When I was younger I was involved in the mapping and ground verification of satellite images of a UNESCO biosphere reserve. This allowed me at the tender ages of 16, 17 and 18 to see, first hand, the methods and reasoning of world-class scientists. It was fascinating and offered me a glimpse into how two intelligent people can both be right while adamantly believing the other is wrong.
One hot summer day we were in a planning session, in a room cooled only by a small oscillating fan, and two of the scientists disagreed on a method. One of them became rather upset over the disagreement and made an impassioned case for her preferred method, outlining the consequences of using the other proposed method. At the end of her speech she stood up and left the room. After an awkward silence the other scientist sighed and said, “Jane needs to realize there’s more than one way to skin a cat.”
Horrified, I gasped and said, “why do we need to skin a cat?! Why would anyone ever do that?!” It was quickly explained that no cats would be skinned and that the phrase was an idiom that meant the problem had more than one acceptable solution.*
There’s More Than One Way to Do Digital “Right”
The proliferation of digital and social media is relatively new field when compared to that of traditional earned and paid media. The result is that as digital media strategists we have a lot of specialized information that isn’t always shared by others in our organizations. We are experts and aren’t often challenged from within, thus we can get stuck in the mindset that the only way to do digital media right, is our way. Any other way is “doing it wrong.”
We rarely see this, “you’re doing it wrong!” mentality in traditional paid and earned media campaigns, in large part because there’s an acceptance that different strategies can be effective for the same audience. We’ve accepted that in traditional media there’s more than one way to skin a cat, yet in digital media a difference of opinion on strategy results in accusations of “you’re doing it wrong.”
Recently someone external from my organization tore apart not only my strategic plan for a large launch that was mere days away, but also tore apart the product itself. At one point they said, “No one will find this useful. I don’t think you know what you’re doing here.” Their criticism struck me on a deeply professional level. Wracked with nervousness and self-doubt we had no choice but to go forward with the launch as scheduled and as planned. Not only did our launch outperform our expectations, it went viral and received overwhelmingly positive feedback online and in the mainstream media.
As digital media strategists we sometimes need to break out of our “expert” mindsets in order to see there is more than one way to skin a cat. This expert/authority/guru label often leads us to dismiss anyone who may disagree with our strategy or tactics with impunity. We’re experts, we know what we’re doing, if someone disagrees with us they must not know what they’re doing. In reality, it’s time for digital media to mature as a field and accept there are many people that do digital media well and differ in strategy from us. It’s common to see traditional PR and Marketing professionals disagree on a strategy and not undercut the others’ qualifications, so why is this “you’re doing it wrong” mindset so pervasive among digital media strategists?
My specialty is earned online media. I’ve run paid campaigns before, but I find earned digital media is often where the biggest ROI and ROE is. One of my colleagues specializes in paid digital media and feels the manpower and time required to launch and run an earned digital campaign can’t compare to that of paid. If a coworker comes to me for my advice on digital media strategy they will likely get different feedback than if they came to my colleague, which is why we each usually pull the other in when our feedback is requested. It doesn’t mean that my strategy is more likely to succeed than what my colleague’s strategy, it just means that we both see different solutions to the same issue.
The relationship I have with my colleague is one I’d like to see fostered among the digital media and public health world. We are all doing interesting and purposeful work and we need to pull together to support each other and the field as a whole.
*As an aside, to this day I don’t know the origins of the phrase. As a cat owner, I’m not sure I want to know how the phrase came to be.