The media must learn to say no

Thursday night saw one of the greatest pieces of political theatre Australia has seen in a long while – mining billionaire, sometime climate skeptic, freshly minted MP, and cross-bench leader Clive Palmer taking the stage with former US Vice President Al Gore. He announced what we all knew he would announce – his support for the end of Australia’s carbon tax. But this was sweetened for environmentalists with support for some (relatively) minor policies and institutions (Renewable Energy Target, Clean Energy Finance Corporation), and a gimmicky backing of a new emissions trading scheme (it’s floating price will be conditional on similar policies being adopted by our major trading partners).

Twitter and the mainstream press erupted. The story became that Clive Palmer had changed his mind and that Australia is back on track for sensible climate policy. And this angle appeared wall to wall. But now that the dust has settled, the media has realised they have been played. Which makes for entertaining reading.

On Wednesday, he had the atten­tion of the Canberra press gallery for the entire day. When word leaked out that he had hired the Great Hall for a press conference to announce his position on the carbon tax, the entire gallery was captured. No one had ever used the Great Hall for something so ordinary as a press conference.

Ministers and major-party leaders usually garner a crappy meeting room, which always seems adequate for their purposes. These hardened veterans of the fourth estate all knew they were being played — and they all knew they had absolutely no way of avoiding exactly that.

This is just a bit of a brilliant article in The Australian by former Labor Minister Graham Richardson. Richo goes on to talk about Palmer’s history as a press officer, and expound on his penchant for grabbing the media’s attention with brilliant stunts, such as his dinosaur theme park and Titanic replica.

Whatever you may think of Palmer, he is very big news. His every utterance, no matter how banal, offensive or disingenuous, gets front-page or prominent coverage.

The need for every outfit to cover Palmer’s every flourish and be the first to share his “change of heart” is a drastic flaw in an industry so vital for our governance. Everyone led with this, scared they would lose audience to their rivals, even if they didn’t have time to sufficiently process what had happened. The result? Casual media watchers will be left with the impression that those who want action on climate change have scored a victory. The media must learn to say no.


What can we take away from Typhoon Haiyan?

For my last few interviews on Typhoon Haiyan, I decided to look at what we can learn from the superstorm and it’s aftermath. From previous interviews, I know that the Philippines were well warned and the evacuations were mostly effective. Everyone I talked to also pointed out the scientific consensus that future storms will be worse (if not more frequent), and that there is a serious need to alleviate underlying poverty in disaster prone areas. The impact will not be as great if the pre-existing conditions are not as dire, the reasoning goes.

To see what the Philippines government and countries like Australia can do to move the dial on poverty in such places, I spoke withProfessor Stephen Howes, Director at the Development Policy Centre at the Australian National University:



(Image: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr)

As before, I am unable to embed audio in the email blast. You can take a listen at Soundcloud.


More coverage of Typhoon Haiyan

As is should be obvious from my last couple of posts, I have been making a series of segments for The Wire on last year’s Typhoon Haiyan. So far I have posted an interview with Justin Morgan of Oxfam and Todd Smith of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. This time an interview with the Philippines’ Red Cross Secretary General Gwendolyn Pang. We covered more of the damage wrought by the super storm as well as what the Red Cross is up to:




(Image: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr)

As before, I am unable to embed audio in the email blast. You can take a listen at Soundcloud.

What is a Typhoon anyway?

The media coverage of Typhoon Haiyan was so hectic that I have decided to create a series clearing up some of the finer details. In this interview with Todd Smith, Northern Territory Regional Manager of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, I looked into what exactly a typhoon is, how we spot and predict them, and what made Typhoon Haiyan so different;




(Image: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr)

As before, I am unable to embed audio in the email blast. You can take a listen at Soundcloud.


What’s going on in the Philippines?

It’s been many months since Typhoon Haiyan disappeared off of the front pages, yet the work to set the Philippines right continues. The disaster left more than eight thousand dead, affected up to eleven million people, and at it’s peak it covered the Philippines from coast to coast. In it’s wake is crippled infrastructure, the wreckage of industry after industry, and a clean up bill in the billions. As part of a series I am producing for The Wire, I spoke to Justin Morgan, the Philippines Country Director for Oxfam, about what exactly happened and the work still left to do.



