EmenaComm 2019: Key Takeaways

Bringing together senior communicators from across the region for two days of conversation and insight, the IABC in Bahrain hosted the inaugural EmenaComm conference on 11th and 12th February 2019. I was lucky enough to attend, along with a group of UK IABC members and board members attended, hosting sessions on sustainability messaging, the power of listening, social media and content marketing. Here are our takeaways from the event.


From Howard Krais, President at IABC UK

As I sit in the lounge at Bahrain international airport, a day after the conclusion of IABC’s EMENA Conference, I am left to reflect on what has been an inspiring week, for several reasons. I often talk about how important the I in IABC is. Demonstrating how the organisation is truly international, bringing together communicators not just from Europe and the Gulf, but also the US and Australia shows what it’s all about. Realising how many issues and challenges we share, how much brings us together, and yet how much we can learn from the different cultures and ways of working present can be truly humbling.

Continuing the theme of our IABC year, together with Mike Pounsford and Kevin Ruck, I was delighted to run a workshop on listening. We shared the highlights of some recent research we’ve done about listening which has thrown up several interesting issues. We looked at what listening means to individual communicators and to organisations. We also looked at the best way of using some of the many channels we have available to listen. And we’d love to listen to more people – we are just finalising a date to run a similar workshop in London in April so look forward to continuing the discussion then.

I’d say if you ever get the chance to go to an international conference of peers then take it. You’ll find your horizons being broadened and your eyes being opened. You’ll grow your network and you’ll have a fantastic experience.


From Georgia Halston, of Halston Marketing

Broadening your horizons is an understatement. The value that can be gained from throwing yourself into a completely alien scenario is incomparable. From experience in public speaking, never before have I been met with an audience so diverse and as any advocate for diversity will tell you, the exposure to new points of view make it invaluable. The feedback, questions and intrigue from the audience and delegates in general did not disappoint – I’ve been met with points of view I would never have experienced if it wasn’t for a platform of this magnitude.

Quick-fire learnings –

  • Lewis Woodward – Purpose is made powerful through daily actions
  • Joss Mathieson – Make the leadership team visible and accessible and through the use of local communicators (#letstalk champions) you share ownership of the conversation
  • Joe Lipscombe and Nick Driver – Make your audience the hero of the story
  • Brad Jennings – Communicators are meaning makers and meaning shapers

My real stand out moments –

  • Yasser Zaki gave insight into B2B strategies with a concise case study and explained how his company not only penetrated but smashed their way into the Egyptian market. What I took away from this session is that B2B marketing is so similar in terms of strategy, no matter where you are and no matter what the product is. It’s the execution that bears the cultural differences and it was amazing to be in a position to really learn something here
  • Aimee DaBrule introduced a case study on the benefits of building on purpose. The work being showcased was multi-faceted and delivered insight on how a campaign can help to deal with the media, the audience and regulatory compliance.


From Casilda Malagon, Past president, IABC UK

I have a confession to make. I was very skeptical about speaking at EmenaComm. It is the height of the sustainability reporting season, I have a small child and Bahrain is so far away. I also had ethical reservations about the choice of venue, its regime and human rights record made me ponder.

However, over the years I have learned that faith in the IABC colleagues always pays back. And this was definitely not the exception. Doing my research, I realized that the Gulf region is not even represented in the Dow Jones Sustainability Emerging Markets Index, so that infused me with a double call to action: give back to IABC and take the sustainability message to the region.

I chaired the sustainability track and present alongside Helen Lamb and Matt Painter from IPSOS, and Monaem Ben Lellahom a MENA sustainability consultancy. It was such a rewarding experience. We discussed trust, evidence-based decision making, the role of communicators and had a spirited debate over CSR vs Sustainability. I had one goal in mind when I prepared, inspire our audience. At the end of the session, we asked them one question: How do you feel right now?

Their answer is what we work for.

My lesson: step up and say yes. It pays back.


