IGCF 2014: Governments must learn from the communication experiences of the private sector

529While the private sector worked on improving the methods of communication with its audience and strengthening these to optimise efficiency, the public sector in general and governments in particular relied on unilateral messaging, targeting audiences without heeding to public opinion or citizen feedback, according to communication experts in a session during the third day of IGCF 2014.

The session explored how best practices from the private sector’s rich experience in communicating with its stakeholders can be drawn upon to develop the nascent public sector’s communication experience. The session also highlighted the media’s perception of the differences between the communication strategies adopted by the public and private sectors.

The interactive session was steered by Bill Daley, former White House Chief of Staff and Commerce Secretary under Bill Clinton, Bryan Dumont, President of APCO Insight, who is an expert in providing opinion research, Marwan Zawaydeh, Chief Corporate Governance Officer at Etisalat, and Nart Bouran, Head of Sky News Arabia. Paula Yacoubian from Future TV moderated the session.

Explaining how the private sector can help develop the nascent public sector’s communication experience, Daley said: “The public sector needs to become more modern in using the tools of communication and research just as the private sector does. However, governments deal with complicated communication as they have a filter for everything they do. Governments are able to learn about processes and technology but they do not have the same ease as the private sector in communicating their messages.

He added: “It has always been important for governments to be transparent. Now with social media, anyone can be a reporter so it is very difficult to build trust. Oftentimes, the private sector, when confronted with a problem, has time to find the cause of that problem, whereas governments do not have the time to investigate before communicating. If in such a situation the government miscommunicates, the trust is broken and government credibility stands to be lost.”

Underlining what the public sector can learn from the communication experiences of the private sector, Bryan Dumont explained: “Private-sector companies know how to build brand and how to measure results of communication. In the changing landscape, private companies are finding it difficult to have one-way communication as they also have multiple stakeholders, so the era of pushing messages is going away.

“There is a lot that governments can learn about the techniques of communication from the private sector, such as truly listening to stakeholders and their expectations and the need of corporate positioning to be authentic and in the area of building emotional relationships. Human beings do not respond to communication in a rational way and governments need to have the capacity to evoke the same emotions and champion the interests of its stakeholders. And lastly, all of this has to be measured to know the true impact.”

Highlighting how the private sector can contribute to the development of new communication methods for governments, Marwan Zawaydeh said: “The public sector is heading in the right direction and is following the footsteps of the private sector to be closer to the customer via bi-directional communication. To give you an example, a majority of telecommunication companies moved from being government entities into private companies.

“The shift demanded these companies to become more customer-oriented for ensuring the continuity of customer satisfaction on one hand, and catering to evolving demands on the other. Towards this process, a strategy had to be created to develop work structures and improve customer feedback mechanisms across all available channels of communication.”

Nart Bouran highlighted the media’s perspective on the relation with governments. He said: “Today, communication is no longer restricted to one party and is more of a dialogue. Our experiences are based on mutual dialogue generated from listening to the public. I see the need to rebuild our systems to adapt to internal communication and handle the sheer amount of data we receive and send every day.”

He added: “There are two elements that dominate the relationship between the government and media: transparency and trust, and this depends mainly on the government to provide us with accurate information and data that easily reflect the level of constructive cooperation with the media. In return, the media must respect the privacy of some government sources and maintain the confidentiality of the sources to ensure the continuity of mutual trust and the flow of information and data in a way that serves the interests of both parties and keep the general public informed of what is happening around them.”

The session was attended by senior members of the government including Her Excellency Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Chairperson of the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq); Her Highness Sheikha Aisha bint Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Advisory Committee of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs; Sheikh Salem bin Abdul Rahman bin Salem Al Qasimi, Director of the Office of His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah; and Sheikh Fahim bin Sultan bin Khalid Al Qasimi, Member of the Sharjah Executive Council.

In addition to a number of heads of government departments, members of the Sharjah Executive Council and members of the Sharjah Advisory Council, the sessions drew the presence of dignitaries and media and communication professionals from various Arab and foreign countries, and representatives of regional and international corporate and government communication departments.

The first regional government communication event was organised by SMC in 2012. The forum discussed relevant communication challenges that were triggered by the socio-political occurrences in the Arab world. IGCF 2014 is a first-of-its-kind event that articulates SMC’s efforts to develop government communication mechanisms for the benefit of government institutions in the UAE and wider region.

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