29 December 2007

PR without real meaning

Some companies do things by the book – the PR textbook. The result is often an insincere response to the issue or crisis.

Take BHP, one of the world's largest companies.

The Sydney Morning Herald (29 Dec) reported the company's coal mining activities could damage a heritage-listed canal, which in turn could affect part of Sydney's water supply.

With big dollars at stake, the company produced a mealy-mouthed statement from a PR spokeswoman.

The statement surely came out of a PR textbook: it was clinical, highly-structured and jam-packed with 'quaint' words like "stakeholders, infrastructure owners, structural integrity, rigorous risk assessment, independent peer review".

This is nothing more than BHP (the same company whose Ok Tedi mine gouges out pristine wilderness in Papua New Guinea) saying: "we went through the motions but we were always going to mine".

I'd have thought they could have written it without the jargon. If they're going to ruin the landscape, and perhaps part of Sydney's water supply, they could at least sound sincere about it.

This type of amateurish PR response should be consigned to the archives.

PS: BHP is currently being sued for $5b by PNG villagers.

26 December 2007

Green is good (PR)

Today's Boxing Day news says more companies are climbing aboard the "Green" bandwagon, following the Bali climate change talks.

That's great news, but I suspect it has more to do with turning a "greenback" (if you'll pardon the Americanism) than actually turning "green" for altruistic reasons.

According the the Sydney Morning Herald, two major retail groups have approached Planet Ark for information on what they can do on climate change.

That's good news. But, like the just-ousted Liberal Government, the issue of global warming has been prominent for more than a decade. It is just too much

While I'm sceptical about companies' motives for suddenly altering their stance due to a change in the political wind, the environment (hopefully) will be better for it.

17 December 2007

Snow job in Bali

For the life of me, I can't see much of anything that resulted from the world climate conference just concluded in Bali.

The US used the word "consensus" (agreeing to talk about setting emission levels at the 2009 Copenhagen conference). The organisers used the word "road map". These are (PR) weasel words, used to describe nothing in particular. The Middle East has had a "road map" for many years, and that had not led very far.

Yes, Australia has at least ratified the Kyoto Protocol. But there really has been a backdown in affirmative action. Everyone will wait until 2009 to talk about it again. What happened to setting targets NOW?

All that's happened is 190 nations have agreed to have a think and meet again (in another attractive location - why not in a place deeply affected by global warming, say the Arctic?).

So we might see emissions reduced by 25-40 per cent by 2020. There's an awful lot of carbon monoxide going to be dumped into the atmosphere between now and then. Ah, but the profits the coal and oil companies will be okay. By 2020 it probably won't matter about targets, because oil will have run out anyway.

It's simply too little, too late.

02 December 2007

Apparently this is worth something

There's this widget that (apparently) tells me/you how much my/your blog is worth. Here's my worth. However, I have an identical blog at Wordpress, which is worth $2822.70. How do they work that out? It's an interesting comparison. I'm running two parallel blogs to see which gets the better response.


My blog is worth $564.54.
How much is your blog worth?

01 December 2007

Defence PR silence deafening

Yet again the Defence PR machine swings into silence over the alleged death of Afghan civilians (Defence silent on civilian deaths, SMH, 1 December).

This is typical of the way the Department has been run for the past eight or so years. "No comment", is the usual response over anything controversial.

You'd think with more than 180 people employed in PR they'd be able to come up with something better than that.

The trouble is that these people are simply doing the government's bidding. They are the front-line example of the way the Liberals controlled information to excess.

Over to you, Joel Fitzgibbon.

30 November 2007

The future of PR

The incoming chairman of the PRSA (America’s peak PR body) has outlined some of the problems PR faces. In many ways, they are no different to us in Australia. The full text is available at bulldogreporter.com (29 Nov).

Sounds like the Yanks face some of the same problems we do – one of them being irrelevance of the peak PR body. I was talking about this today with a colleague, who is pro-PRIA. I am not a fan of it, mostly because it’s a toothless organisation which offers little to members. Why should lawyers be regulated, but PR people not be?

