5 Lessons to Learn from Elon Musk’s PR Playbook


Make your next marketing campaign out of this world with these moves from Musk.


5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


If the past couple of years of entrepreneurship have been defined by one person, it’s Elon Musk. Musk has pioneered not only the electric automotive industry but also various other industries with PayPal, SpaceX and the Boring Company. Well known for his Twitter antics, he has made a name for himself by spearheading many of his companies’ PR efforts.

Here are five lessons from Musk’s various PR strategies and publicity stunts that might help you put your business on the map.

1. Own your mistakes

There is a now infamous video of Musk demonstrating the strength of the Tesla Cybertruck’s window glass by throwing a metal ball at it. It was just supposed to carelessly bounce off the window, but the actual result is the window displaying a massive fracture. Many CEOs would write this off and try to hush it as faulty and have the car taken off stage. But Musk instead did the rest of his presentation on the car with the broken glass right behind him. And in the end, him owning it led to people wanting to see the car in its final form. Musk is notorious for not always living up to the outlandish promises he makes, but he’s proven time and time again that if you take accountability for where you are failing to meet expectations, people will be patient and tune in for every update thereafter. 

2. Reach for the stars

In 2018, Musk petitioned for the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket to be able to launch with a Tesla Roadster — which was unreleased at the time — onboard rather than a test payload. The end result looked absolutely ridiculous, but it proves how effective setting unrealistic goals can be. Musk gets attention for his various businesses by thinking outside the box and doing things that seem ridiculous but are actually genius. What better way to kill two birds with one stone than to combine a PR stunt for two products into one? It seems simple and sometimes impractical, but if Musk has demonstrated anything, it’s that there is always room to be creative and goofy with your PR and still find a massive amount of success.

Related: 10 Ways to Get Global PR Exposure

3. Find a balance between crazy and practical

It’s hard to forget when Musk sold Boring Company Flamethrowers, a $500 device that while not technically a flamethrower still shoots fire farther than what feels comfortable. This crazy invention is part of the reason for the Boring Company’s success. Every single video that features the product has the branding for the company front and center, and the 20,000 units of this product sold out in 100 hours, banking $10 million in revenue for the company. While most companies shouldn’t necessarily follow this exact path, Musk proves that there isn’t really such a thing as “staying in your lane” when you buck that trend right from the start. If you start out your business and PR strategy with crazy ideas, people will be a lot more interested in what your business will do next.

4. Make a point of interacting with your fans on social media

Musk is well known for his tweets, but what is slightly less known is how involved he is in the discussion of his products and businesses on social media. He’s not afraid to take the time to explain what he’s up to, what he hopes to accomplish and how his products work. When you take a more casual approach to social media, you can become more than just an owner of a company. You can get inspiration and ideas from people all around the world more easily when you become part of that global community. After all, Musk’s Cybertruck is inspired by his love of video games and he reminisces about the subject online.

Related: 7 Strategies Entrepreneurs Can Learn from the Kardashians

5. Be openly passionate

Musk takes time out of his day to geek out with people on the projects he’s working on. He’s worked hard to make his dreams come true, but he’s never lost that balance between big picture and small details. If you watch tours of him going through the Tesla manufacturing plant, he knows exactly what each machine does and how each car is assembled. If you hear him talking about his space exploration dreams, he knows that generations of technology will be built off the impact he is making now. And he’s never been shy to admit any of this, which is why it’s important to take pride in your work and what you do. As Musk shows, it makes you so much more appealing to people who want to follow in your footsteps.

In the end, Musk has distinguished himself as one of the world’s most successful CEOs because he didn’t play by the typical rules all the time. Sure he’s gone through traditional marketing campaigns and so forth, but Musk has remarkably done much of his PR through his own social media feed, interviews and company projects — and it has worked out remarkably for him. It might for you too.

Related: Elon Musk Advises ‘Stop Wasting Time with PowerPoint’

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Cameraman Gordon Buchanan joins cheetah family to learn of their struggles


Sitting among Savannah the cheetah mum and her two cubs, Gordon Buchanan has somehow become one of the family.

The cameraman was able to earn their trust by following the cheetahs on foot to learn about the challenges they face.

“No one had ever attempted to follow her on foot in the way we had, so in the beginning we were very cautious seeing how she felt,” he says.

“Trust had been built up over time. Initially she was aware of me and then she’d complete ignore me and by the end she didn’t mind having this bloke following her around. It was a wonderful progression.”

Gordon is no stranger to embedding himself within animal families and has done so with polar bears, wolves and other big cats.



