Best Practice in Communication

Changing expectations, changing communications

Mining provides the materials needed for development and upkeep of our modern lifestyle, it has the potential to lift a country out of poverty and its products touch all other industries. For those of us working in mining these are well known truths. And yet, all over the world experience tells us that conflict around mining is increasing, communities are not convinced a mine in their backyard will benefit them, governments have mixed views on the benefits of exploiting their natural resources and investor confidence is dropping.

Today, more than ever, mining is a marriage, a long-term relationship between a community, a company and their government. It will not succeed without overcoming conflict and misunderstanding. Technological innovation and an increase in society’s expectations are pushing the industry to build relationships and create mutual understanding in new ways. Simply sharing information is no longer enough. Companies see the business need for on-going two-way communications with an increasing variety of actors while organizing information flows to, from and across the company.

To be successful, companies have to align their messages, attitudes and behaviours around transparency, responsiveness and engagement. From senior leadership to front-line workers, the reputation of a company is built one action and word at a time and easily crumbled. How do mining companies present themselves to host communities, governments and international actors? How are they linking their corporate communications efforts to the reality of the communities in which they operate? How are the global leaders in the industry adapting its structures to better deal with multiple global information networks?

These are some of the questions that motivated the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Brunswick  to partner in a research project last year. We found that very little information was publicly available on good communications practice in the mining industry and there was a general appetite for better understanding of how mining companies are using communications tools for engagement and sustainable development. During three months, we interviewed 25 executives with significant responsibility for stakeholder engagement or communications in 15 mining companies. They shared with us success stories and lessons learned.

In Mongolia, for example, Oyu-Tolgoi has embraced the digital dialogue connecting with local politicians, journalists, government officials and the general public through Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. They use the data collected from online interactions to guide their communications investment and relationship-building activities. In Chile, Codelco has implemented a 45-minute response time to all social media enquiries successfully engaging with opinion leaders and minimizing the risk of misinformation spreading. In Indonesia, Newmont invited local influencers – including journalists – to visit their operations for a week. Participants left with a better understanding of the business, its challenges and its contribution to their country.

All interviewees shared one thing: leading mining companies are stepping up their communications efforts to achieve their business goals and support their sustainable development journey.

The results of the exercise were published under the title “Changing the game: Communications and sustainability in the mining industry”. Building on those conversations and their own experience, the authors identified emerging themes that are shaping how mining companies organize, manage and execute communications with stakeholders. The report presents five trends on how communication can support sustainability, by:

  1. creating an environment for effective stakeholder dialogue
  2. using transparency to build trust
  3. integrating communications to enhance sustainability efforts
  4. enhancing internal communication and corporate culture
  5. measuring impact.

Each of these trends is illustrated by a case study and quotes from the interviewees. The report also offers ten examples on how mining companies have successfully used communications to mitigate risk and enhance their sustainability efforts.

We recognize that this is just a starting point. Communications is ultimately a local craft, built on the bricks of culture and language. So we invite the readers of this newsletter to take a look, question our suggestions and reflect on what tools could be useful to advance sustainable development in your local context. I had the pleasure of speaking to a meeting with the Euromines communications committee in 2010, and we had a very insightful animated discussion on whether or not we should engage in social media. The conversation has now moved on. We are no longer asking if we should engage, we are talking about how to do it and how to do it well. We – the industry – have not found a silver bullet, because there isn’t one. We can only strive for honest, authentic engagement one action at a time.

The complexity of the environment in which the members of ICMM and Euromines operate, force us to be courageous in our approach and iterative in our solutions. Thus we welcome your feedback to help us build a better, deeper understanding of how we can strengthen the relationships between mining companies and their communities. ICMM has a vision of communications as a vehicle to bridging the trust gap that we have all, at one time or another, experienced. When I am asked whether engagement might be too risky, I now quote one of our interviewees: “in mining operations the biggest risk is under engagement”.

Casilda Malagon,
Manager Communications, ICMM