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5 Reasons Why You Should do Useless Work

November 14, 2011

A client recently asked our team to draft a media release, which we knew wasn’t a great story. You know the sort: ‘yay, we won some obscure award/appeared on some list/appointed some new person!’.

My colleague asked if we should go ahead and write it, even if it wasn’t likely to get a run in the media (well, maybe a trade media mention), and I said yes, we should.

She looked at me with her dubious face. Surely, she reasoned, it’s not a good use of our time?

This is why I believe it was worthwhile:

1. It will keep our client happy. We shouldn’t say yes to everything, and of course clients want frank and fearless advice. However, save the ‘no’ for something that really matters, not for the things that require minimal effort.

2. It’s not all about media hits. A media release is also important for a client’s website and SEO. People hunt out media releases when they’re researching a company, so it’s an opportunity to showcase success in a format where you control the message.

3. You never know what will run in the media. Sometimes you think you have a cracker of a story, and you can’t get it to run for love nor money. Luckily, the opposite happens too. In fact, it happened to me last week: I wrote a media release and apologised to my team for the weak news angle (it was seriously the best I could do). We ended up getting massive interest from the financial services media, to whom it was targeted. Who knew?

4. Practice makes perfect. There’s always a lesson in any seemingly trivial task*. In this instance, it would give our new intern a chance to practice writing releases, and help my team member practice delegating and briefing in work. It also gave me a blog post to write. Everybody kicks a goal.

5. Never miss a chance to connect. The story needed input from one of the client’s senior executives – a person who is important to our relationship, but hard to pin down. This story – whatever its merits – gave us a reason to set up a call. We ended up covering important ground during the discussion, and set the scene for further meetings.

Of course, you need some balance here. You don’t want to write up every hare-brained idea your clients have, nor do you want to create a constant stream of crap that annoys journalists. But the key is to pick your battles.

Next time you’re asked to work on a questionable task, think about what hidden value it might deliver, whose ego it might stroke (let’s face it, that’s crucial to all success at work), and what the effort-to-outcome ratio will be.

*This is similar to Mary Poppins’ theory that ‘in every job that’s to be done, there is an element of fun’. I’m not totally convinced she’s right, but then I don’t have magical powers like she does.

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