Monthly Archives: April 2016

Domestic violence campaign is correct. Politically.

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Australian domestic violence campaign commercial

What a piece of work he is.

By now, you and most of television-watching Australia have got your share of the $30 million awareness campaign aimed at curbing domestic violence in Australia.

The Let’s Stop it at the Start campaign is another in a long history of taxpayer-funded television commercials created – allegedly – with the intent to create social change.

We have blogged at length about this governmental go-to tactic before. Suffice to say that Hootville believes that there are many ways to create social change in 2016 and television advertising would be far down our list of tactics. Particularly so if the campaign comes with a $30 million price tag that could be directed at services or other social awareness options.

Television commercials, along with fridge magnets and mass letterbox drops risk being criticised as guilt-easing governmental expense motivated by the desire to appear to be seen to be doing something.

TV campaigns have their supporters. Many people point to anti-smoking and anti-drink-driving television campaigns and credit them with massive improvements in both attitude and behaviour.

These people are often the same people that have commissioned such campaigns or profited from their creation. These boosters forget that it is legislation and enforcement which made smoking expensive, inconvenient and often illegal. No doubt anti-drink driving and speeding commercials help shape driving habits but we dare say they don’t have the same pre-emptive impact as booze buses, speed cameras and demerit points. Fines may have played their part too.

So to our new taxpayer funded anti-domestic violence commercial. Rewatch it before you read on.

A few observations:

We like that this commercial exists. We really like how the commercial focuses not on broad attitudes but on small everyday, changeable behaviours. Rather than asking people to evolve to a higher level of being it demonstrates specific ways to combat everyday aggression and sexism showing phrases such as: “Don’t throw like a girl” in a negative light. Likewise sexting or being too quick to forgive a young boy’s aggressive behaviour towards a girl.

This is good advertising aimed as much at parenting as it is aimed towards curbing domestic violence.

One of the biggest mistakes any campaign can make – and we see it often – is to make the audience feel guilty or accused. People of all persuasions reject environmental doomsdayism and resent being told that their meat-eating, car-driving, central-heated lifestyles are to blame for rising sea levels and Indian summers.

Rightly or wrongly, many men – the prime target of this campaign – feel offended at the suggestion that they are inherently violent or sexist. They are inadequate idiots but we probably need to reach them with the message this commercial contains the most. Could humour / irony help? We think so. And yes, you can tackle any issue with humour.

This campaign risks offending a lot of people beyond just men. After all – when was the last time a parent took kindly to your feedback on their parenting?

We don’t like the very first lines  in the commercial.

When people are sympathetic to an argument they can easily overlook some miscalibration. The Let’s Stop it at the Start commercial opens up with a curious line of dialogue with the mother saying to fallen girl: “You’re OK. He just did it because he likes you.”

Is this really something that mothers tell their daughters after they have been the subject of some little bastard’s behaviour? It struck a strange note with us and we suspect that the oddness of it will create a convenient distraction for people who should be absorbing the commercial’s message. “He’s tired.” “He didn’t mean it.” “Did you do something to Tom?” may have been preferable.

Another distinct criticism we have of Let’s Stop it at the Start is that it is utterly Anglo-centric.

We hope that the many critics of our Anglo-centric media landscape waste no time in protesting the mono-faceted cultural palette on display. (We don’t think many will though.)

We have witnessed with increasing discomfort a ‘party line’ in the domestic violence debate that is at pains to present DV as everybody’s problem. It is everybody’s problem but just like other problems –  illiteracy, unemployment, pay day lender debt, diabetes – this problem does not impact equally across the demographic smorgasbord. No problem ever does. Not even in death are we equal – rich folk live longer.

The 2015 Dropping Off The Edge report by Jesuit Social Services and Catholic Social Services states that those living in the least advantaged 3% of NSW postcodes have a 300% higher than average experience of domestic violence. Indigenous women are 34 times more likely than average to be hospitalised due to domestic violence according to Professor of Indigenous Studies at University of Melbourne, Marcia Langton.

Does the commercial reflect this? Nope.

