Category Archives: General

Quirky fringe events could deepen connection to place and increase local community engagement – USQ PR research

Detail of Mary-Kate Khoo’s Bed of Roses from Avant Garden 2007.

Research by our own Andrew Mason and Dr Rebecca Scollen shows that it pays to take a risk by adding innovative fringe events to mainstream festivals to increase engagement and involvement amongst local residents.

Their study of the community’s involvement in the quirky ‘Avant Garden’, part of the mainstream Carnival of Flowers in Toowoomba, Queensland, has shown that innovative ideas at mainstream festivals can deepen community engagement and widen appeal of the main event. This deeper engagement has implications for place-making and perceptions of identity by residents.

Avant Garden was held from 2007 to 2010, when the southern Queensland region, and the Carnival of Flowers, was suffering from the effects of a 10-year drought.

Andrew and Rebecca aimed to investigate the role of a grassroots initiative in engaging local people in an innovative place-making fringe festival to determine if such fringe events could contribute to place-making through marketing and engagement. They found that:

  • Fringe festivals can play an important role in broadening the capacity and appeal of the main festival
  • They can improve the capacity for the local community to build local identity
  • Fringe festivals can trigger longer term innovations to place branding

The important takeaway for regional event managers of this paper is that innovative grass-roots initiatives like Avant Garden can provide authentic, and therefore more effective, methods to get more of the community involved in their local festival, and involved in a deeper way.

The bottom-up approach used by Avant Garden organisers was shown to strengthen the links between place and identity for local people attending the event.  Respondents described Avant Garden as ‘quirky’, a good way of showcasing local talent, and a good way to bolster the drought-affected Carnival of Flowers. Andrew and Rebecca found that Avant Garden provided a connection to local public parks for some people who had come to the Carnival specifically this part of the festival, many of them first time Carnival of Flowers attendees.

The research supports the effect of community-generated innovation in regional events, and along with that innovation, some risk taking.

Andrew and Rebecca used observation and a survey of 504 people (13% of total visitors and three quarters of them local people) to come up with their conclusions.  Their paper has been published in the Journal of Place Management and Development.

New disaster communications post-grad course to start!

Photo credit: Alexas Fotos, Pixabay

With 20% of problems encountered in disaster management related to media affairs and  communication with the community, qualified emergency communicators are more important than ever to a successful emergency management response.

That’s why the University of Southern Queensland now has a graduate certificate for communicators in emergency management.

The Graduate Certificate of Business – Emergency and Disaster Communication is a four course qualification with special flexibility to work around disaster seasons that students are dealing with around the world.  It covers communication for all phases of disaster management, with special emphasis on change communication, community engagement and disaster management.  Social media or crisis communication can also be included in the qualification.

The new program starts in July 2017 and is part of the Master of Project Management, which students can elect to continue once they have finished the graduate certificate with the emergency and disaster communication specialisation.  We also have pathways using these courses into other Masters programs.

Talk to us about credit for skills, experience and previous post-graduate study in communication fields!

Key staff for the program are Matt Grant and Dr Barbara Ryan.  Matt has extensive crisis and disaster response experience with the Australian Defence Force working as the senior communications manager for a range of military operations in the Asia-Pacific and Middle Eastern theatres and in 2004-5 coordinated Whole of Government communications on the ground from Banda Aceh, Indonesia after the Boxing Day tsunami.  He has also been regional news director for WINTV Queensland and has held corporate public affairs roles. He has worked in journalism and public affairs for 25 years.

Barbara Ryan has a Ph.D in how people get information in disasters, and experience in response and recovery communications for bushfires and floods at local disaster management level.  She also spent seven years as volunteer co-ordinator of communication for a district disaster management group in Queensland, Australia.  She was a Mary Fran Myers Scholarship winner for early career disaster researchers, and currently conducts research for agencies in Australia. Barbara is also a co-founder and former director of Emergency Media and Public Affairs, a membership organisation for disaster communicators, and organised the 2013 Fulbright Fellowship with former FEMA Acting Director External Affairs and U.S. Department of Homeland Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Public Affairs, Bob Jensen. She has more than 20 years public relations experience.

