8 tips for great communication

Anyone working in corporate communications would have heard the phrase – oh, you better flag that with comms...<insert eye-rolling here>

In my experience, the majority of the time this phrase gets muttered way to late in the process and the comms person is left to wrangle a pending disaster.

So, what can you do about it? You need to change the way you approach communications and here are our eight tips for getting your communications in great shape.

8. Remember your staff

I can’t stress enough how important it is to keep your internal stakeholders up to date. Finding out information about the business you work for via an article in the local paper sucks. If this happens on a regular basis your employee engagement will plummet along with the trust and respect of your most valuable asset – your people.

When it comes to internal communication, there is no such thing as oversharing. Find out how people want to get their information then get it to them often.

Need inspiration? Check out the winners of the 2020 Ragan's Employee Communication Awards

7. Get in early

Think of communications as a risk management tool. Early, effective and ongoing communication can pave the way for a hassle-free project. By treating poor communication as a risk, it becomes part of your standard project planning for the life of the project. Here are some samples to get you thinking of risk from a communications perspective.Stakeholder: Employees and contractors

Risk: Sharing incorrect information about campaign to community members
Mitigation: Provide project information including key messages to staff
Action: Brief staff at all staff team meetings

Risk: Missing out on in-house knowledge being captured and considered
Mitigation: Encourage staff to participate in consultation activities
Actions: Send ‘all staff’ email at start of project with links to activities and further project information; provide staff with key information summary

Stakeholder: Elected representatives

Risk: Lack of awareness about project could lead to negative media coverage which damages service provider’s reputation
Mitigation: Ensure elected representatives and their key staff understand non-negotiables for project engagement process as well as key dates and activities
Actions: Provide briefing note prior to campaign going live, include contact details for lead if further information is required; provide regular reminders via email about project deadlines; provide flyers for MP Office to encourage community participation

6. If you aren't sure how people like to get information, just ask them.

There is no need to guess or assume the best communications channels. Just slow down and ask people how they like to get their information. It might be a phone call or email, it might be twitter, if might be a flyer in the mailbox or it might be Tim at the butcher shop. Take the time to get to know your audience, build trust and watch the effectiveness of your communication soar.

5. Proactive is better than reactive

Nothing makes you lose credibility with your audience than admitting that you knew about an issue/problem and decided not to say anything. Crossing your fingers and hoping for the best is a bad strategy, someone ALWAYS finds out.

When you are planning communications think about the things that are most likely to be of interest and address them directly.

4. Coordinate communications activities

It may seem logical, but I have seen it over and over again – right hand not talking to the left. If you are building a new road, you might want to check that there are no plans to replace cabling under the road in the near future.

Your credibility will be out the window if you have a ribbon cutting with all the fanfare one day and the next day, excavators roll in and dig up all your fine work.

Simple conversations can save your budget and your reputation.

3. The boss isn’t always the best spokesperson

People respond to information by passionate people. If you have someone that has come up with a quirky solution to a challenge, let them talk about it. No one will be as passionate as they are, and they will be able to explain and answer questions on the fly. Don’t be afraid to substitute a CEO or Chairperson for a subject matter expert.

2. Keep it simple

Effective communication doesn’t have to be a complex production with a glossy finish. It just needs to be clear, authentic and genuine. Take a page out of the playbook from former NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.

During the 2019/2020 Australian bushfires, he was providing daily masterclasses in effective communication. He was clear in his delivery, he knew the detail, wasn’t afraid of saying he didn’t know the answer and showed empathy both on and off the camera.

1. Technical problems don’t stop projects, people stop projects

What’s the worst-case scenario for an infrastructure project? Being delayed or shelved, not because you can’t find a cost-effective design solution but because a high-profile person speaks out in opposition.

Complaints, protests, negative media coverage – these are all manageable if you have plan. Sure, you won’t be able to make everyone happy but if you are clear in your message and get the information to people that are interested and have influence over your project then you are on your way.

Effective communication isn’t rocket science, you just need to plan for the worst and hope for the best.

If you don’t know where to start, give Mara a call – this is our jam!

What else can we help with? Maybe some LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® or,  if things have already gone south, some crisis and issues management advice.

Check out our projects list to see what we have been working one.

Consultation will make or break bar trial in Newcastle

We are watching with interest to see what happens with the potential changes to liquor laws in Newcastle, NSW. One thing for certain is that community and stakeholder engagement will make or break this trial.  

Get it right and Newcastle’s night-time economy can grow and support a range of venues and experiences. Get it wrong and it will be a decade before any government – local or state – will go anywhere near it.  

Consultation is our thing here at Mara, so we have put together our top tips to help our local businesses keen to get involved in the trial. 

1. Talk to your community  

There is no point sitting on the sidelines assuming the worst, so only way to know what people think is to have a conversation and build a relationship with your community. Your locals might be itching for you to stay open later or serve cocktails until midnight but they just haven’t had the opportunity to tell you.  

2. Listen to feedback  

Ignoring what people have to say is only going to get you into hot water. Once you know what the issues are, you can investigate whether there are measures you can put in place to see if this helps the problems. The key is having a continuing conversation – yes you will be able to resolve some issues and not others but keep people up to date with what’s happening is a winning approach. 

