Disclaimer: The ANZ Bank is an IBM customer. The opinions in this blog post are my own and the interview with Paul was arranged directly with me rather than part of any IBM relationship. I am also a regular contributor to the Bank’s thought leadership website – my BlueNotes columns can be found here.
I’ve been an ANZ customer for years. My first “grown up” bank account when I went to University in Adelaide in 1986 was with ANZ. When I was in Melbourne in early 2015, I had the good fortune to meet Paul Edwards, who is the Group GM of Corporate Communications at the Australian and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ), based in Melbourne.
Since I first heard about ANZ’s corporate blog, ANZ BlueNotes, I have been fascinated to know more.
On my last trip to Sydney, I asked Paul if he would be happy to provide an overview of BlueNotes, and below is the interview I recorded with him at the ANZ Tower in Sydney on December 10th, 2015.
As you will discover in this 13-minute masterclass, Paul and his team seem to have mastered the formula for integrating traditional and social media communications in an increasingly fragmented and noisy environment.
Banks in the US and Europe should take note!
If you don’t want to watch the excellent 13-minute interview above, I have provided a transcript below. It is certainly a masterclass from an experienced communicator such as Paul on how to drive (and own) your social comms strategy in an increasingly noisy world.
I’ve summarised some of Paul’s key points below.
- With fewer journalists, fewer channels for corporates to get their messages out, you need to take control of the message and create your own channels and reasons for a dialogue with multiple stakeholders
- BlueNotes is part of the ANZ’s social strategy – a content engine for the bank
- BlueNotes success can be measured by how the content is being picked up by traditional news outlets, and bank produced video content has been embedded on traditional news sites
- Engaging in conversations relevant to the bank is key, and going forward the challenge will be how to engage in conversations that the bank may be uncomfortable with – transparency is key
- Challenge moving from corporate “broadcast mode” to a fully, socially engaged mode
- Mobile will be key for BlueNotes in 2016
- ANZ Bank Executives have embraced BlueNotes and social channels in a big way
- Important to have external voices and thought leadership, not just ANZ staff
- The BlueNotes model could be replicated by competitors, but it is becoming harder to get external comms platforms approved & funded
Andrew Grill: I’m here in Sydney with Paul Edwards, who is the Group GM of corporate communications for the ANZ bank. I met Paul some months ago when I was talking to him about BlueNotes which is their corporate blog for thought leadership and information about the bank, and so Paul I thought I’d start by asking you what was the thinking behind BlueNotes, how did it start?
Paul Edwards: Communications is undergoing a profound disruption at the moment. It’s a bit of “boiling the frog”, and many communicators don’t get this, but we’re seeing in the media that we’ve got fewer pages, fewer journalists – less ability to tell our stories, and at the same time we have a growing number of people who want to connect with us through social media and have an ability to do that at scale.
So BlueNotes is a response to the opportunity to drive a more social strategy from ANZ – it is a content engine for our social strategy and it is also a response to the shrinking media relations environment, where we actually have to build audiences directly, because our ability to tell our stories is shrinking every year with the size of newspapers and with the disappearance of TV current affairs and business reporting.
AG: So do you think your message is being diluted because there are so many channels out there and you have to rise above this noise?
PE: I think for business and financial news there are actually fewer channels for us, our major financial newspaper in Australia, the Australian Financial Review used to, 10 years ago have 7 or 8 pages devoted to financial services on a Thursday, and today the best you ever get is 2 pages, we’ve got 1/3 the number of journalists that used to report on us, so for a large company earning $A7Bn in revenue, we can tell stories about our group, but our ability to tell stories about institutional business, or our retail business doesn’t really exist in any meaningful way and so we have to respond to that environment, but we’ve got to do it in a way and work with the existing channels with journalists, but also build our own audiences.
AG: What is your target market for BlueNotes, is it institutional investors, is it the press, is it the consumers, and the ANZ customers?
PE: It’s what I think of as a traditional corporate affairs audience, and that’s really a group of influencers, and that includes everyone from journalists, through to investors, retail shareholders, Government policy makers, and our own staff who are substantial consumers of BlueNotes content.
AG: How have journalists responded BlueNotes, that fact that now most of ANZ’s corporate communications, messages are going through BlueNotes, rather than traditional press releases?
PE: It’s been really interesting, I’ve been very focussed on doing this in a co-operative and collaborative way with the media so that it’s not that we’re moving from traditional media relations to BlueNotes, but that we’ll do this in co-operation with traditional journalists, who are all now under resourced and looking for content, so where we have a post by our incoming CEO Shayne Elliott, we’ll give a heads up to journalists, we might give them a copy in advance and we’ll publish on BlueNotes the same day the journalist is publishing in the newspaper. We’ve also used it in different ways, for example we’ve had particular messages to communicate around capital, we’ve done BlueNotes interviews, transcribed those, we’ve lodged them at the stock exchange, and then pointed people to BlueNotes.
I think in addition to building audiences directly, and it being a content engine for social, we’re seeing the content that we’re developing because of it’s credibility being picked up and referenced in articles, but we’re also seeing the video content that we’re producing picked up and used and embedded in stories in The Australian and so on, and I never would have expected that to happen but it just shows you the amount of pressure that’s going on in newsrooms for quality content.
AG: Is it a challenge that it’s basically the bank providing the content, so is there a fine line between it’s the bank’s view because the bank shot the vision, versus an under resourced newsroom that needs good content?
PE: Well that’s one of the reasons why we’ve built BlueNotes in a different way, we haven’t staffed it with traditional media relations people, we’ve actually bought in a Journalist, Andrew Cornell, who is probably one of the pre-eminent commentators on financial services for the last 20-25 years.
