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Greek philosopher Heraclitus is attributed as saying ‘The only thing constant is change itself’. From the financial crisis to the carbon tax, rising unemployment and role restructuring, now more than ever change and uncertainty are buzz words in the communication industry.

It was in this setting that IABC Victoria held its Be There breakfast with a stellar panel of speakers consisting of Carrera Partners Director, Christine Khor, ANZ Head of Communications Australia, Rita Zonius, BBC Worldwide Head of Communications, Laura Dumbrell and hosted by the Future Fund’s Head of Public Affairs, Will Hetherton.

The audience of more than 60 people heard the panel speak about operating as a team, breaking bad news and the ever changing role of communication professionals.

Rita Zonius  explained why in times of uncertainty defining your role and working as a team are integral as everyone is under pressure to be more efficient and more work is spread over fewer people.

“You can’t survive without building relationships with other parts of the company. You can’t operate in a bubble,” Rita said.

“The days of bespoke skills and sitting in every meeting are gone. It is now about pushing back and skilling others, even the C-Suite, to be able to do the basic communications so that you can provide the higher level advice and actions.

“We did this by creating a communication charter that defined our scope and our role as communicators. We let others know that what we did wasn’t about blowing up balloons and writing name tags. It lets them know we provide strategic, skilled advice and tactics.

“The change and communications need to be led by the line managers and executive, not just something written by the communications team,” Rita said.

Carrera Partners Christine Khor built on this adding that, “there is a focus on doing more with less, but it actually needs to be doing less better than before”.

For communicators this means having the appropriate balance between the generalist strategic aspects against the technical skill set.

In communicating change to others, Laura Dumbrell said that change happens at different times to different people and that they will be experiencing changes of their own as well.

“When going through times of change it is important to be considerate that others are going through change also. This is definitely true for the media. So, if you are managing external communications just remember that journalists are experiencing huge change right now also,” said Laura.

Will Hetherton told a story of his first hand experience of this.

“I’ve had conversations with journalists before where I thought we were crystal clear. However, because they are operating under new pressures and have to be very generalist in their approach, they had only a basic understanding of the concepts. As a result, the story in the paper the next day was very different to how I experienced the interview,” said Will.

“It does however provide opportunities as well. The simple act of giving the media a feed or a cup of coffee might be the closest thing they get to a lunch break and it can help you build a better relationship.”

Other takeaways from the panel discussion included:

  • Try to provide employees with  a reasonable period of time to give notice before implementing change
  • Change will affect people in different ways
  • Internal communications is vital as you don’t want staff learning about change through the media
  • Learn the art of saying no while appearing to say yes by offering a better solution
  • Educate your organisation and executive on external changes that may affect them
  • It is important to get messages out to employees as they are your advocates at informal forums such as weekend BBQs or school sports