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Progress-program

I was recently asking my NGO communications buddies if they knew of any courses that focused on digital campaigning and community mobilisation. The responses I received were largely along the lines of “I don’t think anything like that exists in Australia”, and “hey you should run a course on that”, so I was starting to get a little disheartened.

That was, until Sarah Stokely suggested I grab a ticket to Progress 2013 – and man I’m glad that I did!

In this post I’ve tried to capture some of the highlights of the last two days, and will no doubt add to it as my brain digests the smorgasbord of ideas, critiques, and strategic thinking I was lucky enough to learn about at this landmark event.

Richard Wilkinson

Richard Wilkinson

Richard Wilkinson, social determinants of health guru and expert on the societal effects of inequality framed our thinking as the morning keynote speaker on day one.

His opening slide encouraged us to consider the question, why are we so miserable?

He explained that at a global level (comparing country-to-country), life expectancy is unrelated to economic growth, happiness and other measures of wellbeing.

However, when we look at the population within countries, health and social problems are more prominent in countries where there is an inequitable distribution of wealth. That is, the larger the income gap, the worse off countries are across a range of areas including: homicide, mental illness, imprisonment, life expectancy, high school drop-outs, maths and literacy scores, social mobility, teenage births, social capital, and the prevalence of trust between citizens.

Research shows that people who live in unequal countries actually trust each other less. Only 15-20% of people living in unequal countries feel they can trust each other, compared to more equal countries, where it’s about 60%.

Richard explained that a naive view of inequality only looks at one end of the spectrum that focuses on poverty and income differences. Whereas a more informed view examines the layers of all the subtlety destructive tendencies that humans possess, ie the psycho-social effects.

Fundamentally it’s about a response to social hierarchy and ranking, and whether people feel valued or devalued.

Richard Wilkinson-Public health slide
Research tells us that friendship is a protective factor of health

We then had a look at the “U shape of inequality” from the 1930’s to the present day. It bottomed out in the 70s (thank you feminism) and is now sadly on the rise again. Richard says we’ve lost any vision of what a society that serves us all might look like – a thought for us to keep in mind throughout the conference.

So what might this more equal world look like, and how do we get there?

Richard challenged us to consider what would happen if we extend the idea of democracy into the economic world, and transform big business and corporate control into democratic spaces.

His talk convinced me that in many respects, some of us have reached the end of the benefits of economic growth, and that now we need to think about how to create a better quality of life for everyone, beyond consumerism.

Tim Costello on the narrative of progress

Tim says that the notion of progress needs to be unpicked. He says it can’t be a narrative about material goods, and that we need to understand its limits. The economic rationalism storyline should have already been unpicked, but it still dominates our public debate and policy making.

Australia ranks number one in the world in terms of medium per capita wealth, and number two for wellbeing. We are healthy and wealthy, but are we wise?

The story of “the wealthier I am, the happier I’ll be” doesn’t necessarily work out the way we think it will when we’re ultimately faced with greed, stress,  and fragmentation of communities.

Working out the narrative of progress was one of the challenges Tim put to the conference attendees. This was particularly important given that the NGO sector is largely written out of the progress story.

His take-home points for us:

  • If we can understand our size and our muscle, we can change this place
  • We need to empower people to define what “the good life” means for them
  • There are a lot of people in Australia who should be having a voice, and they need to be connected

Limited news: a future for media in Australia?

Future-of-media

Panelists:

Tim started out talking about how he often sees journos dealing with Twitter followers like they are some kind of pest. He said journos don’t like being publicly held to account, they don’t like being questioned, and they still resist engaging in meaningful dialogic communication.

This got me thinking about how we can break down the barriers to social media use, how we can bridge the digital divide, and how we can empower citizen journalists to deliver quality, yet independent content. I’m yet to come across a better example than the PakVotes project that I came across in Geneva earlier this year.

We then moved on to discussing the Murdoch press, and how we break down the empire and it’s constraints. The general consensus was that monetising free-to-access media is still very difficult, and the publications that have opted for the paywall option are finding it problematic.

Jamila thinks that by 2020 we’ll have online media accounts where we pay very little (eg half a cent) per article read, but that it will take a while for us to get to the point where culturally we’re ready for that to happen on a large-scale.

She flagged that sponsored content is one of the more promising ways that we can monetise online media. I saw a couple of examples of this when Mamamia ran its “Most Clickable Women” awards, and invited female bloggers to engage in the creation of branded or sponsored content.

Digital Campaigning: going well beyond clicktavism

Panelists:

This was one of the sessions I was most looking forward to attending, and it delivered! It was a real honour to hear some of the world’s leading campaigners share their approaches to strategy, implementation and evaluation.

Some tips from the gurus:

  • Technology is just an enabler, it’s how we use it that’s important
  • Seize the moment – when something happens in the real world, leverage it!
  • When people see real action in the world it galvanises support in the online environment
  • By challenging politicians to do something about an issue (by collecting signatures for an online petition, for example), you present not only a big stick, but also a very big carrot
  • It’s important to agitate around issues that “no one cares about”, but recognise this will often require a much more long-term strategy
  • Many people fail because their target audience can’t see how it will lead them to success, and they can’t see their role in the journey
  • When people take action you need to celebrate little victories along the way

Moving beyond the “gender card” – opportunities for the Australian women’s movement.

Y women

Josie Swords of Feminaust, Krista Seddon of the YWCA Victoria, Michelle Deshong of the Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre, myself representing the YWCA of Canberra, and Nina O’Brien of Kindling.

Panelists:

Jane began the discussion by saying that she doesn’t see feminism as a movement. She sees feminism as a way of seeing the world, where women are at the centre of their own lives, rather that at the periphery of someone else’s. Jane noted that one of the things that we (women) consistently deal with is a trivialisation of our thoughts, feelings and desires, and that this needs to change.

Rebecca however, was more interested in talking about how we as a collective can move our agenda forward faster. She said the average GetUp member is a 55 year-old woman, and that one of the reasons women make excellent campaigners is that we’re comfortable with emotion, and the vulnerability that leads to connection.

Michelle challenged the position that Jane presented, because she feels like she has only just had the opportunity to start participating in feminism. She sees her race as the first thing that has prevented her participation, and then her gender, which is why she calls herself an Indigenous Feminist.

Michelle believes that gender equity is a conversation for everyone, and that Indigenous women want to participate in feminism while bringing their men along with them.

There aren’t a lot of Aboriginal women who are participating in the “feminist debate”, because they are more comfortable participating in the “Indigenous conversation”. The overlay of cultural context for Aboriginal peoples is very important, and shouldn’t be underestimated when it comes to participation in feminist debates.

Jane sees social media as one of the biggest ways that we can move feminism forward faster. The fact that we can have a public conversation without being mediated is unprecedented, and is something we shouldn’t take for granted.

Using the Destroy The Joint campaign as a case study, Jane passed on a few words of wisdom about progressing the feminist agenda:

  • Mock stupidity – it’s the best defence!
  • You have to fight mockery and insults with the same thing!
  • We need to make all progressive movements FUN!
  • Start with a group of people who are like-minded, and want the same outcome. You will have a much better chance of making your campaigns fun and engaging.

