You freeze and cock your head. What is that? The rustle of a press release? The hum of a radio ad being produced? The ground-vibration rumble of a speech being delivered 5 km away?
You turn ver-r-r-y slowly… and catch a glimpse of one of the amazing denizens of the plains and fever tree forests of the communications world.
What fair creature goes there? Use this handy Who’s Who of Communicators to find your colleague’s style… and learn how to nurture their natural talents.
This is the fastest of all the communicators. You’ve barely asked for the copy and boom! it’s on your desk. But that haste can mean they expend a lot of creative energy very quickly.
Care tips: Let them have some time to recover from their sprints. Be sure to proofread their work: speed can come at the cost of accuracy. And check that they’ve understood the brief before they take off running.
This highly social species of communicator is almost always found in groups. Extremely collaborative and gregarious, meerkats share information and ideas with each other constantly.
Care tips: Meerkats are adorable! But they’re vulnerable to groupthink, so keep a steady diet of outside perspectives available at all times. And encourage them to share their knowledge outside their immediate circles, too.
They never forget. They remember the percentage change in Saskatchewan’s GDP when potash was privatized. They can tell you who won on which ballot of what leadership contest and by how much. Need a factoid? Ask an elephant.
Care tips: Encourage them to use their facts judiciously. Help them to recall and tell stories, not just recite statistics. Too many facts are indigestible; they need to be able to convey a statistic should matter to our audience. Oh, and keep a lot of marula fruit handy.
Want the sweeping overview? Ask a giraffe: they have the grand perspective, and see things in big-picture, inspiring terms. But that can also make them speak in abstractions that audiences don’t relate to.
Care tips: Help them learn to forage a little lower down for the tastiest, most tangible items to supplement their diet of values and principle.
Some animals have trouble making out colors… but zebras have it even worse: they don’t even see grays. To them, the entire world is black and white, right or wrong, all or nothing — with no middle ground.
Care tips: Make the most of those contrasts with our opposition! But remind your favourite zebra that sometimes nuance and careful navigation are required in our messages.
You think you know termites? Really? Did you know about their amazing ability to bang their heads on the ground, creating a chain reaction to communicate a threat instantly across long (in termite terms) distances?
Care tips: Encourage their use of classic organizing techniques to amplify your allies’ messages to reach a wider audience. And keep your first aid kit well-stocked with ibuprofen.
These born communicators have a wide range of unique voices to match any occasion — all of them attention-getting.
Care tips: While their lack of subtlety can attract immediate attention, you’ll need to remind them to dial it back sometimes so they don’t scare people into burying their heads under their pillows and ignoring your message entirely.
These birds have one of the most amazing symbiotic relationships in nature. They issue frequent, well-timed calls that direct humans (and honey badgers) to bees’ nests — where the humans get the honey, and the birds devour the beeswax and grubs.
Care tips: These are the communicators who consistently show you the most promising new trends, the most compelling content and that overlooked communications channel that can help you break through to your audience. Trust their instincts… and reward them for their finds.
Everyone laughs at the lowly dung beetle, but you know what? Think about it: they can take even the stinkiest pile of waste, and turn it into something remarkable, even life sustaining. These little critters are more resourceful and creative than most beasts thousands of times their size.
Care tips: Be patient and give them the space they need to assess a tough situation, get creative and roll out the perfect message.
Joanne Deer is The NOW Group’s Director of Client and Strategic Services, Eastern Canada. She is also a certified safari guide. She was surprised — but not that surprised — to find out the two worlds had so much in common.
Animal photo credits: cheetah by William Warby, meerkat by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos, termites by USDA, honeyguide by Derek Keats, used under a Creative Commons license. Giraffe by Rob Cottingham and elephant, zebra, spotted hyena and dung beetle by Joanne Deer, used with permission.