Suzanne Pullinger lives and breathes communications. Which is lucky, because as Media and Communications Advisor for Astron Energy, she’s involved in every aspect of keeping the company’s 1500 employees and contractors informed and engaged.
“My role is implementing communications strategies to build a positive understanding among the company and all stakeholders.
That’s no small ask when Astron Energy operates a large oil refinery in Cape Town, a lubricants manufacturing plant in Durban, three regional offices around South Africa and a range of distribution terminals which serve their network of over 850 service stations.
“The key for us is to have engaged employees. I work closely with my colleague, Communications Assistant Tshepiso Titipana, and every day our focus is on brainstorming and finding new ways to create disruptive, impactful communications that will stand out and claim attention in order to get important messages across to our time-starved employees. We challenge each other to create appealing, concise and informative messages.”
As if that weren’t challenging enough for the Communications team, the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 resulted in many employees working remotely. Many felt uncertain about things. Being able to stay connected and engage with employees was critical.
“Communication is vital to everything we do,” says Suzanne. “We support the entire business to ensure that employees have the right information and that it’s easy to understand.”
But such responsibility brings challenges. Managing last-minute communication requests. Rewriting messages so they’re quick to read and simple to understand. Balancing the priorities of different messages from different departments. Training or coaching colleagues.
“We often have to diplomatically resolve schedule conflicts in order to prevent a barrage of messages landing at the same time and overwhelming our employees. Fortunately, we have a great working relationship with our colleagues in other business units and we are able to work together to plan the most effective timing and medium for their particular message.
The employees at Astron Energy are a diverse bunch. They’re working in manufacturing or operations environments, in corporate offices and out on the road. Targeted and relevant messaging is crucial in keeping lines of communications open between such disparate groups.
Astron Energy was formed in 2018 when Chevron exited the South African market. The company needed to instil new values, rebuild corporate culture and re-energize their employees. To do that, the team needed a better way to communicate and create the engagement needed.
“One of our team’s strategic objectives was to drive a high-performance culture by enabling disruptive employee communication and engagement. We wanted our employees to receive communications in an engaging manner and reduce the clutter of emails.”
Measuring the effectiveness of their communications had been difficult in the past, when Astron Energy were heavily reliant on email. “We weren't able to measure anything, track anything. It was just hit and miss.”
Astron Energy was looking for a tool that would support the business and increase the impact of their employee messages.
“We performed an audit on our communications and we found that certain important messages sent via email were missed. We needed a way to break through the clutter and ensure that messages were seen. We needed something that was more disruptive and engaging.”
A key consideration was making it easy for employees to be up to date with internal messages, especially with Astron Energy’s dispersed workforce. Producing creative messaging which caught the attention of staff was difficult without any in-house design expertise.
Suzanne summarizes it as, “We wanted to have instant, visually appealing and relevant information available to employees.”
In a large company like Astron Energy, there’s a lot to communicate. Projects and internal campaigns, awareness programs and (particularly in 2020) the COVID-19 pandemic. Traditional channels wouldn’t cut it. Enter SnapComms.
“SnapComms was a solution for us to make quick, easy, impactful comms that look good and have staff say, ‘Oh, I want to read that. That looks interesting.’”
A range of important corporate projects soon put that to the test. The team used SnapComms to support an internal initiative called Boost, intended to promote Astron Energy’s company values and encourage employees to click through to a dedicated internal website.
Did it work? Suzanne says: “We can see by the increase in numbers whenever we post a SnapComms reminder that more people are participating in the platform.”
Suzanne and Tshepiso have also worked closely with colleagues in other departments to communicate using SnapComms, including IT, SHEQ and HR.
The IT department have been heavily involved with SnapComms – from making sure the platform was safe and secure prior to implementation, to using the platform to deliver messages around IT programs such as Cyber Awareness Month.
“IT have leveraged the platform extensively ,” says Suzanne. “They are very excited about this, which is good because they needed to be the ultimate approvers on introducing a platform onto our network.”
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the company also relied on SnapComms to protect employee health and safety. The platform was a vital channel to communicate essential messages around hygiene measures, general business operations and training
The Comms team been using SnapComms for a while now, so how have they found the platform? Has it delivered what they – and Astron Energy – needed?
It’s clear that important communications are no longer being missed. The average readership rate of the team’s Desktop Alert messages is a satisfying 86%. “We sent out an executive announcement from our CEO on Monday and it had a 91% success rate.”
Now, word of this success has spread within the business. “There's a bigger demand from the business for communications. Because they see value in what we’re doing and they want their messages to stand out, look good, and be read.”
The Comms team is still kept busy at Astron Energy, juggling the diverse communication demands of the business every day. But the relationship with SnapComms continues to grow.
“It's definitely changed the face of communications for us, because we now have the information we need to make better informed decisions around our communications. That helps us to get impactful messages out at the right time, to the right audience, and ultimately, measure the extent to which it has been engaged with.”