Why telling the truth is usually the best option: PRIA Breakfast with Stephen Mayne

I attended my first PRIA VIC breakfast this morning at the RACV Club for a presentation from well known media identity, journalist, and political and boardroom activist Stephen Mayne. His topic for discussion was ‘Why telling the truth is usually the best option’ exemplified with themes about transparency and accountability (note the term ‘usually’ in that header!).

As an activist Stephen points to the poor accountability of boards and puts pressure on companies to raise issues and affect change. Annual General Meetings are his weapon of choice for asking the ‘big’ questions. He calls one of his PR tactics.

Stephen set the stage with his presence as a former press secretary in Jeff Kennett’s media unit, a position that prompted his career as a governance activist and where he learned his first lesson:

‘Don’t pick fights with the media. They are thin skinned and they never forget.’

Stephen criticised the media today as sensationalist where negative stories, celebrity and sex sells. The focus is on being first out with news that is sensationalised beyond the credibility news deserves.

In 2000 he launched www.crikey.com.au, an independent ezine that aimed to put more information into the public domain to empower the public by giving them as much information as possible. ‘News’ is based on tips and information people send in and it is run as ‘from the source’ and not via journalistic editing. Of course this means a robust correction policy is in place. The aim is to generate online debate to end up with the facts.

Stephen greatly values traditional mainstream media and used the ABC and other radio networks to push and plug his cases/content on Crikey. He advises partnering with mainstream media and using it to hit a mass audience as the most effective way to operate.

Another tactic leveraged by Stephen was running for board election. There was a time when things were not looking good for the future of Crikey and Stephen needed to get his name out there and push traffic to the Crikey site. So he put himself forward to be elected to as many significant boards as possible.

And it worked. When you are up for board election your name and bio is sent to every member and stakeholder for each company and organisation. This meant Stephen and Crikey managed to get in front of hundreds of relevant people and his business was drawn out of the doldrums.

Today he is interviewed often and offers his commentary and research, news he generates himself such as ranking directors of boards using peer review. Stephen builds relationships with board members and asks them who they rank as the best/worst directors to get his result.


‘Social media is overblown in terms of power. If anything matters it needs to have mainstream outplay and end in the mass media.’

These were his words which followed his description of Twitter as a one-way push out of information, a tool where he was yet to see a reaction and where he doesn’t see much engagement coming back.

But what he should have said was NO engagement coming back. Because I checked out his tweet stream and it is indeed all one way push from him with no engagement by him with any of his followers who don’t seem to tweet Stephen because he doesn’t tweet anyone else.

Before I continue I must emphasise and acknowledge his point about traditional mainstream media – it is indeed very powerful and relevant. Never underestimate the power of 10 seconds of TV or the front page of the newspaper.

But it is worth acknowledging when news from the online communities and social media is the content that makes it into the mainstream and when news breaks in the online space to audiences that equal or exceed those of traditional media.

I feel we must now look to where the online and the traditional cross-over and how they can work together, in sync to benefit the other medium.

So I asked him: do you think you’ve given social media a fair go? You said you don’t see much engagement on Twitter but you don’t engage any of your followers so how can you expect them to engage you?

Yes I was a bit scared to ask him this and his words about journos being thin skinned and never forgetting were in my mind when I approached him. But I’m glad I did. He was most affable and admitted himself to be a luddite when it comes to social media.

He also said, in a somewhat condescending manner, that it is more prolific for under 30s … I wanted to tell him the average age of social network users* is 37 but I kept my stats to myself.

I took this as my opportunity to push the case for the online community as a powerful community and resource where he would no doubt be able to gather support and advocacy for his own crusades, such as more women on boards.

Stephen described his role of playing in the upper echelons as ‘influencing the influencers’,  as if it were some kind of reason for not engaging the online space. So I explained the influence online communities are having when it comes to forcing change and making mainstream traditional news. I decided not to mention Obama but perhaps I should have?

I also asked if he knew what kind of push along the online community gives to his site, blogs or articles and he didn’t know.

Stephen expressed concern for the effects social media is having for journalists, specifically those who get information and data from Facebook, and citizen journalists. I wanted to hear more about these concerns but time was marching on. To his credit, Stephen did acknowledge the value of the online space for smaller, niche communities and the influence of social media for their decision making process.