To be a PRIA member one should be an experienced practitioner (and qualified). So why does it run workshops for members on how to write a media release? They should know that already. Sheesh, they teach it in journalism 101.

Figures don’t lie. Our PRIA has 2800 members, from an estimated PR workforce of between 11-14,000 (Aust. Bureau of Statistics).

29 November 2007

PR in the TV spotlight

The ABC’s long-running TV program Media Watch will also include reports on poor PR practice from next year.

Media Watch will be hosted by Walkley Award-wining journalist Jonathan Holmes.

This is great news, as it will serve as a wake-up call for the profession.

Hopefully, one of the byproducts will be a greater professionalism in the industry. I’ve long said that PR has been its own worst enemy.

While I’m sure it will expose the charlatans, it could be a chance for PR to start to reposition itself as a serious business discipline.

26 November 2007

Glad (it's) all over

As the old Dave Clark Five song of the same (headline) name says, I'm glad the election is over, if nothing more than to give us a break from the tedium of campaigning (and babies).

Labor's victory was deserved, given that for the most part the Liberals simply weren't listening.

Maxine McKew, the Labor candidate for Bennelong, who, at the time of writing, seems to have ousted the Prime Minister from his seat, gave a pointer as to why the Liberals had lost.

McKew, a former high-profile TV journalist and first-time candidate, said she was amazed at the people she met while door-knocking and visiting shopping centres. Well, surprise, surprise.

They're called Australians, or more precisely, constituents ... the people who just sacked a government ... and a PM who had held his seat for 30 years.

This is what politicians, particularly those in power, forget: that they represent people. If the people aren't being listened to, they have the amazing opportunity to have their say, even if it is only once every three years.

20 November 2007

Pure theatre from Howard and Costello

Prime Minister John Howard performed the "best" PR stunt of the election last night by appearing with Treasurer Peter Costello on Today Tonight. It was almost as good as his donation of $500,000 to save the orangutan (complete with YouTube video and sick child).

Suddenly voters are supposed to believe all is well in the House of Liberal between these two, after two years or so of tension about the leadership. Sure.

It was a cosy setting. More interesting was that it was on Today Tonight, a pretty "low-brow" infotainment program (it long ago ceased to be about current affairs or news). I imagine it's the Liberals' attempt to reach the "masses", seeing as though Howard isn't disposed to using the fm stations to push his messages.

This morning there was another interesting "sideshow. The Liberals' used a garbage truck, featuring a poster of Howard and Costello and some other politician. I couldn't make out who, as I was driving back from the beach, and I usually don't look at garbage trucks.

Not to be outdone, my son then got a text/voice/viedo message on his mobile from Kevin. This was actually an excellent use of the medium. You could also enter several areas of policy and read the details. The only drawback was that it is unsolicited. But then again, so have been the pamphlets appearing in our letterbox over the past two weeks.

17 November 2007

PR frustrating at times

Known for her stinging attacks on the profession, Strumpette didn’t hold back.

Referring to a long list of Web 2 “luminaries” and how they “contribute” to PR, Amanda Chapel wrote: “It's a motley band of no-talent schmooze hucksters surreptitiously slinging refried common sense to a global room full of nitwit conference goers and pedestrian dupes.”

Whether or not you agree with Chapel (Strumpette) at http://strumpette.com, you should read it.

In a roundabout way, it brings me to my point. PR is often a frustrating business.

For starters, everyone, it seems, is an “expert” (until they have to write a media release, or construct a strategy).

It’s a business where things move fast. “You’re only as good as your last trick”, just about sums it up for me. In that regard, it’s not much different from journalism. You get the story, find a new angle for the next one, then move on. “Today’s news is tomorrow’s fish wrapping,” as one crusty editor said. In fact, I think all editors used to say that.

