I want that pony!

My husband, when we were first married, was somewhat….taken aback by what a good shopper I am. Listen, it runs in my family: my mother is an expert when it comes to outlet-shopping, and can comb through overstuffed racks of discounted clothes and find total gems at more than 50% off of the retail price. But I think my husband interpreted this skill less as a skill, and more as…naked, unadulterated longing on my part (he wasn’t always wrong). He used to joke that he would get me a license plate that said IWANNA.

I admit: I want things sometimes, and I want them badly. (Like, chocolate cake. A lot of my wants are food-related. They used to be fashion-related, until COVID.)

But today’s post is about the individual wants—not my own, the ones directed at me to fulfill—that I encounter in my field, which is communications. I wanted to talk a little bit about how those wants take shape, and maybe share some tips for how to handle them.

There are so many different ways to communicate, and so many dimensions to the practice of communications at any one organization or company. Most non-communications people don’t understand that, though. Most people see the latest bright, shiny thing that someone else has done in communications—like a really cool video! Or a really cool data visualization! Or an amazing front-page article in the New York Times—and they want that bright, shiny thing for their project or organization. It’s often not a mild want, either—it’s a burning, intense, desire. It’s the, “I want a pony, and I want it NOW!” type of feeling (if you’re having trouble understanding the level of want going on, here, you should picture Veruca Salt asking her father for a trained squirrel in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Or, alternatively, picture Trump demanding more votes than he actually received. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

As annoying as these wants are when they come out of nowhere and hit me sideways on the head, I also have a great deal of sympathy for these feelings. Here’s why:

–One, this sort of want is often a manifestation of how much people truly love and are captivated by communications stuff. The people who want communications-related things are often people who are leading or doing amazing work, and they really, really want other people to hear about it, and they also understand that communications folks are the ones who are able to make their work feel compelling, exciting, and visually interesting. If people didn’t have these sorts of wants and desires, I wouldn’t have a job.

–Two, I also get how envy and admiration of other people’s good work acts as a catalyst, so to speak, to up one’s game. I have often seen a really cool video, or interactive feature, and thought to myself: hmmmm, we should be doing that sort of thing, which then leads to us actually doing that sort of thing.

But as understanding as I am about these wants and desires that come from non-communications people, I would also like a little reciprocal understanding about how these asks feel to us when they come our way. Here are the questions I would like to ask of people who really, really want their headline/announcement/media hit/video/infographic/landing page/data interactive/photo essay/report/VR documentary thing, like, NOW:

–Is this ask located within the context of a strategy? Meaning, do you want the thing just because your competitor put out a similar thing or do you have actual goals and audiences you’re hoping to reach related to this thing?

–Do you have an appreciation of how asking your comms partner to do this thing as the topmost priority means that she or he or they will not be able to do the million other things that have been labeled as “time sensitive”?

–Do you have an appreciation of how doing this thing involves work? Like, real work? And that giving your comms colleague the budget to hire an agency or consultant to do the thing does not mean that the comms partner’s work related to this thing has gone away. Agencies and consultants need management, and inputs. Scheduling, writing, editing, designing—all of this goes into the thing.

–Are you the only one at your organization who wants this thing? Do other people actually think your thing might be a bad idea? If that’s the case, I’m getting a whiff that maybe your thing is not the best use of my time and energy right now.

–Do you have a sense of what you want to do with this thing—who you want to see this thing and all of the steps it will take to get your audiences to see the thing? Many people ask for very cool comms pieces but then the piece never goes anywhere. Because everyone’s moved on to the next urgent thing to do and no effort was put into thinking about the promotion and dissemination of the very cool thing.

In fact, related to that last point, maybe only a few people have seen the very cool thing that you wanted so very badly and now….they’re bugging their comms colleague for a pony, too.