Do your magic

On giving and requesting support

shining star wand sitting on an open book

A lot of us in the communications field hear it often, usually in whispered tones: “Can you work some of your magic on this?” And, just as often, it’s followed by, “Oh, and I need it this morning.”

I’ve been in the biz long enough to be neither flattered by the compliment nor insulted by the unreasonable deadline. (A useful approach outside the office, too.) I know great communications work is genuinely appreciated. And I know everyone’s busy and usually needs it asap.

But there are a few guiding principles that can diffuse problems associated with this type of internal request, for those on both sides of the exchange:

For project managers:

#1 Expect to have your communications team involved. They don’t want to take control; they want to ensure the brand is protected, the message is clear, the delivery is optimal. No matter what your project.

#2 Invite the communications team in as early as possible. You have expertise in your area. The communications team has expertise in theirs. When both are leveraged, your project becomes more powerful and likely more successful. The earlier you can consider audience, messaging, tone, writing standards, format, design, branding and metrics in your project plan, the better!

#3 Don’t forget to measure and debrief. How well did your project meet its goals? Who did it reach? What response did it solicit? How would you change it next time? Why did it fail? Or succeed? These are important questions your communications team can help answer, especially when they’ve been involved from the planning stage. Respectful debriefs that follow an agreed-upon format get everyone in the planning mindset: plan, execute, debrief; plan, execute, debrief…

For communications teams:

#1 Share what you need to help project managers. Don’t wait for your colleagues to come to you with urgent needs. Go to them first with clarity on how best to collaborate: maybe a list of goal-supporting communications services; a chart of approximate lead times for each service; a flow chart of project planning best practices; a project plan template; a hotline number/email to call for support; a meeting to introduce the above.

#2 Learn to say Yes, but. It’s easy to say yes to every request because you know you can help and you want to. But the more unplanned project requests you accept, the more stress you incur and the more your work suffers. Better to say, Yes, but I’ll have to let you know when I can reasonably work it in. Or Yes, but we’ll have to delay the other project we’re working on for you. Or Yes, but we’ll need more budget to contract it out. Or Yes, but is there any way you can delay your deadline so we can do our best work?

#3 Be prepared for project overload with project management systems. It’s a lesson learned over and over in the world of communications (and any field that requires scrupulous project management). To avoid drowning in projects, be prepared with a strong foundation of processes, procedures and systems to support you (and your client, internal or otherwise) in your project management – from request to fulfilment to follow-up. What does this look like? Some examples:

  • A fillable PDF or online form to easily intake requests for communications support.
  • Team management software to share project timelines, notes, resources and progress, like Trello or Asana (free) – there are lots out there. (Or a shared Excel doc can also work.)
  • A series of (nicely designed) fact sheets – communications standards, how to get communications support, media relations guidelines, event planning, etc.
  • A sign-off process to ensure nothing gets produced, printed or promoted without agreement and approval.
  • A squeaky clean filing system, so you can easily find, store and update these resources, keep all components of each project together and save yourself time and stress by doing a bit of organizing work up front so when the pressure’s on, you can whip out what you need – for metrics, budgeting or accolades!

With thanks for reading,