Chapel’s article helped distill why I get frustrated with PR.

I particularly agreed with point 4 (The Rejection of Healthy Discrimination). This is reflected in society and at university. Students these days all have to get distinctions. No one is mediocre. NOT. Children these days aren’t equipped to deal with failure. We wrap them in cotton wool and protect them from, it seems, everything (including playground swings, slippery dips and monkey bars).

“We've told a generation of kids that don't know shit that they have something important to say,” Chapel says. “Now they won't shut up! And now they drown out any/all serious discussion and debate.”

I feel a headache coming on.

15 November 2007

Election a PR bore

I’ve refrained from too much comment on the forthcoming Australian election. But as we near the end, with six days of campaigning remaining, I’ve faltered. I’m fed up and bored.

Following Labor’s campaign “launch” (again) today I could not help but feel how uninspiring it all is – and not just Labor. Kevin Rudd was monotone (bla, blah, blah). So was Howard.

There is nothing visionary about either Party. It’s simply come down to a series of daily pork-barrelling promises, accompanied by the ritual PR photo opportunity. Stock-standard and boring. Does anyone remember what Howard promised yesterday.

It’s all simplistic spin – fairy floss for the masses. Where is the substance and the leadership? It’s just about spending, in turn fuelling inflation (there goes your tax cuts, folks). Come to think of it, where's the imagination?

Despite this lack of lustre, and our ability to radically change our direction, we will continue to vote as lemmings – Labor or Liberal.

12 November 2007

Toyota's PR coup. Thanks, Channel 9

Toyota’s Aussie PR people must be patting themselves on the back with the airtime they received on the main Channel 9 bulletin in Perth tonight (and I assume on all its capital city affiliates).

Respected journalist Peter Harvey spruiked the virtues of the latest model of Lexus, simply helping promote a vehicle that is well short on sound environmental credentials.

I take back my remark about being Harvey being respected. This was rubbish from any angle … especially in news value. It was just a blatant plug in the guise of news.

11 November 2007

Racing pitches gambling to children

Earlier this week, on Melbourne Cup Day, I noticed Channel 7 interviewing seven-year-olds as part of it’s Cup-day broadcast. The subject: what they were betting on. At the time I commented on another blog of mine, This Aussie Life, that it was promoting gambling.

Well, I’m taking it up a notch, because on last night’s Channel 10 news, racing was at it again. This time the station highlighted youngsters’ participation in a fashion parade during the Melbourne Spring Carnival.

It’s obvious that racing is attempting to build a “relationship” with kiddies. After all, they are the future punters who will help keep the $10 billion Australian gambling industry going. What better (seemingly innocent) way that to innocently portray them as fashionistas? Clever PR perhaps, but lacking in morality. Isn’t it absurd enough that a seven-year-old dresses up in suit and tie at a racetrack?

The industry, aided and abetted by sponsor Emirates Airlines, should be held accountable by regulatory authorities. It’s enough that children are assailed daily by advertising for products. But to have them targeted as future gamblers is breaking the laws of moral decency.

Sadly, there’s nothing in the PRIA Code of Ethics that covers this type of operation. The closest is: “Members shall avoid conduct or practices likely to bring discredit upon themselves, the Institute, their employers or clients.” Well, maybe if someone exerts a little pressure, Emirates and Racing will feel somewhat discredited.

10 November 2007

Cousins saga continues

Whether you like it or not, the Ben Cousins saga continues. Because the West Coast Eagles and Cousins are such a part of the WA media landscape you can not ignore their antics from a PR perspective.

Cousins was supposed to vist Los Angeles for a second round of drug rehab. Instead, he went on a five-day cocaine bender (proven by LA 911 records).

Meantime, back home, the club continues to bury its head in the sand. In a TV interview, coach John Worsfold claims he knew nothing of the problems, which extend to other players. Sure, John. Pull the other one. Worsfold is no fool. He is a pharmacist by profession.