The University of Southern Queensland is located in Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia, and is a world leading distance education university.  We have a 92% satisfaction rating amongst communication post-graduates for their courses!








Crisis or disaster? IT has helped blur the language

Guest blogger and Australian crisis researcher and practitioner, Tony Jaques, makes some valid points about the language of organisational crisis.


It’s time business stopped misusing the word disaster, and the IT industry needs to take a good share of the blame.

Most recently, an April post on the Hewlett Packard Insights blog, declared: “In general, anything that significantly impairs day to day work can be considered a disaster.”

The reality is, No, it can’t!

Writer Wayne Rash went on to say: “It’s worth noting that a disaster in this (IT) context does not necessarily mean widespread destruction, loss of life, or general catastrophe. What a disaster means to you is defined by what interferes with your operations to the point that it endangers your business and thus requires a disaster recovery response.”

What Mr Rash is saying just might, maybe make sense in the IT world where such language is common, but it’s bleeding into general management usage, and that’s a big problem.

Of course the IT industry can’t take all the blame for devaluing the word disaster. Contrary to typical news media headlines, losing a crucial football match is not a disaster, nor is a temporary fall in a company’s share price. In fact, in recent times, the word ‘disaster’ has progressed from being devalued to being entirely trivialised.

A celebrity posting an unwise twitter message is now labelled as a ‘PR disaster’ or a ‘social media disaster,’ while a Hollywood star choosing the wrong dress for a red-carpet event becomes a ‘fashion disaster.’

This language is genuinely unhelpful and distracts attention from serious matters of real concern. Consider by contrast the United Nations definition of a disaster as: “A serious disruption of the functioning of a society, causing widespread human, material or environmental losses and exceeding the coping capacities of the affected communities and government.” Or within a business context, the Dutch crisis experts Arjen Boin and Paul ’t Hart say: “A disaster is a crisis with a devastating ending.” Anything less just doesn’t quality.

While there is clearly a massive difference between a pop culture ‘disaster’ and a true societal or organisational disaster, contamination of broader business language by misuse of the word has serious consequences for issue and crisis managers.

A key consequence arises from the widespread belief in the IT world that the answer to just about every such problem is a disaster recovery plan. As Mr Rash put it: “A disaster recovery response is the set of actions your organisation must take to continue operations in the face of an unforeseen event.”

Business continuity and operational recovery are vital, but they are just one tactical element of an organisation’s crisis management process. The modern approach to crisis management recognises that it should encompass crisis preparedness and prevention; crisis response; and post-crisis management (of which operational recovery is one part). And that it applies to every type of crisis – financial, organisational, legal, political and reputational, not just operational.

We all love IT and the wonders the digital world can bring to issue and crisis management. But any organisation which says: “We have a great business continuity plan so we are crisis- prepared” is in line for a very big and very costly surprise.

Tony Jaques established Issue Outcomes in 1997 as a provider of management training and consulting services. He worked for more than 20 years in Corporate Issue and Crisis Management, mainly in Asia-Pacific, and served two terms as a Director on the Board of the Issue Management Council, of Leesburg, Virginia.

Tony previously published this blog on May 1, 2017.







ROI – the holy grail of public relations value

Organisations with effective change and communication programs are about 3.5 times more likely to outperform industry peers.

So why is it so hard for PRs to articulate the value of what they do?

And sending students out into the world of communication management equipped with a solid foundation of data to defend their team and the PR function?  Forget it!

Even with access to academic research, it is still difficult to quantify the effect of public relations on organisations – or what we call return on investment (ROI).

