The CMO Show:
SenateSHJ on the valuable lessons...

Angela Scaffidi and Brendon O’Connor at SenateSHJ, sit down with host Mark Jones to discuss the valuable lessons 2020 has taught marketers, and how brands can achieve ‘lived’ organisational purpose.

SenateSHJ Managing Partner and Change Practice Lead, Angela Scaffidi, and Group Managing Director, Brendon O’Connor, believe that purpose is a brand’s reason for being, not selling.

“It’s not just the brand that people buy, but it’s the organisational reputation that’s behind it. You’re right about purpose in saying it’s all the rage. [But] it’s got to be authentic, and it’s got to be lived,” says Brendon. 

Angela says that marketers must not only define a brand’s reason for existing and rally the troops around a cause, but demonstrate what it means to lead with purpose. 

“It feels like sometimes it’s got to be profit or [purpose]. You can either be in the business of saving the world, or making a profit. And really it’s about how you say it. It is about being a profitable organisation for a number of reasons, but we can be profitable and we can do good things in the world,” says Angela.  

“I also think that the authenticity of the story. I think leaders telling stories that are real and true, and that reflect their purpose, and that gives people a bit of a sense of the light on the hill, is absolutely critical.” 

Tune into this episode of The CMO Show to discover more of the valuable lessons the historic year that was 2020 has taught marketers, and what ‘lived’ organisational purpose is and how brands can achieve it.


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The CMO Show production team

Producers – Charlotte Goodwin & Stephanie Woo

Audio Engineers – Tom Henderson & Daniel Marr

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Mark Jones: It seems everybody’s talking about purpose these days, and it’s become such an important conversation that you almost can’t go anywhere on the socials without reading about the latest organisation doing something good for the community. The challenge we have, however, is what’s the purpose of your customers? What do they believe, and how well are you in sync with that? Of course, it’s one thing to have a great purpose sign on the door of your company, it’s another thing to have your whole organisation rallying behind a worthwhile cause, and telling that story in a way that’s authentic and brings real lasting change.

Mark Jones: Hello friends, Mark Jones here. So great to have you with us on the CMO Show podcast. Today, I’m joined by Angela Scaffidi, she’s managing partner at SenateSHJ, and Brendon O’Connor, Group Managing Director at SenateSHJ. And, to be honest with you, I’m really excited about this because SenateSHJ is one of Filtered Media’s partners in the PROI Worldwide network, so it’s like introducing my friends to my other friends. And so I’m really hoping you’re going to enjoy the conversation today, of course, it’s a little bit, I got to warn you up front a bit, a little bit agency shop talk, but the interesting thing about this as we explore what’s been going on for us as businesses.

Mark Jones: And thinking about our clients and our communities, we touch on a couple of important areas that I think really shed some important light, perhaps a cathartic light on what we’ve been through this year in 2020. Firstly, we look at the trans-Tasman bubble, what’s it been like as organisations in terms of leaders who have teams that we care about, and how we build culture. Also, the clients and what’s been going on in terms of general business activity, so that trans-Tasman bubble is a particularly important thing, of course, SenateSHJ have offices both in Australia and New Zealand, so they’re uniquely qualified to speak about that.

Mark Jones: We also talk a lot about storytelling and really understanding narrative, how well do you understand the narrative that’s going on in your customers’ worlds? And then we get into this interesting conversation about corporate risk reputation, and how the landscapes change during COVID, particularly important right now as we have this sense in the community of a real underlying fear or concern, that perhaps we’re not doing the right thing by our customers and our team, and we want to get it right, and how far down the track do we go? So, a really fascinating conversation there, and then just lastly this question about how are we together as a community? What can we do through our words and our actions, and what campaigns can we tell that really authentically tell the stories that will engage and resonate. So, I’m really excited about this conversation, lots to learn, particularly if you’re a communications professional. So, let’s go and hear from Angela and Brendon.

Mark Jones: Thank you so much for joining us on the show.

Brendon O’Connor:        Thank you Mark.

Angela Scaffidi: Thanks for having us.

Mark Jones: Now, this is a chance for you to just, straight out of the gate, do a bit of bragging for me. You’ve won some awards lately, what’s going on?

Angela Scaffidi: So, I mean, in the last year or so we’ve won some awards, including a Mumbrella Award which is fantastic. We’ve won some awards for our work in the missing person space, which is awesome because it’s our very favourite pro bono client, we do a lot of work in that space, so it’s wonderful to be recognised for our work there.

Mark Jones: Well, congratulations. For those of you who don’t know SenateSHJ, you guys of course are very big in reputation, in corporate risk management, as well as messaging and all those sorts of things. Quickly give us a sketch of the business so we can contextualise how you help us all in the broader world of communications?