If the WA media knew of the players' indiscretions (and they did, because I worked in it) he sure did - as did the club managemnet, led by current CEO Trevor Nisbett.

However, they continue to deny any responsibility for the club's problems.

This club needs a dramatic cultural shift, yet they persist with the old guard who have only contributed to the problem.

It's not only Cousins that has to get with the "program".

09 November 2007

More on Moose ... and Dr Karl

Moose Toys finally “got it” by posting a front-page link on their web site to information about the recall of the deadly Bindy’s Beadz. Only took 48 hours … too long.

Meantime, Senate candidate Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, did something people in political life don’t normally do … apologise.

He retracted his comments about “clean coal” being a “furphy”.

Nice of you to say so, Karl – for whatever reason. But I agree with Tim Flannery and still reckon there’s no such thing as clean coal.

Burning coal simply puts rubbish in the environment. When (and if) they get around to clean coal, it will still be pumping carbon into the atmosphere; just a lesser amount.

07 November 2007

Moose Toys' poor response, poor attitude

In my previous post about Moose Toys’ lame response to deadly toxic beads being swallowed by children, the media writer for The Australian, Amanda Meade, kindly pointed out the company issued a release.

For sure it did, then “hid” it in the “kids” section of its web site, which probably explains why it wasn’t picked up by the media until 24 hours-plus after the hospitalisation of three children. I went to the kids section (http://www.mooseworld.com.au/content/kids2/Home.aspx) and I still couldn’t find it. You’d think it would be under the corporate section, at least.

Apart from hiding the release, some of the language isn’t too encouraging.

Quote: “made this decision in the best interests of the brand and the children who love playing with it”.

I didn’t know you could play with a brand. But “in the best interests of the brand”. They really have their priorities wrong. This type of stuff is amazing in this day and age of supposed corporate responsibility.

In the second paragraph they’re also indirectly blaming children for playing with it incorrectly. Cripes, it’s what kids do … put things in their mouths. But to shift blame on to children (customers).

Then it goes on to say Moose voluntarily recalled the product. So if no one found out and didn’t make them recall it, then they wouldn’t have.

I see the statement is issued by a marketing person, which is why you need communicators to handle things like this.

This company has seriously abrogated its responsibility. It’s reputation is tarnished.

I’ll be teaching this as a case study in how not to do PR for a long time.

06 November 2007

Life-threatning but company remains silent

No word from an Australian toy manufacturer about a life-threatening situation for children.

The manufacturer of Bindeez Beads, the Australian Toy of the Year (2007), has not made any statement, despite its product apparently being responsible for the hospitalisation of at least three children who swallowed the beads, which contains an ingredient known as GBH, an ingredient in ecstasy.

The product has been banned in NSW, the ACT, South Australia and Western Australia, after two children suffered seizures.

To show how bad news travels fast, TV New Zealand reported: "Testing by scientists in NSW found the chemical link to the drug gamma-hydroxy butyrate (GHB) - also known as fantasy or Grievous Bodily Harm - which can also cause drowsiness, coma and death."

With the story many hours old, the company responsible, Moose Enterprises, had not taken it from their web site (9.46pm EST). That's outrageous. And still no word from the company.

You'd think in this day and age, companies would be prepared, even with just a statement to express concern.

But to not even take the product down from their web site. Unbelievable.

Targetted PR releases a must

Was Chris Anderson, editor of Wired, correct to "out" PR practitioners who send him unsolicited e-mails?

The "outing" made headlines on 5 November in the New York Times Technology section, after Anderson ripped into the PR people who "can’t be bothered to find out who on my staff, if anyone, might actually be interested in what they’re pitching".

Anderson says he gets more than 300 e-mails a day. Some of these were from the leading public relations firms, including Edelman, Fleishman-Hillard, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide and Weber Shandwick. Anderson says they should know better.

The debate is split. Some people believe Anderson breached privacy etiquette. Most, however, are with him.