Gordon managed to get up close with the cheetah family

But just how safe is it?

“It comes down to that individual. It’s the choice of that animal and what it’s comfortable with. So it’s nice when any creature lets you study its behaviour so you can judge its response to you. It’s about judging where those comfort levels are. By the end of the series, the cheetahs were completely relaxed.”

They were so relaxed that one of the playful cubs, Morwa, tried to run off with Gordon’s jacket and nearly broke his tripod.

“I wasn’t expecting it, up until that point they had ignored me so that’s when I realised with their comfort level around me they were onto a new stage.

“I was worried about my jacket getting ripped and my stuff getting trashed…if all three of them decided to tear apart my bag I wouldn’t get that back in one piece. I realised my rucksack and jacket, which I’ve worn in lots of different countries around the world and I wear it when taking the dogs for a walk, so was trying to work out the different kind of scents they would pick up from the jacket. I was surprised I did get it back.

“It was a step towards them being comfortable with me. They’d never approached me or my stuff and that was in the last days of filming.”



Two young kittens enjoy a meal

The 48-year-old would be just metres away from the cats, the world’s fastest land animal, and never once felt threatened.

He says: “I was slightly nervous, even when you’ve got two large cubs, I was quite aware that I was surrounded by aware cheetahs and I thought, ‘Hang on, what types of animals can they take down?’ They can actually take down animals much bigger than me.

“They are a large animal but at no point did I feel threatened by them. You do have to be mindful they are a wild animal and if you don’t respect them and their space that’s when you could get into trouble.”



Savannah and her cubs have a well-earned drink

He quickly learned about the personalities of the cats.

Savannah largely ignored him, but her cubs Seba and Morwa were more interested.

“Sebah was struggling at some points she’d been injured, she kept her distance a bit more. But Morwa was more interested and comfortable, even just five metres away from me and slump down and go to sleep. And he tried to steal my raincoat.”

Dad Gordon was following the cats in South Africa’s stunning Tswalu Kalahari Reserve for his new two-part documentary, Cheetah Family & Me.

It’s a feat he describes as “a triumph” as it was the only BBC natural history programme filmed in 2020 that made it on schedule due to coronavirus disruptions.



A cheeky cub steals Gordon’s bag

“The plan was to do three or four trips across the year but we started in February, it was amazing we managed to come away with two programmes.

“When covid was not on anyone’s radar and I thought, ‘This is the perfect project, what could possibly go wrong?’

“At the end of that first trip covid was reaching our ears in the Kalahari. We thought it would blow over and we got back early March and the world changed very rapidly.”

Gordon gained special permission to return to the cheetahs in October to film the second part of the documentary.

A cameraman had to stand in to film a second cheetah family, led by mum Chilli and her five adorable newborn kittens who also feature.

Both cheetah mums deal with the impact of climate change on the land, habitat loss and try their very best to keep their cubs alive.

They may be expert predators when it comes to hunting, reaching speeds of 70mph, but it’s not an easy life for a cheetah mum.

“They’re an animal icon, everyone knows what they look like but people don’t quite realise in today’s world the challenges they face,” Gordon says.



Life isn’t easy for cheetah mums

“You tend to think of them as a solitary animal but for the females they go from one litter to the next. Their role in life is to produce as many young as possible. Out of a litter generally only two will survive, they do spend a lot of their lives with their young.

“With climate change that obviously affects predictable rain patterns. If the rain doesn’t fall the grass doesn’t grow and the herbivores suffer and it goes all the way up through the food chain. These predictable rainfalls are the life giver to much of Africa.

“All these animals and plant species are adapted to cope with drought but when you have these prolonged periods of drought, droughts that last for several years, that whole ecosystem becaomes degraded.”

Climate change is only one problem. Cheetahs were once found all over Africa even up in the north but they have been marginalised and driven into small, protected areas.

And the only way to protect them from man’s previous actions is to intervene.

“It’s only really, sadly, with our permission and consent that we can have these animals in the wild. We really do need to make a decision on whether we want a future with these animals living in the wild.

“If we don’t take the steps right now to protect them and protect everything they need they will absolutely disappear. It’s been on this trend for 100 years for lots of Africa’s animals, dwindling away to the point were they will disappear.

“It is sad that we’re having to meddle and involve ourselves in those natural mechanisms that did well for millions of years but that is the harsh reality that wild areas will have to be heavily managed for them to survive.”

There is hope for cheetahs. In South Africa the population is growing thanks to conservation programmes and people like Richard Satekge, a cheetah expert who features in the programme.