Mike Pounsford, Past president, IABC UK

The theme for the conference was Transformers: Communicators driving strategic change.  Maybe you just hear what you want to hear but I loved:

  • The lessons about the importance of clarifying and communicating purpose with passion, great storytelling and authenticity that came through Colin Hatfield’s session, Lewis Woodward from EY and others in different ways
  • How to help people cope with uncertainty because of change, change, change: digital, disruption etc and in particular Brad Jennings talking about his experiences of helping to get the voice of disruption and the voices of the people into the executive suite
  • Celebrating and using diversity – which played out in front of our eyes in a room full of different cultures, backgrounds, ages, organisation and gender
  • The listening session I ran with Howard Krais and Kevin Ruck because of the challenge around how to make sure that better listening improves the quality of the business

A bit like Casilda I was in two minds about whether this was the best use of my time when faced with so many pressures and priorities in life.  But, again and again, I am struck by the quality and warmth of the IABC crowd.  It is such a good network of like-minded, argumentative and challenging colleagues who share a passion for what they do and an openness to share their ideas and support each other.   I know we will do more on listening because the session went well and with Howard and Kevin we’ve got a team keen to take this further, and I know it’s a topic we will all get value from.


My own reflections

As I reflect on my whistlestop visit to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and then Bahrain for EmenaComm I am reminded what a unique opportunity this was to forge new partnerships, new friendships and learn more about global communication. As well as the formal sessions, lunches and dinners provided a great opportunity to understand the nuances of doing business in the region, and to workshop individuals’ own challenges. Through relaxed, honest conversations I gained much more of a sense of the region than I had in the past, travelling more widely than more usual destination of Dubai.

Hanisha Lalwani was confident on ‘how to say no’ in the workplace – always a challenge but ultimately such a great approach to avoid disappointment and misunderstanding.  There was a fantastic, and energetic final panel moderated by Amith Prabhu from a team of senior Indian communicators on migrating their comms campaigns from tactics to strategy – my primary takeaway from that was the notion of ROO (Return on Objectives) as a more realistic/real-life alternative to ROI (Return on Investment). Here are some additional takeaways from the first ever EmenaComm, expertly organized by Alex Malouf:-

Joss Mathieson outlined how GSK streamlined its internal comms to deliver clearer messages to staff, streamlining 100+ newsletters into one with a single editorial process. Guidance on how to really cut through? Keep messages simple, work as one team and focus on outcomes now outputs. On the critical success factors for internal comms success – leaders must be human and visible, you must listen and involve your people, and you

Jon Hammond delivered practical guidance on how to gain more presence in your presentations and communications: be confident about yourself and you will be confident in your presentations; create stories that will resonate with your audience

My own session on the Power of Brand Journalism was well received – the power of informative, broad and wide-ranging articles posted on your own corporate website to drive engagement and build audiences. Definitely worth making the trip as an extension of my client work and brand building in the region.

How can communicators survive in the new corporate world? – IABC UK introduces Bushcraft for Communicators

Inspired by their experiences as consultants and specialists in organisational change, employee engagement and leadership, Mike Pounsford and Stephen Welch have joined forces to create Bushcraft for Communicators.


As traditional approaches in marketing and strategic communications don’t seem to work in the new corporate world, Welch and Pounsford have devised 12 tools to help communicators navigate this new landscape. The pair use the bushcraft analogy to show how to be more agile and move faster to face the challenges encountered in the ‘bush’.


During an interactive event in London conducted by the two IABC UK past presidents, attendees had the opportunity to get a taste of how bushcraft tools can help communication professionals facing periods of uncertainty at their organisations.


The starting point


In a time when things can appear to be moving too quickly and changes arise unexpectedly, communicators and leaders need to ask where they are heading.


According to Welch and Pounsford, organisations need to be prepared if they want to survive in this new landscape, which is influenced by so many different factors. And how can they do that? By acknowledging where they are and where they want to go. However, the real challenge here is getting people to a common destination, while keeping in mind everyone’s journey will be different. As Pounsford says, ‘Not everyone departs from the same starting point’.