There seems to be a disconnect between what Stephen has done/is doing/stands for and his views of the value of social media, something else I bitched out of asking raised with him.

For starters Crikey is an online news portal, its existence enabled by its online community and following. And now the Mayne Report is an online resource. The content is there for the social media using! Yes he has a strong presence in traditional media but I can’t help feel he would be pleasantly surprised at the level of noise he may be able to generate in the online space if he were to get in there, participate and engage at the grassroots level, his potential online following. So I told him that too.

Something else that baffled me: Stephen strives to achieve greater transparency and accountability from big corporates and ‘closed’ companies and organisations. This is often the same goal for online communities using the power of social media to publicly voice their concerns, raise debate and gain support. It is part of the proverbial ‘rules of engagement’. And companies and organisations that achieve this are rewarded with teams of their very own brand advocates.

The very nature of social media revolves around transparency, accountability and empowerment from sharing knowledge and information.

And here’s something I didn’t ask: are you deploying the very tactics you evade when it comes to avoiding the ‘tough’ questions? By not fully engaging the online community, is there an underlying fear of what they might say/do/cause for you? In the same way as board members and politicians try and evade your questions? Why are you not embracing the potential power of the people you’re crusading for?

Not sure if I cut through with any of my activism for new communications but I did manage to get the parkyoung business card into his jacket pocket (he put it there, not me!) and also revive his faded connection with my boss.

So, is this engaging enough for him, do you think?

*thanks for the stat Brian Solis


I really am about the Value-Add!

Recently honoured with the opportunity to contribute to the Public Relations Institute of Australia newsletter themed ‘Passion and Creativity’, I detailed my experiences of working in PR and how social media has brought many treasures into my life. The article is aimed at new practitioners starting out in the industry, and those considering communications as their career path.

In writing this article, I have found great joy in being available to others who may have questions about working in the PR communications space. I would have appreciated finding someone with whom I felt comfortable picking their brain when I was starting out. So if I can assist in any way with your queries about PR, communications or social media please don’t hesitate to ask and I will happily do my best to answer your questions.

Although I must insert a disclaimer here – my opinions and feedback is based on the past four years (well, almost 4!) working in PR communications with three very different consultancies, and any advice I do give is probably what I would do if I were in your situation. “All care, no responsibility” is the clause I think I may be looking for…

The Perfect Pitch for some #prjournolove

As an active member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) I have a fondness for the organisation that has attempted to regulate the industry and which has keenly provided public relations practitioners with an overarching body of support. Although I do feel there is still much potential for the PRIA to function as a widely acknowledged authority, they have certainly given members and guests a great number of events for professional development and networking. The Perfect Pitch, hosted by the New Practitioners Committee last Thursday 16 July, is one such function that was a great success and an exquisite example of #prjournolove.

Inviting journalists to speak to a room full of PR practitioners about what constitutes a perfect pitch can only lead to a greater understanding between the two professions, bridging the gap of ‘us and them’. I know I have blogged about this topic before but my determination to see the PR versus Journalism ‘issue’ dissolve is strong. The journalists who generously gave their time to speak with the so called other side were: Erin Kisby (Health and Lifestyle Editor at New Idea), Ben Ulm (EP at Nine), Hannah Rand (Senior Editor at Sunday Magazine) and Peter Blasina otherwise known as the Gadget Guy (tech expert for Seven and a hots of other media outlets including his own publications).

The general consensus from the speakers came down to three main points:

  • know the media publication you are pitching to and target the appropriate section and journalist
  • timing is everything – know the lead times and when media deadlines are and don’t contact them at these times
  • pitch succinctly and factually; get straight to the point in email and/or phone pitching

I was relieved to know that I already practice these pitching gospels but it was the face to face contact with each of these journalists that I believe holds the key for successful relationship building. Making to effort to get to know a journalist, their role and their media outlet shows respect and understanding for their side of the story. This, in turn, will assist a PR in pitching the most effective angle and, when a relationship beyond pitching and following up has been established, the pitch will more than likely be considered.

For the better established PR Journalist relationships, an average pitch may be discussed by both parties to develop a stronger angle which is a truly magnificent display of #prjournolove. A brilliant example was given by Peter Blasina about a persistent PR professional who did some extraordinary research to secure Peter’s interest which lead to astounding results for an online golf store. [Here’s your challenge and prompt – for more information about this example, why not use it as a lead in to get to know the Gadget Guy?]