I agree with Anderson. One of the golden rules, particularly in today's fragmented market, is to research your audience and target only those media that cater for that audience. You would think "professionals" would know this. Obviously not.

It's a good lesson for them, particularly as their addresses have now been harvested by email bots. You've heard about payback, well Anderson is getting some (deserved) "bounceback".

03 November 2007

The perception of PR

To paraphrase American singer/songwriter, Jimmy Buffett: “Public relations, public relations, boozing and schmoozing that's what I do ... public relations such hullabaloo ... ego inflation, that's what I do … it’s only public relations, who’s screwing who … just give me some time and I’ll make it come true.” I play it to students in their first tutorial. Mostly they think it’s a nice tune but don’t really listen to the words.

Unfortunately, Buffet’s image of PR reflects the still commonly-held perception of what many practitioners do. And therein lies the problem: the perception of PR.

For a profession that is all about perception, what are professionals doing about it? Not much. If professional bodies such as the PRIA were serious about it, they’d be mounting a PR campaign to counteract the skewed perceptions we suffer. TV shows such as Ab Fab, Absolute Power (to name but two) do nothing to enhance our standing in the business community. It riles me when all students are taught is they must fight to “get a seat at the boardroom table” so they can influence decision-making. Yeah, right.

The accounting profession has adopted a great series of (US) advertisements that push the benefits of having a CPA working for business. What have we got? Zilch, that’s what. Unfortunately, the PRIA’s membership numbers couldn’t afford to subsidise a TV ad campaign. The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates there are 11-14,000 people who classify themselves as PR practitioners. The membership of the PRIA is under 3000. That’s another story.

Dr Karl debunks clean coal PR myth

Good to see Dr Karl Kruszelnicki today debunk the government's PR stunt on clean coal. Karl, a physicist, is standing in the election as a Climate Change Coalition candidate for the Senate. Clean coal, along with the government's preference for climate change instead of global warming, are two simple PR tactics of giving something dangerous a more friendly name.

19 October 2007

Into the election

We're just finishing week one of six in the federal election campaign, highlighted by John Howard's promise of tax cuts and a negative advertising campaign. Opposition leader Kevin Rudd has shown nothing, except a nice wardrobe.

I would have thought Rudd could have matched Howard's $34 billion "promise" with a counter plan to spend the equivalent on government services, such as health, education, water, roads (well, maybe rail).

People have indicated they would rather the government spend money that way. Rudd should be pushing the line that by the time the tax cuts start next year (and end in 2011), they will be eaten by inflation.

Tax cuts are really a simplistic offer to a mostly gullible public, who can't remember what Howard promised before the last election.

Let's have some real vision. What about de-politicising the Public Service?

15 October 2007

TV media polls way off the mark

Channel Nine's A Current Affair, a national program, tonight promoted yet another of those ridiculous polls. This time, who would you vote for in the federal election: John Howard or Kevin Rudd?

These type of polls, where viewers simply dial a number to register a vote, are a scandal. The results are meangingless, as anyone can ring in multiple times. In other words, the result is probably biased.

The Liberal Part is renowned for marshalling its members to ring talk radio shows and vote in these pointless pseudo polls.

Unfortunately, as I previously mentioned, most of the country gets its information from television. So does a loaded result have the power to persuade voters? If the result is biased in favour of the government, will this cause people to rethink their support one way or the other?

Meantime, the broadcast goes unpunished. Idiots. My advice: read more newspapers.

14 October 2007

Howard calls election at last


It took him long enough. After months of fake campaigning and pork-barrelling, John Howard has called the federal election for November 24.

Now we'll really start to see and hear some spin ... though it's more likely to be seen, as elections these days are fought on our television screens.

The media maniuplation will be (hopefully) interesting to watch/see/hear. Every day a new photo opportunity and plethora of sound grabs. The same methods will be employed by Labor.

However, I detect that voters are wise to the tactics and have already cast their ballots. Certainly the polls have been consistently predicting a Labor victory for months.