(Image: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr)

As before, I am unable to embed audio in the email blast. You can take a listen at Soundcloud.


Guest Post: Lessons in Crowdfunding

Hey everyone!

As some of you may know – we spent most of February and March running a crowdfunding campaign for the Earthship Community Center in Kapita, Malawi. Crowdfunding is something we’ve been doing for a while but on a much smaller scale – this was our largest effort yet! Raising AUD 17,840 in a month is no small feat for a small organisation. We thought we’d take this opportunity to share a few insights from our campaign that may help you with your projects AND thank our awesome supporters.

So here we go….

Step 1 – Be clear on the Who, What and Why

It’s important to be clear about who you are impacting , the specifics of what is going to be done with the money raised (the more tangible the better) and why this is important to you/ your team. We are emotional beings and as per the ever popular Simon Sinek TED Talk, the “Why” is incredibly important. Make sure that passion and motivation is shared across your campaign. Once you have an idea about the “Who, What and Why”, get it down on a one pager. Share it with your team and get some feedback on how it can be refined. This was a useful process for us and formed the core of our campaign copy.

The “What” extends  to your fundraising goal – as per this rather famous Forbes article – you need to be smart about it. In addition to what your project requires in terms of finance,  consider the size of your organisation and its network when deciding on a goal. $5,000 is often a comfortable goal, $10,000 a challenge and anything beyond requires some serious confidence in our view! Better to stage small wins than to go big and fall flat we say.

Overall, whether it is your text copy or your fundraising – we urge you to reflect on whether LESS can be MORE?


Step 2 – Choose the right platform

We’ve used a range of crowd-funding platforms – both directly and through partner organisations – and overall we’ve had positive experiences. Chuffed is a relatively new player on the crowd-funding campaign but we are very impressed by their offering and the caliber of their team. Their offering was the most versatile for us in that their model allows us to keep ALL the funds we raise, there are no admin fees and their donation system is login free (less hassles for your supporters). Further to this, Prashan and his team were amazing right throughout the process – from the initial conceptualization of the project  to spurring us on through the campaign and being keen to debrief and take feedback on board.  While the choice of platform is contingent on the type of project and your objective(s), We at Empower HQ and Empower Malawi give Chuffed a big thumbs up!  - Don’t take our word for it – see how they stack up against other platforms and decide -


crowdfunding profile










Step 3 – Mobilise your Tribe

2-3 weeks before you decide to launch your campaign, engage your core supporters and ask them if they’d be willing to be drivers of your campaign. We used the rather militaristic title  “Kapita Soldiers” and managed to create a Facebook Group of over 20+ supporters to help drive our efforts on social media. This was largely achieved through a call out to our main network via  email and Facebook.  In our case, this consisted of core Empower volunteers and people who took part in the initial Earthship build in Malawi a few months prior. The crux here is to think about the people who care deeply about your project and the impact its creating/will create. You want to tap into people who are passionate about the same issue – who share your “Why”.

Just a note on mobilising your Tribe, be sure to tap into them when you are developing copy or even a video for your campaign. They can be an invaluable source of feedback – we made atleast 5 revisions to our campaign copy prior to launch thanks to our soldiers.You’d be amazed by what a small team of “soldiers” can do for your campaign…and the best part is that they feel involved and feel a deeper sense of ownership. Remember to keep requests of your tribe short and simple. 


