The claim that anyone can do communications is as old as the comms and PR hills. It’s always been an issue and I don’t see that changing any time soon. So should we have a plan to tackle it?
by Darren Caveney
I read a post by Seth Godin just before Christmas called ‘Nobody dabbles at dentistry’. It reminded me of the perennial gripe we communicators have that everyone thinks they can do communications.
The reality – whether we like it or not – is that there are some communications activities which non-comms colleagues can do.
The problems kick in when those without the comms skills, savvy and experience decide to ignore good advice or ‘dabble’ themselves on a much larger level.
When this happens within an organisation a number of problems always surface in my experience. Here are just three real-life examples to chew on:
1. Non-comms people only like to do the fun, non-threatening, tactical aspects of comms – think leaflets and videos. They never want to do the shitty media enquiry or the out of hours crisis or the budget consultation plan
2. “Media training? Oh I don’t need that, I’m a natural” How often have you heard that from senior folk? Ironically, they are almost always the people who need it most, in my experience at least
3. “Oh we' organised a schools competition to design a new logo for XYZ service - it needs tweaking (AKA complete overhaul. AKA it shouldn’t have ever been commissioned in the first place) could you do that and then can we use it on all of our materials?””
Social media has blown the doors off our sole claim to do comms
Social media has gone through a fascinating product lifecycle curve these past 11 or 12 years. One aspect of this was when comms teams let go of control and encouraged other colleagues to run interesting front line service accounts.
What we learned was there are some genuinely great organisational social media accounts out there run by non-comms people but with a talent for engaging on social media.
There are also some howlers. From the stale to the inactive and the downright damaging.
In 20 organisational social media reviews I’ve undertaken I have, on average, recommended that 15% of accounts are closed down for these very reasons.
But for sure social media has added to the belief that anyone can do communications. The vast majority of your staff will have at least one personal social media account. And they will have varying degrees of skills and knowledge as a result. They will maybe have filmed their kids on their smartphone or taken a pile of snaps.
Neither of these things automatically makes someone a communications professional.
What Seth says
In his perfectly pitched recent post he said this:
“It’s difficult to find your footing when you’re a logo designer, a comedian or a project manager. Because these are gigs that many people think they can do, at least a little bit.
If you’re doing one of these non-dentist jobs, the best approach is to be extraordinarily good at it. So much better than an amateur that there’s really no room for discussion. You don’t have to justify yourself. Your work justifies you.
The alternative is to simply whine about the fact that everyone thinks that they can do what you do.
The thing is, it might be true.”
So, delivering brilliant comms - which your colleagues can’t - has to be the way to go in 2019.
Of course your massive ‘to do’ list could thwart that simple notion.
But how much of your to do list is a genuine organisational priority? Work which will have an impact and deliver measurable benefits?
Hmmmm. Thought so.
This is what’s known in the game as a risk.
So the answer is?
As all good risk managers will tell you – the best way of managing the risk is to remove the risk.
So in other words we have to remove the huge, daunting, and sometimes inappropriate and unrealistic to do lists.
Do that and focus on the all important strategy and we’re elevating both ourselves and our offer.
But we don’t have a comms strategy…
In a @comms2point0 Twitter poll I ran before Christmas it emerged that only 12% of respondents have comms strategy in place for 2019.
46% said it was a work in progress so that’s good to see.
But 20% said they don’t write one. A fifth.
Does that help our cause to be the professional communicators in our organisations?
I don’t think it does.
Now this is only a small sample of 65 people so is certainly not statistically valid but it does echo some of what I heard on my travels in 2018.
So if we want to be more dentist and less project manager I say get a strategy. A good one.
And use it to beat off all the silly requests for non-priority work which will never go away until we have a plan to deal with them professionally and just say no a hell of a lot more.
Of course all of this is easy for me to say as I’m not running in-house teams any more. But I always had a strategy and whilst not a magic wand it did help tackle the ‘comms side-wash’ which continually lands in our offices and inboxes as sure as day follows night.
Or, alternatively, get that bloke in HR/IT/Regeneration (delete as appropriate) to do all of these non-priority comms requests if he’s so keen to be a comms person 😊
Darren Caveney is creator of comms2point0 and owner of Creative Communicators Ltd
image via the US National Archives