Tag Archives | communication

1st year in business

It’s soon been a year since Ambaurora Communications was registered and I completely changed the direction of my working life. From life crising chaos to some sort of clarity and direction – here’s why I did it (and what the transition has done for my life quality).

My friend P has lots of qualities.

Shutting her mouth isn’t one of them.

Thus, when I was about to start working in the same company that I had been consulting for (through the agency that was my employer back then), she said: ”You’re extremely good at what you do. Why don’t you just start consulting on your own instead?”.

The thought had crossed my mind several times, but I always managed to come up with excuses for myself: ”I don’t have enough money”, ”I’m not so fond of the people pleasing and oozing and smooshing that comes with it, I don’t know if I can deal with those parts of consulting”,  ”I’ve struggled so hard to achieve my current title, who would I even be if I started from scratch all over again?”. As you probably figured out, there was really no ending to my excuses.

So I continued on the path I was on. I changed from PR Consultant at the PR bureau to a role as Communications Manager at a listed company.

And it was fun!

Parts of the job really included everything that made me tick: tight deadlines, lots of adrenaline and pulse, a tight and fun team where I was fortunate to work closely with both management and the board of directors. It might perhaps not seem like such a big deal, so to understand it, you might have to add to the equation the small town, Jakobstad, where I grew up.

Things are changing over there now, but when I grew up, working within communications and large listed companies weren’t even on the map. It just wasn’t. f you were female and lived in Jakobstad, instead you were most likely to end up working as a cashier or customer advisor at your local bank, or perhaps work at a boutique or clothing store. This is of course not the truth about Ostrobothia and Jakobstad, but to the younger version of myself, back in the days: these seemed to be the only options if you stayed.

I still remember the day when I moved to Stockholm. It was a professional milestone for me.

For the first time in my life I was now able to conduct work and speak my own mother tongue! Had I kept living and working in Finland, I would have been forced to continue being someone else. (Or at least that’s what it feels like when you’re a Finnish Swede forced to speak Finnish at work). It’s just not the same thing and while working in Helsinki, I always felt as if half of my personality went missing everytime I tried to make myself understood in Finnish at work. That is: every day.

That was a little throwback. Now we’re going to jump back into 2017 again. So there I was then. Thriving at my new work, although 2013-2017 had been rough years for me. I had struggled to get my degree while still working 40 percent, I had broken up from a long relationship, moved into a new apartment, gotten the job at the PR bureau and so on. Quite a lot of changes. Positive changes, but still they take their toll on you.

More and more often, I found myself fantasizing about another kind of work life. Yet, I felt ashamed for doing it. I felt stupid. Why on earth had I been working so hard for what I had back then only to realize it no longer appealed to me? I didn’t know.

Then – very long story short as I’ve written about it before – things got really bad at work. I found myself in a situation I could no longer turn a blind eye to, got burnt out and whether I wanted or not, I realized I was actually sick.

I needed a break.

During this time not only was I forced to rest and start rebuilding my body and soul again, I also had to go through that soul searching hell that comes with that kind of crisis.

 

Who was I? No fucking clue anymore without my title. Outside of work – what did I like to do? No one knew, turned out that I had not been doing anything else lately.

What did I feel like doing? Nothing. Unless you count staring into the ceiling or watching old episodes of Melrose Place (they just don’t make great, crappy tv like that anymore!).

In order to make this post bearable for you, I will fast forward some processes for you here and get to the part where I decided to quit my job as communications manager.

And yup. I was crazy enough to do it while I was too sick to either think or work. Please note: I’m not writing this in order to include it as some pathetic ”strategic communication” part of the story. This just happened to be the way it turned out for me. I believe life does this for you. There’s signs and possibilities everywhere, but you must also act upon them. You must shut down all of those internal “what if” and “but wait a minute…” that you love to comfort yourself with. They are not going to get you anywhere.

Headhunters started to get in touch with me. I should have been flattered but all I felt was panic. All I knew was that I simply could not see myself going back to a corporate environment. At least not as an employee. I did not know how to dream anymore at this point of my life, but if I could have done it I guess I would have dreamed about freedom and some sort of balanced control in my life. I would have dreamed about bouncing back again and being able to feel happiness and professional fulfillment.

