Dissident Spin Doctor: Things I learnt in 2016
by Emma King (@EmmainSA) Jeepers, how much of a headache was 2016? I think I heard a pretty universal sigh of relief when we bid it goodbye, and I know I’m not the only one who’s hoping that 2017 will be kinder to us. And as usual, at this time of a new year, we hear a lot from experts telling us what the next big thing will be, and in which trends we should be investing our time, money and energy. But I have found it useful to spend time at the beginning of each year reflecting on what the last year taught me.
So, here, in no particular order, are some of the things from last year that I am taking into this one.
- Dissident Spin Doctor: Seven things I learnt in 2014
- The Dissident Spin Doctor: 10 things I learnt in 2013
It’s good to say no
As a business owner, it often feels as if you need to take any work that comes your way, especially when starting out and there’s still somewhat of a disbelief that anyone wants to actually pay you for anything. But two years in, with an established business, it feels good to have reached a solid place and an understanding that saying no to (some) business is the best thing to do.
I have learnt that the hard way. Taking on too much works on is exhausting and soul-destroying, and it often results in work that is not the best that can be done. That’s not just harmful for the employees and people involved but for the business itself.
Having the best people on your team is the most-valuable thing there is
We all know we need to get the best talent and keep them. This isn’t something new; I’ve always known it to some extent. But 2016 was the year in which this understanding was properly cemented for me, when we took on some big and complex projects. The success of these projects has not been down to me but purely because of the excellence and attitude of the team I brought in to work on them with me. It reminded me, again, that you can teach pretty much anyone skills but you can’t place a value on people who are keen, dedicated and focused on doing an amazing job (and, just as importantly, who can have a laugh along the way and join you for a relaxing drink when it’s all done).
Sometimes the random people you meet along the way turn out to be something special
I’ve always found that the interesting people are the unexpected ones you meet along the way. There’s an old adage about treating the little people well — you never know when that person who used to sweep the floors may turn out to be the CEO interviewing you one day. Yet I think it’s more than just about being nice to people in case they one day turn out to be your boss. The people you chat to on the sidelines may end up playing an important role in your life (and your business), or if nothing else, become interesting friends.
This holds true for someone I met many years ago, in an odd job, where the big cheese didn’t particularly like either of us, and we were sidelined — figuratively and even literally, in that we were ousted to the shitty end of the office. But, sitting in the sidelines, we formed a strong friendship and a solid mutual respect over many, many laughs and heart-to-heart chats. Fast-forward all these years later, we are both running our own agencies, and partnering together on big clients on some big projects, which are incredibly beneficial to both of our businesses.
The world will keep getting crazier
History shows us that human sentiment works like a pendulum, and I believe we are in phase where we are moving away from globalisation and the embracing of differences towards times of renewed paranoia and intolerance. Extreme times result in extreme actions, and worrisome comments and thoughts become mainstream. This will continue.
Thus there is a need for measured responses and a responsibility of business leaders and those in the communications industry to lead the way in a restrained and responsible manner. When chaos prevails, and politics and people’s perceptions are driven by those who yell the loudest, I’m personally pledging to ensure that anything my business is involved in works to contribute to a South Africa (and a world) that is built around commonalities rather than divisions.
But it’s not all gone to pot
In among the crazy, I do think there are little things that give us hope. The South African media is still free, and challenging, and strongly spoken. We have a strong constitution. Rhino-poaching numbers in the Kruger Park went down for the first year. Leonardo DiCaprio won an Oscar. Find little sparks of happiness where you may.
The biggest thing I learnt from 2016 was learning when it’s important to care, and when it’s important to let go. Sometimes in the middle of a crazy project, it’s hard to see the bigger picture. I tell that to the people in my office when they start to panic because the big-ass logo on a poster isn’t big enough or a client makes a last-minute request after everything has gone to print. It’s not the end of the world. No one will live or die because of what we do.
Keep that passion, and urgency, and worry for big things. Things that matter.
Emma King (@EmmainSA) is the owner and MD of The Friday Street Club (@TheFridayStClub). She is allergic to bad grammar and ampersands, but likes working her way through piles of novels and travelling the globe. She contributes the monthly “Dissident Spin Doctor” column on PR and communication issues to MarkLives.com.