By Rebecca Boteler
Listening is something that not necessarily everyone would think of as a skill. But while it is something that’s technically easy to do, it takes practice and skill to do it well.
Most of us would’ve had conversations with someone who is not listening, with the result often being a communication breakdown. We are all probably guilty of not concentrating, drifting off, cutting people off mid-sentence, talking over the top of people and listening only to respond, rather than listening to truly understand what the other person is saying.
As a journalist, listening is a skill that is developed through necessity. Being a good interviewer is based on being a good listener. It’s your job to ask succinct questions, properly listen to and concentrate on the answers, understand and process the information and then use that information to formulate your next question. An interview where a journalist sticks to a set of pre-written questions does not make compelling viewing (or listening). Because interviews are recorded or listened to live, it’s immediately apparent if a journalist isn’t listening properly because they misunderstand basic information or ask questions that the talent has already answered.
Working in the corporate world, listening to your colleagues, customers and clients is just as important. To have really good communication, you might want to practice the skill that has now been dubbed ‘reflective listening’. Reflective listening is basically listening to what the other person has to say, and then repeating it back to them. Yes, it’s used in counselling, but it can also be applied in the workplace. Wikipedia defines it as ‘an attempt to reconstruct what the person is thinking and feeling and to relay this understanding back to them’. This can often be started with the phrase “So what I’ve just heard you say is…”
Five tips for reflective listening:
- Ask succinct questions that don’t offer an opinion or suggestions for how the person should answer.
- Listen quietly – don’t interrupt, wait for the person to completely finish speaking.
- Concentrate on everything that’s said, and take notes.
- Understand and remember the main points and language.
- Feed the points back to them using the specific words they’ve used without adding your own values or judgements.
The benefit of reflective listening is that the person feels like they’ve really been heard and understood. Conversely, if you’ve misunderstood what they’ve said, it gives them the chance to clarify what they mean straight away. Hearing their words come back to them can also assist individuals to get really clear on what they mean and gives them the opportunity to change the language they’re using to pinpoint their true intention.
Reflective listening also has benefits for the person asking the questions. It allows you to really understand what your colleague, customer or client is saying, improves your communication and relationship, and ultimately, helps you respond to what they really want so that you provide them with a better service.
The most important aspect of any political, behavioural change or community campaign is to know your audience. The challenge is to know them well.
Advancements in surveying and polling technology have made gathering quantitative data more accessible than ever, and these are useful tools to understand things like brand awareness and perception, the important local issues, and voting preferences. That’s knowing your audience and that’s valuable to any campaign.
But to know your audience well you’ve got to delve deeper, and that’s where qualitative data that can only be gathered by more nuanced and dialogue-driven approaches like focus groups come in.
A focus group is a small group discussion involving up to a dozen people, led by a professional moderator. Groups could be made up of undecided voters or people that fit the demographic profile of a target audience, such as members of a community where a major development is proposed, for example.
Focus groups offer campaigners and communications strategists an opportunity to hear the unfiltered, unbiased opinions of your target audience. It’s not just about what issues are important or ranking the importance from a pre-approved list of issues (sometimes limited by the campaign’s or organisation’s biases), but how people feel about the issues, how people talk about the issues, and how people respond to messages and campaign material about the issues.
That’s knowing your audience well.
To get the most out of your focus groups, there are four things to consider:
- 1) Select your participants carefully
If your focus group isn’t representative of your target audience, then you’re unlikely to collect valuable insights. Some panels are full of self-selecting, regular focus group attendees – the ‘professionally opinionated’ – that may not be in tune with your target audience. While it will often be more expensive, steer towards randomly sampled participants, potentially screened through a preliminary survey to ensure they genuinely reflect your target audience, whether that be geographical, demographic, behavioural or attitudinal criteria. As the saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out”. Select your participants carefully up front and you’ll set yourself up for meaningful insights.
- 2) Trust your researchers
If you’ve chosen the right research partner, you will be working with a skilled and experienced professional, who has recruited, facilitated and analysed many focus groups, across a broad range of issues, involving thousands of participants over time.
Trust them. The researcher’s job is to manage a conversation that delivers on your research objectives. Be clear on what you want from the focus group, then let the researcher determine how best to get that information from the group.
- 3) Listen and question
If you’re provided with the opportunity to view or listen to the focus group, pay close attention. Focus groups offer a unique opportunity to probe the ‘shades of grey’ of an issue, and the value is in the smaller details. How do people react when they first hear your case or see your advertisement or mail piece? How do they justify that response to others in the group? Why do they think a certain way about an issue? Do they change their position when presented with more information? What language and vocabulary do they use to describe the issue at hand?
However, you should also question the conclusions you draw from observing your focus group. Remember, you arrive with your own biases and theories and you should be careful not to be overly receptive to evidence that supports these. Instead, take notes, then discuss these with your researcher after the session.
- 4) The more, the better
Early focus groups can provide you with social, economic, market or political insights to help you shape a strategy and message that you can be confident in from the outset. If your budget allows, further focus groups over the life of the campaign can provide valuable information to help you tweak strategy and messaging, as well as determine whether the campaign is meeting its objectives.
If your campaign has an opponent, or opposing views are being expressed to your messaging, mid-campaign focus groups can also help you test responses to opposing arguments.
CGM has extensive experience in managing focus group programs on behalf of our clients. We always recommend a research-driven approach to campaign strategy, including focus groups where appropriate and where a campaign’s budget permits. Campaigns that intend to invest significant resources into getting their message out should also invest in ensuring their message is effective with their target audience. Without research, messaging can be ineffective, at best, and do more harm than good, at worst.
While focus groups can require a significant investment of time and resources, it’s worth it. Know your audience well and you’ll set your campaign up for ultimate success.
While the priority of the State Government remains to keep West Australians safe during the health crisis, it is clear that more and more resources are being put into planning and executing our economic recovery.
Private sector investment will be critical to driving WA’s recovery, particularly as the infrastructure projects and smaller ‘shovel-ready’ initiatives the government is funding in its first wave of economic recovery reach completion.
Recent reforms to planning and environmental approvals are encouraging private sector proponents, who rightly interpret this as the government seeking to encourage investment and job creation.
