How to avoid an own goal in communications

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Great expectations come crashing down when you fail to put faith in your creative people, says Sally Hall

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13th October 2017 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

Love Irn-Bru, talk about the weather constantly, laugh at Still Game – this is all part of being Scottish. But so too is going through the emotionally draining, psychologically torturous and, occasionally, blissful roller-coaster that is following the Scottish national football team.

Last Sunday’s game was in the torture category – Scotland fell at the last hurdle to qualify for the World Cup in Russia 2018, after giving us hope that, this time, they might just do it.

But what else would you expect? I was totally prepared in this instance but it got me thinking about people’s expectations around all kinds of things, including work – and specifically the line of work I’m in.

Sally Hall

Sally Hall

When it comes to the creative industries – PR, graphic design, photography and film – no one seems to know quite what to expect. We are regarded as slightly different from every other profession.

When commissioning work from an agency, or briefing their communications team, organisations tend to treat comms professionals differently from any other. One Canadian advertising agency beautifully demonstrated their outrage at being asked to provide work samples for free in this video.

 It happens in Scotland too. When pitching for work I’ve been asked to:

  • hand over a list of my media contacts
  • do it for free this time and see where it goes
  • generate some ideas (which are then used by the prospective client in-house, without any reward)
  • guarantee that particular stories could appear in particular media (without paying for advertising)
  • pop down (to London) for a chat, with no mention of expenses

Never mind that I’ve got more than 20 years’ experience in newspapers, public relations and film-making, that I have a track record of quality work – I’ll just hand it all over for free will I?

These days charities need to create eye-catching, engaging content but this does not come free, and it's not something the work experience kid can do to save your organisation a few pennies.

Whether you’re engaging your own in house team or buying in services from external communications professionals there’s a few things to bear in mind along the way, which makes the process more realistic and easier on everyone involved.

As people who are essentially creatives, they work in slightly different ways to you, so be open. They might start writing sentences with “And” and “But” (gasp), they might remove all the capital letters from the Person Who Is Director Of Everything In The Organisation because capital letters clutter the copy and turn the reader off (another gasp), they may ask a chief executive to do something other than stand in a group of suits because that would make the picture more interesting…the list goes on. 

If you can extend being open to having a bit of faith in your team that’s even better. The creative wouldn’t be doing this job if they didn’t have experience, and they can look at things with fresh eyes; taking you down roads you’re not sure of but this can have solid results. In a recent blog Paul Vanags from Oxfam talked about how its most successful campaigns were generated by soley by Oxfam’s comms teams, and not by the integrated committees that tend dilute ideas.

Which brings us neatly on to empowering your team to go and do what they do best – be creative. Give them access to the case studies, to the service users, to the information they need to do their job and see where it goes.

Finally, be accepting. We work in an unpredictable industry and news is fluid and ever-changing. Your story or trending topic can get canned in an instant when a big event (like a terrorist attack) happens. Timing can be crucial, coverage is never guaranteed and the media still work in mysterious ways – no matter how good a PR’s contacts are. You also have to accept that your audience may respond differently to what’s produced than you do.

Remember that, just like accountants, social workers, IT support, managers, front line workers and other people who deliver your organisation’s objectives, communications people also have studied, learned their trade and have tried and tested many campaigns and projects.

Try expecting something outstanding from them. Maybe I should do that when Scotland start their European Qualifiers in 2019 …

Sally Hall runs There’s Yer Dinner Creative Media

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