Andrea Obston | Crain's Connecticut

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Andrea Obston

Background:  

Andrea Obston Marketing Communications LLC is a Bloomfield, Conn.-based public relations firm focusing on reputation and crisis management. The organization is celebrating its 35th year in 2017.

The Mistake: 

In the early years of the firm, I made the mistake of thinking my clients had a firm grasp of their own brands. I’d follow their lead and create strategies and tactics based on how they defined themselves. And I’d always go with their expectations of what communications tactics would work. Those tactics almost always yielded the same disappointing results that they had in the past. It took me awhile to really grasp the old concept of “If you do what you did, you’ll get what you got.”

I had to learn to push back on client’s evaluations of who they were and what they needed—respectfully, of course. No communications plan can succeed unless it’s based on a deep understanding of an organization’s brand. And I learned early on that many organizations don’t understand their own brand. Often the brand has grown over time and doesn’t end up representing the organization’s true mission or competitive advantage. A brand, one that adequately reflects the core of an organization, must be a conscious choice. And many clients hadn’t made those choices. I found I could add the most value to the conversation by helping them do just that.

Many organizations don’t understand their own brand.

The Lesson:

My early experience taught me that clients don’t realize what their customers value about their relationships with them. When my clients come to me, the first thing I do is an audit of their past communications. Often I’ll find that their existing communications focus on what senior management wants to say; not what their customers want to hear. More often than not, I’ve found that the very thing clients’ customers value about them are completely ignored in their marketing efforts. I do my best to make sure that doesn’t happen again!

Good brands are a combination of how people inside the organization and outside the organization see them. With my team, we created a process to mine those ideas; to speak to the needs of both the organization and its target audiences; to define brand attributes and key messages and to get buy-in before we before develop a marketing plan. During the process, I’ve found the best thing to do is to work collaboratively with my clients. That way, when we present the marketing plan and recommend goals, tactics and measures of success, it makes sense to them. Best of all, I’ve seen that our recommendations often stimulate additional ideas from our clients that make the plans even better.   

Follow Andrea Obston on Twitter @aobston.

Photo courtesy of Andrea Obston.

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