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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.

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Bad Bite To Reputation

In industries of high public trust reputation is of critical importance. The food industry is a prime example. Food poisoning is on a very steep rise. It is estimated that it has leapt almost 80 percent in a decade. And it can impact any part of the food industry – from restaurants to food processors and manufacturers – all are vulnerable to reputational damage. With schools and businesses now coming back on stream there is heightened potential for damage.

Each year an estimated 5.4 million Australians are affected by food poisoning, including 120 deaths and more than 1.2 million visits to doctors. The estimated annual cost of food poisoning is $1.25 billion and the number of lost work days is 2.1 million.

In OzFoodNet’s most recent nine-year survey period they linked 68 food poisoning outbreaks to eggs alone with 1404 Australians ill, 322 hospitalised and two deaths.

And in the current three-months period – the Christmas/holiday season – there have been 14 food recalls, ranging from Mexican Salsa Peanuts to pancakes, hash browns, cider, cheese, biscuits, bread, beans and beetroot.

Behind each of these is a company whose reputation is now damaged. The consumer has doubts about the veracity of the product, as well as the hygienic nature and standards of the manufacturing process.

History is littered with companies which have collapsed because they have not managed the situation, nor their reputation effectively.

This is where token food recall crisis management ‘on the fly’ and ‘let’s keep our heads down’ attitudes can do irreparable damage to a company. This approach does not ‘cut it’ in today’s media and voracious social media world.

The traditional media, now often led by social media, can become a nightmare for unprepared companies. A single tweet can turn an issue into a full-blown crisis of global proportions.

Companies have no basis to think they can get away with it. Unfortunately, investment in preparedness is still neglected today, despite the facts.

The adage “fail to prepare, prepare to fail” is typical of many companies. They are paying lip service to having a crisis plan, having it tested and having it maintained for currency.

But doing ‘the right thing’ by consumers and the community, plus putting ‘reputation goodwill in the bank’ can only be achieved by an effective crisis plan and preparedness for an issue.

RMK+A has more than 30 years’ experience in preparing companies for crises and in dealing with  issues, as well as developing and testing crisis plans.

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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.

 

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Disruption The new normal

How to stay on top of politics that can impact your business

In a global political environment that is veering towards the highly unpredictable, government relations and keeping track of the political players with the potential to impact your business has never been more important, or challenging.

2015 and 2016 will be remembered as years of seismic change and upheaval to the comfortable traditional political orthodoxy of the Western world. Brexit, Trump, the rise of the right in Europe, failed plebiscites or referenda in Greece, Italy and Colombia, a belligerent populist in the Philippines, the list goes on.

Here at home, a first-term Coalition Government that was expected to romp home in a double dissolution election was lucky to survive. At a State level, we are becoming accustomed to one-term governments.

Much has been, and will continue to be, written about the root causes of this disruption to the previously somewhat predictable course of politics. However, for businesses with exposure to State or Federal Government policies and regulatory actions, the key challenge is to stay both on top of and in touch with the key players on all sides of politics and what drives them.

In such volatile times, it is insufficient to be cosy with one side or another in a dominantly two party system. Equal attention needs to be paid to both major parties, and now to the minor players who are increasingly carrying critical influence. Further, if the right levers are to be used when policy or regulatory proposals present a business threat, there needs to be an understanding of the competing agenda within the parties.

For many businesses, political observation and developing relationships within the political sphere are not core functions. Given the almost frantic modern pace of political change, even some political commentators struggle to remain fully abreast of the sometimes labyrinthine allegiances, dependencies and deal-making; that is where expert advice is becoming valuable.

In the effort to garner fickle electorate support, politicians will sometimes consider actions and reactions with unintended consequences, or scant consideration of commercial impact. Careful and considered engagement may then be required to avoid outcomes that can damage particular businesses or sectors. Simple opposition to a proposal is most often not enough. Clear and well-thought through proposals need to be put forward, cognisant of the political agenda at play and of the need to find workable solutions.

RMK+Associates have spent decades developing a detailed understanding of how our system of government works and building the networks necessary to facilitate political engagement. For businesses with a need to engage with government, or even to simply understand the political drivers and administrative processes, seeking such expert counsel could help avoid significant difficulties emanating from unforeseen political action.