Coal campaign emissions

The Tony Jaques issues management newsletter (see last blog) on the Minerals Council’s inept coal campaign was recently re-published on Mumbrella, and perhaps predictably, prompted a variety of responses.

The blog also got some comments about allegedly disparaging PR (would the blog do that?) by endorsing Tony’s views. The comments directed to the blog were in person because, as regular readers will know, the blog has switched off the comments function after making the mistake of reading a few of the comments on its old crikey column.

The blog also subsequently got involved in another context in a discussion about the use of the PR term and its positioning compared with other terms such as communications. There is no doubt that PR now has pejorative overtones but some practitioners, such as the blog, continue to use it because they have for decades and feel they ought to be judged on what they do rather than the terminology. There is a second group which busily tries to re-brand themselves by using a host of descriptors for what they do even though it is still basically PR. The third group – often operating in corporate settings – have gravitated to new titles which reflect what they believe are new practice paradigms.

This ongoing debate may have underpinned some of the questions about Tony’s newsletter about the coal campaign clangers and there does seem to be a sub-text in some of the questions he was asked. Specifically Tony was asked (among other things):

What is an issues management strategy? How does it differ from PR?

How can you say that correcting misinformation ‘spin’? Isn’t this the antithesis of spin? i.e. spin is when you spread misinformation wrapped around a kernel of truth.

What kind of pro-coal hashtag wouldn’t get hijacked? My advice would be to forget social media, it’s a no win situation.

Isn’t stupid advertising an advertising fail, not a PR fail?

You say that the first step is to get your audience to listen. But you also say that facts aren’t enough. So what exactly are you suggesting as the solution?

Having been struck by the comments and Tony’s responses the blog asked Tony if it could reproduce his reply which was as follows:

“There is most likely no winning comms strategy here. And that’s because it’s not just a comms problem. One of the strengths of an issue management approach versus a media- based PR campaign is to be much clearer on what winning actually looks like. We must assume the Minerals Council has a strategic objective, though it is not easy to see. ‘Putting the facts on the table’ might be a tactic, but it certainly isn’t an objective. And …. a hashtag and a risible advertisement were absolutely destined to fail.

“Part of the failure so far is what seems to be a desire to reproduce the success of the anti-mining tax campaign which helped bring down Kevin Rudd. The problem is that this challenge is entirely different. The mining tax campaign had an explicit, relatively short term, objective which was clearly understood by all parties, including the public who could see a very direct impact on them. That surely is not the case when it comes to promoting the value of coal.

“Developing the right solution isn’t easy – as the Minerals Council has demonstrated – but broadly what is needed is a meaningful way to engage with the public, not just to throw statistics at them; to identify and mobilise credible independent voices; to have some clear and transparent objectives (both short and long term); to separate out and have specific plans to address the different elements of the issue (for example climate change, economic value, community benefit and the environmental impact of proposed mines); to recognize that the anti-coal campaign is about a lot more than just coal; and to start being the solution rather than just the problem. Where is the coal lobby actively pursuing answers.

“I don’t claim to have the solution, but my suggestions are not just a wish list. The Minerals Council need to be in this for the long haul, and a high profile advertising campaign clearly isn’t the way forward.”

All the blog can say is: thank goodness the coal industry is not employing Tony.