Smoke Signal is Australia's first podcast dedicated to sharing news and views from Australia’s public relations and communication sector. Each episode features a conversation with industry professionals, educators and influencers on the themes, trends and issues shaping Australia's PR landscape. Smoke Signal is hosted by Paul Cheal - an experienced financial and corporate communications leader with over 20 years’ experience working with Australian and global brands to build and protect their reputation.
Smoke Signal Podcast Episode 38 - It is time to call BS: spin has no place in being green
In this episode of Smoke Signal I continue to take a deep dive into climate communications. I am joined by Belinda Noble, who is President and Founder of Comms Declare – an Australian coalition across the communication, marketing, media and advertising sectors united to drive positive climate action.
“Comms Declare wants marcomms to be respected and trusted... We want people’s talents to be used to promote solutions that make the world a better place… Our end game is to make fossil fuels as socially unacceptable as tobacco” - Belinda Noble, Founder Comms Declare
Belinda first took up arms against the role of PR and communications in promoting fossil fuel clients post the Black Friday Bushfires in 2019. She decided it was time for action and founded Comms Declare which today is very much part of a global push to call out the PR, marketing and advertising sectors for their role in helping shape the climate change debate.
The focus on the PR sector in particular has gained significant momentum over the past year:
Edelman – the world’s largest independent PR agency - handed a petition at the time of COP26 calling on it to resign all fossil fuel clients A US Congressional hearing was held earlier this year into the role of public relations firms in preventing climate action with an accompanying a report detailing "deceptive" and "misleading" tactics they use for their client campaigns. And just in recent weeks the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres used a speech at the UN General Assembly in New York to call out the “public relations machine raking in billions to shield the fossil fuel industry from scrutiny” Comms Declare recently released a report that quantified the impact of the PR, comms and advertising industry on climate change. The F-List named GRACosway as the PR/Lobbyist agency responsible for the highest volume of scope 3 emissions – that is the emissions of their clients, which include the likes of Santos, BHP, and Glencore – totalling 20,612,667 tonnes of CO2 equivalent which is on par with Kenya.
In this discussion, we discuss one of the key issues and challenges for PR practitioners – greenwashing: that is providing misleading, or outright false, information about the impact a company is having on the environment. Comms Declare is tackling that head on and calling out culprits such as: Santos which is currently being taken to court to prove its claims to be reaching net zero by 2040; Ampol for claiming to offer a carbon neutral fuel; and Glencore’s recent brand campaign titled “Advancing Everyday Life” - which Belinda explains is co-opting all the imagery of the renewable industry but does not mention their main commodity, coal – as just a few of the many examples So we would see that as greenwashing as well.
“When it comes to green claims, and particularly emissions, which is so serious and the implications of inaction are so hideous and almost can’t be contemplated to be leaving out half the picture and putting yourself forward as an environmentally friendly company I would say is quite a misrepresentation of the facts... No one is perfect and no one is expecting perfection but if you say you are going to hit net zero you better."
Smoke Signal Podcast Episode 37 - PR & the climate crisis
In this episode we are tackling the climate crisis.
We are six months on from COP26, where the outcome didn’t match the hype. Australia’s State of the Environment report has just been released and generated world headlines for the grim picture it painted and the environmental challenges facing Australia. And we are seeing an energy crisis globally as we struggle to agree how to a transition to renewables.
Against this backdrop we take a timely and much needed deep dive into the role of the PR industry in helping to inform, educate and navigate this global climate crisis.
Joining me in this episode is UK -based practitioner Laura Sutherland. Laura has over a decade experience working in the sustainability, environment and climate sector and is founder of Aura Advisory, a strategic communication and advisory consultancy dedicated to helping organisations accelerate to a sustainable future.
Laura is also a member of the UK industry body PRCA’s Climate Misinformation and Climate Change Strategy Group which has just released its second annual research report exploring the attitudes and perceptions of practitioners – as well as consumers - towards the climate crisis.
