2020 will be a challenging year for communicators.
The news holes will be taken up with all the usual headlines of a new decade: presidential campaigns, the Olympics, and a few other minor stories like impeachment and the usual corporate crisis. And those are just the things we already know about.
The question for professional communicators isn’t how to break through all that clutter—you probably can’t—and probably don’t want to, since your most likely breakthrough scenario would be a major crisis.
The real question is, how do get your point across to senior leaders in such a crazy year.
Here are few survival tips for 2020:
1. Put yourself on a media diet.
Everyone from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to your archrival in the industry is going to be pushing false narratives and creating copycat media outlets that look like the real thing. The answer is to focus your attention only on those media outlets and platforms that matter to your stakeholders. That doesn’t mean ignoring social media or podcasts; it means doing your homework and making sure you have a thorough understanding of what’s important to your customers, employees, shareholders, volunteers, donors or constituents.
The outlets and platforms matter less than the people who are influencing the opinions, beliefs, actions and behaviors of your stakeholders. So vet your sources carefully, make sure they matter to your stakeholders, and then follow the postings of those influencers with the diligence of Sherlock Homes—and ignore everything else.
2. Use a measurement dashboard to keep your focus on your organization’s strategic priorities.
Do not get distracted by the daily vagaries of the news cycle nor by whoever walks into your office with a clever idea. Build a set of metrics and/or a dashboard that starts with your organization’s strategic priorities. Then map out the path that shows how your team contributes to those priorities. A good dashboard should reflect how all the elements of your communications program are contributing to each of the priorities.
In other words, stop worrying about how many clicks that last social media campaign generated, or how many people shared that last news story. Focus your time and attention on how all your activities helped realize your organization’s goals.
3. Ask the boss for what you need to make sure you achieve your goals.
Forget about tooting your horn or creating a brag book of the great stuff you did. Who has time for that when there are a million other things to do? When you do get the 30 seconds in an elevator with your boss’s boss, tell him/her what you need in order to hit a home run. Use your measurement data to discover what isn’t working or isn’t succeeding as well as other efforts. Then recommend moving resources from those less successful efforts to what you know will make you a star.
4. Deliver a whack on the side of your corporate heads.
Years ago, when I was probably way over my head in a new job as director of corporate communications at the largest independent software company on the planet, someone gave me a book called “A Whack on the Side of the Head.”
I quickly consumed it, and some people thought I was a genius and some perceived me as a professional provocateur. But however you viewed my ideas, they certainly weren’t what anyone was expecting.
These are uncertain times, and the foundations that many communications programs were built on are disappearing as fast as the Greenland ice sheet. Pretty much every idea that someone thought of last year won’t work this year.
So read the book, and when you do have a chance to make recommendations or suggest changes, think big change. If you can’t think of a new idea, go ask your customers or someone you don’t hear from every day. Better yet, do a quick Google Poll to survey your stakeholders and get their ideas. Whatever you do, don’t sound like yesterday’s solutions.
5. Find your own media-free zone.
For me it’s giving the dog a belly rub. There’s nothing like being rewarded with the puppy equivalent of a purr to get you out of whatever headspace you’re stuck in. Whether it’s a walk on the beach, a hike in the woods, a 10-minute soak in your hot tub, or giving your puppy a belly rub—there has to be time in your day when you step away from your desk, turn the media off and get a new perspective on whatever problem you’re trying to solve.
So take that time to clear your head before you start trying to communicate up.