Communications is not rocket science or brain surgery. A lot of people can communicate. But strategic communications isn’t always easy. It takes thought and skill and training and time. Organizations run the gamut in terms of how much they value and support communications. Consider for a moment how you treat communicators in your organization.
I can’t pretend to speak for all communicators everywhere, but here are six things that drive most of us crazy.
“This story writes itself!”
No, it doesn’t. The writer writes it. An editor or marketing manager commissions and strategizes it with the writer, who does research and conducts interviews and writes draft after draft. An editor molds it, and a proofreader makes it perfect. Yes, some tales are easier to weave than others. But no story, no website, no blog post writes itself.
“Can you throw together a brochure for me?”
Throwing something together suggests that we shouldn’t put some thought into it. Even a brochure, which seems simple, requires some thought and strategy to do correctly. Time, love and brainpower go into everything a communicator does.
“I don’t want to give my feedback until the design is complete.”
Look, Word documents are boring. Designed pieces are pretty and fun to look at. But key stakeholders and decision makers need to be a part of the creative process from early on. It costs time and a lot of money to revamp content once something is designed. The words matter. The messaging matters. The strategy matters. If someone’s opinion indeed matters, he or she needs to be a part of the entire process. The only people who should see only that final designed product and no previous iterations are consumers and anyone in the organization who doesn’t get a vote.
“Do we really need to follow the style guide?”
Yes. You do need to follow the company style guide. There are reasons we have a style guide. Consistency and professionalism of our brand are key. No one’s project is so special that they get to deviate from the style guide.
“We need to condense the production schedule.”
Creative professionals and strategic communications departments everywhere understand that rush projects happen. But when they become the norm, there is a problem. Maybe there is a bottleneck somewhere. An executive who wants to review everything but doesn’t have time to. Someone who’s trying to write all the content when they should just be driving strategy and editing.
These days, I don’t see a lot of fat in schedules. (I used to.) Lately, it seems a fast turnaround is the expectation, so marketers are not building time into their schedules just in case. When we start with tight time frames, we can’t take extra time for anything. And any condensing of the schedule increases the risk for error. It means quality reviews are skipped. Perhaps entire steps like proofreading are skipped. People are taking shortcuts. And most of those shortcuts are happening on the upfront strategy and thinking stage. People are diving into projects without doing creative briefs, without planning.
You can get away with that for one project here and there. Maybe even for a short period of time. But eventually, over time, this will catch up with your team and organization. When people seek to shorten the time that the communications team has to do their work, it’s important for communicators to spell out what the trade-offs are. Communications teams must ask important questions, like “Can we push our delivery date?” Oftentimes, we assume that is not an option, but we never ask.
“Let’s just do it the same way we did it last year.”
Listen, I personally often recommend formulas. Newsletters and magazines with clearly defined sections. Formulas in writing for consistency and speed. But year after year of doing the same reports the same way, never re-designing a magazine, never stopping to look at metrics and analyze what’s been working and what hasn’t … Well, it’s just irresponsible of a strategic communications team. Plus, to keep creative professionals engaged, it’s important to challenge them to try new things.
Before agreeing that we should just do the project the same way we did it before, stakeholders and communicators should sit down, have a conversation and review the important metrics. What are the numbers saying about what’s working and what’s not? If you have perfect response rates, off-the-charts ROI, etc., maybe there is very little to tweak. But in my experience, there’s always something that can be made better, more effective for the viewer/reader/user, more engaging, clearer.
As creative professionals and marketing professionals, our work is never done. We’re always pushing ourselves to better and better work. Yes, it means some projects might take longer than if we were to just update last year’s annual report with new pictures and numbers. But the strategic communicators who want to continually improve and try new things are the communicators you want in your organization.