Developing a PR or Communication Program? Tips for Securing Stakeholder Buy-in

04.10.2018 | Colleen Moffitt

Whether it’s an strategic PR plan, an important customer announcement or a new message to reach your audiences, obtaining buy-in from key stakeholders  ensures that everyone understands and supports the recommended approach. Securing consensus also provides the opportunity to obtain additional ideas and perspectives, and to understand objections that may not have been apparent to you at the outset.

As well, building consensus for PR and communication programs can be helpful in developing relationships with key stakeholders in the organization. Stakeholders that are included often feel empowered knowing that their opinion and insight is valued. By building consensus, key decision makers will also likely feel more responsibility for the success of the program.

Failing to secure agreement on the approach, however, can create significant challenges in the short- and the long-term. Without consensus, stakeholders may make decisions or operate in a manner that is contradictory to your approach, or undermine your program’s success. Consider the following shared in the Forbes article, “How To Get Real Buy-In For Your Idea,” by Harvard Business School Professor John Kotter: “Our research has shown that 70 percent of all organizational change efforts fail, and one reason for this is executives simply don’t get enough buy-in, from enough people, for their initiatives and ideas.”

When you have shared buy-in, you will find that everyone is more likely to be communicating the same messages and have shared expectations.

Below are some tips on how to obtain buy-in, which we included in our book, “Strategic Public Relations.

  1. Identify all key stakeholders – The first step is to identify the key stakeholders in the organization. Oftentimes the key stakeholders are the individuals who control the company’s strategic direction and its financial resources. Additionally individuals who are required to execute the program are important stakeholders.

Another way to evaluate and identify key stakeholders is outlined in the book “The New Strategic Selling.” The authors define stakeholders or buying influencers in “four buying roles.” These include the economic buyer, user buyer, technical buyer and coach. Identifying the individuals in your organization who fit into these various roles is important and will help clarify from whom you need to secure buy-in.

  1. Understand the stakeholders’ interests – Understanding each stakeholder’s interests will enable you to sell your program and, long-term, develop a stronger plan. Take the time to understand each stakeholder’s perspectives, objectives and any biases. This will inform the development of your plan and how you position the plan in order to secure their buy-in.
  2. Frame your pitch/talking points for each specific audience – Once you understand the stakeholders’ interests, tailor your pitch to address the issues and interests they care about. Demonstrate how your program, plan or campaign will accomplish those objectives. As you frame your pitch, remember that it is important to focus on interests, not your position.

The authors of the book “Getting to Yes” share, “When negotiators bargain over positions, they lock themselves into these positions. The more you clarify your position and defend against attack, the more committed you become to it. The more you try to convince the other side of the impossibility of changing your opening position, the more difficult it becomes to do so.”

Rather than digging in and taking a fixed position about your program or plan, you will be more successful if you listen openly to understand the interests of the stakeholders, map their interests back to the goals the program/plan will achieve, and focus on mutual gain.

  1. Update stakeholders regularly – Building consensus is not a one-time effort. To be effective it should be a continual effort. If you are asking stakeholders early on for their buy-in and support, you’ll want to circle back to them to provide updates, to demonstrate that soliciting their buy-in was not a token gesture, and that you valued and respected their input. In the absence of any updates, stakeholders may assume nothing has happened. Similarly, it is important to reset expectations as factors change. This can help mitigate any surprises or disappointments.

We hope this provides some helpful guidelines for securing buy-in from the key stakeholders in your PR or communication program. As stated above, it’s a continual, ongoing effort to make sure that the right stakeholders are involved throughout the process, each and every time.

Do you have a good example of when you were able to secure buy-in for a PR campaign or activity? What worked well? What did you learn from the experience? Tell us here, in the comments.


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