Professional Communication

Peter Strempel

From business and technical writing to digital and print publication, and from public affairs planning to issues management, I have more than a decade’s experience in making it happen.

With a background in business journalism, monthly magazine publishing, ghost-writing executive opinion pieces, and drafting and transmitting media releases, I am skilled in helping your organisation communicate its point of view and achievements through conventional and digital channels.

In addition, I have wide experience in drafting and publishing annual reports, white papers, and other occasional business publications.  My skills extend to writing and publishing technical manuals, process and instruction manuals, and the written collateral that goes with business process, change, and project management.

My starting point in advising on professional communication is to consider organisational knowledge management architecture, because public affairs and other communication activities are most effective when they flow from a strategic direction.

Knowledge management architecture

An organisation doesn’t have to be large, with specialist staff, to develop and put in place a knowledge management architecture.  This could be as simple as a few notes, or as complex as a detailed document describing procedures and practices.

Knowledge management dimensions diagram
FIGURE 1: potential dimensions of a simple knowledge management architecture.

Some of the issues to consider in planning your knowledge management architecture are illustrated in Figure 1 to the right.

  1. At first glance it might seem obvious what your organisation’s know-what, why, and how assets are. But if these aren’t clearly defined, and understood by the right staff, collection and use of information and knowledge might be wasted efforts.
  2. Harnessing creativity is about recording and leveraging the solutions your staff come up with to help your clients.  Over time this should become a knowledge base or repository your staff can consult to solve new client problems. That knowledge base might also contain white papers detailing case studies of your collaboration with clients to solve their problems. White papers make great marketing collateral to showcase your capabilities for new and prospective clients.
  3. The regulatory dimension is both about knowing how to adapt to external regulatory requirements, and how to make the knowledge required for that adaptation work for you in future.
  4. Tacit forms of knowledge, which are not easy to record or transmit, mostly reside in the heads of your employees; personal knowledge of how and why to do something, and how to apply organisational and wider cultural norms and conventions.  The goal here is to ensure as much as possible of that knowledge can be embedded in the organisation even if key personnel leave.
  5. The above dimensions all revolve around the perpetual cycle of finding, creating, using, and packaging information. Those efforts, in turn, rely on effective use of supporting infrastructure like the internet, formal standards, trade publications, market intelligence, knowledge databases, document repositories, and so on.

In an increasingly online world, care should be taken too with how online transaction capabilities are implemented and administered.  Hackers and other malevolent online presences see a great deal of value in your customer information, payment systems, and even the online backdoors into control mechanisms for air conditioning, lifts, building security, and so on.

For more information on establishing a knowledge management strategy, see my knowledge management page.

One of the more common activities flowing from a knowledge management architecture is the direction of any public affairs strategy your organisation might regard as useful.

Public Affairs

How people think about your organisation affects your success in many ways that might not be immediately obvious. This applies as much to the way your own staff think about where they work and what they do as it does to external publics.

Not to think about public affairs management is to fail at it.  It should be a direct sub-domain of strategic management, crossing over into the day-to-day activities of normal operations through every occasion on which your organisation leaves an impression on your staff, clients or customers, vendors, competitors, regulators, and unknown observers you are not aware of.

‘Unknown’ publics have been an increasingly important aspect of how organisations are perceived publicly since the rise of social media, and can be critically important at unexpected moments, such as tweeting and posting of negative or positive opinions about products, services, or events. A case in point was a storm of tweets and social media posts about IBM and the Australian Bureau of Statistics before, during, and after the online census failure of 9 August 2016 (see my case study on the census debacle). The effects of this adverse public reaction were unanticipated, and therefore unmanaged.  That created considerable friction for the government, the ABS, and IBM.  Anecdotal evidence tells us that the ABS chief executive was humbled with less freedom to act, and IBM lost out on some lucrative contracts.

Figure 2 below offers an example of publics and what some of the key issues might be in ensuring the right information and knowledge flows are managed to your organisation’s advantage.

Publics diagram
FIGURE 2: some possible audiences to address with organisational communication efforts.

The diagram proposes just six categories of audiences or publics, but there might be many more in your particular circumstances. Each one might be affected or influenced by the messages your organisation and its people broadcast both deliberately and unintentionally.

  1. Internal publics are all staff. That might seem obvious, but many organisations are careless about how staff are informed of key decisions, and how they are treated by management.  This is all communication of a kind, and affects whether staff are motivated, committed, and prepared to represent the organisation in its best light at every opportunity.
  2. Clients or customers are the reason for your organisation’s existence, and should never be taken for granted. Bombarding them only with marketing material is poor strategy.  Instead the organisations should build for itself a sophisticated picture of demographics and information demands.  For example, if you are in grocery retail, an online repository of recipes using your products is probably a sound investment.  And so is tapping into an increasing consumer alignment with environmental issues by creating a visible commitment to recyclable packaging, or sustainable agriculture and livestock management, and so on.  The trick is making sure information offered is relevant to your clients and customers, not the noise of unwanted content that might put them off.
  3. Partners are your suppliers, contractors, consultants, or allies. It is critical that they have accurate information on which to base their services to you, and that they are made to feel that communication channels are always open, with feedback being welcomed, and new ideas on better information sharing being encouraged. A collaborative supply chain can make a very real competitive difference.
  4. Governments represent regulatory controls for most organisations. For private sector organisations, it is probably important to make sure that all evidence of regulatory compliance is readily available for any audit, and for public sector organisations it is probably critical to make access to easy-to-use information on compliance rules, including any advice on how to comply while incurring a minimum of costs. In some cases, compliance efforts can be very effective stories told to raise an organisation’s community profile.
  5. Competitors should be the focus of intense intelligence gathering efforts to ensure one’s own organisation isn’t taken by surprise when new products or pricing structures are introduced, or a competitor enters a new market segment. For public sector organisations, similar priorities should be applied to understanding its own activities in relation to changes in the clients served, regulations introduced, and budget strictures expected.
  6. Unknown audiences are highly important, because they represent complete unpredictability. Imagine a social media backlash against a product or service your organisation provides.  If you’re not even watching, a drop in sales, or a client backlash will take you completely by surprise.  Likewise, careless messages to the public may achieve an intended outcome while also having a completely unintended, negative consequence because there wasn’t enough thought about market and consumer sentiments.

Public affairs management usually includes capabilities in business and technical writing as well as print and digital publishing.

With a degree and background in journalism, plus years of practical business and technical writing, I have a professional approach to identifying and tailoring language to specific audiences, whether it is an annual report or a technical manual I am writing.

In acquiring and developing these skills I have also become an expert user of the extended Microsoft Office suite (including Project and Visio), and the Adobe Creative suite components Acrobat, Illustrator, InDesign and Photoshop.  These are all industry-standard tools in preparing print and digital publications.

These skills are enhanced by my proficiency in HTML and CSS, which comes in handy to customise content management publishing systems like Drupal and WordPress.