Although it can seem daunting and just a little bit scary to go the extra mile to get to know the media you are pitching to, it is worth it. As PRs, we should already be good at networking and by showing respect and willingness to better understand journalists we can all spread the #prjournolove for those who determine how successful a media relations campaign will be. Try it. You might like it.

Let’s move on from ‘PR vs Journalism’ joust

Having recently come up with the idea for the www.pria.com.au driven ‘PR and Journalism are different sides of the same coin’ debate and successfully pulled it off, I can now say that I am very over the topic. We (the PRIA New Media Group) created some great conversation between a number of industry professionals with a #priadebate Twitter stream and some great coverage in www.mumbrella.com.au, B&T magazine and even Social Diary. Other than Professor www.jimmacnamara.com’s latest research about the topic, which included a history of the joust, the conversation didn’t seem to bring to light too many new insights for me except that I am more than ready to take on the challenge of ‘PR plus Journalism’ stance.

Both professions are very different by job description but very similar in sharing the commonality of being sources of information. At many times, our target markets and audiences are the same and the information we excrete is, at the basest level, the same but packaged up to deliver different versions of the facts. The PR client aims to reach its mass target audience (which may also be a niche group) via the different media which has already accrued this mass to whom relevant information is communicated via online/print/broadcast and everything in between.

It seems to me that a partnership and support network would be the obvious and natural solution for the PR and Journalism industries for communicating the best and highest quality information as possible. A vast amount of the most crucial facts and information is held and managed by PRs and Journalists benefit from having access to this information. And yes, you are right; there may not be a mutual gain from both parties having this information and quite often, publicly revealing said information prompts crisis communications. But this brings me to ponder if there could be milder media crises if there were stronger PR + Journalism relationships.

Professionally speaking, I’m all about the relationships and networks. I don’t believe I am opportunistic in a ruthless and unethical way (yes, some people do think this is a merit!) but in a way where I like to establish and nurture my contacts so that we may have a mutually beneficial partnership. I would like to think that I add value in some way for all my followers/friends/connections/fans/contacts at some point during our time of being connected in the Iggy Pintado sense. I’m all about the connectedness which has prompted my great interest in and passion for online social networks.

Yes I do love web 2.0 but I’m also all about face time which, for me, is one of the most valuable factors to truly cementing a good connection and to which I add value using the tools of web 2.0.

I could go on and on about this topic which would lead me to expanding my passionate ramblings about the value of human contact, the skills required for practicing this human contact which I fear are on the endangered list, and the benefits and disadvantages of online social networking. But these stories are for another post.

Do you think PR and Journalism will mature into a value-add relationship instead of a bitter and outdated ‘thing’?

PRIA debate - PR professionals WITH real live journalist Clint Drieberg (2UE)

PRIA debate - PR professionals WITH real live journalist Clint Drieberg (2UE)

PRIA Debate - New Media Group committee members (L-R) Sue Kirkland-Smith, Katy Dennis, me

PRIA Debate - New Media Group committee members (L-R) Sue Kirkland-Smith, Katy Dennis, me

PRIA Debate not to be missed – PR versus Journalists – what’s not to love?!

As part of the PRIA New Media Group we are faced with hosting networking events. Having been to a few mildly exciting and successful events myself, I came up with the idea of giving people something to talk about; thus, the first PRIA NMG Debate was born!

Make sure you don’t miss the debate ‘That PR and journalism are different sides of the same coin’ happening on Wed 6 May, 6.30pm at The Laugh Garage in Sydney. This networking event is the brainchild of the NMG and promises to be an entertaining, intriguing and no doubt fiery debate with noted speakers on board:

Affirmative = Brian Giesen (Ogilvy PR), Marie Najjar (Public City), Sophia Russell (B&T), Simon Sharwood (journalist, editor, podcaster, speaker)

Negative = Clint Drieberg (2UE), Lukas Picton(Text 100), Pru Quinlan (Einsteinz), Gerard Ryle (SMH News Editor)

Andrew Kirk (Hill & Knowlten) will be moderating the evening and Professor Jim Macnamara will precede the debate with an overview of his recent studies.

Book now so you don’t miss out as seats are limited, tickets include canapes and a drink on arrival. BOOK NOW! http://tinyurl.com/cwhn67