Sausage rolls, the Nativity and viral marketing

Mixing religion with marketing - death trap or genius?

By Isabelle Walker

In the lead up to Christmas, many businesses will be implementing their marketing strategies to draw the festive crowd. This week irreverent pastry purveyors in the UK, Greggs, launched its Advent Calendar advertising with gusto. Specifically, it tweeted a picture of the Nativity with the ‘saviour’ replaced with a ‘savoury’ sausage roll.


In place of Jesus Christ in a manger, Greggs released a picture of a large pork sausage roll in the manger, surrounded by the Three Wise Men. 

Instantly there was uproar from sections of the Christian population in England (and also dismay from the writer’s perspective of the new allowance for 280 characters in Twitter posts…). 

One of the outraged, Simon Richards, tweeted: 


While another, Paul Clark, doubled down on Simon’s request, saying: 

There have also been arguments made that though it is ‘okay’ to make fun of Christianity, this wouldn’t be acceptable with any other religion – and that this should be examined as an example of Western double standards. 

Greggs has since apologised and said in a statement: "We’re really sorry to have caused any offence, this was never our intention."

Although there was initial backlash, it now appears Greggs may have in fact nailed this one. 

Where the marketing team was likely going for a harmless joke, the new advert turned into a Twitter storm, and has now gained more attention and publicity than had a backlash not occurred. Now, the conversation is moving towards: 

  1. kudos for hilarious Christmas marketing
  2. people being offended too easily and
  3. delicious puns.

Case in point: 


Whether or not Greggs intended for there to be international, sausage roll/nativity related fall-out with its cheeky Christmas marketing remains to be seen. Indeed, a viral story such as this is very rarely planned. 

Further, the readers of the Telegraph in the UK tend to think replacing the Christian Messiah with a sausage roll is more than acceptable for advertising purposes (see opinion poll of 6.2K voters below). 

Regardless of the original intent – likely just playing on the irreverence the brand is known for – the Sausage Roll (susejd rol) Nativity Scene has skyrocketed Greggs into the spotlight (and likely sold a few pastries while it was at it). 




#metoo. But when sexual harassment is so normalised and random, what’s the point in saying something? 

By Isabelle Walker

#metoo. The hashtag that was heard around the world in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault and harassment scandal. Women shared their stories of harassment, assault, misconduct, fear and intimidation; some simply showed solidarity indicated by the concession that these things had happened to them in the past.

I shared it – it has happened to me countless times. Whether it was from receiving my first wolf-whistle from a passing vehicle as a pre-pubescent girl in an affluent Sydney suburb, to a man old enough to be my father commenting on the plunging neckline of my mandatory uniform as a bar attendant. My particular favourite was the man who looked 15 years older than me, insistent that he pay for my drinks after my consistent protestations, who then called me a bitch and other derogatory, gender-specific epithets when I sat down with a male friend and was not interested in going home with him. There are the numerous men – strangers – who have been too close for comfort in bars, on public transport, in lifts, on the street.

Of the many things that have struck me during this entire scandal, one is the sudden outrage of men. Many Facebook friends expressed solidarity with women during this time. They lamented that they had never seen this harassment, and were all surprised when their friends were – in a steady stream – sharing the #metoo hashtag. They promised to stop it in its tracks if it ever happened in front of them.

Though I have no doubt that what they were saying is true, sexual harassment is literally everywhere and it is impossible to miss. It’s that it’s so normalised, it can be mistaken for jocular, good hearted fun, banter, or “locker-room talk”. When a man who openly admits to “grabbing women by the pussy” can be elected to the most powerful political position in the world, there’s little reason to believe sexual harassment is taken seriously by the general population.

The only way this can be changed is for all of us to say something. As women, we’ve been conditioned to stay silent; to believe that our jobs, credibility or dignity will be at risk. But now that light is finally being shed on this issue, it needs to be called out. Whether it’s happening to you, whether you’re witnessing it, whether you’ve heard about it; men are just as responsible for calling out other men as the women receiving the harassment. Being outraged after the fact is no longer enough. Silence is complicity. 

