Communicating the NBN

Yesterday, Australia’s Federal Government and the CEO of NBN Co. updated the nation on the costs, timetable and expectations for the national broadband network (NBN).

For readers outside Australia, this is a national infrastructure project to lay a new fibre optic broadband network to every home and business in Australia (bar the most remote of properties and locations, which will be linked using wireless or satellite). To some it’s the most exciting and essential national investment for 60 years. For others, it’s a hideously expensive waste of money that is over-engineered and introduces a monopolistic solution to what should be a market-driven investment.

Politically, it’s dangerous for the Government, which is in power on the back of a handful of independent MPs, and which faces a general election towards the end of 2013. Yesterday’s update compounded that political risk by announcing that the roll-out will be to fewer households come election time than originally planned.

I’m for the NBN. For me, it’s a statement about Australia’s future in the world, and the infrastructure needed to compete in that future. It’s as essential as water mains, freeways, electrical power, and similar infrastructure.

So what are the public relations considerations here? Here are six suggestions.

1. Create value and help people find it: define value for everyone, because it’s different for every sector of society. Create credible stories that go much further than explaining how the NBN will work. Focus on what it means rather than what it does (akin to talking about public health rather than the diameter if sewage pipes).

2. Be cogent, concise, clear, often: this is such a vast topic that it’s appropriate and acceptable to tell more stories more often. The political position is part of this, but establishing new positions that take the story to new audiences will help support the political position and defuse opposing views (if that’s important).

3. Never forget the financial context: this is already clear (not least since yesterday) but it’s framed as delay and overspend. This horse may well have bolted, but find a new way to explain the returns to the nation, to businesses and to the public. If need be, use PlayMaking techniques to re-cast the conversation and to block political opponents.

4. Everyone is your ambassador: this seems to be a trick that’s been missed. The PR programme seems to have focused on the telecommunications aspects of the NBN, and the IT and entrepreneurial aspects seem (to me, and I’m watching) to have been downplayed or ignored. I know a lot of people in the IT sector, and these people vote according to the NBN. Hook this into a long-term position about Australia’s future, and its current over-reliance on easy gains from primary resources. Without the NBN, there is no future.

5. Be fleet of foot: I think this is working well, so couple this with other aspects suggested here so that the communications team grows virtually. After all, the rise of social media platforms is part of the raison d’être of the NBN (and no, this is not a case for wireless or wifi networks).

6. Effective communications combine emotion and facts: the current campaign seems to rely on facts more than emotion. Time to build a sense of national pride, urgency, expectation and entitlement to something as fundamental as this network.

About alansmithoz

Head of Strategic Business Communications at Australian social analytics technology company Digivizer, with a background in corporate public relations and marketing. I do what I do because I believe communications can make a difference.
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