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How to handle hot issues keeps JPSCO’s Winsome Callum up at nights

I like Winsome Callum’s spirit. As one of Jamaica’s champion communicators she is always in the public’s eye and has managed well to handle her job, Head of Corporate Communication at the island’s only light and power company, Jamaica Public Service Company Limited.

Not many of us know that electricity came to Jamaica in 1892, thirteen years after Thomas Edison invented the first successful electric lamp. Nor that thirty-one years later, on May 25, 1923, the Jamaica Public Service Company Limited (JPS) came into being as a legal entity, providing service to 3,928 customers. Up to that time, electricity had been provided by a number of small suppliers. The company itself has gone through many, many changes but fast forward to August 9, 2007 when Marubeni Caribbean Power Holdings, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Marubeni Corporation of Japan purchased Mirant’s majority shares in JPS.

Perhaps when time permits Winsome will write that book about her experiences in the light and power industry where she has had to walk between the raindrops and carefully craft her responses before going on the air where she has her share of headaches with dissatisfied customers. I am sure however that there are good days.

Armed with a M.A. in Literature, Winsome entered the field of Communication/Public Relations some fifteen years ago when she joined the Jamaica Information Service. From there she moved to the Institute of Jamaica, then to the National Housing Trust, and then to the Jamaica Public Service Company.

Along the way, she gained a MBA and this, she said, has allowed her to better understand the business of the organization, putting her in a position to provide the necessary communication support as well as to demonstrate the link between the communication function and the Company’s bottom line.

“What has made my job at JPS interesting is the dynamism of the organization. I joined JPS at a time when the company, after decades of state ownership, was preparing itself to operate as a ‘virtual private sector company’. Since then, the ownership of the company has changed twice. Working in an organization that is making the transition from a public sector agency to a private sector company has been both challenging and rewarding. Communicating in a dynamic, changing environment can be exciting as well as frustrating - you are an integral part of a thrust to change a culture, create a new perspective among stakeholders, and on one hand you find resistance to change, while on the other hand you have impatience with the slow pace of change.”

“I believe that my efforts to raise the level of appreciation of the communicator in JPS over the last few years have been paying off. While we are still not where I think we should be, generally there is a greater recognition of the importance of the communication function in the Company.”

“Tangible proof of this is the increasing resource allocations we have had to this area in the last few years. This has allowed us to significantly improve our customer communication, while at the same time raising the organization’s profile. There’s still a lot to be done, and with the continued support of the organization’s management I have no doubt that we will have some significant victories to celebrate as communicators in JPS.”

“As a support area, Communication is often lumped with the ‘nice to do’ items on a company’s budget and is often among the first budgets to be cut during a rationalization process. This is particularly the case in a capital-intensive, technical operation, where communication is competing with capital investments that have more direct and more quantifiable impact on customers.”

So, what keeps Winsome wide-eyed and awake at nights?

“A significant challenge I face as a communicator in the present environment is the plethora of operational issues that sometimes threaten to erode the gains we make in building our company’s image. The interruptible nature of the service we provide, along with other operational challenges, cause us to spend a significant percentage of our time on ‘issues management’.

“Like many other communicators, I am sometimes faced with situations where the communication and public relations perspective is not factored into operational decisions at the outset, and then we are called on to reactively address issues that could have been avoided.”

Employee Engagement
“Communicating with employees in a large organization, with diverse locations across the country, requires a lot of creativity and support from team leaders throughout the organization. We have made significant progress in disseminating information quickly and efficiently via email, the intranet, and telephone conference meetings, but we still face some challenges here.

One of the areas on which we are focusing now is getting employees to embrace the critical public relations roles they play on behalf of the organization. Many think it’s the ‘PR/Communications People’ who are responsible for the company’s image, ignoring the fact that, more than anything else, it is the customer’s experience that determines his or her perception of the company and, ultimately, the company’s image. This actually presents us with a great opportunity to work at engaging all employees in a partnership to build the company’s image.

Media Relations
“Over the years our media colleagues have become more appreciative of the rather technical operations of JPS. We have found that media representatives are usually easy to work with once they recognize that you understand their need for information and you respect their deadlines. With increased competition, however, the demands from the media are greater. It’s sometimes difficult to keep up with the requests, but we try to accommodate our colleagues in the media as much as possible.”


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