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IABC NSW Board Member Ben Wyld reflects on the recent SPARK ‘Show us, tell us’ event

To kindle, stimulate, animate – IABC NSW did just that with its recent SPARK event, which drew 90 senior communications and marketing experts together for a series of quick-fire presentations at PwC’s new Barangaroo offices.

The aim: to spark a new idea or showcase best practice in five minutes and no more than 20 slides.

In a series of case studies and presentations that showcased everything from e-zines, infographics, experiential stakeholder management and digital transformation in the workplace, some key themes emerged for all communications experts to reflect on and look to implement in their daily practice.

Here are three key themes.

(1) The ongoing role of storytelling in communication

The neuroscience of storytelling is well documented, alongside the ethnographic and cultural significance the practice has and continues to play in human evolution.

Effective storytelling engages more areas of the brain, including those that control and regulate visual, sensory and emotional reactions.

Paul Jones, director of Magneto Communications and creator of enterprise writing coach Credosity, said communicators and storytellers should be aware of biases, leverage them but keep the story simple:

Research shows complexity kills trust, which naturally hamstrings storytellers.”

Coupling effective storytelling with appropriate visual communication – infographics and video – can also assist with recall and retention, Peri Wilson, Strategic Communication Lead of PwC’s Creative Comms, said.

Research suggests we retain visual communication more effectively than text … but you have to remember the one-size fits all approach doesn’t work. Consider your options, be audience-led and contextualise.”

Storytelling can support successful and positive change within organisations. Ogilvy Impact Director Megan Caulfield spoke about overcoming ‘divides’ within organisations – be they generational or cultural – through storytelling.

Find and explore the common ground … it is there and you can connect these cultures through effective storytelling to support and drive effective change.”

Mikey Leung, Creative Director from Digital Storytelling, challenged all communicators in the age of digital devices and altered content consumption habits to ‘take the higher road’ when driving social change.

What story are you telling? One that’s bigger than you? Be authentic, embody your values and drive social change through your storytelling.”

(2) The importance of emotion in a world of facts

Effective storytelling involves appropriate use of emotion. In fact, emotion – when harnessed correctly – can bridge the gap where facts fall short.

SenateSHJ Partner Jodie Wrigley outlined some recent work she did to support a successful pilot campaign that aimed to increase eye screening rates for those living with diabetes.

Despite being bombarded with information and no rational barriers in the way – eye screening rates were low. In-depth qualitative research sessions revealed that the target group were driven by emotion despite being well aware of the facts and it would take a completely different approach to achieve behaviour change. The intelligence led to a reframed campaign that focused on diverting the emotional drivers of those in the most at-risk group and generated an uplift in engagement.

Why do we ignore the facts that save us?” Jodie asked. “These audiences were bombarded with information and facts that cemented a position of denial … while knowledge is power – emotion can pack a mean punch.”

(3) Put people at the centre

Whether you work in internal communication, external relations or product and service marketing, don’t forget the golden rule of understanding your audience and positioning their needs at the centre of your communication efforts.

Sandi Shrimski and Eryn Sullivan outlined the repositioning of Transport for NSW’s internal communication across print and digital channels to engage a staff audience of more than 24,000. They revealed a new online digital e-zine, MODE, created to engage its disparate workforce – also visible to anyone else interested in the transport provider’s news.

Our content explicitly features our people, from all areas and all positions … our staff like to hear about their peers and their experiences.”

At Coca-Cola Amatil, the rapid deployment of an enterprise social network was explicitly framed and positioned as a way to improve productivity and the time-crunch faced by employees.

It’s helped us overcome an over-reliance on email and cascade communication … and build authentic staff buy-in,” said General Manager Group Internal Communications, Phillipa Davies.

A focus on people laid at the heart of BWD’s successful sustainability report for the Australian Meat Processor Corporation.

BWD Managing Director Derryn Heilbuth oversaw an actual ‘Feast of Ideas’, bringing together disparate stakeholders – primary producers, consumers, transport industry, regulators – over a unique outdoor dinner table setting in the countryside as part of the production of an engaging report.

We wanted to start a real conversation … and create an environment for people to put things ‘on the table’ so to speak.”

While Head of The GovCom Group Alun Probert, lamented on the blunt tool of programmatic advertising and fuzzy engagement metrics in the digital media environment. More time and thought should be spent on understanding target audience needs and wants to allow for effective targeted digital marketing, given audiences have ever-increasing means, control and choice over what content they decide to consume.

A 6% response rate to an online ad means that 94% of people targeted were not interested in our offer,” Alun said. “Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.”

IABC NSW’s ‘Show us. Tell us SPARK’ event was held late last month.



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