If other countries can protect cheetahs like Richard and his team, the cats’ futures could be looking much brighter.

“A few passionate people can really turn the fortunes round,” Gordon says.

“I want to show people what the challenges are like for a cheetah mum and how difficult is for the world’s perfect predator.”

  • Cheetah Family & Me starts tonight and on Wednesday Jan 6, 9pm on BBC Two



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How to Learn a Handstand and Fall Less


It’s important to know what you want from your handstand journey. The majority of us aren’t gymnasts or professional hand-balancers, so we don’t have to have a perfect handstand, whatever that is.

 

With social media, we can often feel disheartened because we are exposed to the very best, whose job is to have a certain handstand.

 

 

There is no competition or judges for the regular person; you are only training for yourself.

 

This article is for people who want to improve their kick up consistency, which means kicking up into a handstand and holding it most of the time. I know from personal experience, it’s frustrating to waste energy constantly falling and not actually holding a handstand.

 

It’s important to be comfortable on your hands so that you can make cool moves such as:

 

 

 

I call this a journey because it is. You can have the best training one day, then the next day nothing goes right.

 

It doesn’t matter how experienced you are. There will still be bad days. You will get better at reading your body and adjusting.

 

Prepare Your Wrist

I’ve discovered during my personal training career that the majority of people have weak wrists. Don’t be discouraged if this is you, but you must accept where you are. We live in a beautiful society, but it has its disadvantages, one of them is we never use our wrists.

 

We don’t hang, crawl, or apply pressure to them (typing on the laptop doesn’t count).

 

 

Remember, the body is efficient. Use it, or lose it. This goes for physical, technical, and mental skills.

 

When I used to teach big classes, I quickly realized that if I had 2-3 exercises that involved a little pressure on the wrist, the groans I heard weren’t from physical exertion but wrist pain.

 

When you start training your wrist, it only takes a few weeks to see improvements. How do you strengthen the wrists?

 

Build habits in your daily life because just doing one or two days a week is not enough, even if it’s for an hour.

 

I love this Bruce Lee quote:

 

 

It takes 5-15 minutes daily to get the best results or spread it throughout the day by building cues or reminders.

 

For example, every day before you eat or after a shower, do a set or set a timer, anything to make it convenient for yourself by incorporating it into your life.

 

The majority of the day is spent making habits we’ve built. It’s not a habit when it takes too much energy and willpower.

 

 

What if you don’t get wrist pain?

 

Wrist work is still needed.

 

You have to realize that handstands aren’t a natural position.

 

Your ankles are designed to support your full weight and gravity, but our small wrists aren’t.

 

That’s why strengthening the wrists, fingers, and forearms are important, and also, the elbows and shoulders.

 

Progress in handstands and calisthenics is determined by how strong your joints and tendons become because these small areas have to withstand the load and force passing through them.

 

You can find more mobility routines here Prehab/ Rehab for:

 

 

So before you go upside down, spend a week or two getting the joints ready.

 

When you get into handstands against the wall, there is bound to be some discomfort in the wrists (they will get stronger and adjust), but it shouldn’t be painful.

 

Babies Do It Every Day

There’s no perfect handstand program, but you’ll hear athletes/coaches saying their way is the best, and neither am I saying my way is the right way.

 

I’m sharing how I’ve taught myself and clients to balance on their hands. Everyone is different, and we all learn differently. That’s what makes the world go round.

 

Two components will make the difference regardless of what program or training style you apply.

 

The First Component Is Consistency

We hear this word all the time because, without it, there is no success. It doesn’t matter how great your training session might have been.

 

Training something once a week will do nothing.

 

You will not build the neural adaptation and spatial awareness to master the handstand.

 

When babies are learning how to walk/stand, they do it every day. They have the desire and curiosity to step into the unknown, learn, and adapt. That’s the kind of mindset you want to have.

 

You don’t have to spend hours every day, but make it a habit of being upside down. Those pockets of time when you’re bored or doing menial tasks, practice your handstand instead. Five minutes is all you need.

 

Heck, one set daily will do the job.

 

This is In addition to 2-3 training sessions (about 1 hour) a week to practice various drills and weak areas.

 

The Second Component Is Time on Your Hands

The second component is the actual time you spend balancing on your hands. Failing to kick up and hold the handstand can be a part of your training, but please, not the whole hour. It teaches you very little.

 

You need to get the most out of your training. You actually want to feel what it’s like to bear weight on your hands, shifting your center of mass and how your hands are constantly making small adjustments.

 

Do exercises on the wall or close to the wall, and that way, if you fall, you have support.