I didn’t know how to dream so I went for a more practical route instead. Took a course on how to get started with your own business, got the paperwork done. Then I panicked when I realized what I had just done. Then I panicked a bit more when I realized I was not well enough to get started as soon as I would have hoped.

Thus, even though I formally got my company started last spring, it would take until the end of the year until I started to be in shape to kick things off and get going as I wanted to. (Not that I did not work during the time i between, cause boy, has there been work to be done!).

 

Shitty strategies and USP’s – lessons learned

How to find clients


I’m still a newbie in this game, so I’m not going to take on any role of a business coach here, but at least I’ve learned one thing for certain: my way of getting customers differs a lot from the ”traditional” kind of way.

Sure, just like anyone else, I’ve got this site you’re currently visiting so you can find further information (if that’s what makes you tick). I also keep several social media accounts and hold myself accountable for also posting on these on a regular basis. Not to mention that I want to interact with others in these channels too.  However, getting clients has typically happened through the most strange and spontaneous meetings in the most unexpected environments! Sure, I’ve done my share of email pitching as well – and actually gotten results – but one of the biggest lessons for me has undoubtedly been that I must relearn to trust myself. I must learn to have faith in the fact that my weird personality combined with my professional experience is actually my strongest USP. Not trying to produce lame, clean cut mainstream posts that fits into society’s norms.

Perhaps you’ve also always felt like you don’t fit in? Perhaps you’ve also always been told that you’re too much and that you want to much and that you should have lower ambitions?  Too driven and yada, yada, yada. Even though you might have a thick skin, hearing this all of the time – whether applicable or not or just coming from someone jealous – in the end it gets to you of course.

It got to me too. And so during my first year, I’ve done my share of trying out different strategies. Both IRL and online. Needless to say: trying to enter into some “neutral business version” of yourself is a shitty strategy. Don’t waste your time on it. My advice to both you and myself for that matter, would have to be to stop taking yourself so damn seriously.

Take your work seriously and make sure you deliver on time. Forget about trying to fit yourself into some well thought out business costume or persone. You already know the answer: you’re too much of a human for it. It won’t fit.

 

You will be too much for some of your friends and co-workers

Sadly, your first year in business will also have some people come clean. Even though you will be struggling and there won’t be so much for your peers to be jealous about in the beginning, jealousy will arise. Isn’t it funny how people these days love to like, love and comments famous entrepreneurs post and initiatives? In reality, your changed career path will be too much for some of the persons you might have considered friend or at least industry connections. The good ones will stay. The bad ones will find you embarrassing to deal with and try to pretend they don’t know you anymore. You can not count on their support.

But on the other hand…

 

The Law of Attraction effect

Changing my career while also working hard on changing and improving my own mindset has brought amazing people into my life this year. Daring to post uncomfortable texts, posts and updates has given me an even thicker skin and helped me sort out my own way forward. I know it sounds like the oldest cliché in the world, and you might not feel like it at all, but please try to give this “trust the process” thing a go.

 

Which leads me to the next lesson:

 

Keep going (especially when you feel silly)


I feel silly most of the time. I may be recovered physically from my burnout, but the emotional scars are still there. Ready to bleed at the most inconvenient times. This is however not a rational feeling.

The rational, professional part of myself already knows this. But I believe we have to tell ourselves to keep going at least maybe 100-150 times per week.

For example: I got my first paycheck as a writer when I was 13. I’m 32 now and every time I hit a “publish” button on the web, I still have to fight my urge to run into the closet and hide. This is not a rational behaviour, but who said humans are rational? I try to battle back.

So I keep going.

The good part? Every time you conquer yourself, there will be results. It may not look like you intended it too. That blog post you wrote may turn out completely different from that perfect image you had of it. Still: you wrote it. It might not be trending this instant, but perhaps within six months, your post might be exactly what someone else needed to read and provide you with an unexpected business opportunity.

In the end, it’s just like a workout. The ones that matter are the ones that get done. Simple as that.

 

 

 

 

 

Track your time

At some point on, you will of course feel the imposter syndrome creep up on you. You’ll feel lost as if you’re just pretending to “play business”, especially when working on the more creative parts of your business. Use Toggle to track your time!