Brendon O’Connor: I guess, Mark, the first thing to note is, we’re Australia and New Zealand and we have offices in Melbourne, Sydney, Wellington, and Auckland. And you’re right, we specialise in reputation, in change and crisis, all things comms and risk related to those things, and we’re in both the corporate sector and in the public sector. And in each of our offices, and each of our markets we bring different strengths, which we like to think are complementary that our client’s benefit from.

Mark Jones: Yeah, and Angela there’s been quite a fun history. So, to pick up on that New Zealand thread, the merger of two organisations to create the one, you want to quickly just give us that background?

Angela Scaffidi: Yeah, sure. So, my former business partner and I set up a business in Melbourne, and we had originally worked at Porter Novelli, some friends of ours from Porter Novelli had opened up in New Zealand. We were both keen to do something together in Sydney, so we decided to merge – probably 15 or 16 years ago so it’s been a while now, but it was fantastic. We had shared values but very different approaches to things, we came together and it’s been now – and then we opened Sydney, so my former business partner and I had great desire to open in Sydney, but no money, and our Kiwi friends had both desire and money, so those things came together and we were able to make it happen.

Mark Jones: Well, one of the reasons I ask about all of that, of course, is the first topic I wanted to tackle was the trans-Tasman bubble. And for those of us who are thinking about our friends, obviously being here in Australia, but our friends in New Zealand, and there’s been lots of pent up demand, if you like, an appetite for getting back to normal trading conditions, whatever that looks like. So, I was interested to just get a perspective, because obviously you’ve got the offices across the ditch, as it were, on both sides, and what’s it firstly been like for you? How have you been able to keep the wheels of commerce running but, more importantly, what are you thinking about? And I’m really interested in an advice perspective here on the lessons you’ve learned, and what we can start to expect as we try and drum up more business.

Brendon O’Connor: It’s been a heck of an experience as you’d imagine, and just for a bit of context, I’d been in the business less than eight weeks when we went into lockdown in New Zealand – well in terms of my current role, I’ve been chairman for a couple of years, but certainly in the business. And I recall a discussion in Wellington, where we’ve been talking to you Ange, and what was going on in Australia, and talking about having to work from home. And I remember, and Wellington was saying, “That it doesn’t sound right, that can’t be right.” I can’t remember the exact timelines, but within a week or two we were all in lockdown.

Brendon O’Connor: And there were two observations for me, Mark. One is, it was remarkably seamless – it wasn’t without its stresses and strains and challenges, but we literally just carried on without being disrupted too much, and maintained a close connection with our clients. And then the other thing is, there would have been a couple of periods where each of the four offices were actually in different lockdown regimes, so Auckland and Wellington, at least once, have been under different regimes, and then Melbourne and Sydney and in between the countries. And so, but as Group MD,  I’ve noticed it has created challenges, but also I’ve been super impressed with our team and how seamless it’s being enabled by technology, but also attitude and culture, and also clients rolling with it.

Angela Scaffidi: Yeah, I think Mark, we had ‘people envy’ one day because we had one of our meetings where all of the Melbourne people, and probably all the Sydney people, and maybe all of the Auckland people were in their homes working from home. And everyone in Wellington was in a boardroom, eating chips and sitting next to each other, and we were like, “What is that phenomenon? How does one continue to do that?” It felt like we were so close and yet we were experiencing it so differently.

Mark Jones: It’s interesting when you think about the traditional rivalry that we enjoy, all the banter that goes back and forward between Australia and New Zealand, which of course is part of the fun, right? But it actually seems to me, observationally, that the tone has really changed where there is a lot more care and empathy for one another, and it’s almost like the dynamic between the two countries has become one of mutual concern in a way that perhaps we’ve never experienced before in a business culture, what’s that like for you in your team? How have you expressed that and understood it?

Angela Scaffidi: Yeah, so I would often go to New Zealand and I have been working in New Zealand for many, many years even before the merger, and they would make jokes about Australians. They made Irish jokes about us Mark! They’d laugh at us! I didn’t understand it.

Mark Jones: How dare they?

Angela Scaffidi: How dare they? They’ve stopped laughing at us, which is nice, but I think our team is much more connected than we’ve ever been, which is wonderful, across the two countries. But I think we’ve also got, and this is beyond our business, this is more broadly, I think we’ve got a stronger understanding of the other, a stronger empathy for the other, a stronger desire to collaborate. And I think one of the opportunities given the way in which both of our countries have managed differently, but through COVID, I think it creates opportunities, Mark, for businesses like ours to become much more of a gateway into Asia.

Angela Scaffidi: So, where are the opportunities where either it’s in New Zealander, or Australian, or a connected opportunity for businesses wanting to move into Asia to come through countries that have come out the other end, we’re still experiencing COVID, but who’ve learned some lessons and done some things well, then there’s a real opportunity for businesses like ours going forward to build off that collaboration and that opportunity.