Though this commercial is aimed ultimately at targeting domestic violence, in the short-term it is a commercial aimed largely at parents. We should be aiming at parents from all cultures particularly those – and this will lose us some friends – who have grown up in cultures with different social norms around gender, violence and parenting.

Those groups in the community need to see themselves represented in this commercial. It’s difficult to see how the creators of this commercial overlooked that point. There’s not an indigenous, Southeast Asian, sub-continental, Chinese, middle-eastern, African, Eastern European or Maori face to be seen. All of these groups are huge components of contemporary Australia and they need to see themselves in such commercials along with those who look like they belong at Summer Bay.

Is political correctness getting in the way of an important social message? We wouldn’t be surprised. Sometimes a diverse display of people is politically correct. At other times an all-Anglo display is just as politically correct.

This recent anti-gambling commercial failed to show key cultural groups with a proven penchant for betting. What a wasted opportunity! And that scene in the park! And that music! Oy vey!

To pretend that only Anglo-celtic people need to consider their attitudes is a great disservice to us all. It also tends to tar a great many innocent people with a brush we’d rather avoid.

Note: the campaign website has content in non-English languages for those keen enough to seek them out. There’s also an Indigenous-themed radio commercial.

To be 100% clear – we understand that domestic violence happens everywhere. It is a cancer on our community and should be stopped everywhere. Priority #1. Everyone needs access to education and services but those services and awareness campaigns need to be targeted at those who need them most. The problem is too wicked to let political correctness stand in our way.

anti violence commercial


Response from Citizen Clare McHugh:

Thanks for your blog. Interesting analysis but I can’t let it go without a quick response. What follows is a personal view.

No ad can be all things to all people. I’d love to see—and hope the government plans—subsequent ads and strategies shaping messages for particular groups and communities. However the poverty/cultural dynamic that you correctly identify as missing could make this ad a melange that does not penetrate with any message (and which you more than likely would analyse for its failure to send a clear message).

I suspect the pitch is deliberate (notwithstanding the much commented on middle-class Anglo-ness of our massmedia generally) so that ‘average’ citizens can’t let themselves off the hook. The ad does a good job in identifying how our own innocuous comments justify small incremental attitudes and acts of violence.

The people who want to be part of the change in society may recognise their own everyday comments and begin to think about their influence on children. By the way I don’t think the ‘prime target of this campaign’ is men. I think it’s trying to show how all of us, even well-meaning non-violent people, contribute to a community problem.

The ad does seem to target parents and parenting. What would an adult really say? See this six year old’s birthday party to hear what adults do say to children and each other in real life. Unfortunately it is still pervasive that too many adults care about their own social standing with other adults than about intervening positively or stopping something terrible.

The Royal Commission into sexual abuse of children tells us this in too many painful stories, repeated over decades across multiple institutions in society. This is what happens when adults do not want to look like they’re interfering, are worried what people think about them or their parenting or worried that their child’s behaviour reflects on them ie  looks sooky, will rock the boat or looks badly behaved.

My other major project at ECA is Start Early. Respectful relationships for life. You can see ECA’s Start Early site here or the modules themselves, which are aimed at educators of young children.

Love your work. Don’t always agree. But obviously it got a reaction!


“Hi. I’m Troy and I’m a bisexual”

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human resource conference emcee

Pro tip: unbutton one’s jacket before picture opps.

Have you, with your professional reputation on the line, ever asked a room full of strangers to turn to the person next to them, extend a hand and introduce themselves with the line: “Hi I’m Troy and I’m a bisexual.”?

Thought not. But that’s exactly what happened at yesterday’s Future of Work conference. That’s quite an audience participation exercise wouldn’t you agree? We’ll explain it later.

Over the last six weeks or so Brett has been working with three speakers – Varina Paisley, Sylvia Roux and Bamini KPD Balakrishnan- who yesterday shared a session at the Future of Work event at Melbourne’s Federation Square. Each is an emerging leader in their field, with experience in more formal and academic presentations though mainstream conference presentations on this scale were newer to them.

