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The difficult COVID conversations ahead of us

The difficult COVID conversations ahead of us

By Daniel Smith

Effective communication during any crisis is critical.

Since COVID arrived on our shores early last year, we’ve seen examples of strong communications.  We’ve also seen several fails.

The concerning thing for me, in a country that has struggled with its COVID conversations, is that I think our most difficult discussions are still to come.

To date, our state and territory leaders have been terrific.  While daily press conferences can infuriate some commentators, the community has generally appreciated being able to get information from the source.

The exponential organic growth in the Facebook followings of our Premiers has been another win.  Through this, those that get their news and information through social have also been able to get information at the source, which has helped cut through some of the nonsense you can also get online.

The reward for this, in most part, has been a cooperative community, that informs itself of government decisions and enacts any new requirements quickly.

Except, perhaps, in New South Wales, where some within the community, having been told for the best part of a year that lockdowns were unnecessary, have struggled to adapt to a new environment where they were being told to stay home.

Consistency in approach and messaging during a crisis is critical.

The Victorian Government also learnt this the hard way, when ineffective COVID communication with people of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds was a key contributor to that state’s major outbreak and prolonged lockdown last year.

But perhaps Australia’s biggest COVID communications failure has been the inconsistency in messaging and communications around the AstraZeneca vaccine.  You would have thought that, after putting all of Australia’s vaccination eggs in the AZ basket, the Federal Government would have at least mounted a defence of the vaccine, when public opinion was being formed.

While Prime Minister Morrison and Treasurer Frydenburg have been strong when talking about their support for the economy, the silence and rapidly changing public health advice we continue to see in relation to AZ has destroyed public confidence in a vaccine most of the world celebrates.

The possibility of this undermining confidence in other COVID vaccines, as well as providing oxygen to the broader anti-vaxxer movement around the country, means that we may be living with the public health impacts of this misstep for years to come.

But, while the difficulties in discussing AstraZeneca were immense, they may pale into insignificance when compared with the conversations we’ll have to have in the months ahead.

According to the four-stage COVID exit roadmap endorsed by National Cabinet and released by the Prime Minister, lockdowns will be a part of our national strategy for the first two stages. Not everyone appears to understand this, and it is not something that the Prime Minister has spent any time explaining.

Moving to stage three, Australia will cease having lockdowns and recommence international travel, with this move dependent on higher levels of vaccination within the community.  With it possible that every Australian who wants a vaccination will be able to have one by the end of the year, the discussion around entering stage three may arrive sooner than we think.

Inherent in this shift is the likelihood that many Australians will contract COVID, with the vast majority of those who have been vaccinated being asymptomatic or developing only mild symptoms.

But, in a country where eradication has become the metric for COVID success and that tied itself up in knots over the one-in-a-million chance of dying from an AstraZeneca-induced blood clot, this conversation will not be easy.

Nor will the conversation likely to precede it about the need to vaccinate our children, and the associated risks in doing so.

Add a new variant or two, and the degrees of difficulty will only increase.

These will be national conversations that require the Prime Minister to bring the Premiers, the media and the broader community along for the ride in a way that he has struggled to do so far.

As a former marketing executive, Mr Morrison should understand the importance of communication in a crisis. Let’s hope that he finds his voice in the months ahead.

Publicly taking responsibility for the slow vaccine rollout this week was a good start.


Don't communicate, listen

Don't communicate, listen

By Anthony Fisk

At a time of skill shortages and a tight labour market, internal communications couldn’t be more important. Employers are looking at ways of retaining their people in an environment where opportunities abound, and salaries are rising.

Companies are communicating more with their people, but not everyone is getting it right.

I was recently handed an email from the CEO of medium-sized WA business, designed to explain why employees should stay with the company, rather than take advantage of the larger salary packages on offer with their competition.

It didn’t inspire or attempt to explain why the company was a better place to work, it was merely a shopping list of benefits – shorter hours, fewer clients, more convenience, better transport links. It might inspire the rational side of the brain, but it certainly wasn’t building staff allegiance.

Recently, I had the rare opportunity to read a book on leadership: Start with Why by Simon Sinek. For anyone who hasn’t read the book, his central premise is that people will align themselves to a leader, brand or company that inspires them.

He argues that organisations can inspire by starting with the WHY; understanding and carefully communicating WHY they exist and not the WHAT they do: “Unless you start with the WHY, all that people have to go on are the rational benefits.”

Most businesses don’t understand why their employees work for them, what inspires them, and what puts a spring in their step as they get ready for work every day. It’s not salary, or flexible hours, or convenience – these are important things to have, but they don’t sustain excitement in the long term.

Finding the answer is best achieved by listening, rather than communicating.

It’s by listening that we can start to understand what motivates our people. It may be as simple as being trusted to do the right thing, or working for an organisation that values their contribution, or being part of a positive team that is doing good things for the community.

Listening can occur through survey and polls, but our experience suggests employees will feel truly listened to when their manager or the leadership team makes an effort to meet and discuss what inspires them, and what is discouraging them.

CGM was proud to help one of our clients with a piece of internal communications that brought to life these internal conversations.

The first step was to understand and unify the executive team around their purpose – we started with the WHY.

We recorded why each executive worked at the company, how things were done differently, what they loved about their colleagues’ approach, and what they had learned from their discussions with people from across the business.

By sharing a short video and a range of supporting communications across the business, we familiarised employees with their leaders and what they stood for. And people felt appreciated and listened to after learning about the discussions that had taken place with their colleagues.

It was a small step, but it was the beginning of understanding their employees and catering communications for their needs.

Defining the WHY can be difficult. External support from an arms-length consultancy can help you stop, listen to your employees, and understand your WHY.

Getting your people unified and excited around your WHY, will not only improve staff retention and morale, but help improve customer service and client growth.

CGM has a depth of experience in building internal communication strategies based around clear objectives, including employee retention. Contact us for more information.


Game changer: Why it pays to have experts in the room during a crisis

Game changer: Why it pays to have experts in the room during a crisis

By Rebecca Munro

When it comes to crisis communication planning, more often than not I see organisations seeking expert advice after decisions have been made and, regrettably, reputations have already been damaged.

We so often talk about why it’s important for all organisations to have a crisis communication plan in place to refer to if that dreaded disaster catches you by surprise.

But what I’ve learnt is that having external assistance in the room as decisions are made can be a game changer in a crisis.

The CGM team was recently involved in a crisis where we, alongside other experts, were called in to be a part of the decision-making process.

The alternative, and usually the way it plays out, is for the communications team to be called in after the decisions have been made to simply communicate these decisions in a compassionate, transparent and meaningful way.

Sometimes, if the right decisions aren’t made, it doesn’t matter how much ‘spin’ you put on them in today’s world: the media, stakeholders and even staff will see right through it.

Major crises will likely have staff, customer, stakeholder, digital, governance, reputational and legal implications.

That is why it is imperative to have experts in each of these fields in the room when decisions are being made, such as lawyers, human resources experts and public relations specialists.

When it came to our team, we were able to provide advice, alongside a lawyer, on how to manage stakeholders, government, media and staff communications.

Take for example the backlash the AFL faced this year for covering up alleged sexual harassment, assault and bullying claims.

The AFL went down the path of sweeping the misconduct under the carpet, not a particularly good PR exercise in this day and age … ahem ‘read the room’.

I don’t know for sure what advice it received but perhaps if it had its communication experts in the room at the point of the decision making, it would have been warned that it’s now more important than ever to be accountable, open and transparent.

The media was quick to see through this and focused its coverage on the cover-up.

A true crisis can bring a gruelling level of external scrutiny and pressure, if an organisation manages it badly. Emotions run high and people often panic and forget logic and common sense. This can lead to rash, impulsive decisions that have long-lasting negative consequences.

Being the room meant my team could provide on-the-spot advice on the impact each decision would have from a communication standpoint.

It allowed for this organisation to discuss communication-based decisions and receive real time feedback on what consequences these decisions may have in terms of media, stakeholders and staff.

When it comes to handling a crisis, timing is everything and handling it effectively is just like putting out a fire. A slow response puts lives and livelihoods at risk as the fire grows and become more damaging within minutes. If you act quickly it’s easier to control.

Our team was informed of this crisis early and not only were we in the room to advise on the impacts of the organisation’s decisions, we were also there to inform and implement a fast and strategic approach to communicating with stakeholders, staff and the media.

The result of this was effective because the organisation had control of the narrative. It acted quickly and was able to make informed decisions with a number of external experts in the room. 

This speed of informed decisions coupled with a proactive crisis communication plan to implement ensued well-executed communication and limited damage to the organisation’s reputation.

What an external PR company does in a crisis:

  • Works with executive/management to obtain all the facts
  • Works closely with internal or external legal teams
  • Develops scenarios, messaging and advice
  • Creates possible FAQs
  • Provides media statements and internal communications
  • Forms a 24-hour play-by-play communication plan, which includes risks and what to expect
  • Advises the executive team or Board
  • Implements the external and internal communications
  • Provides media training
  • Manages media and social media depending on internal capabilities

In defence of the website

In defence of the website

By Anwen Pattinson

In a digital landscape cluttered with social media platforms, there can be an inclination to focus too heavily on the benefits each platform possesses, while ignoring your strongest digital asset – the website. 

While Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the like offer bespoke ways to communicate with an audience with pinpoint precision, this does not mean that attention should deviate from the humble website.

While websites can range from a simple landing page through to the complicated e-commerce face of an international brand, the same benefits of having a well thought out website apply.

Here are three key reasons why your website should be the backbone of your digital portfolio.

  1. Ultimate communication control

What primarily sets a website apart from any social media platform is the ability to say what you want, when you want, and for however long you want to. It might seem like a straightforward benefit, but I consider it the biggest of them all.

Websites are free of the constraints found on the most popular social media platforms, whether it be Twitter’s 280-character format, the ever-evolving Facebook algorithm, or Instagram’s inability to put URL links in post captions.

Websites also give you the freedom to shape your message in any manner you want, whether that be with text, imagery, video, URL links, gifs, or any combination of these.

An additional, and timely, example of how websites provide the ultimate communication control is that by owning your own channel, it is no longer up to a private corporation as to whether you can or cannot communicate something.

Take Facebook’s recent decision to delete the pages of all Australian businesses that deliver news, which had news organisations that had invested significantly in the platform scrambling to recover. This reliance underpins the complicated issue of multi-national companies overseeing your messaging.

  1. Catering to all demographics

One reason businesses select one social media platform over another is due to their ability to target certain demographics both organically and through paid advertising.

This is beneficial if your business model has a target market that consists of just one demographic. However, this decision does not take into consideration what might happen if your target audience is expanded to include, or changed to, a new demographic.

Facebook’s most popular demographic is the 18-29 age bracket, with Instagram most popular demographic being the 25-34 age range, while Twitter’s is 18–29-year olds.

This skew towards the youth is positive if your business intends to market to anybody under 40 years of age. However, with a population that is ageing, it must be questioned as to whether promoting on social media channels solely can truly reach all demographics.

In comparison, Google owns a near monopoly with a 94.4% share in the search engine market, touching upon all demographics. To put that into perspective, 1.3 million businesses in Australia made direct connections with customers through Google in 2019.

Taking this into consideration, having a website appear in a search engine cannot be overlooked at as the best and most consistent way to reach all demographics.

  1. Unlocking the power of Google Ads

Because of Google’s overwhelming search engine market share, focusing on ensuring your website appears in search engines also unlocks the opportunity to leverage Google’s biggest asset: Google Ads.

What is unique about Google Ads is that spending more money on an ad does not guarantee better results. Instead, ads depend on what is called the ‘relevancy score’ which includes the proposed budget, the website landing page experience and if the keywords the searcher is using are relevant to your ad copy.

What this means is that a Google ad will perform better if the ad copy matches what is displayed on the website landing page, while also containing keywords similar to those used as the search term.

By utilising Google Ads, you can not only review what keywords people are searching for and in what quantity, but also get real-time feedback as to whether what is displayed on your website matches what people are searching for. This provides the opportunity to consistently review your website copy in a way that makes it relevant and relatable to current consumer needs, in a way that is far more flexible than any social media platform.

While having a comprehensive digital portfolio across social media is a great way to ensure variety in messaging and creativity, it comes at a cost if the care and time has not been put into your website. In a world where new digital trends and platforms are constantly emerging, it makes sense to pay attention to the one platform that has stayed consistently strong throughout digital’s peaks and troughs.


Backbench to the Future: Class of 2021

Backbench to the Future: Class of 2021

The 2021 WA state election saw a number of MPs elected who, one day, may hold positions of power or influence in the Western Australian Government. While these members will likely spend at least their first term focused on working for their electorates from the backbench, it’s worth getting to know the class of 2021 better. Here are just a few of the MPs that might end up at the cabinet table in the future.

Hannah Beazley – Member for Victoria Park

Hannah Beazley was raised in her electorate, having attended East Victoria Park Primary School, but her roots go back further than that. The daughter of WA Governor Kim Beazley, Hannah is the third Beazley to represent Victoria Park in an Australian Parliament and is the first female member in the seat’s 90-year history. Ms Beazley, 42, has long held an ambition to enter politics, running in 2013 and 2019 at the state and federal levels.

Ms Beazley is more than a legacy figure, having brought a great deal of experience both within and outside politics to the table. After completing a Bachelor of Arts in Arts Management, Ms Beazley commenced working for the Department of Premier and Cabinet as a Policy Officer, and later as a Senior Policy Advisor to Premier Geoff Gallop. Following her stint in the public sector, she ran a small business before taking on a number of communications and marketing positions in the private sector. Most recently, Ms Beazley was the Head of External Relations at WA Return Recycle Renew - a local not-for-profit delivering the container deposit scheme.

In her early 20s, Ms Beazley was diagnosed with a life-threatening rare blood disorder. She considers the healthcare she received at Charles Gairdner Hospital saved her life. Ms Beazley said this experience shaped her appreciation of the importance of a strong public health system.

Her local priorities include raising the rail line through Victoria Park and removing level crossings within her electorate. She is a member of the Public Accounts Committee and the Joint Standing Committee on Audit.

The history of the Victoria Park electorate suggests its representatives go on to big things in parliament. Filling the shoes of former treasurer Ben Wyatt is difficult, but if anyone can, it will be Ms Beazley.

Meredith Hammat – Member for Mirrabooka

Meredith Hammat’s parents moved to Western Australia in the early 1960s, with her father working as a farmhand and her mother as a midwife. Ms Hammat, 51, was raised in the Great Southern region in Western Australia, before moving to Perth to complete years 11 and 12. Ms Hammat credited this upbringing with shaping her values of community and solidarity which drew her to the union movement as a young woman and planted the seed of her career in politics.

Ms Hammat has a Bachelor of Arts (Politics and Industrial Relations) and a Masters of Labor and Industrial Relations from the University of Western Australia, which has aided her in almost three decades in the union movement. Ms Hammat began her career as an organiser at the Australian Services Union and moved up the ranks to serve as Assistant Branch Secretary.

Ms Hammat became UnionsWA secretary in 2012, leading the WA union movement until being selected as a WA Labor candidate and she remains highly regarded by within the union movement. In her time as UnionsWA secretary, she was critical of the McGowan Government’s public sector wages policy, but it remains to be seen whether this will continue now that she is a part of the State Government.

