Online shopping tax: the biggest PR fail of 2011 – already?

In this guest posting, PR Vuki Vujasinovic analyses Australian retailers’ disastrous attempt to persuade the public that the government should tax online shopping from overseas.

I’m calling it now: We’re only a week into the New Year and we’ve already seen the biggest PR fail of 2011 (unless Tiger Woods goes on another rampage).  

As we’ve seen this week in the media, a coalition of big bricks and mortar retailers is trying to garner public support in an attempt to lobby the government to “create an even playing field” in the Australian retail sector.

Strategically, their PR approach has failed at all stages. Their strategy surrounding the issue was leaked well before the print campaign even started.

The biggest failure has been the key messaging, which is the core of any PR campaign. I’m surprised a respected and prominent PR agency didn’t manage the publicity appropriately.

From the start, the key message has been that the government should tax purchases from overseas websites that are under $1000. Apparently, this would create an “even playing field”. You’re never going to get mass public support for a campaign to increase taxes and charge the public more. Ever.

The approach for this campaign should have been to lobby for no tax or duties on all products under $1000, no matter where they are purchased. The big retailers would then be seen as the consumer champion.

It would have been the government looking like the bad guy once they announced they are not willing to stop taxing all products under $1000. Then the real debate about the even playing field would have started, and it would have been the government experiencing the mass PR pressure we’re seeing unfold right now.

The public outcry has caused tremendous brand damage to every retailer who is being associated with this campaign. A quick twitter search for “Dear Gerry Harvey” shows how passionate Australians feel about the issue. Reading through the comments and polls from all the news articles gives strong qualitative and quantitative evidence that they’ve seriously messed up their PR approach.

Aside from the key messaging, the debate quickly became ‘big retailers vs online retailers’. The PR campaign should have made the conversation “Australian retailers vs International retailers”, not “bricks vs clicks”. A key part to improving this strategy would have been to get at least one prominent Australian online retailer on board. By doing this, the campaign would have garnered mass public support and put serious pressure on the government.

Strategy and foresight are some of the most important elements of any PR campaign. They must be carefully thought out in order to communicate the correct key messages and achieve your goals. Every business that’s in business has a story to tell, but you must tell it properly.

Vuki Vujasinovic is director of PR agency Click PR. His clients include online retailer Kogan.


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