Clear communications in Africa: the expert view
Australian companies have become the biggest international players in the African mining sector, with nearly 200 ASX-listed companies working on 590 projects in 38 countries across the continent.
But operating in Africa comes with its own challenges – some cultural, many related to communication and others revolving around security.
These are some of the key takeaways:
Context is everything – Phil Edmands (G + T partner)
Phil outlined some of the key risks international miners face in the African environment, including local political and tribal tensions, the perils of megaphone diplomacy, the risks associated with security contractors (including due diligence, guns on site and the potential for security incidents), plus the need to manage issues around state board appointments.
But some of his biggest messages revolved around communication and the need to “sell” your project to communities as the project’s best advocates and line of defence, while simultaneously managing expectations to ensure they are not unrealistic.
The importance of pictures – Andrew Rowell (Cannings Purple, Investor Relations Director)
Andrew focussed on communication with Australian shareholders – and the importance of giving them a true sense of the scope of a project and the environment in which it operates.
This might start with a map (many Australians have no idea where some African countries are) but should also extend to pictures – both still and moving. Andrew outlined the need for everyday language in market announcements and clear layperson explanations of project goals, citing examples where a few thousand dollars invested in drone photography delivered material value for companies:
“Seeing is believing. Quality images of communities and infrastructure, showing roads, pilot plants, drill rigs and construction progress, help provide credibility for your project and instil confidence in investors.”
The new digital face of investment – Glenn Langridge (Cannings Purple, Digital Marketing Manager)
Glenn examined how investors are increasingly turning to digital channels as they research companies and projects – with 72 per cent of Australians actively using social media and 59 per cent of them doing so daily for an average of 91 minutes a day.
Glenn also reflected on the top two sources from which investors now glean information – the internet (52.7 per cent) and friends and family (52.2 per cent) – and how this underscores the crucial role companies’ websites and social channels have to play.
“Ninety per cent of people say they trust information from friends and family, and those conversations are increasingly happening across social media. For the first time more than 50 per cent of people say there is no difference between a conversation that happens in person and online. That’s a really powerful opportunity for companies to increase direct engagement with the investing community.”
Telling your story in the face of a crisis – Annette Ellis (Cannings Purple Chief Executive)
Annette, who has more than 30 years’ experience working in the mining sector, including 20 years in mining in Africa, said it was crucial that companies communicating in a crisis should follow the four Ts: setting the tone from the outset, telling their story first, telling it truthfully and telling it themselves.
Annette also focussed on the months (or years) before a crisis…and the vital nature of preparation. Companies should plan, practice and build processes for how they communicate in a crisis, paying particular attention to identifying and engaging stakeholders, building relational capital before a crisis happens.
“You used to have a golden hour in which to get out a holding statement. Now it’s more like 20 minutes and today news more often breaks on social media. You may not have an appetite to use those [social media] channels on a daily basis but you will need to be ready to respond on them in a crisis.”
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