Our main storytellers have not been compelling this far into the COVID-19 crisis.

It has become a standard criticism that the messages being delivered – or that we have been hearing – are confusing, not strong enough, contradictory, not cutting through, not logical, based on economics and not health.

This has no doubt contributed to uncertainty, the fear, the “she’ll be right” attitude of some.

In the past five days it feels like there’s been a shift.  “If you can stay home, you must” in Victoria is coming in a little stronger in social media and the media, with those who flaunt it being shamed or penalised.

It shouldn’t be a blame game in the community, but that lack of initial clarity and the fear will continue to drive it.

An emergency management pal of mine mentioned the outcomes of Victoria’s last pandemic – H1n1 in April 2009, which was before my time in emergency communications. She indicated there wasn’t as much panic then despite deaths.

What’s different from then to now? Social media and ‘community’ experts.

In the past five weeks, the amount of times we saw people running out of toilet paper was funny at first. But I bet all of us followed that up with the thought “maybe I should go get some”.

The Victorian Chief Health Officer hit a home run yesterday with his tweet calling the behaviour of those congregating at the beach as “crap”. Better yet, he went on to explain why that was a problem and the consequences (deaths).

However, the response varied between agreement and the strong opinion that people shouldn’t be blamed when there has been such confusion across governments in the advice being provided.

It’s no doubt true that integration of communication is somewhat easier to do when it’s one State – harder to do across the nation and the world in differing timeframes and circumstances.

We’ve seen the disastrous effect of that not occurring in the past few weeks and the impact on the opinion of the community about those in leadership.

  • Without integrated communications, any sniff of contradictory info and you start to lose it.
  • When the messages are different from people’s lived experiences, any good messages you’re pushing out are undermined.
  • When emotion drives the thinking, logic doesn’t work. Traumatised people don’t take in information and won’t believe it.

There’s a lot that can be said on communicating during a crisis and a number of people who do it extremely well. It’s not just a talent; it takes hard work and experience.

I spoke last week to The Mandarin on communicating in crisis, and my main points were around leadership, communication, innovation and opportunity.

Leadership and communication

In an emergency, leaders aren’t permitted to fail because the community (and Twitter) have very little tolerance for failure.

  • Talk. Listen. Be visible. Be real (authentic) and don’t smirk.
  • Show you’re listening by acting.
  • Know your stuff. But stay in your lane when you need to.
  • Be consistent. Give consistency.
  • Don’t assume the named leader is the best and only communicator (relevant for communicators here).
  • Build your champions and use your stakeholders and community leaders to get messages out. Listen to them and support them.
  • Don’t get impatient. In many cases, the media will ask and continue to ask the questions that community want to know the answer to (barring any particular bias or affiliation media have).
  • Respond to those who matter – the community and your stakeholders. But work to manage those who can do you damage. Bring them into the tent.
  • Respond to what is causing the fear, as well as addressing the fear itself.

Communicators are only as good as the information they have. Comms 101. They should be in early. Leaders need to listen and respond to their communication people.

Good communication practitioners will reflect the community concern and response and positioning required to address same.

And to do that communicators need to continually check whether the crisis communications are actually getting through to the community (social distancing/physical distancing…).

In the case of COVID-19, it’s abundantly clear that the messages – to this point – weren’t/aren’t.

Innovation and Opportunity

Easier said than done, I know. But pick up the phone to community, innovators, partners, corporates.  Make them all your partners.

The system/product/new procedure you know would take months to get going in normal times can happen incredibly in a crisis-timeframe.

Communicators don’t always get this opportunity. In times of emergencies you get the permission to do things differently.

Or get the wheels going and ask for forgiveness later……

Any organisation can wear an accusation of over-reacting. It is very, very difficult to come back from an accusation of under reacting and having a catastrophic outcome.

Can’t help but wonder if we’re on the cusp of that.

