Part two: Planning successful PD programs

1 August 2011

4. Laying the Groundwork

Most successful PD activities and communication campaign strategies are underpinned by sound research and the setting of realistic and focused aims and objectives.

In developing your PD strategies, you should always:

  • identify the key messages you want to communicate
  • identify the audiences and groups you want to reach
  • assess the most effective means of getting your messages to them
  • decide whether you are looking at short- or long-term strategies—this will dictate, to some extent, the PD tools you use
  • familiarise yourself with local conditions.

You should get to know your ‘market’, including the media and how it works in your particular area, as well as other influential groupings or target audiences.

You should be aware of any sensitivities that exist; and you should make a realistic assessment of how much interest there is in the messages you are trying to convey.

Knowing your market and the way it works increases your chances of being regarded as a credible and reliable point of contact by the media and other influential target groups.

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Whole-of-government and common branding

PD activities at bigger posts, particularly those that have attached officers from other departments and agencies, should be closely integrated under the direction of the Head of Mission.

Adopting a whole-of-government approach at posts and in Australia is cost effective, avoids duplication and ensures that activities conducted by different departments and agencies are timed for maximum effect and that they support and complement each other.

This integrated approach can also involve other major Australian interest groups, including representatives of Australian companies, business groups, alumni groups and academic institutions who can contribute expertise and possible sponsorship assistance for PD events and help to broaden and strengthen key messages.

Such an approach also opens up opportunities to use Australia’s new national brand, Australia Unlimited, details of which are available at www.austrade.gov.au .

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Tips for successful PD programs

  • Develop integrated and targeted campaigns to promote particular messages.
  • Choose the most appropriate PD tools to reach your target audiences—and note that generating media coverage alone is not always the answer.
  • Closely link all PD activities with post policy objectives.
  • Where appropriate, develop a coherent PD theme such as the economy, innovative Australia, or science and technology, and cluster relevant PD events around that theme for maximum impact.
  • If other events such as trade fairs and displays, exhibitions and festivals are taking place at the post, try to stage other PD activities (such as cultural events) at the same time or as part of these.
  • Always choose quality over quantity—some programs can be more effective if they consist of a smaller number of highly targeted activities rather than a multitude of less focused general PD events.

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Public diplomacy categories

There are three broad categories of public diplomacy activities:

  • public advocacy
  • issues management
  • longer–term profile raising and relationship building.

In some cases, communications campaigns may involve all three elements.

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Public advocacy

These campaigns support the department’s key policy objectives and generally aim to achieve specific results in support of Australia’s international interests, such as:

  • winning support for Australian foreign and trade policy positions, particularly in areas such as security, global cooperation and trade/economic policy
  • promoting support for our international candidacies
  • seeking support for specific Australian commercial interests
  • presenting an accurate or more balanced perspective on a particular issue.

For these campaigns, you can use most PD tools to reach target audiences, either directly or through third-party ‘influencers’. These can include direct contact with mainstream media, social media or specialist media through personal contact with journalists, targeted media releases, media conferences and briefings. Other platforms can include the Internet, newsletters, speeches by the Head of Mission or other senior mission representatives, seminars and official visits.

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Issues management

This is focussed on responding to or correcting particular misconceptions, either short or long term.

Short-term or one-off misconceptions are relatively easy to handle by using a combination of tools—news releases, personal briefings, media conferences and/or background papers.

Longer-term misconceptions—those that have entered into the public or media mind over a period—are harder to shift.

One important way is to maintain a flow of accurate, good-quality information about issues or policies that are misunderstood or misinterpreted by the media or the public. This material should be carefully targeted to media representatives, academics and others whom you consider could play a role in shifting public opinion and creating a more accurate public image. The main aim of this material should be to establish a better general climate of understanding, which will, in time, be reflected in the media and other public platforms.

Other useful strategies include nominating selected journalists to visit Australia under the International Media Visits Program to focus on specific issues of concern and arranging conferences, seminars and lectures at which Australia’s point of view is put forward by Heads of Mission and/or visiting experts.

Further information: Part four—Advocacy and strategic communications and Part five—Contact with the media.