The Future of Work event is quite a big deal with international speakers drawn together by the Centre for the Workplace Leadership, which is part of the University of Melbourne. Lots of smart high-powered, good-looking people gather to discuss people, place and technology as it relates to our working lives. Brett was fortunate enough to emcee the conference last year and this year was tapped to help the trio of speakers make the transition from academic to mainstream conference presentation.

Here are a few observations:

Big improvements happen: it is remarkable how deliberate investment in your presentation skills improves performance. The difference between our first and second session, held over two consecutive days six weeks ago, was remarkable. The best public speakers are those who are willing to deconstruct their presentation and prioritise the experience of the audience. A willingness to try new things – such as polling the audience or launching immediately into your presentation – is vital.

In the last six weeks however real life intervened. Our ‘dress rehearsal’, held less than 24 hours before showtime, was invaluable. Performances were, we all agreed…underpar.

Two of the presentations, planned to be 22 minutes in duration were suddenly completed in 12 minutes. Close to 50% of the content had been forgotten! Unprecedented. Without the dress rehearsal, this could have happened in front of a live audience. Some rust had settled in and so it was a prime opportunity to get back into the right headspace.

public speaking trainer

Would this shirtless big- haired man lie to you?

Listen to Andre: You will find few sporting references in the Hootville canon. Andre Agassi is an exception. His advice – to train at an intensity as close as possible to the intensity required on match day – is valuable. It is easy to get comfortable with rehearsing at a low energy level and stopping for any mistake or interruption. Get used to delivering your presentation at 100%. Get used to recovering from a memory lapse and delivering your presentation in your fancy clothes as opposed to your pyjamas. Get used to pausing to allow your audience some white space and speaking at a volume and pace different to those you use every day. By the way Agassi’s autobiography Open is one hell of a good read.

Apples and oranges are different: There is a significant difference between presenting in more homogenous environments such as academia and a broad, mainstream event such as the Future of Work. It is not an easy transition to make for speakers who have had their noses in data and dissertations for years. It takes a willingness to try and fail and change KPIs.

public speaking tips

Consider some dot points or flowchart.

Working without a script is tough: all three speakers chose to work without any notes whatsoever. This was not on Brett’s insistence. While being note-free is the gold standard, working without so much as an index card in one’s hand does force speakers to devote a lot of energy into simply remembering their script. It is totally acceptable at any level of presentation to have notes. No audience will hold this against you, though reading a speech word for word is utterly unacceptable. Of course visual presentations can act as a jog to your memory, inspiring you to recite a passage of your presentation confidently but not word-perfectly.

Foreshadowing: anyone who has ever watched a movie, read a book or listened to a skilled storyteller knows the power of foreshadowing. It builds anticipation, maximises attention and gives the speaker control.

Foreshadowing is a particularly showbiz characteristic. It does not come naturally to people who present in a very straightforward and linear manner. Here’s an example of foreshadowing:

“I spent two years researching 800 workers in one financial services company investigating why some workers truly believed in their employer’s mission and others frankly saw their job as nothing but a means to an end. I could talk all day about how to create a positive, resilient, passionate culture but with so little time I’ll simply share my top three tips to dramatically improve your organisation’s culture. But before I do that, can I ask you a question? Are you even measuring how your workers perceive your corporate culture?”

You have already created an appetite for your top three tips even though you might not share these for quite some time. Regardless, when you get to them your audience knows that they are your top three tips and you will have gained the maximum amount of attention for them.

Leave a little whitespace: every graphic designer knows about the value of whitespace. Leaving some space uncluttered gives a sense of calm and ease. The more upmarket the publication the more whitespace we see. It’s no different with spoken presentations. Give people time to consider what has been said, imagine a scenario or simply absorb information. Deliberate pacing and the occasional pause conveys confidence – whether you feel it or not. We’ve all been in situations where we’ve felt anxious and as a result prattled on without cessation. Try not to repeat this on stage.

Time is limited so cut to the chase: our Future of Work trio were allotted 22 minutes each with some question time after all three presentations were complete. Brett recommended that all speakers leave their opening thankyous and acknowledgements to the end. The opening minutes are when you have the maximum amount of attention from the audience – don’t blow it on thanking the organisers or your public speaking trainer.

