“Publications never gets any respect,” is a refrain I’ve heard over and over again during my time in the Technical Communications industry. In fact I’ve even said it myself a few times. The refrain is often followed by, “no one really understands what we do, or the value we provide.” The unfortunate thing is that in a lot of cases these refrains have some justification, but it needn’t be that way.
As an example over the years I’ve visited literally hundreds of publication teams in a variety of companies and industries, but one of my most striking memories is the sheer contrast between two publication departments at a couple of luxury car manufacturers.
At the first company, the documentation department had a nice modern office, in a new campus setting. They had all the latest computers and access to great technology. In the parking lot outside the publications office was a fleet of not only their own cars, but those of their nearest competitor. Any member of the publications team could use any of the cars, in exchange for filling in a small usability report. The publications team were a high profile part of the customer support organization and were considered by the marketing team as part of the product “life style” branding activities.
At the second company, the publications department was in an old hut (in fact it was an old coal bunker) at the back of the factory, far removed from the production line, engineering, or any other function it needed to interact with. Although cars were parked outside, the team had no access to them. They had only a handful of computers and their technology was at least five years behind their competitors. The sole mandate was to produce a small defined set of hardcopy manuals. And that’s all they did.
So why the difference? In short the team at the first company acted like they were part of the company and projected a positive image of their skills. As such they were recognized and rewarded. The team at the second company stuck to the “we are only tech writers,” approach. They were, in many ways, responsible for their own position.
So if you feel that your publications team is “in the coal bunker” – how do you change things so that you get the keys to the luxury cars?
The following presents a basic five point action plan to help you raise the profile of what you do and make your executives love the Publications Department.
1. Realize exactly what it is the Tech Doc team does. – Before you can raise your profile, you need to know what you have to offer. Chances are that most Publications teams have talents and skills that exist no where else in the organization, and I’m not just talking about the ability to write. Also most often the Publications team is the only place in a company where all the company’s intellectual property comes together. Publications isn’t about “producing user manuals,” it’s about managing your organization’s greatest asset – knowledge.
2. Tell a good story. – People react to stories on an instinctive level. It’s easier to remember stories than it is dry facts and figures. Publications is the natural bridge between the end user and the company design, engineering and production teams. Gather stories and tell them – repeatedly. Come up with your own stories that illustrate the importance, frequency and impact of your own work. Develop fun trivia about what Publications does that people will remember and repeat.
3. Offer your services for fun and profit – Develop an in-house user community, not just an external one. Look around for other functions that you could work with or offer your expertise to. Develop an entrepreneurial mind-set and you’ll find opportunities to transform publications from an overhead cost-center into a profitable contributor.
4. Hook an executive sponsor – Find an executive’s pet project that could need some creative input, e.g. a little wordsmithing, or some graphic design work, and get involved. While the work is progressing make sure to bring the executive into your environment, and show off what the publications team can achieve.
5. Change attitudes. – If you go around say “I’m only a tech writer,” or “publications never gets any respect,” then people will believe you and act accordingly. Be aware of what you do, what you can offer and be proud of it. Treat your team (even if it’s only you) as if it was your own business. Build brand awareness, market and promote what you have to offer, and sell yourself, your team and the profession.
Over the coming weeks I’ll take a expand on each of these and provide some examples and suggested strategies.