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Evolution from Company Secretary to Governance Professional

Client: 

Chartered Secretaries Australia

PR Company: 

Callidus PR

Award Category: 

Award Type: 

Call Number: 

2008 C7 - 10

Year: 

2008

Executive Summary: 

The Governance Professional of the Year Awards (GPOTYA) were created by Viv Hardy for Chartered Secretaries Australia (CSA) to change the perception of the Company Secretary among key stakeholders in public and private sector organisations in Australia.

While the role of the Company Secretary has evolved to that of Chief Governance Professional, by mid 2006 this was not widely recognised among the governing body and senior management of the majority of Australian organisations and created a serious issue for the profession.

Without Board support, many Company Secretaries could not ensure best practice in governance was established and implemented in their organisations.

Launched in 2006, the purpose of the Awards was to demonstrate the critical role that Governance Professionals play in organisational performance and explain how the role of Company Secretary has evolved into one of Chief Governance Professional.

The Awards received 75 entries in the inaugural 2007 and subsequent 2008 competitions and will continue to be an important annual event for CSA.

Both the call for entries, the Awards and the subsequent profiling of winners have resulted in drawing attention to the governance responsibilities of the Company Secretary both in the media and boardrooms across Australia.

Situation Analysis: 

Chartered Secretaries Australia (CSA) is the peak professional body delivering accredited education, training and information on governance, as well as thought leadership in the field.

CSA’s mission is the promotion and advancement of effective governance and administration of organisations in the private and public sector through the continued development and application of corporate governance and administrative best practice.

In 2005, Viv Hardy was asked to address a key issue for the association: that across Australia, in both public and private sectors, many business leaders did not recognise or endorse the role of the Company Secretary as a senior advisor to the Board on governance issues. Indeed, in many cases the position was considered as an administrative role.

This perception was damaging, not only to the morale of the profession, but to the operation of Australian companies, as when the position of Company Secretary was not given the responsibility it required and the full endorsement of the Board, the Company Secretary could not ensure best practice in governance was carried out throughout the organisation.

Research: 

CSA commissioned independent brand research on the perception of the role of the Company Secretary in Australia. The research included questions on the perception of CSA as a membership body.

The research findings indicated there was significant work required not only to change the perception of the role but also to increase and enhance the profile of CSA in the broader business community. Refer to Appendix A: Research for the executive summary of CSA Benchmarking Survey 2005.

Research Findings Included:

- Company Secretary:

  • Across all sectors, there was significant confusion around the role of Company Secretary and the nature of the work entailed
  • There was a huge range of questions and disagreement surrounding the nature of the role – whether it was an administrative executive or Governance Professional
  • There was a strong association between the role and a secretarial function

- CSA:

  • CSA was not well known in the public domain
  • Many CSA members were unaware of CSA activity and advocacy
  • Many CSA members considered the organisation ineffective in promting the evolution of the Company Secretary

In addition to qualifying the importance of addressing the perception of the role of the Company Secretary, the research also identified the strength of the association between the role and a secretarial function with little perception of the Company Secretary as a Governance Professional.

Utilising the key issues highlighted in the research, CallidusPR created a simple program that focused entirely on explaining the role of the Company Secretary and educating key stakeholders on the importance of the role and its benefit to public and private sector organisations.

Target Policies: 

CSA research showed there were two main target publics to address with this program:

The Chairman, Board and senior management of

  • Publicly listed companies
  • Privately held companies
  • Public sector organisations

As the employers of Company Secretaries and key decision makers in matters of governance, these publics were the most important to reach.

In terms of promoting the role CSA research had shown a some dissatisfaction with the association by a members. It was important that the Awards program was seen as a proactive, quality campaign that both drove interest in their role and increased their recognition as a Governance Professional.

Communication Strategy: 

Utilising the key issues highlighted in the research, Viv created a program that focused entirely on explaining the role of the Company Secretary and educating key stakeholders on the importance of the role and its benefit to public and private sector organisations.

To show CSA proactivity to members, Viv developed a concept that communicated directly with both publics and the concept of the Governance Professional of the Year (GPOTYA ) Awards was born. The GPOTYA Awards recognised the contribution made by Governance Professionals to the successful running of businesses and other organisations in Australia.

The winners would be seen to personify the highest standards of governance practice in Australia.

Viv created the concept of the Awards, assisted in setting the judging criteria and was involved with CSA.

Implementation: 

- Criteria

The Awards recognise the Governance Professionals from a range of sectors who have demonstrated leadership and excellence in performing their role and whose achievements have resulted in higher standards of governance for their organisation or community.

The Awards are given to individuals who in the opinion of the Judging Committee and National Council meet the following criteria:

- Essential

  • Extensive expertise in the field of governance
  • Leadership in driving best-practice governance initiatives within their organisation
  • Highly-regarded and pro-active advisor to senior management and the Board
  • Demonstrated management of multiple stakeholders to achieve holistic governance outcomes
  • Contribution to the reputation and stature of the role of the Governance Professional

- Desirable

  • Active involvement in advancing the governance agenda in Australia
  • Effective management and implementation of a major governance project
  • Development and effective implementation of an innovation in governance within their organisation

- Categories

  • CSA Governance Professional of the Year at an ASX 100 company
  • CSA Governance Professional of the Year at an ASX listed company other than an ASX 100 company
  • CSA Governance Professional of the Year at an unlisted private sector organisation
  • CSA Governance Professional of the Year at a public sector organisation
  • CSA Young Governance Professional of the Year (under 35)

- Entry Process

To enter for the awards, the Chairman or the Board of organisations had to nominate why their Company Secretary represented the attributes and achievements that are the hallmark of best practice in the field of governance.