I consider myself pretty well informed. I read the news, I watch the press conferences, I sift through the commentators, I absorb the community feeling. I know how the emergency management arrangements generally work, I know the systems in place that can be used to talk to people and I know the pros and cons.

And yet, I am in the dark.

I’ve observed the panic buying, I’ve navigated the changing advice and rules, I’ve tried to watch dispassionately like an outer body experience or as an interested outsider the increasing fear, criticism, confusion and dissonance from people’s lived experiences and the messaging being provided by our leaders and spokespeople.

And this week I am angry.

I make no comment on whether some of the Australian States fracturing from the Federal approach is the right thing to do or not.

But the ‘how’ it’s being done has got me stuffed.   If the idea of Victoria, NSW and QLD is at least to be responding to the gut filling anxiety some in the community are experiencing, the weekend announcements did not reduce it.

The Victorian Premier’s statement of a ‘shutdown’ of all non-essential services was strong. It was ahead of the national cabinet. It said more details to come on Monday…..

‘LOCKDOWN’ screamed the media.    My local small businesses started announcing their closures because of Covid-19 on Instagram. Cafes, restaurants, hairdressers.  I called my more vulnerable friends to check in, my locally travelling dad, disconnected from the social media world, to say he should head home to the farm the next day and the parents decided they would sit tight and lock the doors against the world.

I whatsapped my entire team, telling them to still proceed with their working plans Monday and we would reassess with more information when we knew exactly who and what was affected. Each conversation, I put a caveat on it that while media was saying it was going to be a ‘lockdown’, what that meant wasn’t entirely clear yet.

The PM’s defensive and late press conference on Sunday night provided some specific details about what would close and when, but did not answer all the questions.

Schools were contentious but some certainty at least in Victoria – and I heard from the PM that hairdressers didn’t have to close after all and cafes could still do takeaways (which many already were) so their Instagram and Facebook pages expressed more confusion. Did they really need to close just yet ? Should they for their own health and business good anyway?

And me : so closures and not lockdown then, I asked Twitter? Was I wrong in what I understood? Did I miss something? Twitter simply shrugged its shoulders at me with a palms up emoji.

With a continuing caveat, I whatsapped my team, because the Premier would still have more to say Monday morning.

Waking early, wondering and tired, I was confused and cranky. Looking again for the missing clarity in planning and in communicating that planning and the best community steps.

As a communicator and community member I have an opinion, like many with similar backgrounds.   It’s not about throwing stones in a rapidly changing and evolving situation because I get it. This situation is a case study for crazy and as recovery community engagement specialist Anne Leadbetter observed to me separately, this situation will fill the future of PHDs and research for years to come in community behaviour change, fear and communication strategy.

But as a human being with family members, friends and team members I’m afraid to touch or breathe on, I’m needy.

The logical part of me says what I need is a more strategic plan or idea of the potential next stages, an idea of the consequences and the escalation points. What I want is rock solid, consistent, empathetic, well planned and executed, visible, responsive, coordinated response that responds to my fear and my need to control what I can in the actions I can take.

The Premier today reiterated the actions as individuals we should take, must take. But the gravity of his words are belied by the fact our shopping centres are open. Again, a dissonance, and a cacophony of other decisions being made by other States – and other countries.  Tonight, I saw the first of a Victorian ad about the stage one restrictions.

New Zealand late last week implemented and communicated a four stage alert level. It appeals to my emergency management heart, and gives some comfort to me that there is an escalation point.

As our country grapples separately with decisions and NZ reaches stage three and four, my parents in a small country town are separately also holing up.

Without any more information about what’s next, they are staying home, so hopefully they won’t die.

This was going to be a blog about personal resilience. A blog where I was proud of myself for surviving a series of unfortunate events unscathed.  Two weeks ago, it went a little like this:

Sitting in the Bairnsdale offices of East Gippsland Shire Council, my local wine store owners and cafe owner together phoned to see where I was. At face value that says something about me but they delivered the news that my apartment had been evacuated and shut down due to a burst water pipe so their concern was genuine.

