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  • Writer's pictureCrisis Shield

Caution in communications: the Tent Embassy strikes back

You probably noticed that Australia Day 2012 proffered more for the media than the standard scenes of revelry involving barbeques, beers, and people wearing the Australian flag as a cape. Instead the news channels were awash with reports about the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader’s brush with Tent Embassy activists outside the Lobby restaurant in Canberra (Aboriginal activists attack Gillard, Abbott on Australia Day). For public relations professionals, or for those seeking work in public relations, there are some interesting PR issues tied up in this case.

As the story unfolded after the event, media outlets revealed that information leaked from the Prime Minister’s own office triggered the confrontation. The PM’s crisis media management was in full swing as Tony Hodges, one of Julia Gillard’s media advisers, conceded disclosing information that was passed on to protest organisers. Tony Abbot accused Mr Hodges of attempting to provoke the protest for political advantage, and the Coalition called for a full federal police inquiry into the matter. This probably won’t make a great deal of difference to Tony Hodges – his job was the first casualty of the scandal when he resigned.

That’s an impressive fallout owing to a loose tongue, loose ethics, and bad practice. A public relations crisis like this damages both the employer and the employee. It will be difficult for Mr Hodges to maintain a career in Public Relations with his professional integrity and judgement in question – these are vital attributes that a good practitioner must demonstrate as part of their personal brand.

A responsibility to act with foresight and caution is fundamental to the job of communications professionals. With each activity they undertake, good PR staff are able to carefully consider the intent of the message and possible interpretations, assess potential risks, and map out a scenario plan. It goes without saying that these all need to be underpinned by good ethical judgement.

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