Live events, who needs them? We live in a digital world now. A world of online co-creation and social media interaction; an extravagantly connected world awash with information and exciting content. Who wants the cost and hassle of staging something that brings a brand face-to-face with the public when exponentially more eyeballs are to be found in cyberspace?
Innovative brands, that’s who. It’s not just premature to write an obituary for live events – it’s foolish.
The digital revolution has created more opportunities for smartly-conceived events than ever. From live streaming, to social media ‘likes’; from blogging appeal to generating fresh content to be snapped up by a still ravenous and significant traditional media; a great event can be, well…a great event.
Consider the amazing impact of the record-breaking Red Bull Stratos, Felix Baumgartner’s intrepid skydive from the edge of space in October 2012. The live webcast attracted an astonishing 52 million viewers and as social media went crazy over the bravery and technical accomplishments of the jump, the online buzz generated helped Red Bull boost sales worldwide by 13%.
In a different vein, June 2013 saw Procter & Gamble organise the largest consumer event in its 175-year history. The Everyday Effect, held at multiple locations across New York City, was designed to demonstrate how the FMCG giant’s product portfolio improved daily life for people (http://www.pgeveryday.com/article/behind-the-scenes-of-the-everydayeffect) .
Of course, it delivered a powerful branded experience and sampling opportunity for consumers who encountered P&G’s marketing might on the street. But from head to toe, this was an event designed to be leveraged online, accompanied by webcasting and a massive social media drive.
Clearly, not every client can call upon consumer marketing budgets on the scale of Red Bull or P&G. But event marketing does not need to be epic to be highly effective. Finding and engaging a wider audience can be achieved through clever planning and skilful execution.
Long gone are the days when journalists had enough time on their hands to turn up at an event in the hope that there just might be a story to stumble across when they got there. Time-constrained hacks need more than a ‘maybe’ to be persuaded out and about.
For media to attend there needs to be a very strong hook; a world-first, participation of an A-list celebrity or radical product innovation. Editors are spread thinner and are harder to impress these days, and wherever possible they demand exclusive content. All of which creates obvious challenges.
Yet these obstacles are outweighed by the upside. The digital space has a voracious appetite for content, and good content generates excitement and traction. Put an event together in the right way and it acts as the focal point for a compelling story. Prime influential bloggers, serve up event-related content that is easily shareable via social media, give people something fresh to get excited about . . . and the buzz gathers momentum.
Plenty of examples spring to mind. In London, Selfridges teamed up with ‘food architects’ Bompas & Parr to open a temporary crazy golf course on the famous department store’s roof, featuring impressive icing sugar-clad models of landmark buildings (http://style.selfridges.com/whats-in/bompas-parr%E2%80%99s-rooftop-crazy-golf-selfridges-london) . The Big Rooftop Tea and Golf Party gained plenty of coverage from traditional media and bloggers alike. Incidentally, Selfridges has a long history of devising events that succeed in getting people’s tongues wagging. Over 100 years ago, in 1909, the department store pulled in the crowds through the coup of displaying the monoplane flown by Louis Blériot in the first flight across the English Channel. Imagine the social media reaction to something comparable today!
Back in the present day and also in London, the innovative eBay Social Shopping experience in Covent Garden (http://blog.ebay.com/ebays-social-shopping-experience-pops-up-in-london/) gave Christmas shoppers the chance to buy the most in-demand gifts at any given moment, all powered by algorithms which read conversation across social channels. Consumers used the eBay app to buy items on ever-changing video walls.
In San Francisco, jeans brand Levi’s supported a workshop in which local artists and visitors experimented with retro printmaking techniques, using skills in line with Levi’s traditional brand attributes. The San Francisco print shop attracted 31,000 visitors in a month and far greater interest online – with Levi’s adapting the community-based collaboration model into different formats and rolling it out as temporary events in other cities, such as Levi’s Photo Workshop in the heart of Manhattan, fanning word of mouth excitement as they did so.
Far from sounding the death knell for PR events, the digital media revolution has brought new opportunities. Once you give consumer brands the stage and story they deserve, the audience will follow.
Richard Brett, Group Managing Director, Pulse Communications
In high school, I had a Latin teacher who constantly reminded his pupils: “repetition is the mother of learning”. Even though I recognised that his thinking was antiquated I didn’t challenge his perspective and continued to translate passages from the ancient language to the present.
