Strike first when issues emerge

When the Government announces a review into an industry, we advise clients to use the initial publicity to influence the outcome.

At this early stage, most organisations hope against hope that the issue will go away or the outcome will be benign. So they avoid saying anything, except blandly claiming they “welcome the review”.

This does nothing to channel the review or the government, nor convince consumers.

For example, when Z Energy responded in May this year to the prospect of a government review of petrol prices, it claimed the market was competitive but a review was “the most sensible way forward” and Z would “co-operate fully.”

In October, when the Prime Minister said “consumers were being fleeced”, Z Energy was forced from the earlier blandness to retort that it “disputes that prices are unjustifiably high”.

By welcoming a review in May, the industry effectively agreed that it should be reviewed, and allowed five or six months to go past in which the Government and others framed high petrol prices as due to profiteering from retailers.

That means the situation evolved so that a review might agree the market is competitive, but the political and public expectation was that action is required.

The first time you’re asked for comment is the best opportunity to start directing an issue toward a better outcome. The AA’s statements over the same period of the petrol price controversy offer clues for how organisations can do this:

  1. Frame the problem and suggest a solution early.  The AA went straight to the GST component of petrol tax.
  2. Be first with a number.  The AA said average motorists pay 32 cents per litre in GST.  10 cents per litre was GST paid on top of excise duty.
  3. Be catchy and consumer-focused. The AA used the simple phrase “get rid of tax on the tax”.