Don’t be the James Franco of corporate communications

Stop acting like a dilettante at work. Focus on what you do best.

I’d describe my feelings about James Franco as agnostic.

Then I saw the one-man show, “Bring Me the Head of James Franco, That I May Prepare a Savory Goulash in the Narrow and Misshapen Pot of His Skull” by Chicago actor Ian Belknap.

Now I have a new opinion: He’s terrible. (Franco, that is, not Belknap.)

Belknap went on a two-hour rant, complete with a PowerPoint presentation, showing the audience that Franco’s work—his several graduate degrees, his poetry, his novels, his performance art—is all for “show.” He’s masking himself as an artist. He’s not creating art for the sake of creating art. He’s creating art so that we’ll all pay more attention to him.

OK, OK—enough. This post isn’t supposed to be my mini-diatribe about how I agreed with the playwright; it’s supposed to be about how you can avoid being the James Franco of your marketing department.

Bear with me.

One of the best parts about the play was when Belknap took a moment to explain the difference between amateurs and dilettantes. An amateur is someone who has a passion for their craft and does it because the love for their craft inspires them to keep working at it.

A dilettante is someone who does something for the sake of just doing something. Then, while they’re doing it, they shout, “Hey! Look at me! Watch me do this!”

I wonder how many corporate communicators can be guilty of acting like dilettantes when it comes to their jobs. Being a dilettante might sound glamorous, but really, you’re not getting anything done.

Here’s how to be an amateur:

Don’t do it all

Do you maintain a blog for your CEO, an Instagram account for clients, and an e-newsletter for your fellow colleagues? Let’s not forget about all your pins, posts, tweets, circles, “likes” and “diggs.”

You can’t be doing all these things well. Try to find a few social media outlets that work best for your business model—dive into Google Analytics and find out what people are actually reading and watching. You don’t have to be everywhere, especially if your audience isn’t even there.

Think about what you can cut out: jargon, newsletters, clip art, flyers, posters on easels, billboards featuring the latest awards, and hospital rap videos. Keep adding more to this list. Then, get rid of it. Focus on what works.

You’ve heard this before: “Align your social media strategy with your business goals.” A strategy isn’t tweeting 20 times a day and posting on 15 different social media outlets. That’s just chaos. A strategy can mean scaling back. There’s no shame in that.

Your company isn’t great at everything

I hate to break it to you: Some service lines in your company might be as bad as a stanza from a Franco poem (please, allow me to indulge):

Soon after his fortieth birthday, Fitzgerald attempted suicide
Here, but couldn’t shoot his own head, drunk, I guess.
Later, after he was actually dead, from alcohol,
Zelda perished in a fire at her institution, one of nine.

OK, OK, hopefully, some departments aren’t that bad. But here’s what I mean: Focus on what you’re known for in your business.

Saying, “We’re great at everything,” isn’t specific enough. Remind people where you excel.

When, like Franco, you try to do everything, your communication efforts will fail.

Hiring outside experts with too many degrees

Franco’s longtime girlfriend broke up with him because he was pursuing too many degrees. This is what it can be like if you hire an outside agency that is pursuing too many other projects to really care about you. When hiring an outside agency, ask for examples from previous clients. It doesn’t matter where they went to school.

Also, when it comes to hiring someone for a new position in your department, think of how someone from outside your business arena could benefit its work. We ask ourselves: Why can’t health care be more like Amazon, Zappos, or Google? Hiring someone from a different sector will give you a new perspective. Recruit people from the industries that you admire, and don’t be fooled by all their degrees.

Limit your online distractions

Franco gets distracted. One minute, he’s graduating from Yale, the next minute he’s teaching an editing class—on how to edit his own films. Then, he gets another degree, writes some poems, acts in a movie and writes a novel—repeat.

Where are your days going? If you’re “wearing too many hats” and “juggling three different balls,” join the circus. Each morning, make a list of high-priority tasks. To create the days how you want them to go, you have to manage your time more efficiently. Shut down Gchat. Don’t even bother opening up your own Facebook page. Stay focused.

Sure, sure, dilettantes might have all the fun and crazy stories to tell, but here’s the joy of being an amateur communicator: being committed to your project and your craft.

If you’re lucky, maybe Franco will dedicate his next performance art piece to you.

(Image via)

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