Mark Jones: The interesting thing about the Australia, New Zealand dynamic, I’m interested in your perspective in terms of working with clients and their customers, so ultimately the rest of us consumers and B2B customers. It would seem to me that that dynamic has also changed, so as storytellers who are always fascinated and interested in the narratives that are shaping the stories we tell, how do you see that changing and what have you learned during this time?

Angela Scaffidi: I think that sometimes there’s a thought going in that what will work in Australia will work in New Zealand and vice versa. And we know that that’s not always the case, that there are some things that we certainly have in common, there are some things where we’re different. There is a – in both countries – the tall poppy syndrome, a need to the brands and organisations and companies need to stay relatively grounded and down to earth, and those are the things we admire. So, I think there’s some similarities but there’s also some nuances, and I think they’re some of the things Brendon and I think we’ve learned over the years. 

Brendon O’Connor: Totally.

Angela Scaffidi: So even, for example, our tagline at SenateSHJ is grounded in smart thinking. I don’t think we’d ever, for example, use smart thinking, because that would seem like we were bragging or being overly confident, but the grounded in, the down to earth, the accessible has really, for us, worked in both countries in terms of that positioning. So, I think there are some similarities and some differences, but I think it’s a risk sometimes to assume that what will work in one will work in the other. Air New Zealand’s a great example. I think RepTrak found, earlier in the year, did some research that said it’s the most respected brand in Australia, followed by Qantas interestingly.

Mark Jones: That’s remarkable.

Angela Scaffidi: Yeah, but then Air New Zealand with its down to earth warmness, sense of family about it, is the most respected brand probably in both countries, which I think is interesting.

Mark Jones: Must be all those hilarious flight preparation videos they did.

Angela Scaffidi: Brilliant. In what other country could you do those?

Mark Jones: Yeah. So, Brendon, what’s your view?

Brendon O’Connor: Look, I totally agree obviously with what Ange said, and that comes down to when you get into narratives and messaging and storytelling, , but also I guess the channels you use and how you approach things. So, we’re strong in the government relations space, how you approach government in Australia or in the state of Australia on a particular matter, or issue for a client that might be across the ditch, so to speak, might be quite different to how you need to approach it in New Zealand, depending on the political settings that you’re dealing with. So, you might get the same issue or need the same narrative, but how you go about achieving what you want to achieve could be quite different based on clinical settings and the relationships that you have, and the client has, the capability the client has in each market, and so forth.

Brendon O’Connor: So, it’s a little bit of 101, but you’re always customising for the situation. And so there are strong similarities between the two countries, but there are also quite a lot of differences in audiences and messaging, and channel to audience.

Mark Jones: I think what’s interesting for me is, again, this cultural business climate that we’re in now, we’re thinking about the stories that we tell, and I’ve been interested – even just in recent conversations with our own clients, and I’ve started asking, “So, what’s the biggest thing that’s changed for you this year?” And I’d like to reflect that question to you as professionals. And this is maybe where you can start thinking about the risk conversations, but we had a lot of assumptions coming into this about how the world works. Obviously it all got thrown up, and things like decision making, the speed at which we make decisions now, how we assess risk has changed, obviously teams have changed, but I’m interested in this concept of how organisations picture themselves as either reflecting or speaking into a narrative, and how that has changed, because I think this really plays into your expertise. So, what would your view be on what’s changed most in that context this year?

Angela Scaffidi: So as marketers, as you know, we do a lot of internal communication and engagement, so that’s our, yes there’s a reputation work and I think often what we try and do is really work across culture and reputation, because they’re intrinsically linked. But from an internal communication point of view, I mean, one of the things is just the fact that internal communication and that idea about organisational narrative and story, is right at the top seat. It used to be that there was someone down here managing the intranet, doing a newsletter, they were the internal comms person. Sometimes they had or didn’t have comms experience, but now that idea about the person sitting at the table to the right hand of the MD or the CEO is often the internal communication expert.

Angela Scaffidi: So, I think there’s something there about the idea of storytelling and the idea of stories within organisations. I also think that the authenticity of the story, and it’s nothing new, but I think leaders telling stories that are real and true, and that reflect their purpose, and that gives people a bit of a sense of the light on the hill, is absolutely critical. So, people have always had a good BS monitor, but I think this year when people have been really nervous and anxious about their futures, and looking for their organisation to be real and authentic and honest. And also to play a role in society, to do more than just sell widgets, but to actually stand up and play a bigger role.

Angela Scaffidi: I think all those things link into that idea about the strategy and the story and the power of narrative.

