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12 Oct. 2018 | Comments (0)

In this “Executive Series,” Pat Stortz, head of internal communications at AT&T, shares experiences from her 16+ years developing and executing PR and employee communications strategies at AT&T.

Is it possible to be truly creative when you work for a company the size of a small city—the kind of place where you throw a great idea out there, only to have your peers and/or bosses take aim and shoot the sucker right out of the sky? 

  • Land of a thousand nos
  • Death by a thousand (copy) cuts
  • Killed in committee.

We’ve all seen a movie where one production company lawyer with power has gutted the story, vacuumed out its most noteworthy content and left you with a piece utterly devoid of language that could remotely be called interesting or compelling. And we’ve all coped, at one time or another, with the gaggle of middle managers who all want a piece of your copy, and who all think they actually have a say.

In those situations, what recourse do you have?

I can think of three instances where we absolutely must exercise creativity if we’re to call ourselves first-rate professionals:

Writing I don’t know how else to say this. Nearly every time you put pen to paper—or fingertips to keyboard—you have the opportunity to create a compelling story, a story like no other, a story that our employees (or customers, if you’re in a business unit) want to know about. Do we all believe this? I’m not sure. Are there writers in our organizations who understand this? Absolutely. Do I continue to see copy that is camouflaging a great story, just by the way it’s been written? Yes, I do. But, I also see great progress on the team as we hurl ourselves into the art of true storytelling.

Consider this example: One of our media relations managers (we’ll call her Jan) takes a press release and from it crafts a healthcare pitch that grabs the interest of a Wall Street Journal reporter who we’ve been trying to engage for—count them—MORE THAN TWO YEARS. I don’t believe the release alone would have gotten us there and neither did Jan. From pitch to healthcare trend story, because Jan knew the intended audience and wrote something that caught the reporter’s interest.

The story search—and then the capture Have you found the story that needs to be told? Did you start looking? Are you looking in the right places, talking to the right people? Are you putting out an ask, using the tools and communities at your disposal?  There are countless workers toiling away at companies in the United States alone. These people are employees. Believe me, there are tales to be told. Use creative solutions to finding that one story that can capture the hearts, minds or imagination a company’s workforce.

The initiative no-one else has thought of This one may be the most difficult, because two cultural forces run very strong in most companies:

  1. Competing workloads
  2. Fear of trying the unknown and untested.     

But, in the moment when that great idea flitted into your mind, only to be dismissed with the thought “forget it, no-one will approve it,” you may well have given up on a real opportunity. There has never been a better time to think about doing something breakthrough. If you don’t ask and you don’t try, you’ll never know.

Believe me, I understand the challenge of being a right-brain in a company filled with engineers and other assorted left-brainiacs and the legal review process and other approvals do, in fact, have their rightful place (this is another topic for another day). But if any of us have been guilty of walking away from creative possibilities, I would just ask:  What haven’t you explored today?  And, more important, if you really want to make a good idea happen, how can you get it done?  The second question is more important, because results are what count and you can’t achieve a result, unless you’ve figured out a way to realize your idea, which may be a journey in creativity unto itself.

Last point: You’re not alone. If you really want to take a jaunt with another creative professional who worked in a demanding corporate culture (Hallmark), download a copy of Gordon McKenzie’s Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace. I promise you, you’ll see yourself in these pages!

If you can relate to any of this and/or have a story to share about how you were able to get something creative done in your company, agency or institution, I’d love to hear it!

  • About the Author:Pat Stortz

    Pat Stortz

    As the head of employee communications, Pat Stortz leads a core team of 40 professionals responsible for engaging 280,000-plus employees worldwide with the company’s corporate and business unit …

    Full Bio | More from Pat Stortz


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