Finally, Michelle encouraged us to think about what the world will look like when gender equity exists, and stressed the fact that for us to get there, women’s rights first need to be accepted as human rights.

Me-Ruth

Ruth and I, Better Boards Conference, Melbourne, July 2013

Having been back in the country for less than a week, it was a bit hectic to then head off down to Melbourne for the Better Boards Conference, but I’m so glad I did!

The opening keynote on Saturday was from ThinkPlace’s Dr Nina Terrey on how design thinking can drive innovation. She talked about some of the challenges of our NGO environment, from technology and the demand for businesses to operate online, to our ageing population and the impact of this on our economy, housing, and family structures.

She suggested that perhaps one of the biggest challenges is how we (NGOs) connect within one another, and challenged us to consider how we can be cooperative as well as competing.

She then talked about how many young professionals are “mission-driven”, and there’s a trend toward social entrepreneurship in Australia. I certainly notice this in my friendship groups.

Dr Terrey did say though that there are no formulas or models that will simply help us deal with these uncertain times, but that design thinking can help us navigate the “mystery” of our environment.

Innovation-mindset

Leadbeater’s appetite for collaborative innovation

So where to start with design thinking?

Dr Terrey encouraged delegates to think about where some of the biggest challeges are for our organisations, and said to start with looking at the available evidence to help us understand “where we are” at this point in time.

She then said to think about what success looks like. Then how we might get there. Talk to stakeholders to understand what it’s like from their perspective. Do some interviews, spend time with those people, get some information. Then hypothesise…

Design-thinking

Dr Terrey’s “leading on the edge of innovation” preso

One of the other sessions I attended on Saturday was with Philip Mayers, Director, Dakin Mayers Associates, on the role of the nominations committee in recruiting the right board directors.

He started out by saying that one of the fundamental issues in recruiting board directors is that many are recruited through the “old boy/old girl” network. There’s also the “big names” syndrome, and he reckons these people only want to put in minimal effort on a board, and more often than not they’re doing it for the professional development or networking opportunities, rather than having a deep connection with the issues the NGO is dealing with.

He said that some of the biggest challenges for a nominations committee includes:

  • there are no magic bullets with recruitment
  • big names will not help your board strategically guide an organisation
  • recruitment can be a very slow process and it needs to be tackled strategically and thoughtfully

He suggested that the makeup of the nominations committee comprise: 2 senior board members, 2 externals, and the CEO. He stressed the importance of the externals in keeping the internals honest (if they’re the right people).

In terms of what to look for in board members, Philip cited the following qualities: big picture thinker, open-minded, non-biased, approachable, change agent, inclusive, think on their feet, team player, positive manner, ability to delegate, personal integrity, and has skills in board governance.

He talked about the danger of appointing young people to the board (eeek). The reason being that “board members need to have an understanding of governance.”

This comment puzzled me. Don’t young people have the capacity to understand what governance is all about? I sit on a board where there is a minimum requirement that 30% of all board positions are to be held by young women, and I can tell you, they discuss governance A LOT.

In fact, most of the young women on the YWCA of Canberra board pride themselves on their governance nerdiness. More about the Y’s awesome finance and governance workshops here and a good overview of Gen Y in the board room from Chris O’Neill here.

After hearing this comment I asked the other folk on Twitter what they thought about having young people on boards. Here are some of the responses:

todddavies “my experience as a Gen X is that boards can get stayed and dull without a Gen Y or two.”

Rebecca Vassarotti “I know plenty of older people with no governance exper. Everyone has to learn.”
Michel Hogan “because we need diversity on Boards as well as experience and also need to build future generation”

At the end of his presentation I had a chance to ask Philip to elaborate on his earlier comment, and asked him how he got his first gig on a board. He told me that his comment was more to do with “getting young people on boards just for the sake of understanding what young people want”.

He also told us that his first board appointment was when he had just graduated from law school, and he was recruited by his local synagogue – a great learning space for him, I imagine.

One of my favourite sessions of the weekend was run by Sallie Saunders from Building Better Boards, on “Assessing the CEO: the good, the bad and the ugly”.

The key message that came from this session was that a thriving NGO relies on good relationships, in particular the relationship between the CEO and the board.

She said that if you can be the CEO of an NGO, you can pretty much run the country. This was on the one hand a light-hearted comment, but when you look at the qualities, role and responsibilities of a CEO, they aren’t dissimilar to those that are required of a PM.

It’s no surprise then that she considers the CEO to be the most precious asset of an NGO.

Recruiting, developing and assessing the CEO is the only HR job a board has, and Sallie stressed that if directors can’t find reasons to support the CEO, then it’s probably time for them to get off the board.

So what makes it work?

  • keep board development and appraisal on the agenda – it’s a 2-way street
  • set targets for board achievement
  • talk about the difference between strategic and operational matters
  • keep reporting demands to a minimum
  • use the board expertise to add value to the work of the organisation
  • provide support and advice, especially when requested
  • avoid getting involved in staff matters
  • ask the CEO how the board can help (and listen to the answer)
  • the Director’s default position should be to support the CEO. If that’s not the position, then follow grievance procedures.

Later that afternoon there was a lively debate about the question of NGO board remuneration – “to pay or not to pay”?

On the affirmative team:

  • Victor Harcourt, Principle, Russell Kennedy
  • Dean Phelan, CEO, Churches of Christ in QLD
  • Christine Jones, Dispute Resolution Practitioner

Arguing against:

  • Brian Herd, Partner, Carne Reidy Herd Lawyers
  • Alexandra Zammit, CEO, Thomas Holt

The debate itself was pretty entertaining, but the thing I was most impressed with was the live polling and Q&A that was taking place via PigeonHole as the debate progressed.

The idea was to vote on the question of the debate “Should not-for-profit boards be remunerated?” before the discussion took place, as well as afterwards. The MC then compared the results to see whether the speakers had convinced the audience to change their opinions.

In the end there was a shift from something like 65% of delegates thinking that NGO boards should be remunerated, to almost an even split.

I really loved the fact that with PigeonHole delegates were not only able to pose a question to the panel, but also “vote up” other delegates’ questions that they really wanted to hear the answer to.

I think the inclusivity that this kind of tool offers is really valuable, because it means that people who may not feel confident enough to stand up in front of a crowd to ask a question can articulate their idea through a written submission. They can even participate anonymously if they perhaps don’t want the subject of their question to be linked with their organisation or board.

From a strategic communication perspective, I would be really interested to know why the BBC2013 team placed a much greater emphasis on dialogic and digital communication this year as compared to last year (when there was virtually nothing). I’d like to think it had something to do with the feedback I provided!

As Sunday approached I began to reflect on my time volunteering with the YWCA of Canberra. The last 12 months in particular have been a huge period of growth for me.

There are a few guarantees that come with volunteering for an organisation like the Y:

1. You will have the opportunity to work with inspiring, bright, courageous, like-minded women of all ages
2. You will be afforded opportunities to grow your personal and professional experience
3. You will at times, find yourself completely out of your comfort zone thinking “how on earth did I get talked into this?”

