As communicators, pr practitioners and marketers we’ve never had access to more tools, tactics, data and platforms to make our work fly.
But there’s a bundle of challenges we have to navigate around in order to make the most of them. One has emerged as the THE challenge - the biggest barrier to us delivering great communications.
By Darren Caveney
In my consultancy work with organisations over the past few years I have focused on tackling three barriers to embedding effective communications in organisations – I call them the 3 T’s:
Training, Trust and Technology.
And I still believe that these are very important issues to tackle.
But another has emerged. It’s always lingered but it’s grown and grown of late. Like a genetically modified comms challenge which has outstripped the others.
What do you think I’m referring to?
Time, you say?
No (although that would be handy because then I could supplement my three T’s with a fourth T and call them ‘the four T’s’)
Yes, time is a barrier, but we have all developed ways of managing our time better over recent years. Time management is a skills every one of needs for sure whatever job we have.
So what is the biggest challenge?
I believe it’s the biggest single challenge facing communicators in 2017. Period.
The size of your team may have increased, decreased or stayed the same in the past year. This will affect our ability to manage demand, of course.
But whether you’re a large team or a small team you’re still likely to be at what I now call the ‘demand management cross-roads’. Size of team isn’t necessarily the issue here.
Over the past couple of weeks I have had the great fortune to work with a large central government communications team, a medium sized police comms team and a small (and getting smaller) local government team. I was running some in-house training for one, helping another develop a new communications model, facilitating an away day with another.
A common theme running through all three sessions was the sheer scale of the demand coming into each team, and the expectations to deliver on that demand. To a degree this isn’t new – in comms we have always had our planned, known work and then the unexpected, reactive work.
But communications teams are being strangled with a side-wash of demand coming into them
I sense that demand is growing. Actually I don’t suspect it, I know it because I keep seeing and hearing it on my travels across our comms lands.
So I recently asked the question on Twitter – the sample size is small, of course, but the results told their own story…
Comms people are getting busier. So what’s the answer?
1 Know your capacity
The first thing that we need to do is identify what is the available capacity to deliver – as individuals and as teams. Do you know what capacity you have in your team in a standard month? How many hours are available to deliver activity?
This is fairly easy to do.
2. Monitor the demand coming in
The second thing comms teams then need to do is understand and measure the demand coming in each week, month and quarter. Is it increasing, decreasing or staying the same?
If it’s increasing where is that demand coming from? Once you know your ‘demand hot spots’ you can talk to those individuals or teams and explain the situation with some hard data to inform the conversations.
Are you in credit or debit each month in terms of demand versus credit? That could explain why some of you are still in the office at 7pm some nights.
3 Prioritise the priorities
I once asked a senior leadership team to come up with their top 5 priorities for the year ahead so that I could shape a new comms strategy to support them.
They came up with a list of 28.
That isn’t a list of priorities - that’s just a very big list.
And no comms team in the land can nail 28 brilliantly executed campaigns and comms plans all at the same time.
4. Being strategic is key
Understanding the priorities – and agreeing them with your internal leaders and customers (yes I did use the customer word) - is the way to go. Then when you know what your capacity is, what your demands are, what the agreed organisational priorities are then you can say no to the daft stuff from a position of fact and power.
If the fresh demand is agreed to be important then you and the organisation can take a view about what needs to give to make the new pressure alleviated.
Easier said than down, I know, but this has to be the line to follow.
4. Tools to help you
There are tools out there to help comms teams manage and understand these demands. Historically many of us haven’t always been the best at making the most of them. That has to change in order to keep our heads above water and for good, effective comms to survive and thrive.
Now I don’t mean some horrible time and motion exercises and which could just add to your burden. I mean tools which help you understand and measure demand each month. Do it across a year and then you can state with certainty how your demands are changing. What are the patterns?
Now you could be the awkward sod sat in the corner – we’ve all seen them - arms folded saying “sorry, I’m too busy to pick up any new work”. That’s one way to go but I wouldn’t recommend it. The next time your team gets a head count trim you’ve just put yourself in the frame.
Instead, know your capacity, know your demand and talk with confidence about whether that next new request can be delivered effectively or not.
Demand management’s time has come so embrace it and it will help you, I promise you.
I’ve developed tools of my own to help the teams and individuals I work with. There are plenty of others out there too so finding ones which suit you and are simple to use are the way to go.
Reporting this data back to your leaders is important…
The data you collect on demands should be included in every comms teams’ monthly report to management. If you don’t tell them the latest trends with demands then guess what – they won’t know.
And when the next budget cutting round does its thing in your organisation have you done enough to tell your team’s story about what you’re being asked to deliver. Look out for yourselves, fight your corner, and tell your story well. With data.
You can have all the Facebook Live’s and Instagram Stories you like. But it doesn’t matter a jot if it’s all you can do to answer the phones some weeks.
Something has to give.
If you have brilliant and smart ways of managing the demands coming into your team I’d love to hear about them, and share them with the comms community. Drop me a note - even better write a blog post about what you’ve done and what you’ve learned.
A final thought…
There was a time when I led comms teams that I used to sometimes say to myself “when things settle down we’ll sort that out.”
Things don’t settle down. Ever.
And your work demands are only going to grow - now’s the time to nail them.
Darren Caveney is creator of comms2point0 and owner of creative communicators ltd
image via Orange County Archives