legendsin-their-lunchtimes

Legends in their lunchtimes

As the basket at the foot of the AMP guillotine begins to fill, for those of us who have had the privilege (or curse) to have been active in business for more than 3 decades, the unfolding events appear all too familiar.

Hubris, and wilful blindness have never combined to end in a positive result. Never-the-less, both tend to manifest as part of a regular business cycle.

An outbreak of believing your own PR is likely to resulting in mounting casualties.

Business success depends not only on sound strategies – well executed – but, annoyingly, on a degree of luck, timing and a supportive broader social and regulatory environment. Too often management and boards can mistake a fair proportion of the latter three (delivered by regular variations in business and consumer confidence) for their own genius.

The resulting natural tendency is to lessen the focus on detail and begin rewarding one another for the job well done. A tendency naturally increased if it is other people’s money that is being used.

The mess uncovered at the AMP is almost certainly the beginning of a long stream of hubristically driven shambles that the, much delayed, Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services will bring to light.

The damage to personal and corporate reputations will, in some cases be irreversible and in most cases, take long periods to recover from.

Two things confound and disappoint the public and work to lessen an organisation’s social licence to operate. First, the evident avarice-driven disregard for rules and customer benefit. Second, the failure of boards, as houses of review and management supervision, to identify and act on such abuses.

As professional communicators, we are regularly asked to convey good news and minimise poor outcomes when engaging with ‘stakeholders’ (read anyone who can impact on a share price that drives bonuses or who can tip folks out of a job). Both on principle and in the longer-term interests of our clients, we never knowingly misrepresent the facts. We may focus on one element more than another, but to lie is to ensure you will, eventually, get caught-out. An outcome that damages all involved.

Board members of any public company, industry body, not-for-profit or other such organisations have a responsibility to ask management the difficult questions, to challenge assumptions and, where necessary, to check the detail. Even if all is presented, on the surface, as good news.

In getting to the facts, too often we have witnessed situations where process is relied upon rather than proper answers. Instances where to us, as so-called spin masters, it is obvious that either not enough substance is present and/or too much pre-spin has already been applied.

Thankfully, few such cases have involved our existing clients. But we have worked on quite a few crisis management cases where the damage has already occurred.

Business cycles have, even in our relatively short experience, displayed a predictable regularity. A longer view of business history does not support an alternate conclusion. Executive management and boards should, in good times and bad, take a close look at how their businesses operate, how they generate the results, consider the prevailing conditions and ensure that they are well insulated from possible ethical, regulatory and operational failures.

If that is happening, the task for the communicators is to tell a good story, well. If not – welcome to the town square, with the crowd baying for blood. The most that can be done at that point (at great expense) is make the best of bad situation and prepare the ground for the successors.

RMKA_The-Donald-and-Fake-News_web

The Donald and Fake News

Alternative facts and post-truth appear to be the new characteristics of the world we inhabit. News that doesn’t support an individual or group’s stance on a certain issue is now ‘Fake News’ not to be confused with genuine Fake News.

Who is the lightning rod to these concepts and to then inextricably tie them together?

To state the obvious, Donald J. Trump.

Over the last 12-months no single person would have had more column inches devoted to themselves than the newly minted President of the United States. Love him or loathe him, there is a lot we can learn from him in today’s messaging environment.

The Positive

Understanding his target audience:

Think Menzies’ “Forgotten People” and Howard’s “Battlers”, Trump identified the deep dissatisfaction with the status quo and tapped it for his own gain. The catch-all of: ‘Make America Great Again’ has provided him with an umbrella that enables him to say pretty much whatever else he wants.

Language:

Forget the content, Trump uses simple language as opposed to flowery rhetoric. What he lacks in oratorical skill, he makes up for in audience comprehension. The key to communication.

By speaking in ‘absolutes’ he has differentiated himself from the qualified language that has come to typify the Western world’s political class.

In today’s ‘noisy’ environment it pays to own a tone that is distinguishable from the ‘group sound’ of your competitors/adversaries.

There is a school of thought that speaking in absolutes is dangerous ground in political systems; in this instance however, I think that the new President is hedging, given that if he can demonstrate he has used his best endeavours to deliver on his agenda and cannot, it continues to be the system that he has railed against that is the hurdle to delivering the ‘will of the people’ rather than a Trump failure.

The Negative

Facts don’t matter (unless they suit his purpose):

It’s dangerous territory to selectively use fact, or more to the point to besmirch any alternative opinion as ‘Fake News’ if it doesn’t accord with your agenda.