The truth in his logic lies only in the fact that the texts we were translating didn’t ever change. (In Virgil’s Aeneid, ‘audentis fortuna iuvat’ translates to ‘fortune favours the bold’ yesterday, today, tomorrow, and always.)
Business isn’t nearly as static as ancient texts, and a far more useful lesson – both to the Romans and to modern brands – is that survival requires innovation.
For the longest time, the marketing and media universe was comprised of two unchallenged beasts – the creative agency that inspired meaningful campaigns and powerful notions to align a brand with a potential customer, and the media agency that understood how best to place those ideas in front of customers at the most appropriate times.
For years these two beasts worked side by side as their symbiotic relationship allowed them to grow larger, stronger and more powerful in shaping how we absorbed and consumed nearly all advertising material.
But along the way something very interesting happened. What happened fundamentally changed this dynamic and introduced a whole new level of competition, creativity, and ‘connection’ in how we interact and engage with media and marketing material. The democratisation of information, fuelled by the explosive adoption of the internet and its many different applications, has unlocked our innate ability to be expressive through creative and social channels. Our biology dictates that we’re social creates by nature – the internet has simply allowed us to rapidly catalyse our creativity and take our social nature to a much higher level. This shift has altered the relationship between the creative and advertising agency and completely disrupted how brands engage with their customers.
This change is powered by the same technological advancements that expanded the channels through which we communicate, pushing us from print to radio; from film to television; from static pages on the internet to dynamic email, and now, to SoLoMo (that perfect nexus of social, local and mobile which represents the marketer’s Holy Grail of being able to use real-time data to convert a potential customer into a real one at any given moment along their unique customer journey). This change is driven by our ability to reinvent better and faster ways of doing nearly anything.
I find two things about this evolution absolutely fascinating. First, just a decade ago most brands, businesses and governments didn’t even have a social media presence. Facebook wasn’t around and I’m sure many of today’s most popular social platforms – Skype, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Vine, Line, Jelly – weren’t even technologically feasible.
Now, according to research giant Forrester, many consumers don’t trust a brand that doesn’t participate actively on social channels.
Second, in a very short time we have seen a huge shift in actual consumer behaviour in how we interact with brands and their media and marketing messaging. Marketers have shifted their time, effort and resources from outputs (circulation, reach, opportunity-to-see, cost-per-thousand etc.) and outcomes (changes in awareness, perception, action, etc.) to actually working to influence engagement and drive behaviour (traffic, purchase, advocacy and loyalty).
This shift has been rapidly facilitated by specialist digital and social media agencies that are able to provide brands with the best of both worlds. On one hand, we’re able to leverage the latest technologies to better aggregate data (thereby ensuring that creative is supported by the latest real-time beliefs of actual end-user customers), and on the other, execute far more targeted and precise advertising (faster, cheaper, and more rigorously than traditional advertising firms).
Of all the campaigns I’ve monitored across the past several months, there are two that brilliantly demonstrate the power of this model. The first is the Grand Prix Award winning campaign launched by Oreo last year, which captures what is a growing movement across marketing and communications divisions to a real-time-performance-based publishing model, where all branded content, across channels, is topically related to what is most important to your audience. (You can find a synopsis of that campaign here.) While that is a model requiring significant coordination and commitment between the agencies and the brand, it is something we are certain to see more of across 2014.
The second is a current campaign being run by chip-brand Doritos. In what is a first for the brand – and very clearly epitomises how social media is front and centre in a changing media landscape – Doritos is actually crowdsourcing the advertisement it intends to air during the mother of all professional sporting events, the SuperBowl.
It has managed to completely crowdsource the entire campaign, across several social platforms, by incentivising fans to create branded content with a chance at winning $1m (a lot less than they would have paid its creative agency). At the time of writing, an Aussie ad is leading the way with over 2.3 million views online. You can take a peek at the “Finger Cleaner” ad here.
I’m looking forward to seeing which ad wins, and to watching it air during the SuperBowl knowing that most of the marketing people watching along will be thinking to themselves ‘why couldn’t we have thought of that first?’.
So, while fortune truly follows the bold, in today’s world, innovation is the mother of learning.
Yianni Konstantopoulos is the group managing director of Social@Ogilvy.
Let’s talk about how companies can move their corporate brand further, using the untapped power of their own people.
As we know, brands are built on conversation – one customer experience at a time. They can also be destroyed that way. A company’s own employees can help power and protect brands, amplifying the investment made in marketing and advertising, for a fraction of the cost.
After all, most employees want their organisation to succeed and are willing to help. All we need to do is ask, and involve them.
All employees are potential ambassadors, not only those in customer-facing roles. When the customer value proposition and the employee value proposition meet together in authentic, positive and empowering synergy, the sky’s the limit. Employees will willingly share their experience of the brand they work for.
However those employees that come in direct contact with a customer have an additional point of leverage – they represent the time in a brand’s lifecycle when what the brand promises meets or exceeds what the customer expects.
Think about the brands we manage – can we say with confidence that we know how this interaction pans out?
To be clear, we are not talking about customer service – everyone provides that to a greater or lesser degree. What is important is how the brand promise is delivered, how it is experienced and perceived by the customer. Winning brands don’t just deliver superb customer service – that’s a given – they also deliver a superb brand experience.
After all, the customer builds an expectation based on what is promised via marketing and advertising. The moment of truth is when the customer experiences the promise.
For example, when Ford promises its brand will ‘go further’, the customer probably wants to see a salesperson who is innovative and forward thinking, who anticipates their needs and pre-empts their wants. They offer above-market after sales service. They go further.
Talking of cars, let’s ‘Think Holden’. While Mike Devereux tells the Productivity Commission no decision has been made on its future, employees of the car manufacturer can do nothing but think about what their futures hold.
Employees will only deliver if they feel connected to the journey. So, how do you create the intellectual and emotional connection, so your people walk and talk your brand?
- UNPACK YOUR BRAND BOX TOGETHER
Your people will tell you what tone of voice and behaviours fit the brand; not the other way around
- NO SURPRISES
If you have a new positioning or activation campaign, share it first internally so your people can complete the experience for a customer
- IN THE SOCIAL ERA, THE BEST BRANDS ARE SET FREE
Don’t be afraid, let your most connected staff share their branded content with their personal social networks; they’ll be your greatest advocates and have their radars switched on to spot troubles early, helping you manage crises or issues. All brands will have them. The best brands manage them.
So it’s time we recognised and acted on what the research is telling us: building brands begins with employees.
Lorie Helliwell – MD Ogilvy Impact
There’s a PR guru in the US called Dr Glen M Broom who recently said that over the past two decades the role of the PR professional had radically changed from being largely focused on communications to one of chief relationship officer.
I’m not sure about the title – chief relationship officer sounds a bit weird – but his three stage evolution makes sense.
Bloom says the old model – which was based on traditional journalism – used to be: ‘How do we say it?’ The model then moved to a more strategic role where the question was ‘What do we say?’ and has now evolved to an even more strategic position alongside CEOs and senior management and answering the question: ‘What do we do?’
A case in point. Just last week a worried organisation rang because the company’s actions over a certain incident resulted in the brand’s behaviour – and through that its values – being called into question on commercial breakfast radio.
The organisation was suggesting a convoluted tale that sought to diminish responsibility. We said no, we will tell the truth. So we explained to the radio station that it was an oversight, that measures will be put in place to ensure it doesn’t happen again and that we unreservedly apologised. That message was broadcast – end of story and the death of a mini crisis.
And the point of the story? Years ago we were merely seen as the conduit carrying the client’s wishes; today we initiate, develop and carry out both the strategy and the message.
Like most of the changes which have hit all areas of the communications industry, the prime reason behind the status update can be sheeted home to social media, via the internet.
Business has largely been spooked by social media, which has crept uninvited into just about every facet of a company’s operations. Marketing, recruitment, crisis management, customer complaints and interactions, sales – you name it and social media has stuck its inquisitive nose in, and all without knocking before entering.
For a while managers preferred to look away, hoping the invader might beat a graceful retreat. Instead social media became all pervasive and suddenly the old top down system of autocratic rule was no longer effective because – horror of horrors – everyone not only had a say, but they were actually saying it. And, worst of all, people were listening.
However, when it’s all boiled down, social media is all about communication and that’s exactly the sort expertise that PR has always had.
Consequently the gradual shift from how do we say it to what do we do has come with an appreciation that PR has something worthwhile to say about the big issues that organisations face. We’ve been invited to sit at the top table to counsel and advise, with many of those issues involving reputation management.
Once again, the ability of social media to harm or enhance corporate reputation has largely been the trigger.
Countless studies have shown that intangible assets like reputation are among the cornerstones to success. Reputation, however, has to be real and sound real because social media will call you out if you are faking it, or even if you sound like you are faking it.
Corporate-speak is out so any executive who talks about “going forward” while “stepping up to the plate” will be swiftly designated as a phoney, along with his organisation.
We need to believe in both the message and the messenger. Remember back in September 2007 when Kevin Rudd was Leader of the Opposition and at a state lunch in Australia he addressed China’s President Hu Jintao in Mandarin? We all thought that was pretty good because it confirmed our opinion of Rudd as a smart guy who could match it with the best on the world stage.
Remember also the time almost two years later when then Prime Minister Rudd said “fair shake of the sauce bottle” three times during the one day? We marked him down severely for that because it sounded nothing like the Kevin Rudd that we thought we knew.
Companies also need to be aware of what the public really think of them and to do that its handy to have someone from outside telling the truth. On too many occasions organisations look at their sales figures, or their profit margins and fool themselves that the public must love them (yes, big banks, we’re talking to you).
That’s another of PR’s roles these days, acting as a trusted advisor who is able to tell the unvarnished truth to clients. If you don’t know your actual reputation then you can’t properly manage your reputation because everything you do has to take into account your current standing in the eyes of others.
Companies today need to be honest, be authentic and understand exactly how their reputation stands. It might sound easy, but if you get any part of it wrong then your customers and other stakeholders are only too happy to tell you.
As usual, Warren Buffett has the right advice. Talking about handling a crisis, the Sage of Omaha once said: “One’s objective should be to get it right, get it quick, get it out, and get it over. You see, your problem won’t improve with age.”
It’s one of the first rules of crisis management and it’s the one that Tony Abbott should have heeded when the stories about politicians’ dodgy expenses first surfaced. Instead he did nothing and the extended political honeymoon that should have accompanied a thumping electoral victory over an unpopular government disappeared with unprecedented speed. So much so that now, a bare six weeks post-election, the brand new Abbott government has an old and second hand feel to it and the expenses story continues to get traction.
Crisis management is a much studied art and the new world of social media has changed the rules completely. People now have a voice, and they have no problem in exercising it. Just as on-line comments over the past three years were filled with an unending diatribe against Julia Gillard’s ‘carbon tax’ so will the next three years be preoccupied to the point of nausea with questions about probity and dodgy expenses. Every time Abbott takes part in one of the many athletic events for which he is famous, questions will be asked whether the taxpayer is paying for his recreation.
Social media has also added to the professional media’s armoury. Apart from the obvious benefits of news tips, on-the-spot reporting and feedback, crowd-sourcing was responsible for one of the biggest story in the never-ending expenses saga – WA MP Don Randall’s claim which related to a trip to Cairns for he and his wife, ostensibly for electoral business but co-incidentally at the same time the Randalls purchased an investment property in the city. Randall eventually repaid the disputed amount. Through readers with time on their hands, Fairfax was able to enlist a number people to trawl through the publically available data on political expenses claims, resulting in the bones of the story.
Politicians in power also need to ask themselves the question: ‘Did they vote the other mob out or did they vote us in?’ The last Federal election was certainly an anti-Labor vote, rather than a pro-Coalition vote; the same is true of the last NSW State election which delivered a huge electoral majority to Barry O’Farrell. That lack of positivity gives governments an even shorter honeymoon period because the problems that the other guy had are now your problems and without the cache of charisma things quickly turn sour – as O’Farrell found with the 27 per cent swing against his government in Saturday’s Miranda by-election.
Governments and companies regularly face crises, and the majority of those crises start from within. The public understands that problems arise and they normally judge on the effectiveness of the response, not on the crisis itself.
Trust is something that good crisis management stresses. Another study – by The Oxford Executive Research Briefings, Templeton College, Oxford – found that the share price of companies judged to have mishandled a crisis had fallen by an average of 15 per cent a year after the crisis, while the share price of those judged to have handled a crisis well had risen 7 per cent on average at the same time.
A Monash University study, Mapping Social Cohesion, released this week shows that trust in the Federal Government has fallen dramatically in recent years – from 48 per cent in 2009 saying that the government could be trusted ‘almost always’ or ‘most of the time’ to just 27 per cent this year.
With that study in mind, Buffett has another quote which politicians should remember: ‘It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.’
There’s an awful lot of research about the lack of women on boards and in senior executive positions throughout the world. The situation is undeniably dire, but the problem for women is what to do to change things.
Quotas are worth thinking about, and the Ontario government in Canada has announced plans designed to force companies to give women more boardroom seats. But until the situation changes what we have inadvertently stumbled upon in my industry, PR, could be described as in-field research that in the long run just might end up making a difference.
PR is a different sort of industry, being female dominated. I run Ogilvy PR, Australia’s largest PR agency, and the vast majority of my competitor agencies are also run by women. And I have to say that we are the most competitive group imaginable – regularly pitching against each other as we battle for work; fighting to attract the best talent; relishing our successes and cursing our failures.
So far, so male; but here’s the difference.
We are also in regular contact, sharing information, supporting each other through the various crises that arise in business and occasionally personal lives, working on and driving initiatives for the industry where we all benefit, consulting with each other and even putting work each other’s way when there might be a conflict with a prospective client.
What this means is that for the first time in my career, women in senior positions understand what it is that we share; and one thing we certainly do share is our gender. Being female means we think differently to men, work differently to men and are motivated by very different things to men.
PR, because of its gender imbalance at the top, could give us an opportunity to operate under the same sort of one-sex rules that apply to the wider business community. We could use our female dominance of the entire industry, which is decidedly different to other business sectors, to create a ‘girl’s club’.
We could, but we choose not to. There may be this sort of collaboration and support in other industries, but it is teaching us in PR the sort of information that most men take for granted.
Regardless of individual views on gender equality, the statistics prove that most male business leaders have enjoyed such a self-perpetuating power structure.
What we women of PR are realising is that once we recognise that we are motivated by the same things, we also can be a very powerful force in changing the business world to a business world that embraces everyone. In other words: everyone’s business world.
So we are starting to understand what we need to do: use our new-found knowledge of our similar aims, ambitions and attitudes to not only mentor each other and those coming behind us, but to do more: to actively sponsor women to senior positions by telling everyone we run into about the abilities of those women we know.
And we will do that, not because we want to take over, nor through emotion or through engendering some sort of ‘do the right thing’ feeling, but because it makes sound business sense to select from the entire gene pool.
There is no doubt it is needed. At the latest count women hold just 9.7% of key executive management positions in ASX 200 companies and the fact that 60% of ASX 200 companies do not have a single female in a key executive management position is disappointing in the extreme.
And all this is despite years of research which consistently shows the shareholder benefit of having a gender diversified top echelon.
Research, for example, like last year’s finding by the Credit Suisse Research Institute that showed that after a six-year worldwide tracking program of shares of companies with a market capitalisation of more than $10 billion, the companies with female board members had outperformed comparable businesses with all-male boards by 26 per cent.
Or the McKinsey report from two years ago where 89 listed companies in Europe with a very high proportion of women in senior management posts were researched, with financial performance compared with the average for firms in the same industry. The results? A higher return on equity, larger operating profits and a better share price.
Having women in the top ranks of company leadership is good business. Nothing more and nothing less.
Remember climate change? While the issue might have dropped to the farthest reaches of the political radar, the fact remains that climate change remains and at some stage Australia will have to deal with it.
So this week we rekindled the debate with a ‘Climate of the Nation’ event at Ogilvy House.
With John Connor, the CEO of The Climate Institute, presiding over a panel featuring renowned climate change scientist Dr Graeme Pearman, John Scales, the founder and MD of JWs Research, and Essential Media director Peter Lewis, an 80-strong crowd was informed about the seemingly endless saga of public and political engagement and disengagement in one of mankind’s great challenges.
Lewis said that public support for action on climate change reached its zenith in 2007, when there was bipartisan backing for a price on carbon action, but since that point ‘the number of don’t knows’ in his research climbed from the 10s to the 20s and then to the 30s.
He sheeted the blame for the drop-off in support to the paucity of the government’s explanation of the case for climate change action. Scales agreed, citing the fact the government changed its position on a number of occasions.
Pearman, the Australian Academy of Science fellow, said that ‘science tells us more strongly than ever before’ that there was a risk which needed to be managed. In contrast, public belief in man-made climate change had dropped to just 51 per cent, with 35 per cent putting the changing climate down to the natural weather cycle.
He said he believed people had rejected the science ‘because they don’t want their world view to be challenged’.
When asked by Connor whether the coming Federal Election could be accurately depicted as ‘a referendum on the carbon tax’, all panellists disagreed, with Lewis saying research showed it was a referendum on the economy and on the Labor government.
You can check the pollute-o-meter below to see how our political parties rank.
Lewis also said polling showed that one of the legacies of the past few years had been a marked drop in support for all civic institutions.
Scales believed that in the aftermath of the coming election climate-concerned organisations like The Climate Institute needed to stop and rethink the way they tried to deliver the message about the urgent need for action. ‘We need a new look, a new way,’ he said, citing problems with inconsistent and fragmented messaging from climate change groups in the past.
Pearman questioned the basis of the much-publicised target of a maximum of 2 degrees warming, saying that would cause severe water shortages and problems with the coastal plains, while the effect of such an increase on other areas of the natural environment were limited.
For Lewis, public demand for action would only be forced by catastrophic climate events over the next decades, while Connor said he believed the push to renewable energy would be led from outside Australia, through countries no longer wanting buy Australian coal.
Yianni Konstantopoulos, the group managing director of Social@Ogilvy, spoke about the potential benefits and possible pitfalls of social media campaigns on such issues.
Climate change, he said, had become a polarising issue. Social media could help to garner support for action but organisations needed to establish just who their supporters were and just what the organisation wanted them to do before enlisting them.
Connors spoke of the Vital Few campaign which The Climate Institute was currently running. With superannuation being such a source of investment wealth, he said there was a fiduciary duty between superannuation trustees and their members which meant that the trustee had to respond to members’ requests for information.
The focus of the campaign was for members to contact their trustee and request information on the fund’s exposure to investments like coal, which, he said, could carry substantial investment risk because of an expected drop-off in demand through international action to combat climate change. Through that, the Institute hope to pressure superannuation funds to no longer invest in such companies.
Ogilvy Public Relations is a supporter of The Climate Institute.
The world of PR measurement is changing, albeit at a snail’s pace! Responsibility rests with both clients and agencies and it’s up to both sides to push each other towards more meaningful measurement. That means driving a stake through the heart of AVEs, educating and pushing back on those who still think that AVEs are a ‘like-for-like’ measure with paid-for media. Instead, try opening a conversation about higher value coverage that actually reaches your target audience – or introducing a level of rigour through the Valid Metrics Framework; by working on solutions that measure outcomes and impacts (rather than just inputs and outputs like media coverage); introducing Share of Voice benchmarking or investing in Share of Impact analysis.
The bottom line is that there is no silver bullet – every client and project needs its own measurement solution – put in place up front rather than at the end. And most importantly, we’ve got to be prepared to invest in measurement – estimate about 10% of any budget to be put aside for this.
Read Kaz’s view in the latest edition of Influencing, PRIA’s measurement guide “a good solution” here
Despite the inevitable focus on the change in Labor leadership, its worth reflecting on Julia Gillard’s recent CEDA speech in Canberra, defending the strength of the Australian economy, as a timely intervention into the nature of public debate in Australia. She took to task some economists, business leaders and sections of the media for talking down the economy. And while the content of the speech wasn’t out of the ordinary, it was the reaction of those who were the subject of her criticism that provoked my interest, drawing attention to the broader issue of debate between politicians and business in Australia.
Saul Eslake, a highly regarded economist, took issue with the then PM’s remarks and said that she was “in a sense, shooting the messenger” – after all he was simply doing was his job and pointing out the risks to the economy. Retail boss Gerry Harvey also reacted to her criticisms that an unnamed “retail industry leader” was publicly complaining about the impact of the declining value of the Australian dollar. Mr Harvey apparently was “absolutely perplexed” by the criticism describing it as “beyond comprehension”.
The broader point here is that if business wants to engage in policy debate, it needs to be prepared to wear the consequences of a spirited rebuttal by politicians, and then respond (and keep on responding) in kind. That’s what debate is all about. To his credit Eslake did contest Julia Gillard’s comments but it seems he didn’t like the political blowtorch being applied to him as evidenced by his complaints about shooting the messenger.
There are interesting lessons to be learned from this small exchange. Politicians quite rightly complain that when it comes to public discourse, some business leaders go missing, the charge being that they are too willing to hide behind their industry associations and corporate spokespeople. Formulaic responses are usually issued in attempt to dampen down debate in the hope that the relentless news cycle will soon pass them by. Business leaders are often advised to do this by their corporate affairs people (guilty your honour!) who themselves are often from the political class, and who know that when it comes to a public battle of wills, politicians are very good at wearing the slings and arrows of debate, and then come out guns blazing.
It is entirely understandable that business leaders tend to shy away from public conflict with politicians knowing that they will inevitably cop a bruising and potentially invite retribution, which could translate into reprove from nervous boards and investors, who are all for a quiet life. I have sat through plenty of meetings where everyone agrees that a political issue should be contested, but when the discussion gets to the pointy end - who is actually going to ‘bell the cat’ and front up and run the arguments publicly - caution often prevails. Talk of brave opposition soon dissolves into how best to ‘fly under the radar’ (just this once of course).
For their part politicians should continue to encourage this sort of debate, and not exhibit sensitivity when others venture into the public arena of ideas. And when business does enter the contest of ideas, politicians should recognise this, particularly as the easiest of options for a business leader is to hold fire if the alternative is public trial by fire.
Business leaders too can take the lead in this sort of debate. David Murray often comes to mind as someone who was prepared to draw a line in the sand and speak his mind on an issue of principle. In 2004 when he was the Chief Executive of the Commonwealth Bank, he was prepared to take NSW Commerce Minister, John Della Bosca, to task for proposing new tough laws including five-year jail penalties, making employers liable for workplace deaths, calling them “absolutely abominable”.
Curiously this sort of response can often draw a private rebuke from Canberra or Macquarie Street where reasoned opposition from a business leader leads to mutterings that the business person in question should stick to their knitting, and not interfere in political issues.
A liberal democracy needs robust and civil public discourse between politicians and business leaders. The time for such a debate is particularly pressing in the lead up to the Federal election where, to date, political distractions have unfortunately got in the way of a proper discussion on the economy and policy, between Labor and the Coalition.
Now more than ever, business leaders need to make their voice heard, and politicians should encourage greater public discourse. Our democracy will be stronger for it.
David Bell – GMD Corporate 27th June 2013
In the recent edition of Boss Magazine in the AFR an article entitled ‘How to avoid social media death’ explored the reticence behind social media adoption and provided a few handy tips on getting started and mastering the art of social communication in the digital age.
According to the article, only four of the top 100 ASX listed companies had CEO or MDs who had an active Twitter presence – News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch, Wesfarmer’s Richard Goyder, Bank of Queensland’s Stuart Grimshaw and Atlas Iron’s Ken Brinsden.
As the article rightly points out, social media isn’t just about brand awareness stating that “those who get involved in Twitter and other social media will reap intangible but real benefits from being closer to their customers base and ahead of the curve on emerging trends. They will also have the chance to elevate their personal brand and their company’s reputation by displaying a human face”.
So, why such unwillingness amongst Australia’s key business decision makers? The single biggest obstacle for executives looking to become more socially savvy is having the appropriate social media knowledge, time or technical skills. Too often executives will simply put social media in the too hard basket – “it’s not for me”, “there isn’t any value in it”, “I just don’t have the time to tweet”, “people don’t want to know when I’m brushing my teeth”.
A degree of reluctance is understandable. Social media is not the easiest medium to understand not least of all because of constant state of change, new and emerging tools and the omnipresent risk of doing significant organisational and personal brand damage.
As a Queensland recruiting executive recently found out, it is very difficult to divorce a personal account from your professional career. The recruiter posted abusive messages on Twitter directed at radio personality Wendy Harmer. The executive was forced to publicly apologise and his online ‘spat’ resulted in news coverage across a variety of online outlets.
Through knowledge sharing, training and a companywide adoption, CEOs can ingrain social media into their everyday business thinking and activities.
Social media training should be a mandatory requirement for executives and senior management. It does not necessarily need to be a precursor to establishing a presence but at the very least it will give those who are charged with critical decision making the basic knowledge on how social media can affect a business from sales to thought leadership and everything in between.
Those executives who have mastered the art of social media communication have usually undertaken some form of training or digital eminence course.
Executives can undertake a simple three pronged approach to better understand and utilise social media tools:
- Understand the landscape – who is your audience, where are they and what are they saying
- Create content that is relevant to the audience – what insight can I provide that will add value to the audience and properly reflect my business and position
- Begin to engage with the audience through informed and friendly dialogue, providing personal experience and business insight
Social media is not the natural domain of Australia’s business elite. But those who master it sooner, undertake the necessary training and seek to readily engage with the community, will quickly find a competitive advantage and some very addictive tools!
By Thomas Tudehope social@ogilvy