Profile: Adrian Cropley, Vice Chair, IABC

Charged, enthusiastic and an impassioned globe traveller is how one would probably define Adrian Cropley. From leading IABC Victoria to doing voluntary work to opening a retail store (and eventually a restaurant), Cropley is a man of diverse ambitions.

Having immigrated to Australia in his youth, Cropley was exposed to change at a very early age. “I migrated to Australia at the age of 10 which was quite a traumatic change for me. I think adjusting to change is something I carry from my schooling years,” recalls Cropley.

His academic roots ultimately led to a path toward human resources and a job at Ericsson where he would become the Director of HR.

“It was about 15 years ago, when I was told to take up the role of internal communications from the then-CEO. My first response was, ‘what on earth is internal communications?’”

To best understand the concept, Cropley went in search of delivering the true meaning to internal comms.

“It was not about the company newsletter and organizing events, it was more about strategy. I introduced a strategy for internal communications that got adopted on a global level and I travelled places to execute that strategy,” he explains.

One of those places was Asia, where Cropley grew his team to 8 with a strong focus on intranet sites.

Ahead of his time

At a time when few companies fully understood the value of effective internal communication, Cropley was busy creating a robust strategy for executive communication.

“I developed a strategy to produce a number of communication channels dedicated to the CEO. We developed a personalised CEO brand called intouch to communicate with the employees. This included regular news updates through e-mail and arranging breakfasts and lunches as an open forum for employees to approach the CEO and share ideas, views and opinions.”

Intouch TV was also created to broadcast interviews with the CEO and discussions about a product or service.

Cropley’s multi-channel initiative led to an IABC Gold Quill Award in 2004.

Introduction to IABC

After working with Ericsson for 15 years, Cropley accepted a redundancy package and went off to see the world. After his globetrotting, Cropley set up his own consultancy, Cropley Communication and developed a relationship with IABC. “I started my association with IABC because of its sheer exposure to communicators across the globe. I was introduced to a network of peers who could develop my business and support me in my endeavour.”

Cropley started volunteering at IABC Victoria, Melbourne and then acted as Vice President for IABC Victoria the following year. At the same time, he became involved with the Asia-Pacific region. Thereafter, Cropley applied for the International Board of which he now serves as Vice Chair. In his current role, Cropley brings profound international exposure and an innate curiosity to understand various cultures.

For example, in spite of organizations becoming more global in their communication strategies, Cropley thinks companies need to think locally within the cultural contexts. He does not support the view of applying the same approach in different countries and believes in tailoring strategies to varied cultures. It’s not only about language and translation; delivery and tone are also important during communication.

“If you are working in the Philippines, the one thing you will notice is that people are always happy. Feedback there is given in a very humourous way. On the other hand, Japan and China have a very formal culture. Status is very important in those countries,” Cropley points out.

Helping achieve global best practices in internal communication

One of the most interesting projects Cropley has worked on of late has been helping Unilever develop a strategy to best engage 70,000 employees with a long-term view of doubling the business by 2020.

“Last year, I met the Head of Internal Comms of Unilever for the Africa, Asia and Middle East Region. Her goal was to develop her communicators and take them to the next level. The underlying idea was to develop a global best practices strategy for internal communications teams inside the organization.”

IABC partnered with Unilever to deliver a development project for internal communicators from 9 different countries across Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The coalition of Unilever and IABC brought about an accreditation program that would align the way in which communication is delivered inside the company.

Cropley explains:

“We reached out to senior level managers across various regions and started some development programs. We then lined up the portfolio with two things – one, a project that the communicators would implement in Unilever and two, a review of the communication function with some learnings and recommendations of what needed to change. We decided to take the IABC accreditation process and matched it up with a business need and a business outcome.”

Cropley developed virtual models for marketing, media relations, corporate social responsibility and ethics. IABC also helped Unilever to develop an accreditation exam for their communicators that included oral presentations. Cropley and the IABC accreditation council worked to deliver a new model to align communications right across the company.

“Having in-house training really supports the development of communicators and also raises their status across the organisation. We also undertook a measurement process to understand how the accreditation had made a difference.”

For Cropley, the experience has been simply amazing with plans to expand the project to Asia in September.

Ready and determined

As Vice Chair, Cropley is looking forward to carrying out his new role at IABC.  He sees tremendous growth potential in regions like China, India, Brazil and Mexico.

“I will be looking into two things during my tenure as Vice Chair – one is how we grow our membership globally and build strategic links across the globe and the other is how we further build our accreditation and development process. We need to use our content and share it strategically with our community. You will surely see a lot of momentum over the next few years.”