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Longer–term profile raising and relationship building

This involves broad-ranging activities and programs that promote a better understanding of Australian culture and values and capabilities, including cultural exchanges, visit programs, people-to-people links, exhibitions, films and other general PD events.

Sometimes known as ‘facilitative’ communication, this kind of broad-based approach can also include the provision of general material such as periodicals and reference books on Australia to academic institutions and think tanks, providing support to institutes or chairs of Australian studies, presenting textbooks on Australia to schools and encouraging the inclusion of studies about Australia in school curriculums. Profile raising sometimes involve undertaking PD initiatives and activities to create a generally favourable atmosphere or impact, rather than to manage a specific issue.

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Organising mini-promotions at posts

Many posts organise mini-promotions to pull together a series of related events, often with a common theme.

The reasons for organising such promotions include maximising the PD impact of planned or coincidental events, or building on a major event already in the pipeline.

For example, a major trade exhibition or other representational event could form the core of a mini-promotion consisting of other events like wine promotions, cultural activities, a seminar program and/or media visits.

Other mini-promotions could be organised around a touring exhibition or performing arts event; visits by the Prime Minister, ministers or other prominent people; or a theme or concept, such as ‘Clean, Green and Safe’, to promote Australian food and wine, with consumer and media impact being a primary objective.

Such mini-promotions also provide good opportunities to establish and strengthen partnerships with other key agencies and organisations and to generate greater publicity and exposure through the new distribution channels and linkages created by the partnership.

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Developing an overall plan

Key steps in bringing together a mini-promotion include:

  • Identify the purpose. Defining the objectives and setting them out in an easy-to-read plan ensures that all participants start with the same goal and agenda.
  • ‘Brainstorm’ possible events that could comprise the mini-promotion with a wide range of people in the mission.
  • Identify your constituency/support basefor the promotion. While a planning meeting is an essential starting point, advance lobbying of supporting or sponsoring organisations is also useful.
  • Work out a budget and establish possible sources of funding, including both government and private sector sponsorship.
  • Establish clear key performance indicators by which the success of the event will be measured.
  • Devise a communications plan that not only seeks to promote the mini-promotion through the media, Internet and other local channels, but also keeps clients and stakeholders informed.

A key element in the success of mini-promotions is generating media and public interest. For further information, see Part 5—Contact with the media.

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5. Using existing PD resources and programs

As appropriate, posts should also consult PDB on the possibility of drawing on the various programs managed by the branch, including cultural activities and the international media and cultural visits programs (for further information, see Part 3—Making the most of PD events, visits and people-to-people links).

The department’s websites are key tools in delivering online services and accurate, current information across the range of foreign and trade policy issues (www.dfat.gov.au ), as well as specific services such as consular (www.smartraveller.gov.au) and passport services (www.passports.gov.au). From time to time, the department also establishes subsidiary websites such as for the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament and for Australia’s candidature for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council in 2013-14.

Officers should draw freely on these resources to advocate Australia’s views and policies on issues such as security, global cooperation, human rights, the United Nations and trade and economic development.

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Portfolio and other messages

For specific guidance on foreign and trade policy messages posts should draw on speeches and media releases by the minister and parliamentary secretaries, all of which are available on the central website. Talking points on specific bilateral or regional issues are normally drafted by the post in consultation with relevant geographic areas and PDB/PMB as appropriate.

For broader ‘enduring’ messages about Australia, posts can refer to the ‘About Australia’ section of the DFAT website, which contains cleared material onmost aspects of Australia, including foreign and trade policies, cultural diversity, immigration and refugee issues and Indigenous policies. This section of the DFAT website also contains links to other Australian Government websites, including the government portal www.australia.gov.au.

Broader messages about Australia are also contained in a fact sheet produced to coincide with the launch of Australia’s new national brand, Australia Unlimited. The fact sheet and further information on Australia Unlimited is available at www.austrade.gov.au.

PMB is working on an intranet page to bring together in a single location all PD resources, including the DFAT Photographic Collection. Further advice on this will be provided separately to posts and in updated versions of this handbook.

The photographic collection, jointly managed by PMB/PDB, is the main source of photographs for departmental publications such as the annual report, multimedia presentations and other PD initiatives. The collection includes historic as well as contemporary photographs.

