The Value of a Post-Mortem in Communications

Marketers and communicators move through the workday at a mile a minute. When one project wraps up, the next one is likely already three-quarters of the way done. It’s the nature of the job – constant change, crisis management, new product launches, you name it, we’re probably doing it. This continuous workflow helps clients stay happy and agency teams stay busy, but the shortfalls lie in the knowledge-share and post-project learnings. What one team member takes away from a project, be it a hard or soft skill, varies greatly from that of another team member. Learnings are often done on the fly and are based on an individual’s role within the project; not ideal for personal or team growth. That’s where a post-mortem meeting comes in.

Post-mortems in communications

Borrowed from project management best practices, a post-mortem is a meeting scheduled soon after a project ends dedicated to discussing best practices and learnings. Especially in a traditional public relations agency structure, roles are designed to be hierarchical, with well-defined to do’s and responsibilities for each role. Post-mortems give teams a chance to knowledge share about the project as a whole from the top-down; account coordinators may have noticed a logistical efficiency that would save managers time in the long run; and vice versa, it gives more junior members of the team the opportunity to see how a project runs start to finish, as well as how their actions impact the rest of the team.

How to have a successful post-mortem meeting in PR 

Plan and actually attend the meeting. For a post-mortem to be successful, it must include the entire team and attendance must be a priority. Taking the time to talk about what worked, and more importantly what didn’t work, will save time and likely mitigate stress next time this type of project arises.

Have at least one neutral party and ground rules. When it comes to the “what didn’t work” part of the conversation, things can get heated. It’s important to set the stage at the beginning of the meeting with ground rules, most importantly – stay positive and productive. The goal of the meeting is to come away with actionable changes that will better the team and its workflow as a whole; it’s not about singling out any one contributor. Calling out an individual member of the team will make that person less likely to participate and defensive.

Don’t shy away from the difficult conversations. Yes, I know I just said to stay positive but it’s also important to bring issues and concerns to light in a constructive manner. At the end of the day, your goal is to enhance the team – both from a knowledge and tactical standpoint. Stay away from: Becky didn’t give me xyz on time, so I couldn’t get my outreach done. Instead, try phrasing it like this: I think next time we can build in more up-front time to prepare, so everyone on the team has what they need to move forward.

Follow up with an outlined summary and best practices. The action items and next steps from your post-mortem help guide future projects and set the team up for success. Keep everything documented and transparent with the entire team so everyone is on the same page moving forward.

The bottom line with post-mortems is simple: inform, educate and improve the team. Clear communication of what worked, what didn’t work and other key learnings and best practices will only set your team up for success in the future.

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