So we were pretty excited when we found this research from Willis Towers Watson that surveyed 651 organisations.  It might be three years old, but it, and the 10 years of studies it builds on, gives a very clear picture of what effect good communication can have:

  • superior financial performance (by three and a half times) to that of industry peers in 2013-14
  • a 57% higher return to shareholders 2000-04
  • improvement in communication effectiveness that was associated with a 29.5% increase in market value 1998-2002

‘Effective communication performance’ is built on:

  • Employees – a deep understanding of culture, and developing and delivering on a specific employee value proposition (EVP)
  • Six activities that influence change success:
    • Leading
    • Communicating
    • Learning
    • Measuring
    • Involving
    • Sustaining
  • Targeted and strategic social media
  • Focus on the consumer
  • True engagement of employees
  • Manager training in communication
  • Strong role of internal communications managers in managing change
  • Branding the employee experience (leading to the EVP)

So what are they talking about and how was it measured?

Return on Investment (ROI) of communications is a measurement of the investment in the PR function against overall financial performance.

It was measured by asking companies to place themselves into one of three groups for financial performance, communication effectiveness, and ability to manage change.  Each performance category had a number of activities on which organisations were asked to rate their performance. The flaw is that the Willis Towers Watson surveys have established a trend, rather than a causal relationship.

Probably not as rigorous as this excellent modeling exercise by Kim (2009), but certainly easier to read and with a takeaway that we can use in the board room!

Andrew Mason, Dr Chris Kossen, Matt Grant and Barbara Ryan teach in the communication specialisations in the Graduate Certificate of Business at the University of Southern Queensland.






(Repurposing) focus groups as research tool for creativity and innovation

Are you overlooking an important source of ideas and connections with target publics for your PR campaign?

Try revisiting focus groups – they are popular because they can be organised quickly and don’t cost much. Results are also delivered quickly and can be analysed cheaply.

Focus groups can help you get an understanding of new or emerging issues or problems. They are also commonly used for testing: pre-testing messages for appeal and impact and as a starting point for designing broader survey instruments including questionnaires.

As an investigation tool, focus groups can be used with people already interested or knowledgeable on a topic, as a means of quickly generating valuable and insightful information. So you could use them for:

  • Gathering information to understand problems or issues
  • Identifying public needs and concerns
  • Evaluation e.g. campaign pre-test and post-testing
  • Testing new ideas and programs – Testing messages and channels
  • Advanced engagement: two-way symmetric communication

Focus groups have the potential to generate incredibly rich information, insight and creativity. Innovative ideas and insights start to bounce between participants as the dynamics get to work in this kind of group environment.

Working in groups provides a means by which people can pool their knowledge and insight and produce outcomes that are beyond what the individuals can achieve on their own; for example, making better decisions. This is an example of the concept of synergy: the effect of the group as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts (i.e. individuals working separately). People interacting with one another can generate higher levels of creativity, intellectual capability and energy, [a type of] group intelligence.

However, the potential for using focus group methods as a way to deliberately to tap into collective creativity is overlooked. Focus groups can designed specifically to brainstorm ideas for campaign messages and approaches and also applied as a tool for creative problem-solving and generating new ideas and approaches.  Using focus groups in this way is similar to Action Research where the research is directed toward action and change rather than understanding. This novel approach to focus group methodology is too often overlooked and so unfortunately it is very much an undertilised option.

Focus group methods can, and so should be, more widely considered as a research tool for capitalising on potential for synergetic creativity to generate ideas and produce solutions – rather than just remain limited to gathering conventional qualitative insight and information.

Dr Chris Kossen

The 5C rule does not include Cold and Callous: Dreamworld’s crisis communication errors

By Dr Lyn McDonald

Following the tragedy that cost four lives at Dreamworld on October 24, 2016, when the Thunder River Rapids ride malfunctioned, roller coasterDreamworld owners, Ardent Leisure, have been accused of failed crisis communication. Even Ardent Leisure CEO, Deborah Thomas, stated that she could have better handled the communication.

So what went wrong? The “5C rule” of crisis communication states that all communication – written, verbal, visual – must meet five criteria: care, commitment, consistency and coherence, and clarity.

