In 2003 Alcan commenced a feasibility study exploring the potential to grow its Australian interests via an expansion of the Gove Alumina Refinery in Nhulunbuy, Northern Territory (NT).
The proposal was competing on a world stage against similar Alcan projects – there was no guarantee it would proceed – making the 10-month period prior to the announcement critical to the Board’s ultimate $2billion investment decision.
While the expansion promised 1,700 jobs, a multi-billion dollar economic injection and security for Nhulunbuy’s future, stakeholder support was mixed. Environmental, Indigenous and social impacts were key concerns, while Alcan (a company largely unknown in Australia beyond NT) was untested in its capacity to undertake an expansion of this magnitude in Australia.
Alcan engaged Rowland to develop a strategy that would secure stakeholder support for the proposed expansion, while managing expectations.
The strategy developed a clear positioning for Alcan in Australia, reinforcing its credibility and capability. It positioned the expansion as beneficial and proactively managed issues that could potentially impact stakeholder perceptions.
The strategy proved successful. Government stakeholders provided regulatory approval, while business and industry embraced the NT’s biggest ever investment as overwhelmingly positive. Media analysis post-announcement confirmed Alcan has now become an acknowledged leader in Australia’s aluminium industry.
Alcan Inc, headquartered in Montreal, is a world leader in alumina production with 60% of this production from Australia. The company’s largest Australian operation is the Gove bauxite mine and alumina refinery in remote Nhulunbuy in the Northern Territory (NT).
Operating in Australia since 1939, Alcan’s profile was now limited largely to the NT.
In October 2003 Alcan entered a phase of development and acquisition, with the proposed $2 billion expansion of the Gove alumina refinery central to its Australian growth plans. However the expansion was competing with other Alcan business units worldwide for funding – there was no guarantee it would proceed.
In pursuing its goal, the project faced numerous communication challenges:
No clear positioning and relatively low Australian profile, especially among key political decision makers critical to achieving approval: research revealed some stakeholders wrongly thought Alcan only recycled aluminium cans and made alfoil
Key stakeholders’ negative perceptions/concerns about the expansion: potential to derail the project if handled incorrectly
Announcement timing: Alcan Inc Board’s investment decision was not expected until September 2004, making it critical to manage stakeholder expectations over a long period, particularly those with a vested interest in its approval.
While the proposed expansion would be the NT’s biggest ever investment – creating jobs, injecting billions into the economy, delivering environmental efficiencies, securing Nhulunbuy’s future and actively supporting Indigenous communities and businesses – there was a sense of anxiety, concern and apprehension among some stakeholders.
Undertaking a massive expansion in a remote area with limited infrastructure
Social impact – influx of 1,700 construction workers (42% population increase)
Traditional Owners’ rights
Nhulunbuy’s future if the expansion did not proceed.
Vast communication challenges lay ahead – building Alcan’s reputation, managing stakeholder expectations, gaining stakeholder support for a project that was not guaranteed to go ahead, and working across international timelines – all in 10 months. While work would occur locally, it would have global consequences for Alcan.
Alcan engaged Rowland in November 2003 to develop a comprehensive communication program addressing the project’s complexities and charting the rocky 10-month course – from initial EIS public consultation through to ultimate investment decision.
|Visits to Gove||Understand size and scope of task
Meet key stakeholders
|Positioning workshop||Understand perceptions of Alcan, identify key challenges, strengths and weaknesses|
|Conduct detailed stakeholder perception research (refer Appendix D)||Mixed anecdotal perceptions at outset – clarity of stakeholder perceptions was critical|
|Communication audit||Determine effectiveness of existing communication channels/tools|
|Stakeholder and issues audit||Analyse relationships and issues|
|Review issues/crisis management communication manuals||Determine effectiveness|
|importance of relationship
Alcan Inc Board and management team
Critical to stakeholder engagement
Key community influencers and groups
|Concerns 1,700 workers (42% population increase) would stress services
Support critical to success
Management and Boards of partner organisations (QAL, Tomago, CSIRO)
|Affected by Alcan’s decisions
|Government (all levels)
Ministers and advisors
All relevant unions
Australian Aluminium Council, Minerals Council of Australia
Northern Land Council
|Mining lease/land access negotiations
Mainstream, business, industry, environmental
Environmental, social impact and community advocacy
Potential to derail project
Landcare and Garma Festival
|Families of Gove employees
||Critical to acceptance of 1,700 workers|
|1. Develop a clear positioning reinforcing Alcan’s credibility and capability in the Australian marketplace||Communicate positioning via national communication strategy||Improve perceptions
Ensure consistent messaging
|Engage key stakeholders in telling Alcan’s corporate story||Involve stakeholders
|Increase the importance of communication and relationship building||Faster turnaround on decisions
|Proactively manage issues and reputation||Mitigate potential issues and ensuing effect on reputation|
|Ensure communication from Alcan’s Australian interests is compatible with objectives||Ensure consistent messaging|
|2. Reinforce the benefits of the proposed expansion, while proactively managing issues to minimise stakeholder apprehension||Develop and implement a comprehensive communication strategy for different stages leading up to and during the expansion announcement||Ensure consistent messaging
|Enlist project champions||Build trust and support among stakeholders through third party endorsements|
Rowland identified four distinct communication phases leading up to the expansion announcement:
Phase One: Project establishment and research
- Build relationships
- Analyse stakeholders and issues.