Ms Hammat begins her parliamentary career as a member of the Public Accounts Committee and the Joint Standing Committee on Audit.

Ms Hammat replaced Janine Freeman as the member for Mirrabooka – one of the most multicultural state electorates in Western Australia. It remains one of the safest seats in WA and places Ms Hammat in a strong position to enter cabinet in the future.

David Scaife – Member for Cockburn

At 32, David Scaife is one of the youngest members of Labor’s backbench – but he more than makes up for it with an impressive list of credentials. After finishing high school, Mr Scaife received a scholarship to attend the University of Western Australia, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws. He also recently completed a Masters of Laws at University College London.

After graduating from UWA, he worked as a lawyer for Slater and Gordon and as a Legal Practice Director at Eureka Lawyers. Mr Scaife drew on his experience as a lawyer in his first speech. He used parliamentary privilege to label an employer he sued on behalf of a former client as a “lawbreaker, a bankrupt and an unfit person to operate a business”.

Mr Scaife is passionate about improving mental health services, which has been shaped by his own experience. He has openly spoken in parliament about being diagnosed with major depression and the ongoing treatment he receives. He notes that this is something he will continue to manage and treat throughout his life.

Mr Scaife’s political stripes are no coincidence. Having grown up in a staunchly Labor Party household, he regularly attended Labor events with his parents as a child. As he outlined in his inaugural speech, he declared he was “raised on a steady diet of politics”. Even today, it’s unlikely that politics is ever far from the dinner table. Mr Scaife is married to Ellie Whittaker, who is the Assistant State Secretary of WA Labor.

He is a proud member of the Left’s Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union. Local manufacturing and industry policy remain areas he is particularly passionate about and he will have an opportunity to contribute as a member of the Economics and Industry Standing Committee.

Mr Scaife unsuccessfully contested the seat of Murray-Wellington at the 2013 State Election. He was elected at the 2021 State Election as the member for Cockburn, following the retirement of former minister Fran Logan. Cockburn has only been held by the Labor Party and is considered a very safe seat.

Jodie Hanns – Member for Collie-Preston

Jodie Hanns is swapping the deputy principal’s chair for a seat in the Legislative Assembly. If she was hoping the chamber would be better behaved than the classroom, she might be disappointed.

Ms Hanns, 49, was born in Yarloop and attended Yarloop Primary School and Harvey Senior High School. Her family have deep connections to the South West region, with her grandparents operating a local shop in Yarloop. Her late father, who she credits as the driver for her Labor values, worked as a union official at Alcoa in Wagerup alongside the Member for Forrestfield Stephen Price.

If it were not for a life-changing experience in South Africa in 1990, Ms Hanns might not be sitting in parliament today. Jodie witnessed a country undergoing a political transition following Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. Her hosts, two teachers living near Johannesburg, exposed Ms Hanns to how education could bring people out of poverty. As she noted in her inaugural speech, this “taught me the difference that the opportunity of an education can make, regardless of your race, your gender or how wealthy your family is”.

It’s no coincidence that upon her return to Australia, Ms Hanns commenced studying education and spent the next three decades teaching. In 2006, Jodie’s teaching career brought her to the town of Collie, where she served as a local councillor, on the Coal Miners’ Welfare Board of Western Australia and as CEO of the Collie Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Ms Hanns is pragmatic about the challenges and opportunities that face Collie. Among her local priorities are guiding her community through Collie’s Just Transition Plan. 

She replaces the colourful and popular Mick Murray, who served as a minister in the McGowan Government’s first term.  

Ms Beazley, Ms Hammat, Mr Scaife and Ms Hanns are just four of Labor’s deep 2021 class and they will have to wait their turn after a new generation of ministers recently ascended to the Cabinet. But even in the biggest backbenches in modern history, they stand out as some of the ones to watch for the future.


China: The big show with massive possible upside for Australia

China: The big show with massive possible upside for Australia

By Stuart Crockett

In 2021 China increased its import quota of Australia’s premium wool. This story got very little media attention, but it highlighted that China still wants to do business with us.

Having recently concluded my role as WA Commissioner to Greater China, a role which I loved and still miss to this day, it is a good time to reflect and hopefully help change the China narrative slightly if I can. Having the opportunity to live in China and be part of this mind blowing and rapidly developing nation, with all its twists and turns, was truly one of the greatest experiences of my life. After doing business on and off there for more than 25 years I thought I had a clue but until I lived the experience, I realised my depth of knowledge was lacking to say the least.

Every day we hear about the geo-political issues we are currently experiencing but I will share my thoughts on this another time. Today I will talk about the key to future prosperity, which is “people-to-people” engagement. The benefits of people-to-people engagement are economic as well as experiential, adding significant value to the fabric of all our lives.

I constantly hear government and public servants saying they want a positive economic relationship with China. This is the first clue that they may not understand China and its people. Instead, we should be saying is that we want a positive relationship with China, full stop. Simply removing the word “economic” changes the whole essence and focus of the relationship and aligns far more with the Chinese belief system of “friends first, business second”. This is akin to Australians’ way of thinking in that we value mateship first and foremost.

If we can get our relationship balance right with China, both nations can truly benefit.To achieve this, it is critical to think of economic development as a “continuum”. First, to build sustainable relationships we need cultural understanding, which is achieved through two-way sectors and activities such as tourism and international education, as well as sports and performing arts. From this understanding we can achieve some trade, which will grow and diversify. This trade can potentially lead to some small investments, which is followed by large investments.  We need to keep re-investing in the relationship and revisit its core which is “friendship”. With this lens we all win and build sustainable futures.

My number one thought from my experience living in China is that Chinese people are exactly like Australian people. They are free thinking, open and welcoming. They all want a better life for their kids, better housing, better education, better food and to be able to experience new things through travel. 

If you are willing to invest in the relationship, I can promise you there are significant commercial opportunities for Australian companies. I truly feel for those exporters currently facing barriers who have worked tirelessly on their commitment to this market for many years.  The relationship will also improve if we focus on “friends first, business second”.

China’s economy is growing rapidly as it transitions from an export driven economy to a consumer driven economy and we can be a part of that growth. China has a massive commitment to commercialising innovation and is keen to engage and seek partnerships. To see first-hand the investment into AI/AR/VR, med-tech and Ag-tech just to name a few is truly mind blowing and provides us with great opportunity to grow and diversify our economy.

Remember, if you want to enter or grow in the China market you need to be constantly evolving in your messaging and most importantly listening to your customers. On those fronts right now, Chinese consumer brands are “smashing” Western brands. Chinese brands are far nimbler in their approach to product differentiation and packaging.

Western Australia’s economy has emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic stronger on the back of mining and for that we should be truly grateful. If we can leverage off that resilience and diversify our economy at the same time, we will continue to be strong for our children’s children and beyond. We can help drive and influence the future of our economy. 

If you are thinking of entering or expanding your business into China, we can assist with that, and I also encourage you to engage with the Chinese community. Connecting with organisations such as the Australia-China Business Council and Australia-China Friendship Society among others is a great way to start the journey. If you have good positive stories about your engagement with the community and business in China, please share them in your socials as this will help build trust. These small steps will go a long way to building that sustainable friendly relationship that benefits all.


Sports communications in crisis

Sports communications in crisis

By Mark Ravi

Professional sports, at their core, are a public spectacle. Without the interest and attention of the public, it isn’t possible for athletes to make a living pursuing their sport.

What happens then, when professional team sports are unable to perform for the public? In 2020, we found out. Some clubs called for their members to continue to offer financial support. Others laid off “non-essential” staff to reduce costs. If the COVID-19 pandemic taught Australia’s sporting clubs anything, it’s not to take fans for granted.

It also changed the way teams had to communicate with their members and fans to hold their interest.

In the past few months alone, Western Australians have seen last-minute changes from government and unexpected outbreaks have significant impacts on sporting events.

How then have some of WA’s biggest sporting clubs – the West Coast Eagles and Fremantle Dockers – interacted with the public throughout the pandemic and what lessons can be learned?

The Eagles and Dockers have experienced similar challenges throughout the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of border closures and lockdowns. A closer look shows how they have both communicated differently about these challenges with their fanbases.

The West Coast Eagles are unquestionably the most popular AFL team in WA, with long waiting lists for memberships and a history of on-field success that has resulted in four premierships.

In addressing the ongoing uncertainty of the 2021 AFL season, Eagles CEO Trevor Nisbett laid out some of the details and the uncertainties, closing with this:

“Sadly, some of the certainties that we enjoyed in the past are gone – hopefully not forever – however, we will continue to take steps to improve, to allow us to contribute even more to our members and the community, and to provide the best possible value for your membership.”

This email, coming at the end of the 2020 season, acknowledged the feelings of the fanbase, without laying blame, offered hope and offered the required detail on practical concerns. As far as communications in a time of crisis, it’s a good example.

In May this year, Mr Nisbett had to announce that the derby would proceed without a crowd.

Mr Nisbett kept it brief, this time acknowledging the feelings of the fans and put it in the context of the health and safety of the community.

What was lacking was detail about the practical information for fans who had purchased tickets, specifically about the possibility of refunds.

In each of these examples, Mr Nisbett and the Eagles showed restraint in reacting to both good and bad news and acknowledged the feelings of the fans.

In comparison to the West Coast Eagles, the Fremantle Dockers faced a much more uncertain future at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Dockers CEO Simon Garlick painted a dire picture of the club’s future in a club statement on 25 March 2020.

“While our club has faced its challenges before it is impossible to overstate the implications this crisis has for the very existence of the Fremantle Football Club.”

This message justified severe austerity measures, including standing down more than 75 per cent of the club’s staff. Mr Garlick took an honest approach with members, outlining the realities of the situation and framed the conversation in terms of the club’s survival to put the cuts in context.

In an unfortunate situation, it was a clear, honest and direct communication.

On April 23 this year, Fremantle had to announce that fans would not be permitted at its home game against North Melbourne and the issuing of refunds was a central part of the release.

Given the different financial outlooks for each team, it’s understandable that the Fremantle Dockers would make a point to provide assurances of refunds.

For the Eagles, it makes sense that communications would focus more on feelings than finances.

Despite different approaches, both clubs have successfully executed a clear, cohesive communications strategy in the face of a crisis.

So, what lessons can be learned from these communications?

1: Be honest and clear about the elements of the crisis you can control and acknowledge uncertainty when it is beyond your control.

2: Understand your audience.

3: Adapt your messaging and approach to suit your circumstances.

Follow these guidelines and you will be well positioned to maintain the trust and connection with your supporters in times of crisis.


The benefits of proactive media relations

The benefits of proactive media relations

By Rebecca Boteler

The news cycle moves at breakneck pace in the digital age and successful media relations can often depend on when in the news cycle you comment on a story or issue.

How and when you approach media can determine how successful you will be in making sure your side of the story is told.

There are two types of media relations approaches: reactive and proactive. Reactive is when a story is already in the media and either a journalist contacts you and asks you to comment, or you approach the media to offer a comment.

Proactive is when your organisation decides it wants to raise an issue or tell a story that isn’t currently being reported on. There are many benefits to this type of engagement – whether to promote your brand, lead the debate, launch a service, or simply communicate with stakeholders.

So, what are the best ways to get your brand in the media and journalists interested in your story?

Develop a media strategy – being proactive generally means you have a lot more time up your sleeve for planning. It enables you to develop a strategy which could include your objectives, target media, timing and key messages.

Get your message in first – if you’re the one raising an issue, you have more ability to set the agenda, shape the debate and get your key messages across.

Provide an element of surprise – stories that are new, fresh, unique and topical are more likely to grab the media’s attention, and you can time the release of the story to have maximum impact.

Tell a positive story – proactive stories are stories that an organisation wants audiences to know – it’s your chance to get the media to cover your successes or prove your organisation is being innovative in your field.

Find the right person to be the ‘face’ of the issue – stories will generally get far more news coverage if they have a real person with a real story that illustrates the issue you are trying to raise. You should generally nominate someone authentic, rather than someone who appears ‘media trained’ however, you will need to ensure your case study has been properly briefed on how to handle media. 

Offer an exclusive – if your organisation has full control over the release of the story, you could consider whether offering it as an exclusive to one journalist is likely to get the story more prominence.

These are just some of the ways that a proactive approach to media relations can be the difference between having your side of the story being represented or scrambling to address a situation spiralling out of control.

For assistance with implementing a proactive media relations approach, contact CGM Communications.


So, your brand’s been cancelled…

So, your brand’s been cancelled…

By Anthony Fisk

Although first coined in 2017, most of us are now aware of a new term in our lexicon – ‘cancel culture’. That is, withdrawing support for people and companies for doing or saying something seen as objectionable or offensive. It is usually performed on social media in the form of group shaming.

Communications practitioners have a long history of dealing with these types of reputational issues with high-profile individuals and companies. Using various techniques, our role has been to provide advice during a crisis, manage media channels and to develop a plan to restore the brand over time.

Despite our experience in dealing with crisis, some might argue cancel culture is a new paradigm. In most cases, online movements are partisan, passionate and organised, which ensures they are loud and influential. But what makes them so powerful is their single-minded focus on their only objective – to cancel you.

So, what do you do when your company or brand becomes the target of the online mob?

Firstly, it is impossible to miss. Your social feeds will start clogging up with detailed posts defining what your company has done wrong and how individuals feel about this wrongdoing. This information will be helpful because it will help you define the issue and impact that it has on your customers, staff and stakeholders.

Of course, it is easy to panic when this happens. It may be difficult to see the curated online platforms your brand uses to promote itself being used against you, but don’t shut the conversation down – this will only make people angrier. Only hide those comments that breach your published social media guidelines. You are then justified in removing comments that are obscene, offensive, defamatory, threatening, harassing, discriminatory or hateful – which they often can be.

These campaigns will usually be driven by perceived wrongdoings by your company that were perpetrated recently, or even in the long-distant past. It would be a mistake to assume these concerns as the rantings of a small splinter group.

At this point, you should assess whether this is a crisis that could have a lasting impact on your brand. This may seem hyperbolic, but if you are facing an online cancel campaign, it is difficult to assess how powerful these invisible adversaries are. And if you handle your response poorly, your brand could be under unrelenting attack, so consider activating your crisis plan. In any crisis we follow the Three C’s Model of Care, Control, and Commitment.

As your social channels continue to be flooded with negative commentary, there is a natural temptation to defend yourself. Don’t. A defensive response – no matter how politely it is framed – is likely to be attacked as unfeeling and unsympathetic to those who have been wronged. You won’t have had time to collect all the information you need, and you can’t go back on your words.

Rather than responding to every post in public forums (you will be trolled) find a way to communicate with advocates offline. In many cases, it’s not actually clear exactly who is doing the cancelling. From drag queens losing gigs after past appearances in blackface to obscure Dr Seuss books being voluntarily pulled by their publisher for racist imagery, sometimes these campaigns take their own shape without specific leadership.

Even if there is no campaign organiser, there will be influencers in this space who might be willing to talk to you. Once you have built up a network of sorts, make an effort to understand their concerns, how they prefer to communicate, and what they would like you to change.

It is at this point that you should consider your response. If you need to apologise, then say ‘sorry’ and acknowledge each concern. A senior leader should be prepared to make this apology, it should be heartfelt, and it should be done by video – which works to show your human side and the ‘Care’ your organisation feels for the breach.