At some point, where reality is relevant (like life for example), facts are bound to catch up with you.

Additionally, on the one hand Trump decries ‘Fake News’ yet has not condemned its used when it has been used to his advantage. In the process, his selective denouncements have legitimised the use of falsehoods to pursue an objective.

Delivery:

The President’s demeanour leaves a great deal to be desired. His default disposition of anger, supplemented by various combinations of appearing to be – disinterested, ill-prepared, making himself the subject matter, and his willingness to articulate semi-formed thoughts as they come to mind leave plenty of room for improvement.

It is fortunate for him that the popular mood and environmental factors were so weighted in his favour that these short-comings were easily overlooked in favour of the ‘bigger picture’ desire for delivering anything but the status quo.

The point of all of this is that it is quite possible to deliver positions with conviction, develop and own a unique delivery style that differentiates you from the crowd, and to communicate with an audience you understand, in its language, whilst (believe it or not) sticking to the facts.

 

RMK+A has long experience in helping its clients, in all spheres of endeavour, craft and effectively deliver communication to key stakeholders, clients and influencers.

harnessracing_web

The whip is cracking at the ear of many – will they hear it

Sometimes dramatic decisions are a harbinger to test the wisdom and will of others.

When Harness Racing Australia momentously decided recently to ban the whip, it sent a cracking message not only to other performance animal codes but also to all animal industries.

Increasingly we are a society that cares deeply about the treatment of animals. This trend of increasing expectations for the humane treatment of animals can be ignored only at the deepest peril by anyone working with animals in any capacity.

In NSW, Greyhounds NSW came as close as it is possible to come to death after a damning Commission of Inquiry report into the Four Corners revelations about live baiting– using pigs, possums, and rabbits.

That it was saved by political reprieve at 1 minute to midnight should provide no comfort in the animal industry – Greyhounds NSW came close enough to death to indicate that it can happen.

So, what has the harness racing industry done?

After a 200-year history of using whips in racing, RMK+Associates was proud to help Harness Racing Australia communicate to the world its initiative to ban the whip.

What the industry has done is to signal that the fluoro writing on the wall, that it can co-opt the RSPCA to publicly laud its actions, and that the “impossible” is possible.

Take thoroughbred racing, for instance. Clearly, it is next in the sights of organisations like the RSPCA. The industry has long made its case for the whip and made modifications to reduce the pain it inflicts.

Here is the real choice.

Either the industry acts itself, on its own terms, or the whip will be taken from it by the force of public opinion. In the latter instance, it loses the whip and significant reputational skin; in the former, the outcome is identical but – like harness racing – it gains reputation and builds the sustainability of its industry.

The message is clear, too, for Greyhounds. They must solve the “impossible” problems regarding the overbreeding, the euthanasia of pups that don’t make the grade, and of post-raced dogs.

Beyond recreational performance animals is the animal food production industry.

Live export tops the list, and there is simply no latitude for continued error. Despite the systems in place, cruelty to Australian animals overseas continues. The industry must find the fortitude to simply stop exporting where it cannot guarantee animals are processed to Australian standards.

Again, either the industry acts unilaterally, or repeated horrors will see an imposed solution.

The dairy, beef, sheep, and chicken industries have their own “skeletons” in the closet. Dairy needs to change its bobby calf rules and shorten travel times and feeding times to abattoirs.

They must stop calving induction, where premature calves are artificially birthed then unceremoniously dispatched, often with a hammer – all this for the convenient alignment of milking cycles.

Beef cattle, especially up north, may be out of sight but not entirely out of mind. Painful practices like summary castration with blades, cutting off horns at an early age, or spaying, all occur without anaesthetic.

Chicken processing and death can be less than efficient, and millions of chicks still conveyor-belted alive and tweeting into a meat masher. Solutions to sheep inflictions, like mulesing or cutting skin off the backsides to stop them become fly blown, is still done without anaesthetic.

The tide of public opinion is rising around all these industries daily. The picture of futility is farmers preaching that the city doesn’t understand what they do.

The truth is some of them fail dismally to understand their own societies.

It they want to take a leaf from the harness racing book, the process is not that hard.

With guidance and expert management of engagement processes, they can be helped to engage meaningfully with stakeholders, including those that some in their industries consider “enemies”.

They can achieve outcomes that are mutually beneficial and acceptable, and that secure the sustainability of their industries – but they do need to make genuine and difficult changes.

The writing remains on the wall, and it’s getting bigger and more fluorescent. What is left is for the industries to read it, and act.