Brendon O’Connor: What we’ve seen and it’s well documented is quite a few things that were happening anyway are now happening faster, or are more acute. And a couple of lenses that I find us thinking about, or thinking through, at SenateSHJ on behalf of our clients, is the changing customer experience and changing customer expectations. So, when you talk about customer experience, I’m talking about the more and more connections with the customer being digital as opposed to face to face, and what does that mean for your narrative and how you communicate with customers.

Brendon O’Connor: And when I talk about customer expectations, and it’s touch on what Angejust referred to before, that is that the consumer, whether it’s an New Zealand consumer or someone buying shoes, or whatever, or the government stakeholder, is wanting to know more about the product or service that you’re being delivered. They want to know that you’re a responsible organisation, that somehow you’re contributing to society, and you go right up from the new in and the 17 sustainable development goals in the area of poverty, and biodiversity, and climate change, and things like that.

Brendon O’Connor: You bring it down into New Zealand and this governments or the last government, but reelected for well beings around natural resources and people resources, and so forth, environment, as well as the economy, and is doing it with a balanced view, which is, “Hey, I’m not just selling this widget, I’m selling this widget and I’m also contributing to society.”

Mark Jones: So, it’s interesting at the moment every organisation is talking about purpose it seems, and I actually wonder from your perspective, what do you reckon is really driving this? Is there a sense that the leaders in large organisations have this as a personal belief, or are they seeing this almost like through a slightly paranoid lens, that, “This is what customers are demanding of us now, and so we get our heads around it.” I think there’s an interesting tension playing out at the moment.

Brendon O’Connor: I agree, and my answer to that is sort of on the fence, would be both.  For example, in New Zealand, a large supermarket chain announced last week, they’ve got a policy where in the future their senior management team has got to have at least one in five have got to be Maori or Pacific Island ethnicity. So, that’s quite a reaction to stakeholder and market expectations and consumer expectations.  But, all these things to me Mark, start speaking to, “I’m selling, in that case, goods on the supermarket shelf or I’m selling airline tickets and a seat to Wellington, or wherever.” But, I’m worried about what the consumer thinks of my organisational reputation. Do you know what I mean?

Mark Jones: Yeah.

Brendon O’Connor: And so, it’s not just the brand that people buy, for example, the brand of shoes, but it’s the organisational reputation that’s behind it. You’re right about purpose of in saying, for all purposes all the rage, and as Ange said, it’s got to be authentic, and it’s got to be lived, but it’s a very real thing.

Angela Scaffidi: And there is definitely a risk, so we spoke to a number of people from a client organisation recently who said, “Our purpose is great, but we’ll never achieve it. It’s lovely and powerful, and inspiring, and engaging, but it’s 385 kilometres from what our real purpose is.”

Mark Jones: What, making money or something else?

Angela Scaffidi: Yeah, partly making money, and I think that’s the other thing. It feels like sometimes it’s got to be profit or. You can either be in the business of saving the world, or making a profit. And really it’s about, how do you say, it’s about ‘and’ actually.

Brendon O’Connor: Totally agree.

Angela Scaffidi: It is about being a profitable organisation for a number of reasons, and we can be profitable and we can also do good things in the world. Which I think is what NAB tried to do with it’s more than money slogan, and thinking that it’s this idea about, there is money in the story.

Brendon O’Connor: My perception of it is, like a lot of these things it’s not new. Meister was writing about purpose and professional services firms, 25 and 30 years ago. But how it’s evolved, my personal view is, how it’s evolved is, if you go back, I don’t know, 15, 20 years, you’d see a lot of the banks in New Zealand anyway, they’re only a banking thing and then they’d have a badge on their TV ads, would say they support such and such organisation, kids cancer or whatever. But, it felt like badging, whereas now I think consumers are far more sophisticated and they want to go deeper than that, and know it’s real and it’s authentic. That it’s not just like some pseudo sponsorship thing, but your organisations are living it. And to Ang’s point, a purpose, my perception at least has been in the past, a lot of it’s about inspiring the troops rallying around a cause.

Brendon O’Connor: That’s still relevant, but I think that the new crank the handle in the last 10 years is, it’s not just about rallying the troops, it’s around how we’re contributing to society and what’s their role in their community. And you see some of the big brands has shown a little leadership in the space.

Mark Jones: Yeah, so coming back from a board, senior leadership team perspective, it’s interesting to me the difference between risk and reputation, which of course both are quite distinct disciplines, as you well know, and I’m interested in your view on this – because you have this idea of risk which is sometimes seen as to a risk event, so we have a corporate breach, data breach, security breach, or something like that, or somebody has an unfortunate accident, and we’ve got to manage it, it’s a situation. Or we have reputation, which is this long term idea that a brand needs to get this narrative out into the marketplace and be known for being good human beings, or doing good thing, or whatever that reputation is that you’re seeking to sustain and build.