How to avoid social media #massivefails

By Benjamin Haslem

Over the past 24 hours two major social media faux pas have drawn widespread public attention.

One for its insensitivity to loved ones of car accident victims; the other for creating the impression that white skin is better than black, inviting the obvious allegation of racism.

Both, again raise the question: What can organisations do to minimise social media crises?

The first blunder, was a tweet by New Zealand police using a GIF of Michael Scott from the US television series The Office to convey how officers felt when telling people that their loved one had been killed in a motor vehicle accident.


he tweet triggered an immediate reaction, with accusations the tweeter was “tone deaf” - a common pejorative used on social media to label someone as immoral, unethical, cruel, holding an opinion contrary to the virtuous, (insert your adjective of choice).

New Zealand police deleted the tweet and apologised.

"We quickly realised it was wrong and insensitive and it was immediately deleted. Thx for feedback," the force tweeted.

he second “social media fail” was skincare brand Dove’s Facebook video ad run in the US showing images of a black woman taking off her brown t-shirt and turning into a white woman in a white t-shirt.

The white woman then removes her tee and morphs into a third woman, with a darker complexion than the second.

The social media rebuke was swift, with comparisons made between the ad and those run in the US in the late 19th century of a black child pictured in a bath tub while a white child offers him a bar of soap. After using the soap, the black child looks delighted to see that his skin has turned white.

Dove immediately apologised for having “missed the mark” with the Facebook ad.


This week’s gaffe was not Dove’s first ‘offence’.

In 2011, the brand apologised for an ad for Dove VisibleCare body wash, which seemed to show a black woman as the “before” photo and a white woman as the “after” photo, with “more beautiful skin”. 

A year later, it was in the bad books again for advertising Summer Glow Lotion as for “normal to dark skin”.

It is highly likely the decision to post the Dove advertisements was made over a time by several people. 

The individual who posted the ad on Facebook shares some of the blame (though they’d probably use the Nuremberg defence) but the mistake must be owned by everyone involved in the decision-making process.

As for the NZ Police, the tweet appears more spur of the moment.

So how can companies and organisations avoid posting inappropriate social media content?

It is now well-established communication best-practice to have a comprehensive social media policy of which all staff are aware – remember, staff will often disclose they work for you on their private social media accounts and all the “these views are my own and not necessarily those of my employer” disclaimers won’t save you when it all goes south.

These guidelines give you wriggle room so you don’t have to blame an employee if an innocent human error damages your brand. 

Our Social Times’ Paul Roberts says the guidelines must make staff fully aware of what’s expected of them:

  • Personal accounts: Are staff members allowed to associate themselves with the brand when posting to their personal accounts? Do they need a disclaimer?
  • Sensitive information: What kind of information is okay for the public domain? Customer data is an obvious no-no, but things like new staff hires and office parties sit in a grey area and need to be clarified.
  • Copyright: A thorny issue and one that could get your brand into a lot of trouble. Copyright laws can be incredibly complex, so a clear policy written in plain English is crucial.
  • Tone of voice: Most brands these days encourage regular discourse with their customers. But are staff members aware of how that discourse should be written? Draw up tone of voice guidelines.
  • Firefighting: If you have a crisis management policy then make sure all relevant staff members are aware of exactly what their role is in the event of a crisis.

It’s also crucial to train staff in the correct use of social media. Managers cannot assume that even active social media users know how to use the platforms appropriately in a business context.

Jerry Kane, Associate Professor of information systems at the Carroll School of Management, Boston College says many companies use interns or recently-graduated university students to staff their social media efforts. 

“That’s a risk: because these inexperienced employees are not well versed in their new company’s organizational culture or strategy, it is often difficult for them to meet organizational objectives with social media initiatives,” Prof Kane says.

“Undergraduate students typically have a strong procedural understanding of social media tools.
“They use social media frequently (and) because of this sophisticated procedural understanding, most think they understand social media well.”

Prof Kane says companies may find it easier and more effective to train existing managers about social media than to teach new employees about the strategic goals and direction of the company.