3. Be persistent 

We are all time poor, so make sure you give your stakeholders time to respond. If you aren’t getting responses, adjust your consultation activities. Think like your stakeholder and anticipate the best way to gather feedback. It is okay to change your plan than get to the end of the process and have to do it all again.  

4. Ask for help 

It’s easy to get overwhelmed. If you would rather stick to making great food and serving tasty beverages, that’s ok. There are plenty of people that are experts in this field, and we are one of them. Don’t be shy, get in touch.  

Need help? Think pink.  

We can help you identify relevant stakeholders, come up with a plan, write communication materials that are easy to understand and help facilitate conversations with your community. Once we have all the information, we can help you work through ways to address issues that arise and report back to your community and other interested stakeholders.  

Relevant links

NSW Government – Community Impact Statement

Liquor and Gaming NSW – Community Impact Statement

Contact us

Top 3 engagement ideas

During COVID-19 community engagement changed. Everything moved online and it happened almost overnight. As projects get back underway, the question is – how do you want to participate in decision-making about your community?

As well as that, we're always looking for ways to improve our engagement to make sure it is effective for our clients and projects.

Take the survey below to let us know how you want us to engage with you in the future.  3 questions - 3 sections. Simple! 

What's your top 3 engagement ideas

New adventures, same great pink team

Changing the way we do business

What a year!

Like other small businesses, we've made changes to the way we operate during the COVID-19 restrictions, including working remotely. The team at Mara adapted so well to remote working that we’ve taken the step to close our physical office.

It's not a surprise really, when you have a bunch of professionals that rise to any challenge, they just got on with business and quickly helped build a successful remote team environment.

What that means for you

The team at Mara will still be providing the awesome services that you’ve come to expect, just without a permanent office space (for now).  As COVID-19 restrictions ease, we’ll be able to visit our clients more, do more face-to-face engagement and bring back the coffee and a chat!  We will still be using video chats wherever possible, so we can see your lovely smiley faces.

What that means for us

Having a high functioning remote team, means that we can work anywhere, be nimble and responsive to the challenges you send our way!

It also helps us to provide more workplace flexibility for our staff. (You might just see an extra pet or family member in the background from time-to-time.)

Hope to catch up soon. Stay pink!
Kel

Creating vibrant communities & spaces

Project update

Northern Cemeteries

Northern Cemeteries

We're consulting with communities around Ryde to help shape the future of the Macquarie Park and Field of Mars cemeteries.  Find out more.

Hunter Water projects

Hunter Water 

We're working with Hunter Water on a range of great water initiatives and projects, including Belmont Desalilsation project, Lower Hunter Water Plan, Wyee sewer scheme, and Hunter River Estuary project.

Tunkuwallin Recreational Facility

Central Coast Council

We talking with the Gwandalan community and developing the Precinct Plan for the Tunkuwallin Recreational Facility.   Find out more.

Daracon - The Station landscaping project

Hunter Central Coast Development Corporation

Working with building contractors, Daracon, Mara is delivering the community liaison support during the construction of The Station landscaping project.

What we do best

Spotlight on some of our services

Online engagement

Online engagement

We’ve been testing out and adapting our workshops and engagement methods to be effective in a virtual space.  While working with clients and communities in person helps with connection, we have tools to engage effectively online. Not sure how to get the most of online conversations, get in touch with the Mara team.

Tree assessments

Arboriculture & tree health

Now it is a great time to complete tree safety audits when fewer people are around. Our team of consulting arborists provide expert advice on tree health from risk assessments and audits to surveys and management plans.

Drone services

We've got you covered with our drone and aerial photography services. It makes our visual impact assessments easier to understand and helps bring our landscape and urban designs to life.  We use the latest technology to help explain complex issues, because we know a picture is worth a thousand words. Find out more.

Get in touch

Need help with your next project

P: 02 49654317

E: mara@maraconsulting.com.au

 

 

Perfect time for tree safety audits and inspections

Tree safety audits

While everyone is in lockdown and there are restrictions on movements in public spaces, it is a great time to complete tree safety audits when fewer people are around.

Importance of tree safety audits

A tree safety audit is a systematic assessment of your tree assets to determine the risk associated with the trees. Ultimately it is to make sure that people using your site, are safe and not at risk from falling tree branches.

Managing trees in public spaces is a key part of asset and risk management and is typically done by schools, golf courses, universities, hospitals, councils in parks and playgrounds and anywhere there are a large number of people and trees.

As a result, understanding your responsibility and demonstrating sound management of sites is important part of the managing trees effectively.

Aboriculture - Tree Assessment

How to manage trees in public spaces

  1. Manage your duty of care - When people are using your site or public space, and there are trees on site, the owner has a duty of care to ensure visitors and employees are safe.  This means, leaving this responsibility to an unqualified grounds person or site manager may not be an appropriate way to manage risk.

    Our qualified consulting arborists have expert skills and knowledge to help you plan and manage your public spaces.  And they do this through a tree safety audit to help you manage and understand any risks and the health of your trees.

  2. Be prepared – If something goes wrong or there is a tree related incident, demonstrating a systematic approach to tree health and risk management is key.  As a result, performing regular tree safety audits will provide you with recommendations and reports to help manage risks and identify any problems with tress. 