Not only will you see that you’re not at all playing around, but you’ll also get a realistic grip on how much time certain tasks do require. This will give you an advantage when you prepare your tenders and you’re able to set your rates and calculate hours in a more business focused way.

Remember and repeat – it’s your business. Not a hobby project.

 

 

Life

What about that life quality I mentioned in the beginning then? Well, thank you for asking. I used to live in order to work. Nowadays, I actually have a life too. It’s worth mentioning here as I’m by no means the only one suffering and recovering from a burnout.

With regards to recovery and coping strategies, those are a chapter of themselves, but somehow I’ve slowly, slowly managed to experiment and find a work rhythm that works for me. Turns out, I do some of my best work on Saturdays or Sundays, which no longer needs to be an issue as I can plan my workload in accordance with my natural rhythm. Mondays are no longer anxiety for me as I’m not forced to sit through painful meetings and have no control over my work week. Instead, I prefer to start my week by having a slow Monday.

I find that this is what works best for me. Enough sleep, a sweaty workout at the gym or a long walk to get fresh air and circulate my creativity – these are typically the elements that I like to include on a Monday morning. It does not necessarily mean that I will be slow-tuning all day, on the contrary. But relieving my brain from all the unspoken and invisible requirements of how a Monday is ”supposed” to get started, that I used to have in a corporate environment, has truly worked wonders for my productivity and overall wellbeing.

I might just call P someday and tell her she was right.

/Malin

0

“Stop acting as an accessible support function”

© Malin Strandvall

February put Sweden on the map again. And for positive reasons, as an important research study (conducted between 2014-2018) by the Department of Strategic Communication at Lund’s University was published: “The communicative organisation”. With over 8,000 respondents participating in a quantitative survey study as well as 170 individuals in the qualitative part of the study – the large amount of empirical material makes this study unique within the current field of communication research.

I’ll be honest with you: since I graduated and got my Bachelor in Swedish and Communications Management 2014, I haven’t exactly cared so much to stay in touch with the academic area or what’s been going on over there. However, when I noted this research report last week I figured that now would probably be an excellent timing to try and stay updated. Perhaps the same goes for you too?

If that’s the case, then just keep reading and you’ll find a recap of – what I thought – were the most interesting parts from the study, as well as some thought and reflections of my own.

First things first though. Yet another report? What’s the report about and what’s the rationale for investing so much time into researching communication? Shouldn’t there be more than plenty of material available already?

Apparently not.

According to the authors, so far, there have been few other research studies within areas such as strategic communications, corporate communications and organisational communication with the corresponding amount of empirical material (data).

Eleven Swedish corporations and organisations, among them furniture giant IKEA and construction company NCC, to name a few familiar names, have participated in the study. Thanks to the large amount of empirical data collected, the authors says it’s now possible to contribute with more ”nuanced knowledge about progress, shortcomings and challenges in the communication practices at our workplaces”. Also: It should be pointed out that the project has not only focused on communication managers and their view on things, it also included co-workers’ and managers’ perspectives.

The authors adds that a lot of studies within strategic communications tend to focus only on one group at a time.

The report is structured around seven ways of creating a “communicative organisation”. In this post however, I will not be including all of them. Rather I’m interested in continuing on some of the discussion topics raised in the report.

Without further ado, let’s dive into the most interesting findings!

 

Finding: Difficulties explaining and measuring the value of communication

© Malin Strandvall

If you’re working within communications, it probably doesn’t come as any surprise that communicators are struggling to explain the true value of their work and how it contributes to the organisation’s success to their co-workers. Still, only 10,4 percent of the respondents in the survey rated measuring and evaluating their efforts better as the most important improvement area, furthermore – only 0,6 percent of respondents said that they were also actively working on it.

Let’s pause here for a while. I have no reason to doubt the researchers, however, as I’ve got my own background mainly in listed companies I couldn’t help but wonder what these numbers would have look liked, had there been more listed companies involved in the study? Perhaps I would have been one among those 0,6 percent had I been in the study as well, as I don’t really recognize that lacking of measuring and following up on things.

