Peripheral Vision

From a traditional perspective, public relations can be seen as transactional.  A need and a response.  Marketing is getting ready to launch a new brand and PR develops a press release. A crisis is brewing, and PR writes the statements for internal and external stakeholders. Earnings are positive and PR amplifies.

To be sure, in delivering well against these needs, PR makes a unique and significant contribution to a successful outcome.  But PR can do – and often does – much more. It’s a matter of expanding from a ‘central vision’ perspective to the ‘peripheral.’

Central vision is what one can see right in front of them: a situation, a need, an issue, an opportunity. Peripheral vision is seeing everything – the center and the sides without even moving one’s head.

PR practitioners are trained to see with peripheral vision — the context of a situation, the insights in the data, the ‘ah-ha’ that underpins winning strategies, the communications solutions to problems, the unmet needs, and the compelling stories that strike an emotional chord.  This broad way of ‘seeing’ is also central to creating a strong and sustainable reputation.

Priyadarshani Sharma, Cluster Head of Communications for Roche Diabetes Care in India, Middle East, and Africa, talked with me about peripheral vision and how she brings the impact of its value to the fore.

“PR practitioners not only see the big picture, but also bring disciplines to the table that target every individual part of the picture,” Priya explained. “We think digitally, socially, and visually.  We’re engagers and storytellers. We are architects – we find the unique dimensions of brands, our company commitments, and our executives’ leadership that we build into articles, speeches, and campaigns.   Our peripheral senses enable us to feel – versus the more passive ‘take’– the pulse of our audiences, understand their needs, so we can communicate with them in ways they can feel, hear, and experience, which brings us closer to them and gives us the chance to provide new information, education and inspire actions to improve their lives.”

In India alone, an estimated 101 million people have diabetes. Priya is on the frontlines of growing the company’s 40+ year reputation as an innovative and trusted partner addressing needs including education, access, and affordability.

“Our goal is to make diabetes easier for people living with this chronic disease and their healthcare providers. This is not just a company commitment that our leaders say, and we amplify. No. We find the optimal ways to bring these commitments to life by widening the aperture to define the needs and push the thinking more sharply.”

Here are five steps Priya recommends for communicators to flex their peripheral vision for problem solving and building reputation: 

  1. Be vocal to your internal stakeholders about the need to be involved early if you’re not already.
  2. Get all the information. Understand the connection to business objectives. Be clear that you are seeking more than what they specifically need from communications.  You want to hear about the business opportunity or challenge, how the needles of their P&L move, what they specifically mean when they talk about ‘reputation,’ what success looks like.
  3. Do your own homework to reveal insights and new opportunities. Where are the unmet needs? Who do your stakeholders trust? For example, people with diabetes trust doctors, nurses and other people with diabetes, family, and friends –essentially all at the same level. This understanding triggered a shift to include sources of influence like mom and food bloggers–people who were not health or diabetes experts– but those to whom our customers turn for advice on everyday life.
  4. Test your messaging regularly throughout a reputation campaign. Are they enduring? Do they reflect company culture? Are leaders able to project them authentically, with their whole being? Are the messages supported by actions? Are you using the right platforms?
  5. Find the balance of measurement information – numbers and anecdotes—that demonstrate impact, and in so doing, elevate the value communications has brought to the business.

Putting the peripheral vision of communicators to work ensures reputation and other initiatives aren’t one dimensional like ads, videos, sponsorships, or boilerplate paragraphs in press releases. The ability to see the center and the sides reshapes the challenge and the solutions for the better.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Sandra Stahl
Sandra Stahl is co-founder and managing director at jacobstahl, a Ruder Finn company.

Sandra Stahl has created and led communications solutions for many of the world’s leading pharma, biotech, diagnostic, device and consumer healthcare brands over a 30+ year career. Her skills as a strategist and developer of compelling narratives have enabled organizational-and market- readiness, powered investment, enhanced profiles, amplified landmark data, built reputations and influenced opinion. She is a recognized thought leader regularly published in industry, national and international media, and author of the award-winning book, The Art & Craft of PR (LID 2018). Additionally, Sandra is founding faculty in the PR track in the Branding + Integrated Communications master’s degree program at The City College of New York, now in its 10th year, has delivered lectures at university communications programs around the world including Columbia University in New York and Xavier Institute of Communications in Mumbai, India.

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