Communications initiative: Bank of Jamaica

‘Centrally Speaking’ underpins not just education, but monetary policy
Bank of Jamaica

Although large central banks influence the world economy, it is often the smaller institutions that prove to be the most innovative. The Reserve Bank of New Zealand pioneered inflation targeting, and the Central Bank of Bahamas brought out the first central bank digital currency.

The Bank of Jamaica – an institution with about 450 employees serving a country of 2.7 million people – has built its own niche as a leader in public communications and relations. It is renowned for its specially commissioned reggae tracks about why inflation matters.

But the Bank of Jamaica’s communication strategy is broad as well as ambitious. It not only forms an integral part of the country’s monetary policy, it also performs a vital educational function.

‘Centrally Speaking’ combines the central bank’s own resources and external partners to create a full-length television programme that is unique in Jamaica’s public sector, and probably in the world of central banking

Few central banks – certainly of this size – undertake the variety of communications activities that the Jamaican authorities do, and on such scale. Although several central banks produce informational videos, the Bank of Jamaica has developed and broadcast its own chat show, which airs on national broadcast television.

The show, ‘Centrally Speaking’, combines the central bank’s own resources and external partners to create a full-length television programme that is unique in Jamaica’s public sector, and probably in the world of central banking.

Full-spectrum communications

Centrally Speaking is part of a long-term, “360-degree process” to develop the central bank’s communications strategy, says Noel Greenland, executive director of the communications department. The Bank of Jamaica adopted its road map in 2018, with plans for print, radio, television and social media spots to reach overlapping audiences at different times.

The Bank of Jamaica made its Twitter debut in October 2018 (it currently has 12,800 followers). The central bank developed a newsletter and then, in 2019, a podcast. The chat show began as a five-minute radio spot, airing on Irie FM, a major commercial radio network with a 42% market share, Greenland tells Central Banking: “Centrally Speaking moved to the small screen in 2019. The radio and podcasting programmes were interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, but recording for season 4 started in February 2022, and airs in March.”

 

Like the earlier reggae productions, Centrally Speaking is closely associated with the Bank of Jamaica’s adoption of an inflation-targeting framework. The central bank has been implementing inflation targeting over the past several years. The new central bank law, which came into force in 2021, gave the Bank of Jamaica an explicit price-stability mandate, transferring decision-making authority to a monetary policy committee.

Centrally Speaking plays a dual role in the inflation-targeting objective. Firstly, it teaches people about inflation and what the central bank is doing about it. Inflation targeting “is not widely understood”, Greenland says. The chat show also aids in the monetary policy transmission process, by influencing inflation expectations themselves. It facilitates an “understanding” on the part of businesses and households, he adds.

The show also serves to educate the public on the general roles and functions of the bank, as well as related agencies such as the Jamaica Stock Exchange.

A homegrown initiative

For the most part, the Bank of Jamaica produces Centrally Speaking from its own resources. Greenland and Melanie Lawes, the acting assistant director of public relations, write the scripts for the programme. The hosts, Sheena [Woodburn Francis] and Anna [Smith], are Bank of Jamaica employees from the human resources division.

The central bank uses a government-owned studio (CPTC – Creative Production and Training Centre), and editing is done via a private contractor. During the pandemic, the studio was adapted to accommodate social distancing.

The Bank of Jamaica does post Centrally Speaking to its own social media channels, but it also airs on Television Jamaica, the country’s largest broadcast network.

The show centres on interviews with senior Bank of Jamaica officials, each focused on a ‘theme of the week’. Interviewees include the governor, Richard Byles (who has appeared three times), deputy governors and other central bank officials. Centrally Speaking has also hosted officials from other government agencies, such as the director of the Jamaica Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the head of the small-business association.

Each episode runs roughly 10 to 30 minutes, and third-season instalments of the show have been longer (20–30 minutes) than earlier segments. “The programme was extended from 10 minutes to 30 minutes as a result of the overwhelming positive public response to it,” Lawes tells Central Banking.

The second and third seasons also included 13 episodes each, up from eight in the first season.

The shows include a vox pop segment, called ‘street check’, where members of the public – mainly in the capital, Kingston, and St Andrew and St Catherine parishes – respond to topical questions.

Early episodes focused on broad subjects such as inflation, financial stability and inflation targeting. In the most recent season, Centrally Speaking has addressed a wider array of topics, including deposit insurance, financial regulation, foreign-exchange reserve management, credit ratings and central bank digital currency.

The show features a ‘fun fact’ segment, and incorporates short messages about inflation, often including cuts from the central bank’s reggae catalogue.

It is not unusual for central banks to have social media channels or to post informational videos. The Bank of England, for example, has short educational videos on its website. The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland produced a set of short animated videos, using Lego pieces and figures, to explain inflation.

However, none of these efforts – produced by much larger institutions– tends to match Centrally Speaking for scale. At 10–30 minutes, the show is much longer than most audiovisual programming produced by other institutions.

As far as Greenland knows, Centrally Speaking is also unique within the Jamaican public sector, although the Jamaica Information Service does produce short videos.

Next time, on ...

Greenland confirms that the central bank plans a fourth season of Centrally Speaking, with Lawes saying it is due to premiere in March, with a fifth season set towards the end of 2022. In the new series, the show will include a guest segment featuring a high-school student, who “will ask a question, to be answered by the guest, relevant to the topic being discussed, to broaden the reach and scope of the programme to include high-school students”, says Lawes.

Two years ago, the Bank of Jamaica won the Central Banking award for this category for its reggae tracks. This reflected certain signature aspects of its communications strategy – its focus on a broad public, its deep roots in the island nation’s culture, and its all-too-rare sense of fun. Centrally Speaking reflects all these elements, but its impressive scale and close integration with other initiatives and policies make it the standout communications initiative of the year.

The Central Banking Awards were written by Christopher Jeffery, Daniel Hinge, Dan Hardie, Victor Mendez-Barreira, Ben Margulies and Riley Steward

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