When attention is scattered (aka always), you need creativity and persistence to get the message out.
Sometimes you need ridiculous as a communication strategy.
Sometimes trying to get your team buy in on something feels like…there’s something in the air that keeps them from actually hearing what you’re say but they pretend to listen because you’re the boss. And they like you.
It feels like a Black Mirror episode when you’ve said something thousands upon thousands of times and yet they still ask you….if the tip sheet template is in the tip sheet folder on Share Point, for example.
The thing is, people have to actually remember what you’ve communicated before they comply. Ridiculous can work as a communication strategy because it sticks to the brain.
At the The Southern C Summit last week, a conference for Southern creative business owners, I was bouncing in my seat with excitement for Elizabeth Mayhew’s talk about her career path.
Not only a phenomenal (= enthusiastic + helpful) speaker, she is Brand Editor for Reese Witherspoon’s Southern-inspired brand, Draper James and contributes regularly to the Today Show and The Washington Post.
She knows the power of ridiculous. In 2000, she used it to win the role of editor of the then new magazine, Real Simple.
Time Magazine launched the new publication in 2000 but the first few issues were not simple. They were cluttered, unremarkable and failing.
Ridiculous as a Communication Strategy
To communicate what she would do to the magazine, Real Simple asked her to mock up a cover and some articles that would represent her vision. Instead, Mayhew opted for ridiculous.
She went to the trouble to convert her own New York apartment into her vision of the magazine. Elizabeth first had to convince the person who would become her boss, to visit this vision in her own apartment.
She set out “mis en place” (a professional cook’s term for setting out all the ingredients for a dish before you start cooking it) to make a quick bread. She showed her potential boss, Susan Weiland, how easy it was to make this bread — actually mixing the ingredients in front of Weiland. She also demonstrated 3 different variations of this recipe.
She organized her closet to show a “real simple” uncluttered, color-coordinated closet to inspire readers.
She brought in flowers to elevate the look of her apartment. She spent $$ and a lot of time to pull the look together. It’s a great example of having skin in the game.
She went to ridiculous extremes in creativity and resourcefulness (& work) to share her vision of what this new publication would look like and feel like.
Soon afterward she was have to resort to ridiculous to get her new editorial team on board with her vision. She did so by creating a checklist for each article. Mayhew says, “It was like the AA 12-step program list of rules”. Her checklist of rules, unlike the one for recovering alcoholics, spelled out what was expected to communicate the vision for this new magazine.
For example, one rule was that everything had to be easy for the reader. Making things easy for the end-user usually means more work on the brand side.
Communicate ridiculous in a 12-Step Program
She made this list of “rules” to spell out who they were as a team and the vision for the publication.
I asked her how it was getting the new team aligned with the vision. She attributes her success to the checklist, but also to the endless repetitions of those rules through all possible channels.
Ways to Embrace Ridiculous as a Communication Strategy
- Come up with your own 12-step list of rules for your team (or maybe just 5 rules). What are you about? How do you want everyone to show up? What does your team as an amazing success look like? Put the list everywhere. And comply with ALL the rules yourself!
- Communicate through an unexpected channel. Answer an email with a phone call. Just walk into someone’s office. Write it in a letter.
- Be ridiculous in showing your team how much you care for and appreciate each person.
- Bring in a local celebrity to help communicate your message. That always gets attention. Local sports teams and politicians are somewhat easy sources for “famous folks”. (Low cost alternative is to bring them in through video.) Or get a C-suiter into your team meeting.
- Make up your own song — change the words to a popular song to communicate your message. And sing it.
- Wear something unusual (but not inappropriate!) Personally I have silver booties for these occasions. Along this same line, use unexpected props. I got this phone from Soviet-era Ukraine on Etsy.
- Get t-shirts made with the message. Give them to your team.
We use “ridiculous” to mean surprising or unexpected in a good way, not in a Kardashian way. Human brains really crave positive unexpected events and experiences. Think about the last time you were wow’ed with customer service. In a different context, Anthony Hopkins was so over-the-top successful in playing the monster, Hannibal Lecter. He played the opposite of what you would expect for an evil cannibal. Hopkins advises aspiring actors: Play the opposite (of what’s expected.) Now that’s ridiculous at its finest.
Both photos are by Aneris Photography.