But rest assured, you will have the support, encouragement, and expertise of a community of women who want nothing more than to share your success with you.

This is kind of how I felt when Ruth asked me to co-present with her at the Conference this year, but I’m so glad that I accepted her invitation.

Our presentation focused on telling the story of how the board of the YWCA of Canberra developed its 15-year strategic plan. To put the presentation together, Ruth interviewed a bunch of past board members and the Executive Director, Rebecca Vassarotti. The aim was for them to tell the story from their perspective, with Ruth and I providing the commentary around the implications for the current board.

Typically I felt pretty anxious in the lead up to delivering this presentation, but of course it all ran very smoothly!

We had enough time for a 15 minute Q&A session at the end, and later received some really positive feedback from delegates, including CEOs and directors from a range of NGOs.

If you’re interested in checking out the Better Boards Conference as a professional development opportunity for your board, I highly recommend it.

There is something for everyone, no matter how “new” or “experienced” your board directors are, whether your NGO is service-provision focused, or an advocacy organisation, or how big your budget is.

Flags

It was refreshing to start the day with some good news. The European Union and the African Group delivered a cross-regional statement on child, early and forced marriages yesterday afternoon at the HRC, and it was supported by over 100 states.

This is particularly important for the World YWCA, as it followed the side event that it co-hosted with Plan International last Friday. It also demonstrates that the advocacy of the World YWCA and its members at The Commission on the Status of Women, Session 57 (CSW 57) has influenced the framing of the issue and subsequent debate.

The language about “child, early and forced marriages” that was part of the agreed conclusions at CSW 57 has featured prominently in discussions at the 23rd Session of the Human Rights Council. A great win! The World YWCA will continue to work with its allies to push for a resolution at the Human Rights Council in September.

While Jenna covered the third informal consultation on the draft resolution on the elimination of violence against women, I headed off to a session on freedom of expression.

While waiting for the session to start, a mysterious Kashmiri NGO representative introduced himself and insisted on reading my palm (not the kind of offer one expects in the halls of the Palais Des Nations)!

Palmistry

The conversation went a little like this:

He said: I can see you recently bought an apartment, you’ll buy another one soon.
Me: Wow, looks like I’m going to win the lottery then.
He said: you do things well when you’re going 100%, don’t slow down because you won’t be as effective.
Me: yep, that’s generally how I roll.
He said: you have a queen’s heart.
Me: sweet.
He said: nice to meet you, you can go now.
Me: ok…

People that know me well will be able to make up their own minds about how accurate his reading was!

ICTs

Now, back to business!

Shahzad Ahmad is a development communications expert and is at the forefront of the internet rights movement in Pakistan. He’s the country coordinator for an organisation called Bytes for All, which focuses on building the capacity of human rights defenders through the strategic use of digital communication (wow + awesome).

Bytes for All’s focus areas include:

  • Strategic use of ICTs for women’s empowerment and combating violence against women
  • Youth & peace building in the South Asia region
  • Freedom of Expression
  • Privacy Rights in Pakistan
  • Digital Security for Human Rights Defenders
  • Open Governance
  • Open Net Initiative
  • Greening IT
  • The Internet & human rights
  • Global information society watch
  • Innovation for development
  • Internet governance

He opened by talking about major human rights issues in Pakistan that came about during the last election.

There were violent acts that attempted to prevent certain parties from campaigning, refusing women of their right to vote in certain regions, and curbing of people’s freedom of speech in both online and offline environments. For example, YouTube was blocked by the government apparently due to its widespread blasphemous content. However it was clearly about muzzling the voices that posed a threat to the government of the day.

The Pakistani code of conduct states that religion can’t be used to promote the platforms of political parties. But this is being breached left, right and centre. It also prohibits the display of arms during promotions, yet there are many examples of political parties parading the streets with weapons, aiming to intimidate anyone who opposes them.

Mr Ahmad then introduced the PakVotes project, which is all about empowering ordinary citizens to participate in the electoral process in Pakistan. Essentially, it’s a platform for people who would otherwise be voiceless throughout the election process. The main way they do this is by highlighting people’s stories, and bringing human rights abuses (such as pre-poll rigging, violence at polling stations or issues in voter mobilisation or discrimination) to the attention of the global public sphere.

So one of the first things they did was go out into communities, and train people in the use of smart phone technologies and social media so that they could:

  • report in real time from the field with “just a smartphone”
  • be able to use a variety of social media tools for reporting
  • understand the essence of honest, safe and accurate journalism
  • be able to unearth stories which may otherwise be overlooked by mainstream media

Some key points about their approach:

  • the online platform, www.pakvotesmap.pk monitored and documented violations in different regions
  • citizen journalists reported back on what was happening in their region
  • stories were then picked up by mainstream media, bloggers, and political activists as a source of new and fresh content, who would then report to their own networks about what was happening during the election
  • Storify was used to document their discussions with different minorities and make them publicly available
  • Twitter and Facebook were used to facilitate instant, dialogic communication with citizens and social influencers to raise awareness about the unfolding issues

They had some fantastic outcomes, with thousands of people engaging in the Twitter and Facebook discussions, hundreds of stories being submitted and verified for the website, and gaining significant national and international media coverage on the issue.

Mr Ahmad closed by saying that when you engage the citizen you can promote openness and participation to influence political processes, and that new technologies provide us with a unique opportunity to amplify the voices who otherwise have no voice, and no agency.

Rock!

Since starting my Masters in Strategic Communication I’ve often been asked “so…what is strategic communication?”. Luckily one of my first assignments was to answer that very question. Read on communication nerds, and feel free to tell me what you think!

Introduction

Strategic communication is a broad and ambiguous term, often used to describe a range of professional disciplines including management, marketing, public relations, technical communication, advertising, and media relations. The purposeful nature of strategic communication is critical, and can include activities such as public diplomacy, public health promotions, the support of social causes, charities and activist organisations, political campaigning, the sale of products, and the promotion of public policy views (Hallahan, Holtzhausen, van Ruler, Vercic & Sriramesh, 2007). As divergent as the names and purposes of these activities are, their commonality lies in the intent to influence individuals, groups, organisations or even whole societies (Botan, 1997).

Perhaps the most successful strategic communication endeavours not only aim to communicate in order to influence a target public or to advance an organisation’s mission, but encompass the following critical attributes: rational debate to achieve understanding; dialogic communication; and authenticity. This essay will define strategic communication by exploring these key attributes in the context of critical communication theory, and thereby propose a framework for ethical and successful strategic communication in the contemporary communication environment.

Rational debate and achieving understanding

Jurgen Habermas’ concept of a public sphere should be used as a benchmark by strategic communication practitioners to facilitate rational debate and achieve understanding among target publics. The public sphere refers to the discursive processes in a network of persons, institutionalised associations and organisations which represent a civilised way of disagreeing openly about essential matters of common concern. While discourses are very rarely conclusive, they constitute a complex source of social power, trust and legitimacy for individuals and organisations both in private and government settings (Jensen, 2002).