Time is limited so prioritise: our speakers could have spoken all day – such was their knowledge of their various fields. There was no way to do justice to everything they had to say in 22 minutes, particularly when you subtract the amount of time required to simply explain some of the key concepts and background that gave context to each presentation. Brett emphasised the need to deliver the audience some value and take-home messages at the expense of other content. All three speakers obliged in spades.

Keep it simple: it’s not cool to say so but if there is one presentation software that every venue can run it is erstwhile PowerPoint. Alternatives to this industry standard can create complications for you. Complications that tend to arise at the very last minute. Similarly, running presentations directly off your laptop or from the cloud creates awkward challenges for the tech staff. Yes, it’s annoying to have to prepare and send your presentation in advance but it a gets the job done and minimises technological dramas. Some tips on PowerPoint above.

Observations for dress and earring wearers of all genders: we take pride in not telling speakers what to wear but two unusual dramas made themselves felt in our 90 minute session. One speaker wore a dress with no belt or pocket which meant that she was not able to hook her microphone battery pack onto anything. This meant that she had to hold the pack throughout her presentation with her other hand holding the clicker. All three speakers wore Madonna headsets which tapped against two of our speakers earings which was a percussive distraction we had not anticipated.

The show must go on: is the fundamental showbusiness tenet.  Regardless of the size of the audience, technological breakdowns or lack of sleep one must do do one’s voodoo. Varina, the first speaker in our trio, proved herself a trooper when she calmly waited for the wrong presentation to replaced with her own. This awkward interruption could easily rattle any speaker. Don’t let any interruption interrupt you. That’s showbiz.

Set-ups matter: One of our speakers twice asked the audience to spend a minute considering a question and jotting down their thoughts. We worked specifically on how to best explain what our speaker wanted the audience to consider. It underlined to me that any exercise you give the audience has to be clearly explained if it is to be effective. In our case it was.

media and marketing training in brisbane

A good voice is a real career booster.

Voices matter: it pains us to admit it but all things being equal a good voice is an advantage. Note that voice concerns matter only when you’ve got your content, audio-visual, audience engagement and stagecraft in order. We can’t all be Morgan Freeman but we can all pace ourselves, speak clearly and deliberately and work on keeping our pitch a little low. Rightly or wrongly a voice that is pitched high can begin to grate on audiences. Readers who wish to add another level of complexity should try to vary volume, tone, pitch and pacing. Please note this is the absolute icing on the cake. You would be better off honing your stories, examples and means of audience engagement.

Refer: A couple of our trio referred to points made by previous presenters from earlier in the day. This is always a great move as it shows you are as interested in the content as the audience. It shows you give a damn.

Test everything: no matter how obliging or negligent the technicians on site appear, ensure that your microphone, audio-visual and other practical concerns are met. Don’t just try the clicker and microphone while standing next to the technician – walk the stage with them and see if they work at a distance. Go through the slides of your presentation to make sure that they all show and that your groovy transitions are grooving as expected.

Flick the switch to vaudeville: we have spoken repeatedly about the need to engage audiences with an exercise, a poll, a hypothetical. It’s only fair to audiences and it keeps the energy high. Academics do not traditionally do this. Brett was delighted to see his speakers take the opportunity and engage their audience.

Varina, addressing diversity in the workplace, gave us a fictional case study of ‘Troy’ a middle-aged executive who is bisexual. Varina wanted to challenge the notion that being non-heterosexual in the workforce is straightforward in 2016. We decided that she should conduct a quick piece of audience participation by having audience members turn to a stranger and introduce themselves with the line: “Hi. I’m Troy and I’m bisexual.”

The little exercise served several purposes: it created a giggle in the audience, it showed that it is a big deal in 2016 to explain that you are not straight and as a result gave more control to Varina. Varina had progressed from telling to demonstrating.

Our thanks to Varina, Sylvia and Bamini for being so willing to try something new on the advice of someone so less educated. Our gratitude too, to the Centre for Workplace Leadership, particularly Angus Blackman for the opportunity.

