urgent: stop firefighting you're not helping anyone

You're good at firefighting? Stop. You're not helping yourself.

by Dan Slee 

Comms people are too good for their own good and it’s going to be their downfall.

Too good?

Too good at fire fighting, pulling people out of holes and working wonders in almost no time and zero budget.

Let me explain the point I’m trying to make.

Back when I was a hack I once worked with a photographer who was a by-word in being awkward.  But there was a reason.

“I take six pictures a day,” he used to say. “I could do 10 at a push. But the thing is if I gave them 10 then they’d want 12. Not just as a one off but every day.”

The thing is, he’s right.

I was reminded of this at the commsforchange14 event in Birmingham. One of the many lessons from that majestic event was on the importance of getting involved with projects sooner rather than later. If you do you can help shape things and you’ve got a better chance of communicating well. Leave it until the last minute and your chance of success diminishes.

So how do you reach that Nirvana?

Think of the weasel email every comms and PR person gets at one time or other. Usually at around 6.10pm. It asks for sopmething prescriptive like a press release for a launch that’s taking place at 10am the next day. It often hides behind a request from a senior person.

You know what?

Whoever replies to that too late too badly thought out travesty of a request for help with the word: ‘No.’ will be my hero.

Whoever replies with a ‘No,’ and an explanation of why they are saying no would be my hero and I’ll make a t-shirt with their name on.

“No, I’m not,” that email may say. “Because you’ve come too late for me to do something effective. You’ve got no business plan, you’ve got no idea of what you want people to do and you’ve got no idea what success looks like.

"Let us neither of us waste our time. Come to us when you know the scheme maybe happening.”

Of course, there may be a bun fight that follows.

But would things change from drawing a line that the sand?

They may.

What does that line in the sand say? 

What would a lawyer tell you at an 11th hour request? Or a town planner? Or a brain surgeon?

That line in the sand says where you'll be most effective. That you are professional. That you are happy to work with them for best results.

One thing is certain. Unless you do have that conversation things will continue in that path. You won’t be respected. You’ll be expected to perform miracles.

Hey, every now and then perform a miracle. Sometimes you have to. But someone expecting Jesus every day to feed and communicate to the 5,000 with three loaves, some fishes and a Twitter account is just plain rude.

If you firefight every day nothing worthwhile will get built.

So stop it.

Just stop.

You're not helping anyone.

Dan Slee is co-founder of comms2point0.

Picture credit.