Of course, sorry may not be enough – even if you don’t have all the answers now, outline a process your company will undertake to investigate the issue to ensure it doesn’t happen again – this is the ‘Control’ phase of our crisis approach.

In the case of the destruction of culturally-significant caves at Juukan Gorge, Rio Tinto undertook a complete review of, what it calls, a breach of their values. After apologising unreservedly, it acknowledged and investigated each of the errors that occurred, and completely reviewed their processes to “ensure this never happens again”.

Public opinion and shareholder pressure eventually saw the departure of senior executives, but the organised online outrage remains. Following the Care and Control phases, Rio Tinto reached out to partners, including the Traditional Owners, to understand concerns, to address these concerns, and is taking a sensible long-term view of restoring its brand.

The ‘Commitment’ phase in crisis management takes time. But only in the last week, the PKKP people have shown a conciliatory approach to Rio Tinto by insisting on a seat at the table for any mining activities on their land.

For less egregious breaches of trust, it is not always obvious how you should respond to public cancel campaigns. It’s not even clear what “being cancelled” means for a brand exactly, other than having to pay an economic cost after an offensive statement or action. Is Dr Seuss really cancelled? After the campaign to remove racially offensive books resulted in them being pulled, sales surged to record levels.

After attempting to understand the issues raised by online campaigners, have a chat with your staff and customers. Your staff want to be proud of where they work, and they won’t want you to apologise or give in to what they might see as unreasonable demands. Communicate with employees so they might see the perspective of the campaigners, and openly consult with them about your response. In the end, staff and customers can also be organised as an army of advocates to see off any online campaign.

Consider the reaction from customers and the public when asked about the move to delete the “Golden Gaytime” brand, with 98 per cent voting to keep the name.

After seeing the positive reaction to their brand, Unilever said they had “a deep and longstanding commitment to help build a more diverse, equitable and inclusive society for all”. As you can imagine, the campaign to change the name was unsuccessful and this obscure ice cream has never been more popular.

The decade-long campaign to rename “Coon Cheese” was more successful, with the company, Saputo Dairy Australia, changing the brand name to Cheer earlier this year. Yet this was only done after extensive customer research, staff consultation, and academic research that showed the name had possible racist origins.

It may attract satire, but the name change was conducted carefully and in consultation with stakeholders, rather than as a reaction to online pressure.

It might be scary to be in headlights, but in the case of cancel culture, it’s often best to slow down, act strategically, and consult widely.


Morrison’s election to lose? Yes, but…

Morrison’s election to lose? Yes, but…

By Daniel Smith

It takes a spectacularly flawed government to lose an election in the COVID era.

It’s a feat that only Donald Trump has managed to pull off.

For the most part, incumbent governments across the democratic world have been returned with increased majorities, taking advantage of the platform and opportunities to demonstrate leadership that the pandemic has provided.

Voters appear willing to give credit where it is due, but withhold harsh judgment on missteps, given COVID, itself, isn’t any individual’s fault.

Take, for example, the current popularity of Boris Johnson’s conservative government in the United Kingdom. Despite bungling the early months of the pandemic and overseeing almost 130,000 COVID deaths, Johnson is now streets ahead in the polls. This is driven by an increasingly successful vaccine rollout, as well as the reality that the working-class support Johnson secured through Brexit never really left him.

If you apply this post-pandemic political paradigm to Australia’s current federal political environment, it is hard to see the Morrison Government being defeated when it goes to the polls some time in the next 12 months.

While Australia’s island geography and a lot of heavy lifting by state and territory governments have contributed to the country’s strong COVID performance, the reality is that Australia is at the top of the pile in terms of its national COVID performance, both in terms of health and economic outcomes, and the Morrison Government would, quite rightly, expect to get some credit for this.

However, being in Canberra with clients for the budget this week, I didn’t detect the sense of inevitability about the election outcome among either Liberal or Labor operatives that you might expect in this pandemic political paradigm.

Labor figures genuinely feel they’re in with a shot. They point to the polls having had the Coalition and Labor neck and neck throughout most of the pandemic period, with the Prime Minister having had trouble converting the opportunities the pandemic has presented him into obvious electoral support.

With Mr Morrison failing to generate similar levels of support that many state and territory leaders have enjoyed during the pandemic, Labor concludes there is a drag on the Coalition vote and attributes this to non-COVID issues like bushfires and Parliamentary culture, as well as to COVID-related challenges, such as the undermining of state border closures, not taking responsibility for quarantine and the slow vaccine rollout.

Labor figures also point to the fact that the last two elections have been decided hand to hand, state by state, electorate by electorate, with a divided electorate delivering successive close results.  And, when they take you through each state, seat by seat, they make a compelling case as to why the Coalition may have challenges on the ground.

And the Liberals I spoke to this week tend to agree.

The big questions coming out of budget week are whether either the budget or Anthony Albanese’s budget reply will shift the dial, when the election will be and who will win.

To borrow some Howard-era phraseology, Josh Frydenberg’s budget has clearly sought to scrape some barnacles off the ship of state. The question is whether the quantum of funding put into areas like aged care, childcare, mental health or women will be enough to make a lasting difference, or to convince wavering voters the government has a genuine commitment in these areas.

Anthony Albanese has clearly sought to establish another major theme to his platform, with a $10 billion housing future fund set to fund a continuous build of social housing across Australia.  With a $15 billion manufacturing fund already announced, as well as a long-term commitment to extend childcare subsidies to all Australian families, Labor’s agenda is taking shape, with some clear points of difference to the government.

However, modern elections are increasingly fought on the issues of health and jobs.

With the Medicare wars all but over, vaccines and quarantine will be the terrain on which the health battles are fought at this election.

On the issue of jobs, the government is pinning its hopes on private housing construction, investment tax incentives for business, infrastructure spending and personal tax cuts giving taxpayers more money to spend with local businesses.

Until the budget reply, Labor’s jobs pitch focused on growing local manufacturing and sovereign capability in areas such as rail manufacturing.  The continuous social housing build announced by Mr Albanese, inclusive of commitments on apprenticeships, was another significant commitment. I expect we’ll see similar initiatives in renewable technology and manufacturing in the months ahead.  How Labor frames any decisions it takes on tax will be critical, both in terms of how it will affect people personally, but in how it can be framed by the Liberals as impacting on the broader economy and job creation.

As to when the election will be, the building consensus is that the Prime Minister will move once the vaccine rollout has reached critical mass, perhaps at two thirds of the population, so as take advantage of the strong economic conditions and to minimise the chance of new issues taking the government off course.  This makes an election this year very possible.

As to who will win, there’s still a lot of water to go under the bridge. Given Australia’s COVID performance, the election remains Mr Morrison’s to lose. But, there are enough reasons not to rule out a surprise Labor victory.  

Game on.


King of content: why video rules the roost

King of content: why video rules the roost

By Rebecca Munro

On average, Facebook videos are shared 89 times more than any other online content.

In 2020, video posts got 59 per cent more engagement than other posts on social media and of course TikTok, a video only sharing app, is now the fastest-growing social media network of all time.

So why are there still so many organisations that don’t use video as a way to communicate to their audience?

Here are five reasons why video is the superior online communication tool.

  1. Video engages audiences

Video is at the top of the virtual food chain. Unlike any other medium, it has the ability to include all other visual and auditory content.

The science behind why this is so engaging is called dual coding. Dual coding means providing an audience with verbal and visual representations at the same time to allow for knowledge to be processed in ways that reinforce each other.

When auditory senses alone are stimulated, it is said people retain about 10 per cent of what they’re told, but when both visual and auditory senses are stimulated, that number goes up to about 70 per cent. Therefore, your video audience is more likely to walk away understanding your message.

  1. Saves your audience time

If you have complex information, a video is one of the easiest ways to condense that information and deliver it to your audience in a clear and engaging way.

Infographics and visual aids help speed up the explanation stage. It’s a bit like when you are assembling IKEA furniture or can’t work out your new Google sound system at home; instead of reading the instruction booklet you look to the 60-second YouTube video of someone who has already spent an hour researching it. 

  1. Video prompts shares

This is probably one of the most important reasons we should all be considering video. It promotes more social media shares than any other medium. If you are looking to broaden your audience, video is the way to do it.

Videos, if relatable to an audience, are a great way for people to express themselves and share information. The most shared videos are usually the ones which evoke some sort of emotion. Authentic video shares result in your message having far greater reach. 

Videos also produce better search engine results, meaning they have a better chance than a written article of reaching audiences who search a keyword. This is simply because there is less video content online, compared to text content.

  1. You control the narrative

Creating your own video provides you with control over your narrative. When trying to reach a large audience, traditional news media remains important but you can’t always regulate the message.

Creating your own video allows you to have complete control over what you put out and, thanks to social media, this is now more viable than ever before.

  1. Video incites action

And lastly, because video has been shown to be more compelling it’s more likely to motivate a call to action. Say, for example, you use a speaker in your video. The audience can see the person who is asking them to take this action. This builds trust and again allows for more relatability.

Video isn’t as complicated as many believe it to be, and the investment almost always pays off. So next time you are planning your communication strategy, consider video.

CGM produces video content including animation, case study and testimonial videos, profile and event filming.


Local government advocacy: lessons from the private sector

Local government advocacy: lessons from the private sector

By Victoria Green

As one of the three spheres of government, local government most closely affects the daily lives of its residents. It is also the most trusted level of government, with a recent Essential Poll finding 42 per cent of respondents trusted their local council. By comparison, 31 per cent said they trusted the State Government, and just 28 per cent had trust in the Federal Government.

In the eyes of many, the traditional role of local government is roads, rates and rubbish. But in reality, it’s about much more than that. It’s about the services that it provides the community, creating local jobs for local people and facilitating built and natural environments with facilities and spaces that match the aspirations of its residents.

As the representative body, the WA Local Government Association (WALGA) has a vital role in advocating for all local governments. It has done this on several significant issues, such as timeframes for planning reform, tax concessions, and regional issues related to COVID-19. WALGA quite rightly focuses on general topics relevant to its member base and not the specific needs of local councils.

In recent years, some local governments have stepped up their advocacy efforts with both State and Federal Government to deliver on their priorities, particularly for infrastructure funding. But it's an increasingly competitive market as more and more local governments are advocating for the needs of their community.

As minds turn to the upcoming federal budget and fast approaching federal election, there will undoubtedly be a flurry of activity to secure commitments and funding for industry and community interests, as well as local government.

Some will do it well, and some will fail before they’ve even started.  Common mistakes include starting too late, having too big a list of asks, having an incoherent message and not being able to demonstrate stakeholder support.

So, what can local government do to stand the best possible chance of securing funding and commitments from either the State or Federal Governments?

Well, from a State Government point of view, if last year was the year of the 'shovel ready' COVID stimulus project, this year and the next few years will be mostly about WA Labor delivering on its election commitments, particularly in the areas of jobs and economic diversification and health.  Homelessness will also be on the radar. Aligning asks of government to the priorities of government in these areas will be a good place to start.

The same will likely be true of the Federal Government, post-election. But in the pre-election period, the best way to get money out of the Liberals in Canberra will be to get the State Labor Government to advocate for your ask.  Since the change of government in 2017, the WA Government has proven very effective in securing funding from both the Turnbull and Morrison Governments, leveraging WA’s status as a battleground state, in which the federal Liberals need to hold seats in order to retain government.  This dynamic will likely be accentuated following Labor’s recent landslide state election victory and the continued popularity of Premier Mark McGowan.

Local government has an important role in creating jobs, supporting market-led proposals and welcoming industry. State and Federal governments are still looking for shovel ready projects that deliver on their commitments and are popular with the community, so identifying these opportunities will continue to be necessary. Still, there is much more to it than that.

Arguably, the private sector has been working closely with government to secure funding, advocate on priorities and develop partnerships for decades, whether that’s as private companies or through industry representative groups.

Given the experience and achievements of the private sector in advocacy, there are a few things that I believe local government can learn from the private sector when it comes to advocating on behalf of its 'customers' and ultimately securing funding for its priorities.

Here are five private-sector principles to consider:

 1. Understand your 'investors'

Investor relations are essential components of private sector organisations that need to understand and work closely with shareholders and investors. What differs in local government is that the potential 'investors' are the State and Federal governments, and rather than profit, their priorities and motivations are very different.

WA Labor has been clear on its priorities. They want to create jobs in WA, diversify the economy through manufacturing and industry hubs, improve the health system, particularly mental health, and tackle homelessness and climate change. As outlined above, the Federal Government is more likely to invest if the State is on board.

Advocacy is all about finding win-win situations. If local government can find a way to support the State or Federal governments to deliver on their commitments while delivering something popular with the community then everyone wins.

 2. Know your 'customers'

Successful brands know their customers. They understand their buying habits, their preferences and what's important to them. Local government needs to approach its community in the same way. Understand what's important to them, understand both their current and future needs and get a sense of what matters most.

The City of Mandurah did this incredibly well with its 'Mandurah Matters' community engagement approach. It didn't just run an annual survey asking about facilities and amenity. The City went out and spoke to the community, ran workshops, met community groups, held events, tested ideas and got to know the people it serves. Local governments will give themselves the best chance of success if the things they are asking for reflect the priorities of their community. 

Remember, political parties poll all the time. They have a good sense of what the community wants, and so should anyone asking governments for money.

 3. Prioritise, prioritise, prioritise

Granted, the private sector is not always the best at prioritisation. Still, when it comes to advocacy, local governments need to develop a laser-like focus on its top one or two priorities and be relentless in the delivery of this message.  Presenting laundry lists of asks to government make it difficult for them to choose, and often leads to disappointment if an initiative gets funded that, in hindsight, wasn’t that important to the local government that put it forward.

Community and stakeholder engagement with your ‘customers’ can be used to develop a long list of asks, but it can also be used to set priorities.  Keep it sharp, and keep it simple.

4. Get in early

The biggest mistake we see in local government advocacy is leaving things too late. Putting in a budget submission a few weeks before budget day, or launching a public advocacy campaign after the election writs are issued.

Successful advocacy campaigns give themselves time to build a brand, penetrate a message and demonstrate stakeholder support to decision makers.

Leaving things too late makes you look disorganised, with a lack of understanding of how government works.  At its worst, it makes you look like you’re just going through the motions or doing the campaign for political objectives, rather than genuine outcomes.

 5. Government relations is not enough

The best campaigns start early and are research driven, with a clear sense of priorities, purpose and a coherent message.

But they also leverage all the communications tools and channels available to hit decision makers from a range of angles and build a sense of energy and momentum that is hard to resist.

Meetings with government are important.  If you don’t ask, you won’t receive, and government will find it strange to hear things in the media that they haven’t already heard in person.

However, the importance of building and demonstrating community support cannot be overstated.  As outlined above, this is a crowded market, and governments are being presented with great ideas and urgent problems all the time.

Activating local communities, while building understanding and pressure through the media, are often critical to the success of advocacy campaigns.

You need to get the tone right.  But, if you’re not in these spaces, you often won’t look like you’re trying, and other campaigns will get the attention of governments.

Nobody wants to hear about the problems and issues constantly (although there is a time and place for that). However, everyone needs to understand your vision and be brought on that journey.