On the contrary. I think this is instead something that we communicators tend to do a little bit too much sometimes. A lot of times there just too much focus on quantitative data instead of applying a quality focus. Obviously, this is just my personal opinion and experience of things. But going forward, I still hope we’ll see studies involving more listed companies as study objects, in order to gain further understanding.

One of the reasons I’m writing this is that already when I wrote my Bachelor’s thesis, I was annoyed by the large academic focus on researching municipalities rather than private companies. Obviously, it’s harder to gain access to private companies in order to conduct research, but in case we’re looking to find deeper knowledge and applicable models forward, I still believe we have to broaden the scope.

 

Finding: Future challenges

© Malin Strandvall

Which strategic areas are the most important from now on and until 2021? The following were listed:

1) Build and maintain trust

2) Link together the organisation’s strategy with its communication initiatives

3) Manage the digital development

Apart from the three topics mentioned above, the researchers also stresses the importance of these aspects:

  • new communicator roles and demands for increased competence
  • paradoxes and tensions
  • digitalization and artificial intelligence
  • reflection and further learning in order to reach excellence

 

My reflections on the findings in the report

 

Reflection: on roles and “mainstreaming” content….

© Malin Strandvall

As could be expected, several of the “normal” challenges we’ve already heard about a thousand times of course also popped up here: Managing digitalisation and AI. Time will have to tell what happens here, but one interesting aspect that I thought worth spending some time pondering about concerned several new communicator roles.

Obviously, for anyone working in or with communicators, that challenge is already here. Working on the inside can be frustrating. Especially if you work together with a counterpart (or parties) that does not understand the differences of different roles and responsibilities. Personally, I’ve thought a lot about how everything is talked about as content these days. Please read that the right way. Talking about content is of course nothing new to anyone of us anymore. That’s not what I’m getting at here.

However, the problems arise when we tend to start talking about EVERYTHING as content, regardless of the underlying communications discipline.

Let me give you an example of how this can be problematic. Let’s say organisation X has a problem. The root of the problem is not really a communications problem, but communication will still be an important part of that organization’s efforts to solve the problem. Organisation X gets to work and starts pumping out information. However, as they are lacking in certain important competences, the nature of the material that comes out may perhaps only be in the form of content marketing.

Nothing wrong with content marketing of course, that is, when that is included as one part of an integrated plan. A plan that also takes into consideration the challenges of working with complex targets groups, for example investor relations. You simply can’t provide a potential investor only visionary market plans and colorful press images, you will have to add much, much more substance, numbers, proof points and results.

I fear that by only talking about “content” as we tend to do these days, we are more and more missing the important and underlying knowledge areas. We’re more and more forgetting about the different roles and competences required, the ones that are absolutely crucial in order to actually create and produce the content later on.

 

Reflection: The draining power of “invisible” work

© Malin Strandvall

One of the findings discussed in the study was that as many as 60 percent of managers and 25 percent of communications themselves thought that too much resources were invested into communication, in relation to the actual results.

Considering that the study also found that managers and co-workers mostly thought of communicators and their competence from a technical perspective (communicators work with digital channels and media relations) perhaps these numbers are not so surprising.

A simple analysis from my perspective is that a contributing aspect here most likely must be the difficulties of measuring all of the invisible work that is put in during a normal day as a communicator. For example: continuously managing and coordinating projects and activities is a typical example of a task that nobody would ever expect to take so much time. Yet, it’s something that all communicators do. When its functioning, nobody thinks about things being ”managed or coordinated”. As soon as the project management fails however, that’s when the pure value of those invisible efforts are shown…

Supporting, educating and coaching managers, management and other co-workers is another invisible aspect. There are lots of “invisible” requirement put upon communicators in organisations. A problem here is that sometimes these working norms are so familiar to us that we don’t even realise our own behaviours. To this, I don’t have any solution to present, but as always, insight is the first step towards changing. 

In combination with a work sector that is not always aligned with reality. I think we also ought to talk more about roles. Roles and work processes will always be integrated to some extent of course – but if you are hiring someone to write, but in reality the conditions at work are such that this person instead ends up coordinating things non stop, then that is of course where part of the desired results end up too.

