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Internal Comms in a Natural Disaster

4 Apr

Written by Annalie Brown, MPRINZ, Massey University and Central Committee member


Speakers (starting from left to right): Fiona Robinson-Morey, Lindsay Davis, Rebecca Kennedy and Rachel Helson.

On the 15th March, PRINZ Central Division were treated to a very honest account of the experience that four Wellington senior internal comms practitioners had in the wake of the Kaikoura Earthquake.

Each of the four panellists brought a very different flavour to the discussion but there was some collective advice that all communications professionals can learn from.

Here were the top tips shared by our panellists on how to make sure things go smoothly:

  • Having a position on the Incident/Crisis Management Team is critical. Not just to be the order taker, but to influence decisions. Comms is often the only discipline that brings the voice and concerns of the staff to the table. Also able to hold people accountable – do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it.
  • Establish a one point sign off process for all comms. The last thing you need is a laborious sign off chain, so establish who has responsibility for comms on the IMT/CMT and they are it. Doesn’t need to be the incident controller but needs to be someone senior.
  • Face-to-face meetings are vital to gaining the trust of employees, and make sure you get experts in to give the full picture. It gives employees the chance to ask questions and it also makes your leaders more human. Make sure you show compassion and a willingness to listen to your staff.
  • Early communication should be sent to ALL staff, not just those directly impacted. Many staff will be concerned for their colleagues so they will want to know as well. As the sense of urgency diminishes, start to refine your audiences to impacted staff and people leaders across the organisation.
  • Develop your people leaders as communicators NOW! They are an essential channel for staff when things go wrong and they will often be the first port of call. Make sure they know what’s expected of them as a communicator in different situations. Some will naturally be better than others so make sure information is still accessible to all on a chosen channel.
  • Social media – public or private – are a quick solution to update staff when your own IT systems are unavailable but you have to trust that staff are following you. It can’t be relied on as the only channel. So think about how you get your staff following your social channels ahead of any incidents. Often you’ll have IT issues preventing access to the intranet or even email, while social media is accessible from anywhere.
  • The timeliness, tone and content of your comms is more important than how it looks. People will forgive you some small mistakes or misjudgements if they feel informed and that you’re being transparent.
  • If staff have been out of the office for any period of time, consider the comms needs when they start to return to work – e.g. Welcome back message from the CEO, what’s open in the vicinity, what are they likely to see around the office that wasn’t there before, FAQs like reminders of how to reset passwords. And make the Leadership Team walk the floors – make them visible.
  • Teams may set up their own unofficial comms channels, such as Viber, Whatsapp and Facebook groups. Don’t inhibit this as it will become an additional channel that people will use/trust.

Social Media in Internal Communications

14 Oct

Written by Alexander Danne, Unitec Institute of Technology Graduate

2014-10-23 ANZ visit with Unitec

Over the past two years I studied International Communications at Unitec Institute of Technology, Auckland. While I was working with PRINZ as a Communications Assistant I researched, as part of my masters’ degree, the impact of social media in the corporate environment by examining two case studies located in the corporate economic sector in Auckland. While recognising the challenges of democracy in the workplace, my research focuses on how social media can enable workplace democracy as well as participation and engagement within organisations.

Please find the full study here:

The findings of my study indicate that both organisations have a hierarchical internal makeup, which is heavily based on policies, guidelines and top-down communication structures. Internal communication tools are deeply embedded in the communication culture of the organisations and it seems that employers use such tools with a different perspective and understanding than employees. My research further reveals an ambiguity in dealing with new networked communication tools and outlines difficulties within the implementation process. Generational gaps, ineffectiveness and lack of integration of new workplace communication tools for employees are factors that make implementation difficult.

Network enabling tools, such as internal social media, have great potential to establish a space that can have the power to change the hierarchical structure and enable engagement in the workplace. Through online communities and knowledge bases, employees can engage with each other and gain knowledge about the workplace beyond the scope of duty as well as earn responsibility within the workplace. The tool of internal social media cannot itself make a workplace democratic or employee friendly, but it can provide options for staff to use; that is, the tool can be used either way.