Upheaval rocks Perth radio scene

Upheaval rocks Perth radio scene

By Rebecca Boteler

Considering the huge upheaval in the Perth radio scene towards the end of last year, the first ratings survey of 2021, released in March, was a bit of a dud. There was very little movement for most of the programs, or across the major stations, which was slightly surprising given the widespread changes. It’s possible listeners were just too confused to know which station they wanted to tune into.

The second survey of the year, released last week, reveals a bit more about whether listeners are happy with the changes. While overall, the status quo remains, with Nova 93.7 still the top rating station in Perth, followed by Mix 94.5, the biggest winner from the survey was 96fm, which gained ground under radio stalwart Gary Roberts, who guided the station back to its roots after a couple of years in the radio wilderness. A re-brand for 92.9 Triple M to focus on rock music has so far failed to pay off in the ratings, with the station sitting 6th overall, behind Triple J.

In the battleground breakfast timeslot, the 96fm breakfast team picked up a substantial 1.5 points despite the retirement of one its key members, veteran Fred Botica, halfway through the ratings period. However, The Bunch are sitting fourth overall behind Nova 93.7, Mix 94.5 and former stablemate 6PR, now owned by Channel Nine. Sitting in the breakfast chair for 6PR is Gareth Parker, who was moved from Mornings; a move which listeners seem to approve of, since he picked up 1.1 points to give him a significant lead over his ABC rival Russel Woolf, who dropped a massive 2.2 points.

ABC listeners also moved away from Woolf’s previous co-host Nadia Mitsopoulos, who lost one point in the Mornings timeslot, trailing 6PR’s star recruit Liam Bartlett, who picked up an impressive 1.9 points to sit at 10 per cent of the market share. Listeners obviously like what they’re hearing from Mark Pascoe on 96fm in this timeslot, since he picked up 1.2 points to edge out Nova for the number two spot behind Mix 94.5.

The tightest race for ratings was in the Drive slot, where there was less movement, probably due to the fact it was the only timeslot not affected by the deck shuffling last year. ABC host Geoff Hutchison lost one point to sit at 5.6 per cent of the market share, while 6PR’s Oliver Peterson picked up 0.5 to move to 8 per cent, which is still well behind the mostly eastern states-syndicated programs which the FM stations run in the timeslot.

Survey 3 is due out on 1 June 2021.


A fix for WA’s Upper House on the horizon?

A fix for WA’s Upper House on the horizon?

By Amy Blom

The dust has settled on the 2021 election, but the emergence of three unlikely winners could prove to be the catalyst for a long-awaited change to WA’s Upper House voting system.

As the votes were finalised last week, it was confirmed that micro-party Legalise Cannabis WA had secured two Upper House seats despite attracting a total of just 1.98 per cent of first-preference votes statewide.

The Daylight Savings Party’s Wilson Tucker won a spot in the Mining and Pastoral Region with just 0.24 per cent or 98 votes. Mr Tucker, who currently lives in Seattle, has confirmed that he will return to WA to take his seat in Parliament.

According to the WA Electoral Commission, to be eligible for election to the Upper House, candidates must be at least 18, an Australian citizen for at least one year, not be subject to any legal incapacity and be an elector entitled to vote in a district. Candidates do not have to currently reside in WA and under the state’s group voting ticket system, they do not necessarily have to attract a substantial number of first-preference votes.

This leaves the system open to convoluted preference deals between micro-parties, which can see them elected in front of other parties that have secured substantially more first-preference votes.

The opportunity for micro-parties with very low first-preference votes to win seats in our Parliament has earned WA the title of the worst voting system in the country, according to ABC election analyst Antony Green.

Aside from the group voting ticket system, the other fairness issue for Upper House elections is the over-representation of regional voters in Parliament, known as malapportionment. Although more than 75 per cent of WA’s population reside in the Perth metropolitan region, it is only home to half of the state’s six Upper House regions. The population distribution across the regions means that a vote in the Agricultural Region carries almost four times the weight of a Perth vote, while the Mining and Pastoral region has almost six times the power of those in Perth.

Premier Mark McGowan has already flagged potential reform to deal with the issues having stated that “the Legislative Council results have exposed a broken system”.

But what could those reforms look like?

Any proposed changes to the Upper House tend to come with the suggestion that it be abolished altogether, as then-deputy Liberal leader Colin Barnett proposed to The Australian in 1999. His reported view at the time was that having two houses of Parliament was a luxury the state could not afford. In 2007, when he was Opposition leader, Mr Barnett backed away from abolishing the Upper House, but said members should have their electorate offices scrapped

Although there is some precedent for abolishing the Upper House – Queensland’s Labor Party did it in 1922 – it is unlikely to happen here for several reasons, the first being that WA has a long history of possessing a strong Upper House and, whether we like it or not, West Australians tend to side with tradition. Ironically, there’s perhaps no better example of this than WA’s resistance to daylight savings in the state.

There is also a serious roadblock to any attempt to abolish the Upper House thanks to legislation pushed through in the late 1970s by then-premier Sir Charles Court, which noted that the number of Members of the Legislative Council could not be reduced, or the chamber abolished, without the approval of a referendum.

More importantly, the Upper House is unlikely to go because it serves an important function as a house of review. The review process acknowledges that imperfect legislation carries a risk of unacceptable consequences, and therefore, every care must be taken to get it right before it becomes law. It also allows for legislation to be delayed, providing more time for public opinion to be included in the legislative process, as frustrating as that process may be for the government and the public.

The WA Legislative Council is here to stay, but it could be reformed to make it more representative.

The first reform the McGowan Government could consider would be to borrow from the changes to the Senate voting system.

Prior to 2016, the Senate voting system was similar to WA’s Upper House. Voters could cast their ballot for a party by marking just one box above the line, leaving the rest up to the preference deals worked out by political parties. Or they could vote for individual candidates below the line by marking a large number of boxes – the South Metropolitan Region had 64 this election – without making a mistake. The system led to incongruous results in 2004, 2010 and 2013, before a new system was implemented in 2016.

Now, voters are able to number at least six boxes above the line for the parties or groups of their choice, or at least 12 boxes below the line for individual candidates of their choice.

Despite concerns from smaller parties, the 2016 election showed that they can still gain seats, but they must have reasonable first preference flows. It also discourages those with specific constituencies, such as platforms based on religion or environmental concerns, from splitting off into fringe or single-issue parties.

This reduces the length of the ballot paper, makes it easier for voters to navigate, and it reduces incongruent results.

The second fix the McGowan Government could explore would be to address the malapportionment issue by re-examining the number of seats available in each region so that representation is better aligned to population.

This could prove to be a bigger challenge than fixing the group voting ticket system as it would be strongly opposed by the Nationals and regional Liberals like Steve Thomas, who had his country seat of Capel abolished in 2008 before moving to the Upper House.

Regardless of what electoral reforms the Government investigates, the Premier has made it clear that it is on the agenda.


Digital keys to unlocking political popularity

Digital keys to unlocking political popularity

By Anwen Pattinson

What makes a politician popular on Facebook? To the untrained eye, it might not make sense that Premier Mark McGowan has 100,000 more Facebook followers than Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, who represents a state twice as populous as Western Australia. But dig a little deeper, and you will find there is some method to the political popularity madness.

The recent WA state election saw Facebook used to an extent that it had not been seen before in West Australian politics. It would be easy to focus on the money spent on Facebook advertising given that between just Premier Mark McGowan and Zak Kirkup’s campaigns, more than $130,000 was spent on Facebook election advertising.

However, throwing money at a digital campaign does not guarantee its success. Rather, campaign success on Facebook relies heavily on a candidate’s presence and persona built outside the campaigning dates and, most importantly, their ability to find the line between the two.

So let me take you behind the scenes on what makes a successful political profile in the digital world.

First, what does Facebook itself say about what makes a successful political profile on their platform?

  • Be themselves. High-performing profiles are often those that understand what their own personal attributes are and are not shy in promoting them to their audience. However, they also ensure that their tone is consistent.
  • Be authentic. Politicians and candidates should bring their audience behind the scenes, showing or explaining things their followers would otherwise not easily know or understand.
  • Be engaging. Make sure a relationship is built between the politician and their audience. In short, what is being said is what the audience needs or wants to hear.

While this information seems simple and logical, finding the balance between being both authentic and engaging, while still being yourself is far more difficult than it appears.

Take our current WA Premier, whose Facebook presence is clear and engaging, yet still shows a personal side. What can be learnt from Mark McGowan’s overall popularity through the prism of Facebook?

Let’s look at some of the key areas that Facebook has identified as important and see how our Premier stacks up.

Be themselves:

I believe that this is Premier McGowan’s social media strength. One thing that is immediately noticeable to me when looking at his Facebook is that his tone is consistent. It is consistent with what he says in press conferences and also on his other social media platforms.

This consistency does not mean that his message and delivery is the same under all circumstances. Rather, there is consistency within each tone of voice, meaning a joke about April Fool’s or kebabs will have the same tone of voice, while an update regarding interstate borders or discussing a snap lockdown will be treated with tonal gravity.

This consistency is impressive given that most politicians do not write their own social media posts. The Premier’s staff appear to have a clear and comprehensive understanding of when each tone of voice should be used and is delivering them effectively.

Be authentic:

Creating authentic posts that bring followers behind the scenes or break down comprehensive news is also something Premier McGowan has done well over the past year.

The Premier’s authenticity, I believe, was best seen in the last year when communicating with West Australians about the Clive Palmer court case. This was a complicated issue that had the ability to be spun purely through a political lens, but Premier McGowan brought his followers behind the scenes in a different way, explaining the complexities while also providing reassurance.

Be engaging:

So, how does one create content that is authentic, and shows a part of themselves, while also being engaging? The answer is trust. Trust and time.

By being authentic and not shying away from taking followers behind the scenes, followers often begin to feel that they know the politician and that posts are being written with them in mind.

This trust assists in building the correct level of importance for each post, providing gravity to serious topics, while giving licence for followers to have fun with posts that encourage it.

This might be how Premier McGowan’s post announcing seven months of no community transmission in November 2020 had the same number of likes as his recent post announcing new state emblems for April Fool’s.

There are examples everywhere of political figures, domestically and internationally, who have managed to build that level of trust with their audiences in their own unique way. For example, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern does this by showing herself in a personable way, often jumping on a Facebook live to answer questions from everyday New Zealanders.

So, what do I suggest for politicians trying to find their way on Facebook?

They should ask themselves if they think their followers trust them and their message. If the answer is no, perhaps peeling back the curtain to show authenticity and not just a polished finished product might be the way forward.


McGowan’s manufacturing vision

McGowan’s manufacturing vision

By Daniel Smith

One of the most memorable moments from this year’s state election campaign for me was the reaction to Premier Mark McGowan’s answer on vision.

During the leaders’ debate, the Premier was asked about his vision for WA. In response, he talked about a recently announced initiative to manufacture components for iron ore rail cars in WA.

Some observers found that answer underwhelming, but in the wake of the election result, I think it’s worth another, closer look.

Vision is an undefined quality in politics. To some, vision means soaring Obama-style oratory. To others, vision means big, sometimes unexpected, announcements.

In WA, the developments you hear most commonly talked about as visionary are the Fremantle Harbour, the Goldfields pipeline and the North West Shelf development.  A small, but increasing, number of people also talk of the Barnett government’s stadium development in this way.

What these projects have in common, in addition to being expensive and contentious in their day, is that they went on to underpin significant, long-term economic opportunities for the state.

Which brings me back to the Premier’s comments on rail component manufacturing for the resources sector.

On its own, this might appear narrow to some. But, when considered alongside Rita Saffioti’s achievement in securing the local manufacturing of METRONET rail cars in WA, and the enormous size of the iron ore rail car fleet that needs servicing (32,000 rail cars annually), we may be on the cusp of a whole new industry for WA.

Every focus group I’ve had a hand in over the past 15 years has had respondents screaming about the need for more manufacturing in WA, with those old enough lamenting the closure of the Midland rail yards in the 90s.

The current government’s achievements and commitments on rail manufacturing, its progress in developing new advanced manufacturing hubs in Kwinana and the South West, as well as the announcement of big incentives for manufacturers during the election campaign, point to a very solid direction. Add recent commitments to manufacture 1,000 standalone power systems for remote communities and cash incentives to meet the expected boom in local wind turbine demand locally, and the direction is clear.

McGowan Labor has a vision. A manufacturing vision.

Of course, some will say we can’t manufacture things in WA… our wages are too high.  However, many believe the time is right.  Modern manufacturing technology, a narrowing of the international gap in wage levels, plus the increased value being placed on sovereign capability post-COVID are levelling the playing field.

For years, WA has been manufacturing high quality, cost-competitive marine vessels for a global market. If we can do this, many within industry, government and the union movement believe we can do more.

Which is how we arrived at the announcement on local iron ore rail car component manufacturing.

In the last week of the election campaign, CGM commissioned our own poll of Perth voters to get a sense of what was driving voter behaviour.

A key finding was that more than three quarters of voters thought Mark McGowan and Labor had the best vision for WA’s future, compared to only 12 per cent for the Liberals.

The Premier’s previous performance on COVID clearly played its part in Labor’s extraordinary electoral success.

But the punters clearly liked the version of the future Mr McGowan was selling, also.

There’s no doubt in my mind Labor’s direction on manufacturing is central to this appeal.  And, if the Premier, aided by Ms Saffioti and his Deputy Roger Cook, in his new capacity as Minister for Jobs, can deliver on their manufacturing commitments, they will be rewarded with long-term political support from the working people in WA’s suburbs and regions.

For all the projects we now consider visionary in WA, there were many sceptics in their inception, with it taking some time for consensus to settle.

I think Labor is on to something good here. So, let’s make a diary note to revisit the vision conversation down the track.


Key takeaways from the second McGowan Cabinet

Key takeaways from the second McGowan Cabinet

By Daniel Smith

Much of the discussion about the formation of the second McGowan Cabinet has understandably focused on the Premier and his taking of the Treasury portfolio. But there is a lot more to read into the Premier’s announcement yesterday.

