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Be There at our next Be There event on ‘Managing Communications Through Uncertain Times’.
Here is just a teaser from our panel on what to expect!

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Will HethertonWill Hetherton – The Future Fund

What impact has changing economic conditions in Australia over the past 6-12 months had on your organisation’s communication strategy?
The last 6 to 12 months has seen very significant volatility in financial markets globally with periods of apparent recovery followed swiftly by significant reverses. We’re a long term investor, so one area of focus for us through our media, industry and Parliamentary committee communications has been to continue to emphasise that long term performance is what counts – not the daily, monthly and quarterly fluctuations that tend to attract attention – and that diversification in our program is critical. This has coincided with the fact our organisation and portfolio has transitioned from the ‘start-up’ phase. This means that we’re now in a better position to be able to listen to and understand what our stakeholders’ interests and concerns are and to communicate with them about how we operate and what risks and opportunities we see – that’s an ongoing area of focus for us.

What lessons did The Future Fund learn from the GFC in handling both internal and external communications?
We’re in the happy position of having all our staff on one open-plan floor. That together with an emphasis on a ‘one team’ approach to investing the portfolio has really supported effective internal communication. In some ways the big challenge is to maintain this emphasis on good internal comms as we continue to grow. In terms of external communication, we learnt about the value anticipating, framing and contextualising issues – particularly given the increasing speed with which global economic news is transmitted. But we’ve also been reminded about the importance of not buying into the latest noise – again reflecting the fact that as a long term investor dancing to short term news flow can be very distracting and ultimately damaging to performance.


Christine Khor – Carrera

What impact has changing economic conditions in Australia over the past 6-12 months had on jobs for comms professionals?
Significant shifts in senior management and management styles have certainly had a flow on effect to comms practitioners, as well as constant re-structuring due to cost-cutting.  I hear people saying they are expected to do “more with less” and understand how difficult that must be when the degree of issues a comms person is juggling today are more frequent and complex than ever due to stakeholder demands and the need for organisational transparency.  On the recruitment side, we are seeing an increase in the level of competition amongst candidates and – at the same time – fewer people proactively changing jobs – perhaps as a result of a heightened sense of need for security during times of economic uncertainty.

Is there a new skill set or a leading comms discipline emerging for professional communicators?
If there was just one skill (and there isn’t), then I’d say everyone is expected to now have commercial acumen and understanding of the big picture. Professional communicators are expected to be on top of everything that is going on across their organization and anticipating the impacts – even if supporting change is not in their job description.  In particular, they need to be plugged into the C-Suite, marketing, HR and focused on supporting transparency and engagement levels. Social media is now part of everyday life and communicators are evolving as community curators and strategic advisors across multiple channels, rather than the command and control broadcast message police of the pre-Facebook era.  Employers are placing more emphasis on behavioural competencies such as resilience, and the ability to lead during times of change, as well as creative and lateral problem solving skills. In short, communicators are expected to be leaders – even when there are not necessarily in the top job – and they can’t be married to just one paradigm.

Rita Zonius – ANZ

What impact has changing economic conditions in Australia over the past 6-12 months had on your organisation’s communication strategy?
Following a period of sustained growth, the banking industry in Australia is now facing a new and difficult operating environment, characterised by lower demand for financial services, increased regulation and pressure on margins.  Customers are also looking to transact with banks in different ways, so as technology changes, banks have to keep on stepping up to provide new banking solutions.  Internally, faced with the challenge of managing costs but looking for ways to grow and innovate at the same time, our business is reshaping itself and the changes are having a impact on our people and the way we work.  In difficult times, it’s natural for people to have a greater interest in how their organisation is performing and therefore communicators at ANZ are focused on supporting leaders to convey to staff what is happening in the external environment and explain the drivers of change inside our organisation.  Importantly, when change impacts individuals personally in the form of job losses, communicators are supporting business leaders to ensure change at a local level is handled in an open and honest way.  On the external communications front, communicators are focused on ensuring we continue to demonstrate progress against our strategy, including how we are dealing with the new operating environment.   It’s also no secret that in difficult times, banks fast become the lightning rod for many issues therefore supporting our business to manage issues and change sensitively is critical.

How do you maintain high levels of engagement and motivation among employees working in large complex organisations who are facing change and uncertainty?
People generally accept change more readily if the lines of communication are kept open and they are consulted about the future shape of the organisation, even if you can’t give people all the answers.   It’s not always appropriate or practical to consult our staff on every change that we make, and we have to abide by our continuous disclosure obligations as a listed company, but as communicators, we encourage our business leaders to be visible and as open and honest as they can about what’s happening and to build into communication plans appropriate time for discussion and consultation about change.  Sometimes even the best-laid plans can go awry and not every change or transition is a smooth one, however there is strong intent across our organisation to always treat our people with integrity and respect.  At the same time as tough change is going on, we have a very clear business strategy in place.  Working with our business partners across the organisation – and across the network of communication professionals at ANZ – we take every opportunity we can to ensure our business leaders are connecting their people to our strategy in a concrete way – whether it be talking about our business plans in the intimate setting of a small team meeting, or pooling our energy to raise awareness of elements of our strategy at the group level, we know the best way to mobilise people is for leaders to give people the information and the tools they need to do their jobs and then have managers get out of the way and support their people to achieve their goals.


Laura Dumbrell – BBC Worldwide

What impact has changing economic conditions in Australia over the past 6-12 months had on your organisation’s communication strategy?
I moved to Australia six months ago from the UK, where I was working for a public service broadcaster in the process of making 20% cuts, and joined BBC Worldwide, a commercial company that was growing in a country that felt relatively economically healthy.  So initially it felt that we had a positive and confident story of growth to tell.  However, it quickly became apparent that some of our clients have started to feel the pinch and we are certainly not immune from the effects of the global financial crisis in the long term. In response, we have had to be far more sensitive to our partners and to how we are positioning the company in the local market.

How is this different or similar to what you may have experienced working through prolonged recessionary times in the UK?
When you are working through a recession the workload doesn’t change, but the resource and the budget do, so you have to cut your cloth differently.  It’s often an opportunity to think radically about how to achieve the best results, with less people and money.  The market becomes crowded as companies become desperate in their fight for survival, and often the pressure on communications experts can be immense.  You need to be really tough about prioritisation and find new ways to create impact. It can be challenging but also creatively very rewarding. I think you can learn some valuable lessons working through a recession and I have tried to apply these to my communication strategy here in Australia.