We Didn’t Start the Fire

As we near the end of the year, there’s no shortage of reflections in the media about the best and worst of 2016. From albums and movies, to celebrities and politicians (or those who are despairingly both!), we’re ranking and re-enacting to share some lessons.

In the business world, one such reflection that can be useful is reviewing business blunders. Fast Company provides a look back at three public relations (PR) crises that could have been averted with better communications planning and PR know-how. And while the article accurately identifies the blunders that led to media issues, I’ll add my two cents.

  1. A PR issue is rarely a communications problem solely. Aside from the Cheerios example in the article, all of the issues stemmed from poor business decisions and deep-seated cultural problems within the organizations. By the time these made their way to the media, it was far too late. At that point, communicators assume the role of firefighters, trying to mitigate the fall-out.
  2. Don’t start fires, value your risk managers and listen to communications counsel. Every action you take – in business and in life – communicates something about you to your audience. That’s where a strategic communicator can offer real value. By helping you to identify what your proposed action will communicate, so you can ensure you’re choosing the right path in advance and are prepared to live with the consequences. This is basic risk management, folks, and incorporating communications planning to neutralize any potential issues that arise from a decision.

What I’m saying is, the communications function is not just about getting media hits or managing a social community. It is tied to every aspect of your business and you’ll reap the benefits if you begin incorporating a communications mindset at earlier stages rather than calling them in to clean up the mess. Many crises can be avoided by including a communications expert in your strategic planning and daily operations. A New Year’s resolution maybe?

Knit Wit

I recently took up knitting. I’m always one to try various creative, crafty pursuits — knitting, jewelry making, painting — anything that allows me to flex my creative muscle, work with colour, and enjoy a tangible finished product afterwards. If it’s beautiful, all the better.

As a child, I dabbled in knitting, too. My Scottish grandmother knitted a lot: strange doily-like neck wraps, scarves and hats, but I remember the utilitarian slippers most. My Mom made those slippers and that’s how we learned. My sister and I lOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAearned to knit by making the slippers that my maternal family could knit with their eyes closed.

So, back to modern times, and I’m trying to knit again. Only now my tastes are much more discerning. I want to knit scarves with modern colour combinations and fancy ribbing. I want to make hats that fit just so.

My approach to this pursuit? I drop by the local knitting store, pick up some wool and needles and download a free pattern online. And I’m all set. Away I go.

When I encounter a problem, I simply Google it, watch a YouTube video, and, of course, I have Amazon deliver me a dictionary of 400 knitting stitches. Every source I consult tells me that I should spend the time knitting a swatch of 4” x 4” first to check my knitting gauge against the pattern. If I knit tighter or looser than the gauge of the pattern, I’ll need to adjust the pattern accordingly to ensure the final product is the size I want it to be.

But do I knit a single swatch? No, of course not! I need to create right now. I need to finish the hat. I want to wear the scarf tomorrow.

photo-on-2016-12-03-at-6-17-pm-2

Not what I had planned. I could fit a lot more hair under there!

I’m surprised when I finish the hat and it sits on my head like a watermelon rind that I scooped the insides out of. There’s no stretching to the perfect fit, a snug warmth. I’m devastated. I invested so much time on it.

My a-ha moment? Well, I regularly advise clients and business partners to take the time to understand their audience, the root of their business challenge, or the opportunity before them, before diving head long into developing creative ad campaigns, PR strategies, or blasting off email sales pitches. If you don’t take the time upfront to identify the need or test the likelihood of a communications strategy’s success, even the most inventive prose will be wasted.

In communications, as in knitting, take the time to understand the environment, obtain an outside view or an expert opinion first, and when it comes time for creativity, you’ll be much more likely to achieve what you set out to do.