A few weeks ago I packed myself off to Sydney for the annual Corporate Affairs Summit, #theCAS. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I hadn’t attended one of their conferences before, however I thoroughly enjoyed myself, while learning more than a few things and meeting some awesome people. Conference success!

The quote of the conference for me came from Mardi Stewart from the Australian Crime Commission – pushing out information isn’t communication. Just remember this. Please.

Highlights from 2015 Corporate Affairs Summit

The main takeouts for me were:

1. Digital/social media is here to stay and is forcing companies to become more open and transparent.

  • 90% of news editors turn to social media within 20 seconds of an incident, so make sure you are prepared (Maryanne Graham, NSW TRMS)
  • 47% of all online time is spent on social media (Richard Spencer, iSentia)
  • social media almost always breaks the news, and twitter is the fastest way for this to happen (remember when Bin Laden was killed? when Michael Jackson died? Twitter announced it first – and I was GLUED to my phone each time)
  • organisations need to own their content and drive the conversation (Karina Keisler, NBN Co)
  • yes being in social media is risky, but it’s more risky not to have a presence
  • reach happens ridiculously quickly with social media – 50% of social coverage happens within 6.5 hours on twitter, 9 hours on Facebook (Richard Spencer, iSentia)
  • create content people want to share – otherwise why bother? (great advice here for bloggers too!)
  • “If content is king, then distribution is the kingmaker” (Richard Spencer, iSentia) the second best quote of the conference for me. Love this one. Need to work on this…
  • the five key macro trends – blog, search, social, video, mobile (Jimmy Maymann, CEO, Huffington Post – fantastic speaker, came in via video conference, was hard not to be distracted by the NYC view behind him!)
  • mobile is becoming the first screen – take it seriously and make sure your websites are optimised
  • be a story teller – far more engaging and effective than just spouting out self promotion rubbish

2. Relationships are critical for good outcomes

  • it is critical to know your stakeholders and have strategies they value and can align with
  • good corporate affairs needs to focus on transformational change, not just transactional
  • having a good reputation gives you currency when you need to communicate, particularly when you need to communicate the hard stuff and the bad stuff (Peter McConnell, Woolworths)
  • understanding the on-the-ground issues is essential for your internal communication to be effective
  • if you work in corporate affairs you just have to get on with people (so true!! I can think of a few comms people I’ve met over the years who would benefit from a career change…)
  • build a community that will answer its own questions, reduce the need for corporate voice
  • listening and empathy are critical – especially in crisis comms
  • don’t forget that your employees care about your organisation and want to help – they don’t like their company being “bashed” (Catherine Payn, Sydney Water)
  • tell your employees what’s going on before you tell the media (an organisation The Accountant once worked for could have benefitted from that – staff found out the organisation was in administration by reading it on the front page of the Courier Mail. And then it took four days for them to be officially told by management – outrageous)
  • internal is external – all staff are your spokespeople (Oona Nielssen, CSIRO)

3. Make sure you make time for strategic thinking and planning – many speakers discussed this, and I’m highly envious that Gerry Tidd (Bluescope Steel) can spend 30% of his time thinking and reading. Maybe I need to start dedicating a day a week to the couch! But of course, as a sole trader I don’t have a team under me to do all the work that needs to be done so I can pay the mortgage! Shame…

  • don’t forget to make sure your actions and your communication strategy aligns with your commercial outcomes and company strategy – sounds obvious, but this can easily be overlooked
  • “A crisis doesn’t happen on the day you plan for it” (Maryanne Graham, NSW TRMS)
  • Fail fast and learn from it and move on. Keep innovating and pushing boundaries – this will allow you to better engage with your audience (Jimmy Maymann, Huffington Post)
  • don’t get so caught up in the day-to-day that you forget the future (sooooo true!!)

To summarise, it was a great event with some real little gems. While I didn’t learn an enormous amount, it was great just to have some key principles and philosophies reiterated.

Thanks especially to Simone Niven (Rio Tinto), Richard Spencer (iSentia), Jason Laird (Telstra), Oona Nielssen (CSIRO) and James Rickards (Yancoal). Your nuggets of knowledge were particularly illuminating and all of you gave me an ah-ha moment. And James and Simone, if you read this, you both reminded me why I deliberately decided never to focus on crisis comms during my career!!

Finally, if you want a bit of reading – the absolute best book I’ve ever read on communication and leadership during a crisis was Leadership by Rudi Guiliani (former Mayor of NYC), with a couple of chapters dedicated to how they coped during and after 9/11.

Were you at #theCAS too? What was your favourite part?

Disclaimer – Thanks to the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) Qld Chapter for my ticket (I won it as a raffle prize). If you work in comms and you’re not a member, check them out. Fabulous organisation with awesome people. And I don’t *just* mean me 🙂 

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