Posted by: Kristen Ridley | September 3, 2010

Welcome to the big top!

clownI attended a “Social Media” event that was arranged by one of the local community colleges here in Toronto through their Corporate Communications & PR program.

Because it was arranged by a school, there were lots of Communications and PR students, as well as recent grads in attendance, i.e. lots of people you would expect to be younger, fresher, and more idealistic than the “seasoned” practitioners in the group.

As I walked into one of the sessions, I heard a young woman speaking to her friend. Here’s what she said:

“Well, I finally had to decide – it was either PR, or the circus.”

I just couldn’t help myself. I looked her straight in the eye and replied: “Actually, they’re virtually one and the same, so you’d have been good either way.”

This overheard conversation didn’t happen recently, but it DID happen just exactly the way I report it there. It’s one of my favourite stories about the odd but interesting career I’ve chosen, because it really is true! Being a communicator or a public relations person IS very much like joining a circus. Don’t believe me?

In the circus there are a million things going on behind the scenes that seem to be unrelated and random, and yet they all come together at showtime and appear effortlessly successful.

In the corporate world, there are also always a million things going on that seem unrelated and random, and yet somehow we pull them all together just in time to launch the employee publication, or get that news release approved and out on the wires.

In the circus there are lots of dangerous, wild animals all over the place that you have to be careful and respectful around to stay safe.

In the corporate world, you have competing interests, power-struggles, and office politics that you have to be careful and respectful around to get things accomplished.

In the circus, people walk on high wires way above the ground without a net, while riding a bicycle, jumping up and down, and even walking on their hands, to the hushed awe of the crowd!

In the corporate world, a communicator frequently has to navigate often conflicting, seemingly impossible demands from multiple stakeholders to try to communicate honestly and effectively with our audiences [and if you think trying to get all the necessary approvals on a cross-functional corporate message ISN’T like performing Swan Lake on the high wire, then you’ve obviously never done it!]. And, okay, I probably don’t generate “hushed awe” when I manage all this stuff in corporate, but other communicators recognize what an accomplishment this can be – and hey, you take what you can get you know?!

In the circus, the show is choreographed carefully, taking into careful consideration who needs to be where and when, and how each act must work together for the show to be perfect.

In the corporate world, you need to have IT on your side to make sure the technology of a mass communication will work properly, HR’s agreement that nothing you’re saying will get anyone into trouble, and the management team thoroughly briefed on the initiative and ready [more importantly, willing!] to talk about and support the messaging with their employees once you have released it. [After almost 15 years of doing this kind of thing in a variety of corporate environments, I’m pretty sure I’ve got now got what it takes to stage manage production on the Jersey Shore Housewives show – or whatever it’s called – I don’t watch reality TV.]

In the circus, you’ve got a bunch of clowns running around getting in everybody’s way, being silly, and stepping on everyone else’s toes.

Um, well, anyway . . .

I think you see my point here, which is there are a lot of similarities between the circus and corporate life.

But there’s one more similarity, and it’s actually the most important one in my opinion, which is why I saved it for last:

The circus is an exciting, diverse, and unpredictable experience that can be thrilling and magical if you approach it with the right perspective and willingness to work hard and be flexible [and I’m not just talking about the acrobats].

Corporate life can also be all of those things, which is WHY I’ve continued to work in corporate for the past decade and a half. I mean, let’s face it, if I didn’t love the challenges and the variety and the opportunities to really stretch my skills to do great work, I’d just be a clown, now, wouldn’t I? And I don’t look good in a big red nose [don’t bother asking how I know that either – this isn’t THAT KIND of blog, okay?!]

What do YOU compare communications with?

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Responses

  1. Great post, K!!! You did a great job of describing a communicator’s job. I was trying to think what I would compare communications with and I came up with motherhood. Balancing quite of a few items and egos you listed above but extra politics around neighbors, schools and school teachers, seeing five-year-olds figure out how to get along versus already splitting up into cliques, taking care of the house, the home chores, the hubby and his job (and all the drama that goes with it), and then, oh yeah, go to work and do the same thing with people who should know better but are sometimes worse. 😉

  2. It can feel a bit like politics to me.

  3. Susan: Great one! I’d forgotten [after years of trying!] about the school experience, but that’s another great comparison to the variety of stuff we communicators have to manage.

  4. Eileen: thanks for chiming in! Of course you’re absolutely right! There’s a lot of similarity to politics involved in working in a corporate setting . . . minus the campaign contributions, or the travel, unfortunately!

    Oh well, there’s always Swan Lake on the high wire if we’re looking for excitement, right? 😉


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