Here are my key takeaways, including pointers to the future:

  1. Those predicting the Premier will give up Treasury in the short to medium term, might want to reserve their judgment. The Premier is known to have been highly involved in the budget process during Labor’s first term, and at least as passionate as then-treasurer Ben Wyatt about financial discipline. Having shifted a large portion of his previous workload to Deputy Premier Roger Cook, in the form of State Development, Jobs and Trade, as well as enlisting the support of Tony Buti as Finance Minister, the Premier has created a structure that might work for the long term. Given the value he has placed on stability to date, relinquishing Treasury mid-term and claiming some other portfolios would seem out of character.
  2. While the Premier has talked about the looming threat from other States to his GST deal with the Commonwealth as a key driver for his taking of the Treasury portfolio, it is possible the biggest challenge he will face in his first year as Treasurer is the effort by public sector unions to end the $1,000 per year wage rise cap. With a number of enterprise bargaining agreements up for negotiation over the next 12 months, unions will argue that public sector workers have done the heavy lifting in getting the state budget back on track and, with the state economy heating up, more competitive wages will be essential if the public sector is to retain and attract quality staff. Unions may find unlikely allies in industry, given the challenges many businesses had getting approvals and decisions out of government during the last boom, when public sector workers flocked to the private sector in pursuit of better wages. New Industrial Relations Minister Stephen Dawson will lead the government’s negotiations.
  3. Irrespective of what happens with the Treasury portfolio, if Australia continues to win the fight against COVID, Mr Cook is likely to hand Health to someone else in 12 months or so, after 13 years in the portfolio. Education Minister Sue Ellery has been talked about for some time as a suitable replacement, however Mr Dawson may have come into the frame now that he has picked up Mental Health with his new responsibilities. Either way, the Premier will be looking for a safe and experienced set of hands, given the size and importance of Health, leaving Mr Cook to focus on the new and important portfolios he received yesterday.
  4. As Minister for State Development, Jobs, Trade and Science, Mr Cook has become Mr Manufacturing and will help fulfill the Premier’s vision to diversify the State economy. During the election campaign, Labor announced initiatives to progress new advanced manufacturing hubs in Kwinana and the South West, and now has hundreds of millions in incentives and initiatives on the table to attract investment in local manufacturing. The announcement of an agreement to manufacture components for the maintenance of WA’s 30,000 iron ore rail cars in WA, when considered alongside Rita Saffioti’s achievement in manufacturing the new fleet of Metronet rail cars locally, points to the potential establishment of a major new strategic industry for WA.
  5. Ms Saffioti and Mr Cook will jointly have responsibility for delivering Labor’s Westport outer harbour vision, with Ms Saffioti leading the effort after adding Ports to her existing Transport and Planning portfolios, and Mr Cook having responsibility for promoting the landside benefits for industry in his electorate of Kwinana. With Labor now having the numbers in both houses, Westport will happen, the Beeliar Wetlands will become an A-Class Nature Reserve, and it will be almost impossible for any future government to build the previously proposed Roe 8 and Roe 9 extensions.
  6. John Quigley’s appointment as Minister for Electoral Affairs suggests change is coming. With Labor already proposing sweeping changes to political donation disclosures and having a long-term commitment to the principle of one-vote-one-value, the rules under which future elections are fought may be significantly different.  Attention will focus on the Legislative Council, where a malapportionment currently exists strongly favouring regional voters. Striking a balance that ensures regional voices are not lost, given WA’s size and the concentration of our population in the Perth metro area, will be a significant challenge. I expect it’s a challenge Mr Quigley will lean into. Whatever the outcome, let’s hope this year’s election was the last election that micro-parties can game the system.
  7. Thinking forward, the possibility of a major reshuffle and injection of fresh blood into the Cabinet prior to the next election is real. Neither political party has won a third four-year term in Western Australia, and despite the obvious electoral advantage it enjoys following this year’s state election, Labor will not want to appear tired heading into 2025. The left’s Alanna Clohesy was considered unlucky to miss out on a Cabinet spot this time, and David Michael appears to have been anointed as the next cab off the rank from the right, with his elevation to Cabinet Secretary. However, there are now 10 additional names to keep an eye on, following the Premier’s appointment of Parliamentary Secretaries.  These are Samantha Rowe, Darren West, Terry Healy, Simon Millman, Jessica Shaw, Jessica Stojkovski, Kyle McGinn, Sabine Winton, Yaz Mubarakai and Matthew Swinbourne. With only four of the existing 17 Cabinet positions currently filled by women, expect the Premier to use future promotions to work towards a gender balance that reflects the 50 per cent female Parliamentary representation achieved by Labor at this year’s election.

There is much more I could write about the personalities and policies that will confront the challenges and opportunities of the next four years, but these are the key takeouts as I see them, today.

As always, CGM is here to assist our clients understand key government drivers and identify opportunities for collaboration in the public interest.


WA Labor: The Next Generation

WA Labor: The Next Generation

On the sporting field, depth is the key to sustained success.

As AFL seasons wear on, the teams that can cover injuries with quality players often rise to the top.  It’s no different in cricket, as we saw with the Indian team in the recently completed test series against Australia.

Second term governments often lose their way, with a key contributing factor being the people they bring in to replace retiring members not having the skills or, perhaps more importantly, the experience to deliver to the same standard.

Which is what make the six new faces being talked about as new members of the second term McGowan Cabinet so noteworthy.   Those of us who have had experience engaging with them feel each would be ready to hit the ground running, if they get the opportunity.

For background, the Premier has to find three new Ministers to replace the retiring Ben Wyatt, Fran Logan and Mick Murray.  If, as expected, the retiring speaker Peter Watson is replaced from within the ranks of the first term Ministry, the Premier has to find a fourth new Minister.  With Morley MLA Amber-Jade Sanderson considered a certainty to receive a Ministry, her current position of Cabinet Secretary will also need to be filled.

So, there are five positions up for grabs, and six names talked about.  This includes Ms Sanderson, as well as Don Punch , Reece Whitby, John Carey, Alanna Clohesy and Tony Buti.

We’ve put together this document to introduce you to WA Labor’s next generation.  We haven’t attempted to predict which portfolios they may receive, but we’re expecting to see a significant reshuffle of portfolios, given the number of positions set to open up at the senior end.

As always, CGM is here to assist our clients understand the policies and personalities that will drive government during the new term, as well as identifying opportunities for collaboration in the public interest.

We hope you find this document useful.

Labor's Next Generation

Download here.


The next frontier in the pandemic fight is communications

The next frontier in the pandemic fight is communications

By Mark Ravi

Although the loss of any lives to COVID-19 is tragic, Australia as a whole has fared much better than many countries around the world in managing this virus without an effective means of treatment or medical prevention to date.

Now, as the world approaches a year since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, a saviour seems to have appeared in the form of a collection of vaccines that are proving effective in the reduction of infection, hospitalisations, severe illness and death.

Results from studies covering the Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines by Public Health England and Public Health Scotland, in particular, were sufficiently encouraging for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to feel confident enough to declare that the rollout of vaccines had “dramatically changed the odds in our favour”.

These two vaccines have been approved for use in Australia by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, but even the most effective vaccine is useless if people aren’t willing to receive them.

Anti-vaccination protests in capital cities across the country late last month suggest that the next battle in the war against COVID-19 will be on the communications front.

While the vocal minority that attended the rallies will prove the most difficult to convince, getting the larger number of people who are supportive of vaccines generally, but are still lacking enough knowledge about these specific ones, on board will be the most important task.

To do so, the Federal Government – which is responsible for the rollout – will need to achieve two things with its communications: to make sure information is clear and accessible, and to be proactive in fighting misinformation.

The rollout only began last week, but I’ve personally seen early signs that there is work to be done to execute both of these.

With respect to the former, take the example of my sister, who recently gave birth to her first child. We were at lunch and I overheard her discussing the vaccine with our mother. While both are generally pro-vaccine, neither had heard anything conclusive about whether the COVID-19 options were safe for breastfeeding mothers to have, and as a result were leaning towards avoiding it.

The next day I heard Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt declare that the vaccine was safe for breastfeeding mothers on the radio. As this was new information, I wanted to check the facts for myself before passing it along to my sister, so I visited the Federal Government’s COVID-19 vaccine website in search of more information.

I had six options: information for COVID-19 vaccine providers, COVID-19 vaccine priority groups, COVID-19 vaccine distribution, aged care providers, people with disability; and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

As a member of the general public with questions, none of these labels applied to me, so I picked one at random and started digging around. It took me more than 10 minutes and two websites to find the factsheet I was looking for that explained the science behind that declaration.

If it was my sister, or anyone short on time or determination, they would have likely given up much sooner and left without having their valid question answered.

This is an area that can easily by improved by looking to another government-funded organisation as a guide: the ABC’s frequently updated, easily navigated guide to the vaccine rollout.

This resource works for several reasons: it’s targeted at the general population in addition to specific demographics; it communicates in layman’s terms, while still providing links to more detailed information within the text; and it links to government factsheets and other reliable sources of information.

Of course, accessible information is important, but the Federal Government must also be proactive in identifying and combating misinformation by communicating the science in a clear, easy to understand way.

One of the most common complaints about the COVID-19 vaccines is that people feel they have been “rushed” or “not tested enough” and this is compounded by a lack of urgency among Australians. Outside of Victoria, we haven’t had mass deaths on any significant scale and many people feel safe enough behind closed borders to wait until the vaccine is more established.

Of course, the idea that the vaccine was “rushed” or “untested” is false. A recent episode of the Economist Radio podcast detailed how Professor Sarah Gilbert, the co-creator of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, spent 10 years developing vaccine platforms which allow new vaccines to re-use components of previous vaccines. Professor Gilbert’s years of work have allowed the quick development of a vaccine for COVID-19 once the genetic sequence of the coronavirus was published, it only took a few weeks to use it to create the vaccine.

As far as why the approvals were achieved so quickly, there’s a fairly simple explanation. Instead of waiting until all stages of clinical trials were completed to provide data to regulatory bodies, the developers of vaccines were sharing data with regulators as it came in. This meant that when the final trials were completed, much of the approvals process had already been carried out.

If more people knew and understood this information, the feeling that the vaccines were rushed would be reduced.

This is just one example of misinformation, and one solution, but there are other falsehoods in circulation and the Federal Government must be proactive in combating it.

Ultimately, Australia might be a victim of its own success in containing the virus. More than 200 million vaccines have been deployed across the world, but few countries have been as effective as Australia in using border control to contain the virus. The lack of community spread of COVID-19 means that some people view the vaccine as a luxury, not a necessity.

For Australia to open up to the world again, widespread vaccinations are critical, and effective communications will be a cornerstone of this effort.


Taking a ‘brave’ approach to reconciliation

Taking a ‘brave’ approach to reconciliation

By Victoria Green

Thirteen years ago, reconciliation in Australia took a huge leap forward with ‘the Apology’. In 2016, Reconciliation Australia published its first ‘State of the Nation’ report, which introduced the five dimensions of reconciliation: race relations, equality and equity, institutional integrity, historical acceptance and unity.

This year’s report shows that progress has been steady, support has grown, and more Australians understand the issues faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders than in the past. The report highlights that the community is well ahead of the government on critical issues such as constitutional reform and realising equality and equity for First Peoples. The data is showing that actions around truth-telling, systemic racism, and inequality need to be addressed by organisations that are willing to tackle the harder issues. It concludes that Australia is at a tipping point and that now is the time to move from ‘safe’ to ‘brave’.

The question that I asked myself when I read this call to action was what does bravery look like? In the report’s foreword, Shelley Res AO states: “Bravery in the face of racism will be our change agent.” It goes beyond raising awareness and increasing knowledge, and it could start with something very personal like challenging those around you and having uncomfortable conversations, even at the risk of social isolation.

As a communications agency that works with a number of Aboriginal organisations in Western Australia, CGM is acutely aware of the importance of reconciliation and the responsibility we all have to help create a better future.

For me personally, ‘safe’ feels like discussing issues with like-minded people, signing up for conferences to find out more, using respectful and inclusive language and ensuring that I learn as much as I can about reconciliation issues. Now these are not necessarily bad, but are they brave? ‘Brave’ for me would be very personal, it would be challenging myself, friends, family, acquaintances or strangers on biases, beliefs or values and having more uncomfortable conversations.

Reconciliation Action Plans (RAP) are a tool for all organisations to use, no matter where they are on the reconciliation journey, as it provides a structured approach to identifying ‘brave’ actions and becoming accountable. As CGM embarks on the evolution of our Reconciliation Action Plan this year, we’re challenging ourselves to be braver.

There are four types of RAPs that you can develop based on where your organisation is on the reconciliation journey - Reflect, Innovate, Stretch, Elevate. Visit Reconciliation Australia for all the tools and templates you’ll need.


All questions are important, stupid

All questions are important, stupid

By Rebecca Munro

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, more of the WA public is getting an insight into what happens during a live press conference. 

It’s unusual for most West Australians to see a press conference in its entirety. Essentially, the public is now seeing how the sausage is made, and it’s been made this way for decades.

This new insight, however, has managed to upset the many couch critics who, during WA’s second lockdown, went after journalists, vilifying them for their ‘stupid’ questions.

I tend to disagree and would suggest these ‘stupid’ questions are more an ingredient in the sausage making.

To give you perspective, when the Premier announced conditions around the end of our lockdown at 8:40pm one night, most of the political journalists asking the questions also attended the media conference early that morning.

They were into their 16th hour of work and had already put together and filed stories, been to a number of press conferences and interviews, and likely did a live cross or five.

Most of the time when they are called to a press conference, they don’t get much notice and a lot of the time they don’t know what is going to be announced, so they are required to think on their feet.

And it needs to be said, they are not there primarily to facilitate a live press conference for the public’s viewing; they have a whole plethora of tasks to undertake during this conference and immediately after.

Each journalist has different needs. They ask questions for different reasons from each other and from the public, and yes it can seem odd. But hear me out; the television reporter is working on compiling a one-minute TV package and is interviewing in a way to get specific sound bites. Sometimes they ask a question twice because the Premier didn’t give a concise enough answer.

It’s very similar to when the public berate reporters for asking someone how they feel after a traumatic event. “How do you think he feels, you idiot?”, they say.  But the journalist isn’t always looking for a factual answer, rather an emotional one for camera to illustrate to the audience the impact this situation has had. Is this uncomfortable? Possibly, but not stupid.

Then there are the journalists who need to go live immediately after the conference and are writing their live cross as the Premier is speaking. Newspaper reporters have more time and are looking for a fresh angle for tomorrow’s paper while also trying to file for their online edition before their competitor.

They are under immense pressure to relay information fast, which means as they are listening to the Premier, they are also live tweeting, answering questions and emails from their chief of staff and are being fed more questions from their producers back in the office. Sometimes they simply didn’t hear what the Premier said and have to clarify. Again, maybe irritating, but not stupid.

They don’t have a lot of time to ask questions, so not only are they trying to clarify something with an authoritative figure, they are also trying to compete with the dozen other journalists talking over the top of them.

But most importantly and particularly in a pandemic, journalists are simply trying to clarify the facts. We all know there were some grey areas when it came to where we should and shouldn’t wear our mask. Journalists were attempting to clarify every scenario they could think of in that moment.

The public became frustrated; told them to stop asking the ‘stupid’ questions and even joked about it with memes and viral videos.

I’ll admit they were funny, but we weren’t laughing a few days later when we all couldn’t figure out if we had to wear a mask in the car, doing yoga outside, or while walking the dog at a brisk pace. “Is this vigorous?” we thought. If only a journalist had more time to ask.

My point is, even after the journalists asked so many ‘stupid’ questions, there were so many still unanswered.

Following this press conference, veteran journalist Geof Parry copped the brunt of the public’s disgust as they called for him to retire. In good humour, Geof laughed off his critics, reading his ‘mean tweets’ live on radio.

I won’t deny that occasionally a stupid journalist asks a stupid question. 

This is not Geof. Geof is a political reporter with more than 30 years’ experience, who has held our pollies to account over and over again, and who has uncovered countless wrongdoings in the public sector for decades. I think it’s fair to say; he’s got this.

Sometimes he needs to speak over the Premier when he isn’t satisfied with an answer. He’s there to keep the government accountable and our democracy healthy.

So next lockdown (let’s hope there isn’t one) when the live press conferences kick off – let’s give the journalists a break.

They aren’t always experts, but they certainly aren’t stupid.