Need some training for your staff, event speakers or yourself? Find out more.

Are media releases still relevant?

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Are media releases still relevant?

The one thing non-communications professionals know about the world of public relations is that you write media releases. Those who are unfamiliar with how media coverage comes to pass, see the media release as the be all and end all. It is not. The media release is to media coverage what the Hallmark invitation is to the party – just the beginning.

Sadly your boss may not have a nuanced understanding of how stories are made.

Can you write a media release about our new program / campaign / product / milestone?” she asks / commands.

What she really means to say is: “Can you get me lots of media coverage through whatever means necessary?

Some media trainers still offer full day workshops in the art of media release writing. We kid you not. When Hootville delivers our Media Savvy workshops we devote about 30 minutes to the gentle art of media release writing. We minimise our time on this topic because the impact of the media release has been minimised in the digital age during which millions of words appear on screens competing for the attention of journalists’ hearts and minds.

A radio producer once told me that she receives around about 140 media releases a day. In an environment as crowded as that don’t be so arrogant as to think that your media release will make an impact. Far more impactful will be your telephone call which is why we devote time in our media savvy training to the art of the telephone pitch.

So why write a media release?

At some point in the journey from pitching a story to publication you will have to provide the journalist some information in writing. This may well be your media release or it may be a simple email giving more background and detail. Make sure you use this to influence the way the journalist understands your story and have it ready in advance of your first telephone contact.

Media release vs the telephone pitch

The phone is mightier than the media release. Why? Well no journalist has ever said that our story idea was dull, had been covered before, was two weeks too late and is irrelevant but that because the media release was so well written they decided to give the story a run anyway.

On the other hand most of the 1000 stories we’ve successfully got up for clients was initiated and essentially sold via a short telephone conversation.

The phone call has more impact with journalists and takes less time for the publicist. Talking to each other can also help develop a working relationship.

media release writing

Don’t waste time perfecting releases with no impact.

Your superiors like media releases because it gives them the opportunity to correct something. This is old school. The amount of time devoted to writing, then perfecting a media release is a wicked waste of time that could be spent on packaging a better story, finding more prospective media targets and working the phones.

By calling first and sending your written information later you don’t have to provide a word-perfect media release. Instead, you can supply an email. It will still have to be well written and full of interesting information but it doesn’t have to have the headline, the logo in just the right spot and the three quotes. This will save you time – maybe a few hours by the time approvals are factored in. If you do this 20 times across a year you’ve got the best part of an extra working week up your sleeve. Use the time sit by your company pool with the daiquiri of your choice.

media release writing

Mention them and they will be notified.

Other alternatives to the media release: Twitter. Along with politicians, journalists are the most passionate users of Twitter.

Consider using Twitter to gain attention of individuals in the media. A-list journalists will rarely be moved by a mention in a tweet but less well known journalists and producers may be. Certainly a Twitter mention will gain more attention that another email. Be sure to use an individual’s Twitter handle, not the media outlet as a whole.

How to improve your media releases.

You can improve your media release writing by concentrating on a few key factors:

An attention getting headline. Extra points if your headline is funny, punny or a witty play on words. The secondary headline, called the strap, has the job of more soberly explaining what your media release is all about. Get that right and  you’re 20 per cent of the way there.

are media releases relevant

Short but effective.

This example from the Property Council of Australia is straight to the point. When we wrote a release for a well-known Victorian charity facing financial ruin our headline was:

Elderly Victorian Icon $2 million in debt. We were happy with that because it created the thought that the icon was a famous person – few journalists could resist clicking to read who the debtor was.  

Next; the opening paragraph has to be all encompassing and continue to hold the interest of the journalist. Summarise the situation and explain why it’s important.

Are your quotes boring? Probably. If your quotes can be read and pretty much make sense without the quotation marks, your quotes are too similar to ordinary text. Quotes have to sound like a real person really spoke to a real journalist with real passion. Again the Property Council example is good and real.

Conclusion: So yes, media releases still belong in the PR world though their status is far diminished. Tell your boss.