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There have been as many lessons as there have been clients to serve and issues to advise on – but as I reflect on 20 happy years at Calder Bateman, these top 10 lessons come to mind:

1. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar

Sounds potentially sappy – but if a client has a choice between two equally competent service providers, they’ll choose the one who is a pleasure to deal with – someone capable and agreeable; someone generous and genial. No point being brilliant if no one wants to hire you. There’s power in being a good egg.

2. Do what you say you will

Business aphorism #221 – but remarkably overlooked. Make a commitment. Keep it. If you’re going to be late on something, communicate about the shift in timeline and reason. Follow through. Every email (except the dreaded Reply Alls) is important to someone. Unless it’s an unsolicited sales pitch, reply to every email and phone message. People will remember your courtesy.

3. Remember that giving advice is an honour

I sometimes hear newcomers to the business complain about “confused” clients. They are scratching their head that something so “obvious” is the reason we were called to assist. Well, that client was smart enough to call – and sensible enough to seek advice and support. That makes them important and valuable and is reason enough to admire them. It’s an honour to be a trusted advisor. Never abuse that honour.

4. Anger is usually fear in disguise

As a facilitator, I’ve come across many angry people in town hall meetings, in public consultations, in meetings with politicians, in online comments. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that there are very few pathologically angry people out there. People are generally afraid: of change/ of loss/ of “other”. Understanding fear is a completely different ballgame than confronting anger.

5. This is a very small town and a tight-knit industry

I have been working in the communications sector for 30 years—people cycle through positions across their career span. People I worked with in 1986 at Edmonton Public Schools have resurfaced as clients at other places. I hate to trade in clichés – but that burning bridges thing . . . so critical!

6. Sometimes the best thing to do is wait (a bit)

I learned early (from Margaret and Frank) that sometimes the most powerful thing I can say is: “let me think about that.” As an advisor it’s tempting to think I have to come up with a solution right away – but there’s no replacement for really taking the time to think things through and offer a more considered solution later. Even in this era of instant communications, no one will thank you for a quick response that’s off base. Pause. Think. Look at all the angles. Then advise.

7. Our problems are small in the scheme of things

No one dies in the course of my work. If I make an error it could be embarrassing. It could be costly. I might need to retract. Or change my mind. It’s important to keep the work of a communications practitioner in perspective. To do anything else is manufactured self-importance.

8. The creative community is generous here

Perhaps it’s because everyone works everywhere and we are all acutely aware of the burning bridges notion – but there is a generous heart beating in the communications world in Edmonton. We congratulate each other. We champion each other’s successes. We are a community. The spiteful don’t last.

9. The learning never stops

I began my career before the Internet. Enough said…

10. Asking questions is powerful

At my core I’m curious – about most things. How does rural electrification work? How would we tackle homophobia in sport? Why is meaningful public engagement in civic issues essential? The smartest answers come from a willingness to ask the bigger questions.

And a last thought – thank yous matter. People have been so kind to me over the years. I’ve really tried to thank them along the way. I’ve probably missed a few. Since I have the floor, it makes sense to say it again. To my clients, past and present — and to my colleagues past and present – a huge THANK YOU!


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About the author

Catrin Owen
As the frontwoman of an 80's Welsh punk band, Catrin is no stranger to winning over a crowd. Today she not only facilitates sessions with some of Alberta’s most powerful leaders and passionate advocates, she guides the path for Calder Bateman. Catrin is always prepared to help bring clarity and understanding to some of the province’s most complicated issues.

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