There are a host of things you can do to distinguish yourself in the workplace; some of these tips are more intuitive than others. Some have been frequently addressed — be the first one in the office and the last one to leave; produce quality work; build strong relationships; ask for and accept feedback, etc. But there are other steps you can take that are seldom discussed. What follows is my list of recommendations for things you can do, as a communicator, to distinguish yourself. My recommendations are a floor and not a ceiling in terms of what it takes to perform well, and effectively set yourself apart.
- Support the Brand: As a communicator, you exist to support your organization’s brand. Ensuring a strong brand improves the likelihood that your organization can continue to raise critical funds to continue important work. Written communications, digital media outreach and social media posts should ALL support the mission and vision of the organization. The decisions you make — which issues to weigh in on, what you post on the organization’s social media accounts, whether to respond to one media inquiry or another — should all be viewed from the lens of whether the action advances the brand.
- Read the News with A Sense of Action: For a communicator, reading the news is important, but insufficient. When you read, or view the news, do so from the lens of “what’s the action?” The action could be: sharing the article with journalists, colleagues or others who might be interested in the subject area; responding to the article with a Letter to the Editor or guest column; developing a policy solution to address the issue raised in a news report; or researching the topic further. Essentially, when you read or watch the news, you should ask yourself “what opportunity does the article or TV segment you’re watching/viewing present?” This will keep you and your organization one step ahead of competitors. It’ll also set you apart, increase your value to the organization by demonstrating your leadership skills. Once you come up with a possible action, share the idea with your colleagues and higher ups for their feedback.
- Take Initiative: Ideas should flow from management to staff as well as from staff to management. If the supervisor or manager is the only person generating ideas, the team is not working as effectively as it could. Moreover, no single person wants sole responsibility for creative thinking or generating new ideas. As a hiring manager and supervisor, I place a premium on initiative. The people who consistently come up with ideas for improving our work or sharing our message more effectively stand out. In time, they become people I proactively seek out for their thoughts on any range of topics. People who take initiative are also top of mind when thinking about who to recognize, retain and/or promote.
- Be Responsive: Communications is not a 9-to-5 job. While work/life balance is important, communicators should rarely completely tune out when they leave the office. On the weekends and in the evenings, you may want to sporadically check emails, social media accounts and voicemails to ensure you are responding to pressing matters or available should a crisis arise. For instance, the Orlando nightclub shooting occurred in the early morning hours of Sunday, June 12, 2016. For LGBTQ or gun-control advocacy groups, failing to immediately respond (issuing a press statement, scheduling a tweet, etc.) in the hours after the tragic shooting could be perceived as a miss. Even groups concerned with the denigration of Muslims would have wanted to immediately respond, even if the response was limited to appeals to refrain from using the shooting to scapegoat religious minorities.
- Be Timely: If you’re issuing a press statement in response to an issue in the news cycle, the statement should be drafted, edited and distributed within 2 hours if possible. This increases the likelihood that your comments or commentary is included in news segments. For most issues, a press statement doesn’t have to be long (one page or less will do), but it should be punchy and to the point. A short statement submitted within an hour of a major announcement is better than a long statement submitted hours, or the day after, after an announcement.
- Be Intentional About Ensuring Diverse Viewpoints: In fast-moving campaigns, it’s incredibly easy to move from one project to the other without evaluating whether you are benefitting from fresh and diverse viewpoints. As managing director of communications, I know part of my success hinges on my ability to move quickly. Relatedly, my success also depends on whether I’m able to respond to the unexpected (learning at the last minute that I need to produce a video or infographic, or manage complex campaign). When the unexpected happens, it can be tempting to rely on the same consultants I’ve used for years; after all, the consultants know me and my organization, meaning they can usually turn around projects with ease. If I limit myself to working with the same batch of vendors and consultants, I run the risk of not generating new ideas. Moreover, working with the same group of people can be problematic for another reason. Many of us are committed to racial diversity. When it comes to hiring vendors, or staff for that matter, if our networks don’t include people of color; chances are our vendor pool won’t either. The reason for this is simple; most people tend to hire people who they feel comfortable with or people in their or their colleagues’ networks. Identifying vendors (before you need them) who have unique experiences (some of which are informed by their race and ethnicity) is a good way to ensure diverse perspectives. This means we’ll sometimes need to step out of our comfort zones and re-bid contracts to make room for new ideas and new perspectives.
If you do these things, you’ll be well on your way to setting yourself apart as a communicator who is not only effective, but indispensable.
Jennifer R. Farmer is a strategic communicator and author of Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget. She’s based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter @Farmer8J or on Facebook at Facebook.com/Tips4ExtraordinaryPR