Moderation in all things, including democracy

By John Kananghinis

If proof were needed that the completely adversarial approach to headline driven politics has triumphed then the results of the US mid-term elections provided all that was needed.

In effect the Republican Party that created a, some would say, cynical blockage of anything the Democrat President tried to do was rewarded by the electorate. In fact they ran a campaign promising to get rid of the broken system of government they created.

It helped that President Obama allowed himself to be wedged in such a comprehensive manner by lacking a cohesive vision that could help frightened electors make sense of an ever more complex world.

His single biggest policy has been the Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare) but one act does not make a political vision for the future.

Whilst the Americans bemoan the state of their politics, back here we also run the risk of descending into a visionless constantly combative environment where ideas are sidelined and slogans, combined with attacks, are the stock-in-trade of two increasingly professional political tribes.

The current Victorian State Election campaign is being framed as a narrow plebiscite on a traffic tunnel, largely as a result of an incumbent state government that has failed to create any broader vision. That has allowed their opposition to hone in on one topic whilst at the same time claiming that the government has failed to address other important concerns.

None of this ridiculous and cynical political game playing progresses the public debate or benefits for the electors. The ultimate conclusion will be an increasingly paralysed, poll driven and an often wildly swinging from one side to the other government.

We can at least be thankful that the Australian electorate is generally centrist and does not display the extreme right or left leanings of other populations. That level-headedness is often portrayed by politicians as the innate ”common sense” of the Australian people, but give it enough time and we may well find ourselves in the same political morass as the Americans.

The rise of the professional political class paired with the relentless media drive to report politics as a blood-sport is a dangerous mix. There are some excellent and very well intentioned folk in both federal and state politics but heaven knows we don’t need more intellectual black holes– not looking at you PUP, or not PUP, Senator from the Apple Isle –  (or new Iowa Senator Elect Joni Ernst – you need to look her up to believe it). Equally we don’t need yet more union officials and former party advisors. The tribal warfare has to be taken out of the equation in the interests of the greater good.

Everything in moderation is perhaps a boring ethos to adopt as a guide to democracy but it is certainly one that may offer more productive outcomes than we have experienced of late. Trouble is there is hardly queue of life-experienced, rational, knowledgeable and politically pragmatic citizens stepping up to put themselves through the wringer of getting elected.


News Creators Miss The Real News

By Robert Masters

Business and communication leaders are no strangers to the ‘gotcha’ journalism that appears to be a fundamental element of news-making (as opposed to news reporting) today.

Instead of reporting news, by seeking to create it and get climate change on the G20 agenda, the media fell into its own trap, and largely missed the main story.

The St Petersburg G20 summit of last year identified the G20’s immediate task was breaking the cycle of low growth and diminished business and consumer confidence.  There are tens of millions fewer jobs and global trade still has a way to go to return to pre-financial crisis levels.

Not small issues one could say! But they don’t make headlines in the land creative news. You need the really important issues of warships off the coast, streets in lockdown, cops on buses, people heading out of town, and you need to manufacture a conflict or embarrassment… that will satisfy today’s news creators.

Because US President Obama agreed to a pre-conference climate agreement with China, to come into effect in 15 years (2030), and he raised the issue in a public address, the news creators played their game (no doubt influenced by climate change advocates) by claiming that the whole thing had become the ‘gotcha’ moment for the Prime Minister.

Let’s not worry about the next five years, let’s look 15 years ahead and postulate on this. Forget the need for jobs, higher living standards and greater financial stability in the next few years. Don’t worry about trying to lift G20 GDP by more than 2% by 2018, which would translate to $US2 trillion in real terms in global economies, bringing 100 million more women into the work force, creating millions of jobs.

Hardly any of this was reported in the following day’s TV and radio media; let alone the item, which showed that the G20 supported strong and effective action to address climate change. (Item 19 in the final communiqué). To their credit the major newspapers did give it coverage, but continued to speculate on the policy gap between Australia and China/USA, even though Australia has not announced its final policy for the Paris COP on Climate Change in November 2015.

If serious and important news is not an agenda item for the news creators of today, business and communication leaders need to take this into account when they are dealing with issues that they believe are important.

The ‘spinning’ of news stories by the news creators must be taken into account in any media planning. There is a need to  analyse how each media outlet, including social media, is likely to treat news if the key message is not to be lost in the noise of the news creators’  ‘gotcha’ journalism.

Just Saying NO! persuades no one

By John Kananghinis

Sometimes it is necessary for those in business to convince policy makers of the merits, or otherwise, of a proposed course of action.