In the middle of a bushfire ravaged area, with the threat of landslides from the torrential rain, and Melbourne having been scarred by hail stones the size of golf balls, I wondered aloud what the damage would be.

Four hours away and helpless, I shrugged. At least I still had a house and a roof over my head, was my pragmatic thought. Others had nothing but smoke, just kilometres away from where I was.

Returning to Melbourne and emptying out the damaged bedroom into one of two other rooms in the apartment in total and dealing with insurers (mine and the building), assessors (mine and the building), trades (mine and – you get the idea….), I shrugged again, provided feedback when one of them bled all over my white doona, more feedback when the single building contractor’s work wasn’t quite what it said on the box, when the fire alarm went off continuously for two days….again, you get the idea…

Fleeing my own chaos and the bloody coloured, rusty dust that arrived on the car, streets and balcony in a Melbourne rain from the Mallee, and back to the hurting East Gippsland, I intended to stay longer and spend money in Lakes Entrance and surrounds, a practical support in areas crying out for it.

Instead, a day later, I was asked to go interstate to work in media support. Arriving at the destination airport, my computer crashed and burned with all my files inaccessible and my only device charger left behind.

I was tired, emotional and a bit fed up with my own personal mess with a desperate internal need to panic.

Instead I shrugged. I watched with awe the happiness of beautiful fireworks that night, I called Geeks To U, had a coffee, leaned on some wonderfully competent and helpful people, took a deep breath and smiled. No worries.

Two weeks later, I read this again – with a smile, knowing that I was fine, I was fine, I was fine. And then I wasn’t.  It’s still a blog about personal resilience, but it’s also about real life. Shortly after, I had a big whinge, a big sleep and a little “I’m tired cry” or two.  And that’s okay.

Life can be a series of inconveniences. Sometimes that can happen all at once. It can also be a series of opportunities. Sometimes they also happen all at once.

I’m still sleeping in my dusty, damaged, bare-floored bedroom, having bought a new computer, rescued my files and thanked the people who held me up.

Lots to appreciate, but there’s also lots to be realistic about. Even in the chaos, life is only going in one direction. Despite the photo, it’s not backwards. Accept it, work with it. Charge on.


My first trip overseas was the first anniversary of the Bali bombing.  In 2002, a series of bombs in Kuta, Bali killed 202 people and injured hundreds more. I was a journalist at the Geelong Advertiser working the afternoon shift and oblivious to the international tragedy when I walked in.

I had to do multiple ‘death knocks’ on the doors of families who we were hearing had lost loved ones.  It was a horrifically distasteful term for what became one of the biggest privileges of my life.

I spent days, weeks and months recounting the stories of those who were lost, and those who had lost, helping them to describe their own grief and anger and trying to be as true as I could in representing their love and loved ones, as well as the stories of those who had survived.

Twelve months later, I flew to noisy, overwhelming Bali, with its unfamiliar smells, sadness and snipers guarding those who flocked to pay their respects. It has remained the most difficult and most rewarding experience in my journalist career.

And even when I burnt out a few years later, and left journalism behind for ‘the other side’, I never regretted or forgot the lessons bestowed on me of those whose stories I was able to tell.

That love never forgets and life is too precious not to go out and live it.

I was really pleased to complete the final module of my IAP2 Certificate of Engagement recently. Over a 12 month period I have delved into the world of engagement and strategy moving through the modules on engagement foundations, methods, facilitation and evaluation.

Engagement Evaluation was one of the more daunting lessons for me. It was acknowledged in the room that engagement evaluation is often done badly, or done rarely.

Evaluating the engagement can be tough because participants find it hard to differentiate between project and engagement ie ‘I don’t like the project’ or ‘I don’t like the project but I was treated with respect’.

‘Our job is to hear all voices and give them equal weight because it’s not for us practitioners to make value judgements,’ Tutor Lucy Cole-Edelstein said.