The research confirms that climate, environmental and ESG issues are quickly becoming an increasing part of our role as strategic communicators:
More than 9 out of ten (96%) of PR professionals now advise their clients and colleagues to understand the climate crisis and how they can effectively communicate the part they play - up from 82% last yearAlmost half (45%) have noticed their clients or organisation attempting to greenwash, however 89% have pushed back on this and 57% managed to change the approach as a resultAlmost all (97%) said they have taken action to address the climate crisis but only 48% measure their carbon footprint71% of consumers say they would stop buying from a brand if they knew it had misled its customers about having a positive environmental impact57% of the general public don’t know the outcome of COP26 and a third (33%) felt the agreements made at the conference didn’t affect themThere are so many aspects of climate change and in this discussion we get into a range of areas: the ethics of working for organisations not doing the right thing for the environment; the call for integrating climate change and sustainability within the school syllabus; the risk of professional communicators pushing ‘spin” and getting lost in what Tony Jacques aptly described as “the conga-line of initiatives and their snappy acronyms”; and the role of Government versus business in the climate debate.
Smoke Signal Episode 36: It is World PR Day!
July 16 is World PR Day – a day dedicated to recognising and celebrating public relations and communication. Yes even PR needs PR.
I am joined by one of the committee members responsible for organising World PR Day, Enitan Kehinde, for a Q&A on the initiative, the events and how practitioners can get involved.
“PR is a very important practice across the world, across businesses and across governments, so it is time for us to prioritise PR…. Our goal is for practitioners across the world to answer the call of duty to help people, companies, government communicate more honestly and responsibly.” - Enitan Kehinde
The theme of World PR Day 2022 is Trust, Truth and Transparency with a number of headline initiatives to mark the occasion:
#MyPRStory - PR professionals are encouraged to share their own personal experiences from their journey in the PR industryPR Bible – development of a crowdsourced wikipedia with all the best PR resources from across the world.A fireside chat on twitter spaces – with global PR leaders discussing this year’s theme Enitan, who was recognized as one of the 40 under 40 women in marketing communications in Nigeria, also shares her impressive #MyPRStory, including leading the establishment of Nigerian PR agency bhm’s UK office and founding a network to support young women in PR and communication.
Get involved in World PR Day by telling your #MyPRStory, join the conversation on socials #WPRD or take The PR Pledge.
Smoke Signal Episode 35: PR, CommTech and the future of the PRIA
Shane Allison and I always enjoy a robust discussion and in this episode we dive into two areas that we are both passionate about – the role of professional industry associations and the uptake of CommTech across the PR sector.
It is just over 100 days since Shane took on the role of President of the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) and he has certainly hit the ground running: rolling out a 2022 Member Program; unveiling a number of working groups to address key issues impacting the industry right now - such as the skills shortage and diversity and inclusion; and advocating for a name change to better reflect the changing nature of the profession.
While we disagree on the need for such a change, Shane is committed to setting solid foundations, ensuring members get tangible value from the PRIA, and driving long term growth.
“I am a huge believer in the role of the PRIA to champion for our industry, to support our profession and to recognise the great work we do.” - Shane Allison.
Equally passionate about CommTech, Shane this week will present at Mumbrella CommsCon in a session titled: Challenges, Pitfalls and Opportunities of Building your CommTech Stack.
In this discussion, Shane gives us an insight into some of those challenges and opportunities; calling out the industry for being “scared” of automation when in fact we should be embracing it as a way to both help us achieve better outcomes and freeing up valuable time and resources.
While you are here, take a read of the Commtech User Guide that Shane developed to help PR professionals on their CommTech journey.
Smoke Signal Episode 34: In search of the world's best corporate reputation
At its core public relations is reputation management. Building, protecting and repairing brand reputations is what we do. Research shows that organisations with better reputations outperform their peers, better attract and retain talent, inspire deeper loyalty and develop louder advocates. A brand’s reputation is built by both what it does and what is says – making communication a fundamental building block of reputation
It is in that context that I picked up with interest the 2022 Global RepTrak 100 which ranks the corporate reputation of the world’s leading companies.
