Be proactive, be proactive, be proactive. Communications experts love to tout the benefits of being proactive. But what if the constant requests for flyers, PowerPoints and webpages have your team saddled with such a backlog that it’s all you can do to get even one of your own social posts up each day? How are you supposed to be proactive when so much of your week is monopolized by other teams’ last-minute needs? Try these tactics.
1. Start with having a documented marketing and content plan.
OK, we are going to recommend you be proactive, but hear us out. When you have a written-in-stone (Google Docs works, too) communications plan that details your goals and strategies for the coming year, it’s much easier to push back on one-off requests that don’t support your goals.
Obviously, there will be times when you need to be flexible and accommodate urgent or unplanned requests. But having your own plan in place will at least help you have the tough conversations when you need to.
2. Be transparent.
It’s great that you have marketing and content plans in place, but unless you share them, they may as well not exist to other departments. Send an email, present at a leadership meeting or invite other managers to view your plans online — whatever works for your organization.
And the same goes for your processes. Orient other teams to how you should receive requests, whether by web form or emailed creative brief, etc. Share a sample schedule, too, so people know why you’re always requesting four weeks’ notice for “just some table tents for the cafeteria.”
This should help anyone making requests that fall outside of your documented process or time frame understand they are creating a situation in which approvals will need to happen faster than usual and that they may be putting quality at risk (not to mention applying stress to your team).
3. Invite others to shadow your team.
There is always a team (or two, or five) that doesn’t understand or respect your processes and time. Rather than having to continually explain how things work, why not invite them to sit with your team for a day? Let them see what actually is involved in updating an intranet page or preparing the company bulletin. Give them a peek at all the requests your writers tackle on any given day.
The point of this exercise is not to one-up or play the victim. After all, everyone’s busy. This is about helping your clients understand your process so they are more likely to respect it. Want to really solidify a good working relationship? Ask to shadow their team in return.
4. Recruit an executive sponsor/advocate.
Let’s face it, everyone who took Communications 101 in college thinks they can do your job. Notice this doesn’t happen to legal or finance. But it’s pretty common in communications, and it makes for some challenging interdepartmental relationships. Therefore, it can be useful to have an executive advocating for your team and helping to communicate your value. This can go a long way in ensuring your team isn’t always the one getting dumped on.
5. Be sure you have a seat at the table.
Despite the constant requests for URGENT! content, company initiatives rarely come about in a hurry. Chances are strategic initiatives are conceived weeks, even months, before you ever see a creative brief. Minimize your deer-in-the-headlights moments by making sure your team has representation at all committee and strategic initiative meetings. That way you can get the committee thinking about comms earlier in the process, hopefully giving your team more time to work. If not, you’ll at least know what might be coming down the pike so you can plan accordingly.
6. Insist on getting the right people involved at the right times.
There’s nothing more defeating than hitting “send” on an award-worthy campaign only to have Joe VP reply that the initiative being communicated about is being overhauled. If only someone had thought to loop Mark in sooner, perhaps you could have prevented a major time suck.
Knowing exactly who needs to weigh in and when comes with tenure and experience. But even if you’re on the newer side of comms management, you can hopefully avoid Mark situations by asking up front and getting the right people in the room from the get-go.
If legal needs to see it, make sure they review text before it goes to design. Do you have a prickly CEO who wants to read everything? Send him content before you are too far into the process. Get buy-in from the right executives at the right times and save yourself a lot of time and heartache later.
7. Be empowered to say no.
There are going to be times when people come to you with outrageous requests. With empowerment and your executive advocate on your side, you should be able to push back on some of those requests or at least insist on an extra week or so to communicate properly.
This is not about being unbending or making excuses. This is about ensuring your team has the time to do the best work they can in the most strategic way possible. Plus, by pushing back when necessary, you help enforce that your processes and time are just as important as other teams’. And that reminds people not simply to expect communications to pick up the slack when a project goes off track.
Tell us, what works for you? What tactics do you use in your organization that help you be more proactive with your comms?