IAP2 says a key risk in engagement is complacency, thinking that we know our community, local stakeholders and preferences. Undertaking evaluation of the engagement process helps to:

– determine whether engagement was effective

– asses whether appropriate methods were used

– asses whether feedback and outcomes were what was needed

Lucy said evaluative thinking is part of our everyday life, and it doesn’t have to be complicated.

But you do want evaluation to be meaningful, to tell a story – positive or negative – and to use it to influence up and back out into community and stakeholders who have trusted you enough to engage.

Just as challenging earlier in the year, the Facilitation in Engagement module took us through how we develop the skill and confidence to facilitate live events, building tools and being able to troubleshoot on the fly (or at least, being prepared to try!)

Being able to lead from behind and still be confident, maintaining confidence and our cool when others have differing views or are being, shall we say, difficult (!), having non-judgmental dialogue and identifying what makes a great conversation were all key interests to the group.

I particularly loved the 3 P’s of facilitation – Purpose, People and Process (also pretty fundamental to engagement) and the need to look at our own style and approaches catering for different learning and personality styles.

Some of this is intuition and reading people and the room, supported by process and planning, and that appealed to me with my own experience in and as part of communities and teams.

“Bring the girlie in. Not a culture fit. But she’s a woman. She’s so full on.”

Marketing strategist Anne Miles (CPM) introduced her talk on unconscious bias and the push for gender neutrality in marketing with a bit of punch. Bluntly, she said brands themselves have an unconscious bias and don’t always recognise their own customers. For example :

– 83 percent of marketers believe their organisations are creating advertising that avoids gender stereotypes

– 63 percent of customers disagree and think advertising reinforces stereotypes.

A big divide, so her question was: how we talk to each gender without polarising the other when the market audience is both?

During a wide ranging and thought-provoking talk, she showed us three car adverts; one overtly masculine, one overtly feminine and one gender neutral, which threw a bit of humanity and subtle role balancing in it. The examples she provided as good practice in bringing humanity into social media had authenticity, obviously stood for something, used gender neutral colours, even a balanced font appealing to both masculine and feminine.

As a consumer, it really struck me what I’ve been missing and what I’ve been accepting. Fascinating and complex topic in a sometimes deliberately biased world.

#storyteller #content #contentcreator #contentmarketing #theartofwhy #theartofwhycommunications #findyourstorybeyourstory #melbourne


As a communication all-rounder, an issues specialist, frustrated writer and creative, the expansion of knowledge into marketing and content creation for me has been challenging and fascinating all at once.  The Centre for Adult Education (CAE) is my go-to for short courses that give me a taste of what I’m interested in – and what I’m keen to know to be able to provide sound and well-rounded advice to clients.

Tutor Bernadette Schwerdt blew my mind over two weekends in SEO Copywriting for Beginners.   The first day focused on the Google machine and exactly what that platform looks for – and how to work with it to get noticed. Her first point was that most companies invest in social media but not SEO, and that it touches on many disciplines where the skills involved included:

  • Digital marketing
  • Copywriting
  • UX
  • Web development
  • Public relations
  • Blogging
  • Data analytics
  • Psychology and consumer behaviour

I had looked at the course notes, and I had to gather my courage to go. At first blush, it seemed a little more overwhelming than I had anticipated, but my brain sparked and got excited by the potential and the dots that were being connected. Bernadette touched on offpage SEO, my main interest, and as an author, marketing consultant, advertising account director and copywriter, she shared a lot of her enthusiasm as well as her knowledge.

“Copywriters are there to tell people what’s in it for them,” Bernadette says. Understanding the product being promoted/sold, who you’re targeting and how to get their attention is naturally key. Simply her advice in a nutshell:

  • Identify the target market/s persona
  • Question your client about why, keep asking why and use “which means that” to get to the benefits instead of the feature
  • Identify the inner monologue consumers have about the product
  • Answer the questions/interest/concerns/solve the problem
  • You’re trying to build trust with google as well as customers
  • But write for the human not Google; then look at your keywords and work it through

Bernadette has a no-nonsense approach to SEO copywriting using tried and true formulas. Having never consciously thought about it, I’ve fallen for almost every single one of the formulas. Just touching the tip of the iceberg in SEO. I’m in.

