Flying solo: 5 tips for success in a one-person communications shop

Everybody wants a press release. Everybody’s got a great idea how you should spend your time. Here’s how to stay sane.

Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan’s distance-learning portal The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations and interactive courses.

Great! You got the job. But you’ve never felt so alone, working as a one-person communications department.

Executives are demanding press releases for every minor rejiggering of the website or redecoration of the office. Colleagues are requesting time-sapping commitments to their projects. And you’ve got to answer to your boss’s priorities.

If this describes you, pull up a chair. April L. Finnen—a senior health communications specialist for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration—and Amanda Changuris—senior social media marketing analyst for Highmark Inc.—offer their wisdom from the trenches.

Here are some tips from their Ragan Training video, “Flying solo: Proven strategies for a one-person communications department.”

1. Wait! Don’t agree to write that press release—at least not right away.

You’re not required to chirp “Sure!” whenever you’re asked to write up a minor development that no news outlet would ever cover.

“It’s all I can do not to cringe now when someone asks, ‘Hey, why don’t we do a press release?'” Finnen says.

Of course, there is a time and a place for actual press releases, Finnen says, but “‘Our Redesigned Website’ is not usually one of those.”

What to do instead?

  • Discuss. “It’s your role as the communications expert to find out what they’re really trying to accomplish by issuing the press release and help them get there with an appropriate strategy and mix of tactics,” Finnen says.
  • Propose. Some of your colleagues and leaders may not be fully aware of other options for getting out the news these days (blogs? social media?). Start by asking why they want a press release. What are the goals? Then offer alternatives.

This video clip is taken from the Ragan Training session, “Flying solo: Proven strategies for a one-person communications department.”

2. Keep monthly reports for your boss.

Finnen says she has never had a manager ask for a monthly report. She writes one up anyway. Though your boss doesn’t need to know what you do with every minute of your day, reporting back can be good for both of you.

The Pointy-Haired One stays apprised of your work. You get to prove you’re worth your weight in gold—and think through what’s going right and what needs work.

Finnen suggests that your template include “buckets,” or areas of responsibility, such as your website, social media, special projects, and events. Include results. She updates hers every week so she doesn’t forget something important, but turns it in monthly.

If you have questions that can wait, consider writing them into your report and flagging them for the boss’s attention.

3. Measure everything.

Look at the numbers, Finnen says, and ask yourself questions: “Why did our page views spike on the 15th? Why did we get so much engagement around a tweet on topic A? Why did downloads decrease by over half last month?”

Did the page views spike because you posted on Facebook that day? Do more of the same. Did you get Twitter love because a topic expert retweeted? How can you engage in the future? Do morning tweets do well in Europe? How about tweeting earlier for better activity in the U.K.?

4. Found a problem? Offer a solution.

Aren’t you clever! You’ve detected a big problem in the way something is done in your organization. Nobody else ever thought of this before. Just you. Won’t the boss be pleased?

Sure, but be prepared for your bigwig to ask, “What do you think we should do?” (Note: Bosses do not want to hear you reply, “I don’t know,” Finnen says.)

Before you tackle your boss on the way to the restroom, brainstorm solutions. If you’re stuck, Google it. Write up the problem and your recommendations. You might wish to hold on to that write-up, but tell the boss it’s available. Be prepared to defend your solutions.

5. Don’t overpromise.

As in the case of the press release request above, there are plenty of people who have great ideas how you should spend your time. We know you’re an eager beaver, but before you say, “I can do that,” stop and think.

“In a one-person shop, you have to be careful of overcommitting yourself,” Finnen says.

Tell your interlocutor that sounds like a great project, and ask for more details. Add: “I’ll check with my boss and get back to you.”

Before you do check with the Pointy-Haired One, ask yourself these questions:

  • What exactly does this person want from you?
  • Do you really want to do it? Does it support your marketing goals or add value to the organization?
  • How much time will it take?
  • How much will it cost?
  • What do we have to cancel or postpone to get this new idea done?
  • Are there any constraints, rules or (gulp) laws relating to this?

You don’t have to be overwhelmed. Get organized.


Topics: PR

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