“Likewise, the most effective organisational social media initiatives may be partnerships between younger employees demonstrating and experimenting with social media technologies while more experienced employees harness that enthusiasm and those ideas to give them strategic direction,” he says. 

“This brings together the best of both worlds, combining procedural and strategic know-how.”
One often over-looked piece of insurance is appointing social media managers who possess high degrees of empathy.

Brewster Stanislaw, founder of Inside Social and now VP of Product+Strategy at Bizible says a social media manager needs to understand a brand's audience as deeply as possible, with a special focus on how they communicate. 

“This requires a very high degree of empathy and the ability to understand the audience — including their tastes and habits — even if these are fundamentally different than their own,” Stanislaw says.

This needs to go deeper than just understanding your customers, clients and target audience; it needs to involve an acute awareness of how words and actions can affect others.

If you lack tact, tread wearily.

This won’t just limit the likelihood the person responsible for hitting the post button doesn’t cause embarrassment by posting offensive content it also increases the likelihood they will seek the counsel of others within the organisation before acting.

Another key to avoiding mishaps is thorough research. Just ask Coca-Cola.

In late 2015, the soft drink giant posted a festive map of Russia, replete with Christmas trees.

Only problem was, they left out Crimea, annexed by Moscow in March 2014. This generated a bombardment of criticism in Russia, forcing Coke to apologise. The company re-posted the map with Crimea added.

Only problem was Ukraine also claims sovereignty over Crimea and there was an immediate call for boycott of Coca-Cola products in that country. 

robably best not to post maps of Russia as part of your social media marketing efforts.

Finally, and this just seems so obvious, don’t leverage disasters or a death to promote your brand or product on social media. This happens with alarming regularity.

Such as herehere, and here.
No matter how many safeguards you put in place, nothing is certain.

For that reason, every company or organisation should have a crisis management plan for handling social media emergencies and test it via a simulation exercise.
here are several online social media simulation software products that create a real-time crisis.


Why a government relations program should form part of every organisation’s communications arsenal


By Benjamin Haslem

(The following post is adapted from a webinar delivered to members of the Public Relations Institute of Australia [PRIA], by our Co-CEO Benjamin Haslem)

Government is a major stakeholder, with the potential to impact you or your operations – both negatively or positively.

And if ever the time comes when you need the government’s assistance, it’s far more likely you will get an audience, let alone an outcome, if they know you.

For that reason, it is necessary to develop good long-term relationships with key decision makers and to establish contact early and maintain it regularly, not merely pressing government at times of need. 

The bottom line is you need to invest in building relationships. 

But let’s first define what we mean by Government.

Government can be divided into two broad groups.

he first is the political arm. The politicians – the Government, Opposition, minor parties and independents (who in Canberra currently carry a lot of weight) and politicians’ advisers, known as staffers.

The second is what we broadly refer to as the Bureaucracy – Government departments, agencies, regulators, government-owned enterprises.

Both these groups operate across all levels of government – Federal, State and to a much smaller extent, local government.

So why communicate with them?

s I said, they are a major stakeholder and like all stakeholders your relationships with them can affect business and other operational outcomes. That’s because what governments do can have a direct or indirect impact on what you do or what you can’t do.

They do this through policy; legislation; funding decisions; awarding contracts, even just through public pronouncements about what they think they should be doing.

It can be done by an Opposition, minor parties or independents agitating for action – like a banking royal commission.

What governments say or do has an impact on public opinion and behaviour. Either directly, by changing laws that force behavioural change – think NSW lock-out laws – or by shaping attitudes, albeit gradually. Just ask the Life Insurance industry. And of course, governments can also be your customers.

No Government makes a decision in isolation. Stakeholders, representing a range of interest groups in the community, always play an important role in what governments do. So should you.

Governments expect companies, industry associations, NGO’s, charities and individuals to advocate their positions. It helps them. It gives them a keener understanding of what voters want. It also provides them with ideas.They like collaboration.

However, they prefer positions to be put in a responsible and productive way. The search for such collaboration is always the starting point for effective government relations. 

