Australian Government,  Blog post,  Communications professional

Thanks for calling me at the last minute

When talking to communication professionals, it doesn’t matter if you work in a big department or small agency, private sector or not for profit, I hear the same complaint. Why are we always engaged at the last minute?

How many times have you heard:

“There is a brief due tomorrow. Can you just throw together a media release?”
“Our report needs to be on the website by the end of the week.”
“We promised our stakeholders three months ago this would be available for them this month.”

It is the curse of communications. We are always left until last.

I don’t have all the answers, but I know there are some ways we can reduce the number of times this happens and, for all of the other times, how we accept it as part of working in communications.

Within our control

Let’s start with what we can control. Here are four things we can all do to start to reduce the number of times we get left out of the loop:

  1. Build relationships – For me, relationships are the key to limiting this problem. Creating relationships across the organisation with your internal clients means business areas will:
    • think of you earlier
    • engage you more often
    • negotiate the deadline or deliverables.

Without relationships in the business, you will be constantly surprised by requests.

2. Be in the room – I know that meetings are the bain of our existence, but every now and then there is a gem buried in the agenda. One person will make a flippant comment about ‘releasing that report’, and that is your in! You may not feel like you have time, but when you don’t go, you won’t find out.

3. Review business plans – This is not a foolproof way to find out everything happening in your organisation. However, I am often surprised how few communicators spend time reviewing a business area’s annual plans to identify their key priorities. At minimum it is a conversation starter to find out what might be needed from your team, if not now in 3, 6 or 12 months’ time.

4. Know your business – If your business works to legislated deadlines, know what they are and proactively approach the business area before the time – don’t wait for them to come to you. If there are election commitments in your space, talk to the team about timelines and potential announcements. Do what you can to understand and be prepared.

In summary, you can’t use “no one told me” (every time) as a reason for not knowing something was coming your way.

Outside of our control

Here is the truth. Being brought in at the last minute happens everywhere and will continue to happen regardless of what you do. There will always be a last minute speech, release or issue to deal with. Our role in communications is reactive.

While you can’t control the reactive nature of our work, you can accept that it’s part of it and build the capacity to allow for it.

Sign: Warning. Bad planning on your part does not necessarily constitute an automatic emergency on my part
  • Upskill across the team – What functions of your team are most impacted by reactive requests? When I was in government, it was often media, graphic design and web publishing. We tried to ensure everyone in our team had enough knowledge to jump in to help during peak times. It was how we built capacity for the unknown.  
  • Prioritisation approach – You won’t be able to do everything (and shouldn’t). The old saying, ‘your emergency is not my problem’ still applies in communications. You need a way to consistently and repeatably prioritise work and explain to clients why you have done so. This may mean you have to let some things go, as hard as it will be.
  • Self-service – For those people you can’t support within their timeframes, have alternatives available – templates, checklists, tools – that will allow them to help themselves. Not an ideal solution, but better than just saying no.
  • Set clear expectations – If you jump every time someone asks you to do something at the last minute (and deliver it!), you will set a clear expectation that the behaviour is ok. While you may not be able to say no to everyone or everything, you can set clear expectations for the type of work you will take on with limited notice and that which you will not. You will need the support of people above you to say no, and you need to demonstrate your business case for why it will create better outcomes.

Few people outside of our profession would understand what it is like to work at the beck and call of others. With limited ability to plan and prioritise your own work. It is hard, but we can do something about it.

I would love to hear your ideas – how do you manage last-minute requests? Post your ideas to our socials.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *