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Changing perceptions from the inside out

If you can’t inspire or articulate why your people should get out of bed in the morning, then it’s best to stay in bed. People want to work for companies and organisations that have a clear sense of purpose

In the latest of a mini-series of features examining the changing face of communications within maritime, Mark Stokes argues that shipping companies need to stop complaining about poor public perception and take individual responsibility for how broader society and future talent views us

HOW often do you hear executives on the conference circuit bemoaning the fact that the industry isn’t understood, doesn’t present itself well or attract the best talent?

Yet how many of the companies that those executives represent clearly articulate what they do and how they add value in today’s world? And how many make a compelling proposition for why anyone, let alone the new generation entering the workforce, would want to come and work in the maritime sector?  

Industry bodies representing our fragmented industry are often criticised. However, by the very nature of them having to represent disparate groups, the organisations themselves are also fragmented and are working full-time in dealing with issues and challenges specifically relating to their constituents. Companies too, driven by the need to provide shareholder value or, in some instances in shipping, merely survive, intuitively look inwards and not out towards the broader world they operate in.

Nevertheless, some progressive companies and organisations are seizing the initiative by demonstrating an outward looking approach — understanding that we can’t continue to complain to our own echo chamber about how we are perceived and taking affirmative action in having a global conversation about their commitments.

However, we also need to take individual responsibility for how broader society and future talent views us — and this starts at home with our own brand communications and the purpose and values that define us.

BLUE recently held a wide-ranging debate on the subject in collaboration with Lloyd’s List at London International Shipping Week. Dispelling Myths: Brand, Reputation, PR and Marketing in Shipping featured panellists including Joe Cook, communications director at Cargill, Sharn Samra, group marketing director at V.Group and Emily Luscombe, deputy managing director of Golin London, alongside BLUE director, Amie Pascoe.

The good news is that change is coming. As Cargill’s Joe Cook said: “Brand is extremely important in retaining talent. But it’s also important for our customers, as they are increasingly close to our business. There is a much greater understanding of how we operate and what we believe in.”

Maritime companies are starting to invest in communicating their purpose and role in an integrated and sustainable supply chain, rather than merely playing a role in the shipping of goods from A to B at the lowest cost. They’re also recognising that by engaging in society’s broader conversations around environment, the circular economy, social responsibility, diversity and digitalisation they’re finding resonance in attracting and retaining the next generation of talent.

If you can’t inspire or articulate why your people should get out of bed in the morning, then it’s best to stay in bed. People want to work for companies and organisations that have a clear sense of purpose in why they exist, who they serve and what their contribution is, not just to shareholders but to society as a whole.

There is much debate and hand-wringing about how we engage with Generation Z, those born between 1995 and 2010, as they enter the workforce.

It’s true that they have demands that seem novel and challenging to the established way of doing things. But fundamentally people haven’t changed. Technology has changed. And technology has brought information and transparency, leading to much greater mobility and awareness of opportunities in the marketplace. Shipping’s reality is that we’re competing for talent with companies in other sectors who are really good at telling their story.

So, who should tell our story? People ultimately trust and identify with people like them. The annual Edelman Trust Barometer tells us that trust in leaders is at an all-time low.  People tend to trust what they hear from peers and industry experts far more than they do from senior management.

With an increasingly diverse workforce, we need an inside-out approach, investing in training and empowering our people with the purpose, passion, knowledge and confidence to talk fluently about our organisations and our role in the world. The biggest advocates for our industry are our people. 

Mark Stokes is a director with BLUE, a business, brand and communications consultancy specialising in the marine and energy markets

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