But I hear you say: my company is a member of their industry association, which represents their interests in Canberra or their local State capital. This may be true. But these groups also represent the interests of all your competitors. And they can only speak broadly about issues that affect a significant proportion of their base.

As I said before – government relations activity isn’t just about grizzling to government about an issue you want fixed. It’s about relationship building and collaboration. And one way of doing that is offering the government something your competitors may not be.

You can’t rely on an industry association to have all your best interests at heart. That’s not a criticism of industry associations – it’s just reality. They should represent everyone. And if politicians are meeting industry associations, they’re not meeting you. They may know your brand and what others are saying about you but there’s no meaningful relationship.

Another response you may have is: we are small. We can’t afford to expend resources on flying to Canberra or even travelling into the CBD to meet politicians. You don’t need huge resources to establish a simple but very effective relationship with government.

If you’re an SME you can develop a relationship with your local member of parliament, even if they’re not in government. Backbenchers can be a very effective conduit to Ministers. Get to know them. Invite them to a function at your business. If you know they’re attending a function in your town or suburb go along and say hello. Send them newsletters and other marketing collateral, with a covering letter.

So if ever the need arises to ask the government for help, you will have a friend at court.

So what are the components of successful government relations?

It is necessary to develop good long-term relationships with key decision makers and to establish contact early and maintain it regularly, not merely pressing government at times of need. The bottom line is to invest in building relationships. A strong and professional relationship requires:

  • the investment of time; and
  • the development of mutual trust and respect.   

It also requires a clear strategic direction. Like all communications strategies, Government relations must be:

  • planned, 
  • have clear objectives and 
  • defined lines of responsibility.

Relationships can operate formally or informally depending on circumstances.  They should always be conducted in a straightforward, respectful, and inclusive way. Stick to their agenda; keep them informed; don’t just use them when needs be.

All proposals or asks need to be:

  • well-evidenced, 
  • politically feasible; and 
  • generally aligned with decision-makers’ goals (or, if they cannot be, understanding of those goals.)  

Align your advocacy with the expectations of policy makers and legislators. This is congruent with building good relationships and ultimate success. You need to ensure government is aware of your contribution to community, state and nation.

Political decision-making is easier if organisations have a demonstrable affiliation with the community and place high value on integrity in dealing with stakeholders.

Organisations must demonstrate some alignment with the requirements of government. An organisation also needs to be clear about its role in society and sensitive to the national interest. 

They need to be aware of the constraints on government (do they control the upper house?), understand policy design and formulation (how many ministers are involved, is there an influential backbench committee; what do the bureaucrats think?) and be familiar with the broader political environment (can the government sell this to the voters; are there members of the government’s political party who will oppose you?). 

Balance refers to not being perceived as an organisation that views everything through the prism of money, including avoiding the perception of being grasping, extortionate or self-serving. For the most part, public policy is mainly about sensible policy and only secondarily about money. 

Ethical behaviour includes transparency and sensitivity to such matters as conflict of interest, litigiousness and aggressive and unethical corporate behaviour.

So what are the components of dysfunctional government relations? What needs to be avoided?

Decision-makers and policy makers are most easily offended by industries and organisation that are perceived as:

  • aggressive; 
  • manipulative; 
  • partisan;
  • unethical; 
  • self-interested; and
  • poor communicators. 

Aggression includes tactics that are confrontational, irritating, bullying, threatening, demanding, blindsiding, blackmailing or legalistic. Failure to understand the complexities and nuances of government decision-making is also seen as a major failing.

Organisations are also unfavoured if they are seen to be:

  • opportunistic; 
  • dissembling; 
  • involved only when they want something; or 
  • manipulating popular sentiment to force the government’s hand (i.e. running off to the media). 

rganisations that seek ‘special treatment’ rather than relying on the strength of their case are also disliked. 

Other features of dysfunctional relationships include: Failing to consult; being inflexible, negative and unwilling to understand government policy and direction.

Ethical issues (being dishonest in your advocacy, covert deals) are rejected as is overt self-interest - focusing exclusively on the organisation’s own interests and failing to consider mutual or social outcomes.