Mark Jones: There’s a lot of conflict latent in all of this that we’re going through at the moment, and we don’t really know which is the one that we’re responding to. It’s almost like an underlying fear. What’s your sense in talking with clients about this, how are they getting their heads around quite a complex set of factors? .

Angela Scaffidi: Yes, Mark, I’d agree. I think clients, and I think if you look even in the last few weeks, few months in Australia about the number of CEOs who have had to exit their organisations. I think there’s a level of nervousness about, “We want to do something, we need to be seen to be doing something, but by golly, we don’t want to do the wrong thing.” So, I think there’s a hesitancy which has crept in, which is, “I need to stand for something, but I don’t want to go out too far on a limb because then there’s a risk that people will respond badly to the thing that I’ve got gone out on.”

Angela Scaffidi: So, I do think there’s a little bit more of people joining together in alliances to say, “We all stand for this issue, or we’re all concerned about that.” I wonder if part of the alliance is the power of the alliance, I think part of the alliance is also, “I’m not coming out alone.”

Mark Jones: Yeah, safety in numbers.

Angela Scaffidi: Yeah, that.  You have to see more of the top 20 organisations that wanted to bring their staff back into the office in Melbourne, or the top 50 that supported gay marriage or whatever it might be, it just does feel like there’s more of that alliance. I do think there’s power in the collective, but I think it’s partly potentially a risk management strategy.

Mark Jones: Isn’t isn’t the psychology behind that fascinating, to think, “We’ll all sink or swim together.”

Angela Scaffidi: Yeah, but even if we’re all sinking, maybe we won’t all sink to the bottom, but we’ll sink somewhere.

Mark Jones: Yeah.

Brendon O’Connor: Just for clarity, I’d rather not sink. But, one thing that occurs to me, Mark, and it’s not unique to this year it’s, again, it’s one of those things that’ve been building for a long time, but there is a risk that organisation’s misinterpret what customers want and what customers expect in the space. And so, a business going out and commenting on something or positioning around something under the label of, “We contribute to the community,” there is risk in getting that wrong as well, because they might misunderstand customer expectations, and they might be told by their marketable customers, “Get back in your box, just make me the shoes.” Do you know what I mean?

Mark Jones: Right.

Brendon O’Connor: So, it is a complex thing to get right, and one of the answers to it is, in this day and age, is data, and really good customer insights, and good customer information. And I think increasingly, perhaps your old mindset of getting historical data and analysing it is too old and too slow, and real time dynamic data and having the ability to gather and assist data in real time, is becoming increasing point of difference, and being able to read these signals.

Mark Jones: Well, I like the way Simon Sinek talks about the purpose narrative in his context and he says, “It’s the degree to which everybody is aligned around a just cause.” So, you identify a “just cause” in the community that we can all rally behind, and hopefully your data would reflect that. And those who perhaps get the data wrong, are the ones that get the whole thing wrong, you back the wrong horse, as it were. I wonder what’s your view on the organisations you’ve worked with, that have done well to identify the just cause, that they nail it. Have you got any examples of spring to mind?

Angela Scaffidi: Yeah, I mean one is, we worked a number of years ago with a school in regional Victoria, and we were working with them on their purpose. And we were very focused on the students in that school, and so we had, I’ll pretend it’s Rosebud for the sake of the exercise, but all Rosebud high school students thrive for example. That was where we got to, and then we said, “HAngeon, but don’t we have a responsibility for every young person in our community?” Partly because the community that we were working with, there was a high level of youth suicide. So, they said, “Do we have a responsibility that is beyond the boundaries of our school, and beyond the boundaries of not just our students, every student?” And so they changed it to, “All Rosebud’s students thrive, that’s our purpose. Whether you come here or not, whether you go to local Catholic school, wherever you go, we have joint responsibility for keeping our young people safe, for keeping them alive, and for helping them to achieve their goals.”

Angela Scaffidi: And it was a very just goal, but it led to a very different mindset because sometimes even in the public education space, there’s competition between school-

Mark Jones: Of course.

Angela Scaffidi: … and certainly sometimes there’s competition around enrollments. This set actually that competition, if we really think about our higher purpose then actually there’s no place for competition here, this is all about helping our young people. There’s something, the energy in the room change and we went, “Oh, it’s not about our school, it’s about all of them.” And it was really powerful.

Mark Jones: Well, it was truly locating the school in the community, as part of the community not separate from it, so I imagine that was an energising force there.

Angela Scaffidi: Yeah, it suddenly became actually that idea about school as the heart of the community. And it also then said, “Oh, we could do this with this school, and that with this school.” So, it was really energising and engaging, and it came from conversation with all of the staff, 100 staff in the room figured that out, and then they all just went, “Wow, that’s it.” 

Mark Jones: That’s a great example. Brendon, any examples come to mind for you? 