In order to reach sustained change, leaders shouldn’t focus on the process or the journey, but on the destination. They need to understand that it’s not only the leadership’s perspective that matters. it’s also importenat to pay attention to other employees’ points of view when they ask the big question: where do we want to go?

Good leaders, those who bet on sustained change, will know they have succeeded when they reach common consensus on the destination.


As Welch explained during the event, ‘HQs tend to remain in their little bubble of the world, and for them it will seem very simple. But, actually, their view of the world may not be shared by the rest of the organisation, who have different perspectives on how changes should be implemented or the journey to follow to achieve those new results’. Welch also maintains that communicators have a key role to play in devising a new strategy to bring about change in an organisation, encouraging them to ‘remind leaders they’re not the centre of the universe’.


The trust formula


Whether it is a business transaction or a friendship, trust plays an essential role in developing a relationship. Within strategic communications, a trusting relationship contains three key elements:


  • R: the results obtained or business outcome (what benefit will I obtain from this?)
  • US: mutual understanding and support (what is the relationship based on?)
  • T: low levels of risk (how will you reduce possible threats?).


When it comes to building long-term relationships with different stakeholders, the Trust Tool created by Welch and Pounsford helps communicators. The tool assesses how much effort communicators put into each element and outlines what can be done to raise their profile as a trusted specialist or consultant. For example:


  • To improve R: focus on solutions and results, show you understand the other person’s perspective and their world, listen and give feedback, show confidence in your skills.
  • To enhance US: share a social element, show empathy and put yourself in the other person’s shoes, find common ground and shared values, be generous with information and connections, be willing to learn more about them, do not forget about the power of face-to-face meetings.
  • To reduce T: provide examples of what you can do, do great work and solve problems, be visible and show commitment, demonstrate you are reliable, be responsible and available, give endorsements (mouth to mouth recommendations), show honesty.


Find out more about Bushcraft for Communicators and how you can apply these tools to your organisation.


By Alexandra R. Cifre


New Models & Approaches from the UK Govt Comms team

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In the spirit of open and collaborative communications, last week the Government Communication Service launched two new initiatives to support public sector comms teams – both are worthy of the attention of communicators across sectors.

These are internal approaches for government communicators, but anyone can view and download these models/approaches via the beta version of the gov.uk website, which is itself a model of simple, clean design and straightforward language.

Serving audiences effectively

The Modern Communications Operating Model looks at the principles for improving communications team capability, structures, skills and resources. The aim of the MCOM is to support internal teams – and one would assume broader public sector communication teams – to structure and deliver more effective, efficient communications.

The GCS website says: “Modern teams should be seamlessly integrated, based around audience understanding, be insight and data-driven and be digitally-orientated. To create this consistently the model sets out ways of arranging communications teams for varying sizes of organisations.”

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Evaluating impact

The second initiative – the New Evaluation Framework – lists metrics and approaches to measurement of  media, marketing, digital, stakeholder engagement and internal communications.

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The GCS website notes:

“Good evaluation leads to a better understanding of what works well so we can do more of it, and of what doesn’t so we can stop doing it.”

Whether you are in public sector comms, or in the private sector, these are really useful, simple tools to use with your teams and assess your own approaches. Hats off to the Government’s comms teams for a) developing them, and b) making them broadly available.

The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) is a global  membership association with a network of 12,000 members in more than 80  countries. We deliver on the ​Global Standard in communication through educational offerings, certification, awards programs and our annual ​World Conference.​ Follow  us on Twitter ​@iabcuk.

Gay Flashman is a former Managing Editor of Channel 4 News and an experienced communications consultant.  Gay is CEO of ​Formative Content​, a UK based agency providing high quality blog  content, live event coverage ​and social media content ​for clients around the world.

