Why your content team is in a creative funk and how to snap out of it

One of the things I love about working in PR is the creative energy. The new approaches, cool ideas and interesting stories that colleagues bring to meetings or to the water cooler are what make this business so exciting. Snap out

Sometimes though, you experience a bit of a drought. Everyone at the office is a little quieter and it seems like people are just going through the motions. The stories pitched appear tired and the proposed angles boring. Everything is just a little – blah.

Creative funks can happen for a number of reasons. Here are just a few, paired with some suggestions to snap out of them.

(1) Stuck in the routine. Sometimes the daily grind gets to us. Somewhere during the process of strategize, research, pitch, write, post, monitor, repeat, people get caught up and forget that they need to venture outside the content producing machine to find new ideas, and more importantly, to keep their sanity.

Snap out of it: organize outings or activities to get people out of the office. Whether it’s for a walk or to grab a coffee, sometimes we just need a little distraction to get the creative juices flowing.

(2) Old school PR environment. Not everyone in PR works at a Fortune 500 company or a forward-thinking agency. A lot of content teams work for non-profits, government departments and industries that have not yet caught up with best practices in content marketing. Your team members may find that they have new ideas, but the context, budget or resources won’t allow these to come to fruition.

Snap out of it: Though you can’t change your organizational culture overnight, you can try to find projects that will give your team a creative outlet. Challenge them to find alternative ways of covering usual topics or formatting their pieces. Give them opportunities to research and pitch new ideas to senior management.

(3) Lack of team work. Although we work in an extremely collaborative field, we all have those times where we isolate ourselves and forget to use one of our most valuable resources – our colleagues. We think we are being more productive, when in reality we are spinning our wheels.

Snap out of it: Plan for structured brainstorming sessions where people bring forth what they are working on. Share ideas on content, angles, formats, photos etc. and encourage discussion. Make sure all team members have the opportunity to participate and that these creative sessions don’t turn into administrative discussions.

(4) Bad content. There is nothing content marketers hate more than producing puff pieces that we know no one will look at and that will yield poor results. Often though, internal politics force us to produce this type of content. Writing boring corporate-speak articles will make any creative feel like they are losing their edge.

Snap out of it: Find the hidden story. It may be difficult, but many times you can uncover something interesting about the corporate retreat, CSR report, or pancake breakfast. Encourage your employees to talk to different people involved and find an angle that will add some substance to a corporate announcement.

(5) Results fall short. When we put a lot of effort into a story or project and it doesn’t yield the expected results, our motivation can take a hit. We begin to doubt to ourselves and this has a negative impact our creativity.

Snap out of it: The essential takeaway here is that everyone goes through this. Sometimes it hits us a little harder and affects our creative mojo. Help your team members get to the other side by productively using their ‘doubt’. Look at what did not work and why. Map out an alternative plan.

(6) Too much or not enough competition. We’ve all heard it before: moderate competition in the workplace is healthy. However, it’s not always easy to achieve a balance. Some of us work on teams where there is a great deal of ‘die-hard’ competition. This type of environment can be toxic. On the other end of the spectrum is a lack of friendly competition, which can cause complacency.

Snap out of it: Fostering friendly competition by encouraging people to aim high will yield better results and keep people motivated. Make sure your employees know that their individual work is vital to your organization’s success by helping them set goals. Nurture a collaborative culture by showing how each individual’s contribution and their combined efforts will lead to the best results. Make sure to celebrate the victories along the way!

Creativity is such a crucial part of what we do. Let’s make sure we take the time to nurture it! What does your team do to foster creativity?

Here we go! Return to writing post-baby

Here I am again – behind my computer, staring at a blank document, a million thoughts flowing through my mind. It seems like I was in the same spot just yesterday, and yet, more than a year has passed since I pressed pause on my work in communications to take on a great new challenge – motherhood.

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My blank canvas…

The past 12 months have been a whirlwind. The laughs, the cries, the joys and the frustrations – it has been the most fulfilling and surprising time of my life.

