Strategy, Strategery, and Management By Hair on Fire

Alex Greenwood
2 min readDec 10, 2020

In my 25-plus years in the world of work, I like to think I’ve seen just about every permutation of communications/message management. I’ve worked for companies or organizations that set up intricate, focus group-driven strategies, and never budged a millimeter from those plans.

Conversely, I’ve worked at places that had ‘strategery’: they thought they had a strategy–perhaps even had one on paper, but in real life, it was really pretty seat-of the pants stuff. It was all do/say what works well at the moment, worry about future implications later.

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The third type of communications management I’ve experienced is by far the worst: hair on fire. The hair on fire plan involves one faction of the organization demanding a coherent strategy, another part bucking that strategy; and a third, ultimately dominating faction who believe in a nihilistic, “damn the torpedoes” flurry of activity–running around with their hair (figuratively) on fire. Every day is a new day. “The strategic plan’s a great idea but it doesn’t apply today” or “we have a strategy?” and activity (however fruitless or pointless) equals performance.

All three of these communications/messaging management areas have their problems–even the competent, stick-to-it strategy (there needs to be some “wiggle room” even in the best strategy).

However, even strict, no-improvising adherence is usually better than sitting down for a day or two and hammering out a strategy then locking it in a drawer and rarely revisiting it– ala strategery.

Strategery-oriented organizations know in general what they’re supposed to be doing, but somehow January becomes June, and June becomes October and very few communications-related goals are achieved because strategic plans are not followed or even revisited for tweaking. In effect, they are an exercise like climbing the rope ladder at a team-building event–you feel good about completing it and everyone pats each other on the back, but it has dubious far-reaching benefits.

Hair on fire: well, all I can say about that is good luck. If you work in an organization that cannot come to grips with a coherent, basic communications strategy and instead spends all its time and energy reacting instead of managing communications to prevent brush fires, then you need help. Fast.

All it may take is one PR crisis, the loss of key personnel, or a competitor with its stuff together to start your company on the path to failure. Which communications management does your company or organization practice?

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Alex Greenwood

PR Consultant, Speaker, Podcast Producer/Host, Editor, and Award-Winning Writer of the John Pilate Mystery Series. Accomplished belly laugher.