    Additionally, a program of regular audits over time will help to build a recorded history of the site. It will also help to inform maintenance and spending decisions on your valuable community assets.

  3. Understand the value of mapping trees - It’s all about managing risk, creating a safe environment for your employees and visitors. If something does go wrong, you’ll be able to show the organisation met its health and safety obligations.

A regular program of inspections will identify a system for reinspection based on a risk rating. It will also give you control of the costs, with recommended works planned and reported on.  It will provide you with a better history of the trees on your site, including when it was or will be inspected.

Consulting arborists – expert advice

Our consulting arborist is available to assess and complete the tree safety audit.  All our reports are written in accordance with Australian Standards and prepared by an AQF Level 5 arborist.

Packages to suit

At Mara, we collaborate with our clients to provide expert advice.  Our onsite inspections include:

  • Conduct tree safety audit on a site for up to 20 trees
  • Travel within the Hunter, Central Coast and MidCoast council areas is included
  • Detailed written report with tree management recommendations
  • Fee for tree safety audit $4,500.00 (ex GST).

Need more than one site inspected or price for fewer trees, contact Mara for a customised quote.

 

Shaun King

Shaun King
Shaun King

Landscape Designer & Consulting Arborist

02 49654317

shaun@maraconsulting.com.au

Mara Services:

  • Tree risk assessments
  • Annual safety audits
  • Arboriculture impact assessments and statements
  • Compliance, monitoring and supervision
  • Tree surveys and management plans
  • Development applications and tree protection plans
  • Nursery stock inspections to NATSPEC/AS2303
  • Expert witness reports
  • Protection of trees on development sites
  • Urban forest strategies.

Read more about Mara's services

Team Mara sharing stories: Raw Energy Newcastle

The team at Raw Energy Newcastle decided they wanted to show some love to our frontline health and emergency workers and giveaway free coffees every Wednesday until the COVID-19 crisis is over.  Lucky for us they were thinking pink, and the Team Mara put together a quick plan to share their story and help get the word out.

What did we do?

We talked to Greg from Raw Energy Newcastle about what he wanted to achieve. Free coffee on Wednesdays was a given, but he also wanted to encourage other people to pay it forward by adding a coffee to the tab. We put together a plan which included traditional and digital media outlets as well as social media channels. We wrote media and social content, corralled some firies from Cooks Hill Fire Station to act as our models and then we let the story loose.

The result?

See for yourself, here are some of the links

Did we practice what preach and pay it forward?

You bet we did. We donated our fee to the coffee tab.

Need help? Think Pink

We love helping businesses share their story, we can help you think pink!.

Business as usual for us, but how are you going?

Business as usual - Crisis communications

In these rapidly changing times, we want to let all our clients know it's business as usual for the team at Mara Consulting. We regularly work remotely and have everything they need to meet and exceed your expectations. Our leadership team is working behind the scenes on our business continuity to make sure are as prepared as possible for whatever COVID-19 recommendations are made.

We are committed to the health and well-being of all our people, our clients and our communities. As such we will be making any necessary adjustments to our engagement programs by implementing social distancing measures as recommended by NSW Health.

Our top tips for communicating in a crisis

  1. Talk to your people first - internal communications is often left until last during times of crisis. Your leaders, managers and staff are the most important part of your business so make regular communication with them a priority. There is nothing worse than your staff here critical information second hand via a third party or the local media.
  2. Stay calm – it’s easy to get stressed and feel anxious in a time of crisis. Staying calm is essential so you can think clearly. This can be tough for many decision makers, business owners and those in leadership roles. Find someone you can talk to and get it out of your system because your team need you with a clear head to make decisions. Then get to planning and put in place your communication with stakeholders.
  3. Pick the right spokesperson - whether it is your CEO, your chief communications officer or another member of your leadership team; the key is to pick a trusted spokesperson, make sure they are briefed before stepping in front of a microphone and are a consistent and unwavering source of truth. If there was anything positive to come out of the recent bushfires, it was the phenomenal job by Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons. He was a genuine and trusted spokesperson and a respected leader throughout.
  4. Share often - reinforcing known information and acknowledging unknown infomation is better than saying nothing at all. If no information is being shared, people will find sources of information elsewhere. Make sure you are the go to for updates on areas your are responsible for.

Be prepared

When faced with a crisis, there are few options for proactively managing the situation, it’s about being prepared in an environment with little certainty and sometimes without the facts. This probably means you’re under pressure to make decisions on the fly. Stop, stay calm and develop a clear communication framework for dealing with the unfolding crisis is a great place to start.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by COVID-19 and are not sure where to start to get your communications in order, think pink and get in touch.

All the best,

Kelly and the team from Mara.

Welcome to 2020!

It’s a new decade and the team at Mara is back! We’re pumped and ready to take on 2020.  We’re looking forward to creating vibrant communities and projects together.

It’s been a tough start to the year for many affected by horrendous bushfires. The outpouring of community support shows the strength of our humanity at a time when people need help the most. Selfless acts of kindness are seen everywhere. But there is still more to do.

#TeamMara is back!
Our drone operator Tadd

New services – aerial photography and drone photography and video

Adding a bit of flair to our visual impact and design services, Mara now offers a range of aerial photography and video services to support our projects.

Drones are great for giving a different perspective to a project, whether it’s to help communicate a complex message through images or to create a fly-through of what a project will look like.

Our urban design guru, landscape architect and environmental planner can now also boast that he’s a pilot! (We’re not quite sure how that is all going to fit on his business card).

  • Aerial photography, video filming services
  • 2D and 3D aerial photography mapping survey
  • Inspections of construction sites, mines, roofs and hard to reach areas
  • Traffic counts and footage for transport studies
  • Urban tree canopy and aerial tree imagery
  • Images for renders and urban design projects.

To find out more, contact Mara on 02 49654317 or email tadd@maraconsulting.com.au for more information.

Do you have 2020 vision? Maybe a LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® workshop is what you need.

Here at Mara, we’re all about doing things differently. Bold, Different, Playful!

LEGO ticks that box.

The new year is a great time to plan the year ahead and bring some different thinking to your workplace. A  LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® workshop is great for business strategy, encouraging innovation at work, planning, team communication and engagement.

A facilitated workshop will help you to:

  • Develop strategic goals and objectives
  • Create a corporate mission, vision and values
  • Get input when leaders don't have all the answers
  • Identify ways to lead not follow
  • Build teamwork and collaboration
  • Encourage different, creative and innovative thinking
  • Break bad thinking habits - "We've always done it this way..."
  • Encourage better communication with your team.

The LEGO Serious Play method helps you think more creatively and tackle challenges or situation in a new and fun way.

Book your workshop today – call 02 49654317. Or visit the Mara office for a great coffee and a LEGO sampler!

International Year of Plant Health

Did you know it’s international year of plant health?

Here’s to all the awesome landscape architects, urban designers, arborists and horticulturalists in our team. They are tree-mendous.

The gift of education

Giving back to the community is good for Mara’s soul and it was one of the primary goals our MD/founder Kel set out to achieve when she started the company in 2014.

With a special connection to Kenya (4 generations of family from Kenya and the inspiration behind our company name), Mara has been financially supporting some of the most vulnerable in an urban slum area of Mombasa through the Mustard Seed Project. The family-run charity is supporting an entire community by providing essential services, food, education, health care, adult education, skills for women, and community outreach to provide the skills to help community members out of poverty.

It’s a hand up, not a hand out!

Our MD Kel learning to count in Swahili while visiting the school in 2012.
Our MD Kel learning to count in Swahili while visiting the school in 2012.
Tadd (fourth generation Kenyan) visiting the nursery school in 2012.

Tadd (fourth generation Kenyan) visiting the nursery school in 2012.

Helping a community out of poverty

Mustard Seed works in an urban area on the north coast of Mombasa. This area is very poor and overcrowded. Most families live in Swahili houses in a single room and share a toilet with five other families. Almost all of the community are malnourished, eating only maize-meal, but some often go without any food are starving. From the very beginning, the aim of Mustard Seed Project has been to give people education and skills to enable them to escape the poverty.

Growing a better future

In 2008, the Mustard Seed Project rented a small building with two classrooms and two teachers, supporting a deprived community and 17 children. Since then the school has grown, bigger premises were rented but quickly reached capacity.

On Christmas day 2015, stage one of the new Miche Bora Nursery and Primary School was completed, and now provides education for 275 children aged between 3 to 14 years of age across two buildings.

But there is still more to be done!

Since then Mustard Seed with supporters, have been busy raising money to complete the school, giving more room, better facilities and opportunities to take on additional students.

The ground floor of Miche Bora Nursery and Primary School was completed in 2015

What the new school building will look like when completed.

What the new school building will look like when completed.

Our Christmas gift to Mustard Seed

Each year, Mara Consulting chooses not to send gifts and cards to our supporters and clients. Instead, we put the money towards completing the school. Kel and hubby Tadd have been personal supporters too, providing monthly donations for more than 10 years.

This year, our Christmas donation helped to push the fundraising to the target amount, meaning the school will be completed. Construction will soon begin on the upper storey with six more classrooms to bring all 275 children together in one building and room for more. Once complete, the school will have 12 classrooms, offices, a clinic, staff room, toilets, kitchen and a hall.

When the school started, we didn't have a clear plan of what to do. We saw children needing help, we had skills to offer but no knowledge of Africa or its culture."

Rita Fowler, Mustard Seed founder.

Quality education outcomes

The standard of education in Kenya for poor children is very low. Only 30% of 14-year old's have reached the level expected of an 8-year-old (UWEZO 2017). According to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, quality education is the foundation to creating sustainable development, improve quality of life and equip them with skills to solve problems.

In impoverished areas like Mgongeni, without access to education, skilled teachers and resources, these children will be forced into inter-generational poverty and suffering.

For Mustard Seed, this was a challenge and the first goal of the school – to provide a quality education to all that come. In 2019, the oldest students at the school sat their KCPE (Kenyan Certificate of Primary Education) exam. The results = AMAZING with the mean score B-.

Children at the school are selected according to poverty. All children got the grade necessary to go to secondary school and several achieved results necessary to go to the very best selective schools in Kenya. Better still, two of the girls have sponsors which have allowed them to go to one of these schools.

