Q&A with the experts: Brace for a media storm in aged care and be innovative

In recent years there have been several Royal Commissions undertaken in Australia. Investigation has been undertaken across a range of issues and industries including child sexual abuse, banking and finance, home insulation and trade unions. Now in 2019, the spotlight will shine on the nation’s aged care providers in the biggest probe the sector has ever faced.

The impacts of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety will be significant – particularly in terms of reputation for providers in the sector and business performance of aged care facilities.

For insight on how providers in the sector can prepare for the imminent inquiry, we spoke with Jillian Whiting – experienced journalist, TV presenter and director of communication agency Media Potential – and Heath Shonhan – partner and aged care specialist with advisory firm, Bentleys.

Jillian Whiting, Media PotentialJillian, based on previous inquiries, what are some of the key expectations concerning media coverage of the Aged Care Royal Commission?

JW: The impact of a Royal Commission on any sector is immense – and that, of course, is the point of the whole exercise. The aged care sector can expect that the media attention will be intense from the start of preliminary hearings on January 18, and for some operators, it will be brutal.

This inquiry into aged care will take up more media space than the banking and finance commission did, generate more stories, more hits online, more TV time, more headlines and more damage.

Why will it be so different from the banking inquiry?

JW: Firstly, aged care and the treatment of some our most vulnerable and respected community members is an emotional issue and one that taps into the fears of our ageing population. It’s something that members of the general public can relate to, and this keeps audiences tuned in.

Secondly, there are the optics. Banks and Insurance companies don’t provide much in the way of interesting vision for the TV news. But following the ABC’s 4 Corners program in September 2018, there is a library of shocking images and heartbreaking stories. With around 1300 aged care staff volunteering to share their grievances with 4 Corners, no doubt we will continue to see more ‘hidden camera’ style reporting from those armed with smartphones.

What can we learn from the impact of the media scrutiny on the banking sector?

JW: In the banking inquiry, the big banks weathered the savaging from journalists and commentators – and so they should with the size and calibre of their communications teams. Their preparation was meticulous and still their reputations took a hit – but half the community believe the banks are bastards anyway.

Most providers in the aged care sector have little to no specialist support to deal with media attention. When you become the focus of a media storm, it happens very fast with cameras on the doorstep as soon as the story first pops up on Twitter.

Just as there is no hiding from a Royal Commission, there’s no hiding from the media. However, there are ways to minimise the potential for ongoing reputational damage by understanding the never-ending media cycle, how journalists operate and exactly what they will do with your story.

You also need to be on the front foot and with a comprehensive communications strategy across all stakeholders, including a media plan covering every possibility. I have a go-to checklist that I run through with every client to ensure that they are prepared for media appearances. It covers the essentials like:

  • Who is your spokesperson?
  • Do they represent the brand appropriately?
  • What will you do when questioning becomes aggressive?
  • How will you deal with a media scrum after a hearing?
  • What will you do if you don’t know the answer to a line of questioning?
  • How will you react if you are confronted by upset family members on camera?
  • How will you rectify inaccurate news reports?
  • Do you suffer from nerves and do you know how to overcome them?

At the end of the day, being prepared – using the right content, language, vocal skills and body language to get your messages across accurately and authentically in a dynamic media environment – makes all the difference.

It also helps to have access to a team of crisis experts who can guide you through a media firestorm, prepare your messages and responses and deal with journalists.

Advisor Queensland, Heath Shonhan, SME/ Private Company

Heath, obviously a media crisis is going to critically impact a provider – and perceptions around the integrity of a business can have an enormous influence on business and financial performance. What are your thoughts around what aged care providers can do to minimise the risks?

HS: Word of mouth is still one of the most powerful approaches a business can rely on. I would encourage every provider to complete a stocktake of their customer advocacy and engagement with a streamlined tech tool like Net Promoter Score (NPS). These tools provide a balanced scorecard element that will assist with understanding customer loyalty, retention and endorsement.

Having an easily translatable customer advocacy measure will be instrumental in not only helping to combat any negative media attention, it can also be integrated into strategic discussions across the organisation. A NPS can act as a trigger to keep the culture focussed on customer service and satisfaction, which will also help with business strengthening.

What else can providers do differently to strengthen their organisations?

HS: The Commission is going to open up a lot of discussion and debate about how the industry can do things better. From a business building perspective –being innovative is essential. Innovation has two key approaches: firstly, exploiting – with a focus on improving – successful, established and operating businesses; secondly, creating and exploring opportunities in new and potentially disruptive business models.

Exploiting a business involves applying innovative thinking to ‘business-as-usual’ scenarios to create efficiencies or incremental changes. Aged care providers can start by activating continuous improvement plans. Exploiting via business process re-engineering – or by replacing products and services with newer, better ones – will get you started on the journey.

The exploration side of the innovation spectrum is where transformational change happens. Focussing on completely new value propositions, business models and other types of growth engines sparks significant new growth. This requires courageous leadership and commitment to a new approach.

How can aged care providers make the shift to more innovative thinking?

HS: With increasing numbers of industries and sectors recognising and embracing the power of innovative thinking, the business tools that support these approaches keep getting better – and they can very easily and successfully be integrated into the future thinking for any aged care provider.

We have already identified that a business’s continuous improvement plan provides a great starting point for exploiting activities.

Exploration activities require a very different set of business tools. The Business Model Canvas and Customer Value Proposition are tools and processes that we regularly rely on. They provide the frameworks and guidance to identify new growth opportunities and help you to construct the roadmap to get there.

Aged care providers who want to grow and strengthen in the future need to innovate across the entire spectrum from exploit to explore. Various strategists call this the ambidextrous organization. But simultaneous success on both levels can be challenging. Each approach needs to be supported by different organizational structures, processes, timeframe expectations, risks and tools. The culture, skills, processes, and staff incentive frameworks that exploit and drive efficiency in an organisation are often vastly different to the elements required to nurture explorative innovation.

But it is possible to do both. When you think innovatively – everything is possible.

Have you seen examples of where these types of approaches have helped strengthen an aged care organisation?

HS: Yes – we are working with some great future focused providers who are seeing fantastic results. In a nutshell, they are focussing on three key innovation objectives:

  1. Increasing the efficiency of established businesses. This, by and large, translates as a focus on improving business processes and careworker productivity through investing in and embracing collaborative technologies.
  2. Sustaining established businesses. A number of aged care providers that we have worked with have introduced new products and services by implementing marketing and advertising innovations.
  3. Creating new growth engines. This is my personal favourite. I have been privileged to work alongside aged care providers who have reinvigorated their entire organisations by experimenting with entirely new value propositions and business models.

Should everybody in an aged care organisation be an innovator?

HS: Absolutely! Innovation comes in many different forms. It’s about applying the talent across your team to the right objectives.

Some team members should focus on efficiency and sustaining innovation, while others should focus on innovation that leads to new growth engines. Each type of innovation activity requires specific ways of working, skills, and tools. Be open to training and equipping people according to the objectives they are aligned to.

How can you get an organisation ‘innovation-ready’?

HS: There are a number of ways to get your organisation ready to embrace innovative thinking. The most crucial first step is to look at resource allocation – time, money and people.

To be successful at both exploiting activities (ie. gaining efficiencies and sustaining innovation) as well as exploring activities (ie. new value propositions, business model innovation or management innovation) you need to be prepared to dedicate the necessary resources to each.

Successful technology and science innovations alone don’t automatically lead to growth. Resourcing the combination of the right value propositions and business models with new technologies is what create substantial growth.

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