Brendon O’Connor: One of our clients is one of the big four consulting firms of one of our clients here in New Zealand, we’re doing a lot of work with them and various reputation matters right at the moment. And also, actually, a former employer of mine, so therefore I know them well. I’ve always believed in their purpose and in the way it manifests around the world. Now, each country of this company have got their own imperatives and, of course, it is about generating really good returns for the partners and so forth, but it’s about building trust and society with solving the world’s biggest problems, that was their purpose statement.

Brendon O’Connor: And it’s, I forget maybe I think of the exact number, maybe 250,000 employees all around the world. And I felt that that was a very powerful purpose and it certainly motivated me, and the team I had, and we could gather around that. And we had the genuine capability of fulfilling that purpose, we hit the scale to do that and they are doing the everyday with us in the health sector, or government sector, or whatever. And so that’s an example at the other end of the scale, if you like, in terms of a global organisation, and there’s other organisations out there. 

Mark Jones: Well, the thing that I like about that story is the degree to which people believe it can be achieved, to whatever degree you can personally see that result or contribute to it. So, I think that’s why it’s powerful, because I believe it, “Yeah, I can see that.” And the Nike thing, for example, the positioning around taking Just Do It into myself as the hero is very much of that self empowerment story about, “Well, I’m going to define what success looks like for me, and that will be okay.” So, you see a lot of these recurring messages about self determination, I think, which kind of allows you to enter into a story on your own terms, and I think that’s what people quite like.

Brendon O’Connor: That’s a very good point.

Mark Jones: Just to spin in a slightly different direction, I wanted to pick up on this Togetherness Index you did not too long ago. So, as I understand it you did a survey, an interesting bunch of research with people looking at what brings us together, and some of the key pillars around that. And I think that’s really quite interesting, I was interested to hear what you’d learned through that process of really starting to measure what brings us together – if you like, it’s a neat segue from this purpose conversation.

Angela Scaffidi: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that concept of social cohesion really came to the fall at the beginning of COVID, so we knew, and working with government as well, we knew that COVID could divide us or bring us together. And we had to be careful that we didn’t have too many campaigns that sounded nice but actually people said, “That is a million miles from that experience.” 

Mark Jones: Yeah, you don’t say, ” We’re all in this together,” and you’re like, “No, we’re not. I don’t care about you.”

Angela Scaffidi: So, we knew that there was a risk, we knew that there was an opportunity, but we also knew that getting the tone right. So, the research came out of, probably somewhat we did in a couple of states with governments and New Zealand as well. But, I mean, at the heart of it, Mark, is the idea about the compelling story and the story that people can engage around, it’s who they trust, unsurprisingly, it’s people that they know, but there was somewhere where we thought, “Look, they may or may not trust government,” that there were some surprises in the data around who people trusted, etc. But, I think there’s something about the story, something about the storyteller, and then this idea about, how do you just consistently tell that story in a way that keeps people engaged?

Angela Scaffidi: So, there were some insights from our side of the research and we’re hoping to continue to do it, and we’re also looking at how we do that Togetherness Index maybe even at a local government level, or we might try and do New Zealand, et cetera. So, that was some of the learnings for us.

Mark Jones: Yeah, for me it was a great reminder, I just got a copy here, I was looking at who can we tap into to trust to bring us together, and this is this recurring thing that we in communications we talk a lot about. One of the results here was the proportion of people who believe people or organisations have been effective at keeping us informed about issues of relevance. So, 70% family, 61% friends, 58% your state government, 56% your federal government, 55% mainstream media which, by the way, given the environment we live in is pretty high I would’ve thought. And then it goes up from there down into people in your local community, leaders and so on, social media are 40%, and then leaders of large businesses at 34%. So, I thought that was an interesting sketch of, if you like, a reminder of the people aspect of communications.

Mark Jones: I think those of us in comms, were so, quite rightly, focused on media, we’re focused on corporate communications and what we’re saying through all those formal channels, and it was for me a reminder that we have a look that, “Yes, those things happen,” and then they feed the family. We’re all comparing what we’ve read from different sources among our family and friends, and I wonder to what extent, maybe those of us in leadership and decision making have forgotten the power of that.

Brendon O’Connor: Well, look, it’s an interesting observation, Mark, and I can’t speak to the industry generally but from time to time we probably do forget about that, we get tied up in our channels to market and in our integrated comms project plan, and all those good things. I guess, as you hinted at though, those things that we do focus on do feed that family and peer group, so in a way it’s sometimes a platform for that happening. If you look at your own behaviour, as a consumer I mean, you might be formally view on what’s happening the United States political system at the moment, and you’re reading stuff and then telling your friends and family about it, and they’re playing by what they’re reading and it’s all, because none of us are in the States talking to Donald Trump personally, or Joe Biden personally are we.