A call for entries was sent directly to the Chairman and Board of the ASX Top 200 companies, to privately held companies and to public sector organisations.

Refer to Appendix A: Call for entries for sample of collateral.

Key to addressing the perception issue of the Company Secretary was to use the title of ‘Governance Professional’ and pay tribute to best practice in good governance as criteria for the awards and in all communications.

- Judging Panel

Key to the success of the Awards was securing a panel of recognised governance leaders to add to the prestige of the event. These included:

Don Argus, AO, Chairman, BHP Billton.

Professor Michael Adams, Head of the School of Law, University of Western Sydney.
Ann-Marie Moodie, Managing Director, Boardroom Consulting Group Ltd. Robert Nankervis, Chairman, Chartered Secretaries Australia.
Professor Ian Ramsay, Director of the Centre for Corporate Law and Securities Regulation, University of Melbourne. Stuart Wilson, CEO, Australian Shareholders Association.
Lynn Ralph, MD, Cameron Ralph (former deputy Chairman of ASIC).

Ross Mallett, President, Chartered Secretaries Australia.

Not Pictured: Leon Gettler, The Age.

The Awards concept was created to be an annual event so momentum gained from the inaugural Awards could be built upon.

The campaign was designed to extend over six months in order to leverage each stage as much as possible with opportunities for direct dialogue with key stakeholders and supporting media relations. Refer to Appendix A: for Launch and Call for Entries media releases.

It was important that activities not only involved media relations but that Viv and CSA designed and implemented a comprehensive campaign that communicated with all publics in the best way for them. This included direct mail, advertising and public relations.

In addition, CSA sources were used to communicate the success of the awards and the association used the opportunity of the awards ceremony and associated media relations to discuss the evolved role of the Governance Professional. 

- 2007 Activities Included

ACTIVITY

CHANNEL TIME
Call for entries September 2006
Media relations campaign to call for entries in business and vertical sector media September 2006
Advertising in CSA journal, CSA member email, AFR and key trade publication September 2006
Entries close October 2006
Judging Appointment of recognised senior governance leaders to judging panel November - December 2006
Awards Black-tie event for Company Directors, Policy makers, regulators and other key stakeholders February 2007
Media relations campaign to publicise winners in targeted trade media and discuss governance issues February 2007
Continuing media relations campaign using winners’ profiles to discuss change in role of Governance Professional in business and vertical sector media March - April 2007
Masterclass Professional developement event presented by winners of and finalists of 2007 Governance Professional of the Year Awards July 2007

Results: 

The Governance Professional of the Year Awards received 75 entries in the inaugural 2007 and subsequent 2008 competitions and will continue to be an important annual event for CSA.

Both the Call for Entries, the Awards and the subsequent profiling of winners have resulted in drawing attention to the governance responsibilities of the Company Secretary both in the media and boardrooms across Australia.

The Awards ceremony has gave CSA a regular platform to address governance issues.

Refer to Appendix A: Event for Don Argus’s speech at the CSA Governance Professional of the year Awards as Chair of the Judging Panel which powerfully endorses the role of the Governance Professional.

Refer to Appendix A: Post Event for media coverage in targeted trade media.

Evaluation: 

The goal of the program was to demonstrate that the role of Company Secretary has evolved into one of Chief Governance Professional.

The excellent response to the call for entries and the support of the Awards Ceremony, in addition to the sponsorship and endorsement of the awards program clearly shows that the GPOTYA awards and its launch attracted the attention and captured the imagination of corporate Australia.

Indeed, the very use of the title Governance Professional, has repeatedly communicated the evolved nature of the role.

The original objectives were to:

  • (a) Raise awareness of the evolution of the role of Company Secretary to Governance Professional among key stakeholders in public and private sector Australian organisations.

Today, Company Secretaries are regularly referred to as Governance Professionals in the business media. Organisations are increasingly referring to the Company Secretary as the Chief Governance Professional role or offer.

CSA has attributed much of this success to the public profiling of the winners, all of whom have discussed the nature of their role and the importance of best practice in governance in business media, professional services media and at member events.

  • (b) Position CSA as the peak Australian body for governance professionals in Australia.

The creation of the Awards positioned CSA as the member body for governance and demonstrated to its members that it was campaigning creatively and proactively to evolve the perception of their role to that of Governance Professional.

The seniority of the Awards judging panel and the strength of Award entries combined to set the program as a serious industry initiative from the beginning.

Today, policy makers and regulators seek CSA’s views or proposed changes to the Corporations Act as well as on important issues impacting the good governance of organisations.

Most recently – and in the wake of the collapse of Opes Prime – CSA’s view has been sought on the disclosure of margin loans by directors of companies listed on the Australian Stock Exchange.