 

Some people can only hold a handstand in one particular position. I’m not talking about creating shapes with your legs because their area of influence is poor:

 

 

This could be that they’ve never actually spent time in those positions. How can you adjust if you don’t know what position your body is in?

 

Spend some time in a:

 

  • Banana handstand (arched back)
  • In a pike (are your glutes too tight, hands uneven?)

 

When you know what not to do, then you can correct it.

 

  • When I was learning the handstand, I was obsessed with being in a straight line. Otherwise, it didn’t count.
  • I would abort the handstand if I knew I wasn’t straight.
  • This resulted in me not actually being able to navigate or adjust while being on my hands.
  • My kick up was poor, and I didn’t understand what was going on.
  • Then I started focusing on my hands, shoulders, and hips.

 

I would kick up, and whatever position my body was in, I would try and hold it.

 

Babies will try all different things, spending ten seconds here, then falling, another ten seconds there, and then falling.

 

That’s similar to a handstand journey, spend ten seconds freestanding, another 30 seconds doing a drill on the wall. Gather those valuable seconds on your hands. By doing them frequently, you will progress.

 

Guidelines

Don’t overcomplicate it, be consistent, and actually spend time on your hands.

 

Here’s a training template you can work off and adapt.

 

  • Choose exercises to focus on the areas I’ve outlined.
  • Most of the exercises you will do as a superset.
  • A superset is when you perform one set of an exercise (B1) and then immediately switch to another exercise (B2).

 

You can rest when you have completed the set.

 

Handstand Session Template

How to Learn a Handstand and Fall Less - Fitness, balance ability, endurance, core, alignment, flexibility, handstand, handstand walking, handstand push up, press to handstand, wrist pain, shoulder mobility, neuromuscular, pike, Spatial Ability

 

Training sessions can be structured like this, or they can be irregular play.

 

You can change the exercises you do every month, week, or session by session.

 

Doing stretches during your session is good to loosen the muscles and to calm your breathing. The more relaxed you are, the better your handstands will be.

 

You can find a beginner handstand program here Handstand 0-60.

 

Flexibility and handstands go hand in hand because being able to stack your feet, hips, and shoulders on top of your hands help make handstands less draining.

 

Without shoulder flexibility (+180° overhead straight arm raise or backend), your wrists and forearms will take most of the load. These areas fatigue quickly under your weight.

 

It is much better to let the shoulder take most of the load, just like your hips do for your lower body.

 

Without hamstring flexibility, a forward fold, or the pancake stretch, you will be unable to control your kick up, and you will find it hard to have your legs straight in a handstand.

 

You can train your flexibility together or separately from your handstands.

 

There’s No Perfect Handstand

There’s no perfect handstand. There’s just the desire and curiosity to step into the unknown, learn, and adapt.

 

Spend five minutes a day on your hands and train 2-3 times a week, working on drills to improve your balance, endurance and kick up consistency.

 

You can always improve your alignment along the way. Take care of your joints because they will determine how far you can advance.



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Can we learn animal democracy from bonobos, ants and slime mould to better our society?


Humans have turned to spider silk to make stronger materials, termite mounds to design cooler housing and bumblebees to refine drone technology.

So, if it’s so helpful to look outside our own species for answers to problems, why not look to non-humans to help us develop our society and democracy?

Dr Jean-Paul Gagnon, a philosopher in democracy at the University of Canberra, says innovative solutions are needed to address problems in modern democracies and societies, and non-humans could hold the answers.

He’s spent nearly 10 years drawing inspiration, lessons and analogies for democracy from animal interactions.

“If you want to see more democracy in the world, if you want to determine your own destiny and for all of us to do this collectively, then we need fresh ideas,” he said.

“We need to look outside the usual history of democracy. We need to look outside our species — we’re not the only ones who have to decide things, countless numbers of forms of life have been doing this for hundreds of thousands of years.”

So here are five non-humans that can teach us a thing or two about building a peaceful world:

Slime mould offer lessons in communication and cooperation

Cells of slime mould, sometimes known as “dog’s vomit”, can cooperate.(Wikimedia Commons: Ian Alexander)

It may look like a yellow pile of “dog’s vomit” but that gelatinous mass that you stepped over while out bushwalking can offer you lessons in communication and cooperation.

Slime moulds are single-celled organisms that can undergo dramatic transformations when they work together.

They can live singularly but when they run out of bacteria and fungi to feed on, they emit chemical signals encouraging others to congregate.

They then join to form a different shape — like a slug — that allows them to travel faster to a new location to find food and reproduce.

Like slime moulds, humans “can do incredible things when we work together, when we communicate,” Dr Gagnon said.

“We put our heads together to come up with a vaccine, or put our heads together and try to end world hunger … we can achieve great things.”

Look to Bonobos for a lesson in conflict resolution

Bonobo grooming
Bonobos tend to hug and groom each other to resolve disputes.(Supplied: Catherine Hobaiter)

If you’ve been waiting in line to be served for what seems like forever and someone pushes in front of you, would you be inclined to offer them a piece of your mind? Maybe even push and shove a little?

The next time you find yourself a little angry with a stranger, try turning to our evolutionary cousin, the bonobo.

When there’s tension between individual bonobos there’ll be a lot of screeching, but the dispute usually doesn’t escalate from there — at least not in the way you might think.

“All these techniques of releasing the tension help to avoid conflict.”

Bonobos try to avoid conflict at all costs, as “violence is potentially very disruptive on a group that needs to stay together for its survival,” Dr Gagnon said.

While he’s not advocating for snuggling up to the next stranger you have a run-in with, Dr Gagnon said that like in a bonobo community, “violence literally erodes our social fabric, it leads to a loss of trust, it promotes dynamics of power and dominance that are not conducive to cooperation”.

“We need alternatives to working things out as strangers, and bonobos do give us a lesson in that practice,” he said.

European bison give inspiration to listen

Modern bison
Each member of a European bison herd can influence the group’s movements.(Supplied: Rafal Kowalczyk)

You might not be thrilled if your seven-year-old and your nutty great uncle got together to plan the next family outing, but when it comes to considering different points of view, the European bison can inspire us.

While decision making in the herd is typically done by a lead female, the group can be influenced by any member.

An individual bison of any sex or age can direct where the herd moves to search for food.

“To see everybody in our society with the potential to suggest something, with the potential that we might actually go and follow them.”

African wild dogs can show compassion

African wild dogs
African wild dogs care not only for their young, but also for injured and aged members of the pack.(Flickr: flowcomm)

African wild dogs, also known as painted dogs, are highly social animals that live and hunt in packs.

But unlike other canids like foxes, wolves or dogs, African wild dogs share regurgitated food not just with their young, but also with those that are injured or too old to participate in the hunt.

Taking care of each other is essential for their survival, ensuring the pack stays large enough to raise the next generation of healthy pups.

Dr Gagnon said the compassion exhibited by the African wild dog was a good reminder of human interdependence.

“The most toxic aspect of individualism is that we think that we are islands and that what we have we’ve made for ourselves, and if somebody is sick that’s not our problem, that’s their problem. And if somebody is old it’s time for them to go,” he said.

Ants give a lesson in emancipation

ant on a leaf
Some ants that are forced to work for slave-maker ants liberate themselves.(Flickr: Tibor Nagy)

If you feel like the daily grind is getting you down and that society’s demands are eroding your sense of autonomy, then you may be inspired by these little ants to rebel.

Slave-making ants steal young from the nests of other ant species and raise them to be worker ants in the slave-makers’ colony.

But sometimes the enslaved ants rebel by acting aggressively to the slave-makers, sabotaging the colony or liberating themselves completely.

“If little teeny tiny ants can show us that they’re not going to take it anymore and that they can overthrow the master and seek out their own master … then for those of us that find ourselves in such dynamics, maybe there’s hope for us to do that too,” Dr Gagnon said.

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How Australia can learn from Scandinavian countries


It’s interesting to compare the major economic models in the Western world: the Anglo-Saxon model, the Rhineland model and the Scandinavian model.

The Anglo-Saxon model is very much driven by small government, market-driven economic and social policies, and in general, has a large focus on shareholders’ value.

By contrast, the other two models operate more in accordance with the so-called triple-bottom-line. This is an economic framework informed by three different components: social, environmental, and financial considerations.

Under this model, organisations commit to focusing as much on social and environmental concerns as they do on profits. It allows them to evaluate their performance in a broader perspective to create greater overall business value.

The Scandinavian model goes the furthest, with a very high level of government involvement in all sectors of the economy and society. All the basic elements of life are fully looked after — education, healthcare, social welfare, childcare, the pension, public transport and other essential infrastructure.

Obviously, this is reflected in higher taxes, but people in these countries clearly see the value of their socio-economic model as it provides peace of mind throughout their lives. As is clear in the recently published World Happiness Report – the annual UN survey that looks at “happy citizens” – the Scandinavian countries consistently score the highest results, despite their high tax regime. This year Finland is number one, Denmark is second, Switzerland third, Iceland fourth and  Norway comes in fifth. Australia is number 12.