Changes made to the State Government’s Market-led Proposals (MLP) framework over the past six months are also seen as highly encouraging, having the potential to drive innovation, as well as a second wave of investment and jobs throughout our economic recovery.
But industry believes there are opportunities to make the MLP policy even more effective.
More on that later.
To bring you up to speed, the McGowan Government introduced its MLP policy in March 2019, delivering on an election commitment designed to “create a clear, consistent and transparent process to manage unsolicited proposals from the private sector that fall outside of the normal competitive process”.
As the COVID-19 crisis took hold in March 2020, the government announced changes to the policy to align it with the recovery focus areas of health, economic and infrastructure, social, industry and regional WA.
The changes also included the introduction of a first-mover advantage, which would provide a pathway for proponents to retain a right of last refusal in the event that the government determined that a proposal didn’t meet the strict IP, ownership or single supplier criteria for exclusive negotiation.
In this event, the government would likely test the market, with the original proponent provided the first-mover advantage of being able to match a more competitive bid or receive a bid premium of between 10 and 20 per cent.
In August, the Premier and Treasurer announced the introduction of problem and opportunity statements, which are designed to “provide focused opportunities for industry to respond with innovative solutions that stimulate the economy and create jobs for Western Australians”.
A small number of problem and opportunity statements have been released since, focusing on areas as diverse as carbon farming, prison industries and PPE manufacturing.
The State Government’s evolving MLP policy has been welcomed by industry as a significant improvement on the ineffective unsolicited bid process that existed previously.
However, as indicated above, industry sees opportunities for further enhancements.
Two potential changes have been floated, with a view to driving private sector investment and job creation during the COVID recovery period.
In May, an idea was put forward (read here) to relax the requirement for a proponent to demonstrate that its proposal is “unique’” or “not market standard” – a requirement that some proponents struggled with, and one which they were required to meet to gain access to the MLP process and the exclusive negotiation and first-mover pathways it offered.
It was suggested that the uniqueness test be relaxed, so that proponents who could demonstrate that their proposal was in the long-term interest of the WA economy, or could provide a short-term employment benefit, could access the MLP pathways.
More recently, a second, and potentially more contentious, change floated involves the suspension of the requirements to qualify for exclusive negotiation. Advocates argue that it would drive innovation and investment by encourage more IP-protective proponents to engage with government. Critics argue it could deliver sub-optimal outcomes, with fewer projects subject to market testing, and be potentially more difficult to manage from a probity perspective.
It is in the interests of the State Government, industry and the broader WA community for the MLP policy to deliver to its potential. This is why we will likely see ongoing engagement and collaboration between government and industry on how the framework functions, with further changes a real possibility.
In the meantime, proponents will position themselves for success in accessing the MLP pathways by ensuring their proposals meet the priorities of government and the needs of the community, as well as demonstrating that their proposal is unique and developing an effective narrative and evidence base to support these elements.
As with the Global Financial Crisis, the period of economic recovery is likely to be long and bumpy. The potential for Market-led Proposals to generate a second wave of investment and job creation, as the stimulatory capacity of the State Government reaches its limits, cannot be overstated.
By Mark Ravi
In a world that is increasingly flooded with written content, organisations might have only a split second to make an impression on a reader.
While the most important part of any communication is the message, a superficial error in the copy could be the difference between the message cutting through or the intended audience getting side-tracked.
Not everyone reading articles and content will pick up on typos or grammatical errors, but, for those that do, minor errors can infuriate.
Examples abound in various fields where something has been lovingly crafted, only for a small, but jarring, mistake to undermine the whole product.
It was not so long ago that Game of Thrones held the collective imagination of audiences across the world, but the appearance of a stray coffee cup in one scene on the final season was quickly noticed and ridiculed.
Australia launched a new $50 note in October 2019 which was packed with technologies to prevent counterfeiting and make it more accessible, but it was also missing the final letter ‘i’ in the word responsibility.
Even the pinnacle of print journalism, The New York Times, is not immune to making mistakes, to the point where an anonymous Twitter account which regularly points out errors has amassed more than 13,000 followers.
While these examples are public, I’m sure anyone reading this could stroll through their newsfeed and pick out a few typos with little effort.
This begs the question, why are typos so common?
I believe there are three key reasons.
First, people rely too much on the autocorrect functions of digital devices.
While these can spot misspelled words and are getting increasingly sophisticated in understanding sentence structure, they were not foolproof.
Additionally, design programs used to create more visually creative documents might have limited error detection functions and can lead to mistakes appearing in the most visible content an organisation might produce, like posters or billboards.
Secondly, the prevalence of social media has increased the use of informal language to the point where even the use of the full stop has come under fire for its use in interpersonal communications as being aggressive and abrupt.
I don’t suggest that every message anyone ever sends should be perfect, but the more you write and consume that style of writing, the harder it can be to revert back to formal English when necessary.
Finally, many copywriters, social media managers and journalists are having to post across different platforms with greater frequency and less oversight or support from editors.
At best, these sorts of mistakes illicit a simple apology and are quickly forgotten, as was the case with the Australian Government’s misprint.
At worst, they cause tangible damage to the brand of the organisation responsible and can become emblematic of a broader decline in quality, as was the case for Game of Thrones and The New York Times.
Luckily, simple steps can be taken to limit obvious mistakes.
The first step is to be like Santa and check everything (at least) twice. Before hitting submit or publishing a post, take a moment to read through it again to check for obvious mistakes.
Of course, it’s easy to miss the details of something you’ve written and re-written several times, so the next step is to recruit a fresh pair of eyes to do the final check of your work.
Someone reading something for the first time is much more likely to pick up on missing words and errors because they won’t have the writer’s intent colouring their perception of everything on the page.
The next tip is the trust your gut. If you’re reading copy and something doesn’t look quite right, then act on that instinct and spend a few seconds conducting a quick online search to see if this is a problem or situation others have encountered and already solved.
Finally, and most importantly, be consistent. There isn’t always a single right answer about written English and elements like capitalisations, the use of hyphens and preferred terminology often came down to personal preference.
