By Trinh Dong and Lucia Kubackova

The IABC/Calgary Transform conference was a great end the chapter’s successful year filled with many special events. Through engaging presentations and lively table talks, the conference was a unique opportunity for communications professionals to share, discuss and reflect upon the topic of constantly evolving communications discipline. The inspiring speakers were:

  • Vance Crowe (Director of Millennial Engagement at Monsanto agrochemical company)
  • John Larsen (General Manager of Edelman Calgary),
  • Jeff Bradshaw (President and CEO at V Strategies) and
  • Doug Lacombe (President and Founder of Communicatto).

Here are some key learnings from their presentations, which left the audience absorbed in deep thoughts.

1. Vance Crowe – MEME – Who is your tribe?

Vance accepted the job offer at Monsanto as a Director of Millennial Engagement three years ago. At that time, his opinion was entirely shaped by negative rumours about the company presented by various external sources. Vance Crowe took this job offer as a learning opportunity to meet and interact with scientists, biologists, engineers and farmers working with Monsanto. He wanted to explore the other side of Monsanto’s “story,” which upset many people. “I knew I was either going to find out that the rumours are true, or I was going to face potentially one of the biggest communications challenges of these times!” The latter turned out to be true. He came to a realization that the value of agriculture and food had been misunderstood by the majority of the population, and that the science is just not enough to compete with this misinformation.

One of his most challenging tasks was to find things that are valuable to the audience and that “speak” the audience’s language. He wanted to build trustworthy Internet artefacts where audiences could find all the information about the company. Vance discovered that memes are the most effective communication channel that fills the gap between the public (in this case Millennial generation), and Monsanto. Memes are succinct, humorous and easy to remember. They are simply a perfect way to communicate all key messages to this generation.

So what is the key learning of this presentation? Your communication channels need to be surprising, educational and they need to align with your tribe. These were the qualities that make them viral and competitive.

2. John Larsen – The decline in trust, branding and our future

For the first time in the history, Canada is in the top 50 of distrusted nations and has witnessed a considerable decline in trust in all four key institutions – business, government, NGOs and media. These were just some of the shocking facts with which John started off his presentation.

“Canadians are more likely to trust sources outside of established areas of authority,” said John. Surprisingly, peers and search engines are the top trusted sources people turn to for information. To rebuild the trust, John recommended that institutions work towards a new operating model, which prioritizes its employees, and treat them with respect.

On the topic of branding, John pointed out that customers have a tendency to purchase products from brands that align with their values. It teaches us an important lesson that our communications needs to evolve simultaneously with customers’ changing perceptions.

As a result, we see a raise of a new discipline called communications marketing, which has a primary role to help brands and enterprises earn trust, attention and relevance in a rapidly changing world. Larsen anticipated the future where communicators are heading. He says, “Algorithms will evaluate the importance of our stories, media relations will be as easy and convenient as ‘snacks,’ mobile will become the first and foremost tools when it comes to campaigns and projects, and paid, owned and earned media will overlap each other…” Communication will move from “what we want to say” to “what people need to hear,” targeting specific groups and audiences.

In conclusion, John took Edelman’s core values as an example to illustrate how business effectively leads and operates. Edelman’s three core values are:

  • Evolve (Focusing on the importance of listening to community’s feedback and adapting the strategy for brands),
  • Promote (Creating contents that create movements), and
  • Protect (Protecting consumers/customers by focusing on human rights, product safety and tax, and creating a strong relationship with audiences).

3. Jeff Bradshaw – Story first. Medium Second.

Humans have evolved non-stop over the last billion years. “Our audiences have become more and more sophisticated to the point where they know the difference between good and bad content,” said Bradshaw. Moreover, the human attention span has dropped from twelve seconds to eight seconds, which is even less than a goldfish’s attention span. In the world where we are overwhelmed by information, it is a big challenge for communicators to constantly come up with new ideas and keep up with constantly evolving technology.

Artificial intelligence exhibited by machines, virtual reality system, which stimulates a person’s physical presence in a virtual environment through images, sounds and projected scenes are the most recent and the most brilliant inventions we have ever made. All of these inventions open new avenues through which we can communicate with our audiences. Bradshaw illustrated through interesting videos, such as Merrell ‘Trailscape’, how amazingly virtual reality has changed the way we approach communications. This video showed that the virtual reality forms the perfect playground for life adventures. Another video “Interactive Virtual Reality Training” shows the use of the virtual reality in creation of a self-guided interactive fire extinguisher training program.

Jeff Bradshaw also emphasized that technology is simply a tool to support our ideas because without a story, they [medium] are useless. Bradshaw’s presentations covered the whole range of emotions, which were provoked by powerful messages and great stories. At the moment, Bradshaw filled the room with tears and sadness when he showed the video -“Guns with history.” The video was what people called unthinkable. To educate people about the gun violence, they opened a gun-store and invited first-time gun buyers to check it out. Cameras were hidden in corners to record people’s reactions. On each gun, they labeled a tag that indicated the model of the gun and shootings; and the seller would tell the buyers stories behind the shootings, for example, what/ where/ how they happened and how many people were shot. Eventually, those first-time buyers ended up leaving the store with a pale face and tears in their eyes. The store might not be real but the messages they delivered were extremely powerful. These were unexpected and therefore memorable tactics and strategies to tell the story. The “power” of your story is the key element that makes people interested in your content. In fact, the story is so powerful that even “if you don’t have one, make it up, and make it interesting,” said Bradshaw.

4. Dough Lacombe – Content is the QUEEN, not the KING

Doug Lacombe launched his presentation with a story:

“Once upon a time, a village called the Internet was ruled by benevolent kings. One day, the throne was seized by a guy named Mark Zuckerberg, the info drawbridge went up and the village was facing new threats.”

The story continues: one of the biggest threats was “losing the village (the Internet) to the culture of hate,” which members were not only the louder ones but also greater in numbers. In order to combat this battle, communicators need to equip with “weapons” which are paid, owned, earned and social media. Even more importantly, they need to equip themselves with a strategic and detailed plan. The strategic plan includes assessment of the situation, setting the objectives and targets, coming up with the strategy, actions and controls, and preparing for crisis and resources. It also needs to establish a code of conduct to support the “soldiers” online regarding people, access, secrets, consequences, tone, identity, etc.

Doug also provided his audience with 10 social media pro tips during a crisis, and gave us tips on how to find and track influencers by using lists, hashtags, conversation threads and monitoring tools such as Heartbeart and Radian 6, which all contribute to more targeted and effective communication.

It’s undeniable that content is the key element in communication; however, without a well-prepared strategic plan and a detailed code of conduct to protect “our people,” it would be hard to win against the battle with the culture of hate. The key learning is to always start with the strategy before you create content. Content is the Queen, not the King.

To learn more about Doug’s presentation, click here.

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