In the 1999 sci-fi film ‘The Matrix’, there is a scene where protagonist Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, comes to terms with the convoluted and interconnected nature of the titular computer programme – a simulated reality designed to placate humanity.
He asks Joe Pantoliano’s Cypher – an expert hacker well-versed in interpreting the seemingly impenetrable program – one simple question: “Do you always look at it encoded?”
Cypher snorts. “Well you have to. There’s way too much information to decode the Matrix. You get used to it. I don’t even see the code. All I see is blonde, brunette, red-head.”
Astute readers will, at this point, note that a 1999 sci-fi film has very little to do with public relations, or shipping, or the myriad of clients that BLUE works with.
But the sentiment of this scene – of interpretation despite opacity – has clear parallels with the complexity of the shipping industry.
Newcomers have to contend with a veritable encyclopaedia of acronyms, industry bodies, companies, and corporations. Success requires an ability to know your IBIAs from your IPTAs, and your Lloyd’s Registers from your Lloyd’s Lists. And helping clients to communicate effectively requires true knowledge of the markets in which they operate.
This is no small task. It necessitates not only a constant finger on the pulse of the market, but also the ability to speculate about the forces that will reshape the industry, five, 10, or even 50 years from now.
Sometimes the industry throws a curveball. The sudden certainty of the 2020 fuel sulphur cap, the collapse of Hanjin, CMA CGM’s takeover of NOL – these are all are major events that changed not only the industry, but also re-wrote the rules for communicating within it.
It is certainly true to say that, in shipping, as in life, all things are connected. A fire at a shipbreaking yard in Pakistan can reshape policy in Brussels. Rig lay-ups in Namibia can decrease investment in Arctic seaports. And cargo liquefaction in the mid-Atlantic can change the way that insurers behave forever. To the uninitiated, interpreting these movements can feel as if one is part of a grand machine, with thousands of cogs turning and playing their parts.
To the communicator, the machine turns into a web – an arrangement of threads and thoughts that can be leveraged to great effect in the hands of the experienced. Knowing how a cargo fire in South America changes the playing field for clients in Asia is key to helping them achieve their business goals. Identifying, and even more importantly, correctly targeting their key stakeholders is paramount. Effective communications does not just require knowledge of who these stakeholders are, what they read, who they speak to, and what they say; it’s knowing how they think and what is keeping them awake at night. It’s knowing how to change the debate, and respond to and help reshape the conversation.
Working in a team with a collective experience of decades across the shipping and marine, and offshore and energy sectors has its advantages. The nuances of dry bulk, or dredging, or bunkering might be Greek to some and crystal clear to others. But collectively, the absorption of knowledge pays dividends – and informs communication strategies for clients of all shapes and sizes.
With more changes on the horizon – automation, digitalisation and more stringent environmental regulation, to name but a few – knowing really is half of the battle. Until that day, the goal of effective communicators is perennial: smash the machine, untangle the web – decode the Matrix.
By Rhys Thomas, Junior Account Manager