In this episode I am joined by Oliver Freedman who heads up RepTrak in Australia and APAC to discuss all things reputation. In this report, which RepTrak describes as the definitive ranking and analysis of corporate reputation, the reputation research firm searches the globe for the world's best corporate reputation.
At its core a good reputation is an emotional attachment that individuals have towards a company – the level of trust, admiration, respect and good feeling. Oliver talks through the seven drivers of reputation - products and services; innovation; financial performance; employee wellbeing; its citizenship in the community; corporate conduct and governance; and leadership - as well as some emerging themes from across the globe:
ESG is only increasing in importance… the public is only becoming more disappointed. There is a desire – and a sense of expectation - from the community for companies to put the community in front of profits and drive real change…. But while there are a lot of commitments there remains growing disappointment that real change is not happening quicker. Media and reputation are symbiotic. How news outlets discuss organisations impacts reputation, how corporate reputation is perceived impacts how news outlets discuss those organizations, and so on.You’re not competing against your competitors for attention, you’re competing with everyone, everywhere, all the time. Gone are the days you compare performance against just your competitors; you’re not just competing with other companies, you are competing with politics, you are competing with COVID. It is about being smarter, using the right channels to reach the right audiences with the right content. So which brand has the best reputation in the world?
Surprisingly it is not the new and cool tech companies that may come first to mind. Rather the list features companies that have been around for many decades, but despite the world changing dramatically, have stayed true to who they. Many are also luxury brands - Rolex, Mercedes, Ferrari, Harley-Davidson – they are classic, but the innovate and they are aspirational.
Take a listen to hear the who else makes the list and why.
Smoke Signal Episode 33 - Communicating the COVID-19 vax rollout: one year on
It has been the communication story that has dominated the past 12 months – getting Australians vaccinated.
Last month, we marked one year since the COVID-19 vaccination roll out started in Australia. While our vaccination rates are now among the highest in the world, a successful roll out was not always so certain.
One person who has been deeply engaged with this communication challenge is Darren Behar who is Managing Partner at one of Australia’s largest independent consultancies – SenateSHJ.
In this episode of Smoke Signal, Darren takes us back to that time 12 months ago when we’d emerged from the depths of 2020 hoping that 2021 was going to be the year we returned to normalcy. It didn’t pan out that way. Mixed messaging from Federal and State Government, competing narratives, and a rise in misinformation and disinformation saw the push to vaccinate start out, for lack of better words, in chaos.
Darren explains that in the early days there was no playbook for facing such a big challenge. It was being made up on the run – and that was a challenge for everyone, not just communicators.
While there was much confusion and complexity, it is at such a time that you need to go back to first principles: what is going to motivate individuals and communities and drive action?
“Peers, friends, family and trusted organisations in our lives are more likely to motivate us to change our behaviour,” Darren says. “Grassroots communication was key to help those at the front line communicate with their communities and stakeholders directly.”
While much of the attention was on the Government communication – no one will quickly forget the daily press briefings to announce case numbers – this was becoming increasingly challenging. Senate SHJ research found trust in Government deteriorated rapidly during the pandemic. While almost 60% said Government was effective at keeping them informed in 2020, 12 months later, just a third said Federal Government communication was influential in their behaviour – this at a time when they were trying to maintain COVID-safe behaviour and also get people vaccinated.
This made creating a social movement at the grassroots vital in overcoming this distrust and the increasing amounts of misinformation. Darren explains this was achieved by bringing together five elements: Common Cause; Catalyst; Connection, Coordination and Conversation.
There was also a need for more than one story and Darren sees three narratives that came together to help drive up vaccination rates:
Duty: as a citizen this is the right thing to do for all Australians.Consequences: help open our borders quicker so we can travel and see family and friends; help open up the economy and get back to your local coffee shop.Responsibility: keep your family and community safe.
In terms of the lessons to add to the playbook for the future. Darren has three for leaders (Government and business):
We need to be transparent and a more authentic in our communication: do what we say we are going to do.We have to be prepared to acknowledge faults: fess up when you mess up. It is ok to be vulnerable.Stories and narratives matter: It took a while to get them right but when it worked it drove tangible change.