Miche Bora’s students celebrate the news that their school has raised enough money to build six classrooms on the upper storey.
Miche Bora’s students celebrate the news that their school has raised enough money to build six classrooms on the upper storey.
Computers are now being used in class for teaching purposes.
Computers are now being used in class for teaching purposes.

Find out more about Mustard Seed

Mustard Seed was set up by Rita and Geoff Fowler, a retired couple who set out to help improve the education, health and lifestyles of the Mgongeni community.

Head to the project’s website to learn more about their work and how they are growing a better future for the local community.

Christmas is a time for giving

Together we can achieve great things!

Each year, instead of sending Christmas cards and gifts to our clients and supporters, we support several charities. These include Mustard Seed Project (Kenya), the Samaritans Giving Trees in Newcastle and Singleton and Soul Café food appeal.

Since 2014 we have been giving back to amazing projects and charities doing awesome work in our community. We are all about supporting vibrant communities, social change and well, just being good humans! #TeamMara

Not a bad effort by #TeamMara! Our Christmas gift haul for the Samaritans and Soul Café
Not a bad effort by #TeamMara! Our Christmas gift haul for the Samaritans and Soul Café

Messages from the team adorned our pink Christmas tree (of course!).

What's Christmas without a bit of pink!?

This year we’ve decorated and donated a very Mara pink Christmas tree for the Samaritans Christmas lunch in Singleton. We're very proud of our very own Kim-Cherie (pictured below) who organises the charity lunch.

The lunch, which is also hosted in Newcastle and Wyong, provides a wonderful opportunity for the disadvantaged and those without family to come together and celebrate. As well as the great food, there is entertainment, activities and, we hear, a visit from Santa!

Great work Kim-Cherie!

Fingers crossed, Singleton likes pink!

The Mara pink tree will be part of the 12 Trees of Christmas competition to help raise funds and awareness for the lunch. The community gets to vote for their favourite.

 

Christmas is all about sharing

We’re grateful to be able to help make a difference. We’re especially appreciative of the wonderful staff and volunteers at the Mustard Seed Project, the Samaritans and Soul Café who give so much of themselves to help others.

The whole Mara team has donated gifts, food and essential items to the Samaritans and Soul Café. These will be distributed to those doing it tough at this time of year.  YAY #TeamMara

In addition to the employee contributions, the company provided $3000 in cash, food and gifts to support our three corporate charities.

Kim-Cherie with our Mara Christmas tree for the Samaritans’ Singleton lunch

Our Christmas tree for the Samaritans' Singleton lunch and gift haul for the Samaritans and Soul Café. 

Miche Bora’s students celebrate the news that their school has raised enough money to build six classrooms on the upper storey.

Some of the students at Miche Bora nursery and primary school

Our charity partners

The Mustard Seed Project (Kenya) is a family-run charity, building a school in an urban slum area of Mombasa, Kenya. The project provides education and a feeding program for poor children in the Mgongeni community. Read Mustard Seed’s Christmas milestone on our blog.

The Samaritans are providing Christmas lunches in Newcastle, Central Coast and Singleton this year, providing guests will a free lunch, entertainment and friendship. The Samaritans Giving Trees provide an opportunity for businesses and their staff and clients to donate Christmas gifts for local families and individuals who are experiencing hardship.

 

Soul Café is a Newcastle-based charity that provides hundreds of free meals each week to highly disadvantaged members of our community, many of whom are homeless, have a mental illness, substance abuse issue or live in poverty. Soul Café’s meals are a medium to be able to work with people in a greater way.

If you’re keen to get involved, click on the links above to find out how you can help.

Mara MD, Kel delivering the goodies to Soul Cafe

A day in the life of a Mara intern

Hello! My name is Jen

This past month I became the Communications and Engagement Intern at Mara Consulting. I’ve had my fair share of internships in the past; some were great, and some were far from. As a current postgraduate student, I wanted to be a bit more picky when it came to landing an internship. This time around I was looking for a position that would expand on my existing skills and challenge me to break out of my comfort zone while also giving me room to grow as I complete my master’s degrees. I found just what I was looking for (and more) at Mara.

Photo of Mara intern Jenny Hanson

Bold, different, playful

I knew as soon as I walked out of my interview that Mara is anything but ordinary.  The final component of the interview process was an interactive LEGO® Serious Play® session where I was instructed to answer the question: ‘where do you see yourself in five years’ using LEGO building materials. This exercise demonstrated what Mara is all about: being bold, different and playful as well as illustrating Mara’s fantastic company culture.

My visual representation of ‘Where do you see yourself in five years’ using LEGO building materials. My piece shows me (in the hardhat) working my way up the corporate ladder while breaking down barriers that exist for women in business. The various components in the ladder show me completing my master’s degrees (gaining knowledge, represented by the owl), finding a rewarding career path that does not solely focus on money (represented by the cash near the bottom), my keen interest in sustainability and climate action (represented by the green grass), and never losing my sense of wonder and creativity (represented by the elephant at the end of the ladder).

Not your typical internship

Jen letterboxing with Mara's MD
Aiding Mara's MD Kelly with a letterboxing campaign.

