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Why thinking ‘Now, Near, and Next’ is so important when doing business in a downturn

By Michael Gonzalez

Senior Vice President, London

Clarity

Inaction is the riskiest response to the uncertainties of an economic crisis but rash or scattershot action can be nearly as damaging’. This is the opening sentence in the article ‘Seize Advantage in a Downturn,’ by David Rhodes and Daniel Stewlyer in the Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must Reads on Managing in a Downturn.

In today’s challenging environment, this statement is crucial. How can organizations strike the right balance between doing nothing, and doing too much, too fast? The former is particularly damaging during a time when constant adaptation is required to boost resilience. Although it might be human nature to keep your head down and sit tight until the wind blows over, staying passive is not an option. 

In Clarity’s 10+ year lifetime, we’ve supported countless organizations through early-stage growth, to scale-up, to achieving Unicorn (and double Unicorn!) status, moving through IPO, and eventually becoming big household brands on the global stage. Even during less tumultuous times, this journey is tough, and marked by diverse challenges. 

So, we encourage leaders to plan, not just their marketing and comms but their entire business strategy, through the three-spectrum lens of the short, medium, and long term: The Now, The Near and The Next.

The Now, Near and Next Strategy

Now: being nimble at times of crisis

The Now deals with the situation right in front of you and requires a quick, pragmatic and efficient approach to solving short-term challenges, or capitalizing on unexpected opportunities. This can range from managing a customer complaint to, taking a comms example, being ready with smart insight when approached by broadcast media to comment on breaking market news. 

At times of crisis the unexpected should be expected, so having the skills to be confident, quick, flexible and nimble is key. 

Next: always pursuing your North Star

The Next is the ultimate goal: the reason an organization exists. This focuses on foresight, prediction, patience, creativity, and vision. Whether the business is striving to create a new industry category, conquer new markets, or is planning an IPO, leaders must be relentless in pursuing their North Star. That will ultimately create greater value for the business and all its stakeholders. This North Star is why people should care about the organization; whether they’re targeting investors, customers, employees, or society as a whole.

Near: the journey to success

The Near is the transition period that guides organizations from their current position towards their North Star. It’s the time when the business builds out, and acts on, its strategic plan. This plan should map out all the activities and events that need to take place, and the logical sequence they should happen in. 

This period will see organizations reaching new audiences; recruiting experts; getting insights into new markets, policy and regulatory issues; and ensuring they’re prepared for any potential risks on the horizon. 

Now, Near, Next in Communications

A business strategy needs an intrinsically linked comms strategy. Otherwise the organization will never reach its key audiences and stakeholders - external and internal. And building a watertight, impact-driven comms strategy requires a deep understanding of a brand’s Now, Near and Next. 

This is especially true when it comes to the key objective of managing reputation, which arguably becomes more important as brands move from the Near into the Next. This is also a key factor in times of crisis and downturn, due to the number of factors that could derail the organization.

Leadership also plays a crucial role in moving through a Now, Near, Next strategy. Patricia Russo, Chairman of the Board of Directors at Hewlett Packard Enterprise said that leaders have to embrace a strategy that addresses short-term survival while scanning the longer-term horizon for opportunities: “It’s the notion of playing both defense—really making sure you’re doing everything you can to navigate to get to the other end—and offense, where companies are doing everything possible to look ahead and see what’s going to be different when they get through and what potential new opportunities will exist.” 

Any Now, Near, Next comms strategy has to be directly linked to the organization’s leadership, as leaders and organizations as a whole often stand and fall depending on the direction of their comms. Gartner recently found out that 83% of Chief Communications Officers report growing influence amongst the C-Suite. This is testament to the importance that comms professionals have today, very much triggered by the complexity of the global environment which has in many ways made comms part of brands’ survival kits.

Staying laser-focused on the Next

More than ever, leadership and the wider business (including comms and marketing) have to all be singing from the same hymn sheet to ensure the organization tackles the Now, designs the Near, and reaches the Next. This forward-looking mindset will support resilience, and achieving the Next will eventually be the factor that separates successful companies from those that fail.

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