What do you do when you have a book to promote for a good mate and self -published author, and shoestring budget (read will work for cups of tea and chocolate)? You improvise the hell out of what you’ve got.

Dr Lisa Chaffey wrote Rewiring pain – A new way to reclaim your life, to help others cope with chronic pain. It’s a great story about new ways to combat chronic pain, from a great friend. Practical advice – and down to earth explanations of why it works – in book form, woven through Dr Chaffey’s personal story.

I’ve known Lisa for many years, and her way with words is undoubted. Sometimes I see that during competitive scrabble games, but most recently in her book, which took 18 months to finish while working and doing life.   It is worth a look.

My role, apart from cheerleader from afar, was to help shape and film a series of videos that explained in 60 seconds or less some of the concepts in the book.

Communicators are nothing if not thrifty, so the location became my apartment (well, a version of it as we tore it apart to make it an appropriate backdrop) and the trusty iphone was the tool of trade. Shaping the content to tell the story on a shoe-string, and working with the author and best spokesperson for the job in an apartment made to look (kind of) like an office.

Look closely in some of the videos and you make see a microwave.   Great fun, and a talented author/video talent.

Note: I have since purchased a real tripod……

Find your story. Be your Story. The Art of Why Communications

Thornbury has a great retail community and Thornbury store Lola Lovely Gifts brings a gorgeous Italian flavor to accessories and clothing. Owner Grazia Cavallin’s own Italian style is reflected in her High Street store, with affordable, quality and slightly edgy clothing and accessories. Most of the clothing in Lola comes from Italy.

Grazia is a self taught jeweller which was her trade in Italy, and she makes some of the fine, unusual and special jewellery pieces in her store. “Hand made jewellery is very personal and intimate.  Every time I travel I want to buy something that is unusual and hand made and I like offering that in Lola,” Grazia says.

“I like to shop and I have a vision of what I like, that is what I try to bring to life in the store. I’m glad I came to Thornbury because there are lots of eclectic people from all over the world here and I like to have something they appreciate, a little bit European and a little unusual.”

Grazia also has a business importing clothing from Italy under the brand Urban Luxury, supplying to stores and boutiques across Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania.

She understands the potential in social media content marketing for both the store and clothing, and the personality and branding differentiation needed for both. Her store’s Instagram account is quintessentially her, where she features in some of the pictures, and her Italian heritage shines through.

Urban Luxury AU’s Instagram account focuses on the beautiful, Italian-made clothes and outfit combinations, delving between the casual cool of the clothing and the easy wear fashion for every woman.

Find Your Story. Be Your story. The Art of Why.

Tucked into a 150-year-old store, Thornbury store Bespoke Wines and Spirits markets itself as #notyouraveragebottleshop.

Owner Phil Gray, a former money market trader with a long history in hospitality and high end champagne sales, has an olde world shop bursting with unusual wines, spirits and beers, as well as quirky and different gift ideas.

Phil loves the quirk of the Thornbury community and provides knowledgeable advice on the substantial and changing stock. He also runs down different and hard to find products for individuals and recently became the largest Melbourne seller of a seasonal Fig Gin by using Instagram and word of mouth tastings to spruik it.

Developing the personality and profile of the store’s Instagram account has simply been a matter of taking a bit of Phil’s personality and cheekiness, his passion for customer service and quirky products, and implanting a little bit of Thornbury.  Growth of the account has been steady and organic only, to ensure his authenticity and ideas shine through first.

“Using social media for sales is new to me, but I like customers to explore and not feel pushed,” Phil says.

“Anything we do has to be genuine and can be a bit cheeky, but every customer interaction has to be genuine.”


Find Your Story. Be Your story. The Art of Why.