Eleven-steps to good government relations

Wells Haslem Mayhew has an 11-step guide to successful engagement with government. This was built upon numerous interviews over several years with senior Government and Opposition MPs and Senators, senior political staffers and political journalists about dealing with Government. They told us what works.

This 11-step guide is also based on our own experience helping clients talk to governments over the past 25 years.

But the most important element in any government relations exercise is that if you want the government to do something you need to understand that a good case beats everything. 

You can read about the 11 steps HERE.

7 steps to save you time and money in your next PR campaign

By Kathy Lindsay

Our experience is that a properly-planned and thought-out communications strategy significantly increases the likelihood that your objectives will be met. And within an acceptable cost. Although a communications strategy takes time (around one month through refinement and sign-off), future activities determined by the strategy will be more efficiently and confidently undertaken.


A communication strategy will:

  • identify and agree key objectives
  • identify key stakeholders, their issues, interests, and levels of influence
  • develop an appropriate position to manage the significant issues
  • develop key messages and tailor them for specific audiences
  • outline an appropriate strategic pathway to engage with all stakeholders;
  • include a range of actions to achieve the objectives
  • build in a comprehensive time table of activity and roll out.

1. Determine your objectives

The success of the strategy is measured against achievements of the objectives.

2. Analyse issues

An issue is an unsettled matter impacting on - or potentially impacting on - the attainment of objectives.

It is crucial to the successful implementation of a communications strategy that issues are identified and tactics developed to manage those issues.

3. Know your stakeholders

A comprehensive stakeholder analysis will inform the strategic approach used to achieve your objectives.

The successful implementation will require the careful management of a broad range of stakeholders with competing interests and levels of influence.

Stakeholders must be identified, communicated with, listened to and understood.

In undertaking a stakeholder analysis it will be necessary to determine:

  • Who feels they have a stake in your activities?
  • What do you know about them and their agenda?
  • How are they likely to react to what you want to do?
  • Will there be any adverse reaction and if so will it have much impact? 
  • If there is a significant impact, what can you do?

4. Agree on key messages

Getting the key messages right is crucial as they convey the essence of communication. In a sense, they are what communication is all about; ensuring that what you mean is understood by others.

Messages encapsulate the key points or themes you wish to communicate to your audience about you and your organisation, your activities, policies, initiatives, needs and wants.

When they are received and understood, they represent the point at which you begin to exert influence in your communication, whether you are trying to raise awareness, shape opinion, or change behaviour.

5. Develop a strategic approach

With the establishment of clear objectives and identification of issues and stakeholder expectations, you can develop a broad strategic approach to underpin the whole strategy and its implementation.

6. List activities and a timeline for implementation

The strategic approach will guide what you do and in what order and will inform an accurate pricing of the work in terms of hours spent on implementation.
How many of those activities you actually undertake will depend on available resources (financial and personnel). Some will be crucial to achieving your objectives, others will be nice to have but not essential.

7. Refine your budget

As decisions are made about the level and extent of activity you undertake regarding the final strategy, budgets can be further refined.

Who needs an Omnicom or WPP when you belong to a global network of owner-run agencies

Wells Haslem is a member of the IPREX global communications network, through which our clients can access 1,800 staff in 112 offices worldwide.


Michael Schröder, CEO of ORCA Affairs and Global President of IPREX, was quoted recently in New Business, the influential German communications magazine for agencies and clients.

Michael was asked to comment on  networks versus owner-run companies and pointed to a third model: international agency networks consisting of owner-run agencies.
"For many agencies worldwide, belonging to a communications holding (company) such as Omnicom, WPP or Havas is not necessary since networks of owner-run agencies such as IPREX offer the same advantages. The core question is: how can agencies do justice to the growing demand of international expertise? What does my agency, what do my employees and my clients need? I would even ask: what is the essence of my agency work? Is it to increase the shareholder value of my owner, is it to constantly keep an eye on my holding or is it my clients’ success? 
"This is where international networks of owner-run agencies such as IPREX enter the picture. The mission is committing to the value of successful and efficient state-of-the-art communication on the highest level. It is not to create dependencies for the agency and its clients. 
"In a holding (company), the struggle between the different international member agencies for the shareholders’ favour is not necessarily in favour of the client. 
"For networks of owner-run agencies, the opposite is the case: the cooperation in IPREX between 69 partner agencies with 112 offices in 36 countries is not marked by shareholder values or dominance. The network reflects the DNA of the member agencies:  independence, entrepreneurship, quality, trust and flexibility. These values make us partners on a par with our clients. We are global, but are not subject to the negative management effects of globalization. 
"Networks such as IPREX are a platform constantly shaped and designed by its members."


Wells Haslem strengthens Asian expertise with two key hires


3 May 2016

Sydney public relations and government affairs company, Wells Haslem Strategic Public Affairs, has boosted its Asian credentials recruiting Kathy Lindsay, who has extensive communications experience working in Japan, Thailand and Indonesia in banking, mining and energy.

Kathy’s recruitment will be complemented by the recent hiring of University of Sydney graduate, Timothy Mantiri, who combines a passion for politics and public relations with a fluency in Bahasa Indonesia.

Kathy was previously head of internal communications, Asia-Pacific, at Lehman Brothers, Tokyo (2004-08) where she was member of corporate transition team during Nomura Holding’s acquisition of the global banking giant.

Following the takeover, Kathy was appointed vice president, group corporate communications at Nomura, managing the Tokyo headquarters’ liaison with non-Japanese news organizations in Japan and with international media in the Asia-Pacific, Europe and the US.

From 1997-2001, Kathy was Executive director at the Australian-Thai Chamber of Commerce in Bangkok, where she increased the chamber’s membership by 25 per cent to 254 corporate and individual members during the Asian economic crisis.  

Kathy’s most recent role was as business development manager, energy, utilities & mining sector at PwC Indonesia in Jakarta (2012-15).

Kathy returned to Australia late last year with her journalist husband, Peter Alford, at the completion of his tour of duty as The Australian newspaper’s Indonesia Correspondent.

Kathy has previously worked as an adviser to then Victoria Premier, Jeff Kennett and NSW Environment Minister, Chris Hartcher.

Wells Haslem Chairman, John Wells, said Kathy joining Wells Haslem was like welcoming back an old friend.

“Kathy worked with me at Wells Haslem’s predecessor, Jackson Wells, from 1995-97 and again from 2001-03,” John said.

“We had no hesitation offering Kathy a position at Wells Haslem; she brings an extraordinary level of expertise working in three key Asian markets across a range of industries.

“Kathy’s deep understanding of the cultural nuances of three major Asian nations will be invaluable to local businesses and organisation wishing to communicate with other businesses, media and governments in a rapidly growing region.

“It will also help businesses and organisations in South East Asia wishing to expand into the Australian market.”

Wells Haslem CEO, Benjamin Haslem, said Tim Mantiri’s keen interest in both politics and public relations made him an ideal fit for the company.

“Tim already has experience working as a volunteer for the Liberal Party and the LNP on the 2013 Federal Election; 2015 Queensland election and the 2015 NSW election,” Benjamin said.

“He was the Communications Director at the Sydney University Liberal Club from 2013-14.”

Tim, has an Indonesian background and has a Bachelor of Political, Economic and Social Sciences, from the University of Sydney; where he is currently completing a Master of Strategic Public Relations.

The Donald: Joke or Genuine Chance?

By Isabelle Walker

The Republican Candidacy always has its share of colourful characters, but rarely are they the consistent frontrunner.


Donald Trump continues to surprise. The Presidential Candidate is sitting at the top of the polling for the Presidential Primaries (25.3 per cent) and not showing any signs of slowing down, despite the fact that any credible political reporter wrote him off from the get-go. 

His closest adversary, Ben Carson, is a point behind. From there, the next Republican Candidate is Marco Rubio, polling at around 11 per cent. The establishment favourite, Jeb Bush, is languishing on 5.5 per cent. 

