ITL #250 A stronger foundation: guidelines for triggering change

2 years, 6 months ago


A prominent agricultural foundation in Italy is nurturing belonging, identity and engagement among its diverse group of stakeholders through a five-point communications strategy. By Franco Giacomozzi.

There are a lot of different ways to communicate in the public field. I have worked for several public institutions – first as a consultant, then as communication manager – and for the last couple of years I’ve supervised communications at an international research foundation specialising in agri-food and environmental issues, which combines education, research and extensive field activities.

I have taken a careful approach with an ancient institution, which had decided to modernise with the hope of providing both innovative external and internal communication. I immediately realised that the challenge was to build one communication strategy inside a structure that offered differentiated products and services to multiple, diverse targets. From Local Public Administration stakeholders to families/students, farmers, researchers, scientists, press and so on.

What do a farmer, a student’s parent and an Australian professor have in common? Very little! It is from this point that the renovation process began; a process in which social tools and web 2.0 had a strong influence.

I’ve tried to increase the sense of belonging, identity and engagement towards the institution, especially, by working on internal communication as a whole system and not the sum of different identities which tended to radicalise themselves: “I'm a teacher, I'm a student, I'm a researcher, I’m general staff” and so on…So I  focused on five Guidelines to trigger change, and all of them are linked to the web, digital media and social networks.

Guideline 1:  “RENEW TRADITION”

We worked on a key symbol of change and sense of belonging – the logo. We removed the elements that made it appear dated and limited its usability on new devices. But we kept the fundamental elements of the institute’s centuries-old identity intact.  

Now we can use it everywhere without the fear of losing visibility. At the same time we’ve maintained live the only and oldest paper publication, edited by ourselves, because it fitted perfectly with the farmers target group. We are trying to use it in a new way, as a starting point to a more engaging online experience.


Guideline 2:   “WEBIFY”
The online communication has been centralised into just one content management system, through which we manage the organisational, logistical and regulatory aspects. Last but not least, we use the web portal for corporate communication and as support for press office activities.

The web has become an access point for the value-added services provided by the institution and is based on the user’s authentication.  The platform also allows us to manage the specific web content of every single event, from seminars to our international scientific conference.

Guideline 3:   “CLOUDIFY”
One of the key factors of the communication innovation process was the transition of the main computer services to the cloud. Email, docs, projects, pictures, forms and much more have become accessible and sharable between all internal users (about 1,000 people).

A lot of users have created websites supporting their specific activity (a seminar, a course, their own personal website, etc.). Groups of hard-skilled users have developed specific apps such as for parents’ consultation management, shared resources booking, etc.

Guideline 4:   “SOCIALISE”  
A quality leap in our external communication was achieved thanks to social media. Facebook and Twitter most of all, but also YouTube and LinkedIn. Social channels have been fundamental in addressing institutional communication towards the target audiences as best they could, in order to understand what the different targets were requesting and holding dear. They were excellent in the relational part too, by building a system with other institutions at both national and international levels.

Currently Facebook seems to be the best, crossing social through different targets. Great for student engagement, families, co-workers and other stakeholders. Our main activities on Facebook, with a daily update schedule, are: sharing press releases, specific news and updates which aren’t sent to the press, events, previews, content related to a territory and the local business community, scientific publications and research results.

The same content is shared on Twitter, with more attention paid to mention and retweet activities. We find social media very useful for live events coverage (live tweeting, multiple tweeting) and it offers very good coverage of the relationships with stakeholders and local government. We really get the best of Twitter with Local Government/politicians, press and our stakeholders.

LinkedIn is really close to and specific for our business. We own both a Company Page and a University Page. In 2015, we started an important project, which aims to connect students and companies for work opportunities.

We’ve engaged students to register and mark themselves as students of our institute on LinkedIn. And we’ve encouraged the use of LinkedIn, specifically via training on how to make best use of the platform as a professional user after education. At the same time, we act as qualified referees.

For us, YouTube acts as a repository for our whole video production, especially our TV Programme (24 episodes, 8 minutes each, weekly on a local TV channel). The TV programme has a sort of “second life” when published online. It becomes more engaging and we can use individual videos in different and more creative ways, building new stories.

Guideline 5:  “ENGAGE”

We have worked on three key factors in order to involve our internal and external users: intranet, LinkedIn and CRM. With the first, we made communication and internal systems smart; with the second, we built a community of the school’s former students and right now we are working on an advanced service of supply and demand, where a LinkedIn endorsement mechanism plays an important role. With the third factor, we put on the net the 8,000 farms that make a daily use of consultancy services.

I have outlined some ideas for communication management in the public field, with multiple activities oriented towards different targets. By taking a look at the private sector we can compare ourselves to a divisional structure, with highly-diversified businesses which, must be conveyed and imagined as a distinct element!

That’s a great challenge, don’t you think?

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The Author

Franco Giacomozzi

Franco Giacomozzi is Communications Director in a big agri-food scientific institute which promotes and carries out research, scientific experiments, education and training activities as well as providing technical assistance and extension services to companies. With 800 employees, 350 Researchers and 8,000 farms supported, it is one of the most important institutes in the Italian agri-food sector, with strong international relationships. Before joining the Foundation, Franco was Head of Digital Communications in a Top 10 Italian Communication Marketing & PR Agency, based in Bologna.

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