Category Archives: Trends

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.







Social media trends good news for Public Relations

Social media has officially become the dominant source of news for Australians aged 32 and younger, and it’s not via click throughs to online news sites or news aggregators. This has implications for PR professionals, and will pokemon-1553977__180probably trigger more “death of the media release” articles.

The Deloitte Media Consumer Survey 2016 shows that 31% of Trailing Millennials (aged 14-26) who are on social media, and 25% of Leading Millennials (aged 27-32) are getting their news from Facebook and other social media.  Radio was their least used news option, television their most used of the mainstream media, with only 19% of Trailing Millennials and 17% of Leading Millennials identifying TV news as their most frequently-used news source.

However, while Facebook was the clear winner in the social media scene, Trailing Millennials are not as enamoured of it as  the other age groups – 88% of this group are on Facebook compared with 92% overall. Trailing Millennials have other preferred options: Instagram (56%) and Snapchat (47%). They are the trailblazers here – overall, just 28% of social media users accessed Instagram and 18% Snapchat.

The surprise was the Matures (aged 69+) – just 37% were not using social media at all. Of the social media users in this group, 36% checked daily. After Facebook (which hosts 93% of those Matures on social media), Matures were the biggest users of Google +, with 24% using this platform.

Just one quarter of Boomers (aged 50-68) were not on social media. The social media users in this group were mainly on Facebook – at 96% the biggest proportion of any age group.

Crucially, the researchers discovered that social media is moving from a social platform to a place to be entertained and connect with products, brands, news and other media.

This has coincided with a perception by social media users that organisations are finally ‘getting social media’ – what Deloittes called a shift from being ‘on’ social media to ‘being’ social, using more connective language, style and format.

Good news for PRs, no matter what demographic your target publics are. The need to supply bloggers and other sources of content will offset any reduction in the number of news releases we write!

The full report is a must-read for any Australian PR, marketer or advertiser.

Barbara Ryan teaches post-grad level PR writing and crisis communications, and practiced in-house and PR consulting for 15 years before joining USQ. She was a print journalist before Google.






Content marketing – isn’t that PR?

girl-using-tablet-on-the-garden-picjumbo-comContent marketing’ is the latest marketing buzzword, and just saying the words brings out a little enthusiasm in everyone.

But what is it? The Content Marketing Institute defines it as: “…a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

But this is what we all do in public relations, and we have been since the days of Arthur Page. After all, the public relations activity of engagement is about creating long term dialogue with stakeholders (including customers).

Around the time of World War II, Arthur Page was working as Director of Public Relations for AT&T (he was there from 1931 until 1946). He worked to set of principles that have laid the groundwork for the modern PR approach of establishing firm relationships with target publics. While he didn’t write these principles down, the Arthur W. Page Society has. These are to:
• Tell the truth
• Prove it with action
• Listen to stakeholders
• Manage for tomorrow
• Conduct public relations as if the whole enterprise depends on it
• Realise an enterprise’s true character is expressed by its people
• Remain calm, patient and good natured.

Three of these lay the groundwork for content marketing. Listening to stakeholders, managing for tomorrow and working for the long term good of the enterprise are principles that support engagement of our target publics on issues wider than the our classification of that target public.

In the 1980s, James Grunig’s two-way symmetrical model of public relations proposed mutual give-and-take rather than one-way persuasion, and efforts to achieve mutual understanding and respect, among other things.

So investors get information about the company and its environment, not just messages that justify actions that could affect dividends and share price.

The organisation’s physical neighbours are part of the conversation about its place in the community, not just when something goes wrong.

Customers are provided with, and encouraged to share, ideas on how to make their life easier/more fun/wealthier, not just about our brand.

Having provided this value, we have stakeholders who are willing to give us their opinions, have a dialogue, and support the organisation in tough times. Social media has made all of this much easier.

Isn’t this called reputation management and stakeholder engagement? And PRs have been doing it for over 60 years.

Barbara Ryan is a lecturer in public relations at the University of Southern Queensland.