To a politico, Trump’s success is a mystery. He has not one shred of political experience. He openly declares that Mexico has given America a generation of ‘rapists and murderers’ coming across the border. He headed a public campaign that seriously questioned whether Barack Obama was born in the USA. He is also seriously sexist. The man should not be considered a genuine candidate for President. 

Even so, he continues to gain ground and popularity. Perhaps the fatigue of career politicians has taken its toll on an increasingly tired America. Maybe Trump is vocalising what a lot of Americans think. Maybe it’s just because his media coverage is so outstanding, some people can’t name another Republican candidate. 

When Trump supporters are asked about why they support him, there are various reactions. “Trump is low risk, high reward”; “Trump is a Moderate compromiser”; “Trump is a corrective to American pathologies”; “Trump embodies the rage of the white middle class”; and Trump is stringently anti-establishment. 

Over the weekend, Trump was the host of Saturday Night Live (SNL) – the stalwart of American comedy sketch shows. From all sides, the appearance was deemed a failure. The jokes, that could have easily skewered Trump, did nothing but feed his ego. He didn’t have much of a chance to laugh at himself, and apparently vetoed many of the ‘risque’ jokes. As the clip shows (below), his delivery was awkward and he was trying desperately to be funny. 

The issue with Trump is that because he’s a joke to political buffs, critics don’t take the time to seriously question his credentials. Critics don’t even want to engage with his policies, let alone analyse them. But this is to their peril, because Trump appears to be getting through to a lot of average Americans. He represents the American dream of success and riches, and he’s had his own reality show to boot. 

The only way to stop this runaway train of success is to stop thinking Trump is a joke and start to take him seriously. If an Austrian blockbuster movie star can become the Governor of California, it is not a stretch that a flamboyant billionaire can make it to the White House. But how will he combat ISIS and maintain diplomacy with myriad competing interests? Will he repeal Obamacare and restrict women’s reproductive rights? How exactly will he be the ‘greatest jobs President God ever created’? Will he actually build ‘the wall’?

The sooner Trump is taken down once and for all through effective criticism of his policy credentials and questionable beliefs, the sooner a serious conversation can be had about who will potentially be the next leader of the free world.  

Big Data – A big deal for Public Relations?


By Christine Schulte

For those working in PR, it is important to understand stakeholders and if possible, how they can be brought to maintain or change a certain point of view. Using a data-driven approach it is now possible to identify opinions, how they change over time and how they affect PR activities. Analytics can also be used to assess performances and point out weak areas in a communication strategy. 

In the mid-1960s, two US National Bureau of Standards employees warned in an article for the ACM journal of the ‘’information explosion” and how storing and handling this data would become a major challenge in the future.  

Now, 50 years later, everyone is talking about the “new” big data hype and its importance for both governments and companies worldwide. However, with so many of us jumping on the bandwagon, it is time to take a look at the actual usefulness of big data, as well as its benefits and limitations - especially when it comes to public relations. 

Covering the constantly-expanding world of big data can be overwhelming.  Ever tried to follow the big data hashtag on Twitter? The rapid speed of updates will make your head spin. But where did that trend come from? The term was arguably coined by Gartner analyst Douglas Laney who defined big data by the growing amount of information available, the high speed at which the data is generated and processed and finally by the increasing variety of sources and types of data material. 

With digital technology and new media platforms taking over, so much more information is being produced and collected, creating modern treasure boxes filled with data. Every article read online, every purchase, every transaction, every communication, every click exchange leaves a trace of information behind. With the change in the type of data becoming available to organisations, it is important to reduce or filter these datasets in order to make sense of their complexity. Imagine this to be like a digital version of IKEA self-serve warehouse, where certain data has to be picked up from a number of different shelves to analyse it and put it together to create meaningful insights. With the right tools, an appropriate understanding of statistics and computing skills, the less important noise can be blocked out and profound conclusions can be drawn from the data. The insights gained can be used to identify patterns and to make a more informed decision - for example: when, where and how to communicate. 

