Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
August 30, 2012

“Game of Thrones” and Conquering Communications Uncertainties

"Winter Is Coming" promotional poster, HBO Game of ThronesIt may be 98 degrees outside, but winter is coming.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have a passion for period TV, and I really love “Game of Thrones.” In case you’re among the uninitiated, the series chronicles seven noble families fighting for control of Westeros, a mythical land that — among several fascinating traits — features seasons and climates of varying and completely unpredictable lengths and severities.

“Winter is coming” is the foreboding promise and motto of House Stark. The meaning behind the words is one of warning and constant vigilance. In a land where seasons are of an indeterminate length, this mantra reinforces that winter remains on the horizon even if we just wrapped what is the hottest July on record, and it very well could be a blazing-hot, ozone action day in your neck of the woods.

Uncertainty is certain: we know that we can’t definitively predict what our next business and communications “season” will be like — or even how long the one we’re in will last. Variables like the presidential election, European and Chinese economic instabilities, groundbreaking R&D and emerging cultural phenomena can shift communications and business climates overnight. But as communications professionals, we shouldn’t feel powerless in the face of unpredictability, because knowing that change is inevitable can actually center us — just as House Stark’s mantra keeps them focused and prepared.

I’m not the type to bask in the sun and deal with winter once it arrives; in fact, I’ve found that the sun’s warmth is all the more enjoyable knowing there’s a plan in place for my firm’s and our clients’ winters. I’ve found that the following steps have helped us prepare even our fastest-moving clients for the inevitable change in seasons, whenever that may occur: 

  • Research. We won’t launch a program, strategy or campaign without it. Competitive insights, media and messaging analysis, market expansion intelligence and consumer consumption and preferences are just a few areas where there is no such thing as TMI. We lay a foundation based upon facts and insights before moving forward; if winter hits early, we have a baseline of knowledge to revisit with an eye toward how to cope.
  • Immersion. Although it’s not always easy, we gain an intimacy with the industry’s influencers, data and news so that winter won’t completely take us by surprise. Our firm places an extraordinarily high value on our staff’s continual development, via reading, formal learning and education, accreditation, networking, and deep and trusting media and analyst relationships. Events on our radar, including the PRSA International Conference, SXSW and the CPRF’s Council’s Critical Issues Forum, don’t just provide a current temperature read; they surround us with information and supportive connections that protect us — and our clients — when the winds of change blow in.
  • Trend obsession. In “Game of Thrones,” the maesters of the Citadel keep a close eye on the passage of a season’s days to gauge how long the current season will last, but this is an inexact science at best. So is resting your entire marketing communications or PR program’s fate on industry trends, but it’s still critical that we closely track the variances and tendencies of both our and our clients’ industries. Patterns often emerge that inform our strategies to move ahead according to plans, hold or reconsider where we’re going.
  • Fluidity. When winter strikes on “Game of Thrones,” clans — even with the benefit of their medieval predictive methods — are essentially forced into reactive mode. As representatives of technology clients, we’re impressively comfortable with situations that require us to decide now and act quickly. Simply put, we should embrace the thrill of unpredictability because it makes our jobs exciting and fresh every day. Of course, embracing change feels better when there’s no chance of losing an extremity to frostbite.

Had social media been a reality in the Bronze Age, I bet that, with the first snowflake’s fall, people throughout Westeros would hear about it pretty quickly. Fortunately, we live in an era when Twitter (with other social channels and communication strategies) foretells winter’s approach much more quickly than the black raven could.

Janet Tyler is co-CEO of Airfoil,a top technology PR and marketing firm with offices in Detroit and Silicon Valley. She oversees the firm’s expansion of its digital, social, and global capabilities. Janet is co-chair of this year’s PRSA 2012 International Conference, a leading figure in the PRSA Counselors Academy, a board member of The Council of Public Relations Firms and one of PRWeek’s “40 Under 40.” You can find her on TwitterLinkedIn, and on Airfoil’s blog.

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