Honestly, I never thought it would take me this long to get back here. As the passionate workaholic, schedule-obsessed person that I am, I had pictured myself on maternity leave enjoying time with baby while blogging frequently, keeping up with the latest trends in marketing and PR. I would finally have the time to enjoy some of the books and magazines that I had downloaded on my iPad but never got to reading. I would return to my early morning running routine within the first few months and start racing shortly thereafter…

Boy was I delusional!

My friends with kids used to tell me that things would change when I had a baby, but I never quite understood how much. Plus, I always thought that somehow I was the exception to the rule and that with my super juggling skills, I would be different. As I type out these thoughts, I realize how incredibly overconfident they were. The first months of motherhood were insane, and I had zero time to focus on anything but my baby girl.

And though things got easier and I definitely could have sat here before now, I chose not to. For the first time in my life, I chose to put the work and schedules on the back burner and let myself ‘unplug’ and get carried away by the amazing tiny person my husband and I had created. Days have been filled with feedings, diaper changes, play dates, Monkey Rock, picnics, walks, story time, swimming, etc. Down time consists of reading baby blogs, making homemade purées, assembling photo albums, consignment shopping and painting – things I never thought I would take such pleasure in.

This doesn’t mean I’m a changed person. Quite the opposite – I still think about work, writing and running, and I’m still a planning junkie. I do miss my career and I make plans for what’s next, but I have learnt to not let it consume me. I start every day with a million to-dos and I end it satisfied with the ones I have accomplished – something that was a foreign concept to me pre-baby.

So today I begin a new chapter: one where I slowly immerse myself back into writing, while continuing to live my awesome new #momlife.

I’ll still be blogging primarily about trends in communications, but I’m also going to include some reflections on finding a balance between motherhood and career – a topic that increasingly fascinates me as I begin my journey juggling both.

Here we go!

Let’s Take the “Corporate” out of Communications Writing

Today I attended an awesome Ragan Communications workshop on advanced writing and editing for corporate communicators with Mark Ragan (@MarkRaganCEO) and Jim Ylisela (@jpyjr). The day was jam-packed with advice, interaction, examples and materials. Here a just a few takeaways from a must-attend event for anyone that is writing comms materials.

(1) People don’t necessarily care about our stuff. There is so much competition and audiences are suffering from information overload. Your target’s attention span is shorter than ever, which is why your writing must distinguish itself from the “rest”.

(2) It’s time to get past all the corporate “boilerplate” stuff. You can tell when a piece has been written by committee. There are often too many approvers and too much meddling and negotiation. “We’re fighting all the wrong battles – the only battle we should be fighting is the battle for readership.”

(3) Out with the boring, in with the authentic. Your writing should be conversational, user-focused, visual and stripped of corporate speak. Inject personality into your writing to make something that is unreadable, readable.

(4) Our job has extended far beyond what it was. With organizations taking on a publishing role, we have a chance to really have an influence. Corporate communicators are brand journalists, advisors and teachers. On the other hand, “we have to stand up and make some noise” and go up against “the way we’ve always done it.”

(5) Simplicity and clarity is key. We need to be more human in our writing and stop listening to internal clients with misguided agendas. Good writing is the way you talk with your family and friends. Your writing should be stripped of jargon and corporate speak.

(6) Write awesome headlines, leads and quotes. These should entice and pull in your readers. They should answer the question: “what’s in it for me?”. Headlines should be specific and sexy. There is no reason why they can’t look like the ones we see on newstands.

(7) If you don’t ask questions, you won’t get info. Sometimes we have trouble writing because we just don’t have good enough materials. So much of what we are writing comes from the top. We need to find out what it actually means to those that are coming to work everyday and inject life into what we are writing.

(8) Be a reporter in your organization. First, ask key questions: What’s the urgency? Is it worth our audience’s time? Who are the key players? What are the big issues? How do I get plugged in? Follow the paper trail and get info on the history and context to produce a richer story.

(9) Show me, don’t tell me. Use examples and people in your stories. Take something abstract and show readers what it actually looks like. Find a human in your organization that we can care about and root for.

(10) Packaging matters. Think about the best way to convey your material. Photos, infographics, videos, quotes and different formats can add value to your writing and make it more interesting. Make sure to look at all the different ways you can use to get people’s attention.