The first Communication Arts Conference in PNG

I want to thank Jaive Smare from the Communication Arts Professionals Association (CAPA) for their invite to speak at their inaugural conference yesterday.

A great initiative by him and his group who are former Divine Word University (DWU) Communication Arts students. On a side note, the fact that they have a strong alumni in the industry to organise this event says allot about how they must teach their students at DWU. I’m sure DWU President Fr. Jan Czuba would have been proud as he gave his Opening Address yesterday.

After a touching personal account of his experience with his assistance to the relief efforts of the Airlines PNG crash in Madang, Fr. Jan set the tone for the conference in recounting how he was placed in the peculiar position of having to communicate to several varying audiences, the events that had happened and what was going to be done about it in the following days. This task was made all the more difficult due to the lack of information at the time from the airline itself and authorities.

And so began the conference with its theme ‘Communicating to an Audience’. (Download the program here)

The first group of speakers were Esther Haro from the National Research Institute (NRI), Michael Wightman from AusAID, Beverly Puton from Investment Promotion Authority (IPA) and Michelle Yiprukaman from PNG Ports.

Esther ran through the think tank’s activities and communications strategies. I was quite impressed with their efforts and work for research and publications. An interesting developments which I look forward to seeing soon will be the full database of all government policies over the years from all the government departments in PNG.

Michael spoke about his experience in dealing with the Public Relations issues of AusAID in PNG. He spoke of how his main role was to communicate to Australian tax payers and PNG stakeholders what was happening with the Aid money. An interesting and perhaps obvious angle he took his talk was how they were now increasingly moving towards using facebook and other social media for their communications. The aspect of social media which he liked was how it was an often a more honest way of reporting and that ‘You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear’. (I was thinking of adding, ‘there’s no black or white, just shades of grey’).

Beverly illustrated some interesting developments on IPA’s website where in 2012 we will be able to do company searches and other activities online instead of having to visit their office physically.

Michelle highlighted the huge changes being undertaken at PNG Ports and one can only imagine that such changes are a sign of a booming economy. So great to hear that an important government agency was on its feet with its infrastructure and capacity  investments.

After lunch we had James Laraki from National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI), Arnold Lakamanga from Mineral Resources Authority (MRA) and myself.

James talk ran like the other government agencies in terms of what they did how they went about their communications strategies. But the most important difference with NARI and every other agency and most businesses in cities and towns was that the audience they needed to communicate with was entirely in the rural areas. This essentially means the majority of Papua New Guineans. I felt somewhat guilty at that point thinking to myself that for all that we have worked for and done over the last 10 years at Masalai, the majority in the rural population were still way behind in terms of access to information. James concluded quite rightfully that as Papua New Guineans whether we lived in PNG cities or overseas we had no excuse for not knowing anything about how all our villages come from agricultural based societies and he left us with the challenge to help where we could to better inform our families in the villages.

Arnold’s MRA is a four year old organisation yet one that seems to be on the ball. I imagine they would be particularly well funded seeing that they are the custodians for all exploration licenses and mining licences in PNG. (Note that they only look after hard minerals and alluvial mining and not gas or oil). One of the services MRA provides are maps of mining exploration and activity in PNG and as I had pointed out in a past post here, 90% of PNG is now under exploration for minerals. It’s a scary thought and one that needs to be taken quite seriously. The very maps they provide for public information are produced using a Geographic Information System (GIS). GIS is a powerful tool which is used to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present all types of geographically referenced data. You can see its obvious benefits for the Mining industry and it is information that any landowner should be making use of as this industry continues to grow. Beyond just mining though imagine if something like this was working properly for the Lands Department and the Department of Environment & Conservation?

For my talk I basically went over what I presented some months ago in Auckland at the Lowy Institute Conference, you can download it here. From what we have seen PNG Facebook users have rocketed from around 20,000 in December 2010 to over 65,000 this month. It’s a huge leap, but still not good enough as this only represents about 1.10% of the PNG population. It brings me back to the point of NARI’s dilemma of how to reach the majority of Papua New Guineans in the rural areas. I had some comments from the audience that mobile phones were helping, but I still maintain that for an individual to have a deep, rich internet experience for business and lifestyle we would need cheaper internet. The only power that can enable that would be competition at the internet gateway level. (Which as you may know from this blog is an old but still pressing issue).

After afternoon tea we had our good friend Robert Weber speak about good design and good photography. He pointed out a few PNG examples like the banners at Vision City with non Papua New Guineans on it as being an example of companies not caring about their audience. He pointed out also that good design is an investment in strengthening your organisations image and goals. Robert brings a wealth of experience in photography as well and you only have to see one of his latest images below here of kids at Lea Lea Village to understand why we don’t need to use foreign images to get our messages across in PNG.

Picture by Robert Weber

Amanda Donigi was last in the day but gave us a great reminder of the need for editing in text for communications of all forms. We all know to well how well our journalists write in PNG.

So that was pretty much the wrap up for Day 1 and I do have to apologise that today for Day 2 of the conference I was only able to catch one speaker before work dragged me out the door again.

I caught a small part of the end of Charlie Gillichibi’s talk on NASFUND’s new digital media strategies which I noted also highlighted the same issue of the high cost of internet being a threat to the development of new technologies and services.

The only full talk I caught on Day 2 was that of Marketing Manager Leith Isaac and his role at the Tourism Promotion Authority (TPA. He spoke of how they came up with the latest slogan ‘A Million Different Journey’s’ and he ran through their latest¬† strategies for developing PNG as a global destination brand. After several years of being given slogans, TPA in 2008 went out through the country to speak to stakeholders to see what they wanted. The main themes that became apparent in their research was that PNG was an expansive and diverse country with many languages and experiences. The other prominent feature was that you really had to travel to experience PNG and whether it was out of Port Moresby to a province or just even in the taxi from the airport to the hotel, that journey would lead to something in PNG. And so a”A Million Different Journeys” was born. In terms of their strategies, TPA is quite advanced on this front with viral campaigns with New Balance shoes, National Geographic and with IP recognition on its websites to show tailored content for its different geographic audiences they have put allot of work into new media.

I’d have to say that this was one of the better media related conferences I have been to in a long time, especially in PNG. I learn’t allot from the speakers and the passion and energy to try new things was evident both in the speakers presentations and in the conversations at our tea breaks.

I look forward to next years CAPA Conference.