Brendon O’Connor: So, we’re taking that information through those channels that you just talked about,  and then we’re parroting it back to our friends and family, usually as experts. And so, our friends and family feel like we’re influencing them. So, it’s a circular thing.

Mark Jones: Yeah, and I’ve noticed that there’s been a lot of comparison of media sources in interpersonal friendships and family. And so you go home and my daughter will say, “Oh, this is such and such thing happened in US politics,” and she’s a teenager and she’s soaking all this stuff in, and then so that sparks a conversation, and I think I’ve just been reminded in these times just how diverse our sources of information have become, and just how much it’s feeding connectedness in all sorts of interesting ways, sometimes it’s debate sometimes it’s agreement, but there’s a real appetite I think for in community settings and family settings really seeking context and trying to understand things.

Brendon O’Connor: How old is your daughter?

Mark Jones: She’s 17.

Brendon O’Connor: So, what that makes me think about is, and I’m speculating here, but if we went back say 20 or 30, years. Would a 17 year old had been attuned to what’s happening the United States as your 17 year old is? And the answer is, possibly not. And so, all these different media platforms come with great risks and problems that are well documented, but equally it’s also democratising because we all have access to that sort of information now. It’s not just the six o’clock news.  And so, like I say, it comes with problems and risks but, equally, the information is out there for us all to see and discuss.

Mark Jones: Yeah, and I just add to that, I think one of the things that we discuss around the table is not so much the content of what she’s raising, but we talk a lot about the information sources, in other words, the context.  So, it actually becomes an analytical conversation, if that makes sense, which is quite fascinating that that’s what’s going on at scale if you think globally. I think is probably one of the biggest things that’s happened in media this year as a result, is actually been that awareness of context has become number one. 

Angela Scaffidi: Yeah, and I was going to say, I think it’s also, and again, glaringly obvious, but that idea about listening to people not like you.  I think it’s really important as communications people to really look at the various sources and to really explore, definitely the context and what’s being said, but maybe what’s driving it. It’s just that idea about really thinking about how to reach people, and what they’re listening to, and what they’re engaging with, and suspending judgement a little too.

Brendon O’Connor: Totally.

Angela Scaffidi: I remember this, I remember one time saying to a group of my friends, “Who would ever vote for X, who would ever vote for X?” And my friend said, “Oh, I did. They’re good for business.”. So, just suspending judgement .

Brendon O’Connor: I also think as practitioners, coming back to what you both said, Angie, in your case authenticity and, Mark, in your case your daughter and the analytical conversation, the contextual conversation. I think that’s, the world in general but young people in particular, increasingly savvy about context. So, therefore, as communicators with our clients we need to make sure that we’re genuinely authentic in our messaging and how we’re placing that messaging, because your 17 year old will see through it in a flash, if we’re not authentic.

Mark Jones: Right, and the demand that we not just know the narrative, in other words the big picture story arc that’s going on in the community, but there’s a sense in which we have to really be finely attuned to the nuance. So, individual words really really matter in a way that they’ve never mattered before, so when you go out with your messaging it seems to me that, and this has been my experience, that we’re really spending a lot more time studying the meaning and the inferred meaning across cultures, and age groups, and psychographics, in a way that perhaps we’ve never really considered before, we’ll make a quick decision, there’s the line, off we go. Now we’re like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, hAngeon a minute. How could this possibly play out in 10 different scenarios?”

Angela Scaffidi: Yeah, completely agree. Sometimes the test was you, or maybe there was a small group and say, “Is this all right, everything all right?” Now I say to people, “Look at every single word. And if you are my enemy, if you were against what I was saying, how could you misconstrue this?” So, really pushing and prodding at things, and really trying to, more than ever before, really put yourselves in the shoes of the recipient to say, “Will this feel like we’re telling them what to do, or will this feel like we’re talking down to them, or…”

Angela Scaffidi: I’ve done a lot of work in the obesity and healthy living space. You got to be careful that you’re not telling someone what to do with their lives because, to your point, Mark, they’re in control of their lives, it’s their life. So, I do think there’s something about really testing, I agree with you, we’ve never tested before, and then really putting yourself in the shoes to say, “Will this work or not, will this resonate, will this give them agency or take away that sense of self control, or whatever it might be?”

Mark Jones: Correct.

Brendon O’Connor: It’s a heck of a dilemma isn’t it, because as well as us as practitioners having all these different channels and ways of reaching consumers, or customers, or stakeholders, of course if you get it wrong there’s more sources blow back. And so you do have to take a cautious approach shall we say, but equally the risk there is, you over sanitise things because you’re worried about if you – do you know what I mean? Will you compromise your narrative?