It may well be that the natural business reaction in a particular case is to ‘just tell them no’. No, your idea will not make things better. No, your new policy will not create jobs. No, it is not more efficient. No, it will not fix a perceived problem.

The trouble is if the policy makers have invested political capital in effecting change just saying no is what they expect from vested interests. The bare facts of the matter will not necessarily carry the day. What may be required is an appreciation of where the policy makers are coming from and a more nuanced approach that may result in a policy outcome that avoids the worst potential outcomes of a new proposal.

This is basic human nature. Attack generates defence. A consultation that accepts some need for change, which highlights the pitfalls and then goes on to suggest solutions, is far more likely to get a hearing.

When governments talk of  ‘reform’  one thing is certain, there will be changes. They have staked their political futures on it. The task for impacted businesses is, with the benefit of their deep industry knowledge, to highlight areas of unintended consequence and difficulty, and to seek a seat at the table that works on balancing the reform with relative stability.

Of course it may be that business wants the ‘reform’ in question, then it is even more important to be part of the process and not a spectator.

The skills required will be to know what to say to whom, when and how to say it. That is what true ‘lobbying’ is all about. Threats, deals and calling on old friendships don’t and shouldn’t work in a transparent democracy.  Reasoned representations that help policy makers see the real-world impacts of their actions, and suggesting how those impacts can be as positive as possible, do.

ICG and its affiliates can offer decades of experience in working with businesses seeking to communicate and consult with State and Federal Governments on policy reforms and regulatory changes. That experience allows for the development of strategies that engage rather than alienate, strategies that increase the chances of a better outcome.

Social Media – To be, or not to be? A case study.

By Angus Nicholls

The reports that were published last week regarding a social media attack by anti-Halal groups on the Fleurieu Milk and Yoghurt Company (FMYC) started me thinking. Do all companies need a social media presence? The next thought was what other actions, rather than dropping Halal certification (and, as a consequence, a $50,000 contract with Emirates), could have been pursued?

With regard to a social media presence, my opinion is that not every company needs to be there. I accept that this is probably an unpopular stance amongst most communication practitioners on the basis of being “left-behind.” However, my position is informed by the simple proposition of whether social media is tangibly contributing to your business, rather than just following the herd.

Given that forward planning is an essential element of business, the key questions that I would use to assess whether to establish and/or maintain a presence on social media are:

  • Does the business require social media to engage and interact with our customer base (understanding your customer demographics is essential to accurately answering this question)?
  • Is our presence generating and/or underpinning sales?
  • Is social media contributing to the development of our brand?
  • Do we have the resources to keep our presence up-to-date, monitored, and interactive?

In short: Is social media directly relevant to our activities?

I would further argue that unless there is a specific strategy in place for the use of social media that there are two particular categories that it does not sit comfortably with: Small businesses with a tight resource base (human and financial), and perishable products. That is not to say that businesses in these spheres should not have an online presence.

From my reading of the reporting on FMYC it looks as if they suffered the perfect storm: Some unreasonable online zealots attacking their business pursuing an unrelated agenda; the company adopting a course of action to placate their detractors (it would seem as a symptom of not having the resources available to comfortably manage the issue); losing a contract for a product that generally does not require Halal certification by most Muslims; and suffering yet more opprobrium for backing down in the face of the attack that the business had endured.

In line with our philosophical position that if you are going to commentate, it is always important to make practical and constructive contributions in parallel. So what would have we recommended to a client in this situation.

  1. Do not panic.
  2. Decide a course of action. We would have recommended holding the business’ position, and explaining why that was the right thing to do based on facts and the values of the business.
  3. Develop a standard online response (for use across all online platforms).
  4. Establish a set of talking points for telephone enquiries, importantly including a polite way to exit the conversation so as not to waste excessive time.
  5. Alerting key customers (i.e. Emirates) to the situation and explaining the course of action that had been decided upon, and seeking their support and third party endorsement.
  6. Develop and release a statement to the media outlining the issue and FMYC response, as well as the rationale justifying the response.
  7. Establishing a monitoring regime, escalation/de-escalation triggers, as well as defined escalation/de-escalation actions.

I am the first to admit that it is always much easier to have an opinion in retrospect, however the core element to any form of great communication is exceptional planning. That is what we here at ICG/RMA do.

Furthermore, I hope that other Australian businesses either do not have to endure the online thuggery that FMYC have recently had to (sadly I suspect that this is a forlorn hope given how courageous anonymous online operators seem to be); or that they are at least prepared to protect their values and operations in the face of any unreasonable attack that may be launched against them.