According to Habermas, a public sphere is formed when citizens communicate, either face to face or through letters, journals, and newspapers or other mass media in order to express their opinions about matters of general interest, and to subject these opinions to rational discussion (Edgar, 2005). For Habermas, the success of the public sphere is dependent upon rational and critical discourse where all participants are able to equally engage, and achieving audience understanding is the ultimate goal. It is important to make a clear distinction between achieving understanding and achieving consensus. Habermas’ public sphere is less concerned with all parties reaching an agreement, or achieving a particular goal, and focuses more on providing people with a forum in which they can share and exchange knowledge and ideas freely and equally. For Habermas, reaching understanding is the inherent telos of human speech (Habermas, 1987).

The concept of the public sphere has been widely criticised as utopian and unachievable when applied in practice. However, it is important that contemporary communication practitioners have an ethical basis on which to lay the foundations of their work, and an ideal to strive for. It can be argued that the concepts and preconditions of the public sphere are still relevant and should be further developed to reflect on public relations as a profession in its societal context (Jensen, 2002). Indeed, there are many successful contemporary examples of the public sphere in practice.

New technologies and digital communication platforms demonstrate ways in which various publics including lay people and experts can collaborate and communicate openly to achieve understanding. For example, the online news forum The Conversation is an independent source of analysis, commentary and news from the university and research sector. It aims to provide a space in which individuals and organisations can engage in public debate and discussion across a diverse range of topical issues of concern. One of the key objectives of The Conversation is to make evidence-based content accessible and useful to both experts and lay publics by combining “academic rigour with journalistic flair” (The Conversation, 2012). In many ways, The Conversation exemplifies a contemporary working public sphere, as it embodies Habermasian values and attributes and puts them into practice. For example, its Charter sets out that it will:

  • Give experts a greater voice in shaping scientific, cultural and intellectual agendas by providing a trusted platform that values and promotes new thinking and evidence-based research;
  • Unlock the knowledge and expertise of researchers and academics to provide the public with clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems;
  • Create an open site for people around the world to share best practices and collaborate on developing smart, sustainable solutions;
  • Provide a fact-based and editorially-independent forum, free of commercial or political bias;
  • Ensure the site’s integrity by only obtaining non-partisan sponsorship from education, government and private partners. Any advertising will be relevant and non-obtrusive;
  • Ensure quality, diverse and intelligible content reaches the widest possible audience by employing experienced editors to curate the site;
  • Support and foster academic freedom to conduct research, teach, write and publish; and
  • Work with academic, business and government partners and an advisory board to ensure we are operating for the public good.

Digital platforms like The Conversation are arguably setting a new standard for ethical journalism, news reporting and more broadly strategic communication, by challenging traditional content creation and dissemination processes, and deliberately refuting accepted views of the industry as untrustworthy, sensationalist, and biased.

Dialogic communication and the rise of social media

Monologic communication can be described as “seeking to command, coerce, manipulate, conquer, dazzle, deceive or exploit. Choices are narrowed, consequences are obscured, and focus is on the communicator’s message, not on the audience’s real needs. The core values, goals, and policies espoused by the communicator are impervious to influence exerted by receivers, and audience feedback is used only to further the communicator’s purpose” (Johannesen, 1996). While monologic communication models have been a dominant feature of traditional strategic communication dating back to ancient times, with the widespread availability of online communication platforms there has been a distinct shift to a more dialogic approach.

Dialogic communication is characterised by a continuous two-way flow of information and feedback where the distinction between sender and receiver is somewhat indistinct. Indeed, the communication delivered by individuals and organisations using a dialogic communication approach is characterised by authenticity, inclusion, confirmation, presentness, a spirit of mutual equality, and a supportive climate (Johannesen, 1996). It has become clear that in the contemporary communication environment organisations can no longer simply ‘deliver’ key messages to disengaged and passive publics. Successful strategic communication is about meaningful engagement and building relationships with key audiences.

In the areas of welfare, health, crime, employment, education and the environment, achieving significant progress requires the active involvement and cooperation of citizens (Australian Public Service Commission, 2007). Social media can be defined as a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010). Social media platforms are an increasingly popular way for strategic communicators to build networks of collaborators, grow active and engaged communities, and foster meaningful dialogue to achieve their aims and objectives (Greenberg & MacAulay, 2009). Successful social media strategies typically encompass the following criteria:

  1. Connectedness: regularly engaging in two-way conversations with target audiences (dialogic paradigm).
  2. Meaningful participation: target audiences are actively participating in opportunities made available to them through social media outreach.
  3. Uptake of information: information and key messages are being accessed and adopted by target audiences both on and offline.

Arguably one of the strongest examples of a successful social media strategy in a political communication context is the 2007 Barack Obama campaign (the Campaign), with its mission, Involvement through Empowerment. The Campaign did not simply consist of a series of social media profiles and well-honed key messages with the expectation that people would engage and get on board. Rather, the Campaign utilised social media platforms as vehicles to connect with audiences to listen to their concerns, generate open discussion and debate, offer solutions to their problems, and mobilise and empower them to take action both on and offline.

In terms of the social media metrics, the Campaign reached 5 million supporters across 15 social networks over the course of campaign season. By November 2008, the Campaign had approximately 3 million Facebook supporters, 115,000 Twitter followers, and 50 million viewers of its YouTube channel (The Dragonfly Effect, 2012). Offline, over 200,000 events were planned, more than 35,000 volunteer groups were created, and over 70,000 people raised $30 million.

While the reach of the Campaign is impressive, what is more interesting is the way that, through social media interactions, everyday people were put to work by sharing content, spreading the Campaign’s messages, and of course raising funds; the audience became a part of the campaign. Without adopting a dialogic communication paradigm and harnessing the capabilities of social media, this outcome wouldn’t have been achieved.

Truth versus authenticity

In the contemporary communication environment, seeking out pure and unbiased information or indeed a single truth is arguably an impossible mission. From a Foucauldian perspective, one would argue that people’s attachment to truth is central to the power/knowledge relationship, and that particular knowledges gain the status of truths by virtue of their relationship to power (Motion & Leitch, 2007). However, in order for information to be shared, it needs to be crafted, packaged, pitched, and delivered by one or more messaging platforms. If there was a mechanism by which an independent individual could perform these tasks in isolation from the message sender, nonetheless their education, upbringing, and social values would influence the way that the communication is handled. It is therefore more important to focus on the authenticity of information and its source, rather than how pure or true the information actually is.

Since the development of digital communication and the 24-hour news cycle, audiences are relentlessly bombarded with a myriad of communication messages. The result is audiences that are hugely accessible to communication professionals, and are necessarily more discerning when it comes to the products they purchase, the brands they align themselves with, and the messages they choose to take on board. The need to convey authenticity and transparency in communication is more important now than ever before. Organisational actions can be communicated or exposed to global audiences within a matter of seconds, better educated publics process information in greater quantities, and an increase in online activist and consumer groups has decreased the probability that a problematic organisational action will slip under the radar (Botan, 1997).