In these ambiguous situations, make sure that your organisation has a consistent approach to ensure all copy uses the same style and spoke in the same voice.
If it all seems like lot of effort to fix errors that only a few people might notice, consider the consequences if mistakes make their way into important documents and the wrong person notices.
Organisations with a reputation for quality that apply for government tenders might lose credibility if their proposal contains obvious errors and shareholders or investors could question the professionalism of a company if an annual report contains typos.
It might not be feasible to invest heavily in proofing every piece of writing you produce, when it comes to important or formal documents there is no reason why your copy shouldn’t be perfect.
However, English is a tricky language and people can’t detect mistakes they do not recognise, so consider engaging professionals to do the job for you.
NOTE: We have deliberately inserted several mistakes that weren’t flagged by Microsoft Word, how many did you pick up on?
By Anthony Fisk
Every day, businesses are attacked by cyber criminals looking to steal data for the purposes of financial gain, corporate espionage or general business disruption.
Smaller businesses, with lower levels of resources available to online security, are generally more vulnerable to cyber attacks. Bank accounts, email systems and business devices, including computers and mobiles, are just a few of the critical business assets that face compromise.
According to a survey by the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC), 62 per cent of small business respondents had experienced a cyber security incident in the last year. In fact, the ACSC receives one report of cybercrime every 10 minutes.
This vulnerability has been further exposed in recent months as businesses responded to the coronavirus challenge. Cyber criminals took advantage of new security weaknesses that emerged as employees started working remotely – often using shared computers over insecure home networks.
Despite the obvious threat, many small businesses aren’t prepared for the impact of a cyber attack. If your customers’ sensitive financial and personal data is lost to a third party, what can you do to limit the reputational damage to your organisation resulting from such a breach?
The first step should always be preparation. Cyber breaches can happen quickly, so consider putting an incident response plan in place to respond to an attack or data breach. This includes your immediate reaction, which should include determining what type of attack has occurred and how to protect remaining data.
The second part of your plan should focus on communicating during the crisis and maintaining your reputation over the longer term. As part of this, you should acknowledge and plan for deviations, which occur in real scenarios, and prepare draft responses to these scenarios to minimise problems arising from rushed decision making.
Last week, my colleague described the 3 C’s of crisis management. Showing care, control and commitment provides the basis for all crisis communication. When it comes to a cyber breach, here’s some tips on how to put these principles into action:
- Obtain information first – when hearing about personal data breaches, your customers are likely to assume the worst, so be clear about what was compromised (or be genuine and tell people you don’t know)
- Disclose what you know openly – assume everything is discoverable so don’t withhold key details
- Convey accurate information about the breach – don’t make claims about the “sophistication” of the attack without clear evidence
- Use unambiguous and clear messaging – and if you are providing technical advice, ensure it is specific and actionable
- Communicate quickly and frequently – use all the channels available at your disposal including staff, email, web, social media and messaging apps, and make sure the messaging is consistent
- Take ownership for the breach – this is customer data that was entrusted to you; don’t play the victim
- Understand and admit the problem – explain what happened and how you plan to fix the problem
- Understand the true value of personal data – ensure your apology is genuine and empathetic
Of course, you want to avoid a cyber attack ever happening to you. If your business handles personal or sensitive information, you must be particularly careful about how it is protected. For further advice and practical tips visit www.cyber.gov.au
And for help with planning and preparation for crisis situations, including cyber breaches, please contact the team at CGM Communications.
Preparation, preparation, preparation is your best defence when it comes to protecting your reputation during a crisis. But what if you haven’t prepared, and you find yourself in a situation which presents intense difficulty, complexity or danger – what should you do?
The first step is to understand when you are in a crisis situation. Not all crisis scenarios are straight-forward, and declaring a crisis is always a judgement call. If uncertainty exists, I tend to err on the side of prudent overreaction.
Heathrow Airport is widely recognised as leader in crisis communication. During my time leading crisis communications at the airport, scenarios from emergency landings, protest and hostage situations to baggage system failures were desk-topped, simulated and documented within an inch of their life. At Heathrow this is totally appropriate, as almost all of these scenarios became reality, and this level of preparation gave everyone the confidence to do a good job under immense pressure – on a regular basis.
But what if you’re not a large organisation with a huge number of corporate affairs resources. What should you do then when your reputation is at stake?
If you find yourself in this situation, the best piece of advice I can give you is to plan your approach and messaging around the 3 C’s of crisis.
- Care and concern
Before you do anything else, as many people would do naturally, acknowledge your concern for those who have been adversely affected by the crisis, and express your empathy and care for their wellbeing – physical or mental.
Empathy is one thing, but the public, stakeholders and your employees want to know what you’re doing to get the situation under control now, so share what immediate steps you’ve taken to try to resolve the crisis situation.
After the initial shock or reaction, to help rebuild your reputation, you must show what longer-term commitments you’re making to avoid a repeat of the situation.
The State Government are delivering a masterclass in crisis management during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to clear, simple messages, delivered regularly, they showed care initially for those who contracted the virus, for families of those who had passed away, for impacted industries, the unemployed and more recently for Victorians. Controls were communicated almost straight away, which were then finessed into a clear staged approach as the situation escalated. Lockdown conditions were explained as more controls were put in place. Commitment is where they have been particularly strong. Hard border - say no more.
At CGM Communications, we have an integrated offering for crisis and all communication needs. We can not only help you prepare, prepare, prepare, but if you find yourself in a situation where you need a team who can work with you to deliver effective crisis communications quickly, then we’re here to help.
By Daniel Smith
I’ve got a confession to make that might get me in trouble with some of my peers. The formula for winning elections is actually quite simple.
Not easy, but simple.
Like almost everyone who has turned their hand to providing strategic political advice, I’ve had my wins and losses.
What I’ve learned is that nearly every winning election effort has the same qualities, as does almost every election loss.
The key ingredients for winning an election are ensuring that your priorities as a potential government reflect the priorities of the electorate at the time of the election, then effectively communicating those priorities to voters.
Having the same priorities as the electorate at the time of the election involves having an accurate view about what the social, economic and political circumstances will look like on election day, then rigorously engaging with the community and stakeholders about their hopes and fears, as well as the best way of addressing these and the issues that will emerge.