Official photographs should be captioned and any copyright and privacy considerations taken into account before they are reproduced in print or online. Professional photographers engaged by DFAT must sign an Agreement for the Assignment of Copyright form. Under certain circumstances, individuals or the parents of minors depicted in photographs will need to sign a Consent for the use of photographs form. The forms are available on the intranet.

Posts are encouraged to maintain their own photographic collections and use appropriate images in local publications, exhibitions and other PD activities. Posts should also consider posting selected images on their websites and contributing key images associated with significant news stories for posting on the front page of the DFAT website. Text and images for publishing on the main DFAT website should be sent to internet.publishing@dfat.gov.au.

Further advice on the management of the DFAT photographic and video collection is currently being prepared. See also online advocacy and social media.

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Leveraging the Internet

The department’s website is a key platform for disseminating information and pursuing PD objectives. Through the Internet, we provide:

  • detailed information about Australia’s foreign and trade policies
  • up-to-date consular and passport information for Australian travellers.

Whenever major consular or other incidents occur, the department also establishes special sections on the DFAT website to convey relevant information and guidance about these events.

But remember that while a website is a highly efficient means of making available information quickly and accurately to vast numbers of people who want it, it is not as effective in getting messages out to people who are uninterested or indifferent.

If you want to advocate a view to a relatively unreceptive audience, the website is not enough on its own. You still need to get out in the field and communicate your messages through the full range of other PD means at your disposal.

All posts are responsible for managing and editing their own website content, in consultation with divisions.

Occasionally, Australian and other companies seek to promote their goods or services on post websites.

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Tips for successful websites

Less is best—a small quantity of accurate, focused, high-quality information is preferable to a lot of information.

  • Make sure that all information on websites is current and that older material is identified by a date or an indication of its archival status. Posts should review their website content regularly.
  • Websites need to look attractive and accessible and reflect the image we are trying to project—professional, focused, innovative and fresh.
  • Avoid extravagant or grandiose welcome messages to sites.
  • All content should serve a clear PD purpose.
  • Don’t duplicate information that is already on the department’s central website—include a link to the site instead.
  • In deciding what to publish on the website, ask what a reasonable visitor would expect to find and what messages or information you wish to convey
    • for example, Tokyo uses its website as an efficient and cost-effective way of answering commonly asked questions from visiting Australians.

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Monitoring contentious issues and responding to them

Posts are no longer required to provide monthly reports on media coverage of Australia.

However, all posts should continue to provide cabled advice about on any significant media reports of contentious or breaking issues, particularly if they:

  • may require a media response strategy
  • have an impact on Australia’s international image
  • deal with key portfolio issues.

If a response is warranted, PDB will consult with PMB and relevant divisions (or other agencies if the issue is not portfolio-related) to ensure thatas appropriate,cabled talking points, background material or text for letters to editors are prepared for posts to respond.

Many of the issues that are covered negatively by the international media often deal with non-portfolio subjects such as immigration, asylum seekers, international students or environmental issues. At bigger posts where there are attached officers from relevant agencies, PD officers should consider sending joint cables to the relevant departments (copied to DFAT) outlining the issues being covered and requesting specific talking points. The cables should specify local media deadlines and emphasise the importance of timely responses.

Posts are also asked to report any media coverage generated by post or PDB activities, including reports by journalists funded under the International Media Visits Program.

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Australia Network

Australia’s federally-funded television service, the Australia Network television service, is an important platform for projecting a positive and accurate image of Australia. While the Australia Network maintains editorial independence, we welcome involvement and interaction by posts on content and possible story ideas. The current Australia Network contract with the ABC is managed by DFAT (PDB).

Posts, particularly in the region, should become familiar with the service and its objectives. Posts that want to provide feedback on the service or suggest subjects for possible coverage by the service are encouraged to contact the Director of PDB’s Advocacy Strategies, Media and Events Section, who will forward them to the service. As some story suggestions may involve travel by Australia Network staff, posts should provide as much lead time as possible.

We also encourage posts to establish direct contact with Australia Network correspondents based in their regions.

More information: www.australianetwork. com

Last Updated: 28 February 2013