Mara is a unique workplace that encompasses a broad range of services that are inherently intertwined, employing a diverse team with varied backgrounds. Over the first three weeks of my internship I have worked on a range of different projects with various members of the Mara team. These have included assisting with focus groups for community housing strategies, helping to create content for social media and website platforms, and even aiding the MD Kelly with letterboxing campaigns and intercept interviews for upcoming development applications. Of equal importance are the duties I am NOT doing as an intern: running errands, answering the phone and fetching coffees. (We have our own Barista/Lead Landscape Architect, Urban Designer and Environmental Planner, Tadd)!

Real-world experience

So far being an intern in the Mara team has exceeded my expectations in nearly every way. Unlike some of my past internships, no two days are ever the same. I get to play a supporting role in projects benefiting the local community.

By exposing me to these large-scale projects firsthand, I am learning how to apply what I learn in the classroom to the complex, real-world issues affecting our surrounding communities.

I am so grateful to the entire Mara team for working with me (around my busy Uni schedule) to support my goals in a supportive, collaborative environment!

Play is not just for kids

There is plenty of research about why it’s important for kids to play – it helps creativity, learning, social interaction, developing language skills, dexterity, as well as physical, cognitive and emotional strength.  Play is part of education; it’s recognised as a critical part of a child’s formative years and is encouraged in all aspects of life…that is until they become an adult.

So why isn’t play just as important for adults? At what point do we become less interested in all the fun, creative things that were so important to us before the age of 18? And more importantly, why don’t employers see the value in play to help employee performance?

The science proves it

The Washington Post article, Why it’s good for grown-ups to play reflects on work by professor of recreation, sports and tourism at the University of Illinios, Lynn Barnett, which says significant research is being put into the benefits of adult play.  Barnett says, “at work, play has been found to speed up learning, enhance productivity and increase job satisfaction; and at home, playing together, like going to a movie or a concert, can enhance bonding and communication.”

They even say playfulness attracts the opposite sex and makes you younger!

OK, well they didn’t quite put it like that but a study in the journal of Personality and Individual Differences, says that playfulness in women “signals youth and fertility” and in men means they are likely to be a good partner. The study said that playfulness is an underestimated character trait and acknowledged that the need for play in daily life was a basic need – to relax, keep yourself amused, a way to escape, for entertainment, stimulation and basically just have fun!

Build it like Beckham

Even David Beckham plays for fun. In 2010, David Beckham said in an interview with Yahoo, that he has a passion for LEGO and loves playing with it. (Given Mara’s passion for LEGO, we’d gladly offer Becks an opportunity to come to visit/work with us and play with ours!  It only seems fair.)

Newcastle Jets Lego Serious Play workshop
Women's professional football team, the Newcastle Jets getting creative with LEGO.

And it’s not just about individuals, cities can have fun too

Move over smart cities, playable cities are coming for you. That’s right. Cities all around the world are now branding their towns as “Playable Cities”. It’s based on the fundamental ideal that play creates social value in the spaces that we use on a day-to-day basis. Why install a boring park bench when you can install a playable xylophone bench that encourages people to play OR a slide at a train station instead of taking the stairs. We can have fun and interact with each other. What an idea – social interaction and community activity!

Look up from that smart phone and smile

Seriously, play is just a catalyst for bringing people together no matter their social standing, how much money they have in their pocket, where they are from or where they are going. Can you imagine it? A space, whether it’s workplace, a neighbourhood or entire city that encourages engagement and social interaction through play.

For the policy wonks and number crunchers, there are tangible benefits for adapting spaces for play (even in the workplace!).

Arrow Creates economic value

Arrow Positive health benefits – play reduces anxiety and improves mental health

Arrow Encourages physical activity and supports healthy lifestyles

Arrow Helps people be more creative

Arrow Has a positive impact on social values of a community

Arrow Creates a positive sense of identity

Arrow Helps to break down barriers

Arrow Encourages inter-generational interactions and engagement.

Pancho the office junior cat) playing with jenga
Pancho the office junior cat) playing with jenga

Check out the cool work that organisations like The Urban Conga are doing in the United States. And never fear, the team at Mara are hard at work bringing play to our communities. Swing by anytime for a game of Connect Four, Jenga or Quoits, maybe play with our office cat, Pancho or grab a pillow and a box of LEGO and get creative.

AND watch this space - the Mara team will be bringing a little bit of guerrilla play to a community near you!

If you want to know more about how play can help your community get in touch or call 02 49654317.

#engagement #placemaking #stakeholderengagement #play #urbandesign #planning

Crisis hits, now what?

We've read with interest recent articles in the Newcastle Herald about a week of action by anti-coal protesters. Activities were aimed at shutting down coal chain and the largest coal export port in the world to demand drastic action on climate change. The protesters used a range of methods to disrupt operations of several business including being chained to rail tracks and coal machinery, blocking entrances to workplaces and accessing private property. Without making a judgement on the merits of such activities, how would you respond if this action was aimed at your business?

Journalists and photographers at press conference
Know what to do in a communication crisis
Group of people being interviewed

Crisis communication is not usually on the top of an organisation’s to do list, but would you be prepared in the case of an emergency, major injury or confronted by a targeted protest? Having a plan before an event is key for protecting an organisation’s reputation and making sure the response is adequate for the situation.

