Lucid Thoughts

Troublemaker or Troubleshooter?

Time was when I was a troublemaker (Def: 'someone who disturbs the peace and incites others to do so'.)  I'm not talking about  the Occupy movement or rioters (remember them?) No, I used to cause trouble with a constructive purpose. I would help clients and agencies to get the best from their communications by asking troublesome questions - 'So what are the measurable objectives?' 'What do you really mean?' 'Do you think the audience is going to believe that?'  'Is that a compelling story?'

But lately people seem to want troubleshooters rather than troublemakers; that is 'an expert detector and mender of any trouble'. It seems they are making quite enough trouble for themselves. What they need is someone to get them out of the do-do and preferably tout suite! Three examples in quick succession this year illustrate the point. Here they are (no names, no pack-drill):

An international company was running a set of events for their customers and channel partners. They also planned to hold a fun event for their sales people and one of the managers had come up with the idea of basing it loosely on a well-known TV format. So far so much fun. The trouble was he already had enough on his plate and he'd hit that wall sometimes referred to as 'writer's block'. In other words, he couldn't work out how to structure a complete show around the format. Cue the troubleshooter. In two days I had sat down with the client, talked through the show and created a framework that he could base the event on. A few days later, they were on site for the show.

A participating organisation at a well-known public event needed an idea for an installation. There were some stringent practical restrictions but yours truly worked with their agency and helped them develop an approach that pleased the client. Eveyone happy? Well, not quite.

The organisers of the event moved the goalposts. Well, actually they moved the entire pitch. So the client was now in an entirely different location with a very different ambiance. And at the same time the organisers changed the rules - well, not so much changed them as made up new ones as they went along! So, with time running out we had to start again with a clean sheet and come up with something completely new that the client likes. We are holding out breath and hoping the organisers do too!

A leading brand is about to exhibit at a premier international trade exhibition. They have a prominent stand, a press conference, hospitality, great products to display...the only thing they don't have is content for the stand. Nice screens but nothing to go on them. It seems that the senior execs are just too busy with everything else and there's nobody further down the line to brief the agency. So the agency call me in to help develop something that will provide the context, explain why the audience are looking at the displays and what this all means for the brand. I plunder a very good presentation that has been developed by another agency for the press conference, looking for clues and do my best to create something out of thin air. But, as I write I don't believe any of it has been signed off ... who knows what it will look like!

So is all this troubleshooting a sign of the times? The first example looks like a manager under too much pressure not involving the agency as much as he might have done, the second is just plain bad management (not by the client I hasten to add - they have been magnificent under very trying circumstances), and the third is a complete lack of communication with the agency who are tearing their hair out because, like all of us, they want to do the best possible job. I suspect that money or the lack of it might be a contributory factor but it's too easy to blame the economic climate. The fact is you only get out what you put in and troubleshooting will only get you so far whereas some early 'troublemaking' -ie. taking the trouble to get the ground rules right - ensures a much better long term result.

As I hurtled through space
2012: into the unknown