Mark Jones: Take a position and avoid the sea of sameness, you don’t be as conservative as your clients, I think there’s a sense in which we are responsible for pushing them a little bit. I mean, we talk about bravery in agencies, and I really dislike that word because I think if the data is telling you, you should go in a direction, you go in that direction it’s not brave it’s just the right thing to do. But, nevertheless, there’s a sense in which we have to advocate for the right thing, I think is probably a good way to think about it.

Angela Scaffidi: Yeah, completely agree. I remember saying to a client once who was in the health space, they said, “Ah, our story is we’re committed to people’s health and wellbeing.” I said, “Well, we are really in trouble if you’re not. If you’re a health organisation and you’re not, we’re in real trouble. Can we go a little bit deeper?”

Mark Jones: “Yeah, it turns out we believe in health.” Yeah, no kidding!Well, if I was to summarise this part of our conversation, it sounds like it’s a great time to be in communications.

Brendon O’Connor: Totally

Mark Jones: He says, tongue in cheek. I think it’s been interesting to that point, so I guess this is a bit of an agency shop talk here, but we’ve seen a real dramatic pullback in spending in certain areas this year as companies went into, I don’t know, freeze of some description for a little while there, but I’m starting to see a bit of life back again, and I think really bringing out the importance of these conversations I think is really important for organisations that want to have healthy brands, and can actually engage in these conversations. I think that seems, to me, the real opportunity here is to not shy away from the difficult stuff, to really press into it.

Mark Jones: And on this show we talk a lot about marketing and how we understand the customers and what strategies we’re going to employ in a campaign perspective, but I think, for me, this conversation has been a really great reminder of thinking about the words that we use, the stories that we tell, and how we shape the message in a way that is authentic, that really marries up with what people truly believe. And we really need to avoid this perception that it’s being manipulative, that it’s in some way trying to trick people, because it’s just not going to work. That’s not the world we live in, anymore, if it was ever true I don’t know.

Angela Scaffidi: I know it’s politically incorrect, but I remember when I started out in management consulting I would go to a large organisation, you’d go and meet with all of the C-suite, and then I’d go down find the smokers, they’re very hard to find these days and I don’t encourage smoking, but I go down and find the smokers and I’d really find out what was going on. They would be a great test for, “What’s this organisation really about?” “Well let me tell you about, blah, blah.” And then I’d go back and I’d say, “Look, it’s a small test case, but this is what people are really thinking.”

Angela Scaffidi: And even though they’re not in offices together, they having those water cooler moments, they’re having them as you’re speaking, they’re doing chats and texting each other to say, “Gosh, listen to this person, but this isn’t true at all.”  People are testing and pushing, and prodding, and challenging the message more than they ever had before, and they might not be physically together but in some ways they’re more connected than ever.

Mark Jones: Correct, and as a related aside, I’ve been talking to some clients recently who didn’t have budget for big customer surveys. And I said, “Well, you’ve got all of these people in your organisation who talk to customers all the time, frontline people in contact centres, salespeople. Go talk to them, they’ll tell you the equivalent smoker analogy.” I mean, these people know how they think you’d feel because they’re actually having the conversation, so go do that, it won’t cost you much.

Mark Jones: Well it’s been a fantastic conversation. So, I just want to thank you so much for your time and your insights today, it’s been great to explore the trans-Tasman bubble, the future communications, how we’ve survived COVID-19 this year, and it’s been great to see you both and catch up again. So, thank you for joining us on The CMO Show, and all the best for life at SenateSHJ across the ditch, on both sides.

Angela Scaffidi: Thank you Mark.

Brendon O’Connor: Thank you Mark, it’s been a pleasure.

Mark Jones: Okay, so Angela Scaffidi and Brendon O’Connor, my friends from SenateSHJ. I hope you enjoyed listening to them as much as I enjoyed speaking with them. A couple of takeaways for me, firstly, that tension between risk and corporate reputation. I think getting leaders and CEOs to recognise that that tension is there, and perhaps that’s why they’re feeling anxious, or perhaps why they are feeling a sense of urgency around needing to make a decision. Sometimes when we call out the unspoken thing in the room, it can really change the mood and get people to see things through a different lens.

Mark Jones: I also like this idea around the Togetherness Index that SenateSHJ put up. The reminder that the conversations we have with real humans in your family, your friends, that word of mouth thing that we love to talk about in marketing, it is driven by so many different channels. Of course, we know this, but we’ve got to remember that those conversations that are going on are far more nuanced and they’re contextually aware.Mark Jones: And I just think it’s a really great reminder as professionals who are seeking to tell stories, and we’re speaking into a complex world that we remember those conversations that are going on. I So, that’s it for this episode of The CMO Show podcast, as always, subscribe to us on all the channels, and tell your friends. Of course, word of mouth is really important, as I just said, and we’ll see you next time.

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