The Rhineland model is perhaps best described as a socio-democratic adaptation of the capitalist Anglo-Saxon model, with clear hybrid characteristics, for example, in countries such as the Netherlands. Both the Rhineland and the Scandinavian model are based on the broader stakeholders’ value and not just on shareholders’ value.

In the current political climate, the Australian Federal Government’s focus is still very much geared towards the Anglo-Saxon model, but the story is completely different at a city and community level.

In Australian smart cities, people talk about the need for a triple-bottom-line approach regarding their smart city developments. It does not come as a surprise that all the Australian and New Zealand capital cities are in the top 20 of the world’s happiest cities.

Telcos are key to smart city success

We also see that in a range of other social and ecological issues – refugees, climate change, gender equality – the states and cities are leading the country, while the Federal Government is consistently lagging.

But the Federal Government will have to face that the tide is turning. We now also see private industry looking more and more at the triple-bottom-line.

This is evident in relation to smart energy and climate change. In general, many of these companies – especially American-based multinationals – have not got very far in “selling their offerings”, since their own business models do not match the ones that the cities use. Some closely involved with the Anglo-Saxon model have even left the market or significantly scaled down their operations in this area, as their activities were not fully focused on their short-term profit motive.

Their model still largely depends on the next quarter’s results and this does not fit the smart city model, which looks at results over much longer periods.

Cities and communities operate at a very different level. They need to deliver to all their stakeholders, who in turn are all citizens of their communities, and in doing so they are not purely profit-driven. Happy citizens mean a well-functioning city in all aspects of life. The happiness ratings also correlate with the high-functioning societies of, for example, Scandinavia.

Newcastle: Leading the way for Australian smart cities

The companies that understand the need for a holistic approach to smart cities also recognise the need for business models based on the triple-bottom-line concept. This is not always easy as the companies themselves might not yet be geared up for such an approach within their current business models. However, increasingly companies start to subscribe to this triple-bottom-line approach.

They are willing to place the wellbeing of the citizen at the centre of their discussions with the cities to develop long-term sustainable business and funding models for the development of smart cities.

The Rhineland economic model therefore resonates with smart cities. International collaboration between Australian and European cities is a perfect fit for the implementation of the triple-bottom-line approach by leading the smart cities, many of which are already working from a citizen-central model.

The good thing about many cities is they are very happy to share their knowledge, experience and insights with other cities around the world. This enables cities to learn from each other, sharing knowledge and insight, and even collaborating on smart city projects. This not only saves costs, but also speeds up the development of smart cities themselves. 

Paul Budde is an Independent Australia columnist and managing director of Paul Budde Consulting, an independent telecommunications research and consultancy organisation. You can follow Paul on Twitter @PaulBudde.

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What Australia can learn from electric vehicle policies in Indonesia


The Indonesian Government is making an effort to encourage drivers to go electric in an effort to reduce traffic and air pollution, writes John Thompson.

JAKARTA IS the world’s tenth most congested city. It’s so congested you might not even notice when half the cars are missing. Today it’s the odds; car license plates – all ending in ones, threes, sixes and nines – are shuttered inside garages or parked on streets. Tomorrow, the same will be true of the even-numbered plates.

That is, unless you’re driving an electric vehicle.

The odd/even policy as it’s known is intended to reduce both central Jakarta’s traffic and air pollution. On select main roads and highways, cars with odd-numbered plates can only drive on odd dates — for even dates the opposite is true.  

Marius Pratiknjo, a member of the otherwise sacrosanct classic car community, converted his prized purple vintage Citroen Mehari to an electric motor this year. Pratiknjo says that, in addition to being exempt from the odd/even policy, he’ll soon be paying less for registration, less for permits and even less for fuel. “More incentive for the electric car,” he explains. “We just feel special.”

Marius Pratiknjo’s purple Mehari (Image supplied)

The Indonesian Government hopes that with incentives such as these, 20% of the vehicles manufactured in Indonesia will be either hybrid, plug-in hybrid or fully electric by the year 2025.

So, what can Australia, now the only country in the world to actively tax electric vehicles, learn from our closest international neighbour?

Following in the footsteps of South Australia, the Victorian Government’s new electric vehicle tax, announced by Treasurer Tim Pallas prior to the state Budget announcement, consists of a 2.5 cent per kilometre charge on electric and zero-emission vehicles — including hydrogen. Hybrid vehicles will also incur a slightly smaller two cent per kilometre charge.

