We’ve all had bad days, week, even jobs. But falling out of love with our profession completely?
by an anonymous guest blogger
Ever since I can remember I wanted to be a writer. In primary school I always used to make the first letter of the first sentence really big because I wanted my stories to be longer than everyone else's. In secondary school I used to beg my teachers to just let me write stories rather than go through all the tedious exercises. I always knew I would work in comms in some fashion because stories are the most important thing to me. I now have something similar to that printed on my business cards.
I've been in the field for 15 years now, in disciplines such as journalism, PR, digital content, social media, events, internal comms, advocacy, crisis comms, community management and such. Over the last two years, something has begun to change. I never thought it would happen, but I started falling out of love with comms.
I first noticed my feelings begin to change when measurement and metrics seemed to take on more weight than audience and messaging. No matter that the messaging wasn't right, as long as the numbers were good. No amount of protest could convince CEOs that a digital press reach of 243 million isn't what it sounds like. 140K impressions on Twitter doesn't mean they all read your pithy missive.
We've probably all been there, to some degree. There are other areas of our industry that bother me. I've had chief executives openly take credit for my work. I've had other departments raid my budget because comms is a nice to have rather than an essential business function. I've been asked to nationally put out a press release because some minor piece of corporate admin was going to be a day or two late.
On one memorable occasion, I had a Chair of the board come to me and demand a viral video because he saw a funny one of a bearded man imitating a teen pop star (Carly Rae Jepson, if you must know). No, he wasn't joking. My explanations why this was a bad idea led to the question: “But what did we hire you for?”
Perhaps as comms professionals we sometimes don't help ourselves. I've lost count of the number of times I've seen organisations put out wildly tone deaf content which misjudges their audience. As for blurry photos of illegible slides from awkward angles at conferences, don't get me started. What are they for? Why are we sharing them? What value do they add?
The amount of pseudo-profundity out there sometimes makes me annoyed beyond belief. “Ships are safest in port, but that's not what ships were built for.” I heard that in a TED talk once and could see the audience nodding, as if Lao Tse or Confucious had just imparted a gem of infinite wisdom, rather than some utter tripe dressed up as fillet steak.
If this depresses you, I'm sorry. That's not my intention. The good news is I have found a way through this. I noticed that those who write the cheques tend to listen more to those whose advice they are buying from outside, rather than those who they work with every day. For some reason, charging more money and being self-employed seem to give you a certain cache (which isn't always deserved, in my experience of hiring contractors).
So now I freelance. People listen to my opinions more, respect my professionalism more. I go to fewer meetings, there's no office politics to deal with. I don't have to fight against the use of Spongebob Squarepants gifs any more. It's lovely. I do miss the camaraderie of being in a team sometimes, and maybe I'll go back to it one day. But it won't be today.
I feel liberated. I work for myself now. Finding clients can be a pain, but when freelancing is good, it's great. I make less money now overall, but more for my actual labour. My work/life balance has swung back in the right direction. I spend much less time commuting and my love for comms is coming back again. If you're feeling the grind, I recommend it. But keep your hands off my clients, please!
image via The State Library for New South Wales