Effective communication involves positioning early for the issues that will matter at the time of the election, then relentlessly building your brand using a range of communication tools, so that your time arrives at the time of the election. When the polls open, you want everyone to understand both what you believe and what you will do, on the issues that matter to them.
So, if it’s so simple, why does it go horribly wrong, so often?
For those in opposition, too often we see a complacency built on the adage that “oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them”. While there is some truth in the second part of this equation (see below), the first part is nonsense. Whether it was Bob Hawke, John Howard, Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott, not to mention Richard Court, Geoff Gallop or Mark McGowan, each of these leaders who won government from opposition were energetic and relentless in their pursuit of power, as were the party machines behind them.
Oppositions who think they might slip into government often don’t do the work engaging with the electorate, they don’t develop policies that reflect the priorities of the community and they don’t spend the time building their brand or effectively communicating what they believe and will do.
Governments that lose are almost always characterised as having lost touch with the electorate, leading to them pursuing their own priorities or the causes of special interest groups, instead of the priorities of the community. Their leaders and senior Ministers are often exhausted, lacking the energy to consider how the world is changing, engage broadly with the electorate, develop new ideas or effectively communicate their vision. In some cases, this leaves them so disconnected from voters that they think they are going to win, right up until the moment they are turfed out in a landslide.
For those in the private sector, none of the above should come as any great surprise. Behind almost every successful project is a company that has spent the time engaging with the community about what they want, then carefully developing their project to meet those needs, before circling back to ensure their stakeholders are in no doubt about the merits of their venture. The same is true for companies involved in product development and promotion.
Companies that don’t adhere to this process lose the support of the community, or they lose market share. The same is true for our politicians.
The key thing to understanding my two ingredients for political success is recognising that they need to co-exist. The most effective communication strategy can do more harm than good, if it promotes policies and messages that don’t reflect the priorities of the community. Similarly, what’s the point of having great policies, if the electorate doesn’t know about them?
At the top of this piece, I said the formula for winning elections was simple, but not easy. The truth is politics is hard, with the responsibilities of government making it even more draining.
But, for those politicians who maintain their energy and focus, ensuring their priorities reflect the priorities of the electorate at the time of the election, then effectively communicating those priorities to voters, political success is almost certain to follow.
By Anthony Fisk
The last week has seen a number of large high-profile development projects stall at the approval stage. The WA Planning Commission (WAPC) vetoed Satterley’s long-planned North Stoneville residential community in the Perth Hills due to fire concerns. The controversial $320m Chellingworth redevelopment in Nedlands was also rejected by planning authorities based on excessive bulk, parking and traffic issues.
Some of our leading planning experts were surprised by these decisions. Each of the developments required significant investment and time to get right, and both proponents believed they had met or exceeded planning requirements.
But what these developments have in common is the widespread and strident resistance to the plans by many in the local community. In both cases, neighbours banded together to organise on social media, lobby their MPs, and even run a sophisticated media campaign.
The “Save Perth Hills” campaign certainly captured the attention of the Hills community. Whether it was the thriving Facebook page, the bumper stickers on cars across Perth, or the thousands that attended community rallies – it became clear that the community had rejected the development.
On the other hand, and just down the road from Chellingworth, Paul Blackburne’s $300m redevelopment of the Sundowner site in Claremont has been given the green light. This revitalisation of a neglected hostel site told a positive story of renewal, fostered a level of community acceptance, and had the support of the Premier, alongside the creation of 920 new jobs.
With the expedited passage of legislation to fast-track significant developments in WA, and a raft of new tax breaks, it would seem our State Government is doing what it can to help facilitate investment in the housing sector.
But despite this encouraging environment, early stakeholder and community engagement has never been more important. What’s more, engagement and communication is actively encouraged by planning authorities eager to get shovel-ready projects up and running.
To this end, the State Development Assessment Unit, within the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage, has been established to help progress significant developments as defined in the new legislation. This team of experienced planners will receive and assess all proposals on behalf of the WAPC.
Again, early engagement is key to success in this new pathway. It is designed to address any issues prior to lodgement of the development application and also provide assistance and advice on essential stakeholder and public engagement.
Of course, any early engagement should include genuine conversations with neighbours and community leaders on what they want from any redevelopment and how they would like to be engaged. These conversations could prove to be the determining factor in gaining development approval, so it’s worth doing right.
CGM Communications works closely with developers and planning experts to help guide these proposals through the new processes and deliver the community, government and media support necessary to see well-designed developments succeed.
For further information on the new process please visit https://www.dplh.wa.gov.au/sdau
By Daniel Smith
An important point in the maturation of any political strategist or government relations advisor is accepting that election results are very difficult to predict.
As Thomas Harris writes in Imperium, A Novel of Ancient Rome, you can always spot a fool, for he is the one who will tell you he knows who is going to win an election.
What makes elections difficult to predict is that many election outcomes have all the qualities of what have become known as ‘Black Swan’ events.
In Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s masterpiece, The Black Swan, the author outlines three qualities of such highly improbable events. These are that they are unpredictable (few people predicted them), they carry massive impacts, and, after the fact, explanations are concocted that make them appear less random, and more predictable, than they actually were.
Taleb cites examples of positive and negative Black Swan events as the rise of the Internet and the development of the personal computer, World War 1, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Global Financial Crisis would also fit the bill.
The Black Swan model also fits many of the (free) election results we have seen in recent years. It fits Bill Shorten’s almost defeat of Malcolm Turnbull in 2016, the Brexit referendum or Donald Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton in the same year. It fits Jeremy Corbyn taking Theresa May’s majority in the 2017 British election, and possibly Boris Johnson’s thumping of Corbyn in 2019 as well. It also fits with Scott Morrison’s ‘miracle’ victory over Shorten in last year’s federal election.
In each of these contests, very few people predicted the result, the outcomes had huge domestic and/or geopolitical consequences, and narratives were constructed – by both the winners and the losers – to rationalise the outcomes.
Taleb attributes the human desire to construct narratives about past events as one of the biggest contributors to our blindness to future Black Swan events, election outcomes included. Confirmation bias leads us to develop narratives that fit with our own world view or previous positions, then look for evidence to support the narratives we have developed.