He brings with him enormous credibility and I want him to do the same job that he would have done at the Financial Review, and I think both the individual and the quality of the stories has really been a key ingredient to the success of BlueNotes, not only for it’s readership but the pick up in traditional media.
AG: So BlueNotes isn’t just ANZ’s corporate news, you’ve also got some thought leaders, I’m one of them that actually writes for BlueNotes, what’s been the strategy behind that?
PE: I think it started out as a content engine for social engagement, we had to have a social strategy, and as I was thinking about that, the challenge was well actually you need a content strategy to run behind that.
140 characters is not that interesting, what’s the content which you’re actually trying to engage people, so the idea was to engage in a number of conversations which are relevant to our business strategy, but were also conversations that were interesting for our stakeholder audience, and that’s really how we’ve built that, and things like digital disruption, the Asian Century, we’ve had a lot of focus on diversity, these are all relevant topics within our business, and they are topics that our stakeholders are interested to engage on.
AG: There has been a lot of talk about Branded Journalism and Branded content, where do you think this sits with BlueNotes and the strategy for the bank?
PE: BlueNotes really isn’t what I think of as content about branded discussion, BlueNotes is really around our corporate reputation and building our corporate reputation by engaging in relevant discussions.
I think the question of branded content is much more challenging, and if I’ve observed something, it’s been an area where I think marketers have struggled to come to grips with the kind of conversations you need to build.
It’s often been very product focussed or marketing focussed and I think they’re really struggling to come to terms with was does content look like in a social age.
We’ve had some notable successes, if you look at the histogram feed that we had our “GAYTMs” which runs around the time of Mardi Gras in Sydney, that’s been fabulously successful.
AG: What has been ANZ’s journey to becoming a social bank and where do you think you are on that journey?
PE: We’re still taking the baby steps, and i’d say despite the fact BlueNotes is regarded as a success and other people look at it as a model, we’re still learning there, we’ve created great content, we’ve begun to engage audiences, but I think where we’re at is that we actually need to build more content which is identifying conversations which are happening externally and to tap into those and contribute to those, rather than being in a little of a broadcast mode that we are at the moment, and I think this is the real challenge for us taking BlueNotes forward to participate in conversations, some of which we may be quite uncomfortable about participating in, and building a dialogue, rather than using BlueNotes to broadcast content.
It’s not necessarily a magazine, it’s actually a foundation for a conversation.
AG: Why do you think your competitors have not followed you – will we start to see a red notes or a yellow notes?
PE: I am sure they are looking at it and there are versions of this floating around, Comm Bank has a blog and so on.
I was really lucky at ANZ, I’ve been around forever, and there is a little bit of trust in me. I work for a Chief Executive who is happy to support ideas and I also had the ability to overspend my budget which not many executives have the latitude to do that.
To be honest, I actually believed in this and I was willing to take a personal risk with my career that it was going to work, and we got on and did it.
I think if you’re then looking at replicating something like BlueNotes you’re going up with a business case, and you’re looking for funding and it’s a tight environment at the moment.
I think it is more difficult to get proposals up in that sort of way than I had the ability to take a risk.
AG: You’re quite visible on social media yet you’re one of the bank’s corporate spokespeople, how do you balance that?
PE: There seems to be all these ideas that there needs to be all of these approvals processes before you tweet. I don’t have an approval process if I have to make a comment as a spokesperson, because I am empowered to do that, so why wouldn’t I do that through social media?
If you thought about the conversations that I might have with some of our external stakeholders – the media, I’m not just there to give a view on an ANZ issue, but we’ll often have conversations around your personal life with journalists, you’ll have conversations about what’s happening in politics, what’s going on in Asia, so why wouldn’t you bring that conversation to a broader audience through twitter?
I think the the trick is about bringing your whole self to social and not just using it as a spokesperson.
AG: What’s next for BlueNotes?
PE: I think one of the keys for us next year is really trying to find the way to embrace mobile. BlueNotes at the moment is very much a desktop maybe iPad product, but we’re going to have an app next year that will enable you to sync offline.
I sat on the plane this morning and I was watching the guy across from me read reading the Telegraph newspaper from the UK on his iPad.
We want people to be able to sync BlueNotes, read it on the plane, take it on holidays if they wish – a lot more of that mobile functionality will be important.
I think we’ve got to work much harder at building this conversation in this two-way idea and just taking a step on from producing content, to really building that conversation.
AG: I agree with you that the engagement with the community is time consuming and it requires humans, how does that play out in the bank having more socially enabled people – is there a social media team or are you going to start distributing that responsibility across parts of the bank to make it easier rather than one department having to respond to everything?
PE: We have invested heavily in more people with social and digital capabilities within corporate communications, but ultimately the future for communicators is actually much more devolved than it has ever been.
It’s devolved in the fact that we’ve encouraged all our executives on twitter and if people like Shayne Elliott are very authentic – I actually need SMS alerts for him tweeting now because he goes of and does his own thing, which is fantastic.
We’ve got many people like that across the bank, so the future for us is actually much more devolved externally, and it’s much more devolved internally as well as we invest in things like internal collaboration tools, giving people authentic voices to build conversations within the company as well.
AG: And finally, if you could sum up BlueNotes in 140 characters, what would it be?
PE: I can give you our tagline, which is – it’s our digital publication for our inside opinion and news from within and outside ANZ. Really it’s a conversation engine for ANZ.
AG: Paul, thank you very much for your time.
PE: Thank you.