We all know how it goes. The traditional way of doing business is to make a thing, then once you have a thing, think about promoting that thing. It’s the same whether your company or nonprofit is producing research reports, international conferences, donor campaigns, or really anything.
At some point in your process of making a thing and selling your thing, you need to be telling people about your thing. So at what stage should comms people get involved with your thing?
The short answer is soon as humanly possible.
Some companies have whole teams of people dedicated to comms, others are a one-person-show. So in this post, which summarizes a lengthy discussion on a Google group I follow and my own experience, we’re going to take a look at both cases from the perspective of your comms team.
I don’t know how many times it needs to be said, but transparency is good. Even if part of the team isn’t directly involved in the development of the project, they should at least be aware of what’s going on.
This early engagement (from the ideation stage if possible), gives everyone a chance to understand the deliverables and deadlines. This can minimize the chances that someone can suprise the comms team with a deadline that wasn’t predicted.
There are tools to help, of course. Project management software such as Hive allows work to be planned, tracked, and executed by multiple teams feeding into each project. Trello has a shared calendar that can ensure all teams are aware of key dates well in advance. Early analysis such as setting up a RASCI responsibility matrix can assign and clarify roles for everyone involved.
But there’s no substitute to having a member of comms embedded in every other part of the team. That way there is always a voice at the table to help advise and craft a strategy that gets more eyeballs on the finished work. It also can help you get the most impactful visuals by being able to collect media assets as the project goes along.
Attending all the planning meetings, being made aware of all updates and changes, creates a partnership that builds trust between teams. It helps information flow and mutual understanding of goals, plans, and capacity.
When you’re on your own
You can’t sit in on every meeting if you’re a one-person comms operation. You would get nothing else done. You know that, I know that. Everyone else hopefully knows that? Maybe? Maybe not. But you know too much on your plate and you become a bottleneck. Too little info and you have to create strategies out of thin air at the last minute.
So what can you do?
You insert yourself into early conversations on new projects. Like hatching the egg early.
You come up with a framework for a communications plan that every project team must complete at the start of the project, and you can help them keep it updated as the project inevitably evolves. Again, software such as Asana or Todoist (which I use) can help. This can help you keep on top of information flows.
At the beginning of any project, map out a communications calendar and share it with the rest of the project team so they are aware of deadlines. And reach out to team members one-on-one to make sure you have the information you need. Brainstorm about visuals with all of the team, so they know what you’re looking for as they progress.
But if you can’t get on the ground floor of a new project, it doesn’t mean the train has sailed. You can still catch up if you have the support of the rest of the team. One recommended way is to send a brief questionnaire to the project team and use those answers to shape a narrative and build your strategy.
One other thing…
There is one other thing you could do…
Hire my company to run a workshop with your team. I can help managers understand the importance of visual storytelling and the value of including communicators in projects. And we can work on how your stories can maximize engagement and create loyal brand ambassadors.
I create exclusive, bespoke workshops for companies and non-profits, and you can book me for a free half-hour consultation – where we can decide if we’d be a good fit via my calendar page.
To sum up: Get on board early. Ensure transparency. And hire an external team if you need extra support.
Do you use project management tools? What’s your favorite? Do you have any tips for how storytellers can get on board with new projects early on? Tweet at me: @TaraTW, and join the conversation on our Master Visual Storytelling Facebook group.