If organisations strategically share who they are, their values, their knowledge, and importantly, their mistakes, they will appear more visible, genuine, and available when engaging with publics and if future public relations and communication opportunities arise. If organisations mask their identities, they risk not only missing out on public profiling opportunities, but also compromising their credibility as a leader or trusted source in their field and with their audiences.

An example of the importance of authenticity in strategic communication is illustrated in the public battle between Shell and Greenpeace in the 1990s. Shell needed to dispose of its 14,500 tonne ‘Brent Spar’ oil platform, located in the North Sea, and was given permission to do so by the UK government. As part of Green Peace’s long-standing campaigning against sea disposal of oil rigs, it swiftly took action, and on 30 April 1995 a number of activists had physically occupied the rig, and remained there for three weeks. People watched as a ‘David and Goliath’-style public battle ensued between the world’s then largest oil company, the UK Government, and Greenpeace and its supporters (Bakir, 2005).

Over the following weeks, public and political pressure mounted as Greenpeace strategically utilised mass media outlets, particularly television news and documentary-style video clips to inspire protests across Northern Europe. Greenpeace’s communication strategy adopted a dialogic communication paradigm, and relied heavily on media outlets and their target publics to share their video footage of action around the rig, and to question the messages delivered by Shell. ‘It was just as important to get images of the rig – the support ships hosing down the activists trying to get on board – as it was to do the action itself,’ (Blair Palese, Greenpeace International, BBC1 9.00 pm News, 21 June 1995).

One of the key criticisms of Shell was its inability to respond to these images and Greenpeace’s claims in an authentic and timely manner, which caused the public to grow increasingly sceptical about its team of expert scientists and their technical explanations. Shell was also somewhat hamstrung by its lengthy internal communication approval processes and policies, and couldn’t compete with Greenpeace’s authentic real-time communication tactics.

By week seven of Greenpeace’s campaigning, Shell-Austria, Shell-Germany and Shell-Netherlands announced that they opposed to the deep-sea disposal of the rig. On 20 June 1995, Shell-UK announced the abandonment of its plans to dispose of Brent Spar at sea. Following Shell’s decision to pursue only on-shore disposal options, as favoured by Greenpeace and its supporters, the Brent Spar was given temporary moorings in a Norwegian fjord. In January 1998 Shell announced its decision to re-use much of the main structure in the construction of new harbour facilities near Stavanger, Norway.

This case study demonstrates that in the contemporary communication environment, authenticity is more influential than traditional indicators of power such as economic power, expert knowledge, or even political power in gaining the trust and support of target audiences. Further, the case study illustrates the need for organisations to respond swiftly and honestly to public concerns, and to take advantage of opportunities afforded to organisations by new digital technologies.

Conclusion

Strategic communication is about more than merely planning for the long term, implementing a set of tactics, and being aware of the ever changing external communication environment. It’s about fostering rational debates to achieve understanding among publics; working within a dialogic communication paradigm to build relationships; and recognising the importance of maintaining authenticity in organisational branding and messaging.

In the contemporary communication setting where digital communication platforms are widely available, organisations and individuals are constantly under scrutiny and any weakness can be very rapidly and very publicly unearthed. The field of strategic communication would arguably attract less criticism and scepticism if practitioners adopted an underlying principle of authenticity, and worked towards the Habermasian concept of a public sphere.

References

Australian Public Service Commission. (2007). Changing behavior: A Public Policy Perspective. Retrieved from http://www.apsc.gov.au/publications07/changingbehaviour.pdf

Bakir, V. (2005). Greenpeace v. Shell: media exploitation and the Social Amplification of Risk Framework (SARF). Journal of Risk Research 8 (7–8), 679–691.

Botan, C. (1997). Ethics in Strategic Communication Campaigns: The Case for a New Approach to Public Relations. Journal of Business Communication 34(2): 188-202.

The Conversation. (2012). Retrieved from http://theconversation.edu.au/

The Dragonfly Effect (2012). Retrieved from http://www.dragonflyeffect.com/blog/dragonfly-in-action/case-studies/the-obama-campaign/

Edgar, A. (2005). The Philosophy of Habermas. Chesham, UK: Acumen.

Greenberg, J., MacAulay, M. (2009). NPO 2.0? Exploring the Web Presence of Environmental Nonprofit Organizations in Canada. Global Media Journal: Canadian Edition 2(1): 63-88.

Habermas, J. (1987). The theory of communicative action: Vol. 2. Lifeworld and system: A critique of functionalist reason [Die Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns. Zur kritik der funktionalistischen Vernunft]. Boston: Beacon Press. (Original work published 1981).

Hallahan, K., Holtzhausen, D., van Ruler, B., Vercic, D., Sriramesh, K. (2007): Defining Strategic Communication. International Journal of Strategic Comunication, 1:1. 3-35.

Jensen, I. (2002). Public relations and emerging functions of the public sphere: An analytical framework. Journal of Communication Management, 6(2), 133-147.

Johannesen, R. L. (1996). Ethics in human communication (4th ed.). Prospect heights IL: Waveland Press.

Kaplan, Andreas M., Haenlein, Michael. (2010). Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media. Business Horizons 53(1): 59–68.

Motion, J., Leitch, S. (2007). A toolbox for public relations: The oeuvre of Michael Foucault. Public Relations Review, 33(3), 2007, 263-268.

Rutherford, P. (2000) Endless Propaganda: The Advertising of Public Goods. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

No matter what country you live in, you’ve probably seen a mass media government campaign or two that focusses on ‘tackling youth binge drinking’. In Australia a recent and significant effort in this area was the Federal Government’s Don’t Turn a Night Out Into a Nightmare campaign. I took a closer look at this $20 million effort to change young people’s attitudes and behaviours towards alcohol to see how it stood up against evidence-based strategies and successful social marketing initiatives from around the world.

Summary

 On 10 March 2008, the Australian Government announced a $53.5 million “National Binge Drinking Strategy” (the Strategy) that aimed to address risky alcohol consumption among young Australians. The Strategy comprised three components: a $14.4 million investment in community initiatives that focused on exploring the cultural and social aspects of binge drinking, including $2 million towards supporting the Club Champions program –  developing elite sports ambassadors to promote responsible drinking messages; $5.2 million towards supporting the Good Sports program – supporting local sporting clubs to promote responsible drinking messages; and $7.2 million towards a community based grants round – establishing partnerships between non-government organisations (NGOs), local governments, sporting groups, police, and other groups to develop local solutions to youth binge-drinking. The second component of the Strategy was a $19.1 million investment in early intervention programs that encourage young people to take on personal responsibility for their drinking behaviours, and the third component was a two-year, $20 million social marketing initiative entitled Don’t Turn a Night Out Into a Nightmare, that sought to highlight the ‘costs and consequences’ of binge drinking for young people.

The focus of this report is the principle key element of the Strategy, the Don’t Turn a Night Out Into a Nightmare campaign (the Campaign), which ran from 21 November 2008 to 30 June 2010.

