Pacific Business Strategic Communications And Stakeholder Engagement
DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE
On 22 February 2021, the Economic Growth Section in DFAT’s Office of the Pacific engaged contentgroup to investigate ways for effectively telling the story of Australia’s business-to-business relationship with the Pacific.
A key requirement was the delivery of visually engaging content assets, to raise awareness about Australia’s ongoing contributions towards implementing the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus (PACER Plus).
In May 2021, Minister for Foreign Affairs the Hon Marise Payne announced that “Australia will provide $4.0 billion in Official Development Assistance (ODA) in 2021-22 with an ongoing focus on health security, stability and economic recovery in the Indo-Pacific, including $1.44 billion for the Pacific and $1.01 billion for Southeast Asia”.
Through such development and trade investments, Australia seeks to be a “partner of choice” for the Indo-Pacific region especially in its response and recovery from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The Australian and New Zealand Governments have together committed to an Aid for Trade funding target for the Pacific of 20 per cent of the total ODA.
PACER Plus is an example of an ambitious and impact-oriented program of work funded by the two governments. PACER Plus “is a regional development-centred trade agreement designed to support Pacific Island countries to become more active partners in, and benefit from, regional and global trade, as well as to provide commercial benefit to Australian businesses”.
Its successful implementation is essential for the Australian Government to deliver the promised benefits to the Indo-Pacific region. For more information, refer to the 2021 policy document titled “Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response”.
PACER Plus will be a key indicator of Australia’s ability to not only meet but exceed its roles and responsibilities as a “partner” in the Pacific region.
DFAT’s Pacific Private Sector and Trade team is tasked with the important job of building positive support by raising awareness of Australia’s economic work in the region through agreements such as PACER Plus.
The conclusion of PACER Plus negotiations in late-2020 led to the identification of a growing need to develop and distribute targeted content communication assets to explain the relevance of PACER Plus to Australian businesses as well as highlight the benefits arising from its implementation for communities in Australia and the Pacific.
Scope of work and deliverables
The partnership between contentgroup and DFAT’s Pacific Private Sector and Trade team was both strategic and tactical.
At a strategic level, contentgroup was required to facilitate a half-day discovery workshop to help DFAT gain a deeper understanding of its existing approach to communications and engagement.
The results of this activity were to be summarised and shared with DFAT through a strategic engagement plan. This output would then allow DFAT to determine the need and extent of resourcing (capacity and capability) needed to implement the recommendations from the plan to achieve its desired outcomes.
On a tactical level, contentgroup’s team was expected to provide the following deliverables/outputs:
- Compile user-friendly PACER Plus Pamphlets/brochures
- Provide ongoing business-focussed PACER Plus and COVID-19 recovery content review, writing and editing for social media and other communication channels (as outlined in the strategic engagement plan)
- Targeted power point presentations for posts to draw on in their stakeholder engagement in country (aligned with Pacific Business Series and support to business engagement events)
- Webinar and video support (production, editing and delivery of assets) for the Pacific Business Series
A flexible and adaptable project management and implementation approach was employed to successfully deliver the agreed scope of work. For example, within one week of project commencement, it was agreed that the ‘one half-day discovery workshop’ would be delivered as three separate sessions to best group and accommodate DFAT’s key stakeholders.
contentgroup’s CEO David Pembroke used their evidence-based best practice ‘Strategic Communications and Stakeholder Engagement Framework’ to guide all workshop discussions.
The workshops were delivered virtually to ensure participation from key stakeholders dialling in from across and outside Australia.
Each workshop comprised a mix of representatives from the following groups:
- DFAT’s Office of the Pacific and corporate teams
- Other Australian Government Departments and Agencies such as Austrade and the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment
- High Commissioners and officers on-the-ground at DFAT posts in Pacific Island countries
- Contractors working in partnership with DFAT to deliver its business programs in the Pacific team leaders responsible for implementing relevant Pacific initiatives such as PHAMA Plus.
The in-depth workshop discussions revealed the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the Economics, Trade and Private Sector Engagement team’s communications and engagement framework, practices, processes and capabilities.
They helped determine the breadth and depth of work needed to improve DFAT’s communication approach as well as its effectiveness, for engaging with audiences in Australia and the Pacific.
Insights gained from stakeholder consultations as well as recommendations from contentgroup were compiled and submitted to DFAT in the form of a ‘Strategic Engagement Plan’ in March 2021.
A key takeaway was the need for DFAT to lead a “whole-of-government” approach to the telling of all of Australia’s story in the Pacific (covering stories relevant to all three Pacific Step Up pillars – economic, security and people-to-people relationships).
In May 2021, contentgroup presented its recommendations to the DFAT leadership, ensuring that the immediate focus remained on communicating about Australia’s work under the economic pillar only. This presentation included advice on next steps for continuing the partnership with contentgroup.
Due to internal changes, DFAT advised that the strategic component of work would remain in-house until further notice. In June 2021, contentgroup was re-engaged to continue the delivery of high-quality communication products/assets to help DFAT progress on its engagement goals.
Across an 8-month contract period, contentgroup’s team of content creators (writers, senior editors, graphic designers and videographer) supported DFAT in producing and distributing a range of visually engaging, high-quality, accessible and relevant assets.
Based on the target audience, purpose of communication and the intended channel of distribution, each asset varied in its format, tone of voice and branding.
For example, contentgroup’s editor initially wrote multiple media releases in short turnaround periods to offer surge capacity to DFAT’s Pacific COVID-19 Response Package – Support Unit. These releases aligned with DFAT’s corporate style guidelines and had a ‘formal’ tone of voice. Such outputs differed from the ‘informal’, plain-English, human-interest stories written by contentgroup which were targeted at everyday Australians and needed to share the benefits of Australia’s work in initiatives like PACER Plus.
contentgroup’s designers similarly helped DFAT by applying the Australian Government’s new ‘NATION’ branding to update all PACER Plus web collateral directed at external audiences, while adhering to the DFAT branding for designing new templates aimed at internal government stakeholders/audiences.
Outcomes and Benefits achieved
contentgroup applied a model of flexible, adaptable and genuine partnership, wherein DFAT could easily approach our team as needed to deliver promised benefits to its audiences and better position DFAT (and Australia) in its stakeholder engagement activities (internal or external) concerning Australia’s economic work in the Pacific. For example, some of the presentation templates and designed pamphlets delivered by contentgroup helped DFAT in high-profile meetings such as those with Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the Pacific Islands Forum.
contentgroup’s team was responsive to DFAT often helping in delivering assets with short turnaround periods (less than 2 business days). Examples of benefits realised during the contract term are shared below.
- contentgroup helped DFAT’s internal teams on an ongoing basis by providing back-up design, multimedia and writing support. Example testimonial from one such activity is as follows:
- Encouraged and supported DFAT in cross-departmental content collaboration activities, by submitting contributions for publication in Austrade and Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment channels.
Data on audience engagement was also sought and shared from one of Austrade’s newsletters which included a DFAT story on Vanuatu.
- Encouraged and supported DFAT in content collaboration activities with external stakeholders like UNCTAD and PHAMA Plus.
For example, the ASYCUDA story that contentgroup helped develop and publish on DFAT’s website was reshared by UNCTAD on its Twitter handle. Their team appreciated DFAT’s proactive approach and was keen to collaborate again.
In total, contentgroup has delivered over 70 content assets to DFAT.
In November 2021, DFAT re-engaged contentgroup for graphic design services. The new designed products aimed at raising awareness and understanding around the import of Kava products from Pacific island nations into Australia. This contract concluded in January 2022.