  • Care: the company must show that it cares about what happened and empathizes with those most deeply affected, in this case the families of those who died, then those who were traumatized: witnesses, first responders and emergency services, among them Dreamworld staff.
  • Commitment to resolve the problem, find its cause and minimize any chances of a recurrence.
  • Consistency and Coherence, ensuring that all spokespeople and all written communication give the same message.
  • Clarity: Problems are explained in terms that are easy to understand by all stakeholders, and are free from jargon and scientific language.

The focus here is on the main crisis communication breach – minimal demonstrated care.

Initial communication

In a brief televised statement on the afternoon of the tragedy (Tuesday October 25) Dreamworld CEO, Craig Davidson’s statement opened with confirmation of the deaths, provided operational details (park closure, working with authorities to establish facts) followed by a statement of Dreamworld’s shock and sadness, finishing with “our hearts and thoughts go to families involved and their loved ones.”


  • In the initial statement, those most deeply impacted – the families of those killed – were mentioned last, not first. No comment was made about the traumatized witnesses and first responders, including Dreamworld staff, although this was remedied in later statements.
  • Company statements refer to the tragedy as “the incident”, as if to downplay its severity.
  • The perceived lack of care was compounded by proposed plans to partially re-open Dreamworld three days after the “incident.” Even though it was for a memorial service, it was viewed as showing a lack of respect for those who died and their families.
  • This re-opening had not been checked with the police who raised concerns about the on-site forensic investigations. The company’s back down was an embarrassment.
  • At Ardent’s Annual General Meeting on October 26, Ms Thomas was caught stating that she had reached out to the bereaved families offering assistance. This was immediately disputed by a TV news reporter who had a member of one affected family listening in on the phone. Credibility was lost.
  • At the AGM, Ms Thomas was asked about the tragedy’s impact on the bottom line. Unfortunately, she chose to answer this question. When people have been killed or injured, it is never wise to discuss the likely cost to the company.
  • At this AGM, rather than delay approval of Ms Thomas’ $800,000+ bonus package for performance, the tactless decision was made to approve it.

Overall, the Dreamworld/Ardent response indicates a lack of crisis preparation – despite an earlier accident in April this year when a man fell from Dreamworld’s Rocky Hollow Log Ride and nearly drowned. Specifically, there seemed to be:

  • Over-concern about the legal risk of implying liability, despite the obvious fact that when your ride has killed four people, you cannot escape liability.
  • No pre-prepared crisis statements incorporating important key messages such as care and safety – e.g., “the safety of our patrons is of utmost importance to us” – to minimize reputation damage.
  • No pre-prepared web site with fact sheets, including a fact sheet detailing the safety record and ride maintenance.
  • For Ardent Leisure, no existing media page.

It is no wonder this crisis has been called potentially “the PR fail of the year.”

Dr Lyn McDonald’s PhD and research focused on stakeholder response to crisis communication. Currently, she holds an Adjunct position with the Australian Centre for Sustainable Business and Development at the University of Southern Queensland.






Keeping your edge with books

One of the great things about being an academic is early notice of books that update industry practice. Here are a few of the latest – we haven’t reviewed them, just showing you what’s available.

Tactical SEO by Lee Wilson (Kogan Page)

This book explores:

  • What succeeds in search marketing but also why, including analysis of ‘ripples’ and other concepts that underpin best practice
  • Moving from process-driven to organic search marketing and the value of exploiting opportunity
  • The Google ethos and the symbiotic nature of Google and SEO
  • How a value-checklist can re-focus your strategy and generate positive results

Essential reading for practitioners and students, Tactical SEO provides thought leadership as well as strategic practical applications for those who want to develop real and lasting expertise.

Brand Protection in the Online World by David N. Barrett (Kogan Page)

This book explains the full scope of Internet infringement, and associated monitoring and enforcement options that are most relevant to brand owners and managers. Covering crucial topics such as brand abuse, counterfeiting, fraud, digital piracy and more, Brand Protection in the Online World provides a clear and in-depth exploration of the importance of, and ideas behind, the brand-protection industry.