Take Shorten and Corbyn, as examples. The narrative flowing out of their surprisingly strong showings in 2016 and 2017, respectively, was that they had tapped into community angst over inequality and other social injustices. This led to them doubling down on their platforms, putting forward even stronger redistributive policies. Despite high expectations of victory, both were defeated in 2019, in results that many, again, failed to predict. In Shorten's case right up until the results were announced, and for Corbyn until Boris Johnson assumed control of the Conservatives.
But what if the narrative that flowed from Shorten and Corbyn’s first attempts at becoming Prime Minister was that their opponents’ political ineptitude was the biggest factor in their relative success? Malcolm Turnbull, in having blown his political capital by doing nothing in the months following his elevation to the Liberal leadership, then refusing to run negative campaign ads targeting Shorten. Theresa May, who called an early election for no reason and then promised to take away free milk from British school children in her election manifesto.
While such a narrative wouldn’t have confirmed the merits of the policies they had taken to their respective elections, if it had been part of the takeaway for Shorten and Corbyn, perhaps they wouldn’t have tried to refight their earlier elections in 2019. Instead, they might have developed new strategies and approaches that reflected the social and economic situations at the time, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of their new opponents, the much more politically adept Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson.
US President Donald Trump is going through a similar journey at present. The narrative flowing from Trump’s surprise victory over Clinton in 2016 was that a surge of support in white working-class voters swept Trump to a ‘massive’ win in the electoral college.
An alternative narrative is that, while Trump lost the popular vote to Clinton, he narrowly eked out a win in the electoral college, with his victory dependent not only on increased support from non-college educated white voters, but also on low turnout from African American voters and college educated Republicans reluctantly voting for him over the even more odious (to them) Clinton.
Of course, this narrative doesn’t confirm Trump’s view of himself or the world. But, if he had incorporated this thinking into his 2016 takeout, perhaps he would have made more of an effort to expand his supporter base over the past four years, instead of doubling down on the racially divisive approach that he believes won him white working-class support in the first place.
Will Trump be defeated as he seeks re-election in November. Who knows? Right now, the signs don’t look good for him, but anything could happen between now and then. That is the nature of Black Swan events.
For those of us interested in the political process, the acceptance of elections as Black Swan events carries a number of implications.
For political strategists, it means being clear headed and objective about the reasons for past successes and failures. It means not taking anything for granted about future elections, fighting them with strategies developed for the conditions and opponents of the day.
For those who engage with government, it means not making assumptions about election outcomes, instead preparing for any possibility by engaging with all sides of politics to develop relationships and a shared understanding of policy.
A mature political strategist or government relations advisor will be highly cautious in predicting election outcomes but will have a lot to say about how you shape outcomes or policies and best position yourself for any version of the future.
If you consume news via the internet, chances are you’ve encountered those ‘pesky’ paywalls.
We’ve all been there, enticed by an online headline only to be prompted to subscribe and hand over our money for the full story.
It’s frustrating, and many refuse to do it. It makes sense, budgets are tight and why now do we have to pay for something we’ve always received for free?
Here in WA it can cost anywhere between $1.75 a week for a WAtoday online subscription, to $1 a day for a full newspaper and online subscription for The West Australian.
There is a clear resistance to paying for news online, but the truth is, the pain to your pocket will be far less than the cost to Australia’s democracy if we stop paying for journalism.
Most of us are happy to fork out $9 a month for our Netflix subscription but why are we so hesitant to pay for journalism? Perhaps it comes from entitlement, a misconception that journalists perform a free public service. Many social media users who engage and comment on these locked stories seem to think so, often threatening publications with the dreaded ‘unfollow’.
There’s been arguments that paywalls create a socioeconomic breakdown of those who can afford to read quality journalism and those who can’t.
That’s a real concern but what is even more detrimental to a democracy, is unsustainable journalism.
Newsflash (pun intended) journalists need to get paid too, and you might be surprised to learn they don’t get paid much, for what they contribute.
Take for example recent Walkley Award winner Annabel Hennessy from The West Australian, who this year brought public attention to the incarceration of Aboriginal woman Jody Gore – convicted of killing her abusive ex-partner.
Ms Hennessy’s relentless chasing and investigative journalism resulted in Ms Gore being freed from prison and WA’s laws being re-written. She had the power to tell a story that wasn’t told in the courtroom.
Being a former journalist myself, I dare say Ms Hennessy likely spent long days and late nights having very difficult conversations and probably copping a fair bit of abuse for trying to find the truth – and that is worth our money.
When I see these outraged social media users complaining their news is trapped behind a paywall, I can’t help but think if they get paid for their job.
During the height of the pandemic in WA, we praised our health care workers, our shop assistants and all those risking their health and safety. Journalists were on the frontline too, providing the public with reliable up-to-date information when they needed it the most, and just like our other essential workers, they need to make a living.
If you think about it, this would have been the perfect time for newspapers to act like big business and jump on this in-demand opportunity by locking all content to gain more subscribers.
The majority didn’t exploit this and provided the daily COVID-19 online updates for free.
Yes, the media landscape has changed, and newspapers are forced to get sexier to sell more, but they haven’t lost the ability to create change, and keep our leaders accountable.
Unlike social media platforms, journalists and news publications are held to account for what they publish, and in return force our leaders, big business and members of the public to be accountable – that’s their job.
Journalists have university degrees and are trained to deliver balanced and factual information. In the past, newspapers have done well on advertising revenue but the more appetite for online content means a decline in sales, resulting in cutbacks.
The less journalists there are, the less time they have to dig deep into a story to find the truth on behalf of the Australian public. In other words, how else will we, as former Australian Democrat leader Don Chipp said, “Keep the bastards honest”?
Look at recent wage theft allegations against big companies including Woolworths. When journalists investigate these issues, they shine a public light on them and often force companies into doing the right thing in a bid to save their reputation. If it wasn’t for journalists, we’d likely see goliath winning many more battles.
Right now, we can’t rely on social media platforms to provide news organisations with enough advertising revenue for them to disable paywalls, despite the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission establishing a mandatory code of conduct.
