Insights from the 2018 Corporate Affairs Summit

— Alicia Eu 

Dare Jennings builds brands that fly in the face of convention. The founder of Phantom Records, Mambo and Deus ex Machina, Dare’s business ventures are founded on passion.

Deus is the latest of Dare’s ventures. It is a brand with loyal customers and it challenges the homogenous motorcycle industry. The success of the brand, according to Dare, is not its products but its culture, intersecting age and lifestyle because it blends passions – motorbikes, surfing and music – so that like-minded people can come together to create a community to congregate, learn and share.

It is an authentic culture because employees live and breathe the brand and make it their own no matter what location. Ultimately, the Deus culture transcends its products.

I lead with Dare’s story, recently shared at Vivid Sydney’s Light, Music & Ideas Festival, because as a corporate comms professional concerned with upholding the positive external reputation for brands, the importance of having a strong culture within a brand can be overlooked. Here, I share my key take-outs from the two-day Corporate Affairs Summit in late May, starting with culture.

Unsurprisingly, our industry remains concerned with our approach in a digital, rapidly moving, and interconnected world but if we strip it all back, the fundamentals remain the same.  Here are my observations and learnings.

Culture comes from within

Aligning with Dare’s advice on employing people who live and breathe a brand’s culture, Dr Lavanya Wagaonkar, Nissan’s Vice President Communications (Asia and Oceania), said that a brand’s culture should be personified at all levels of an organisation. She argued that culture and corporate identity should be driven by executives at the top as well as at the grassroots level of the organisation because it was the employees who breathed authenticity into the brand’s purpose, identity and language.

In this vein, employee engagement and advocacy was a common theme of the summit.

Lisa Harrington, Executive General Manager, Stakeholder Relations at AGL, highlighted that the workplace is the core driver of trust and that a business is a glass box, transparently connecting its external activities with how it operates internally.

She highlighted that employee advocacy is critical to boosting positive brand image and attracting talent – a sentiment echoed by Dave Samson, General Manager of Public Affairs at Chevron, and Alison Terry, Group Manager Corporate Affairs at Fortescue Metals Group. Both discussed the importance for businesses to create a forum in which employees had the permission to share content and participate in creating a positive workplace culture.

Use the right insights to resonate with your stakeholders’ interests

The common starting point for many summit speakers on achieving positive business impact and results was to have the right insights.

It may not be the three-dimensional blend of passions and interests that Deus tapped into, but it could be engaging with your stakeholders to understand their key issues or interests.

Tourism Australia tapped into America’s love of movie re-makes to produce a viral ad campaign at the Super Bowl promoting a ‘sequel’ to Crocodile Dundee to maximise audience reach and encourage Americans to consider travelling Down Under. Chevron tapped into augmented reality to tell the brand’s story by transporting STEM students via virtual helicopter to its oil rigs.

John Holland discovered that in building a new train station under a highway, surrounding residents were more concerned with the time of the project than the disruption. John Holland was able to negotiate the use of residents’ front gardens as a temporary highway in exchange for a shorter disruption period and to modernise their outdoor spaces after the project was complete. The right insights are the critical building blocks to communicate with positive impact in support of achieving business objectives.

It’s all about connectivity

Digital, data, social and all the new apps and platforms in between continue to be top of mind for corporate affairs professionals. From sophisticated uses of geo-fencing to hyper-targeting audiences to the speed of issues going global and the ongoing importance of traditional media, it was all about connectivity to the audiences that mattered.

Chevron appeared to lead in the use of digital channels to connect with global stakeholders. Its digital strategy provided the brand with analytics and actionable insights that anticipated the business’ performance, predicts risks and helps enable business outcomes. Other speakers discussed using content to empower action, the importance of community management and capturing the right metrics.

Digital content was touted as a priority by The Australian’s Nicholas Gray, who highlighted that the publication was driving deeper engagement with its own audiences by using artificial intelligence to serve up stories of interest. He also emphasised the importance of developing strong relationships with journalists to help them in creating content within their scope and getting it out at speed, going so far as to say that the media release is dead.

In times of issues or crises, Australian Human Rights Commission’s Adrian Flood said that media coverage was a lagging indicator when it came to identifying an issue and that issues usually broke on social media first. Both Adrian Flood and Margaret Stuart, Nestlé, highlighted the importance of planning and preparing spokespeople in crisis by asking all the difficult questions in practice interviews.