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The key to regulatory communication success – Putting people at the centre

7 December 2022

News and media


This guest editorial was written for the ANZSOG/National Regulators Community of practice monthly newsletter, highlighting new additions to the Regulation Policy and Practice collection on APO. The RP&P collection brings together a range of practical resources from national, local and state/territory governments, regulatory agencies and external institutions conducting monitoring, inquiries and reviews. You can receive this newsletter by  joining the ANZSOG/National Regulators Community of Practice (membership is free) or  subscribe to the newsletter directly.


Every one of us is a communicator. We communicate with our friends, family, colleagues, clients and stakeholders in person, over the phone, via email or digitally every day. Sometimes our communication is more successful than others because we’ve taken the time to consider what message we want to convey, who our audience is and what they already know and what we want them to understand or do, and the pros and cons of our channel of communication.

Because we all communicate, there can be the attitude that anyone can deliver organisational communications. But just as engineers and lawyers bring professional expertise to their role so too do communication professionals. Their core role is to align communication with political and organisational imperatives, preserve the organisation’s reputation and promote the brand. They will help you get your message across to the right people, at the right time, in the right way and using the right method to support the delivery of key objectives whether that’s informing and educating, setting standards, supporting or monitoring compliance or encouraging higher performance or enforcing.

They can be key to the success of regulatory change. Because it doesn’t matter how good the regulation is, if operators or the public don’t know or understand what they’re meant to do or the costs of not complying, then it hasn’t succeeded. In fact, you run the risk of opening yourself up to public and media criticism. You are eroding trust which can have implications for your future endeavours.

Regulatory systems aim to ensure their sphere of influence is well governed, well managed and viable, public safety is protected, and government has assurance and trust in the system’s integrity and rigour. Good communication will help achieve those aims by creating a public interface which is cohesive, comprehensible, creative and cuts through.

During my career in developing communication campaigns, I have found that the key to success is putting people at the centre, and I’d like to share three key things to think about.

It’s not about you!

Good regulatory communication means you take your personal perspective, opinions and experiences out of the equation. You need to step out of your privilege and put yourself in the shoes of the people who are impacted by the changes you are making. Treat them as if they are a valued friend or family member.

The focus should always be on the audience you are communicating with. Who are they? What are their demographic and socio-economic characteristics? What do they think and why? How do they act, make decisions? What will influence them to consider changing their behaviour.

One of the keys to developing communication which works is understanding that behaviourally, people do not always respond to in a way which may appear logical. For example, messages showing problem gamblers what they risked were interpreted as what they might be able to win. The more you understand who you are communicating with, the more you can target your communication and the more successful it will be.

This deep knowledge of the target audience(s) also needs to be appreciated by all people in the project team and at all levels so they understand why material has been designed and written in a particular way.

Make it human and spread your net wide.

Through our communication, we want our audience(s) to:

  • understand the regulatory changes, the reasons behind them and the consequences for non-compliance
  • know where they can access advice and support to implement changes
  • consider the benefits of changing their attitudes, behaviour and taking action.

To achieve these goals our communication must be:

  • Accessible – translate the technical and make it easy to understand – write in plain English and check reading levels. Use different formats to meet different needs – audio, visual, symbols. Does the material need to be translated into different languages? Does your audience use assistive technologies such as screen readers or require captioning or AUSLAN interpreters.
  • Audience focused – tailor your messages and always centre on what’s the core information the audience needs and where can they get more information. Don’t overwhelm people and consider your who, what, when, where, why and how much questions as your key starting point.
  • Available – use relevant channels of communication to reach your audiences and don’t just rely on one. Your choice to utilise blends of mass and social media, print, online or distribution through organisational/peak bodies/community leaders should be informed by the communication consumption patterns of your audience. Importantly, while you support partners, peaks and community leaders to spread the word out to their constituents, it is also critical to prepare all your staff who are in public/industry interface roles to be able to support the campaign.

Invest to get the best

The success of your regulatory communications will depend on your level of investment.

If you want the best results, then you need to invest:

  • Time – involve your communications team as early as possible and give them time to undertake effective research/engagement, craft great communication and develop comprehensive and effective media, distribution, risk management and internal communication strategies.
  • Money – to make the communication engaging and appealing and cut through the noise and to get the information out to the people who need to know about it.
  • Long term – especially in campaigns which seek to change behaviour – short term approaches are unlikely to be effective. If you are getting traction with a message build on that success.
  • In your people – train and trust your communication team and in building the knowledge, understanding and capability of customer facing staff to be your frontline communications interface.

Investing in your communication is ultimately an investment in relationships. It speaks volumes about the level of respect you have for your stakeholders and customers, and it helps build or erode their trust in you.