shoe croc, don’t bother me

Ok, so these ones do. And that title is a really bad pun. But fresh from talking about a sticky situation involving the Coogee Bay Hotel, we have been confronted with our own PR crisis.

For those of you not familiar with the story here’s the précis, the tourism dependent community of Magnetic Island was recently in lock down as a rogue crocodile terrorised the bays and streets of the island. But the plot thickened – it turned out the EPA, in its infinite wisdom, had captured the crocodile in Far North Queensland and released it near Townsville. Then, as it began wreaking havoc upon the poor island, they couldn’t catch it. This of course led to calls from the ever reliable walking quote machine, Bob Katter, for a croc cull. Crocodile leather is desirable for shoes, hand bags and other accesories – they also interfere with our right to enjoyment of nature – or so the argument goes. It was eventually caught – only to die in captivity a day later – an autopsy revealed that the croc’s stomache was lined with plastic bags, and other rubbish which led to its untimely demise. Untimely, arguably because it should have died three weeks earlier.

This was a PR nightmare for all involved (except Bob Katter).

In particular:
The EPA now stand accused of killing some small businesses due to their ridiculous “crocs in space” program. They had an electronic tag on the crocodile and still couldn’t find it. They mishandled the situation allowing operator after operator to front the media lambasting them and demanding compensation – the State Government pretty much ruled it out on the spot – and now can count on no votes from Magnetic Island at the upcoming election. Even the greenies hate them because the croc died. It’s all their fault.

The Magnetic Island operators themselves have done as much as possible to tarnish the region’s image – by yelling “CROC” from the roof tops and going about dealing with the Government in an inappropriate manner. They shot themselves in the foot (they should have just shot the croc). The local tourism industry – Magnetic Island is the “jewel in our crown.” That’s the official line. I know because I wrote it. Now, in the mind of the uneducated consumer it is no longer a pristine island destination with safe beaches – it’s a garbage filled wasteland populated by deadly crocs. The tourism minister proclaimed crocs as “good for tourism.” That, according to those on the ground was untrue. That line only works when describing Australia Zoo and other crocodile farms. Crocodiles on public beaches are bad for tourism. The plastic bags, in all likelihood, came from far north Queensland, where the waters are messy. I wanted to run a media release on that basis titled “Far North Queensland full of old Cairns and plastic bags” – but I was outvoted. Common sense prevailed.

Fake or not?

The YouTube comments are divided (and contain strong language).

I’m thinking fake.

But still, with a 3.5m croc terrorising Magnetic Island – this could be our new tourism ad.

Weasel words

I was driving to work this morning listening to my local ABC news. Which I think is the best local news in Townsville. There’s a story going round up here about a crocodile – which is not unusual for North Queensland. This crocodile is terrorising the locals at Mystic Sands. It’s two metres long and must be removed because it’s a danger to the community – the creek it lives in flows past two houses. 

The local EPA spokesperson said “The Crocodile needs to be removed because there’s a real chance it could interact with pets, or even small children…”

Since when is “interact” a euphemism for eat? Weasel words are the new black. Obfuscation is a big part of my job, a media training thing yesterday with one of Queensland’s leading PR consulting groups made me even more cynical. The trainer (an experienced journalist) made a point that everything we read now has spin on it because journalists are hand fed more than 90% of their news (ie most stories come from Media Releases) – and anyone who puts out a media release knows that they’re not objective.

This trainer made a comment that politics – and particularly policy making is now purely assessed on the following criteria:
a) will we be hammered more for not doing it, or doing it?
b) is there a photo in it?
c) Can we turn it into a news story or a website?

The QLD Government, and the Rudd Government have massive spin machines dedicated to packaging policy for the masses. Rudd is great at symbolism – but lacking substance. This is a prime example of something that met the aforementioned criteria.

Rumours and innuendo
Rumour has it that several leading local sports stars were busted in a “cocaine party”
Rumour also has it that several leading political journos are starting to link some of Rudd’s decisions in policy making in the Queensland government – linking many of South East Queensland’s current woes with his decisions… eg Water shortages with dam refusals, health problems with health infrastructure investment (or lack thereof), and education problems with a Rudd led education review.

Anyway, I’m off to interact with my morning tea.