4 ways Internal Communication can turn change to its advantage


As the global marketplace continues to become faster and more complex, Internal Communication (IC) must evolve to meet it. Thriving, not merely surviving, in the midst of change is what’s needed. Megan Sheerin explores four smart shifts internal communicators must make to keep pace.

If there’s one thing that tires the hardiest of communicators, it’s relentless, unpredictable change. The kind that frustrates Internal Communication’s day-to-day work as much as its long-term planning. The kind that buries us under old strategies, communication plans—and complaints from employees that what we previously communicated to them is no longer relevant.

In today’s complex and fast-paced world, near-constant change is a given. Companies that can adapt—and quickly—have a competitive edge. Managing this change successfully is where Internal Communication can help. Yet knowing where to start can be overwhelming, especially when we’re dealing with deeply entrenched workflows that once worked well.

Letting go of, or adapting, some long-held paradigms is the key to communicators meeting the expectations of an increasingly fast and more complex global marketplace. But you can’t simply drop a new approach on top of an existing one and expect to win. Before you tackle changing processes and structures, it’s critical to first shift attitudes and beliefs. Only then will your Internal Communication function—and organization—reap the benefits.

Melcrum’s research reveals four paradigm shifts IC should consider, to achieve exactly that:

1. Moving from extensive, sequential planning to adaptive, iterative planning.

Rigid sequential planning wrongly assumes change happens only before or after a communications campaign. But in reality, change can occur at any point during a campaign—or even throughout it. This means as internal communicators, we need to revamp our linear planning processes to be more adaptable. It’s about being flexible and learning as change takes place, then revising our next steps to take that new knowledge into account.
EMC is one company that does this well.

The IC function in this leading IT company manages its campaigns in short cycles—working in ‘communication sprints’ to create intermittent deliverables, in turn pulling forward returns on their campaign investments. Internal Communication works alongside its Marketing partner organization to scale these campaigns quickly, pulling in expert resources from across the enterprise and prioritizing important campaigns so that everyone is aligned.

2. Moving from favoring the change curve to employee moments of truth.

The linear change curve assumes employees progress through change in a predictable way. It’s a framework that’s served Internal Communication well in guiding workflows when the business environment was more stable. However employees today are more likely to jump around, skip over and jolt backward as they learn to adapt to change—especially when it keeps occurring and employees have more and better information sources to refer to.

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Does your work add value?


Only half of communicators say all their work is aligned to corporate strategy and goals.

I developed a benchmarking database (covers 81 organizations, across 10 countries, with approximately 390,000 employees) of communication practices, and the link to organizational performance by identifying the #11ways communicators can contribute to performance. It turns out that high-performing organizations (compared to average ones), are:

  • Twice as likely to keep language simple and jargon-free
  • 80% more likely to have a process for creating great corporate stories.
  • Twice as likely to make emotional connections to their audiences
  • 60% more likely to think about communication from the audience perspective.

The idea was to develop a database to explore the connections between communication practices and organizational performance, and answer questions like: “what are the common communication practices that have an impact on performance? And are there things that communicators do which actually contribute to organizational under-performance?”Three in particular stood out:

The know-it-all leader and the know-a-little communicator?

Half of organizations say that corporate messages are generally devised by senior executives, potentially relegating the communications team to the role of a paper-boy or paper-girl: just delivering the message.

Indeed, some communications departments are referred to the SOS team : “Send Out Stuff”. If corporate leaders are devising the messages they’d better be good at it, but only 20% of benchmarked organizations think their leaders are good at communicating. There must be a lot of horrible communications going on. Or, as one organization anonymously told us: “Executives that think they know how to communicate with employees, but don’t!”

So it seems that executives should listen to communicators’ advice more. But only a third of communicators admitted that their level of business know-how and understanding was high.

Two-thirds of communicators, we therefore suggest, need to improve their business understanding if they want to advise business people. Repeat: only a third of communicators admitted to knowing their own business. No wonder they don’t feel listened to.

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