The International Government Communication Forum’s third and final session for Wednesday, Challenging the Lack of Capacity in an Era of Change Communication, tackled the importance of lifelong education in the field of communication, and emphasised the need for experienced communication specialists to ensure the integrity of communication in a digital age.
The session saw Sir Craig Oliver, Director of Politics and Communication for former British Prime Minister David Cameron, Dr Abdullah Al-Maghlouth, Ministry of Media Spokesman and Director-General of the Centre for Government Communication in KSA, and Mike Kujawski, Managing Partner, Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing, Canada, in discussion. It was moderated by Muntaha Al Ramahi, TV Anchor and Host of Al Arabiya’s Panorama talk show.
“The topic of government communication is complicated. We’ve seen great acceleration in communication, and some governments have not been able to catch up. One of the key issues causing governments to lag behind is the fact that schools and universities are not offering courses in fields like specialised media projects, media monitoring, content creation, audience behaviour, or analytics, so departments do not have qualified employees to keep them ahead of the curve,” said Dr Al-Maghlouth.
When people reach out to government or other platforms and don’t get a quick response – or any response at all – they voice their frustration, and governments get defensive, he added. “This causes trust issues, and a lack of transparency. Today we all have access to the right platforms, but we’re relying on automated monitoring when manual monitoring – using people with intellect – is much more reliable. With this in mind, it’s absolutely vital that academics start playing a bigger role in qualifying people to manage the fast-changing pace of communication.”
Social marketing, not social media
Kujawski agreed that there’s tremendous pressure on government communicators to motivate behavioural change. To achieve that they need to look to social marketing, he added. “This is not to be confused with social media. Social marketing is an effective and science-driven way for governments to effectively motivate behaviour change over time. Social marketing studies the target audience and understands its motivations and barriers to change, but it also looks at social science theories.”
He added that the term ‘marketing’ isn’t used very often in the public sector, saying that in the world we live in, “it should be applied more than ever. Governments can use the same tools that corporations use to sell products to improve the lives of citizens and benefit society for all. This is not just a process, however. It’s a mindset. By doing their research and ensuring they’re approaching communication as a lifelong education, governments can understand their audiences and how to approach them to enact the greatest change.”
Know your story for quick, positive communication
Sir Oliver emphasised Dr Al-Maghlouth’s point about governments being slow to change. “Governments are sometimes slow to communicate and can therefore be defined by constant communication on social media, which can make them defensive. As a government, it’s important to act fast, know your story and send positive communications out to balance negative communication. It’s also important to know that people react emotionally before they act rationally, which is often the opposite of how governments act.”
Sir Oliver added that it was vital to hire people who understood that. “Great communication needs long-term, strategic thought, and good people. If you don’t have someone who can help you frame your argument properly, you risk having the opposition, or someone else, frame your argument for you, and it’s very difficult to escape that,” he pointed out.
Crisis management as vital as fire extinguishers
Speaking of acting fast, Dr Al-Maghlouth said that “crisis control was as important as having fire extinguishers in a building”, adding that governments should have “crisis control drills” so that they know what to do in case of an emergency. He used New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as a great example of what a good communicator looks like. “In the recent attacks in New Zealand, and I hope nothing like that ever happens again, Jacinda Ardern was quick, emotional and direct. As a result, nobody blamed her for the attacks. Instead people admired her. Governments need to let go of bureaucracy and embrace change and a faster pace. People are compassionate, and governments need to reflect that in their communications.”
Middle East model of communication
Dr Al-Maghlouth cited a study done by a Stanford researcher who found that posting content at the weekend was unnecessary as fewer people were online during that time. “In the Middle East however, it’s just the opposite,” he said. “People are more active at weekends here. The Middle East needs its own communication model. We need to find and create think tanks and research centres that can help us form the foundations of our own communications format. We can take lessons from other countries, yes, but we must not copy-paste their communication models.”
Organised by the International Government Communication Centre (IGCC) of Sharjah Government Media Bureau, IGCF 2019 is held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Mohamed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah. The two-day event held at Sharjah Expo Centre runs under the theme ‘Behavioural Change Towards Human Development’, and has brought together global thought leaders, prominent figures, top officials, and government communication experts from around the world to discuss and explore international best practices.
© Press Release 2019