Collaboration, culture, creativity and crisis management – Jane Dodd, President of PRINZ, talks about communication in New Zealand
New Zealand society is a fusion of Maori, Polynesian, Asian and European cultures, so ethnic communities play a significant role in the country’s landscape. Considering also the different languages used – including English, Maori, Samoan, Tongan, Hindi, Chinese and Korean – how is it possible to communicate effectively with these audiences? What are the main challenges?
A major strength (but also at times a weakness) is that our smaller scale allows more multifaceted communications to accommodate this diversity.
There will always be challenges in cross-cultural communications and Maori culture sums this up perfectly with the phrase; by the people for the people. So the real challenge lies in ensuring our profession better reflects the ethnic composition of our population. It’s a work in progress and we have some amazing senior practitioners who are leading the way in this area. The good news is that the ethnic media channels are also continually improving their own reach and relevance to their communities and in doing so provide an important link that we all benefit from. Maori TV is an excellent example of a modern and sophisticated media organization that not only reaches Maori but is also bringing Pakeha into their space at the same time.
The New Zealand government's social media policy has been cited as one of the best in the world. What are the key features that make it so successful?
Its main strength comes from the collaborative way in which it was put together. Many departments and many people were involved and the guidance gives a high-level overview as well as a practical 'hands on' toolkit that can be used by everyone.
New Zealand has had a commitment to Open Government for many years and the approach to social media was a natural step along this path. In 2007, New Zealand was the first country to use a wiki to consult on legislation - the Police Act was under review at the time - and there have been other initiatives since then that have seen the development of digital engagement between the Government and citizens. Social media channels were essential during the Christchurch earthquakes and the Government is releasing new guidance on social media use in disasters based on practical learnings from that time.
This month, the annual Nethui was held which brings together government, educators, the commercial world, IT professionals, communicators and many others to look at online issues, look at what is required next and what part we each have to play. Again, collaboration and discussion will develop things further.
On 5 October 2011, the CV Rena, grounded on Otaiti (Astrolabe Reef) in the Bay of Plenty which resulted in one of New Zealand's most significant maritime environmental disasters. How was the crisis communication managed during this dramatic event?
Immediate and continued collaboration between agencies was critical to managing a situation that was certain to have a negative impact. The extent of that impact was in question and the communications response had to balance needs of commercial and recreational audiences while also ensuring local residents were part of the solution rather than being kept at arms length.
The timing added more complexity, with a general election only weeks away and our annual summer holiday season close behind. So keeping politics out of it, while ensuring people stuck to their plans to come to the Bay over the Christmas holidays was yet another dimension to a constantly changing situation. Those involved did a great job and although there are always critics in these situations it highlighted how shared passion for a cause can bring people together.
At the beginning of May you held a successful annual Conference, “Our place, Our space”. In what ways are these two concepts becoming more and more interrelated in the present context?
The places and spaces we work and play in today are no longer limited by physical connections. Communicators have a significant role in developing, supporting and growing communities of people who expect a strong connection between the physical and virtual spaces they connect through. It’s not an optional extra it’s a fundamental requirement. From Rena to the Christchurch earthquakes our members were, not surprisingly, utilizing the traditional channels such as public meetings, press conferences and community noticeboards together with online channels, including Facebook and Twitter.
Enabling delegates to hear directly from both on-the-ground and real-time online communicators highlighted synergy between the two is critical. The direct connection with real people in the community and online experts can never be overlooked and our conference aimed to create a forum to foster that.
During the Conference, Catherine Arrow, GA Secretary and Board member, spoke about the future of PR. What are the key insights of her speech?
The main message was that as communicators we all face the same challenges, but working together we can develop the solutions, locally and globally.
She highlighted how the power of our profession lies in being part of the wider global network and that we have an obligation to participate in the discussions that are taking place around the Melbourne Mandate and World Public Relations Forum. For two reasons – we have to represent New Zealand’s perspective and culture to the wider world, but, more importantly, we owe it to our own communities to make sure we constantly stretch our view of how we operate.
At the Annual PRINZ Awards, the “Special Project or Event“ category was jointly awarded, to Convergence and Social Innovation for the Student Volunteer Army communications work after the February 22 Canterbury earthquake and to Porter Novelli NZ for the launch of WilliamsWarn beer. Both were also awarded joint winners of the Supreme Award.
What are the aspects of “excellence” of both pieces of work?
While very different, both were characterized by excellent creative thought and seamless execution leading to tangible, measured results.
Of the Student Volunteer Army entry, the judges said: “This campaign captured the public’s imagination and support. Working in a crisis situation with limited resources and budget, the Student Volunteer Army’s organizers achieved outstanding results by leveraging community empathy through clever mass media targeting and social media savvy.”
Of the Williams Warn entry, the judges said: “This outstanding entry was all about creative event management, a strong focus on target audiences and clever social media strategy. The well-crafted campaign impressed judges with an edginess that achieved remarkable cut-through in a crowded market environment. This entry demonstrated how a relatively low budget public relations campaign can add a huge amount of value.”
As an organization of individuals and groups who work in PR and communications management industry, what are the main services you provide to your members?
Professional development opportunities and connecting with our peers is central to the value we deliver our members.
PRINZ has invested in the development of a free member-only professional development tool; RiVER, which provides a platform for members to demonstrate their competence and currency. Further to ongoing professional development, the opportunity to become accredited via APR is a major benefit for our members. Industry awards, networking events and conference are also important services that, based on member participation and feedback, are highly valued.
Whar are the main areas of focus of the CPD courses? How can they be useful to participants?
The 2012 PRINZ Trends Survey found that 95% of respondents said professional development was important for three main reasons – to keep up with a complex and changing environment, to better serve clients/organisation and, to remain competitive.
Our CPD calendar is wide ranging in content, delivering around 30 training sessions each year. From a day looking at the ‘Digital toolbox’ to a half day course on ‘Legal must-knows for PR people’ and a three part series of day-long sessions on ‘Creating successful events’, the programme aims to keep practitioners up-to-date with developments and provide learning that participants take back to their workplace and can put into practice immediately.
PRINZ organizes the “Accreditation in PR” for its members, an internationally recognized qualification for PR practitioners. What are the benefits of having the title?
More than half the respondents to our 2012 PRINZ Trends Survey rated the APR qualification as building the professionalism of the industry. APR is a mark of distinction and demonstrates commitment to the profession and to its ethical practice. It is a key component of our Continuing Professional Development programme, with the graduates each year joining a select group of accredited practitioners, currently numbering around 130 in New Zealand. Those people are able to use the accreditation as a mark of difference when applying for jobs, in New Zealand and overseas where APR is recognised.
Jane Dodd is President of PRINZ and managing director of Network Communication, a leading New Zealand consultancy. The Public Relations Institute of New Zealand represents the country’s public relations and communication management professionals who come from a broad range of industry sectors covering government and local government, not-for-profit and SMEs, corporate, consultancy and academia.