My research identified five key elements of workplace democracy (empowerment of employees, on-going participation, claim over responsibility, contribution towards the workplace, and network orientation); through the results of my research it became evident that the corporate work environment did not succeed in fulfilling these elements. However, the perspective of democracy in the corporate work environment is a new development that has come with globalisation, technological evolution and a change of the public sphere itself. In addition both organisations made a great effort to incorporate dialogue, engagement and other workplace democratic practices into their work environment, which was their reason for implementing the new internal social media tool in the first place. It became evident that such a tool cannot implement workplace democracy or connection, but it can help or hinder an already excising democratic culture. My research concluded that if the organisations already value dialogue, engagement and a two-way communication flow, an internal social media tool can certainly help.

Art or Science? Raise the question and break the shackles

21 Mar

Where do we find value in public relations? In its artistry – the crafted word, the creative inspiration, the intricate network of relationships, personal interaction and influence?  Or in its science – the analysis, careful research and detailed observation that provides insight into an organisation and its stakeholders? As practitioners, we are called to account to demonstrate the worth and value of what we do, yet sometimes explaining the nature of our work can seem tantalisingly out of reach.

There is without doubt an art to creating imaginative and compelling communication that can warn of danger, generate deeper understanding or stimulate economic activity. Equally, painstaking research, considered analysis, combined with sciences such as anthropology and psychology inform the development of strategic plans.

Part of the challenge may be identifying whether your organisation needs the ground-breaking artistry of a Dali, that helps everyone see the world in a different way or the philosophical thinking of an Einstein, creating a cornucopia of solutions that not only lead people to see the world differently, they change the world in the process.

At this year’s PRINZ Conference in Rotorua, this question of ‘PR – Art or Science’ is under the microscope. Delegates will be able to explore the perspectives and experiences of others from inside and outside the world of public relations and communication management and leave with perhaps a new methodology for demonstrating the value of public relations within their organisation – and get a serious creative boost.

Sorting out some old journals I remembered this particular Einstein essay in which he says:

“The most beautiful experience we have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that sits at the cradle of true art and true science”.

There’s no doubt that some find public relations more than a little mysterious, and one reasonable view might be that our profession actually stands somewhere in between art and science but, if we are to progress, we need to examine where we are now and where we head next.  Again, from Einstein:

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing”.

So in Rotorua, both sides of the question will be explored through case studies, examples, and a stunning view from Sir Paul Callaghan, eminent scientist and New Zealander of the Year. There will be practice insights from international experts Toni Muzi Falconi and Jesse Desjardins, social media insights from, among others, YouTube’s Annie Baxter and political insights from Jacinda Arden and Simon Bridges.

It’s tempting in these difficult times to forget or sideline the importance of learning, especially when making the time to stop, learn, reflect and share seems impossible. One challenge before us is that public relations and communication management demands a wide range of skills and a breadth of understanding when it comes to the big questions and demonstrating the value of what we do. Tackling this will, no doubt, require an adjustment of vision and – balancing the scales by drawing on one of Dali’s pithy observations:

“Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision”.

It’s easy in the day-to-day of things to become shackled to a particular method of operation or point of view. The 2011 PRINZ Conference will provide a forum for members and non-members alike to think, learn, recharge, renew their approach to practice and determine a vision of ‘where next’. Value indeed – for delegates, their organisations and the profession itself.

Have you got what it takes in a crisis?

27 Oct

The world has seen its fair share of significant, scary and sobering events this year – not least in Christchurch with the 7.1 quake and its 2000-plus aftershocks.  Communicators in Christchurch have been deeply involved with handling crisis communication for nearly two months now – but how would the rest of us fare?

Early in November – November 9 to be precise – members can take part in a live crisis simulation, being run for PRINZ Northern Region by Control Risks.  Those attending will be split into groups and handed a crisis to deal with – an invaluable experience as you just never know when something is going to break.

I’m not sure of the actual odds these days, but there is a strong likelihood that every practitioner will have to handle at least one crisis during their career.  Running a live simulation is a fantastic learning experience as it gives you a taste of what to expect, the kind of leadership skills you’ll need – and test a whole range of abilities you may not even know you possess!

This PRINZ event is a companion event to the earlier presentation by some of the communicators directly involved in the Christchurch earthquake. The session is a great opportunity – especially for those based in Auckland who will only have to nip down the road to attend.  If you’ve not been on the frontline as yet, you’ll get some great insights and, if you’ve been through the experience for real, then you’ll appreciate it never hurts to practice, particularly as each crisis is unique in its communication challenges.

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