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CGM Voices by author: Anthony Fisk

Blogs by Author: Anthony Fisk. [Show All]

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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.