Target audiences

The Campaign targeted two key groups:

  1. Primary target audience: teenagers aged 15-17, and young people between the ages of 18-25.
  2. Secondary target audience: parents of 13-17 year olds.

Objectives

The main objective of the Campaign was to “contribute, along with the range of existing education, policy and regulatory initiatives, to a reduction in harm associated with drinking to intoxication amongst young Australians.” (Australian Government, Department of Health and Ageing [DoHA], 2008). In terms of alcohol-related harms, the Campaign focused on short-term or immediate harms such as injury or accidents, rather than the long-term impacts of heavy drinking such as chronic disease. Specifically, the Campaign aimed to:

  1. Raise awareness of the harms and costs associated with drinking to intoxication among young people.
  2. Increase perceptions of the possibility of personally experiencing a range of short-term negative outcomes from intoxication, as well as increasing personal perceptions of the seriousness of these outcomes.
  3. Deliver personally relevant messages to encourage, motivate and support the primary target groups to reconsider the acceptability of the harms and costs associated with drinking to intoxication, assess their own drinking behaviour, and make changes to their own behaviours where necessary.
  4. Deliver personally relevant messages to encourage, motivate and support parents of young people to examine their own attitudes and behaviour towards alcohol, talk to their children about alcohol and the consequences of drinking to intoxication, and to become role models for responsible alcohol consumption.

Delivery

The Campaign adopted a traditional social marketing approach, whereby ‘‘brand’’ merchandising techniques are used to sell or market social behaviour change in a similar fashion as product marketing. In brand marketing schemes, information about a product is transmitted with the goal of changing behaviour and increasing product consumption. Social marketing represents a variant of brand or commodity marketing, with the goal of persuasively changing behaviour through value or attitudinal change. Standard campaign applications of these ideas have typically relied on public service announcements (PSAs) and ancillary communication strategies, for example, television, radio, print media, and billboards to inform the public with a goal of changing beliefs, attitudes, and eventually behaviours (Scheier, Lawrence & Grenard, 2010).

The key message “Don’t turn a night out into a nightmare”, was delivered via a range of mass media channels, including, television commercials, cinema commercials, radio commercials, online advertising including a game entitled The Drinking Nightmare, out-of-home advertising, print media such as posters, brochures and postcards, and educational resources for parents and teachers including online fact sheets, and an interactive CD-ROM.

The television, print and out-of-home advertising follow a consistent approach in delivering the key message. Each piece of media depict two scenes, the first of a group of young people happily consuming alcohol, the second of a scene illustrating one of the negative short-term consequences of binge drinking. The situations, actors and consequences of each scene were chosen to ensure the maximum relevance for both genders and for younger and older drinkers within the 15-25 year age range. After conducting pre-campaign market research with the target groups, four pairs of scenes were used:

  1. ‘Party bushes’, in which a couple are photographed having sex at a party in the bushes, coupled with the statistic “one in two Australians aged 15–17 who get drunk will do something they regret” (designed for maximum relevance for females and 15–17 year-olds);
  2. ‘Pedestrian accident’, in which a male pedestrian is hit by a car, coupled with the statistic “four Australians under 25 die due to alcohol related injuries in an average week” (designed for maximum relevance for males and 15–17 year-olds);
  3. ‘Coffee table’, in which a female is injured by falling through a glass table, coupled with the statistic “on average, 1 in 4 hospitalisations of people aged 15–24 happen because of alcohol” (designed for maximum relevance for females and 18–25 year-olds); and
  4. ‘Pub fight’, in which two males exchange blows, coupled with the statistic “70 Australians under 25 will be hospitalised due to alcohol-caused assault in an average week” (designed for maximum relevance for males and 18–25 year-olds).

Two 60-second advertisements were used on television and in the cinema. The first, which featured ‘Party bushes’ and ‘Pedestrian accident’, was designed to appeal to the younger members of the target audience. The second featured ‘Coffee table’ and ‘Pub fight’ for maximum relevance to older members of the primary target audience. The online advertising featured a moving image of a beer glass being raised as if to the viewer’s mouth and one of the statistics mentioned above (Ipsos-Eureka Social Research Institute, 2009).

Risk issue definition

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), alcohol is a causal factor in more than 60 major types of disease and injury. These include liver cirrhosis, diabetes, road traffic accidents, several types of cancer, violence, and Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (World Health Organization, 2011). The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol (the Guidelines) state that alcohol-related risk comprises both the risk of alcohol-related harm over a lifetime, and the risk of injury on a single occasion of drinking (National Health and Medical Research Council [NHMRC], 2009).

Alcohol misuse results in substantial harms to Australians. Each week some 60 people die and a further 1500 are hospitalized because of their own alcohol consumption (Pascal, Chikritzhs & Jones, 2009). Not only does alcohol misuse impact on the drinker, it also imposes costs to the community, including healthcare, criminal justice, and lost productivity. In 2010, one in five Australians aged 14 years or over drank at levels that placed them at lifetime risk of alcohol-related disease or injury. This equates to 3.7 million Australians drinking at long-term risky levels, compared to 3.5 million Australians in 2007. In 2010, almost two in five Australians aged 14 years or over drank at levels that placed them at risk from short-term harm at least once in the previous 12 months. Between 2007 and 2010, the number of people drinking at risky levels monthly increased from 4.9 million to 5.2 million (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare [AIHW], 2011). From the period 1995-2005, 32,696 Australians aged 15 years and over died, and over 80,000 were hospitalized each year due to risky or high risk alcohol consumption (Pascal, Chikritzhs, & Jones, 2009).

In terms of Australia’s overall alcohol consumption, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) generates its estimates about the amount of alcohol consumed by Australians based on the amount of alcohol available for consumption in Australia in a single year. In 2009-2010, the estimate of alcohol consumption was 10.3 litres per person, which is equivalent to 2.3 standard drinks per day, per person aged 15 years and over. According to the ABS, this figure has remained relatively stable since the mid 1990’s (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2011).

This report focuses on the Campaign’s attempt to reduce the occurrence of risky single occasions of drinking, or binge drinking, among young Australians.

Précis of previous research

There is surprisingly little research literature about the way that Australian news media treat the issue of binge drinking, or Australia’s ‘drinking culture’, despite the fact that it is a frequently reported issue. A 7-year snapshot of [1] mainstream Australian news media coverage referencing the term ‘binge drinking’ indicates that reporting of the issue has remained stable over this period, with around 1000 news items per year. However, from 2008-2009 coverage more than quadrupled, which is likely to be attributable to the launch of the Campaign (see Table 1 below):

Table 1

News articles referencing ‘binge drinking’ from 1 January 2005 – 1 January 2012

Year

Number of news items

2005

726

2006

622

2007

1186

2008

4866

2009

2889

2010

1314

2011

1304

While international analyses have examined the relationship between media framing of alcohol issues and youth binge drinking culture, little attention has been given to the way in which young people receive, interpret and react to dominant news frames. Studies in the United States have explored the role of parents, public health advocates, and news frames influence young people’s drinking behaviours (Askelson & Campo, 2009). However, this research largely ignores the social, political and cultural actors that shape the way that young people perceive alcohol. While research indicates that parental involvement is an important protective factor (Askelson & Campo, 2009), in isolation, the likelihood of media framing having a significant impact on parent’s attitudes towards managing their child’s alcohol use is arguably small. Further, the likelihood of college students changing their behaviours and attitudes towards drinking as a result of increased parental intervention is at best minimal, particularly for young people that live on campus, away from the family home.