Australia's defence of public interest journalism

Australia's defence of public interest journalism

By Anthony Fisk

The Federal Government is set for a collision course with tech giants like Facebook and Google over the future of access to news content online. Australia is leading the way as one of the first democratic governments in the world to move to regulate these powerful companies and force them to negotiate payment for content produced by domestic media outlets. Knowing the history and politics surrounding this issue is critical to understanding why such a bold move was made.

Over the past decade, digital platforms have fundamentally changed the way Australians access and consume media.

Gone are the days of waiting for the morning news for breaking stories or reading gossip magazines for the latest celebrity dirt. We now have all the information we need at the touch of an app and most people now get their news information online, specifically from social media.

According to research completed by Roy Morgan, the internet has well and truly overtaken TV as Australia’s main source of news, with 61 per cent using it as a primary source of news in 2020. Within this, 38 per cent specifically nominated social media platforms, and 17 per cent used news feed sites such as Google News and Apple News.

However, social platforms have control over what news and information we see. Our social media friends have become the “managing editors” deciding what we see. An article needs to be liked and shared multiple times before many people see it in their feed.

It’s not surprising then that the stories in our feeds are usually free to access, meaning the media outlets that produce it remain unremunerated while social and digital platforms profit from advertising as users skate through each piece of content.

A mandatory code

Australia’s independent competition and consumer regulator, the ACCC, identified these issues and conducted an 18-month-long Digital Platforms Inquiry. Following this, the Australian Government asked the ACCC to develop a mandatory code of conduct to ensure tech giants like Google and Facebook negotiate access to content with its owners.

After extensive public consultation, the Australian Government introduced the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code legislation to Parliament in December 2020. The code, which is designed to address the bargaining power imbalance between news media businesses and digital platforms, is supported by both the Labor opposition and the Greens.

The code uses the threat of mandatory arbitration to force the digital platforms to broker commercial deals with Australian media companies for the value they obtain from having news content in newsfeeds and search results. If they refuse, they face fines of up to 10 per cent of annual revenues.

Facebook and Google respond

Google and Facebook have indicated publicly that they are willing to comply with a code of conduct and are willing to pay for news content but argue the code in its current form is unworkable and exposes them to an unknowable financial risk.

At a Senate inquiry set up to scrutinise the proposed laws, Google Australia managing director Mel Silva said the code would “break” the company’s business model by forcing it to pay news outlets for featuring links and snippets of their content in search results.

Over the past few weeks, Google and Facebook have used their significant resources in an attempt to undermine the proposed code. This included advertising campaigns, political lobbying and even threats to pull services from Australia. Facebook and Google have recruited no less than five lobbying firms, according to the Australian Government Register of Lobbyists. Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has personally appealed to the Treasurer and Communications Minister, while the global head of Google, Sundar Pichai, has had “constructive” conversations with our Prime Minister.

Despite the high-level engagement, it's hard to imagine Google following through with their threats to withdraw their search engine – a service they make billions of dollars on every year. Facebook too have suggested they’ll pull all news from their feeds, despite news and opinion shared and debated on their platforms more than ever before.

The overseas experience

What Google and Facebook are perhaps most concerned about is a precedent in paying for content that would encourage other countries to do the same.

In 2020, French readers saw news snippet and extract results from European publishers pulled from search engines in response to a copyright law that was passed. In October, Google announced that they were investing $1 billion over three years to pay publishers for content showcased on Google News Showcase. The agreement with France allows Google to negotiate individual licences whereby payment will be based on specific and measurable metrics.

Interestingly, Google launched the same product in Australia only this month – a move that signals a major softening of its position. The initial deals cover 25 mastheads, including the Canberra Times, the Illawarra Mercury, the Saturday Paper and Crikey. No deals were made with Australia’s major news outlets including Seven West, Nine, News Corp and the ABC.

Showcase puts publishers’ content in panels providing more information and content from news websites than is found in search results or snippets in Google News. This includes Google paying on behalf of the reader for any content published behind paywalls, allowing users access to content they wouldn’t be able to see unless they made a payment.

However, Google News Showcase doesn’t address the issue of users downloading content using a search engine. This is the major sticking point, with Google arguing organic search should remain a free commodity.

What’s next?

The Senate Economics Legislation Committee are expected to complete their inquiry and report back to Parliament this week. And with the Australian Government, and every major party, supportive of the Code, it is expected the legislation will continue through parliament in the coming months.

Despite the power of these digital behemoths, it is difficult to argue against policy that ensures news media businesses are fairly remunerated for the content they generate and helps to sustain public interest journalism in Australia.

The rest of the world will be watching.


Fake news and the COVID rumour mill

Fake news and the COVID rumour mill

By Amy Blom

Accessing and sharing accurate content has never been more important in Western Australia as we navigate our second lockdown, an upcoming vaccine rollout and the state election in March. However, the ability to spread rumours on social media as quickly as facts means we all need to be careful about what we read and share online.

Digital platforms like Facebook and Twitter have increasingly become the primary tool for government to get its message out to the public without relying on traditional media channels. As we saw this week, this can be extremely effective in times of crisis when important information must be communicated quickly to an entire state.

Regardless of where you were on Sunday, whether you were out and about or in front of a television you would have known almost immediately through social media that most of WA’s population was about to go into lockdown following the first case of community spread of COVID-19 in almost 10 months. Through social media we were able to find out if we had visited the same places as the infected hotel quarantine guard and exactly where we could be tested if there had been any chance of contact.

The flipside is that this week, social media also allowed frightening and baseless rumours to run rife through the community. There were stories that although no new cases had been recorded by the time Premier Mark McGowan gave his press conference on Monday, up to 21 new cases were about to be declared.

Those with the correct information were quick to act on the rumours. Mr McGowan took to social media on Monday night to dispel them and remind people to only share news and information from official or trusted sources. The West Australian’s editor, Anthony De Ceglie, used a front-page editorial to help set the record straight and to remind people that if they did not read it in a proper news publication, then the information was probably inaccurate.

Unfortunately, this week’s rumours about new coronavirus cases are not isolated examples of inaccurate information being shared on social media in Western Australia. Spend long enough online and you will find countless examples of misinformation, whether deliberate or unintentional, about the coronavirus and more. It can be easy to be sucked in by some of this misinformation, particularly when you see that it’s been shared by a contact of yours. When you share it, you’re contributing to its spread, whether you mean to or not.

The best way to avoid spreading the problem is to watch the daily briefings by the Premier, Health Minister, and Chief Health Officer, which are hosted on various platforms. If there is anything you missed or you need more information visit official government websites such as www.healthywa.wa.gov.au. Additionally, get your news from reputable organisations like The West Australian, WAToday, the ABC, and the major television and radio stations. Unlike social media platforms, traditional media organisations such as these are subject to regulations and codes of conduct, which makes them a more reliable source. Many of them may now be behind a paywall, but don’t let that put you off. A subscription is a small price to pay to be confident that your information is correct before you hit the share button.


Does your digital presence match your brand messaging?

Does your digital presence match your brand messaging?

By Anwen Pattinson


The introduction of social media fundamentally changed the way brands, community groups and businesses interacted with their audiences.

Social media has quickly evolved from a person-to-person communication tool into an online advertising powerhouse. This evolution has allowed organisations to communicate directly with thousands of customers on a personal level, which had never been possible before. The flood of behind-the-scenes content and the rise of video advertising is a testament to that. 

However, therein lies the rub. By taking advantage of the freedoms that social media offers, an organisation can fall into the trap of communicating in a way it would never consider appropriate on any other channel, and one that may be inconsistent with its wider brand messaging.

This departure from brand messaging is rarely sudden, but rather a slow deviation that creates a confusing message and an eventual dilution of the brand.

Here are some of the most commonly seen missteps, which could lead to an organisation’s social media presence uncoupling from its brand.

  1. No clear brand messaging across the board.

This is one of the most commonly seen issues on social media, often in small businesses, where the disconnect in messaging comes from a poorly defined brand.

Without a clearly defined and integrated communications plan, there can be no way that a brand’s digital presence can be expected to remain consistent with messaging used across more traditional communication channels such as websites or press releases.

Communications plans need not be long and complicated documents, however they should contain certain key pieces of information to ensure that communication is clear and consistent. This information includes organisational goals and objectives, key messages, target audiences, and the brand’s position in the marketplace. As part of a communications plan, there should be a content calendar providing details on the type of content to be published on each channel, on what date, and to which audience.

  1. The ‘just throw it up on Facebook’ excuse.

Another commonly seen issue is when an organisation takes a piece of content that does not fit on any of their other communication channels, yet publishes it on social platforms, without asking the question as to whether it is providing value to their social media audience.

Not formal enough for the website? Throw it up on Facebook. Not quite long enough for a press release? Pop it on LinkedIn. It is seen time and time again and it is a guaranteed way to dilute a brand.

This issue further highlights the need for a communications plan. Spend some time to understand who your audience is and why you are communicating with them before pressing that post button.

  1. Set and forget mindset

A set and forget mindset is something that can damage a brand’s message in an instant.

A social media post, with the right image, message, and tone can be completely undone by posting it and then not monitoring it for performance and, most importantly, comments.

If nobody reviews previous posts for comments and overall sentiment, a few negative comments can suddenly derail the message. Add to that negative, or off-brand, Facebook shares and suddenly the best-intended post can land itself far off target.

Beyond that, in 2019 an Australian judge ruled that publishers are legally responsible for moderating comments on Facebook and can even be found responsible for defamatory comments that are allowed to stay visible.

Furthermore, if social media posts are not reviewed for performance such as shares, comments, and engagement it can make it difficult to identify that perhaps a post’s poor performance is due to a diluted or confusing brand message. 

Avoiding these common mistakes

While issues with social media messaging can be varied and wide-ranging, there are some simple ways in which a brand can tighten their messaging to ensure there is continuity across communication channels.

  1. Always have an integrated communications plan that identifies the communication objectives and provides examples of messaging to be used on different channels.
  2. Be prepared to say no to posting on social media. If the post doesn’t have a message that matches the brand, or if there isn’t a clear purpose for posting, the question needs to be asked as to whether it is needed.
  3. Monitor social media posts. While it can be time consuming, it is paramount that brands keep an eye on how their audiences are reacting to their posts before comments get out of hand.

Will Perth’s radio shuffle pay off in the ratings battle?

Will Perth’s radio shuffle pay off in the ratings battle?

By Rebecca Boteler

As Perth radio listeners have started heading back to work and tuning in to their regular stations again, chances are they’re listening to their favourite radio personality in a different timeslot. At the end of last year, both major AM stations, ABC and 6PR, announced significant reshuffles of their line-ups. For those too busy with their Christmas shopping to pay attention, here’s a recap.

In the world of the ABC, which, being a public broadcaster, officially pays little heed to ratings, but unofficially keeps a keen eye on them, the 2019 experiment to make radical changes to their format by merging parts of the breakfast and morning programs and introducing the hour-long Focus program wasn’t a success, and the sliding ratings is most likely the impetus to quietly go back to the tried and tested regime of breakfast, mornings, afternoon and drive programs.

In radioland, the breakfast program is considered key in securing audiences for the rest of the morning’s programming. So with the declining ratings of the ABC’s Nadia Mitsopoulos/Russell Woolf program, things had to change. Interestingly, while the duo’s ratings floundered for most of the year, they staged a comeback in the final ratings survey of 2020, moving into second spot behind Nova 93.7 in the breakfast slot. However, the announcement the pair would be split up had already been made. Woolf is now flying solo in the breakfast slot, which suits his laid-back style, while Mitsopoulos takes on the harder news style of the morning program, which makes sense given her background as a political journalist.

The retirement of the ABC’s Gillian O’Shaughnessy from the afternoon program created an opportunity for new talent, with former weekend breakfast host Christine Layton taking over. Just about the only presenter not to join in the game of musical chairs was Geoff Hutchison, who slid into the Drive timeslot in the previous reshuffle after many years of presenting mornings. Despite some poor results during the year, his ratings increased in the final survey of 2020 to 6.7% of the market share, still almost a point behind his 6PR counterpart Oliver Peterson.

Speaking of 6PR, the elevation of breakfast host Basil Zempilas to Lord Mayor was one of the factors behind a shuffling of the decks at the commercial station. Basil moving over to 92.9 Triple M Breakfast (a revamped 92.9 going after 96fm’s radio share) solved two problems; 1. The accusations of a conflict of interest being Lord Mayor and on talk radio, and 2. Being a Channel 7 personality on a radio station owned by rival station Channel 9.

Basil’s departure left co-host Steve Mills without a partner. The most obvious choice would’ve been to leave Millsy to go it alone in the breakfast slot, but with the return to Perth of big gun Liam Bartlett, the whole line-up got a revamp. Mornings host Gareth Parker has made way for Bartlett, moving to Breakfast (not his natural habitat), while Millsy slides into the Afternoons chair, nudging current host Simon Beaumont into weekends. Once again, the Drive slot is the only one not to be drawn into the shuffle, with Oliver Peterson continuing in his role with consistent ratings.

The FM radio world wasn’t immune to the changes, either, with the retirement of 30-year veteran Dean Clairs making way for new talent in the breakfast slot at Mix 94.5, while at 92.9 Triple M, Basil is being joined in breakfast by the West’s assistant editor Jenna Clarke and Xavier Ellis. Clarke’s new position also means she won’t continue as host of the West Live podcast, which has been taken over by former Inside Cover columnist Ben O’Shea.

With all the presenters settling in behind their microphones, the only unknowns now are -what will the listeners think, and who will be the winners and losers in the first ratings survey of the year, due out on March 11.


Don’t take the bait - the dangers of careless clicking

Don’t take the bait - the dangers of careless clicking

By Rebecca Munro

If you live in WA and consume news, there’s a good chance you’ve engaged in a conversation about why former West Coast Eagle Ben Cousins’ indiscretions continue to make headlines.

The discussions tend to go like this; “The media should leave the poor bloke alone.” “This is not newsworthy.” “Why is Ben Cousins on the front page again?” 

Sound familiar? I don’t disagree with the above statements, but what I do object to, is the suggestion it is the media driving this content.

It’s pretty simple, the more we engage with Ben Cousins-type content, the more the media will deliver it.

Who can honestly say they haven’t watched, clicked on or read a story about Ben Cousins, even though they didn’t agree it was newsworthy? 

If you said no, you are either kidding yourself or you are in the minority. The media is being driven by the data. The data shows, Ben Cousins stories rate high.

Every time you watch, read or comment on a story online, or buy a paper with Mr Cousins on the front page, data is being collected.

Every little engagement, be it negative or positive, will only encourage more coverage.

So, what power do you have if you don’t agree with what the media is focusing its resources on? Perhaps consider the best complaint is silence.

By silence, I mean try adopting a conscious consumption mindset.

The saying ‘vote with your wallet’ is when consumers choose brands that align with their values, to support good behaviour and ethics.

I’ve begun embracing this idea in my news consumption by intentionally choosing what I engage in, to hopefully influence what is produced. Unfortunately, just like with consumer brands there needs to be a serious shift in public behaviour for it to make a difference.

The same can be said for clickbait articles. There is no denying media is influenced by ‘click’ targets.

They’re a bit like KPIs in the workplace, where employees focus their efforts to ensure success. This is what can happen with journalists and clickbait, which could ultimately be detrimental to the quality of news produced.

