Communications Day’s

Natalie Apostolou writes:


Optus has stinging assessment of what it claims is Telstra’s “disastrous” US centric public affairs strategy,
proclaiming its PR policy over the last nine months as “profoundly ill-judged”.

Speaking at a public affairs industry
luncheon hosted by the International Association of Business Communicators in
Sydney yesterday, Optus director of corporate and regulatory affairs, Paul
Fletcher, branded Telstra’s public policy under CEO Sol Trujillo, and his head of
Public Policy and Communications Phil Burgess, a tirade of “hyperbolic
pleadings” from “some self interested short term visitors”.

In an unprecedented analysis of a rival
carrier’s PR performance, Fletcher outlined a litany of Telstra’s perceived failures,
putting forward his take on the five key reasons behind
Telstra’s PR woes;

  • Telstra’s style and tone is shrill,
    hyperbolic and personal.

  • Telstra demands everything be done its way
    or not at all.

  • The advocacy is not fact based but the
    opposite – an approach which draws on many unattractive features
    of the world of partisan US think tanks.

  • They have not sought to understand local
    conditions, but have assumed that the Australian facts can be
    force-fitted to a US template.

  • Their central argument about the effects
    of regulation is simply wrong.

At the core of Fletcher’s attack is that
the “boys from Denver” are attempting to run
their PR strategy as if they were still in the US. “Unless they want to import a
whole lot of other features of the American scene to Australia,
their case for US
style regulation is stillborn.” Fletcher
suggested Burgess’s experience on the board of the Washington
based Progress for Freedom think tank has infused his public policy direction
in Australia,
applying techniques “long on hyperbole and aggressive claims” and short on
facts.

“These guys have zero interest in
competition. They have every interest in trying to recapture their monopoly as
quickly as possible. But they are using the technique of saying the diametric
opposite of what they really mean,” he said.

Fletcher argued that the carrier had
flooded the market, the government, its customers and competitors with
erroneous and unsubstantiated claims, most of which have nothing to do with the
Australian regulatory system. This will continue to backfire on them. “At the end of the day if you have a public
affairs strategy which is predicated on a central message which is factually
wrong, you are not going to get very far.”

Fletcher concluded that while many of the
stunts pulled by Telstra’s PR team have been entertaining, their desire for zero
regulation, their attempts to obfuscate the truth of their management
performance by blaming the regulatory regime, and the creation of constant
distraction to shift the focus away from their anti-competitive behaviour is
seriously troubling.”

In an out-of-character move Telstra
refrained from indulging in the discourse, a spokesman stating only:
“as the man himself says, making it personal is not
an effective strategy. We still look forward to hearing Optus
talk more about their own ideas, and less about everyone
else’s.”

Peter Fray

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