The more dynamic the industry setting (or settings, for that matter) a company operates in, the more important it is to monitor and measure content and data, if possible in real-time, to communicate more effectively. It can help to predict and identify trends before they hit their peak in the media world. It can help to with pitching for work, because the campaigns that are being developed and the stories that are being told will be backed by substantial data. For those working in PR, it is important to understand stakeholders and if possible, how they can be brought to maintain or change a certain point of view. Using a data-driven approach it is now possible to identify opinions, how they change over time and how they affect PR activities. Analytics can also be used to assess performances and point out weak areas in a communication strategy.

Sounds great so far. Now, where are the downsides?

Many businesses still lack the capabilities for dealing with big datasets – maybe because they do not have the resources to hire someone with the right skills, maybe because they are intimidated by trying to find the needle in this haystack of information. Another reasons could be the technical issue of where to store all the information or choosing the right program for interpreting and visualising the data. Decision-makers may become frustrated because it takes hours or days to get answers to questions, if at all. Making even a minor mistake can lead to false conclusions and a lack of accuracy in predictions and it becomes more difficult to find out where an error has been made later on when big datasets are involved. While correlations between information can be detected, it still takes the sound understanding of a human element to judge which correlations are actually meaningful. Big data can be used, for example, to show a correlative relationship between the consumption of sour cream (per half-pint, if that is of interest) and the number of motorcycle riders killed in non-collisional transport accidents in the United States. Another statistic shows an alleged correlation between the number of global, non-commercial space launches and the number of sociology doctorates being awarded. Conclusions based on data suggesting two trends seem to occur at the same time should be drawn with care.


So where does this leave us?

At the end of the day, big is a trend that is here to stay – and that is good. Companies, especially PR businesses, should seriously look into the opportunities large scale information analysis has to offer them and what can be gained by making use of statistical methods. It might just be the key to unlocking a few doors in terms of stakeholder insights. Big Data should not be ignored or overlooked in decision-making in favour of an unspecific gut feeling.

However, data analytics is not yet a patent remedy and still needs careful judgement and informed handling before using it to solve problems.

Circling the wagons…


By Robert Masters
Director - Robert Masters & Associates*

Circling the wagons is fast becoming the common idiom for governments and corporations today. 

It means that you stop communicating with people who don't think the same way as you. You want to avoid their ideas. 

In business, it is often an indication that you are losing your competitive edge and need to re-think your engagement strategies. This thinking shares the common theme of providing a defense from circumstances that can seem overwhelming when, in reality, it is not the case.

Adopting this head-in-the-sand approach sees governments and companies becoming paralysed in engaging with stakeholders and in taking a leadership role in a debate.

Communities throughout the world are now seeking leadership and forward thinking on issues and want to be engaged in the debate. However, governments, in particular, are steeped in the ‘old thinking’ of ‘testing the water’ with small sections of the community before putting leadership ideas to the broader community.

The Australian newspaper recently highlighted the issue when business, unions and community groups called on the federal government to give the nation ‘real reform’, rather than engage in a ‘race to the bottom’ of not doing anything. Former Treasurer Peter Costello also highlighted the issue in the Herald Sun.

The federal government should have a stakeholder engagement strategy in place to engage and lead the community on the reform agenda and highlight how it will be achieved.

Political strategists will ague that it is not prudent to telegraph desired outcomes too far in advance. This thinking highlights the weakness in the communication strategy and an understanding of the stakeholders.

Strong stakeholder engagement strategies allow you to adopt sound ideas, promote them and use them to strengthen the foundations of your agenda.

The frustrations of the current ‘circling the wagons’ approach defy its origins. In reality, the idiom was not about protection against attacks (by local Native Americans or outlaw gangs), but protection of livestock from wandering off. 

If your stakeholder engagement strategy allows your ideas or agenda to ‘wander off’, those protecting it need to demonstrate there is no substitute for leadership. The adoption of sound stakeholder engagement strategies not only protects proposals (i.e. the livestock), but also adds to their value and appeal.

*Robert Masters & Associates is Wells Haslem's Melbourne affiliate