The code is supposed to encourage social media channels to pass on advertising revenue to the ones who actually create the content. The journalists, who spend hours making the phone calls or waiting outside on long crime scene stakeouts, inside courthouses or at Parliament House. But Facebook still refuses to pay news publications for what they produce.
Google has announced it will come to the table with some compensation, but we’d need all of them to get on board with a lot of money if we ever wanted to see the end of paywalls and a return to newsrooms full of senior reporters who actually have time to investigate.
Supporting real accountable journalism dilutes the overwhelming misinformation and disinformation we face on a daily basis and contributes to a healthy democracy.
As Thomas Jefferson, the man who led the US democracy movement once said: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
The fact is that people were paying for physical newspapers long before the internet rose to prominence, but now seem put off by the fact a digital subscription isn’t something you can physically hold in your hand. I’d argue having your news available digitally, on any device at any time is even more bang for your buck – and that’s worth paying for.
As the WA state election approaches, organisations are turning their minds from the immediate COVID-19 management phase to recovery and rebuilding.
There’s no doubt every peak body, not-for-profit and major corporate player will be vying for attention and commitments from the government and opposition in the lead up to March 2021. So, how do you make your ‘ask’ stand out?
Here are our three tips to set your organisation up for success.
First, position your ‘ask’ as a win/win, for both your organisation and the Western Australian community.
Fortunately, the State Government has already told us what a win for the community looks like. Although deferred due to COVID-19, the Our Priorities whole-of-government targets provided a clear outline of what the government hoped to achieve and what it was focusing on. The government has since identified the five key COVID recovery areas of health, economic and infrastructure, social, industry, and regions.
By aligning your ‘ask’ to one or more of these areas, you’ll position yourself as a partner with government while supporting the entire Western Australian community.
Second, demonstrate stakeholder support.
Showing broad community or industry support for an ‘ask’ does two things: first, it validates the idea as good policy; and second, it signals to government and opposition that your ‘ask’ is good politics.
Politicians want to be community connectors. By demonstrating that you’ve reached out to community and industry stakeholders, you’ll provide government and opposition a path to reach them too.
Third, get in early.
You can be certain January will be a political write-off, as parties cement their final campaign plans and voters gradually return from holiday mode (and couldn’t think of anything worse than hearing from politicians). February and March will be filled with wall-to-wall announcements and campaign events. Timing will be crucial to your chances of success, and this year’s State Budget now falling in October certainly throws a spanner in the works.
Now is the time to finalise your ‘ask’. If you act quickly, you can be a part of the government’s budget thinking AND the election commitment thinking of both government and opposition. Then, if the budget doesn’t deliver for you, the weeks following could still provide an opportunity heading into the election.
So, how do you reach politicians in an election year? Make your ‘ask’ a win/win, demonstrate stakeholder support and get in early.
If you do these three things, you should be celebrating on 13 March 2021, no matter the outcome.
With Australia’s media landscape continuing to shrink, new approaches are needed for organisations who want their messages and stories to reach their target audiences.
Falling newspaper sales, declining free-to-air TV audiences and the subsequent fall in advertising revenue made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic have again forced news organisations to cut their bottom lines.
In the past month, News Corp and the ABC both announced significant staffing cuts. News Corp so it can pursue its move toward digital production, after announcing it would stop printing 112 community and regional newspapers, and the ABC to save costs after the Federal Government’s decision to freeze funding increases.
This latest round of cuts follows decisions this year by Buzzfeed Australia, which closed its Australian news operation, Network Ten, which scrapped its digital news site 10 Daily, and Foxtel, which cut more than 250 jobs as part of a restructure.
The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t helped the situation media outlets find themselves in, with advertising sales plunging as many businesses went into lockdown and stopped advertising their services. For media outlets already facing falling advertising revenue, partly due to the rise of streaming services, job and programming cuts have been the sad result.
But the news isn’t all bad. After originally being targeted for closure, newswire service Australian Associated Press was brought back from the dead, after being saved by a consortium of investors and philanthropists. The West Australian newspaper is also having somewhat of a resurgence, bucking the national trend by increasing its audience by 4.5 per cent year on year, led by younger readers.
Despite the West’s increase in readership, the amalgamation of our two major newspapers, when Seven West Media acquired the Sunday Times, and the subsequent buy-up of Community News has seen the diversity of our media landscape continue to contract in WA.
For those of us working in PR, this means fewer news outlets and journalists to pitch to, meaning we have to consider different strategies, as well as alternate ways of giving our clients a voice.
Fewer journalists at traditional outlets means those remaining are inundated with requests for coverage. Doing the groundwork ahead of time, knowing when to pitch, and having established and trusted working relationship are imperative to getting stories published in this environment.
Tailoring releases to media outlets, rather than sending them out en-masse, is critical, with producers and Chiefs of Staff having little tolerance for stories that aren’t relevant to their audience.
Identifying what we can do to assist time poor journalists with case studies, photographs and other supportive content is also important.
The rise of independent online news sites provides an opportunity for a story to be published online if matched with the correct outlet. Online stories are more likely to be shared on the outlet’s own social media channels, increasing audience reach, and can have better engagement through the use of video or interactive images.
Clients can also take responsibility for telling their stories directly by addressing their intended audience through a brand journalism practice on their own digital platforms. Doing so provides a home for media releases that have not been taken up by journalists, as well as human interest stories that lack a traditional news hook.
Podcasts are also an increasingly popular news source and there’s one to suit almost any client’s needs. Taking a strategic approach to engaging with this new medium can enable clients to reach new audiences and engage in a deeper conversation than traditional radio programs can offer.
Increased competition, financial pressures and technological innovation will ensure that the most recent changes to Australia’s media landscape will not be the last. However, by continually monitoring these changes, as well as opportunities for innovation, we will ensure that our clients will always be able to get their message out.
By Daniel Smith
Donald Trump’s march across Lafayette Square to hold a Bible for a photo opportunity in front of St John’s Episcopal Church was a political ‘Hail Mary’ pass designed to get him back into the political game.
It was a calculated communication to his white, culturally conservative, working class base that was simultaneously designed to elicit a response from his enraged opponents that pushed his supporters further into his arms in an election year.
