Evacuation – who does and who doesn’t?

With cyclone season approaching in key-west-81664_960_720the southern hemisphere, emergency managers will be thinking about a big one that might lead to evacuations. And it appears that local information is the key to informed evacuation decisions.

What makes people evacuate or not? And who leaves and who stays?

Newly published research from Texas A&M University and the University of Washington, Seattle, investigates evacuations leading up to Hurricanes Katrina and Ike.  The research gives some clues on factors that affect the evacuation decision making and who does what.

Key points from the research by Huang, Lindell and Prater were:

  • Expected personal impact is the biggest predictor of a person evacuating
  • Older people are more likely to underestimate the speed of the arrival of the storm
  • Women are more sensitive to cues of all types and are more likely to want to evacuate given the right information relating to the risk they face
  • Home ownership does not affect the decision to evacuate, but people with higher incomes and levels of education are more likely to evacuate
  • News media is an important source – and if people accessed any news media, they were likely to have accessed other sources as well
  • Memory of false alarms will discourage evacuations, but if people are assured that this is because of the unpredictability of the storm, and not because information will be withheld or errors made by agencies, they will evacuate
  • Only official warnings, the area people live, expected wind impacts and concerns about obstacles to evacuation will lead directly to an evacuation decision – demographic factors, news media, social and environment cues and hurricane experience all need further mediation to result in an evacuation decision
  • People were preoccupied with wind speed, overlooking the potential for storm and tidal surges into their community, possibly as a result of the focus of official information, which provided scant details on flooding

The biggest take home from this is that the storyline that needs to be built about how the cyclone will affect individuals at a local level.

This puts the spotlight on the importance of local spokespeople who can describe the potential impact in local communities – an approach that contradicts current practice in some areas, particularly in Australia.

A second point is reinforcement of current agency practice  to use as many channels to get information to the community as possible – if people use conventional media and their online forms, they are more likely to tap into other channels and sources.

And who evacuates?

The answer is mostly found in the places people live – their level of risk and the perception of the threat will cause people from some geographic areas and residence types to evacuate. This probably leads to fewer older people evacuating because of their tendency to think they have more time.

People who have access to information from local emergency managers who have local knowledge, and because of this are trusted and credible, are also more likely to evacuate.

So it all comes back to the need for a community-based approach to disaster  management.

Barbara Ryan is a disaster communication researcher at the University of Southern Queensland in Toowoomba, and teaches crisis and disaster communications in the the Graduate Certificate of Business. She is currently researching how people receive and react to official communications in a bushfire.







Fun, strategic, creative – a career in PR

Peter Lazar, author of ‘So you want to be in PR?’

Research at University of Southern Queensland a few years ago showed that only about 11% of our PR students had heard of the profession by the time they reached Year 12.

Knowledge of the profession and how it works is still abysmally low.

That’s why a new book by Australian PR pioneer Peter Lazar should be on the shelves of every career guidance counselor and PR undergraduate student.

So you want to be in PR? is a series of short, easy to read anecdotes of Peter’s experiences in the industry, from the early 1960s to 2015.

The range of case studies – 46 are presented here – give a comprehensive picture of what a job in PR would involve.  Just reading a few of them could give enough information for career decisions.

It gives terrific insight into the activities involved in good PR: creativity, a strong sense of what is right, detailed organizational skills and clever execution.

For instance, can you imagine using a giant dressmaker’s tape to measure up an elephant for some gargantuan cotton underpants?  Or the media coverage that would generate for the client, the Australian cotton industry?

What about convincing a traditionally reclusive client like the Freemasons to get into the limelight and be open about the organisation to successfully head off a storm created by Dan Brown’s book, The Lost Symbol?

And the logistics of launching a new sheep drench in the Sydney CBD complete with sheep, sheep dogs and very Australian shepherds?

Or, my favourites, the cases that describe him counseling organisations and industries to quit riding roughshod over stakeholders; to change their behaviour to silence media criticism rather than engage the firm to ‘spin’ them out of trouble.

Peter’s informal style and his obvious love for his job shows how rewarding and fun this industry is in ways that formal academic case studies and award entries do not.

He gets sidetracked sometimes, and there are a few annoying in-joke moments, but if you are in PR and struggle to explain your job to family, friends and school-leaver mates who have asked you about it – buy them or lend them this book.

Funny, insightful, and heartening for those of us in PR who believe in the social value of our job.

Barbara Ryan is a senior lecturer in public relations at the University of Southern Queensland and believes that PR really is The Best Job in the World.





Six ways to connect with Millennials in a crisis

teenager-1494975__340They don’t watch free to air or pay TV, they get their news from Facebook, and they listen to streaming services instead of radio stations.

How do we reach these high-speed Millennials in a crisis or disaster?

According to a new Swedish study, it’s via Facebook (no surprise there) – but the secret to cutting through to them is how you frame the story. Ulrika Sjöberg discovered there are six ways to frame story to best establish a connection with young people aged 10 -16.

Network “I” framing – where personal digital network provides a platform for decision-making based on the influence of certain people within that network and likes and dislikes posted material might have.  Sjöberg says that becoming part of the logic of sharing is a crucial issue for any agency in building relationships with teens before or during a crisis. Finding out which social media they use and the credibility they assign each is also important.

Celebrity framing – celebrities are opinion leaders where legitimacy is not gained through credibility, but by the volume of followings and they way the young person identifies with the celebrity. The pre-established relationship of trust could provide agencies with avenues of contact with Millennials. For Swedish girls it is bloggers their own age, for boys, gamers and YouTubers, particularly comedians.

Proximity framing – relevant not just to location, but details on how the crisis could affect the individual.  Sjöberg stresses the importance of knowing what young people will want to know, the issues they feel are relevant.  This information needs to be presented on demand and updated constantly.

Easy access framing – “We can’t just sit and wait…it has to happen now.” Visuals will remain important because they facilitate the high speed absorption of information. Simplicity of language and lack of jargon is also critical.

Interactivity and gaming framing – collaboration and data sharing is extending the sensemaking period before action.  Gamification and entertainment can reduce this sensemaking process – but highlights the importance of developing a relationship before a crisis threatens.

Suspicion framing – the plethora of sources on the web has reduced the ability of children to know which one to trust.  Agencies must compete in this environment and should not assume that status as a government department makes them automatically the most trusted source with the final say on what’s happening.  The good news is that to determine what to believe, the Swedish children studied turned to mainstream media online, which were regarded as reliable editorial gatekeepers.

There is much overlap between framing approaches, which shows the complexity of entering this relationship space. Sjöberg calls this the App Generation – and suggests that games and apps are the way to make the connection.

It’s heartening to find that conventional media is still in the mix for young people – if this study is anything to go by.

Barbara Ryan is a disaster information seeking researcher and recently completed a Ph.D on how people look for information in a disaster. She teaches into USQ’s Graduate Certificate of Business (Emergency and Disaster Communication).






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.






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.






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



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.

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!