A recent Australian study about the communications activities of alcohol industry-funded body, DrinkWise, demonstrates how journalistic practices routinely circulate a range of expert opinions and ideas without providing context, background or critique of each position. By presenting industry and health researchers’ voices on an even playing-field, expert opinion is devalued, and at times, health researchers’ criticisms of the alcohol industry appear to strengthen rather than undermine it’s communications efforts. This is demonstrated through the alcohol industry’s involvement in public policy, academic research, and news media, all of which contribute to legitimising its position within public discussions about alcohol consumption. While some publicity does not play immediately in the industry’s favour, the fact that it is engaged in discussions and debates provides an opportunity to maintain and reinforce political and economic structures that facilitate branding and consumption, while at the same time actively engage in brand-building activities in social and cultural environments (Carah & van Horen, 2011). A 2011 study of Australian news media’s treatment of the contested ‘alcopops tax’ on ready-to-drink beverages (RTDs) in 2008 supports the notion that the opinions of health advocates, experts and industry representatives are presented by media without providing any context or background for the audience (Fogarty & Chapman, 2011).

It is clear that further work needs to be done to establish an adequate understanding of the structural and societal factors that shape the way young Australians perceive alcohol, and the extent to which news media influences their attitudes and behaviours. Further, the use of social media as an effective channel for engaging at-risk young people to achieve attitudinal and behavioural change is yet to be explored.

Campaign analysis: Don’t Turn a Night Out Into a Nightmare

The Campaign was highly ambitious in the sense that it relied on a mass media approach to achieve its proposed core objectives of increasing knowledge, influencing attitudes, and changing behaviours among the target population groups. International evidence on successful public health education campaigns on low-risk drinking levels show that mass media approaches can be effective in reaching a broad target audience. For example, Canada’s highly successful Born Free campaign about abstaining from alcohol during pregnancy involved disseminating information at the point of sale, as well as the promotion of key messages through television, radio, and print media (NHMRC, 2009). While mass media campaigns can reach a diverse cross-section of the population, they are less successful in engaging specific population groups when messages are generic, both in terms of framing and the medium by which they are delivered (van Gemert & Dietze, 2011).

How people behave is determined by many factors and is deeply embedded in social situations, institutional contexts and cultural norms. A non-targeted approach to communication may be particularly ineffective for some of the diverse cultural and demographic groups within Australia. Messages targeting Indigenous groups, for example, may be most effective if they are tailored specifically to them (recognising that Indigenous culture is also heterogenous). Other groups that may require specialised tailoring include recent migrants, the elderly and young people (Australian Public Service Commission, 2007). In order to influence the attitudes and behaviours of young people who engage in risky drinking it is clear that a more targeted approach is necessary.

Age is one of the crucial considerations in the design of social marketing campaigns that aim to affect attitudinal and behavioural change in a population group. While the Campaign targeted young people from age 15 through to 25, and the parents of these young people, research shows that messaging and education about sensitive issues and risk-taking should begin at a much earlier age. According to the World Health Organisation, “the needs and developmental abilities of young people vary with their age; thus programmes must take these factors into account. This is commonly referred to as “developmentally appropriate programing.” For example, concepts in school curricula should be sequenced smoothly from primary levels to secondary levels to reinforce previous learning experiences and make links for new learning; this process is sometimes referred to as a “spiral curriculum.” For sensitive issues such as HIV/AIDS, sexual and reproductive health, education should begin as interest begins to increase but before the target group has become involved in risk-taking behaviours. The building blocks for dealing with such sensitive issues should be in place at the very beginning of children’s education. Such building blocks include self-esteem, positive values of cooperation and teamwork, the protection and promotion of health, and pro-social behaviour. However, to help young people develop positive behaviour and avoid risks, these topics must be taught in a way that is increasingly specific to actual situations in their lives.” Further, the pre-teen and early teen years are arguably the critical period in which drug influences by peers are most active and also reflect the formative years of identity formation when youth are most vulnerable to certain risk behaviours (Hawkins, Catalano, & Miller, 1992).

It has become increasingly clear that governments cannot simply ‘deliver’ key policy outcomes to a disengaged and passive public. In the areas of welfare, health, crime, employment, education and the environment, achieving significant progress requires the active involvement and cooperation of citizens (Australian Public Service Commission, 2007). Social media can be defined as a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010). Social media is playing an increasingly important role in the way that organisations, governments and individuals communicate. For governments, digital communication tools provide opportunities to influence the attitudes and behaviours of individuals and communities, particularly young people. An important aspect of effective social media use is communication strategies that are based on a dialogical paradigm. Successful social media strategies typically encompass the following criteria:

  1. Connectedness: regularly engaging in two-way conversations with target audiences.
  2. Meaningful participation: target audiences are actively participating in opportunities made available to them through social media outreach.
  3. Uptake of information: information and key messages are being accessed and used by target audiences.

While the Campaign utilised social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube, the underlying communications strategy was focused on a broadcast or one-way paradigm. The Campaign’s social media profiles were merely used as communication stations for pushing messages and information to as broad an audience as possible, rather than tapping into the more powerful paradigm of dialogic communications. The profiles are clearly designed and governed by the Department of Health and Ageing, with little evidence of input from young people. Updates are restricted to the key Campaign messages such as “Going out this weekend? Don’t risk turning your night out into a nightmare. Know your limits and aim to stick to them. Avoid peer pressure and drinking more than you want to” and “Are you going out this Anzac day? To help keep track of how much you have had to drink, avoid top ups and finish your drink before you go for a refill.” Since the launch of the Campaign, parody Facebook pages have been created by young people, such as Don’t Turn a Night Out Into a Nightmare – Plank Responsibly, which has 67,556 ’likes’ as opposed to the Government’s official page with 198,769 ‘likes’. The parody page was created by an individual with no broader marketing budget, which demonstrates the effectiveness of authentic messaging and the potential for some social media initiatives to spread ‘virally’. The parody page is still regularly updated, whereas the Government page has remained static since July 9, 2010. The effective use of social media was a missed opportunity, and one that should be explored in future youth-oriented social marketing campaigns.

The Government’s official evaluation of the Campaign consisted of an analysis of 4,363 online interviews in November 2008, and 4,200 in April 2009 with young people and parents of young people. The sample was then broken down into gender, location, cultural background, and level of alcohol consumption. While the results indicate that campaign messages were well-received and retained by the primary target audiences, there is less evidence to show that the Campaign had an impact on drinking behaviours. Further, while quantitative data is useful in terms of tracking trends and patterns in attitudes and behaviours, a qualitative methodology such as semi-structured interviewing or focus groups would be more useful in terms of gaining a deeper understanding of the attitudes, perceptions and behaviours of the target groups.

