ASAP Doesn’t Always Mean Now
I wrote this column two hours ago. I’m serious. I’m a procrastinator; it’s not my favorite trait, but it is something I’ve come to accept. There is something about a looming deadline and the pressure to perform that brings out my ability to focus.
Although I’m (apparently) fond of subjecting myself to that last minute intensity, urgent requests and demands from others can be a different story.
I’d bet many of you can relate to the infamous 4:59 p.m. phone call from one of your higher-ups requesting – or more accurately, frantically demanding – your help.
We need a brochure!
We need a press release!
We need an email blast!
And we need it now!
Listen, in the communications field, this happens all the time. All. The. Time. But just because the request is urgent and the timeline short doesn’t mean that the work can’t be strategic and purposeful.
So before you start burning up your keyboard to crank out exactly what was requested within the timeline demanded, let me share some of the insights I’ve gleaned over the years.
Now doesn’t always mean now.
When I hear the term ASAP, I assume I’ve already missed the deadline. But that’s not always the case. Many requests come with deadlines of ASAP, soon, immediately – and here’s what’s crazy: those words mean something different to different people.
Ask questions to determine the “real” deadline.
Is the request driven by an event or meeting date with a hard deadline? Or is this a campaign that can take place over several months? Is there a pending media interview for which you need to prepare speaking points? Or is this a topic that will still be timely and intriguing for the media in the coming weeks?
The request may be specific, but people don’t always know what they want
Client: Kim, we need a brochure to tell people about Big Project.
Kim: A brochure?
Client: Yes, a brochure. Big Project is, well, a big project. We need a brochure.
Kim: What are we trying to accomplish with this brochure?
Client: It will be about Big Project.
Kim: Yes, but why is it important to people? And, by the way, where do you plan to distribute this brochure?
Client: That doesn’t matter. We just need to get this “out there.”
If I had a nickel for every time I’ve had this conversation I would be one rich woman. I’d also be frantically typing this column while on a beach in Mexico. But I digress…
Before you start work on creating exactly what was requested, you need to ask one critical question: Why?
Why do you need that press release, that brochure, or that campaign? What are you trying to accomplish?
It’s the foundation of communications: determine what you’re trying to achieve first, and then determine how to do it. A brochure (with a solid distribution plan) may be the right solution, but let’s figure out the big picture before we dive into tactics.
Just because the request doesn’t align exactly with your strategic communication plan, doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.
Admit it. You love your communications plan. It clearly tells you what you’re trying to accomplish, key messages and audiences. It might even provide an implementation schedule to keep you on track. You follow the plan. You care for the plan. You love the plan.
Now, here comes a request from someone else who is going to mess up all your strategic work with his or her last minute harebrained idea.
It’s easy to think that way.
Now is the time to take a step back and honestly evaluate how this request can fit into the big picture.
Reference you’re beloved plan to see if there are connections that weren’t immediately obvious – perhaps planned tactics that you can now leverage to share new information. Perhaps this new topic aligns nicely with one that you’ve already planned on addressing.
It might be okay to say no…
Go through the steps:
- Determine the “real” deadline
- Define the intention behind the request
- Look for alignment with your strategic communications goals
If the request is so far out or unreasonable, it’s okay to outline why you think another approach would be more effective.
…but it’s probably a better idea to just say yes
Who are we kidding? Of course you’re going to find a way to follow through!
Time to burn up that keyboard…