A Note from the BlueNotes Publisher...

We have been publishing BlueNotes for a year and it has been an extraordinary venture. But not just for us here at BlueNotes, more broadly in the world of communications – of all hues.

Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend a meeting of the Arthur Page Society – the professional association of Chief Communications Officers of Fortune 500 companies.

"(Without change) the lid of the Velvet Coffin is going to close on us."
Paul Edwards, Group General Manager Corporate Communications, ANZ

After listening to a series of high profile speakers – some leading the communications function in GE or IBM, some external such as the wonderful former GE CEO Jack Welch - it helped crystallise a number of thoughts I’ve had about our function over the past 18 months.

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From my perspective, today’s corporate communications professional faces a critical choice - to adapt to the sweeping technological changes that are redefining how our external and internal stakeholders engage with our companies or stay in the Velvet Coffin in a comfortable, cushy but terminal dead-end. 

It’s a blunt message and not one unique to corporate communicators. Many professions, for example traditional journalism, are today fundamentally challenged. Many industries and businesses are being disrupted.

We only need to lift our head out of the Velvet Coffin to see how people consume information, their attention span, where they receive information from and their levels of trust in that information have all drastically changed over the past decade. 

In this environment, we heard what our companies will find indispensable about us is not knowledge that can be repeated back or broadcast - what we have always done. Those skills are increasingly losing value or, worse, being replaced by software or even by a Google search.  

What our companies will find indispensable about us is what we don’t know exactly but have the intelligence and capability and flexibility to figure out. 

I’m pleased to say what we have figured out at ANZ, along with communicators in many leading companies, is that corporate communications has to become social and digital first and has to find new ways of engaging our most important audiences in a conversation based on authenticity and trust. It is this authentic conversation which is critical – and today social and digital are the media most appropriate (but who knows, that may change too.) 

New research by the Page Society is showing five emerging patterns in the modern communications function:

  1. Shifting investments with the highest priorities being social media including internal collaboration tools, owned media like BlueNotes and social measurement systems.
  2. The creation of new roles to support those investments.
  3. The transformation of organisational design with more fluid structures based on multi-tasking and fewer silos.
  4. New performance indicators and measurement approaches which emphasise behavioural change. 
  5. New partnerships particularly with technology where the enterprise’s technology function is becoming the communicators’ closest working relationship. 

If you’re worried the Velvet Coffin is closing on you, the meeting also received some advice from futurist Edie Weiner (and the video to which that link takes you definitely worth watching) about staying current and about building the capacity to stay out of the Coffin, embrace social and digital change and to figure out what we still don’t exactly know. 

She recommended: 

  • Subscribe to two publications – hard copy – that you would never consider subscribing to. 
  • Hire more interns and use them wisely. 
  • Stay current with music. 
  • Find someone 15 years old and hire them for an hour a week to teach you anything they want to.

If that list isn’t for you, ANZ’s CEO Mike Smith has another solution – be curious. Ask for your children’s help with social media; look at what people are doing on their mobile devices in the lift or in public transport, get yourself a Twitter, WeChat or LinkedIn account – and use them. 

In essence, that’s no different to what we as communicators should always have done – listen, engage, question – but it is easy to become trapped by our habits, to lay back in that comfy coffin. 

In today’s rapidly changing world we have to adapt to the sweeping technological changes to remain relevant as professionals, whether we are communicators, marketers or bankers. The alternative is the lid of the Velvet Coffin is going to close on us.

This article first appeared on LinkedIn.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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