How Communications Professionals Can Navigate Ambiguity
As communications professionals, it’s extremely common for us to work in ambiguous situations. Whether you’re working on a fast-moving media opportunity or a project that’s still being defined, uncertainty is an everyday part of our roles – and it can make it challenging to be creative and proactive.
Working within a low-information environment doesn’t have to be a recipe for failure, though. The key is to approach ambiguity with a problem-solving mindset – what I like to refer to as “building your own house.” Typically, that means creating your own foundation, framework and guardrails for thinking about a particular project by filling in as many of the gaps as you can on your own. Here are a few practical ways to do so in your own work.
- Consider everything you would have on hand in an ideal situation. Coming up with creative ways to fully formulate an idea, pitch or piece of content starts with understanding where your gaps in knowledge lay – and it makes crafting an idea less overwhelming. Often, it’s surprising how many of the pieces are already in place. For example: It’s possible you already understand the industry landscape fairly well and just need a few final details or a subject matter expert’s perspective on the specific topic at hand. Consider what information your company or client has available and what may be easily gathered through online research.
- Focus on understanding the business or consumer value first. With a majority of media relations or content projects, the most important element to convey to an audience is the value, or the details that answer the question, “So what?” By pinpointing the value first, often the other elements of a pitch or piece of content start falling into place quickly.
- Lean on what you do know. Often communicators must move forward with media outreach amid evolving circumstances – for example, when they are announcing layoffs or a business acquisition. In these situations, it’s important to focus on simply sharing the information you have available now. Especially in today’s fast-paced business environment, most reporters understand that additional details are likely to be in the pipeline. Be as transparent as you can and acknowledge uncertainty in your communications if you receive questions about it.
- Remember that nearly everything can be learned online. Whether you’re working with a new technology, guiding your company as it expands into a new industry or simply working with subject matter with which you’re not familiar, you can learn about it online and a get a good sense of the key trends and issues. Many enterprise companies publish studies that pinpoint the current developments in their verticals, and these can be a great resource – for example, in the tech space you could review materials created by Accenture, Salesforce or Microsoft. Analyst firms like Forrester and Gartner offer fantastic research that can help frame your thinking on a topic. In addition, nearly every industry has a professional association or lobbying group that commissions research – these studies provide a starting point for understanding the industry and developing media outreach and content ideas.
- Don’t let fear keep you from bringing ideas forward. Consider your client or company’s brand voice, key target audiences and focus topics, but don’t be afraid to bring new ideas forward based on what you’re seeing in the media landscape or competitors’ content. Fear of being wrong is your biggest enemy in ambiguous situations. As communications professionals, we’re experts in content, media relations and stakeholder communications, but we typically aren’t subject matter experts on the industries in which we work. It’s expected that we need additional input and insight before we can develop strategies and put them into action. It’s possible that your ideas will evolve or get sidelined as a project moves forward, but it’s impossible for them to move forward at all if you never share them.
Ambiguity is a part of nearly every project in some aspect, but it doesn’t have to hold you back. When facing it, the most important thing to remember is to approach it with an intent to problem-solve and have a bias toward action.