To many of us, it looked like madness. How could tear gassing your own citizens to clear the way for a photo opportunity at a time when Americans are suffering from both the health and economic impacts of COVID-19, as well as deep emotional pain at the killing of George Floyd be anything but electoral suicide?
To understand Trump’s thinking, we need to understand two realities. First, Trump is in deep political trouble. Second, motivating white, working class people to vote is his most plausible path to another come-from-behind victory.
But, first to Trump’s political problems.
The dominant narrative following Trump’s surprise victory over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election was that a surge in support from white non-college educated (working class) voters propelled Trump to victory in former industrial states that had traditionally voted Democrats.
Like most narratives, this represents only part of the story.
Trump’s victory also relied on college-educated Republicans, despite serious misgivings, holding their nose and voting for Trump over the even more unpalatable former Secretary of State, as well as African American voters not turning out to support Clinton at the same levels as they had to support Barrack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
Which is where Trump’s re-election problems begin.
In the highest turnout midterm election in more than 100 years, Democrats swept to a majority in the US House of Representatives. Their largest gain in seats came in traditionally Republican suburban districts that not only voted for Trump in 2016, but also voted for Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for President, in 2012, with this swing delivered by largely college-educated, predominantly female former Republicans.
At the midterms, Trump lost a chunk of what used to be the Republican base, and there has been no evidence yet that he is winning it back.
Trump’s problems are magnified by the outrage among African Americans at systemic racism and their ongoing brutalisation at the hands of police, which was made most visible by the killing of George Floyd. The fact that both the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 are disproportionately impacting African American communities will be compounding this rage.
In this environment, the sharp decline in African American turnout experienced in 2016 may well be reversed, particularly if Democrat Joe Biden picks an African American as his running mate, which he is reported to be strongly considering.
As things stand, two of the three foundations of Trump’s 2016 victory are wobbly. Which is why Trump is seeking to reinforce the third - his base.
More than any other politician, Trump understands both the angst and potential political power of the white, American working class.
In their well-researched book, Deaths of Despair and the Future of American Capitalism, Anne Case and Angus Deaton describe how Americans without a college degree have few prospects in an economy where globalisation and technology are taking lower-skilled jobs. This has led to social decay and falling life expectancy in white working-class communities, on the back of rapidly increasing levels of suicide, drug overdoses and alcohol related illness – the deaths of despair.
Trump’s strategy in 2020 is the same as it was in 2016, being to position affluent, university educated Democrat politicians and journalists as elites who care more about ‘minority issues’ than they do about American workers, offering himself as the only one who understands the latter’s plight and, therefore, as the only one who can reverse it.
With white, non-college educated Americans representing about 40 per cent of the electorate, and historically having the lowest turnout rates at Presidential elections, Trump sees new voters and a path to victory in the family and friends of the people who voted for him in 2016.
Will Trump’s strategy be successful? There are signs, on the ground and in the polls, that some of his people aren’t buying what he’s been trying to sell in recent weeks. But, even if they did, whether this would be enough to offset what promises to be a much higher turnout rate among African Americans and any further drift of college educated Republicans to the Democrats is unknown.
One thing is certain, should Trump be re-elected in November, he will see his base as having delivered it and his Hail Mary law-and-order play as the start of his comeback. Draw your own conclusions about what this would mean for the tone and substance of a second Trump term.
Daniel Smith is executive director and founder of CGM Communications.
By Daniel Smith
The rapid change in government policy Australia has witnessed in the first half of 2020 hasn’t been seen since the early days of the Whitlam Government.
And, with the health, economic and political impacts of COVID-19 still playing out, the current policy whirlwind is set to last for some time to come.
For two weeks following his election win in 1972, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam formed a ‘duumvirate’ with his Deputy Lance Barnard. Together, they used executive power to implement many of Labor’s election commitments, including ending conscription, opening relations with China, removing sales tax from contraceptive pills, appointing an interim schools commission and banning South African sporting teams from Australia.
Whitlam’s duumvirate was about fast-tracking the implementation of policies that had been developed over 23 years in opposition and were clearly laid out in Labor’s platform.
During the COVID-19 crisis, neither employers nor employees have had this visibility of impending policy change. In responding to a crisis that few foresaw six months ago, we have seen a newly formed national cabinet develop and implement policies to address the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 in real time.
In response to the health crisis, borders have gone up and down, businesses have closed and opened, with the number of people we can associate with, as well as how close we can get to them, changing numerous times.
Changes in economic policy have included the introduction of wage subsidies and an effective living wage, free childcare, fast-tracked regulatory approvals and tighter foreign investment rules.
But we are not done, yet. In front of us lies the rolling back of some, but probably not all, of the COVID-19 emergency measures. New approaches to economic stimulus designed to mitigate the ongoing economic impacts of the crisis are certain, whether they be from the withdrawal of current government measures, or from a drop off in trade and international investment, as our major international partners face their own COVID-19 challenges. Further regulatory reforms designed to unlock private investment and job creation are also highly likely.
The risk of ongoing trade and diplomatic tension on the international stage is also real, with associated policy responses in Australia also possible.
The upside for both employers and employees as we move through this period of rapid change is that both the federal and state governments have been increasingly consultative in their development of COVID-19 period policy, as well as being open and responsive to feedback.
We all know that industry craves policy certainty, but, the reality is, policy certainty won’t return for quite some time. In this environment, all stakeholders will need to allocate resources to both shaping and responding to the change that will continue to come.
The Whitlam duumvirate lasted for only two weeks. The current period of rapid policy change could last years.
In this environment, all stakeholders need to keep their relationships with government strong and look for ways they can both shape new policy and assist its refinement in implementation.
In the COVID-19 world, most of us have had to adapt to working via Zoom or other technology, and the media is no different. As social distancing and isolation kicked in, journalists quickly ‘pivoted’ from conducting interviews in person to doing them via webcam.
While this was not only necessary during isolation, it was also an efficient way of conducting interviews, both for the journalist and the interviewee. For those being interviewed, benefits included not having to leave the safety and comfort of their own home, feeling more at ease by conducting interviews in familiar surrounds, not having the uncomfortable sensation of having a big TV camera in their face and not even having to wear pants if they didn’t feel like it (personally, I don’t recommend this, just in case).
