beware of comms zombies

We all have them. The scars from projects that don't quite go to plan... the zombies you need to avoid.

by Jon Matthias

The life-cycle of a comms project is fairly routine.

It either stems from a good idea to try out, or a problem that needs solving.

Ideas fly around.

A plan is made.

A deadline or launch date is set.

The work begins, usually ramping up towards the deadline.

You reach the deadline and it goes live. You do all the work around getting people to notice it’s live. Then you kind of relax. Job done.

Just a bit of evaluation later on to see how effective it was, if you are conscientious.

But sooner or later, working in a comms team, you will be at risk from the ‘zombie’. It’s the project that you only barely survived with your sanity, and you thought was dead at last, only for it to suddenly reappear and savagely eat your brain.

It might be several months – it might even be several years – but zombies are killers. They drag you down into the dirt they were languishing in and proceed to feast on your cerebellum.

Zombie projects aren’t always bad projects either. They may have been very successful. In fact, that’s part of the problem. Because zombies tend to reappear when people want to recapture the feelings associated with a good project.

Some warning signs of imminent zombie attack:

 

  • Something has failed. And usually quite spectacularly. The people involved are now licking their wounds (possibly literally). So they decide to go back to what they know worked well, Hence the phone call, ‘Hey, remember that thing we did last year...’
  • Someone with a pet project got promoted. This is the worst kind of zombie project because it could have been disastrous first time around, but the person who had the idea still loves it. And now they are head of department. So you go to the meeting and it kicks off with a PowerPoint slide of the zombie project, and you just get that sinking feeling in your gut...
  • People have run out of ideas. This is a problem we all face and the temptation is to look back and think ‘Hey, that worked, let’s do it again... but this time BIGGER!’

 

All of these horror scenarios, and more, play themselves out on comms teams every day. You will probably have worked on a zombie project. If not, you are either young, new or just plain lucky.

So, what can you do to protect yourself and your loved ones - or at least the people you have to work with - from a zombie outbreak?

Most zombies are resurrected by well-meaning people outside the comms team. You need to make sure those people are kept amused or distracted by new shiny things to stop them from wanting to resurrect the past. Make sure you show them things – especially things you’re interested in working on – that keep them focused on new stuff.

When a project flops badly, report on it. You have to own the failure. Dress this up as a ‘learning report’ and highlight all the many reasons it went splat. Make it abundantly clear that only an utter imbecile would consider running the project again. Kill it and kill it dead.

And if those don’t work, pretty much all you can do is run and don’t let the zombies catch you.

Jon Mattias works in communications for Public Health Wales.

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