As they say: "watch this space" (and lots of others).

13 October 2007

Media complicity


Here in WA there are two Australian Football teams - the Eagles and the Dockers (the Dockers are actually down the river from Perth in Fremantle).

Media coverage of these teams border on fanatical (and at times, farcical). They get saturation coverage, and that’s in the off-season.

The presence of so many young, over-paid, ego-inflated sportspeople creates many problems for these teams at regular occasions throughout the year/s. The Eagles always seem to have someone in trouble (crashing cars while drunk, swimming across rivers to avoid a police breath test, drugs, indecent behaviour, psychological problems, more booze, assaults, association with bikie gangs and other criminals).

Sadly, one of the Eagles former players, Chris Mainwaring, 41, died on 1 October. Media reports suggest there were a cocktail of drugs and alcohol involved, plus marital and financial problems. Mainwaring had a history of being a “party animal” to the point of probably being an alcoholic.

The Eagles management, however, has not been able to change players’ behaviour. This is a worrying sign for a supposedly professional outfit. Chairman “Delta” Gooding just seems to smile every time he’s fronted by the media, with an attitude of “well, what more could we expect?”

More worrying is the media’s role in not exposing more of the antics these guys get up to. When I asked a senior club official how they managed to keep things out of the media, he replied they just ring the journos and ask them to “go easy”. The journalists know that if they break any negative stories they won’t get any future information. To put it in sports journalism’s language of talking in clich├ęs: they don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them.

The biggest story in many years about Eagles captain Ben Cousins abandoning his car and swimming the Swan River to avoid a police breath test late one night was broken by ABC talkback announcer, Liam Bartlett, now with 60 Minutes. Bartlett had nothing to lose by naming and shaming Cousins, who has recently finished a drug rehab program in the US, and was also one of the last people to see Mainwaring alive.

I’d say the Eagles’ media/PR department is not strong in presenting a case to management on how the club should be focusing on its corporate reputation. That’s blindingly obvious, following the ANZ Bank’s departure as a sponsor. They seem to operate with a narrow, media-only focus, without knowing much of the other areas involved in modern communication.

Meantime, Channel 7 will telecast Mainwaring’s funeral, once again elevating a football player to demigod-like status. The more these people are put on pedestals, without exposing their insidious antics, the more we can expect the youth who follow them to accept this behaviour as normal and something to aspire to.

The local media have much to answer for.

25 September 2007

Podcasts and PR



Podcasts. Whether you like or loathe them, somewhere on the Internet you’ll be exposed to them.

Among PR practitioners, particularly in the US, they’re all the rage. It is another option for companies to “get in touch” with their customers.

Well, I’ve got news for all you. Not yet (at least in Australia).

PR today is about reaching those specialist audiences – the Long Tail. And podcasting is one way of doing that. However, the audiences (in Australia) are so small that they render the podcast ineffectual. Audiences today are so fragmented. Look in any newsagent and see the range of magazines. How many channel are there on Foxtel?

I asked students in three university PR tutorials I took during 2006 whether they listened to podcasts. None of them did. This year I asked again, with only three of 95 students listening in. The common reasons for not doing so were: "it takes too long", and simply, "why would I bother?" So who’s listening?

A podcast has to be specifically pitched to my/your personal and professional tastes for it to register. The time I spend searching for something useful could be used doing something useful: like, having a surf.

Until Telstra can provide all Australians (and I'm including regional areas) with decent internet access, then we can forget about podcasts. About the the only use at present is for sound grabs in online media rooms.

Anyone for a surf?

18 August 2007

Brief bites


POLLUTION
Theory: the increasing number of trucks on the road is directly related to our hunger for consumer goods and the shorter shelf life of same.

OUR FOREIGN MINISTER?
I thought I'd heard it all, until I foreign minister Alexander Downer (ABC TV news, 17 Aug) said India had a pretty good record when it came to non-proliferation, apart from the fact that it had nuclear weapons.

