you look at it, and despite the zeitgeist, there is no proof that the world today is any more chaotic than it has been in the past. And through all these events, over hundreds of years, the most successful B2B companies have developed, adapted and implemented B2B PR strategies in response.

The VUCA World and B2B PR Strategy

World held in a hand with small bursts of life to illustrate the impact of VUCA on B2B PR strategy

In 1987, the U.S. Army War College coined the acronym VUCA to describe a framework they had developed to help analyse post-Cold War threats. Like many sophisticated-sounding martial concepts it became embedded in the lingua franca of business. Over time it has been sorely misunderstood and misused. 

We started to use VUCA as an adjective and to attach modifications to it. Marketers began to say things like “our market is very VUCA” or “the amount of VUCA is increasing”. It became for some a reason to abandon B2B strategy: “It’s a VUCA-world, we can’t prepare for that, it’s not something we can plan for, we have to be agile, yes?”. 

Over time many marketers began to use it as an excuse to avoid the hard work of creating and executing B2B PR strategy and instead rely on agility. Consequently, they abdicated their responsibility to influence business strategy through the hard work of real B2B PR in favour of agile, exciting, trendy short-term tactical comms.

But VUCA, either as adjective or framework, doesn’t describe anything new. B2B marketers have always had to deal with a world full of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. That is our stock in trade.

Does this mean that agility is always bad; that you must always stick to your B2B PR strategy come what may?

Absolutely not. Agility guided by the framework of a dynamic B2B PR strategy is an incredibly valuable capability. 

Crafting an Agile B2B PR Strategy

A world on a craftspersons desk being modelled using coloured clay used to represent crafting a B2B PR strategy that will change the world.

Start by using VUCA as an acronym for a framework and not as an adjective that describes a market. It would be rare for all the changes in our markets to be at once entirely volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. There will always be shades of grey for which we need to plan.

Remember that the aim of your B2B PR strategy is to shape the market the way that you want it to be. After all, if your strategy didn’t aim to change the world significantly in your favour, it wouldn’t be a strategy. If you succeed you will increase the amount by which VUCA impacts your competitors but bear in mind that you will, if they are alert, provoke a response that creates new challenges.

Accepting that change is normal and that it provides us with new opportunities encourages our creative thinking. It also helps to ensure that we are not being jerked around by changes while competitors with a more dynamic strategy create their own future.

We also need to consider the extent each market in which we operate differs from the others. Factors that greatly affect one market may not affect another at all. Some challenges will be local. Others will affect your global B2B marketing plans. “Think globally but act locally” applies here.

This means that B2B PR strategy should be planned in the knowledge that VUCA exists. If you then clearly communicate your strategy, your set of choices and the resulting decision-making policies then you can empower the implementers who are closest to the market to make the correct, guided agile choices.

Identifying changes and challenges is an ongoing task when managing a B2B PR strategy. Gathering that input is greatly aided by tools such as stakeholder and customer surveys, competition analysis, industry analyst reports, horizon scanning and so on. As you gather this information, use VUCA as a framework to help you to categorise and evaluate each challenge. You can then decide on the best approaches to managing them; either through a directed agile response or by changing your PR strategy.

Of course, any challenge could sit neatly in two or more categories so it’s important that you don’t see the result of your classification as defining a single problem with multiple facets. Indeed, not separating the categories could lead to some poor decisions.

Conclusion

The dichotomy between agility and strategy is a false one. Agility without strategy is directionless, while strategy without agility is rigid. The most successful B2B PR strategies are those that are planned with the inevitability of change in mind, flexible yet focused, enabling businesses to navigate the ever-evolving market landscape with confidence and purpose. The real art of B2B PR lies not in choosing between strategy and agility but in weaving them together into a coherent, dynamic approach that anticipates the future, adapts to the present, and always keeps the long-term vision in sight.

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