Implications for risk communication

It is questionable as to whether mass media campaigns are the most appropriate vehicle for engaging at-risk youth population groups. Alternative approaches include non-paternalistic, highly-targeted peer-based interventions, and the innovative use of social media to deliver key messages, information, and importantly, foster dialogic communication with young people (Gemert et al., 2011). Smaller-scale social marketing, such as tailored communication for individuals or small groups, is growing in popularity and has substantial applications using the Internet and handheld devices. However, tailored health communications is a new field and has not yet been widely applied to prevention and health promotion, and there is limited evidence of its effectiveness in these applications (Kreuter, Farrell, Olevitch & Brennan, 2000). Further research in this area is needed in order to establish an understanding of the effectiveness of these alternative approaches.

Research about the media reporting of the implementation of the Australian Government’s ‘Alcopops Tax’ suggests that effective communication about changes to alcohol policy needs to: clearly demonstrate the case for change, understand the arguments of opposing actors, ensure that evidence is readily available to support claims, and use case study examples to further illustrate arguments and add a dimension of authenticity to the frame (Fogarty & Chapman, 2011). However, given the nature of the risk communication environment it would be naïve to propose that positions of power in framing risk issues can be won and permanently held by a particular actor, regardless of the level of support for or salience of a frame at a particular point in time. It is perhaps more important for health advocates to acknowledge the complexities of the risk communication environment, and where possible, seek assistance from strategic communication experts to provide support in navigating and negotiating this tricky terrain.

A common communications approach of health researchers, policy-makers, and other experts is to challenge the credibility of organisations such as DrinkWise, as a legitimate player in the alcohol policy debate. This has often proved ineffective, as by acknowledging DrinkWise and shining a light on their messages, they are then intrinsically accepted as a key part of discussions. By battling the alcohol industry lobby, the focus is then removed from the alcohol ‘environment’, that is, the entertainment, cultural, media and marketing spaces in which the industry promotes and facilitates alcohol consumption. Instead, health experts should channel their efforts towards shaping the way in which public debates are framed, that is, the current media template about alcohol consumption. This proposal poses a significant challenge to the Australian health sector, as there is already a well-established framing of experts promoting ‘nanny state’ or ‘wowserish’ alcohol policy reforms, particularly when the focus is on the regulatory environment. In order for a shift in the current media template to take place, professional strategic communicators must lead the way in shaping conversations with the media, key political stakeholders and the alcohol industry (Carah & van Horen, 2011).

The Guidelines summarise the current evidence-base on risk levels associated with alcohol consumption for adults, young people, and women who are pregnant or breast-feeding. The Guidelines have now been in place for three years, yet there has been no comprehensive education campaign to promote them (FARE, 2012). An evaluation of the limited promotional material regarding the Guidelines commissioned by DoHA astutely points out that “The guidelines will not engage the community nor influence attitudes towards the consumption of alcohol merely by virtue of their existence” (Horizon Research, 2011). While there have been a handful of short-term campaigns in the past two decades aimed at reducing the levels of harm associated with alcohol use among the Australian population, and young people in particular, none have proved successful in significantly changing drinking behaviours. While evaluations indicate that awareness of past campaign messages has been high, and the retention of these messages has been successfully obtained by target population groups, drinking behaviours have largely remained unchanged. With this in mind, it raises a serious question as to why the Australian Government chose to invest a further $20 million in the Campaign.

This review demonstrates that in order to significantly change young people’s attitudes and behaviours towards alcohol, a multipronged approach is needed. This includes ongoing public education and social marketing campaigns, as well as policy reform that addresses the environment in which alcohol is marketed, sold, and consumed. Future social marketing campaigns should take a long-term view, be well-resourced, adopt a dialogic communications paradigm, include both targeted and specific messages for different target audiences, and ideally take place within the context of population-wide alcohol policy reform.

References

Andrea, S. Fogarty and Simon Chapman (2011). Framing and the marginalisation of evidence in media reportage of policy debate about alcopops, Australia 2008-2009: implications for advocacy. Drug and Alcohol Review (30): 569-576

Askelson, N. M., S. Campo, et al. (2009). The Missing Role of Parents: A Content Analysis of Newspaper Coverage of Parenting Practices and Communication Strategies for Addressing Binge Drinking. Communication Research Reports 26(1): 50-61.

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2011). Apparent Consumption of Alcohol, Australia, 2009-10.Canberra: ABS

Australian Government, Department of Health and Ageing. (2008). Retrieved from http://www.drinkingnightmare.gov.au/internet/drinkingnightmare/publishing.nsf/Content/about-the-campaign

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2011). 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey. Retrieved from http://www.aihw.gov.au/publication-detail/?id=32212254712

Australian Public Service Commission. (2007). Changing behavior: A Public Policy Perspective. Retrieved from http://www.apsc.gov.au/publications07/changingbehaviour.pdf

Carah, N. and van Horen. (2011). Drinkwise, enjoy responsibly: News frames, branding and alcohol. Media International Australia (141): 5-16

C. van Germert, P. Dietze, et al. (2011). The Australian national binge drinking campaign: campaign recognition among young people at a music festival who report risky drinking. BMC Public Health 11(1), 482-489

Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education. (2012). 2012-2013 Pre-Budget Submission. Retrieved from http://www.fare.org.au/policy-advocacy/submissions/

Hawkins, J. D., Catalano, R. F., & Miller, T. Y. (1992). Risk and protective factors for alcohol and other drug problems in adolescence and early adulthood: Implications for substance abuse prevention. Psychological Bulletin, 112, 64–105.

Ipsos-Eureka Social Research Institute. (2009). National Binge Drinking Campaign – Evaluation Survey. Retrieved from the National Binge Drinking Campaign website http://www.drinkingnightmare.gov.au/internet/drinkingnightmare/publishing.nsf/Content/research-eval

Kaplan, Andreas M., Haenlein, Michael. (2010). Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media. Business Horizons 53(1): 59–68.

Kreuter M., Farrell D., Olevitch L., Brennan L. Tailored Health Messages: Customizing Communication with Computer Technology. (2000). Mahwah, N.J: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

National Health and Medical Research Council. (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. Canberra, Commonwealth of Australia.

Pascal, R., Chikritzhs, T. & Jones, P. (2009). Trends in estimated alcohol attributable deaths and hospitalisations in Australia, 1996-2005. National Alcohol Indicators, Bulletin No.12. Perth: National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University of Technology.

Scheier, L. M. and J. L. Grenard (2010). Influence of a Nationwide Social Marketing Campaign on Adolescent Drug Use. Journal of Health Communication 15(3): 240-271.

World Health Organization. (2011). Global status report on alcohol and health.Geneva: World Health Organisation.

World Health Organisation (2001). Skills for Health, Skills-based health education including life skills: An important component of a Child-Friendly/Health-Promoting School. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/school_youth_health/en/


[1] Outlets include regional and metropolitan daily newspapers, 2GB radio, 3AW radio, and AAP news bulletins.

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