But despite these benefits, there are also many pitfalls to doing interviews via your webcam. As a viewer, I’ve found it fascinating getting a glimpse inside people’s homes. But as a media advisor, I’ve often been alarmed about the quality of the interviews. Poor choices in background, camera angles and lighting can be, at best, amusing and, at worst, distracting. And that is where the danger lies: when viewers are distracted, you’ve lost your opportunity to get your message across, which is, presumably, why you agreed to do the interview in the first place.
And while we don’t all need to have TV studio-quality set ups at home, there are a few things you can do to ensure your webcam interview isn’t a disaster (and doesn’t reveal more than you want it to).
Here are a few tips to help you navigate the brave new world of webcam interviews:
Find somewhere quiet. If there are other people in the house while you’re doing your interview, find somewhere quiet and private to do the interview (preferably with a lockable door). We all remember the professor whose two children made an unscheduled appearance during a live BBC cross as their mortified mother commando rolled across the floor to retrieve them. And while it went viral, few people would remember what the point of the interview actually was.
Position the camera at your eyeline, or above, NOT below. I’m sure we have all seen up more people’s nostrils than we ever thought possible. As a viewer, it’s really hard to concentrate on what someone is saying when you’re mentally counting their nose hairs. Putting the camera at eye level during your interview gives you a chance to connect with viewers to get your point across. It’s also a much more flattering angle.
Choose your background carefully. You might love the ‘tasteful’ nude art hanging on the wall of your office, but think about whether it’s really appropriate for viewers to see, or whether it could be a distraction. As well as removing any controversial or distracting items from behind you, you may want to consider actually placing items in your background that reflect the tone of the interview or illustrate the point you’re trying to get across.
Choose a soft light. Any photographer will tell you that a yellowish, soft light is much more flattering than a harsh, white light.
Check your internet connection and webcam beforehand. It’s a good idea to do a test, with or without the interviewer, before going live to air. Watching someone try and work out how to switch on their microphone does not make great viewing.
For more in depth interview skills, CGM Communications runs full media trainings, please contact: email@example.com
By Daniel Smith
The urgent review of skills, training and workforce development announced by Premier Mark McGowan this week will provide important opportunities for industry to engage about skills needs during the COVID-19 recovery period.
The necessary public health precautions that were put in place to fight the coronavirus severely disrupted many businesses, forcing many to re-think the way they do things, as well as their resulting current and future skills needs. This thinking has been complicated by both international and interstate travel restrictions, which are likely to compel businesses to recruit locally for some time to come.
This review will seek to identify the skills needs of industry, the availability of those skills in Western Australia and, where there are gaps, how we can re-train local workers with these skills as quickly as possible.
Performed well, this review should be a win-win for West Australian businesses and workers. WA businesses will have the skills they need to drive recovery, and local workers will have the skills they need for the jobs that are available.
If this review is to deliver to its potential, it needs industry to engage. Our understanding is that this will not be a typical government review that takes months, if not years, to complete and is delivered with pages of recommendations and, sometimes, a shelf to sit on. The aim is for it to be responsive and nimble, providing advice and recommendations to government for implementation as it goes.
If there are positives to be found in the current crisis, the development of a local workforce that fully meets the current and future skills needs of WA industry is one we would all celebrate.
We encourage industry to engage with this important review.
By Anthony Fisk
This week’s announcement by the McGowan Government to reduce red tape on major developments is a game changer for many in the development industry.
These new laws, if passed, will streamline the lengthy and complex development application process and kick start significant projects to boost economic activity in the State.
The WA Planning Commission (WAPC) would, for 18 months, be given the power to approve or reject developments worth more than $30 million, or with more than 100 dwellings or a minimum 20,000sqm commercial space.
Developers that meet the criteria would be able to lodge plans directly with the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage, which would facilitate consultation, assess proposals and provide recommendations to the WAPC.
Regional and tourism projects of “State significance” could also be referred to the Commission by the Premier on the recommendation of the Planning Minister.
Under the current system, major projects require involvement from a range of agencies to deliver water, roads, fire safety, environmental outcomes and more. In the absence of a coordinated approach, each agency often has requirements that differ or even conflict with those of other agencies.
For example, a residential development on the urban fringe may be required by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) to cut down swathes of trees to act as a fire break. However, cutting down acres of native forests may not be consistent with the preferred outcomes set down by environmental agencies.
Without a coordinated approach and a level of urgency to see these major projects succeed, developers can find themselves negotiating complex access and other arrangements across multiple government departments for months and even years.
While the industry has welcomed the move to streamline the approvals process, there has been some concern that these new rules could sidestep local councils and reduce engagement with the communities likely to be affected by these major developments.
But while these concerns are understandable, it’s worth pointing out that the new legislation is expected to establish a consistent approach to community consultation and engagement for these major projects. The State Government is very much aware of the ability of communities to connect and activate very effectively over local issues.
West Australians expect to be listened to and engaged with when it comes to developments in their own backyard. Despite the laggard economy, locals can and will organise against developments they see as inconsistent with their community. You only have to think of the recent failures of the Roe 8 Freight Link, Point Grey Marina, and Scarborough Beach Twin Towers to understand the power of organised community resistance.
Our communities are not only looking for more engagement, they’re demanding best practice community engagement, including the framework established by the International Association of Public Participation (IAP2). Despite these proposed legislative changes, CGM Communications will continue to help developers gain community acceptance and support for these major projects using these best-practice models.
Our experience with our developer clients is that the most significant project delays are not caused by the local community, but by the red tape dispensed by government. WA Planning Minister Rita Saffioti is hoping to speed up the development approval process by having agencies prioritise major projects, by cooperating better and by providing advice earlier.
This new approach aims to tighten this process to make sure all agencies involved in providing advice to developers are doing it in a more timely and efficient manner, and without the need to bring issues and conflicts to the attention of government.
We anticipate this will bring projects we have been discussing with our clients for several years off the drawing boards, and significant developments, which may have stalled due to COVID-19, back to life.