bobbie smith

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writer, editor, designer, communications expert

Saturday, September 7, 2013

What do you do? Communications. Huh?

One of the things I've noticed over the years about working in Communications is the lack of understanding of what it is we do. It goes from zero idea of what 'working in communications' means to 'but what is it really that you do?'

I suppose over time I have had to learn what it all means, too. I recall asking the difference between communications and marketing in a communications class at University of Ottawa. I'm not sure I can recall the answer, but I do recall the indignation of my fellow students who could not believe I'd ever consider the two the same function.

There is much variety in the profession, and there is even more interpretations.

I have heard or overhead people refer to Communications as the following:
  • marketing
  • media relations (some people believe media relations to be writing press releases. some of those people actually work in communications, too.)
  • public relations (some people have difficulty explaining the differences between media and public relations! and some people can't make up their mind what the differences are.)
  • advertising
  • writing stuff that isn't true
  • telecommunications
  • managing websites
For some reason, if I say, 'oh it's like marketing', then they know what that means. 
Or, if I say media relations, that, too, gets a comprehensive nod, but the term communications is simply too broad and too vague for numerous folks to appreciate my job. I can't say that I do a lot of writing because that doesn't explain it either--even though I do tend to do a lot of writing. 

Perhaps the easiest way to describe what I do is to say that I help organizations figure out what to say, when and how to their employees and to the public. I often get a blank stare in response, not because they don't understand; they just can't fathom that this could be or is somebody's job. Don't organizations know what to say and when to say it to their people? Isn't that common sense?

I agree. It is common sense...to me. But when you run an organization, sometimes you're either too close to it to see the bigger picture or you've not had enough experience to realize the fallout of certain communications faux-pas. It's always better to double-check with a professional.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

How to Manage Document Version Control During Communications Campaigns


You've spent all this time working to get your communications right--whether you're the client, the manager, or the communications officer--and suddenly you see an 'older' version when the director sends out his/her message or it shows up on the corporate website. Then you swear out loud and realize that the reason you're seeing one of the changes from several versions ago is because someone made a boo-boo and pulled up the wrong non-final version.

This is going to happen.

In Communications work, we see a lot of versions of numerous documents via email, especially, causing challenges for version control. For these very situations, I purposefully have the following file naming convention so people know they have the latest version. 

I "time-stamp" them. That means when I did my 'save-as', I captured the date and time in the document's file name. I do it ever time. Always. And it has consistently saved my bacon. Also, by doing it this way, the versions line up very nicely in Windows Explorer!

Here's my format + an example:
YYYY MM-Month DD 00h00 Filename.doc 
2012 06-Jun 07 10h06 Memo to All Employees.doc

Legend: 
YYYY = Year, i.e. 2011, 2012 
MM = digits to identify month, i.e. 01 for January, 02 for February, etc….
Month = the month listed as a word, i.e. Jan for January, Feb for February
DD = digits to identify date, i.e. 07 is the 7th day of the month 
00h00 is the time listed using the 24-hour clock, so 09h30 is 9:30am and 21h30 is 9:30pm 
Filename = a name that describes what's in your document, i.e. From Directors to All Employees.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Showing Character in One Line

Published twice a year at the worst possible time.
Clear, simple & engaging.

LOVE this landing page for a new literary journal looking for submissions from writers: Lunch Ticket.

Friday, May 18, 2012

"We can't tell them that."

The scenario:
A project is delayed. Employees haven't heard any updates in about a month and the manager realizes he's 'got to get something out soon' because his boss has been asking what's going on.

Manager: I need a draft message for the project update. How soon can you get it to me?
Communications Officer: How about tomorrow?
Manager: I kind of need it today some time.
Communications Officer: How about today?
Manager: Okay good. 
Communications Officer: So the reason for the delay is other projects took priority but now it's time to return to this one, right?
Manager: "We can't tell them that." 
Communications Officer: Why not?
Manager: Well because it looks bad.

I hear those words from a senior manager or executive and sigh.
There are precious few things we truly "CAN'T" tell employees:
  • private information about other employees
  • financially-sensitive information
  • the CEO's kid's cellphone number
  • and there are more...
However, usually when managers say they can't share something with employees, it almost always mean either: 
  • they are afraid of something, usually the truth,
  • they don't want to look bad,
  • they don't want employees to know that somewhere along the way, management missed something, AKA made a mistake,
  • they don't understand what employees really need.
Employees need to know the real story. They will find out anyway. There is never ever an advantage to hiding information from them. In fact, the disadvantage of trying to hide info from them is the damage to trust once they figure it out...and trust me...they will. They always do.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Engage Employees With Realism, Not Just Rah-Rah!


The other day, a client told me to remove text from and internal/employee communications vehicle because it talked about some jobs that were cancelled. This information was also available online in their organization. The client felt that the comments were not positive and therefore would not be conducive to employee engagement.

I find this attitude quite fascinating. What it tells me is that some of my clients believe that you cannot engage people unless all the messages are 'happy-happy/feel-good' messages. I disagree; in fact, if that is all you focus on sharing, employees will begin to distrust you when they start noticing that things in the organization are not as rosy as the messages sent to 'engage'. However, when a senior manager, executive or organization sends real messages from time to time that paint a more realistic portrait, or they admit some mistakes, these brave leaders gain lots of trust.

For example: We really tried to keep this project on track, but as many of you also experience in your own roles, things don't always turn out the way you plan or anticipate. That's exactly what happened here. Thanks so much for your patience and we look forward to sending you the next update.

Employees are tired of the 'shine'. They want something they can believe.

Monday, May 7, 2012

If You Clarify, There's No Need to Explain

Clarifying is not the same as explaining.
Let me explain. No, wait: let me clarify that...which is it?

When I hear the word 'explain', I envision multiple paragraphs of additional text that may not be necessary. Whereas the word 'clarify' evokes a beautiful landscape of writing where every word means something and no word can be left out. In the meantime, yes, 'clarify' and 'explain' are synonyms, which means they are similar, not exactly alike.

In the context of writing well and writing to engage, I recommend clarity over too much explanation; perhaps that's a better way to put it. If anyone needs me to clarify that, let me know.