Calls for government to drop the ‘spin’ to boost messaging

By Melissa Coade

April 15, 2021

Whenever you hear ‘I was wrong but…’ the ‘but’ negates the ‘I was wrong’ part. (Image: Adobe/ Derek Brumby)

Communicating effectively to Australians has never been more important for all levels of government, Rose Herceg says. Dropping the spin is a good place to start. 

Sydney-based Ms Herceg is a social forecaster and Chief Strategy Officer at ‘creative transformation agency’ WPP AUNZ.

Speaking to The Mandarin, the author and award recipient for 2002 small businesswoman of the year said that to improve the way government messages cut-through to people, it must reckon with the stories and spin being fed to the public to regain respect and credibility.

“Aussies love people just taking responsibility and then a plan of how to fix it,” Herceg said.

“Whenever you hear ‘I was wrong but…’ the ‘but’ negates the ‘I was wrong’ part.

“I think in government, corporations and society, the spin, the PR, maybe even the corporate lawyers who sit beside the statements that are made — it is never about ‘I was wrong’.”

Recent examples dominating the national conversation, such as the treatment of women, have been met with a glib response from the government that Ms Herceg believes shows lacking leadership and accountability. Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s insistence that he was listening to the women of Australia after refusing to meet a congregation of protesters at the March4Justice rally at Parliament House was a real low-point that only contributed to a growing cynicism from the voting public.

Rose Herceg from WPP AUNZ

“In the end, the way we end up winning voters is to cop to the stuff that you’ve done wrong,” Ms Herceg said.

“To win people over when you make a mistake: cop to it, cop to it early, and in really simple English. Don’t offer a ‘but’ or some kind of weak, insipid excuse. Just take it. ‘I made a mistake, I was wrong. Here is my plan to fix it.’”

Herceg contrasted the federal government’s recent experience with the 2018 Australian cricket cheating scandal, where Steve Smith accepted responsibility for the conduct as captain of the national team. He was subsequently banned from the 4th Test.

“[Smith] lost his captaincy, he copped it on the chin, he put his head down, he went back to being just a cricketer on a team rather than the captain of the team. If you look at the research on him, people forgave him because he just came out and said ‘I did the wrong thing — I screwed up’,” she said. 

Understanding public sentiment is an annual exercise for WPP AUNZ, which conducts a survey each year called ‘Secrets and Lies’. The comprehensive survey distils public values and public truths by asking 5,000 Australians and 3,000 New Zealand citizens wide-ranging questions about their identity, ageing, ethics and technology. 

“I’ve always believed that good research is finding that distance between the lie and the truth,” Herceg said.

“You see the parallel between what people say and what they really think when you dig deeper under the surface. That’s where all the opportunities are for new product development, for services, for marketing — to talk to people in a really interesting, honest and authentic way.”

Rose Herceg will deliver a presentation about her ‘Secrets and Lies’ report at a day-long conference on Thursday 22 April in Canberra. The ‘Communicating to get the right outcomes’ event is held in partnership between The Mandarin and the WPP Government and Public Sector Practice. 

Fore more information about the program or to register see here.

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