The plan is expected to generate approximately $30 million a year. The revenue, which will not be reinvested into the electric vehicle industry, will instead supposedly contribute to road repair and maintenance.

The Victorian Government claims that since electric vehicles run independent of petroleum, they do not contribute to fuel excises — primarily a tool used for revenue-raising.

Treasurer Pallas stated:

“If you’re not filling your vehicle up with petrol, then ultimately you’re not paying your share of maintenance costs of dealing with our road system.”

Yet the higher cost associated with purchasing electric vehicles does result in higher registration fees and motor vehicle duties, a fact acknowledged by Dr Jake Whitehead, Research Fellow at the University of Queensland and expert in e-mobility and the electric vehicle (EV) industry.

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Dr Whitehead explains:

“EV owners already contribute more tax than comparable petrol or diesel vehicles, so it is incorrect to claim they are not contributing taxes. The tax contribution is higher due to the higher costs.”

Despite allocating $45 million for the expansion of Australia’s EV charging station network – disclosed in Victoria’s 2021 Budget – which the Government claims will ‘more than offset’ the new tax, neither the Victorian nor Federal Government have announced a target for the distribution or uptake of low and zero-emission vehicles.

The establishment of a target would send clear signs to consumers and industry stakeholders that the Government supports and will be accountable for the transition away from high-emission vehicles. Their refusal to do so stifles the growth of what could be a lucrative new industry.

“I think government has to climb up. In terms of regulations — it’s easy, don’t make it hard on people, because then they will have antipathy,” said Hendro Sutono, an unassuming property developer and electric vehicle enthusiast from central Jakarta. Despite his passion, Sutono rarely uses electric vehicles, opting instead for public transport where he can avoid the stifling smog of traffic in gridlock.

Jakarta’s air pollution isn’t just bad, it’s toxic. According to research by the University of Chicago, the air alone is cutting almost two-and-a-half years from the average resident’s lifespan. Including Sutono’s.

Sutono hopes that “easier rules” will result in much more of Jakarta’s 1.38 million commuters transitioning to low or zero-emission vehicles. Commuters whose gridlocked engines would otherwise run idle, spluttering putrid air.

Sutono explained:

“Because when I’m using my electric cars in the traffic jam, the man behind me is happy because I’m not emitting any exhaust gas. But I’m not.”

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If Indonesia’s electric vehicle policy is effective at achieving the 20% target set by President Joko Widodo last year, it is highly likely given current growth statistics that Indonesia, a developing country, will have a significantly higher percentage of electric vehicles than Australia by 2025.

According to the Electric Vehicle Council’s 2020 report, 6,718 electric vehicles were sold in Australia during 2019, which represented 0.6% of Australia’s total new car sales and a 300% increase in electric car sales from 2018.

Data provided by the Association of Indonesia Automotive Industries (GAIKINDO) shows that Indonesia’s total electric vehicle sales totalled approximately 15,524 in 2019, or 1.5% of Indonesia’s total vehicle sales. Almost all were scooters and motorbikes. Only 24 were cars — a 2,300% growth from 2018 when only a single car was sold.

Indonesia’s economic incentives have also attracted investment from private interests. The ubiquitous taxi company Blue Bird Group, which operates across Indonesia, has this year introduced 200 electric vehicles to its Jakartan taxi fleet. A further 2,000 have been slated for introduction by 2025.

Fergi Verdisanya has been a driver for the Blue Bird taxi group for five years, ferrying airport-goers to and from hotels. He has a perfect record, the kind that qualified him to drive one of what was at the time only 30 new Blue Bird e-taxis.

Verdisanya says his passengers have already started asking about the car and thinks that with enough time and investment customers will soon embrace the new. “This one is way better, it has an automatic transmission, it’s roomier and…” (at this point, a motorcycle roars past and he stops for a moment) “…it’s quieter,” Verdisanya finishes with a faint smile.

Much like Australia, the most significant impediment facing Indonesia’s burgeoning electric vehicle industry is the availability of charging stations. At present, Blue Bird operates 11 such stations at its taxi depots, a further 20 are currently available to the general public, most are managed by private interests such as mega-mall Grand Indonesia.

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Indonesia’s state-owned energy supplier Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN) estimates that Indonesia will require 31,000 stations by 2030 in order to accommodate current government targets. Unlike Australia, the construction of this network will not be primarily facilitated by government investment, such as the $45 million earmarked for development in this year’s Victorian Budget. Instead, the onus is on private players, with indirect support from the Government through tax and grant incentives.

