Saturday, November 23, 2013

Global Chief Forecasts Communications Trends

Don't try to control the conversation, be prepared for never ending PR campaigns and acknowledge the  consumer is king.

That's what IABC Global Chair Robin McCasland advises leaders confronted by an ever-changing communications landscape.  

During her recent leadership tour of Asia, Robin briefed government communications chiefs in Canberra on trends in international communications. 

Speaking in a government town a few of Robin's observations run counter to traditional government models.  

For example while surveys routinely show public trust in government and corporate leaders is falling, administrations still put forward only the top echelons of officialdom who it comes to advocating policy to the public. 

Robin forecasts that in future, smart organisations will empower their employees to share the communications load and deal directly with citizens, consumers or clients particularly through social media.   Workers already know the issues and are the buffer between the community and their own hierarchy.  The time is coming when clever leaders will look at  workers not only for what they do, but how they can evangelise the corporate brand. 

The Global Chair also touched on the growing importance of peer opinions in decision-making, illustrating this with a personal example. When an  online dress buying experience turned sour, Robin took to social media to alert her friends to her dissatisfaction   Someone with Robin's global profile must have significant networks, so after the offending company learned of her displeasure they were quick to fix the problem.  
Which proves that while communicators can labour long and hard to present a persuasive case, often it's the conversations we have within our own circle that really decide how we act and the results we get. 



Saturday, November 16, 2013

Did This Blog Change Government Policy?

On Thursday I blogged on why Australian military officers should not be part of Government media conferences on Asylum Seeker operations.

Yesterday the Immigration Minister Scott Morrison announced changes to these weekly briefings.  These foreshadow a much more limited role for the  ADF spokesperson, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell.

Did my blogging cause a shift in the new Government's media arrangement?  Hardly!!!

My concerns were but one voice in a growing chorus of condemnation and frustration from traditional and online media about the way the new Coalition Government is so tightly managing information on Asylum Seeker matters. 

Along with other veterans who now work in PR, I'm pleased the Government has restricted the ADF's media profile.  Having said that, the communications strategy behind the "stop the boats" policy still needs a major overhaul.

As much as the Government tries to curb the flow of information by referring to operational security, people interested in the issue will skirt around tight Ministerial policies to get information somehow. They might seek it from from the Indonesian Government and other sources, concerned citizens letting the rest of us know what's happening on  Christmas Island, Manus or Nauru, or welfare groups across the country alerting the public to the ongoing plight of refugees. At this stage all seem willing to talk through mainstream and social media.

Government media mangers, no matter how shrewd, cannot contain news of Asylum Seeker issues.  The issue is too enormous, contentious and ongoing not to find a way to make it to the surface.

This is a story that won't be stopped, so watch this space for more changes to the Abbott's Government communications management of this issue.  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

No Military In Asylum Seeker Communications

No one ever accused the Australian military of being good communicators.   
After a decade do Australians really know what our troops are doing in Afghanistan other than a "good job"?  So why involve them in asylum seeker communications?

The new Coalition Government's media policy on asylum seekers can be summed up in two words "trust me."

That is a big ask given trust in governments is low, and the issue of boat people seeking sanctuary in Australia, is among our longest running and most divisive issues. For the past 12 years. the story of the boats has been front page in our national discourse.

The new Government is intent on removing the issue from the 24/7 news cycles by restricting information to weekly media conferences held jointly with the Australian Defence Force. The results so far are tightly controlled affairs where legitimate questions meet with blunt refusals to answer.

Is this strategy sound?

The military may be in control of our borders, but having them alongside Ministers at these  briefings politicizes their role, particularly when senior commanders work from narrow scripts.  They really say very little and questions are batted away because of "operational security."  Which is a favourite recourse by any government unwilling to tell citizens what it is up to. 

Media and now parliamentary inquiries about on water operations are just not entertained.  Now there is a unique term - on water operations - whatever happened to the simple term at sea.

The presence of a senior soldier at these media conferences is meant to reassure Australians that our borders are under control.  Having uniforms at press conferences is a  long standing practice of politicians who surround themselves in emergency situations with emergency service and police officials. 

It works in times of crisis because people can see an immediate threat.  In this situation it is over-dramatising the situation and over time will tie the military to Australian's most difficult political problem. Is that where we as a community want them?

The media strategy of tightly restricting information on asylum seekers is showing cracks.  Journalists are frustrated, individuals with legitimate interests in the issue are in the dark, and the ADF, while very good at maritime operations, adds little value in communicating this highly contentious issue and winning over the Australian community.

It's time for a rethink by the new Government's media advisers. 

Disclosure: I am a former Director of Public Affairs for the Australian Army