The surround strategy is one of my favourite PR strategies.
I was in Italy in the middle of summer, and it was hot.
The Italian fashion brand I was meeting up with had gotten this idea that it would be great to add some “digital marketing” for their re-launch of their most iconic product ever. The problem was just that the launch was less than a week away. I wanted to help them get the word out, but how?
There wasn’t enough time to create any fancy campaigns, so I proposed another strategy:
“In all digital channels at your disposal, for four consecutive weeks, you won’t talk about anything except for your re-launched product.”
Not a single tweet, not a single post on Instagram, not a single press release, not a single interview with the media, not a single blog post, not a single Facebook update, not a single live event, not a single influencer activation, not a single email list sen-out, absolutely nothing went live during these four weeks unless it was about the product.
The regular marketing calendar had to be wiped clean and for four weeks the marketing team had to come up with whatever — as long as it was only about the product. We even added product messaging to each and every employee’s email signature. All regular brand messages were put on hold, which took quite some convincing on my part, all up until the end of those four weeks.
The real challenge, ironically, was to stop the brand from talking about the things they, according to the strategy, shouldn’t be talking about.
The strategy worked like a charm. Without adding any specific online campaign activities, the message got through to their community, and people started talking and sharing about the brand’s iconic product again. I’ve since tried this approach many times with much success, and I call it the surround strategy.
“But won’t people get sick and tired of being exposed to the same message over and over again? And in every channel, no less? I know I would be.”
Yes and no.
Bombarding the email list with the exact same message over and over again (spray-and-pray) wouldn’t work.
However, the Italian fashion brand wasn’t sending out the exact same tweet five times a day for four weeks; it was always different types of updates with different images, different copy, and different call-to-actions. The only thing these updates had in common was that they all talked about the re-launch of their iconic product1.
The actual problem, it turns out, is that most online campaigns are too short:
Due to algorithms and social graphs, the community has zero chance to keep up before the brand moves on to talking about something else.
It’s often a creative challenge to put together so many variations of the surround message; especially if the brand haven’t tried this strategy before. But I’ve also seen how adding these types of constraint actually can spark even more creativity. It’s not useful to always think outside the box in communication — sometimes you have to add a box.
Focusing on one surround message for a set period of time is closely related to using content themes in your content strategy. It takes a bit getting used to for sure, but the results makes it worth it. The difficult aspect of this strategy is, of course, being disciplined enough to go dark on everything but the actual topic that you want to push.
For more on this content marketing strategy, see How content themes works — and why you should use them.
Bonus resource: The 1-page strategy
How to Write a 1-Page Strategy
My inspiration for writing no-bullshit strategies comes from the classic Good Strategy, Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt. This is how I set up strategies that fit on one page — using the classic battle between David and Goliath as an analogy:
2. Guiding Principle
3. Coherent Actions
If you write 1-2 clear sentences per bullet, your strategy should fit nicely on one page. Please note: This is not a plan — the plan comes later based on the strategy.