6 ways communicators can say ‘no’

PR pros and corporate communicators juggle a multitude of tasks each and every day. Don’t feel pressured to take on unnecessary extra work. Here’s how you can politely decline.

Between staffing constraints, workloads and outlandish demands from clients and executives, communications pros are universally overworked.

We’re increasingly being asked to do more with less, but sometimes we have to say “no” to a project or offer that cannot be accomplished.

Here are six ways you can decline politely, but firmly:

1. Just say “no.” This is easier said than done.

I once worked in a department where the director told her staff that they couldn’t say “no” to anything. Many of her employees organized parties and ordered refreshments along with setting up marketing launches and media events.

There is nothing wrong with saying, “We don’t set up or monitor surveys, but we can help you write the survey questions,” or, “Please have someone take the picture and send it to us.”

2. Create a statement of work or a department manifesto. Follow the lead of engineers and IT professionals who are experts at fighting “scope creep.”

A statement of work outlines the exact parameters of the project and specifies dates, what’s expected, and who will do what.

A department manifesto describes exactly what your department does and does not do. For example: “We are not content experts, but we can help your content experts shape the message.”

3. Focus on your strengths. If no one in your department knows how to edit video, outsource it to someone who does. You might be able to find a film student who can edit for you at a reasonable price.

Don’t spin your wheels and waste time on something that isn’t in your toolbox.

4. Avoid dead-end paths. No three words have resulted in more wasted time for a communicator as “Proof of concept.”

With too many deadlines and ongoing projects on our plates, very few of us have time for a “proof of concept.” If someone wants to involve you early in a project that has not yet been approved—or that has little chance of being approved—decline the offer.

5. Ask others to pitch in. Have employees submit their own images rather than sending someone to take a photo. Set up self-service forms on your organization’s intranet. Convert design files or PDFs to Word documents and enable others to edit and make changes directly to the document.

When it makes sense, turn tasks over to others.

6. Prioritize with leadership. Every six weeks, ask your client or the organization’s liaison what you must talk about. Ask, “What are the most important things we want our audience to say and do?”

Find out from the top decision makers what your priorities should be. Use that to guide what you work on—and what you leave behind.

Ragan readers, how have you refused projects and proposals that you couldn’t take on?

Laura Hale Brockway is an Austin-based writer and editor and a regular contributor to PR Daily. Read more of her work at impertinentremarks.

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