Successful conclusion of the 1st WCO Global Communication Strategies Conference in Brussels

11 October 2019

The 1st edition of the WCO Global Communication Strategies Conference with the theme “Communicating seamlessly in the digital age” concluded in Brussels, Belgium on 9 October 2019. This Conference ended on a high note after two days of thought-provoking presentations over eight sessions animated by 48 communications experts from Customs administrations, international organizations and the private sector, which were followed by dynamic discussions.

Organized at WCO Headquarters, this Conference brought together some 200 participants from more than 50 countries, with more than 50% from Customs. The Conference provided a platform for informed dialogue between Customs administrations and its stakeholders on topics relevant to communication strategies in Customs in today’s hyper-connected world.

In his opening remarks, WCO Deputy Secretary General Ricardo Treviño Chapa welcomed the participants and underscored the relevance of a coordinated communication strategy with the WCO assuming a leadership role in providing guidance on efficient strategies to raise Customs’ profile. Deputy Secretary General Treviño emphasized the role of communication in realizing the strategic priorities established in the WCO Strategic Plan 2019-2022, adding that collaboration with stakeholders is at the heart of this communication approach. In conclusion, he stressed that the attendance at this Conference reflected the high importance given to communication by Customs administrations.

The Conference saw exchanges by a high-level panel on the challenges and the new communication landscape, the speakers highlighting that there were virtually no communication boundaries between connected objects and human beings. The best approaches to reach out to targeted audiences were discussed between representatives from the WCO, European Commission Directorate-General for Taxation and Customs Union (DG TAXUD), European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The importance of inward communication was also highlighted, as well as the strengthening of the collaboration between stakeholders.

Members from all six WCO regions presented their best practices covering the communication tools, strategies, and channels that they use to reach out to their respective audiences. Conference participants listened to experiences on how to overcome various communication challenges presented by the following countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Benin, Botswana, the Dominican Republic, Peru, the United Arab Emirates (Dubai), the United States, and Vietnam.  

Experiences were then shared on the importance of internal communication and its linkages with external communication, transparency, performance, and motivation. Speakers of this session discussed the three key components of communication, namely information, consultation and engagement, and promoted further consultations between the management and the employees, with regular meetings and informal activities to create emotional engagement. The conclusion was that messages would more effectively reach their target audiences if stories were used to connect with people and relate to their emotional experiences.

After learning the best story-telling techniques, namely by understanding behavioural insights, diversity and gender, using smart visuals and adapting strategies to local culture such as the use of drama and road shows in Zambia, the participants went on to learn more about the power of social media. The speakers dissected this channel of communication to understand the formula to effectively reach out to targeted audiences in a sea of information. The participants listened to tips from communication experts, namely: involving the public through crowdsourcing, using emotions or, in the case of Customs, sniffer dogs, producing entertaining videos or devising strategies to detect fake news among other strategies.

Participants also had an opportunity to learn new technologies that are reshaping the communication approaches, namely Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data mining. The experts from Microsoft, Accenture, and Meltwater explained how data mining can assist Customs to segment their targeted populations and get a better understanding of what their audiences are looking for. On AI, the speakers explained how Natural Language Processing, Machine Learning and Deep Learning provide a tool for machine-human interactions that actually mimics a real conversation that makes it hard to distinguish it from a human-to-human interaction. These explanations were supported by Indonesia Customs which presented a concrete example on how they implemented AI, through Chat-bots to provide up-to-date and 24/7 customer service, whereas Antigua and Barbuda explained their future use of the technology.

In his concluding remarks, the WCO Head of Administration, Mr. Hans Pieters, commended WCO Members for their participation to this Conference and congratulated the speakers for providing interesting insights into ways to enhance the profile of Customs. He informed the participants about the WCO’s communication plan and brandbook, and announced that the data collected during the Conference will be used in the upcoming Handbook on Customs Communication Strategies. He added that the WCO will also build a network of communication professionals in Customs administrations that may be extended to Customs’ stakeholders.

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