Conclusion

How are we supposed to solve these issues then? The authors does not claim to have all the answers of course, but at least leave us communicators with a good piece of advice: Be in charge of the communications development and stop acting like an accessible support function!”.

Have you read the report? If so, what did you think about it? Did you agree with the findings or do you have completely different experiences? Would be interesting to hear your thoughts!

 

/Malin

PS. In case you want to read the study and learn more, you can find all of the material (in Swedish) on the Swedish Communication Association’s website: https://sverigeskommunikatorer.se/fakta-och-verktyg/forskning/kommunikativa-organisationer/

­

0

Don’t underestimate the power of your ”invisible” channels

Customer events are an often forgotten, almost invisible communication channel. In the digital era we’re all living in and navigating through right now, it’s easy to forget the most powerful tool and channel of them all – the personal meeting.

Last week I had some interesting discussions with a prospect and we ended up talking about the impact of events. It’s not the first time, neither will it be the last time I’m talking about this topic, because it seems it’s a never ending discussion. Or to be more to the point: what the actual value of hosting an event is.

Good example of a successfull customer event: American Express inviting their customers to Stockholm Fashion Week. Photo: Johan Sjöberg

It’s understandable though, as hosting events won’t always get you those immediate results you and your team might be dreaming about. Most likely – you’ll receive lots of soft values, while the digit version you’re longing for might be delayed for quite some time. In my experience, a lot of times this is what makes people, also us communication professionals, forget about the importance of including the personal meeting into the calculation as well. In case you’re in the middle of finalizing your communications plan for 2019 right now, don’t forget to include customer events and personal meetings with your stakeholders in it!

Lacking inspiration? Tired of trying to come up with practical ideas?
Search no more! Here’s three ideas for your meetings this year:

  • Arrange a tour or a road show – this might of course sound a little bit cringe, but please keep reading. A lot of time, your audience might very well like the quality of your products or the level of service your company provides. However, the reason that they still don’t give a damn about your various ”professional” initiatives is just that. It is too professional, and not personal enough. In case you are in a spokesperson role in business today, you’ll need to shift your perspective on things and be prepared to be available not only 9-5, but also during evenings and weekends. You also need to be prepared to share at least something about yourself that will make people relate to you somehow!  Arranging a tour or a road show is not only a great way to gain experience, get lots of opportunities to gather valuable content for your continuous updates but most of all: you will get the opportunity to meet and greet with the people. You know, the audience you think you know. As you will understand as soon as you meet them though: No, you don’t and that’s why you need to get out of the office every now and then.

 

  • Provide actual value in conjunction with your event – on a low budget? See what kind of games or mingle activities you could try to squeeze in before or after your event. Remember: most of your customers/visitors/audience are obviously not coming to your event just for the pure fun of it. They want to leave and feel smarter in some way, whether it would be by connecting to someone new, learning something useful or perhaps just receiving a useful giveaway. Today, I visited Stockholm Fashion Week. At the moment, I have no connections whatsoever to that event, but one of my business contacts had gotten tickets through his American Express membership. I thought this was a very nice and inspiring perk that they arranged for their customers. Including not only the fashion show, but also drinks and mingle opportunities with lots of interesting people, this was also a great example of an event that really provided value in several ways for us guests. Way to go American Express!

 

  • Engage and include your audience as co-creators – nowadays, there’s lots of great apps that you can use in order to quickly create collective, graphic material, such as Menti for example. If possible, try to engage with your audience already a couple of days before your next event in order to prepare relevant (and good looking!) infographics, data charts that you can use in your presentation. By including your audience as co-creators, they too are more likely to share what they created with their network.Also: do engage with them while they are visiting you! Put away Instagram and focus on the human in front of you instead. Encourage your audience to tag you in their updates and make sure you do stop by their accounts to leave a like and a kind comment if they do. (You would think that this is common sense already these days, but unfortunately, for a lot of corporations it’s just not). Practice what you preach and do remember that you just never know whom you migh end up working for or together with in the future. Remember that in order to receive, you have to give as well.

PS. These are just a couple of examples of what might be good to do or bear in mind when you’re planning your trust building activities. Feel like brainstorming more about what could be done to improve your activities this year? Please feel free to get in touch.

/Malin

 

 

 
0