IABC APAC and Isentia panel discussions: The future of comms in two words


IABC APAC and Isentia panel discussions: The future of comms in two words

Recently, IABC Asia Pacific and Isentia hosted two panel discussions about the outlook for comms in 2021. According to IABC APAC Board member, Wayne Aspland, these conversations uncovered two big themes that are driving comms’ future.

As I prepared to summarise these discussions, I had every intention of heading into full listicle mode. You know… something like “520 ways to succeed in the future according to the experts”.


But something funny happened when I sat down and re-listened to the “Beyond the Agenda” webinars for Asia and Australia/New Zealand. To me, there were just two themes that really rang out. They seemed to underpin every word spoken.

And what were those themes? Clarity and caring.


There was plenty of discussion at the two sessions about listening and gathering data.

Of course, there was mention of the more traditional forms of data gathering, such as employee surveys, Q&A sessions, trusted advisors, media monitoring and customer/stakeholder surveys.

Beyond this, however, two other points were highlighted.

The first was the need to analyse enterprise and external social media to build our understanding of our organisation and the world around us.

While the second was the need to replicate the ‘water cooler’ and drive more organic internal conversations in an increasingly virtual world.

No-one doubts the importance of data and listening. What was interesting about these conversations is that they explored the why. Why are data and listening important?

Let’s step back for a minute. You see, when we talk about data and listening, we’re not really talking about data and listening.

We’re actually talking about understanding… clarity.

After all:

  • How can we make the right decisions for our customers, stakeholders and employees if we don’t know what they want?
  • How can we be engaging and empathetic (especially on social media) if we don’t know who we’re talking too?
  • How can we lead everyone into the future if we don’t have, at least, an inkling of what it looks like?
  • How do we respond to market developments if we don’t know what they are?
  • And, most importantly, how can we succeed if our organisation doesn’t know itself? Organisations need to understand their core, remain true to it and avoid being distracted at all costs.

Furthermore, the need for clarity plays out in a number of other ways.

It’s vital to partnerships. If we want to become trusted advisers to leadership, we need to know what’s going on. At the same time, if agencies want to earn their keep (which could be harder in the troubled times ahead), they need to truly understand and deliver what their clients need.

Clarity is also vital to agility. In this time of rapid change and uncertainty, being prepared is a big driver of agility. We need to build an understanding of what might happen and undertake scenario planning so we’re ready in case it does.

And then there’s risk management. Organisational risk. Reputation risk. Security risk. It goes on. The need for risk management is greater than it ever was, and clarity is the cornerstone of managing risk effectively.

Okay, so one final point about clarity before moving on. Unfortunately, the world of fake news misinformation and bi-partisan dialogue is now with us and it’s likely to be here forever. Building clarity isn’t just about reading a lot or gathering mountains of data. It’s about how we interpret that data and, where necessary, ignore it.


 Like clarity, caring seems to sit behind just about every point the panelists made.

As communications professionals, we need to care about:

The quality of our work. A good example of this is the way we’ve been inundated with post-COVID “we’re with you” and “we’re in this together” advertising. Sometimes it feels like the entire advertising industry is trying to work out how many varieties of vanilla they can find. This sort of advertising is a great idea if you don’t care enough to really stand out and differentiate yourself.

The outcomes we create. Are we delivering great things or are we just talking? Do we ask our employees for their views but not act on what they say? Is our commitment to the society and environment real, or is it just empty words? Are we going the next step to deliver or are we just cruising?

The health and wellbeing of those around us. Mental health has rocketed to the fore as a result of COVD-19. That’s not surprising given the uncertainty, threat and personal challenge that people are dealing with. Just like everyone else, our employees are facing many new challenges (such as loneliness, job uncertainty, rapid change and work/life balance). To further complicate matters, it’s harder to tell how our employees are really feeling in a virtual world.

Trust, brand and reputation. More than ever before, trust is now part of our license to operate. Caring enough to earn (and hang onto) the trust of those around us is critical, as is committing to maintain our brand and reputation, even when times are tough. In fact, there’s plenty of evidence to show investing in brand during a downturn can drive long term success.

Palabra de honor. What? One of the most interesting lessons to come from these discussions was the idea of ‘palabra de honor’. That’s Spanish for ‘word of honour’. In other words, caring enough to do what we say and deliver what we promise. Palabra de honor is central to trust and possibly the most powerful thing that we… and the organisations we work for… can do.

Clarity and caring. When you think about it, they go together perfectly. There is so much to be gained from:

  • Clearly understanding the world around you
  • Caring enough to deliver the value people need.

Thanks so much to the following panelists for two highly informative sessions.

  • Danielle Bond, Group Director, Marketing and Communications at Aurecon
  • Ngaire Crawford, Head of Insights, ANZ at Isentia
  • Craig Dowling, Head of Communications at Mercury NZ
  • Le Huynh, Consumer and Business Insight Manager at McDonald’s Vietnam
  • Luc Mandret, General Manager at MSL (Publicis Group)
  • Prashant Saxena, Head of Insights, Asia at Isentia
  • Ritzi Villarico-Ronquillo, APR, IABC Fellow.

Both sessions moderated by Kristy Christie, Chair at IABC APAC