If journalists are motivated by these targets, they could put more emphasis on the trivial stories over those with more depth, resulting in more resources going to ‘the cat up a tree story’ over an investigative piece about the corruption at the local council.

Unfortunately, the more we click, the more demand created, which is forcing reputable organisations such as the ABC to follow suit.  

There is in fact a science behind clickbait, the headlines play on our emotions like anger, fear, and excitement, and even though we know we are being manipulated it’s sometimes irresistible. Digital algorithms don’t help the situation either by catering the clickbait specifically to you.

Occasionally we all need a little clickbait escape, but going back to my original point, if you make this a habit, just like with the ‘Ben Cousins effect’, you’ll get the media you deserve.

My advice; start consciously clicking on what you want to see more of and stop clicking on the news you don’t.

My favourite ways to consume news:

  • The Australian digital version
  • The West Australian digital version
  • ABC 720 Perth: AM at 8am
  • The Guardian
  • World news: Aljazeera.com
  • Perth ABC TV at 7:00pm
  • Scroll through all local TV Perth news bulletins online via catchup services

Meet the new leader of the WA Opposition

Meet the new leader of the WA Opposition

By Amy Blom

Member for Dawesville Zak Kirkup will lead the WA Liberals to the next election in March 2021 after being elected party leader unopposed on Tuesday.

The 33-year-old is the youngest person to hold the position within the party, taking the title from Matt Birney, who was 35 when he became leader in 2001. He is the second-youngest Opposition leader in WA’s history, after Labor’s Thomas Bath, who took on the job in 1906 at the age of 31.

Mr Kirkup’s political aspirations have been clear since he was 17, when he handed then-prime minister John Howard a business card with the words ‘Zak R.F. Kirkup, Young Liberal, Future Prime Minister’ printed on it during a 2004 appearance at Midland Town Hall while Mr Kirkup was a student at Governor Stirling Senior High School.

During his maiden speech, Mr Kirkup said his interest in politics stemmed from early childhood when his mother, who was a member of Greenpeace, would sit at the kitchen table and talk about protesting nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean, while his father would quiz him about prime ministers, premiers and treasurers.

Coming from a working-class background, Mr Kirkup became the first of his family to attend university. However, as he said in his maiden speech, it wasn’t for him, so he left to pursue a career in politics, volunteering in several positions before taking a position with the late senator Judith Adams.

He began working for the WA Liberal Party in 2006 and rose through the ranks to become the youngest ever Deputy State Director before serving as an advisor to Premier Colin Barnett.

Taking a break from politics in 2013 to work at BGC, Mr Kirkup was elected to the seat of Dawesville in the 2017 election, replacing retiring MP Kim Hames. Following his election, he used his maiden speech to highlight the need for Western Australia to diversify its economy beyond the agricultural and resources sectors, and for government to accommodate emerging industries.

Mr Kirkup used the same speech to reflect on the historical treatment of Indigenous West Australians, stating that it was “worth noting that we are standing in the very place that voted in favour of a series of oppressive and draconian pieces of legislation that sought to restrict and oppress the rights of all Aboriginal people” including members of his family. In 1904, his ancestor Thomas Kirkup was forbidden by the Geraldton magistrate to marry his fiancée because he did not have the consent of the Chief Protector of Aborigines. Mr Kirkup’s grandfather Brian, an Aboriginal man born in WA’s Midwest in 1941, was unable to own property or a business for much of his life. Mr Kirkup said the recognition of his family’s history would continue to remind him that the position of a Member of Parliament was to “forever to guard against the infringement of personal rights and freedoms”.

Within a year of being elected he had become the shadow minister for corrective services and in 2019 he was assigned shadow portfolios in health, mental health and Aboriginal affairs.

Upon Mr Kirkup’s first front bench appointment, then-opposition leader Mike Nahan described him as “energetic and hard-working”. Other colleagues have described Mr Kirkup’s time as an MP as “impressive” and talk about his future leadership potential began as early as last year when Mr Nahan announced his resignation as party leader.

In his first statements to reporters after being elected Opposition leader, Mr Kirkup said the WA Liberals would support the McGowan Government’s COVID-19 health measures and that the party would be guided by advice from the Chief Health Officer. Moving beyond the pandemic, Mr Kirkup said his other focuses would be keeping West Australians “safe in their jobs” as he promised a “smarter and safer today, and brighter and better tomorrow”.

Mr Kirkup’s election as Opposition leader came after Liza Harvey announced she would step down to give the party an opportunity to “reset” its election strategy.


Community engagement and a controlled border

Community engagement and a controlled border

By Victoria Green

This is the year where the phrase ‘change is the only constant’ took on a whole new meaning. Every aspect of our lives has been impacted in some way by COVID-19, and as we embark on our ‘new normal’ here in Western Australia with the introduction of the controlled border, let’s take stock of what this means for community engagement.

Traditionally, community engagement has been very much a physical endeavour. Best practice dictated that community groups, reference groups and committees were brought together around issues to debate, guide and provide feedback.

Honestly, is there anything better than real grassroots community engagement where passionate members of the community come together, the private sector listens, and together a real difference is made in the community? More often than not, this is achieved by sitting in a circle in a community hall, using an abundance of post-it notes and drinking lots of coffee.

At the height of the pandemic, we had to innovate and use methods that avoided social interaction. Far from being a diluted version of best practice, this move to digital platforms opened up a whole world of accessibility, and dare I say it, accountability.

Yes, a Zoom or Teams reference group might not be quite as engaging as a face-to-face meeting. Still, it has enabled people from anywhere, and with commitments that would previously have prevented them from participating to take part and have a say – which at the end of the day is what it’s all about. Community members were also provided with access to council meetings and other deliberations that yes, they could have physically attended before, but how many people have the time?

Last week marked seven months with no community transmission in WA, and this weekend our hard border turned into a controlled border with health screening and COVID testing, as well as no quarantine measures in place for interstate travellers from TAS, QLD, SA, ACT and NT. Although, as quickly as the controlled border went live, an outbreak in South Australia meant that quarantine measures were reintroduced, emphasising the uncertainty that our new normal brings.

Everyone will have their view on the controlled border, but as community practitioners, the most important thing we can do is understand the mood of the public and ensure that whatever method we choose to use to engage, we make them feel comfortable so they continue to provide their invaluable feedback. Let’s remember that the ‘community’ is also not a homogenous group. Vulnerable groups such as the elderly may be particularly concerned, and digital methods may not be their preference so putting ourselves in the shoes of the community will continue to be important.

Some things to consider:

  • Revisit your COVID-Safe plans in light of the new environment;
  • Things may change rapidly, be prepared to adapt and evolve quickly;
  • Hybrid engagement may be a good option, providing in-person and digital alternatives; and
  • Maintain physical distancing where possible, encourage good hygiene (always bring hand sanitizer) and encourage participants to stay home if they’re unwell.

Whatever the next phase of this pandemic holds, we need to ensure that communities continue to have their say over decisions that affect their lives. As they say, never waste a crisis, and when it comes to community engagement, we may look back at 2020 and see it as a time when the need for innovation led to a more accessible and highly responsive new normal – which I believe can only be a good thing.


The many faces of successful stories

The many faces of successful stories

By Rebecca Boteler

So, you have a great story and you’re ready to pitch it to the media. You’ve checked all your facts, written your media release and got your spokesperson lined up. But the first question a journalist is likely to ask isn’t about any of that. What they’ll want to know is: have you got a case study?

News organisations ask for case studies (i.e. ‘real people’) for one main reason: they know that most of the time for a story to truly engage their audience, they must be able to relate to it on some level. And the fact is that people don’t relate to facts; they relate to people.

Having a ‘face’ of the story you’re trying to tell can make it far more powerful than all the beautifully crafted words or meticulously checked facts, or even articulate organisational spokespeople. A case study can tell a story in a personal way that audiences can connect to, often in very different ways. Your case study could act as an inspiration, or a warning, they could highlight the human impact of an issue, or pull at the audience’s heart strings.

Case studies can also be used to illustrate and interpret complex information in a way that audiences can understand. Take the state budget as an example. It’s a huge document filled with an overwhelming amount of numbers. If the media were to simply list all these figures in a story, audiences would switch off pretty fast. Instead, publications like The West Australian use real people in different financial situations to highlight how the numbers translate into real effects, which readers can then relate to themselves.

If your story doesn’t have a case study, you’re potentially missing out on communicating with the audience in a way they can understand; through a shared human experience. Having a ‘real person’ to talk about how the facts and figures in your media release actually affected their lives, their family, their health or their finances sends a powerful message in an authentic way. Real people are likely to be perceived by audiences as unbiased because they’re not trying to sell anything; they’re just talking about their experience. And while audiences would expect your organisation’s spokesperson to talk up your story, it carries more weight if the endorsement comes from a third party. Case studies aren’t usually media trained, they don’t repeat key messages and they may not be eloquent, but they are often the one part of a story that makes it real.

But while most organisations are happy to ask their clients to take part in a media story about a positive experience, they don’t feel comfortable asking people who have had a difficult or traumatic experience, even if they have been helped through it by the organisation. Generally, this is because the organisation is trying to protect them and to respect their privacy. And while these are very valid reasons not to ask, the point they could be missing is that some people who have been through a difficult situation actually want to share their story. Time after time in my role as a media advisor, I speak to really brave people who are willing to share their experience, and in difficult situations the reason is often the same; they want to warn others about what happened to them, so that other people don’t have to go through the same thing. Naturally, assisting people in delicate situations requires caution from your organisation, but there are many steps that can be taken to ensure the talent is comfortable and supported in talking to the media.

Of course, there are some stories where it is not appropriate to give the media access to a case study. Stories which affect disadvantaged or very vulnerable people, or children, or which could have legal implications may carry too great a risk for the person involved. In these cases, it may be possible to quote your case study anonymously, or your organisation’s spokesperson may choose to speak on their behalf.

But the next time your organisation has a story to tell, it’s at least worth considering whether you can find someone to tell it with you. It may give your story the impact news organisations are looking for.


A roadmap for building social licence

A roadmap for building social licence

By Anthony Fisk

The freight industry is critical to our economy, and our reliance on efficient logistics has never been more evident. But as our reliance on freight increases, so does the need for road, rail, ports and other infrastructure – potentially resulting in community pressure on all levels of government to impose restrictions on freight operations.

The road industry has recognised this threat and, through its peak body Austroads, commissioned Level 5 Design in collaboration with CGM to develop a best-practice approach to road freight and communities. The model developed looks at ways to work with community stakeholders to understand their concerns, and then to engage with the community around the significance and value of freight.

What we found through an analysis of case studies and extensive research of the literature was that the community’s tacit agreement for the freight industry to operate was critical and relied on an unwritten agreement between community and industry, in which communities support projects if they confer local and broader benefits, also known as a ‘social licence to operate’.

CGM used our understanding of social licence, refined through our extensive public campaign experience, and the IAP2 approach to engagement to develop a roadmap for building community acceptance and support for road, freight and infrastructure projects that could be catered to a state, regional and local audience.

The objectives of these campaigns were to raise awareness of the importance of an efficient freight industry to the broader economy, and to develop an understanding of how this improved the quality of life for individuals and communities. 

Of course, all communities potentially impacted by infrastructure projects now have convenient access to project information through the internet, resulting in heightened awareness of how these projects may affect them. Social media provides a medium for concerned stakeholders to connect, form interest groups and mobilise against projects. This also provides the ability for people directly affected by a project to mobilise support outside of their geographical area and communities. According to a PwC report, a lack of understanding of digital culture and engagement is the biggest challenge for the industry.

Consider the “Rethink the Link” movement in opposition to Roe 8. This movement used online campaigning and environmental messaging to mobilise opposition well beyond the local community. Numerous protest groups mobilised to oppose the project, and the campaign was successful at pushing opposition for the project onto the state political agenda.

At the core of our proposed approach is genuine engagement. Any proposed local infrastructure project should first involve engaging with local constituents and audiences to understand their issues, identify opportunities, and address matters that emerge.

It is not just about listening, governments should be prepared to consider adjusting the scope or details of a project in response to identified community concerns. The CGM model also outlines a process to identify and involve stakeholders in message testing and content, to ensure communication has support and buy-in from the community.

Using our model, the resultant campaign should provide a suite of options that best works with the relevant community to communicate the importance of freight and how it addresses the specific concerns of that community. 

CGM believes this best-practice model has the flexibility to be used for effective communication and community engagement campaigns for a range of infrastructure projects – not just roads.

Our complete report is available on the Austroads website.

Please note that an interactive webinar is scheduled for 10am, Thursday November 26. Please sign up by following this link Webinar: Best-Practice Approaches to Road Freight and Communities.


Your guide to the US election

Your guide to the US election

By Daniel Smith

The greatest political show on earth will reach its climax this Wednesday morning, Perth time, as the United States reels from its third wave of COVID-19 infections. Will Donald Trump pull off another come-from-behind win, or will Democrat Joe Biden make Trump the first Republican president since the 1800s to surrender the presidency after only four years of his party occupying the White House?

To help you make sense of what promises to be the most turbulent election count in recent US history, here are the vital questions to consider as the results roll in.

  1. Are the polls wrong again?

Since 2016, most serious pollsters have gone to a lot of effort to ensure the white, working-class voters they missed in 2016 state-based polls are fully represented in their samples.

These corrections delivered a high degree of polling accuracy at the 2018 midterms. Will this accuracy be reflected in the presidential election? We won’t know until the votes are counted.

  1. Will Biden’s advantage with suburban women hold?

When the Democrats swept to a House majority at the 2018 midterm elections, it was on the back of white, mainly female suburban voters who voted for Trump in 2016 but were repelled by the President’s personal style and strongly opposed his efforts to repeal ‘Obamacare’. But the question is: are they also voting for Biden? Current polling suggests they are and that many COVID-scared seniors are joining them.

  1. Will African Americans come back to the polls?

Will the death of George Floyd, the President’s divisive rhetoric and the energy of the Black Lives Matter movement generate a surge in turnout among African Americans, bringing voters who stayed home at the post-Obama 2016 election back to the polls? While polling suggests African American voters aren’t supporting Biden at the same level as they supported Clinton, early voting patterns point to a higher turnout and a likely net benefit to the Democrats.

  1. Can Trump increase white working-class turnout?

The core objective of Trump’s re-election strategy appears to be to increase the historically low turnout among his white, non-college educated, culturally conservative base, who represent the largest voting demographic in the US.  But, can he do it?  If he does, he may surprise us again. If not, he’s toast.

  1. Will record levels of early voting help or hurt Trump?

The laws of arithmetic suggest the record number of early votes cast will make it more difficult for Trump to turn things around in the final days. However, it is likely the small number of undecided voters that remain have not yet voted and might still be swayed.  Interestingly, there are a handful of states that allow early voters to vote again, if they change their mind, including the key swing states of Michigan and Wisconsin.

  1. What will be the impact of voter suppression strategies?

We know that state-based Republican lawmakers have introduced stricter photo-ID requirements that have made it difficult for less advantaged, mostly Democrat, citizens to enrol. But voter suppression can take a variety of forms. Will Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power demoralise voters? Will Trump’s calls for his supporters to keep an eye out for voter fraud intimidate voters? Will Trump’s new Supreme Court majority support Republican challenges to early voting? Be sure that restricting the number of Democrat votes being cast and counted is a key part of Trump’s strategy.

