Road explosion

VicRoads waits for the horse to bolt?

By John Kananghinis

The recent tragic accident involving an out-of-control fuel tanker in Sydney and resulting in two deaths appears to have spurred some alarming claims by VicRoads.

Inspections of the remainder of the truck company’s fleet have resulted in over 90 groundings. This raises the question as to why these trucks were on the road in the first place if regular inspections were carried out by VicRoads? There is now an obvious communication issue for VicRoads, as well as for  the company.

As for the trucking company, Cootes, there has been little word from them in any of the media reporting of the tragedy.

This again highlights the need for all types of organisations to have a thorough risk assessment and issues management process, as well as a supporting crisis communication plan. These processes become all the more relevant within organisations with such high levels of exposure.

Even without such extreme risks as this incident has exposed, operating without such disciplines is “brave” indeed where there is any possibility of individual or community harm.


Australian politics heats up

Who are they talking to? Communication management in Election 2013

For communication professionals there is nothing like the hotly contested Federal Election 2013 to highlight the naked workings of audience targeting, communication and message management.

The volume of media commentary on the current Federal election campaign is enough to drown out the original message of the combatants.

But through the fog of the so-called analysis the key questions remain – who are the major parties trying to reach and what are they trying to tell them?

The key audience is neither the comfortable middle class in leafy suburbs nor the inner city social progressives. Most of them have long ago made up their minds.

Most of the messages are crafted and directed at the group that used to be called ‘Howard’s Battlers’ – the working class and lower middle class families in western Sydney, the outer suburbs of Brisbane and the urban fringe of Melbourne.

With Victoria being a federally traditional red state the big game is Western Sydney and South East Queensland.

A short ride in a Sydney taxi will give you a pretty clear view of the groupthink of the West.

While Alan Jones or John Laws may be enough to make Southerners cringe, there is a reason their shows are almost exclusively listened to in Sydney’s cabs – Jones and Laws reflect what their audience is telling them.

Rupert Murdoch’s Sydney tabloid is no different.

It is no accident that the Herald Sun has not run against Labour as aggressively as the Daily Telegraph. News Ltd knows it can push the envelope past breaking point in Sydney because their research tells them that their audience is receptive.

While Victorians may not be too concerned about asylum seeker boats floating up the Yarra and find the whole ‘get-tough’ talk repugnant, the issue generally won’t change their votes.

Meanwhile, those in western Sydney, for whatever reason, see the ‘flood of illegals’ as a clear and present danger to their economic and social well being.

It may be difficult to rationalise and understand some of the more trenchantly held views in key battle-ground electorates but that makes them no less likely to determine the outcome.

It is no surprise that when it comes to policy substance the parties have worked to minimise differences. The ETS and the yet-to-raise-much-money Mining Tax, are about the only real points of variance.

Whilst there is a debate about economic management, the Coalition has always had a stronger position on this. However, they too have to make some promises to secure the base, meaning they also find themselves in a bit of a budget bind.

Now that the thin veil of positivity has been stripped away the true messages are being rammed home.

Both are incontrovertibly negative.

For the Coalition it is “This lot stuffed up the last 6 years and can’t run a chook raffle. Why would you give them another 3 years?”

For Labor it’s “Tony Abbott is going to strip away your government services and benefits and raise the GST, plus he is a sexist and a homophobe.”

We can expect further shrill and alarming presentations from both scare campaigns as we hurtle towards election 2013.

For Labor another late change of leader is a clear attempt to break with immediate past history and frame a debate around the perceived greater popularity of the resurrected Rudd over the fear of an unbridled Abbott.

Rudd is correct that the government is the underdog in this fight. The mathematics of having to win seats to stay in power makes it a very tough ask.

The accepted wisdom is that governments get thrown out of office, not elected. Even Obama’s groundswell in 2008 was largely motivated by a generational desire to throw the other lot out.

Although Tony Abbott could completely throw it away with one major gaffe, I’m prepared to call a Coalition win on September 7.

The past three years of fairly disciplined (albeit robotic) message management suggests the fatal gaffe won’t happen.

Post People’s Forum Note:

Quite apart from the “does this guy ever shut-up” moment that would not have changed one vote, each leader’s final pitch in the Brisbane head–to–head stuck entirely to script. To paraphrase, Abbott, ‘his mob have been hopeless, don’t reward them’. And Rudd, ‘he and his mob are scary don’t trust them.’ 

No reason to change the prediction.

John Kananghinis

The Price of Silence

The Price of Silence – Crisis Management in Media Engagement

The recent Fairfax vs. VW battle has brought into sharp relief the need for organisations with any public exposure to be well prepared to handle the media in a crisis situation.

The best preparation is, of course, to be fully across an emerging issue, to engage with media at an early stage thus maximising the chances of minimising negative coverage.

Once the issue becomes live in the media there is a need for a clear processes to actively manage the situation; remembering that the modern media encompasses online, where the spread of information may well be consumer-to-consumer.

Just as nature abhors a vacuum, in the words of noted British Historian and Scholar C. Northcote Parkinson:  “The vacuum created by a failure to communicate will quickly be filled with rumor, misrepresentation, drivel and poison.”

VW Australia endured two weeks of relentless negativity from Fairfax publications, much of it believed to be unfair and incorrect, but the damage had been done.

Avoiding such an outcome is entirely possible. It requires the development and implementation of sound issues management processes backed by a robust and rapid response media management plan.  Most of all it requires the foresight to put such measures in place and the discipline to use them when the situation demands.

ICG has, for over three decades dealt with the media management of crises, from the most catastrophic natural and industrial events, to international product recalls and major operational incidents.

The consultancy has developed and implemented crisis management plans for Government agencies, major multinational corporations and significant national organisations in a range of industries.

Over that time we have observed the development of major issues and how  corporate response, or lack of,  can act to transform an issue into a full- blown crisis, with strong media involvement.

The result is the crisis escalation model below.

The difference between the dotted line, representing the impact profile of a well managed media issue, and the solid line leading to ‘Peak Outrage” is largely due to the processes and disciplines employed in engagement with stakeholders and media.

The price of poor preparedness and silence is obvious. 

John Kananghinis


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