Phase Two: Corporate positioning and communication strategy
- Positioning workshop
- Corporate positioning story and messages developed
- Positioning rolled-out to senior management
- Corporate collateral produced incorporating new positioning. Adhered strictly to global Alcan style guide. These included:
- Corporate brochure (refer Appendix A)
- Corporate folder.
- Rowland facilitated regular communication meetings to promote knowledge-sharing across Brisbane, Darwin, Gove and Montreal.
In addition, sponsorship, media and government relations programs were developed (note: undertaken throughout the 10-month campaign – all activities still underway).
Phase Three: EIS
Very early in the EIS process, Rowland was engaged to contextualise Alcan and the project, including attending EIS Steering Committee workshops and drafting the executive summary.
Rowland also created support materials that communicated clear positioning and consistent messaging including:
- Key messages and Q&As
- Pre and post-lodgement communication calendars allocating tasks, tools and responsibilities
- Consultation with Gove Community Reference Groups (CRG - rigorous community consultation a key activity)
- Community EIS executive summary
- Issues matrix
- EIS companion document – explaining the project and its impact in lay terms (refer Appendix A)
- Stakeholder presentations and briefing notes
- EIS media release (refer Appendix A).
Gaining stakeholder acceptance – without raising expectations of the project’s approval – was critical to the content, style and tone of all materials.
Post-EIS lodgement,Rowland supported Alcan’s approach to the Federal Government for Major Project Facilitation (MPF) status, which was granted in March 2005. (refer Appendix A).
Phase Four: Expansion announcement
Proactive issues management was critical throughout the lead up to the Board’s announcement.
- Identifying all existing and potential issues
- Developing an Alcan Gove issues management system:
- Issues management protocols, register and early-warning system (refer Appendix D)
- Media training for key spokespeople
- Preparation of information briefs containing clear and accurate information (refer Appendix D).
Activities leading up to the expansion included developing:
- Strategy for expansion approval as well as exit should the Board decide not to proceed (refer Appendix D)
- Communication protocol for project partners to ensure consistent messaging post-announcement
- Comprehensive run sheet (refer Appendix D)
- Stakeholder database
Communication tools for stakeholders:
- Key messages and Q&As (refer Appendix D)
- Media alert and media release for Darwin press conference (refer Appendix A)
- Phone scripts for frontline staff
- Script for introduction to media conference
- Fact sheets (refer Appendix A)
- Information briefs (refer Appendix D)
- Site notices (refer Appendix A)
- Notice to other Alcan business units
- Letter to stakeholders (refer Appendix A)
- Alcan in Australia and Alcan Gove websites (refer Appendix A).
On the day of the Board’s announcement in Montreal coordinating:
- Darwin Media conference
- Four ‘communication hubs’ to distribute information: Montreal, Brisbane, Darwin and Gove (refer Appendix D: notification matrix)
- Websites to ‘go-live’ with all expansion materials ensuring stakeholder access to information immediately following the decision (refer Appendix A).
As an overriding result of the comprehensive campaign, Alcan in Australia went from a company with little profile and perceived by some to only recycle cans and make alfoil to an acknowledged leader in Australia’s aluminium industry and a significant contributor to the Australian economy.
Positioning Alcan as credible, capable and committed to long-term investment in Australia – evidenced by the NT Government’s approval of the EIS and Alcan Inc’s approval of the project; supported by media messaging (refer Appendix A: media coverage summary and NT Government website)
Alcan Inc commissioned CARMA International in September 2004 to undertake media analysis of the expansion. Results included:
Analysis of 50 articles showed an average favourability rating of 71 (refer Appendix D: formula)
This rating is substantially higher than Alcan’s usual favourability rating – since the second quarter of 1998, Alcan has never scored higher than 64
Measuring positioning revealed a high volume of our exact targeted positioning statements, with an average favourability rating of 78.75 (refer Appendix A)
Major Project Facilitation Status (MPF) from the Federal Government – granted in March 2005, it demonstrated the Government recognised the project’s national significance and was a huge step toward strengthening Federal Government relationships
No major opposition from environmental groups
Penetration of key messages reflected in Government’s endorsement – NT Chief Minister Claire Martin jointly announced the expansion with Alcan. Endorsements from Chief Minister at the press conference included:
“This is a very exciting project for the Territory and it really shows that Alcan has a lot of faith in the Territory.”
“It also means great opportunities for local business and suppliers and we have certainly been doing work already to make sure that our businesses are ready and understand the needs of Alcan in this expansion.”
“Every Territorian should be delighted today to see that Alcan is making this significant investment in the Territory’s future.”
Mitigation of issues – only 3 of the 50 stories published contained negative elements
Community acceptance evidenced by anecdotal feedback to Alcan Gove employees, CRGs and absence of complaints and issues.
Rowland continues to work closely with Alcan on the expansion project.
The goal was achieved: approval secured September 2004.
Objective: 1. Develop a clear positioning reinforcing Alcan’s credibility and capability
|Objective: 2. Reinforce the benefits of the proposed expansion, while proactively managing issues to minimise stakeholder apprehension