Talking communications with Nathalie Haxby

As baptisms of fire go, they don’t get much hotter than Nathalie Haxby’s. Last January, just 10 days into her new job as Global Head of Corporate Communications for RX Global, she found herself at the centre of a communications whirlwind. Within six weeks the company’s UK HQ and all their offices were closed and the first event postponements in China had been announced. It was the start of a year like no other, in which the entire events industry would be turned on its head. How do you communicate that?

“When I arrived at RX Global my initial brief was to make the corporate brand a stickier proposition and to improve internal communications between our global HQ, local offices and show teams” says Nathalie. “On my first day I was told that Hugh Jones had been appointed as the new CEO and was starting at the beginning of February, so my focus quickly switched to introducing him and laying out his vision for the company. And then COVID happened. Suddenly, all our plans were turned on their heads and we had to work hard to explain what was happening from week to week, let alone in the medium to long term.”

Transparent communications

Ironically, says Nathalie, the company’s employees have probably come to know Hugh better than they would otherwise have done: “Over the course of 2020 we organised over 20 direct communications from Hugh through video and email. It allowed everyone to meet him, albeit virtually, understand that our welfare and wellbeing is important to him, and gain first-hand insights into company decision-making as it happened. Having a CEO who is willing to be transparent to the extent he is is extraordinary. Authentic leadership is hard enough to convey face-to-face, but being able to get that across virtually is impressive.”

As the COVID-19 crisis developed, external communications rapidly became a much bigger part of Nathalie’s remit. “Our communication with customers globally and locally had to be aligned and teams had to be informed simultaneously, so the best way to do that was for me to act as the central point of contact, joining up all the dots” she explains. “At the same time, I realised that we needed to balance the perceived negative media coverage we were generating around cancellations and postponements with positive news. RX Global moved very quickly into using digital products and developing virtual events to keep our communities and customers connected. So while we couldn’t avoid talking about cancellations, we could share these incredible feats of innovation, talk about the amazing talent within our organisation, and highlight what we were doing to enrich our industry and support it through a very difficult year.”

Strategic storytelling

Among the stories making the news in 2020 was the publication of RX Global’ first White Paper on ‘COVID-19 and How It’s Changing the Event Industry’. This shared findings from its COVID-19 Customer Needs and Mindset Barometer which is tracking changing exhibitor and attendee attitudes to physical events and digital event technology. The company also announced its new Supplier Diversity Portal as part of its commitment to promote greater inclusion and diversity within RX Global and across the industry, alongside stories about thought leadership and digital innovation.

To help publicise this content, Nathalie and her team launched the Good Reed Blog and dramatically increased the brand’s presence on social media.

“When I arrived at RX Global a blog was already in the planning, and social media was underway, but there was no regular cadence of company postings and little interaction with the brilliant work we were doing at a show level” says Nathalie. “We needed to take a more holistic approach to our communications and create a stronger connection between our company and show brands, to the benefit of both.”

Her team are now using the blog to build out their corporate and event content, and share it on social media in a much more strategic way, choosing the channel to suit the message. “The work is ongoing” she adds “but we now have a really robust plan to hammer home all of the amazing stories we have to tell. And there are tonnes!”

Brand realignment

COVID-19 has forced event organisers to reshape and realign their businesses in ways that they never would have imagined just a year ago. In September 2020, Nathalie was promoted to Global Head of Corporate Marketing and Communications and charged with the additional task of reviewing RX Global’ brand identify and platforms, internally and externally, to reflect the company in a post-COVID world.

“Over the past year RX Global has become a more unified, agile, diverse and innovative company. We want our brand identity to reflect this, and to highlight both the enduring power of face-to-face shows and the exciting opportunities of digital” she reveals.

RX Global’ digital platforms, tools and services have evolved rapidly in response to the pandemic and Nathalie is excited by the opportunities this presents for the company. Before joining the global events organiser, she had spent 20 years working in marketing and communications, primarily in the advertising media industry. It was a period of big digital transformation with Facebook, Google and others really flexing their might in the digital ecosystem.

“It was incredibly interesting for a communications specialist because we had to completely rethink our advertising and media business” she recalls. “It was no longer all about making 30 second ads for television – we had to accommodate these big new players which demanded a real shift in internal culture and behaviour. Now the exhibitions industry is embarking on the same journey of digital transformation.”

Looking to the future

The announcement of COVID-19 vaccines at the end of 2020 has given the industry great hope that we will soon be back to doing what we do best – bringing communities together, in person, to connect, engage and do business. For Nathalie, it can’t happen soon enough: “It’s exactly a year to the day that I joined RX Global, and I still haven’t attended one of our events to experience the magic at first hand!”

So what other hopes does she have for 2021 and beyond? “COVID-19 has challenged us in unprecedented ways, but it has also changed us for the better” she replies. “I’d like the new RX Global brand to be one that our people are proud and excited to be a part of. I’d love to see them sharing our stories and becoming brand ambassadors for the company. That for me will be a real measure of success.”