What can we learn about vision and communicating from regional and rural audiences?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016 - 16:17

When Adam Arndell moved back to Tamworth after working in communications agencies in Sydney and Melbourne, he saw an enormous disconnect between metropolitan based organisations and the audiences they were trying to reach in the bush.

When metropolitan-based organisations come to speak to rural and regional audiences, he says, "it becomes a ‘tick-and-flick’ exercise, of book the hall, present, leave," 

“If they don’t come with a vision, or the big picture, if they focus only on the message they want to get across, instead of on the audience they want to reach and the engagement the hope to create, they cause damage,” he says.

It was this disconnect that Adam Arndell and his business partner set out to tackle when they set up C7even Communications, an agency specialising in engagement with rural communities, based in Tamworth and Sydney.

C7even work largely with agribusiness, community organisations and government departments. Arndell was brought up on a farm in New England and it is his rural background that gives him insights into the rural and regional audience that few metropolitan based organisations share, or even see as important.

 

Audience

“If your perception of audience is wrong, it can cause damage and complete disengagement,” explains Arndall. Companies and government agencies fail when they focus on doing a great ad, or delivering a presentation in the local hall. There’s little sense of community engagement.”

Understanding your audience, targeting the advocates and the influencers, bringing community protagonists on board is part of any effective communications strategy. It is particularly so in the bush.

“These communities are fragmented and dispersed. They are political and they have a strong sense of community, of locals supporting locals,” says Arndall.

“It is also important to consider the daily challenges that these communities face.” Arndell is able to reel off a series of examples where insensitive and inappropriate understanding of audience caused communications initiatives to do more damage than good. The farm debt crisis, with metro-based banks foreclosing on rural businesses, and government policy on overseas investment in Australian agriculture top the list.

 

Tailor your message

Arndell advises that organisations launching communications initiatives to regional Australia consider the very specific local conditions of any particular area and tailor their campaign accordingly.

“The recent heavy rains in NSW means there is a new confidence and buoyancy around the state. People are optimistic and may be more receptive right now. But take the same message into regional Queensland, which is still in the grip of drought, and you will find a totally different mood and response.”

 

Know your task: Tell, sell or consult and inform?

Just as with messaging campaigns to urban audiences, how the message is delivered will determine the outcome: Arndall suggests companies consider whether they are telling, selling, consulting or involving. 

Communicating the Federal Government's vision for Australia requires an approach of inform, engage and update. Taking a more consultative approach on changes that affect livelihoods creates more buy-in, Arndell suggests.

 

Walking the talk: The C7even vision

C7even has been in business for 12 months. Their first task, which Arndell says they took extremely seriously, was to create clarity around the business they were building: what C7even stood for and how they were going to achieve their goals. “My business partner and I wanted to make sure we were on same page. We had to know we were in sync with what we wanted to achieve, and what we stood for, our values, culture, our brand essence.”

The two took several weeks to develop a business plan, sales strategy, marketing strategy and to create the map for the first two to three years of operations. “We revisit it all every quarter to review, check it’s still relevant and on track.”

The approach, he says, has paid off. “I can see we would have jumped in hard and business could have headed in a different direction. Having a shared understanding of our vision has kept us working together towards where we want to be.”

 

With thanks to  Adam Arndell, Personal Member AIM; Director, C7even Communications, Tamworth, NSW