Australia’s state elections and creating political momentum

Victoria, and more immediately South Australia and Tasmania, are now in ‘how to win election’ mode. Both SA and Tas go to the polls on 15 March.

Wins for the ‘blues’ are anticipated in both States this weekend, ending more than a decade of Labor reign in each jurisdiction.

For Victoria it is not as clear-cut.  This is where industry that has been slow out of the blocks to influence political parties’ strategies still has an opportunity.

The election is officially due in November. But there is speculation that it could be as early as April if the unpredictable independent member Geoff Shaw tips the balance of power to Labor on any issue that is not to his liking with the Coalition (Liberal/National) Government that has only been in power for one term.

The recent ‘good news’ announcements by the Victorian Premier of the food export strategy to Asia, the public transport upgrades, the rescue of SPC cannery and multi-million dollar meat work expansions shows that Napthine is not waiting around. They are all telltale signs that campaigning is now underway.

But this is where it ends for the electorate at the moment. There is no message yet of the vision for the State.

It is well known that no campaign is strong without a good plan, and no plan is strong without a good message. Message is what drives the campaign plan; it sets the parameters in which the strategy is devised. It also drives momentum and with momentum, campaigns roll to victory.

Companies should be putting forward their cases now as to what they are seeking from government and, in turn, influence the message.

The $100 million Food for Asia strategy is the perfect example. The government is giving industry the opportunity to show that it supports the plan by each company publicising their export plans. In doing so, the government is, in effect, seeking endorsement for its plan. It is an old, but effective, election strategy.

Therefore, understanding government policy and how government works should be an integral part of any company’s operations.


Crisis management crisis

Crisis planning is a ‘now’ thing

The Malaysian Airlines disaster is another reminder of the need for sound crisis management planning.

The communities’ ‘need to know’ always puts to the test the effectiveness of a company’s crisis plan, its construction and its people, in managing their roles and responsibilities.

Closer to home, the Morwell coal fire is another example of the importance of crisis plans in addressing the ‘need to know’ element.

The big question with both of these is when a crisis hits, is responding quickly always the best move?

In any crisis plan, the operational and logistical aspects are generally well understood and implemented without too many issues. However, the communication aspects always encounter problems.

This is understandable because all too often the ‘need to know’ cannot be easily provided to the full extent and urgency of the media and the community. There are often just too many variables to be covered off, counter checked and reviewed before they get into the public’s hands.

Therefore, jumping too early into the public arena with information addressing the ‘need to know’ can be fraught with problems. Unfortunately, leaving it too late lets the media, and to a lesser extent the community, fill the information gap with a stream of endless speculation and commentary that further confuses the real situation.

This is not to say that companies should avoid telling the media and the public what they know as quickly as possible. All companies and governments today seek to work to this principle if they want to maintain their reputation. It is the timing and the accuracy of the information that are the variables – and the ones that can harm reputations.

In Malaysian Airlines case, the ‘need to know’ what happened to the plane is still being urgently sought. When this is determined, there is a stream of other need to know questions to be answered.

In Morwell’s case, the community’s ‘need to know’ on the health issues was the big question. Government communication showed that it had set up a respite centre, told people to stay indoors and to seek medical help with any health issues. However, this was overtaken by the ‘need to know’ if some residents should be evacuated.

These are all legitimate questions and are an important part of the ‘forward planning’ process of any crisis plan.

The ability and capability of people working on a crisis to address possible future issues in a timely and efficient manner when still addressing the actual crisis itself are extremely important. This is not only for the reputation of an organisation, but also for the public’s perception of the organisation and its people being seen as capable managers of the crisis itself.

The two latest crises provide salient lessons for all business and government. Crisis planning must never be neglected, or left for too long without processes being tested.


Corporate reputation – good news can travel fast (if you work at it)

When it comes to corporate reputation, good news can travel fast, but we all know the news media likes a bad news story. It’s even better if bad news can raise the spectre of doom and destruction, be it physical or economic.

If the news media can keep its audience worried about an issue, chances are the audience will come back to find out more.  When an audience is hungry for a story, the media makes a buck.

The wall-to-wall coverage of actual or feared job losses at Holden, Toyota, SPC Ardmona and Qantas reflects the reality that bad news is big news.

In all of the wailing, gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, with political players staking out positions, one simple fact is forgotten: economies change.

From SMH Economic Editor Ross Gittins in his March 5 comment: “Most people have no idea how much turnover there is in the jobs market. Every month tens of thousands of people leave their jobs and a similar or bigger number take up new jobs. The economy is in a continuous state of flux.”

The economy is an active and living process. To focus on the bad news story overlooks the job gains that take place as part of normal economic renewal.

So what to do if your company has good news to announce?

The risk to corporate reputation from job losses ensures that significant resources are allocated to managing such announcements. However, companies often let good news slip out without the degree of thought and planning that is attached to the not so good news.

In the current political and economic environment, governments of all levels and persuasions are looking for good news stories, particularly if jobs are attached. What may seem relatively unremarkable in corporate terms could hold significant positive news implications.

Allowing for the engagement of appropriate resources to maximise the good news value of any major initiative or expansion should be on the agenda of all corporate communicators.

With bad news, the best that can be done is to minimise the damage. With good news, the worst that can be done is to ignore it.

Working hard on your next good news announcement will ensure your name appears in the news for the right reasons and buys the public good will that can come in handy when things may not be so bright.


Providing medical research funds not good look for Swisse

Corporate sponsorships and conflict of interest

Corporate sponsorships are a fundamental marketing and PR tool but this is not to say they are easy to navigate or manage.

Vitamin supplement company Swisse recently experienced negative publicity because of a sponsorship arrangement with La Trobe University that was perceived by the public and media to be a clear case of overreach. The story was picked up by radio and ran for the better part of a week.

Had Swisse sponsored a new sports talent development program, it would have been an uncontroversial fit and a natural compliment to their celebrity endorsements.

Instead Swisse sought validation by throwing large amounts of money at research in ‘Complimentary Medicine’, an area where the fit is awkward and conflict of interest is easy to allege. It only took one voice to create negative coverage but I’m sure plenty of other heads were shaking.

Finding the right corporate sponsorship arrangement is not as easy as it appears. External advice should have alerted Swisse to the possible hooks in their plan to sponsor health research. They either had bad or no advice, or chose to ignore whatever advice was offered.

It is certain the outcome was far from what they would have wished.