Speed is a risk. I know this well; I am married to a professional Superbike Racer. My husband, Kevin, is a speed junkie and raced Superbikes for the past 10 years. We know the exhilaration… and the danger. In Superbike Racing, you may think speed is what wins, but like all races, speed is only part of it; planning, strategy, equipment, teamwork and conditioning are just as important to winning the race and completing it safely.
I have worked in PR and communications my whole career, a bit mundane compared to Superbike Racing, but spoiler alert; I haven’t had to retire because I crashed into a wall. Yet today, communications is moving faster than ever, and sometimes with catastrophic results.
The speed at which technology is advancing and business is moving is pushing how we communicate to hazardous levels. Even in communications, without proper planning, strategy, tools, integration and systems, we may be next to hit the proverbial wall. I suspect for some of the communications catastrophes of 2017 — from Sean Spicer to the Equifax breach — speed above all played a negative role. Security breach reports, misinformation, fake news, hateful rhetoric or tweeting without thinking all seem to be consequences of reckless speed to be first to share the news, facts be damned.
I fear the fallout will affect our notions of quality and truth around what we do, how we sell and who we are. The blame is on all sides of the equation: businesses, reporters, politicians and consumers all wanting to be first to “win.”
As a communications agency partnering with organizations to communicate internally and externally, we observe the demands and feel the pressure to move quickly. As organizations speed up development, advance products and leverage new technologies, they expect communications to follow suit. News is delivered faster, more often and on more channels. But that often means more mistakes, retractions and corrections.
So, how does the communications function keep up with and maintain quality and truth?
- Partner and listen to outside counsel — hire people outside the organization to provide a different perspective. Often, the work “has to get done” and the folks inside the organization are moving too fast to consider the full context of what is going on around them and what approach should be used.
- Integration and operational excellence support speed and accuracy. Chaos is never a good environment for quality communication. Understanding how to work effectively as an organization and with your partners can speed up your ability to disseminate news accurately. This includes clear roles and responsibilities, approval processes, fact checking, distribution and response readiness.
- You know the saying, “We never have time to plan but seem to have time to do it twice.” This is ultimately more time-consuming and costly. No matter how fast you must move, a plan is important, including agreement on objectives, strategies, tactics, metrics and vulnerabilities.
- Agree to an iterative approach. To keep from spinning out of control, take small, collaborative steps that move a project quickly through development and approval while providing the needed check and balances along the way.
- While things move at lightning speed around you, consider trial and error as a strategy. It may be impossible to know the success rate of a new distribution tool, but speeding to be the first to buy and use something can backfire with a lack of ROI. Piloting and experimenting are part of the new normal. Testing something on a small scale can provide the security needed to avoid making big mistakes when things are moving fast.
My husband was in first place when he hit the wall going 110 miles an hour. He can’t quite explain why, but believes he went into the turn too aggressively and should have taken care of that “sticky” throttle that was plaguing his bike. He was injured and retired.
Safety and security are at risk when we speed. Fast moving communications need guard rails, or we may pay with profound mistakes, damaged reputations and early retirement.
This piece originally appeared on Wye Communications’ blog, Against the Current. It was written by Erica Swerdlow, Chief Executive Officer of Wye Communications. With more than 25 years of experience working in public relations, Erica’s expertise includes managing corporate reputation, brand marketing, celebrity and event management, media relations and agency operations and integration. Find out more about Wye Communications at http://www.wyecomm.com/.