BURGEONING BUREAUCRACY
If the number of welfare recipients is supposedly decreasing under the government's tough new rules; why is the Centrelink agency expanding (Burgeoning bureaucracy triggers boom, SMH, 15 August)?

HOW SECRET IS TOP SECRET?
Just how top secret was John Howard's letter to the Iraqi Prime Minister (Howard warns Iraq: move now or we pull troops out, Weekend Australian, 11-12 August)? Reporter, Greg Sherdian says it was top secret. If it was, has he breached Australia's security by revealing the contents? Or is this just an example of someone in the Liberal Party revealing Howard's early exit strategy so he doesn't get burned even more before the election. Honestly, the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan is a farce: always has been. Iraq is now lining up with Iran, and the poppy harvest in Afghanistan is a record. So much for positive "intervention".

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06 August 2007

Military muzzled


I'll take a guess why the military said nothing about the shooting of children in Afghanistan: the government told it not to.

This is a prime example of the military being manipulated by the government. It's a dangerous area to be dabbling in.

The government "spin" machine controls everything its faithful officers do and say. They, in turn, are advised by public servants (all schooled by the government at Defence-sponsored PR courses). Never mind PR supposedly being about honesty and transparency. I guess they don't teach that one at the government school.

The bearer of the bad news, Brigadier Nickolic, has just come into the "top" PR job, probably without any formal journalism or communications qualifications. I'll bet he's never even written a media release but but that he's been through the standard government "how to handle tricky questions" course.

Most of the people in that position are former Special Forces commanders who are being prepped for higher duties. The previous spokesman, Brig Peter "Gus" Gould was a former SAS commander. They stay about 12 months and move on.

In the years I've been in Defence PR, both in (Army) uniform and as a public servant, it's become obvious that since Tampa and the Children Overboard cases, the military has not been at liberty to conduct its own PR affairs.

As a senior PR Officer, I could not contact the media directly without telling the media office in Canberra. I was not allowed to distribute media releases. Never mind that I had worked on metropolitan dailies for 17 years. It seemed I could not be trusted. The politicians had to know everything that might occur.

Just before I resigned, John Howard's office put out a message to commanders, asking them what events or activities they had coming up that he might be able to appear at. If that's not using the military for political purposes, what is?

The bottom line is the Hoawrd government is so afraid something might damage its reputation. ("It [the control] will to get worse before the election," was the comment to me by a senior uniformed officer a few months ago). They do it across all departments.

Yet despite all the resources it pumps into PR, the government's reputation is still lousy. So why bother with the layers of media advisers? Let the military get on with being pro-active in its PR stance. I'd also hope one of those brave military spokesmen would have the courage to tell the government what it should do with its spin. Trouble is they wouldn't get a medal.

Olympic gold at what price?

At least Australian athletes' will not be denied free speech at the Beijing Olympics (Olympics can speak their mind, Letters, 6 August).

However, the Games are being be held in a tyrannical, oppressive country.

An example of Chinese democracy and freedom in action occurred on the weekend TV news, with AOC president John Coates not being able to get the Aussie media contingent to accompany him to the new Chinese rowing venue. The Chinese eventually let one camera in.

On the same weekend, Australian International Olympic Committee member Kevan Gosper was waxing lyrical about what a great games these will be. Great, for whom, Kevan? Certainly not the millions of Chinese who couldn't give a rat's about the "world's best man-made rowing course".

Now, are there any athletes willing to sacrifice gold for humanity?

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The PR Lab is a consultancy, specialising on research, reputation management, social media, media relations and the development of measurable strategies that produce results. It is run by Dr Greg Smith, a former journalist and PR professional. Greg worked on daily newspapers in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. He held senior PR positions in the Australian Defence Force, Sydney Olympics and national not-for-profits. He has also lectured in PR at Edith Cowan University and the University of Notre Dame Australia.