When faced with a crisis, there are few options for proactively managing the situation, it’s about being prepared in an environment with little certainty and sometimes without the facts. This means organisations are often under pressure to make decisions on the fly, so having a clear framework for dealing with a crisis and identifying someone to manage the situation before it happens, is a good starting point.

How does this differ from managing issues? Simply, issues management has the luxury of time. Time to fully assess and make the right decisions for each of the issues identified. A company that develops a strategy, clearly identifying potential issues, threats and business weaknesses can manage actions as part of business as usual. This process allows you to evaluate the options, putting in place the best ways of managing or mitigating the issues identified. Importantly, this can be part of normal business planning, reviewed regularly and updated when the situation changes.

How do you deal with issues or a crisis in your business? Do you have a crisis communication plan or strategy for dealing with issues? What would you do in an emergency?

The first step is to plan, plan, plan and plan some more before a potential crisis.  Developing a crisis communications plan is part of this. Clearly identifying potential scenarios, key messages, who is the spokesperson talking on behalf of the company and understand who says what and when.

Not sure where to start? Give one of our communication professionals a call for a free consultation to get you on track. Call 02 4965 4317 or email mara@maraconsulting.com.au.

#crisiscommunication #issuesmanagment #stakeholderengagement #strategy #mediatraining #planning

Building trust in local planning decisions

Building trust in local planning decisions

Local government is never a dull place to work but the next few years are going to be even more challenging than usual for NSW based planners and stakeholder engagement professionals.

Planning changes require community participation

Major changes to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979(EP&A) and the Crown Lands Management Act have recently taken effect and Councils need to be across a range of new planning requirements.  Local government has also been passed the primary role of planning for and managing the risks associated with climate change in for their communities.

Enhancing community participation in planning and an elevated strategic role for local councils are key themes of the new EP&A Act. While a refocus on local plan making and

participatory processes is to be applauded, it will undoubtedly further stretch council resources.  In addition to the regular planning cycle of Operations Plans, Delivery Programs and the Community Strategic Plan, councils are now required to prepare:

  • Local Strategic Planning Statements (by July 2020)
  • Community Participation Plans (by Dec 2019)
  • Climate Change Adaption Plans
  • Plans of management for Crown reserves (by July 2021)

There will be challenges…

Community and stakeholder engagement underpin all of these plans and there is a real risk, if not managed smartly, that communities will become overwhelmed and fatigued with the process and council’s resources quickly depleted.

In preparing Community Participation Plans, councils will have to take into consideration, community participation principles, which according to the Department of Planning and Environment will set the standard for how the community should be engaged and included in the process. This, however it is up to each individual Council to determine how these are applied.

….and opportunities

A focus on effective community engagement can assist in facilitating greater acceptance and enhance the likelihood of building support for actions taken in the future during the implementation stages including for development approvals. The changes though are to ensure decision makers are accountable for their decisions and more importantly, stakeholders will be given reasons why a decision was made. This is to improve public confidence in the planning system at a local government level.

Most NSW Councils have updated their Community Strategic Plans in the last 18 months, making this a great time for councils to map out and streamline community engagement needs for both their IP&R planning processes, the EP&A Act,  crown lands changes and climate change planning processes.

Need help? Call Mara

Mara Consulting is a multidisciplinary team of community engagement specialists, strategic and environmental planners, landscape and urban design professionals.

Our team are local government specialists.  We can help streamline your council’s community engagement processes to meet your current and future planning requirements in the most effective and efficient manner to the benefit of your organisation and the community.

For information, contact Mara's team on 02 4965 4317 or email mara@maraconsulting.com.au.

Why do I need a strategy I hear you ask?

Stakeholder engagement, like managing the media is usually only thought about when things go wrong. Normally, PR and engagement professional only get the call when the complaints are flowing, or media have set up out the front – ok we love the excitement of crisis management BUT there are HUGE benefits of having a plan that guides your engagement and communication activities.

Stakeholder engagement, like managing the media is usually only thought about when things go wrong. Normally, PR and engagement professional only get the call when the complaints are flowing, or media have set up out the front - ok we love the excitement of crisis management BUT there are HUGE benefits of having a plan that guides your engagement and communication activities.

Organisations regularly set and review objectives and goals for the business but rarely do that link those with engagement and communication activities. If you are using a website, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, newsletters, emails, community events then you are communicating with an audience, potential client/customer or stakeholder.

Completing a situation analysis (fancy way of saying the who, what and why you are communicating) will give you the ability to better target your resources and develop a plan which sets out activities that cover the when and how.

For example, you might be about to lodge a development application with the local council but it's likely to raise objections from the community. This is no way a full strategy, but it gives you an understanding of the steps to take:

Communication objective: to reduce the likelihood that objections to the proposal are lodged with the council and gain support for the project.

Who are you communicating with (stakeholders): Councillors, neighbours, local community groups, council officers, business groups and media.

What are you communicating to stakeholders: Information about the project, benefits (economic, social, environmental).

Why are you communicating with stakeholders: To seek feedback from stakeholders potentially for input into the design, reduce likelihood of objections, provide accurate information about the project, reduce misinformation spreading.

Once you have set your goals and know who, what and why you are communicating it is easier to determine the best channel to use to achieve those goals set out in your activity plan and outline your key messages.

