Fusion is THE communicators’ conference. Held over two days in Melbourne it offered communication leaders from the Asia Pacific region a comprehensive program which covered a wide range of topics across all aspects of communication.
The conference kicked off with an outstanding keynote speech by Tracey Spicer on the power of communication. It was both engaging and raw as Tracey told stories about her career and family, reminded us of the importance of keeping our communications simple and human-centric, and the power of words and images. It set the tone for the plethora of plenary and breakout sessions that delved into helping our profession think about it positioning, purpose and being future fit.
Among the highlights were Anne Gregory on the dark side of the machine and the impacts of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on the industry. Shawn Callahan talking about making strategies stick and Kristen Flor Perret delivered a compelling message for communicators to meet the challenges of a world in motion ‘head on’ when thinking about brand positioning.
Four themes stood out for me that encompassed the energy and enlightenment that the conference provided.
A seat at the top table
There is an almost unhealthy obsession with wanting or asking about how communicators get a seat at the top table, how they go about being listened to or become an influencer at the highest level with their c-suite. But is having a seat at the table valid, and what happens if you do get there?
There is some debate; if you take that seat do you lose some of your objectivity, the ability to be that outside-in voice (most importantly as the voice of the consumer) or even lose some credibility internally as you get lumped in with being ‘one of them’. Perhaps the better position is to have standing room or a dotted line. Either way the only way we can elevate ourselves and the profession is through, as Zora Artis and Wayne Aspland put it so eloquently:
- Strategic alignment (talk the talk especially, financial numbers and understanding business drivers)
- Strategic thinking
- AI (and data) (Anne Gregory talked over the dark side but its impact will reverberate around our profession so let’s not get left behind like we did with websites or the rise of social as an area we should have owned from the start)
- Social media (Darren Sibson had an excellent presentation about how he helps his ANZ CEO build trust with social, uses it to communicate to employees, connect with customers and helps humanise him)
Strategy and purpose
The biggest ‘oh s**t’ moment for anyone in the conference should have been around the Global communicator survey results, specifically the finding that only 35% of senior communications professionals around the globe believe purpose is embedded in the way their organisations do business.
Our leaders are not walking the talk but sadly neither are comms professionals – how can organisations be purpose-driven when such low percentages, only 40% of senior communication professionals felt purpose was important in employee comms, external comms and marketing, understand the importance. Sadly the survey found that comms folks are not committed to driving that strategic alignment. Strategic alignment is important but lacking and an enormous opportunity for communication professionals to take leadership on and own.
We heard about how to hack strategy and make strategy stick with stories but it seems we first need to take a good hard look at our organisation’s strategy and purpose and own that alignment.
As Kristen Flor Perret put it – people care about 3 things with brands; functionality (the what), ethics (the how), purpose (the why) and brands must have all three stories in its bag of tricks and understand where, how and when to activate. Like in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs you need to fulfil functionality before ethics, before purpose.
She emphasised that we live in a world that is in constant motion; a world where trust has been decimated. I lost track of the amount of speakers that spoke about the Edelman trust barometer. However the fact it kept coming up time and time again is notable – there is a lack of trust in business which means as communicators we either aren’t helping tell the right stories or aren’t helping influence companies enough around the importance of building that trust within our societies.
We have that opportunity – IABC has an ethics code and by aligning to that, building trust within and for our organisations, being value-aligned and purpose-driven we have the ability to influence what type of organisations we have in our society. An inspiring panel talked about the role of communication in shaping a brighter future. Janine Yeates put it this way; the comms function is and should be a vehicle for positive social change or as Tracey Spicer so passionately said at the start of the conference ‘If we don’t focus on the power of the narrative, we will not change hearts or minds’.
Diversity and Inclusion (D&I)
The power of the narrative extends out to listening and hearing from across our society. At another panel discussion and throughout the conference it was asked if as communicators we are really doing enough to drive the diversity and inclusion agenda. We had great insights from Maya Donevska about how BHP is leading a D&I campaign that goes beyond achieving gender balance by 2025, by ‘mining’ the data, having the tough conversations, having a robust D&I framework, getting executive support and bringing people along to recognise the issues is the role that communicators can lead.
What does the future hold for the profession
So if we want a future in comms or a future where comms is (standing) at the top table influencing positive social change, be that linked to ethics, purpose, trust, values, driving D&I how do we achieve that?
This was captured by our recent IABC NSW speaker Professor Jim Macnamarra when he encapsulated that the skills of the future (amended from the a Global Alliance GBOK study) require us to: align comms to organisational objectives, advise and act ethically, drive D&I strategies and have the ability to apply cross-cultural and diversity considerations, consider society and social impacts, use AI and data, base our planning and implementation on research, provide strategic counsel and focus on building trust.
It is an exciting time to be in comms – taking ourselves, our profession and our organisations into influencing and disrupting society for the better requires continual professional learning.
I for one was thankful that I’m in and have IABC to lean upon (certification opportunities, global credibility through its awards, network and reach). I think anyone coming out of that conference felt that ‘Fusion’ to.
Congratulations to the organisers across the Victoria and the Asia-Pacific Chapters and Boards and thank you to the sponsors including Salt and Shein (Lucy Newcomb) and the speakers for their insights and inspiration. Interested in learning more about what IABC is or does in NSW? Join or IABC NSW chapter or reach out to one of our amazing board members.
What other aspects of the conference were highlights for you? Please feel free to comment your thoughts below.