Global Writing for Public Relations: Connecting in English with Stakeholders and Publics Worldwide by Arhlene A. Flowers (Routledge)

A book that aims to develop storytellers who can work anywhere in the world. It provides:

  • Insight into the evolution of English-language communication in business and public relations, as well as theoretical and political debates on global English and globalization
  • An understanding of both a global thematic and customized local approach in creating public relations campaigns and written materials
  • Strategic questions to help writers develop critical thinking skills and understand how to create meaningful communications materials for specific audiences;
  • Storytelling skills that help writers craft compelling content
  • Real-world global examples from diverse industries that illustrate creative solutions
  • Step-by-step guidance on writing public relations materials with easy-to-follow templates to reach traditional and online media, consumers, and businesses;
  • Self-evaluation and creative thinking exercises to improve cultural literacy, grammar, punctuation, and editing skills for enhanced clarity

We hope you find a good read!

Andrew, Barbara, Chris and Matt



Scare tactics remain as mainstay in electioneering

Dr Chris Kossen

The Labor Party’s statements that Medicare will be privatised under a Liberal Government or the Liberal Party’s dire warnings of Labor economic management. Donald Trump fomenting fear about Islamic extremism or Hilary Clinton telling voters they will be worse off under Trump. It must be election time.

Election campaigns are interesting because they involve a particular style of public relations tactics and messaging. Campaigning by the Liberal/National and Australian Labor Party for the July 2016 election highlights the specialised but also predictable pitching used to persuade voters.

In the political context, core strategies become constant: (1) to win government, by promoting credentials with positively framed messaging, and (2) discrediting opponents with negatively framed tactics and messaging for the same purpose.

Intense repetition as a tactic, also underpins the effort to ‘stay on message’ and ensure message consistency. It is used to penetrate public consciousness and gain vital political traction.

The key positively themed slogan developed by the Liberal/Nationals in this campaign is ‘Jobs and Growth’. The underpinning messages underpinning these three words: (1) economic growth provides the path to jobs growth and (2) that these are the conditions necessary to ensure future prosperity and security for Australians.

A heavy reliance on relentless attacking of opponents also features highly in the art of persuasion in political campaigning. Instilling fear is regarded as an exceedingly effective tactic in the high powered battleground of political communication.

The Liberal/Nationals ‘debit and deficit’ attack slogan is framed as a warning on the perils that would ensue if Labor were to win government. It is based on an assertion that Labor, are by nature, high spending and high taxing. And that this policy mix would destroy the ‘growth and jobs’, upon which the future of Australia depends.
The slogan, ‘budget repair’ reinforces ‘debit and deficit’ invoking the idea that the budget is broken, and it is Labor who have broken it.

Labor in reply, coined the key slogan ‘Budget repair that’s fair’ which uses positive framing i.e. fairness, combined with implicit negative framing, that is, that the Liberal/Nationals are not fair. This message also attempts to confront the ‘debit and deficit’ idea that Labor is fiscally incompetent by acknowledging that budget repair is indeed a key priority.

It is also interesting to see that the campaign rhetoric of both sides draws heavily on traditional political mythologies of class warfare so often associated with times gone past.

ALSO Chris’s LinkedIn Slideshare Persuasion Tactics 2016 Australian Election Campaign Launch

Hello PR world!

Public relations is such a fast changing world that it’s hard for practitioners to keep up with what’s developing – and even harder for universities to fit everything into a PR program and keep it current.
That’s why we, the PR teaching team at the University of Southern Queensland, have decided to collate information about best practice and new developments in this new blog, PR Pulse.
We are Matt Grant, Chris Kossen, Andrew Mason and Barbara Ryan.  We  are determined to present PR practitioners with interesting and informative articles that help practitioners do their job.  In the process we will be passing on trends and skill development to our students while they study, and adding to their knowledge once they graduate.
Do you need to know something about the industry in a short and easy read?  Send us ideas for blog articles.
We’d also love to host guest bloggers, so if you are an expert in something, please contact us!