CGM Voice

How to reach politicians in an election year

How to reach politicians in an election year

By Robbie Williamson

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.


Shrinking media landscape requires innovative PR thinking

Shrinking media landscape requires innovative PR thinking

By Rebecca Boteler

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.


Trump’s ‘Hail Mary’ play for re-election

Trump’s ‘Hail Mary’ play for re-election

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.

According to modelling undertaken by the Centre for American Progress and FiveThirtyEight following the election, Trump wouldn’t have won in 2016, if any of these three conditions hadn’t been met.

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.


Policy whirlwind necessitates strong government engagement

Policy whirlwind necessitates strong government engagement

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.


Five top tips for a successful webcam media interview

Five top tips for a successful webcam media interview

By Rebecca Boteler

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: hello@cgmcommunications.com.au


WA skills review needs industry input

WA skills review needs industry input

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. 


Major development reform to boost WA economy

Major development reform to boost WA economy

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.