3 Questions to Paul Brislen, CEO of Brislen Communications
VSC : Which are particularities of New Zealand in the public affairs field?
New Zealand is an export nation so for many in the public affairs field we have to have an international strategy right from the ground up. Many of our local institutions (banks, insurance companies, corporates) are head quartered in Australia or even Singapore which makes getting permission to react to PR incidents difficult and sometimes impossible. In crisis communications, it is essential to build a robust plan and get sign-off before you need it because delays in communications with head office can be a real problem.
But at the same time the government is one of the largest buyers of products and services in the country, so we have to have a strong government relations stream of work as well. The combination makes for an entertaining time of it.
VSC : What is your view about the NZ companies in their communication to compare with European or American companies? Are there some important differences?
New Zealand is a casual environment, even in business circles. Much of the business is conducted face to face, over lunch or a drink, so communications in this environment comes with its challenges. The media are also under immense pressure to deliver more copy with fewer resources so getting journalists to attend press conferences is proving to be very difficult. They would rather conduct business over the phone, which means controlling messaging is essential.
VSC : What is the relation to the press media to compare with Europe? How companies and citizens interact with media?
Business journalists in New Zealand work hard to maintain good relationships with public affairs teams as they view us as useful assets rather than “gate keepers” who refuse all comment. Maintaining that relationship is key to a balance in terms of coverage. We’ve had a few large companies that didn’t maintain good relations with the media and paid the price whenever share prices dip or problems arise. Two of our largest companies, Fletcher Construction and dairy producer Fonterra, have both had public relations policies that have kept media at arm’s length from senior managers, and both have had huge reputational issues in the past year. The CEOs of both companies have been removed and both companies are now engaging in a stakeholder engagement process that will take some time to rebuild their reputations.