Making global communications work: top insights from top global communicators

It's a small world

On Wednesday night I joined 30+ comms professionals at the IABC UK event ‘The world is your oyster: making global communications work.’

We heard from Claudia d’Amaoto about her experiences working in Brazil for Anglo American; Emma Thompson, an international communications consultant who’s spent more than a decade working in global communications; and Tom Blackwell, CEO, EM Communications who has more than ten years’ communications experience based in Russia.

This session was perfectly timed for me as I start a new role at Pearson next week, as an Employee Communications Manager. This will be my first comms role in a global organisation of this size so I’m really excited about the challenge ahead.

Here I’ve summarised some of the insights that I found valuable from Claudia, Emma and Tom:

  • Research the demographics of a country: find out about the education levels and skills levels. Remember, IT industry in some emerging countries is only 10 years old – in the US it’s 30 years old. So that affects things. Some people will have never worked in another company culture. The World Economic Forum is a good for country briefings.
  • Speak to local teams and ask them: what three things should I know about your country? What three things should I be doing to make comms better?
  • Spend time in the country you’re working with if you can. Live and breathe the issues. Shared reference points are crucial. If you don’t have the luxury of travel organise virtual coffee mornings / brown bag sessions / focus groups. Work hard to get to know the teams.
  • Identify your comms sponsors who’ll be your champions on the ground. Could be the sales guy or the GM. They can be a source of info and intelligence for you too.
  • Listen. Learn. And adapt.
  • Understand the practical elements that will impact what you do. Things such as working days of the week, religious holidays and their impact.
  • Focus on the outcomes you want from your comms and work with the local teams. Be prepared for longer planning cycles – if you launch something don’t expect it to be launched locally within even 8 weeks because of local activity.
  • ‘Double up and double down’. Emma told us that her team had carried out research which showed non-english speakers must hear a message 7-8 times in order to digest it and act. That’s versus English as a first language speakers needing to hear it 3-4 times.
  • Work closely with HR and leadership. You all play a part to help employees understand why a company is run and how it’s run, no matter where they’re based.
  • Think about the plan, but think about the relationships you need to build to ensure you’ve created the right plan and to help you deliver the plan.

As the session wrapped up, it was really reassuring to hear all three speakers say that in reality there is no perfect formula for making global comms work. It’s about using your gut instinct and having the conviction to go for it. Thanks to Emma, Tom and Claudia for your valuable insights – I’ll definitely be using what I learnt and applying it in my new role next week. Wish me luck!

Image: ‘It’s a small world, isn’t it’ by Dennis Jarvis. License courtesy of Creative Commons


Why Aussies and Brits don’t speak the same language

Do we speak the same language Down Under? (image courtesy of


Brits and Aussies: We speak the same language…..don’t we?

When I arrived in Australia from the UK two years ago, I assumed the transition to the corporate communications industry here in Oz would be simple. After all, we speak the same language and share similar cultural traits.

It’s not been quite that simple. My work in various communications roles since arriving in Australia has helped me discover lots of nuances specific to Oz, in particular interesting phrases and words I’d never used before. Here’s a few examples of new language I’ve needed to learn and adapt to, and their place in the Aussie language:

  • Took out’: No, nothing to do with going on a date or getting floored in a fight. This peculiar little phrase is frequently used in corporate communications and media copy to describe winning something. It is a direct replacement for the word ‘won’, as in:
    “John took out first place in the annual staff swimming competition.”
  • ‘Flow-on’: I first noticed this phrase used in the media in 2011 during the devastating Queensland floods. At first, I assumed it was a reference to the literal effects of the flow-on of the water. But it’s not. It is a phrase used as a prefix to the word ‘effect’, ‘impact’ or ‘result’, such as: “The flow on effect of having no food was that Sue was very hungry.”
  • Bashed / bashing: Used frequently by the media to describe someone beaten up, punched, or kicked. It sounds cartoon-like to me, almost like a Tom and Jerry-esque caper, but the media here use it to describe a serious incident. I first saw this used when notorious Melbourne gangland leader Carl Williams was ‘bashed’ to death with an exercise bike in prison. But it’s also used whenever there is a violent attack. Perhaps softening the reporting of gruesome and violent incidents with a word like bashed, is perhaps the whole point. Here’s the actual report from ABC news on the death of Carl Williams: “Gangland killer Carl Williams died at the high security Barwon Prison after being bashed several times with part of an exercise bike, Victoria Police has revealed.

That’s just a few of the examples I’ve come across. There are plenty more: lollies instead of sweets; thongs instead of flip-flops; the tendency to shorten every word to an ‘o’ (as in ‘arvo (afternoon), rego (registration), avo (avocado).

Does anyone who has worked in both Australia and the UK have more?

Language sensitivities: Murdoch’s mistake

Portraying different races, cultures, and disabilities using acceptable terminology in writing or in speech can often be a challenge.

You need to keep up-to-date with trends, understand political or cultural sensitivities, stay abreast of accepted styles and be aware of how the communities themselves wish to be portrayed.

Let’s take the description of ‘disabled people’ as an example. Most of us will remember when the word ‘handicapped’ was completely acceptable. And while ‘disabled people’ is the preferred terminology in the UK, over in the US, the accepted phrasing is ‘people with disabilities’. I found this interesting blog post explaining some of the complexities here.

It’s really difficult. But, I believe that anyone involved in communicating to a wide audience has a responsibility to use correct and current language as best they (we) can. It shows awareness, sensitivity, understanding, intelligence and ultimately retains your credibility as a communicator.

It was quite the opposite for media tycoon Rupert Murdoch when he used the term ‘mentally retarded’ at the Leveson Inquiry this week.

Murdoch wasn’t being malicious – he was praising UK Prime Minister David Cameron for his dedication to his son Evan, who died aged nine years old after battling severe physical and mental disabilities.

Murdoch wasn’t trying to create shock – I really do think that at 81-years-old he just didn’t really think about what he was saying.

And Murdoch might not even have known he had made a mistake – as an Aussie, that terminology is a lot more widely-used Down Under than in England.

But that’s all pretty irrelevant. I think that as the head of a media empire, speaking to a global audience, in the 21st Century, Murdoch had a responsibility to not make that mistake.

He’s not just any 81-year-old Aussie chatting to a few friends down the pub. He’s a man who (whether we like it or not) has a massive reach all across the world. And with that comes responsibility to understand and use the correct and current language of the time and the place he is in.

By not doing so, Murdoch showed himself to be out of touch with the modern world, lacking relevancy and – let’s face it – lacking a bit of common sense.

Words have power, they garner respect and build credibility, and they reflect a person’s understanding of the world.

When you use the incorrect words, the exact opposite becomes true.

A few tips:

  • In business, the internal ‘style guide’ of the organisation should always make reference to correct terminologies, or at least highlight particular areas of caution. This of course depends on your industry and relevant audiences.
  • Check out charity websites: If you’re looking to portray a particular community or group of people, I find it easiest to check relevant websites and copy the language used. For example, if I am writing about diabetes, I’d check Diabetes UK to discover the correct terminology is ‘people with diabetes’.
  • It’s always worth including a list of terminologies in briefing notes if your leadership will be meeting with external stakeholders from particularly interest groups.