  1. What about Trump’s rallies?

Trump’s rallies are designed to motivate his supporters to turn out on election day, but don’t assume they are the full story on voter enthusiasm. The most recent polling on enthusiasm suggests voters on both sides are more fired up than they were in 2016, with Democrat voters leading on enthusiasm at similar levels as they did in 2008. And we know what happened then.

  1. Which state results will we know the soonest?

Among the swing states, Florida and North Carolina are the jurisdictions likely to report their full results on election night, with postal votes having to be received by election day and systems set up to process early votes prior to election day. We may also have a good idea about what is happening in Arizona and Georgia.

If it’s revealed on election night that Trump has lost one or more of these, it will be difficult for him from there.

  1. Which states will keep us waiting for results?

The key mid-western swing states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan will be receiving and counting ballots for up to two weeks past election day.

With postal votes expected to favour Democrats, take a wait-and-see approach to results on the night. Unless, of course, Trump ends the night behind, in which case, it is hard to see him winning.

The critical state here is Pennsylvania, with most analysts downgrading the overall chances of both candidates if they don’t bring this state home. This is why Trump has been camped in this state since the debate, trying to convince voters Biden poses a risk to the state’s petroleum industry, and why the Democrats have been focusing so heavily on “backup” states like North Carolina, Florida, Arizona and Georgia.

  1. What are other Republicans saying on the night?

Should Trump lose, the battle will be on for the future of the Republican party between those who have enjoyed Trump’s patronage and the traditional conservatives who used to control the party. If this battle breaks out during the count, it is likely that Republicans believe Trump is losing.

  1. Will Trump run again?

Will a defeated Trump declare his candidacy for 2024? Trump’s former strategist Steve Bannon thinks so. Either way, Trump is unlikely to go quietly into the night as former presidents have done before him, with continued speculation about him establishing his own news network and commercialising his loyal base of political supporters.

The verdict

While predicting elections can be a fool’s errand, I am ready to make a call.  In my view, America is thoroughly exhausted, the polling is more accurate this time and the lead Biden has enjoyed all year will be too much for Trump to overcome. If all the votes are counted, this episode of ‘the greatest show’ will end with Joe Biden becoming the 46th President of the United States.


A picture is worth a thousand pitches

A picture is worth a thousand pitches

By Mark Ravi

When Facebook first started, most posts were text-based status updates or posts on people’s wall.

With the increased availability of smartphones with cameras, it became easier for people to share photos and those that did got much more attention, sending text-only posts into the dustbin of digital history.

In 2015, when photos were well-established as the prominent post type on Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg predicted that video was going to be the future.

These days, it’s extremely rare to see any post on Facebook without either a photo or a video accompanying it. Visuals are no longer optional if you’re trying to not only catch and hold people’s attention on social media, but get them to engage with your post.

This principle also applies to a news media strategy. A picture is still worth a thousand words, and good quality visuals can instantly communicate a story in a way even a perfectly crafted media release can’t. The visuals you provide as part of a pitch to a media organisation can be the difference between your story getting picked up or left to languish in a journalist’s inbox.

The use of the word ‘provide’ is key here because gone are the days when organisations pitching their stories to media could rely on newsrooms to consistently provide a photographer or a cameraperson to get vision.

To increase your chance of getting media coverage you need to ensure you have visuals available and later on I’ll share some easy principles to improve photos as a starting point.

Organisations need to take more than a tick-box approach to visuals and should start thinking of what images could accompany a story as soon as they start putting it together rather than scrambling to arrange something at the last minute.

As an example, if it’s a new or proposed property development, consider hiring a drone operator to fly over the land and give a better sense of space.

If it’s a program or service you want to promote, then secure a case study who is happy to be the face of the story and set up a photo shoot.

Not all organisations with media needs will have the budget to hire or employ a professional photographer/videographer but the good news is that most modern smartphones can take a passable photo if five principles are considered:

  1. Lighting – when organising a photo outside, try to avoid the middle of the day when the sun will be directly overhead and cast unflattering shadows on people. If you’re shooting inside, be careful not to have the subject directly in front of a window or you’ll cast their face/s into shadow and the photo won’t be useable.
  2. Framing – although portrait videos and photos are becoming more commonplace with the use of smartphones, landscape is still the best format for newspapers and other traditional outlets.
  3. Selfies – while they are fine for a personal social media page, they should be avoided at all costs when taking photos for professional purposes.
  4. Flash – while the use of flash by professional photographers can bring an image to life, the built-in flash on a smartphone will only make a photo look worse and should also be avoided.
  5. Background – put some thought into what the background of your photo will be and try to shoot in a location that relates in some way to the context of the story you are trying to pitch.

These are just some of the steps that organisations can take to provide appropriate visuals with media releases without breaking the bank.

It might seem like a lot of work but putting in the effort to supply visuals can have multiple benefits.

Even if the journalist or news outlet doesn’t deem your visuals of high enough quality, even a low-quality photo can demonstrate the potential visuals that could accompany a story and will increase the likelihood of the in-house photographer being assigned to the story.

Even if the story is not picked up by the media, having invested in visuals means you already have something to post on your own social media channels.

Ultimately, visuals are only one part of the process of getting media coverage – if an important one.

For more on enhancing media releases, see my colleague Rebecca Munro’s eight tips on the subject from last week’s edition of CGM Voice.


Eight tips to get the most out of your media release

Eight tips to get the most out of your media release

By Rebecca Munro

Research suggests 70 per cent of reporters spend less than a minute reading each press release they receive to determine if it’s newsworthy.

When I worked on the chief of staff desk during my television news days, I was responsible for making a decision on whether or not a press release was newsworthy; I could usually tell in the first paragraph.

In today’s media climate of shrinking newsrooms and amalgamating newspapers, it is even harder to have your story told in the media. The way people consume news is changing and when it comes to writing a media release you need to adapt to that change.

Don’t get me wrong; a media release should have all the right ‘corporate’ messaging but there needs to be a balance of newsworthiness if you want it to cut through.

As a media advisor, I’ll admit there are challenges in attracting a journalist’s interest. For those who aren’t used to dealing with the media, it can be intimidating, and it gets confusing when trying to navigate who to send what to and when.

Understandably organisations want their releases to focus on strengths and to use them as a form of promotion. Unfortunately (for a journalist) sometimes a by-product of this is a heavily worded, jargon crammed advertisement.

But instead of giving up and opting to publish on your socials, there are a few easy tips to follow, to help you get the desired result from your media release.

Tip one: use clear, concise and interesting language. Journalists don’t have time to decipher convoluted copy. Corporate jargon may make sense to you but if a journalist doesn’t understand what you are trying to say in the first paragraph they will likely move on.

Tip two: find a news angle and lead with it in your headline. Think human interest, uniqueness or community impact. The press release needs to have relevance to your journalist’s audience. For instance, if you were attempting to promote your organisation’s new managing director, a community audience would be more interested in what changes they will bring to the community, rather than who they are or where they have come from.

Tip three: be available. It’s very frustrating for journalists when they receive a media release and can’t pick up the phone and ask follow-up questions soon after the release is sent out. Have a spokesperson on stand-by ready to go. This is also important if you want your message out on radio or TV.

Tip four: pay attention to each organisation’s news cycle. Sending a proactive media release to dozens of generic newsroom emails close to deadline is unlikely to be a successful strategy. Instead try targeting an individual journalist the day before you want the story to run.

Tip five: it sounds obvious, but news needs to be new. If it has already been covered, consider your unique point of difference. Have you got a perspective that reveals something new and adds to the conversation?

Tip six: include quotes. Journalists sometimes find it easier to use quotes straight from your release rather than an interview but make sure they are interesting and easy to understand.

Tip seven: have a delivery strategy. Could you offer it as an exclusive? Journalists want to be the first to break a story. Offering them a scoop could be the difference between your story being on the front page or buried in the back.

Tip eight: have you thought about accompanying visuals? We live in a digital era. Journalists want their story to go viral. This is especially important for television journalists, who can’t tell their story without pictures.

At the end of the day, mainstream media is unpredictable but a well written media release with a strong strategy behind it is far more likely to get you the coverage you desire.


Big government, money printing and you

Big government, money printing and you

By Daniel Smith

With the Morrison Government projecting Australia’s largest ever budget deficits, it is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the economic and political landscape.

Central to this vastly changed environment is the expanded role government is now playing in our lives.

While the most visible aspects to date of this “bigger government” have been in the areas of health restrictions and income support, there are likely to be two more lasting changes.

Each of these present significant opportunities for industry, particularly for businesses who maintain strong relationships with government.

First, a near political consensus has emerged that supports significant deficit and debt to stimulate the economy.

The traditional left has always supported deficit spending in times of recession, but the progressive left’s growing support for Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) takes this a step further. At its core, MMT holds that sovereign governments should spend in pursuit of full employment, only slowing down when inflationary pressures emerge.  Budget deficits are seen as irrelevant, as sovereign governments, through their central banks, can create (print) as much money as they want.

Indeed, some argue that the Reserve Bank of Australia is already financing deficits and debt in Australia, with the RBA currently purchasing Commonwealth and state treasury bonds on the secondary market with “printed” money.

As we move to the right, support for stimulatory spending from government is linked to historically low interest rates.  For decades, central banks have reduced interest rates when they have sought to stimulate the economy.  Now, with this lever fully pulled, they have no room to move. And, with the cost of borrowing to governments effectively zero (negative, in some cases), there has never been a more affordable time for governments to borrow and stimulate.

What this consensus means for industry is more infrastructure projects going to market, more funds for industry development and R&D, more programs to stimulate exports, more programs to attract tourists, and so on.

The opportunities for businesses who stay close to government, help shape policy directions and respond to the directions set by government will be immense.

The second set of opportunities lie in the recognition by governments that they cannot do it alone. They need the support of industry to drive economic recovery, and they are keen to unlock the relatively strong balance sheets (compared to the post-GFC period) of corporates to do so.

This means going above and beyond to encourage private sector investment, whether that be through the streamlining of approvals processes, the encouragement of market-led proposals from industry or, dare I say it, picking winners through financial incentives.

There has never been a more prospective time for industry to be monitoring a rapidly changing regulatory environment for opportunities to progress projects that may have stalled. And there has never been a better time for industry to approach government with well-formed ideas to drive economic activity and job creation.

The COVID-19 crisis has been tough, if not devastating, for many businesses and the people they employ. But, with the focus of Australian governments shifting to economic recovery and their pockets deepening, there will be significant opportunities for many within industry, particularly those with strong relationships and a strong understanding of government.

With the role of government in our lives and economy set to remain enlarged for some time to come, now is the time for industry to tool up on their government relations functions, get ahead of the game and make the most of the opportunities the current economic crisis presents.

Given the size of the economic recovery task in front of us, the Morrison Government, and all of our state and territory governments, need us to.


CEOs and their brands – a relationship built on passion and planning

CEOs and their brands – a relationship built on passion and planning

By Victoria Green

In an era of global economies, more than ever before, companies are intrinsically linked with the people that run them, and CEOs can be their best (or worst) brand ambassadors.

So, why should companies consider increasing the profile of their CEOs? Is the risk worth the reward? Advancing corporate responsibility initiatives, delivering industry and policy reform, progressing business priorities and bolstering the brand are all excellent reasons. In today's world, being a faceless organisation in a community can come at a cost, with reputation and loyalty becoming more difficult to establish and maintain during the ebbs and flows of business. Whereas a local face and identity can add real value to your brand – and your bottom line.

The public wants to see action on things they care about, and they believe it is the role of business to lead from the front on significant social and industry issues. It's not enough to fly under the radar. However, there are risks, and having a position on a societal issue can be polarising if the position taken isn’t authentic and overwhelmingly supported by both the business and the Board.

Consumers and employees alike want to know whether they believe in what the CEO stands for. By positively contributing to the overall brand identity, the CEO can help build a more personal relationship that will help them through the good and not so good times.

So, what should leaders, or anyone who wants to raise their profile, consider?

Passion is the most crucial ingredient when it comes to profile raising. Unless a CEO is personally invested in either the issues they are championing, or building their profile – the task is near impossible. Authenticity needs to be at the core of the proposition, and if a leader is not personally invested and just going through the motions then this can be spotted from a mile off, doing more damage than good.

Find a niche and repeat, repeat, repeat. The magic combination of relevance, timeliness and authority will help identify topics and issues that make the most sense to champion. A CEO needs to be able to speak with authority on the topic, but unless it's part of public conversation at that time, it will fall on deaf ears. Alan Joyce is an excellent example of a leader who is intrinsically linked with a household brand.

As a leader in business, he's quite rightly taken a stand on several issues. One issue that he was particularly passionate about was marriage equality. Mr Joyce, who is openly gay, threw his weight and the weight of Qantas behind the Yes campaign. Although Mr Joyce was subject to both positive and negative publicity due to his position on marriage equality, he used his profile effectively to urge other business leaders not to be silent. Passion, relevance, timeliness and authority – the perfect combination.

When building your plan, there are so many opportunities available to you. Host an industry roundtable, petition Government, campaign on social media, bring community members together, sponsor relevant initiatives, use a keynote to make a point or write an op-ed. Ideally, do all of the above. Whatever the method, it's not enough for leaders to only have a position on a topic anymore. Actions speak louder than words and beliefs, and the public want to see concrete examples of actions being taken on issues that matter to them.

Finally, building the brand through personal profile raising doesn't have to be the sole domain of a CEO or managing director. If appropriate, map out topics and opportunities for executive or non-executive directors to help progress business and social priorities. But make sure that messaging and activities are coordinated and complementary at all times.

Mr Joyce summed it up nicely during the marriage equality campaign, "I think corporate Australia, if it's to fix the reputation it has out there, needs to be vocal on social issues. That's what good businesses do. They are part of society, they help promote societal change, and help promote what's good for our people.”


Reflecting on listening

Reflecting on listening

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.


Focus groups: four tips to get them right

Focus groups: four tips to get them right

By Robbie Williamson

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.


Market-led Proposals and the second wave of economic recovery

Market-led Proposals and the second wave of economic recovery

By Daniel Smith

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.


Pobody’s nerfect, but your copy should be

Pobody’s nerfect, but your copy should be

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?


Responding to cyber attacks

Responding to cyber attacks

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:

  1. 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)
  2. Disclose what you know openly – assume everything is discoverable so don’t withhold key details
  3. Convey accurate information about the breach – don’t make claims about the “sophistication” of the attack without clear evidence
  4. Use unambiguous and clear messaging – and if you are providing technical advice, ensure it is specific and actionable
  5. 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
  6. Take ownership for the breach – this is customer data that was entrusted to you; don’t play the victim
  7. Understand and admit the problem – explain what happened and how you plan to fix the problem
  8. 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.


The three C's of crisis

The three C's of crisis

By Victoria Green

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.

  1. 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.

  1. Control

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.

  1. Commitment

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.


The secret to winning elections

The secret to winning elections

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.


Building relationships before you build

Building relationships before you build

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


Black Swan elections and their implications

Black Swan elections and their implications

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.


Dodging paywalls could cost you more than you think

Dodging paywalls could cost you more than you think

By Rebecca Munro

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.


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.