In the above example,

When and how to communicate with stakeholders: prior to lodging the development application - a briefing to Councillors, host a drop in day with a presentation/images/maps for neighbours and interested community members, conduct a survey, seek feedback forms, place information on your website and social media, host a visit to the site, have experts available to answer technical questions, attend a council meeting to address the public and provide information to relevant media explaining the project.

These basic principles apply whether it is for a specific project or when developing a communication strategy for your business.

If you have a project or want to develop a communications strategy and plan for your business, contact Mara for a chat, we'll help put you on the right track.

Take a look at Mara's 60 second communication strategy review tool.

Oh no, a JOURNALIST has my number!!

Ever taken a phone call from a journalist and didn’t know what to do…apart from panic that is? With good planning, practice and the support of a PR professional, managing media doesn’t have to be a scary event that leaves you in the corner rocking back and forth.

Confession time…hands up anyone that has ever said something you wish you could take back, say differently, just erased from ever passing your lips?

 

Yeah, thought so.  What would you do if those comments were in the public realm and a journalist phoned and asked for a comment?

 

Would you say or do any of the following?

PANIC – Why are they picking on me, surely there is a more newsworthy story out there…anywhere.  I want my mummy.

IGNORE THE CALL – No comment…no comment…no comment…no comment. Laa laaa said with fingers in your ears!

DOB IN A MATE – oh no you need to talk with Joe, he was there and knows all about it. Quickly pass on all Joe’s personal contact details.

SPILL THE BEANS – tell them everything you know and even what you’re not sure of.

PORKIES – Nup, not me, don’t know what you’re talking about, we have nothing to do with it.

SUNSHINE & LOLLIPOPS – Wish it all away.

 

Unfortunately, the team at Mara has witnessed all the above and it’s much harder to restore trust and reputations once you’ve had an interaction with the media like this.

In today’s instant media environment, everyone is a commentator, everyone can post a news story and every post has the potential to go viral.  And there is a platform for every type of media imaginable – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Blogger, Flickr, foursquare, YouTube, vimeo, reddit, google+, Instagram, and it goes on… Let alone the traditional media like radio, newspapers, television.  Journalists are in the business of selling news and manage it poorly, you’ll be the story!

With good planning, practice and the support of a PR professional, managing media doesn’t have to be a scary event that leaves you in the corner rocking back and forth.  Basically, communication, whether it is in a crisis or if it is to engage with stakeholders, protect your brand’s reputation, increase promotional opportunities, should always be planned.

These five steps will get you on your way:

  1. Undertake a communication audit and situation analysis.
  2. Set communication goals and objectives.
  3. Plan – who, what, why, how, when to communicate.
  4. Implement your communication plan.
  5. Review and update the plan.

In Mara’s next blog instalment, we’ll take a closer look at a completing a self-audit communication checklist.

For more information, or professional public relations advice, contact Mara Consulting for assistance.

Is publicity worth the investment?

“If I was down to my last dollar I would spend it on PR”, a famous quote by Bill Gates but what would you do with your last dollar? Do you place any value in PR and the potential that comes with generating newsworthy or popular social media content?

Reading a blog post from StartUpSmartabout the 10 milestones to hit in your first year in business, it reminded us that businesses often forget to tell people about the milestones in their business, whether it is celebrating a new staff member, an anniversary or new products and services. Milestones identified in your business plan are great opportunities to include in your public relations/communication strategy.

Public relations is all about connecting with your audience, customers, stakeholders, clients and in today’s world of social media, it’s about providing regular and relevant content to your loyal “followers” and “likers”.

Creating a strategy doesn’t have to be very complicated, but it should guide you through a thought process to get the most out of the story and most importantly, identify what’s in it for your followers. It’s easy to forget but your customers, clients and stakeholders will only pay attention if it’s relevant to them. So, take the time to put yourself in their shoes.

Here are Mara’s tips:

  • Write down your objective. 

What is it that you want to achieve? It could be as simple as increasing visitors to your website by 20 per cent, persuade people to choose your product or service, or to encourage your stakeholders to provide feedback on a project.

(For complex projects such as reducing the risks of objections during the exhibition of a development proposal Mara recommends seeking professional advice and assistance.)

  • Develop key messages.

Key messages are just phrases to clearly articulate your story to an audience. Clear - simple - memorable.

  • What’s the hook?

The hook is just the thing that will get people interested in what you are saying. Think biggest, best, first, quirky, fear, emotion, hot button issue, exclusives, pictures, human stories, relatable, concise information, humour.

  • Identify communication channels.

There are many types of channels that you can use to get your message out.  Social media, media releases, letters to the editor, paid advertising, interviews with tv/radio/newspapers, opinion pieces, electronic newsletters, website updates are all options that you could use but not all of them will work effectively for your story. Focusing your attention and resources on where you will get best results is key.

  • A picture tells a thousand words.

People relate to images or pictures, particularly in social media posts.  Followers are more likely to click on a post if it contains an image, particularly photos that are relevant.

  • Write content and customise for each medium.

Each communication channel has a different audience, make sure what you are saying is appropriate for those stakeholders.

So, there you have it, a look at a simple strategy to promote a story. For professional advice or help with an up-coming project contact Mara for a coffee and a chatabout how we can help.