In the aftermath of the Australian Federal Election, a lot of people are reeling with disappointment. Disappointment about the campaigns run by both sides, the nasty tone that characterised much of the public debate and many (in fact a healthy proportion of the voting public) will be disappointed by the result.
I am not going to deal with the ins and outs of the campaign, or my personal feelings on the outcome. But the disappointment many people are feeling made me reflect on my own experience as a communications professional.
Recently, a long awaited, eagerly anticipated and well promoted event had to be cancelled.
The reasons for the cancellation are irrelevant, although I will say that they are incredibly frustrating (albeit not uncommon in this context) and left a nasty taste. There just were not any ways to get around it though, we all looked for alternatives and options, and ultimately, cancelling was the best option.
And so we cancelled. Postponed actually, but the loss of momentum, interest and senior representation mean it has been as good as cancelled.
It was so deeply disappointing.
I’m not going to sugar coat it, or try to say how positive the experience was. It really wasn’t. And it often isn’t.
Disappointment is the communications professional’s constant companion. The event that didn’t happen. The photo ruined by a mistimed blink. The compelling Facebook post that… didn’t.
All opportunities missed to share your message.
Some days working in communications it feels like you hear more ‘no’ than you ever hear ‘yes’!
So what can we do about it?
First and foremost, we plan for it. Think about what you are trying to achieve and what the risks are. Maybe someone won’t show up. Maybe the venue will be rained out. Or maybe the funds will dry up. Whatever it is, think about those risks and how you can mitigate them. You don’t need a massive complex risk management matrix, but having a good think before an event of what can go wrong is a really helpful place to start. Draw on your experiences from the last time running a similar event, or speak to others around you who might have that experience. Consider the context and cultural or social factors that might have an impact.
There are plenty of templates for this kind of thing, or you might like to try my free checklist (coming soon!).
But what about if something unforeseen happens? Something we couldn’t have planned for, couldn’t have predicted? That is what happened in the case of my event – a completely unforeseeable situation arose. Frustratingly, for this event, there aren’t even lessons for next time, it was so out of the blue!
Communications professionals are used to operating flexibly, adapting quickly when the situation changes and responding to unforeseen circumstances. In many cases, you can adapt, shift the focus or attendees, or maybe the timing. Think creatively about how you can salvage the event as best you can.
Refer back to what you want to achieve rather than remaining focused on what you had planned.
But sometimes, there is just nothing that can be done.
At that point, you need to be brave enough to admit that, and call the event off. Maybe try to plan it again for another time or another place, and take away the lessons from the unsuccessful attempt with you. Roll with the new situation, adapt, and try to stay positive.
And accept that sometimes, disappointment is just part of being in communications.
So like all of those who are disappointed in the election result, whenever something happens that you just can’t work around, accept the frustrations and disappointments and try to work around them – but also take a bit of time to reflect on what went wrong and what can be done better next time.
And good luck…!