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The pursuit of perfection: can good enough ever be good enough in comms?

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The pursuit of perfection: can good enough ever be good enough in comms?

Last year, New Scientist ran a front-page feature, entitled The Perfection Trap.

It brought to light the “hidden epidemic” of sky-high expectations and impossible demands we are placing on ourselves and others. Their study showed perfectionism has increased significantly in the last 30 years, fuelled particularly by millennials ‘living their best life’ and craving the ideal body, career or social circle.  Nowhere is the quest for faultlessness more acutely apparent than in the comms world.

Almost without exception, comms professionals are slaves to perfecting their output – whether that’s words, pictures, video, design or websites.  Rarely is good enough considered good enough. A misplaced comma, broken link or minutely out-of-sync voiceover can be enough to cause sleepless nights.  Unsurprisingly, all this is not doing us much good. We are plotting a destructive course on a mission impossible that threatens to cave in our mental health.

Last year’s Opening the Conversation report by the PRCA found nearly nine out of 10 comms professionals had struggled with mental wellbeing in the last year. So pretty much all of us. The CIPR’s State of the Profession report showed that unrealistic expectations from colleagues and clients were one of the leading factors in causing stress at work.

So, can we fight this irresistible urge to drive ourselves – and others – to distraction over seemingly small things? Here’s three mantras to try and ease the pursuit of perfection.

  1. Accept where you are and what you’ve got – the book, The Chimp Paradox, explains that a classic way in which perfectionists torture themselves is by starting from where they want to be and with what they want to have. In other words, our desire to be the best means we don’t accept our current circumstances or level of resources and so are doomed to fighting a constant losing battle. Living more in the pragmatic present, and not an unobtainable utopia, is a good start for breaking free from the perfection trap.
  2. Momentum can be more important than perfection – here at Alive, we refreshed our website last year. It was a long time in development, and we went back and forth, tweaking and editing, trying to get the perfect product. It reached a point, though, where getting it live was more important than it being perfect. And the feedback and conversations it has created has completely justified this. Does everyone want to talk to us and ask us about wrestlers? Yes. Does anyone ask about the double-space on our Contact Us page? No. Getting stuff out there and building momentum and visibility is so vital in comms. Those paralysed by perfectionism are going to get left on the blocks.
  3. There is always a next time – one of the more painful comms conflicts we face is that our output is often so high, yet so our standards. By any sane logic, these two factors are incompatible – quantity over quality rarely produces award-winning results. But what such rapid turnover also means is that the opportunity to right a wrong or improve next time is never far away. In the absurdly accelerated world of social media, this can even be within seconds. Sure, the impact of a misplaced word or meaning can have far-reaching impact, but, on the whole, each bit of our output simply provides an opportunity for learning and improving next time around.

So, is this concept of ‘settling’ for anything less than perfection leaving you feeling uncomfortable?

Can good enough ever be good enough?

Given the disturbing mental health trend in comms, we need to start by giving each other a break.

None of us are perfect, so, really should we expect everyone else to be?


We’d love to hear your thoughts or experiences on this topic. Tweet us at @alivewithideas or email us

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Emily Stoten — Head of Marketing, Selecta

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Sobha Varghese — Tata Consultancy Services

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DR ELENI ATHANASAKOS, Lead Paediatric Clinical Scientist — NHS Barts Health

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Kath Evans — Director of Children’s Nursing at Barts Health

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Lianne Springer — Communications and Engagement Lead

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Louise Burnard, Head of Marketing and Communications UK — Be | Shaping the Future

“I think the team have done such a brilliant job, particularly with responding to our requests. It's one of the best mental health videos I've ever seen. Very proud to be associated with your exemplary work. Thank you so much.”

Dr Anna Batho — Clinical Psychologist – Critical Care, UCLH

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Georgia Beech — Internal Communications Specialist, Ocado Group

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Sarah Wright, Head of Communications and Campaigns — NEA

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Alana Khaytin, Communications Specialist — Braskem America

“What I really appreciate about Alive is that they work with us as partners, and care as much about getting it right for our patients as we do.”

Sara Langston, Patient Engagement & Marketing Manager — italk

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Steph Tranter, Hybrid Exec Coach & Psychologist —

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Alexander Mills, Communications Manager — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“Alive were professional, friendly and great to work with. Most importantly they were creative, helping us to bring an extremely important safety campaign to life.”

Jack Grasby — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“The (Alive) team were able to creatively pull together and document (in just over 2minutes) everything our service has achieved over the last few months, from thousands of prescriptions deliveries to hundreds of phone calls made to the vulnerable. The final product was so powerful and reflective of what our service has and continues to achieve. It couldn’t have been better received within the service – thanks Alive for once again helping us to communicate our vision!’”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire & Rescue

“We worked with the team at Alive to create our staff recognition video.
At a time like this, its never been more important to share the amazing work that our staff have done and continue to do on a daily basis under very difficult circumstances. We wanted to shout about this and recognise that when the time came, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue stepped up to the plate. We didn’t want an ordinary thank you post on social media or a basic email sent out internally, we wanted something special. Enter Alive. ”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

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Jack Ford, Head of Marketing — streamGO

“Our company is fun, we have great brands, but most importantly we’re all about our people – and I wanted an agency who would understand that and help us bring it to life through our website and other comms. Straight away I felt that Alive ‘got’ us and provided the creative inspiration exactly where we needed it, as well as the technical expertise to deliver a well-functioning website.”

Keren McCarron, Head of Corporate Affairs & Communications — KP Snacks

Thank you so much. Incredible work done at incredible speed by incredible people.
Outstanding work as ever and what a turnaround. As for the concepts – wow. These are that good it would be an insult to describe them as just good. It’s a joke, quite frankly. This is exactly the Alive effect I was after. Right now I feel like I am living in an Alive With Ideas wonderland. Thank you!”

Jack Grasby, Campaigns Manager — SYFR

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Amy Lilja, IC Manager — Hennepin Healthcare

“Alive were there to help when we were working every hour to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. They gave us the creativity, ideas and support we needed to deliver campaigns which empowered our residents in the most difficult time most of us have ever seen, personally and professionally. The team understood what we needed, worked closely with us and delivered fast without any compromise on quality. Working with Alive has been a joy in the darkest of times and I have no doubt will have helped to save lives. Thanks team x”

Julie Odams, Assistant Director of Communications & Customers — Derbyshire County Council

“We got 'Alive' involved to help us shift mindsets across our organisation and they delivered! Using simple, clear and creative ideas the team have delivered us a campaign which has seen a dramatic increase in idea sharing and development. They’ve also played a significant role in creating a culture of shared success. I wouldn’t hesitate to work with again, in fact, we already are!”

Gavin Buckle — B&Q
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