The Golden Rule

The field of strategic communication encompasses many elements, including military and business communications, internal and external communications, public relations, marketing, and advertising, just to name a few. My interest has been in identifying and defining the key elements of strategic communication and developing scalable writing techniques professionals can apply to their specific area of interest. There are many sources for learning more about strategic communication theory, since it is a field of academic study; however, my approach in this blog is to offer practical, accessible strategic communication techniques developed during my career as a professional, strategic writer.

Today, we will start with The Golden Rule. There are many elements to strategic communication in business, but perhaps the most important one is The Golden Rule. This isn’t the rule about doing unto others as you’d have them do unto you. That’s nice and all, but remember we’re talking business here. The Golden Rule to which I’m referring is the one that goes something like this: He who has the gold makes the rules. This idea will thread through my entries as we go along, because so many elements of strategic communication support the alignment of your content and how it is presented to meet the expectations, desires, and abilities of your audience (your readers). The Golden Rule asks you to identify not just the message you want to impart, but to define exactly what information your audience expects and how this information is best presented to the audience.

A good example of The Golden Rule in action can be found in grant writing, in part because there actually is gold involved (i.e., funding). If you are writing a grant proposal for a large Federal agency like the National Institutes of Health (NIH), for example, no matter how great a research idea you may have, it will only be funded if your research question and the proposed outcomes of your research align with the mission of the NIH. Identifying the underlying mechanism of a disease process that affects millions of people annually is something likely to be funded, because the NIH has an interest public health and basic research. Although research into the history of chytrid fungus in museum specimens would be a great research idea for a herpetologist interested in identifying the role of chytrid fungus over time in the decline of amphibian species, the research does not align with the mission of the NIH, and so would not be fundable by that agency. Applying The Golden Rule, you would ask yourself, then, with whose mission does my question about chytrid fungus align? Perhaps the National Science Foundation (NSF), a private foundation with a conservation mission or an interest in herpetology, or even a natural science museum with a large herp collection would be appropriate audiences for your message.

The Golden Rule, even when money is not directly at stake, simply reminds strategic communicators to identify and define the audience for a message before determining the content and the means of the communication. By identifying and defining your audience, you are more likely to understand the expectations and needs of your readers and provide them with the information they need in a medium that is most effective for communication of your message.

So, you may ask, that’s fine and good, but what is the end game? Most strategic communication, whether it is a business plan for a start up in need of venture capital or an advertisement for a product, has an effective call to action as a goal. What do you want your audience to do as a result of your strategically, effectively imparted message? Fund your business, support your research, or buy your product? Defining your call to action is as important as defining your message and identifying your audience.

For this blog entry, my call to action is this: Think of a message you would like to communicate and what you would like to result from your message (your call to action). Then identify the audience for your message and apply The Golden Rule, reshaping your communication to align with the motivation of its audience. By doing so, you have established the foundation for building an effective, strategic communication.