Setup 4 -Have a Strong Video

Let’s face it, text and pictures only do so much these days. A video goes a long way towards contextualizing your project and making it more “real”.  In our view, time spent on a great video is time well spent.  Webcam videos have their place but we recommend cranking out the HD gear (what doesn’t have HD capability these days?!) and crafting a video that is more than just talking heads. The “Who, What, Why” should come through and hopefully some action shots and music for good measure. Here’s what we did , typically we’d recommend something that clocks in around 2-3mins (short and snappy)

Step 5: Plan, Plan, Plan

Sounds blatantly obvious but its easy to get caught up in the excitement of a crowdfunding effort and lose sight of the fact that the success of your campaign is largely determined by the extent of/or the lack of planning. This was certainly the case for us as well. We invested a lot of time into thinking about things like how Empower and Earthship should schedule social media posts and newsletter posts across the 4 week campaign. This was mostly a case of using our ammunition strategically – no shooting from the hip and blasting all our collective networks at once. It was carefully staged – alternating between platforms (Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ Twitter, Email) and different segments of our network.  We would definite recommend doing a simple spreadhseet and looking at the weekly flow of posts. This would allow you to strategize the launch, the mid point and the adrenaline fueled final push! If you have a partner organisation, consider how you can mobilise their networks, if you have media contacts try and schedule write ups for different stages of the campaign.  We managed to get this plug for our campaign early on  (Thanks Tas!)- Shoe String Media.

Another thing we planned trough were the perks/rewards (again get feedback from your Tribe) and the development of social media message templates for your supporters. Overall we found strong, confident langauge worked best! Also stressing that people were getting rewards for their contributions – as opposed to it being a standard donation – there’s a value exchange.

The easier you make it for your Tribe to spread the word the better.On that note, one tool we feel we ought to have used from the start is Thunderclap! It’s a great tool that allows you to harmonize the social media networks of your supporters into one single blast. For example if you get a 100 people to sign up to a free thunderclap, you are essentially creating a wave of 100 posts at the same time (e.g. 12noon Tuesday). This really helps break through the clutter of newsfeeds , though we used it in Week 2 – we think its better suited to a launch or final push strategy.










Step 6 – Start Strong, Host a Launch Event 

A great opportunity to involve your Tribe, get some publicity and generate some buzz for your campaign. Having a physical event was a big plus for us and we’d definitely recommend it. We organised a simple venue, crowd-sourced food from the Tribe  and hosted a simple launch event. The event itself was free and largely casual. There was a 10min presentation on Empower as an organisation to contextualize the campaign and a showing of the clip above. The main call to action was for people to SHARE the campaign on Facebook. We had over 30 people attend the event and this helped generate some great momentum from the get go. We found that the event helped generate deeper, sustained support for the project e.g. donated auction items, company matching grants etc (all in addition to the actual crowd funding campaign).

This all culminated in us starting VERY strong. We ensured that our donation count was never at $0 at the start of the campaign and that we have well over 50+ people sharing the campaign within the first 12 hours of the campaign.


Step 7 – Follow the Plan and Acknowledge

We stuck to the spreadsheet schedule we developed for the campaign. Our Social Media Manager Thaylise did an awesome job of scheduling a whole set of posts on Hootsuite across all our platforms to ensure we didn’t miss a beat. Overall we found that Facebook and Newsletters were the most effective medium in terms of conversion to donations and shares.

We had shifts on social media to acknowledge all our contributors every 48 hours – usually through shout outs and tagging photos on Facebook.


Step 8 – Push!

Make no mistake – you’ve got to push to the end.We called our core group “soldiers” for a reason!  It’s not over until the clock runs out and if you are well ahead of your goal…set a new one! We were floored by how dramatically the donations came in over the last 3 days of the campaign. This was largely due to good planning in terms of the scheduled posts and us being really clear about the deficit. Our campaign went down to the wire (last 24 hours), there were adimittedly times in Week 3-4 where we felt like we could settle $15,000 but we made a conscious decision to charge forward and not get complacent.

Here are some examples of how we pushed on:


 Step 9 – Celebrate!

It’s so important to celebrate all the wins, big or small and acknowledge the people who believed in your campaign. Believe me when I say I met many good friends who confessed that they didn’t think we’d reach our goal!  To me, this really reinforced the value of ones core team and soldiers. These are people – regardless of the outcome – who believe in your  “Why” and have given their time and effort to make things happen. Make they know that they are valued.

This may be a funkier depiction of how I celebrated us reaching our goal….

Hope this has been helpful! Feel free to drop  a comment below  if you’d like more information  or have questions. Go forth and make awesome things happen gorgeous people!


Over and Out,


This post originally appeared on the Empower blog