GAIKINDO co-Chairman Jongkie Sugiarto said:

“Very simply, if we rely on the Government, it will take too long until they can install all of these charging stations.”

Representing GAIKINDO, Sugiarto suggested to the Ministry of Energy that instead, the Government should pass a mandate requiring hotels, shopping malls and office buildings to equip 1% of their available parking spaces with electric charging stations:

“For instance, a hotel owner such as Grand Hyatt Jakarta would have 500 parking lots. Okay, equip it with five charging stations. Or an office building owner which has 300. Okay, equip it with three. So, within six months you will have maybe 5,000 charging stations all over Jakarta.”

The Government’s obligation, Sugiarto says, would be to simply exempt recharging equipment from import duties. He believes that the private sector wouldn’t object to the proposed regulation and that, much like the introduction of air conditioning 50 years ago, the stations could represent a significant promotion of their business.

Sugiarto explains:

“If companies can say ‘come and shop with us here, I have a charging station’, it is a promotion for them and the customer can pay for a half-an-hour charge whilst drinking their Starbucks coffee.”

John Thompson is a freelance journalist, ACICIS alumni and a student of communications at RMIT.

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Time to learn lessons of the past on nuclear


The threat of nuclear warfare is ever-present despite the horrors of the past, writes Dr Helen Caldicott.

MY BIRTHDAY is August 7, sandwiched between the anniversary dates for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (on August 6 and August 9, 1945, respectively). I was six years old when the first bomb fell.

My course in life was predetermined.

On September 2, 1945, when the local fire siren suddenly blared, my teacher asked, “what is that?” and I knew: The war was over.

It had been a really scary time in Melbourne, Australia, as the Japanese had threatened to invade us. Dad dug an air-raid shelter in our back garden, and the windows were blacked out while the city’s searchlights scanned the skies at night.

Elated, I walked home on that lovely sunny afternoon picking flowers along the way. It would be years later before I learned the awful truth about how the war ended.

What rained down on those two Japanese cities seventy-five years ago was destruction on a scale never seen before or since. People exposed within half a mile of the atomic fireball were seared to piles of smoking char in a fraction of a second as their internal organs boiled away. The small black bundles stuck to the streets and bridges and sidewalks of Hiroshima numbered in the thousands.

A little boy was reaching up to catch a red dragonfly with his hand against the blue sky when there was a blinding flash and he disappeared. He turned into gas and left his shadow behind on the pavement, a haunting relic later moved to the Hiroshima Museum. A woman was running while holding her baby; she and the baby were turned into a charcoal statue.

In all, about 120,000 people were killed immediately by the two bombs and tens of thousands more died later due to radiation exposure.

In 1957, when I was eighteen, I read a book by Nevil Shute, an English novelist who ended up in Australia. On the Beach described how the city of Melbourne awaited a deadly cloud of radiation from a nuclear war that was triggered by an accident in the northern hemisphere, killing everything.

Men drank their last gin and tonics in the Melbourne Club while the government dispensed cyanide capsules so parents could kill their children quickly to avoid the agonising symptoms of radiation poisoning.

At the time, I was in medical school, where I learned about radiation biology — the classic experiments of Hermann J. Muller, who in the 1920s irradiated Drosophila fruit flies inducing genetic mutations and morphological abnormalities. Concurrently, the United States and the Soviet Union were testing nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, bombarding huge populations with radioactive fallout.

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In my naiveté, I couldn’t understand what these men thought they were doing because the mutagenic and carcinogenic effects of ionizing radiation were well known in scientific circles. Madame Curie had died of aplastic anaemia secondary to radium, an alpha emitter polluting her bones; her daughter died of leukemia, and many of the early radiologists who exposed themselves randomly to X-rays died from malignancies.

Einstein wrote:

‘The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.’

Robert Oppenheimer, watching the world’s first nuclear explosion in Alamogordo, New Mexico, in 1945, muttered to himself: “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds” from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita.

The scientists knew that they had discovered the seeds of human destruction.

So, in full awareness of its newfound ability to destroy the human race, what did the world do next?

The United States and the Soviet Union decided to outdo each other by conducting a nuclear arms race, building tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. Between 1945 and 1998, the United States conducted more than 1,000 nuclear tests, producing cancer in tens of thousands of people. It has built more than 70,000 atomic and hydrogen bombs; the Soviets and later the Russian Federation had tried to keep up, building at least 55,000 of their own.

Arms control agreements over the years have managed to reduce stockpiles to about 14,000 nuclear weapons today, in the possession of nine nations: the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. The United States and Russia still lead the pack, each with more than 6,000 total weapons, including about 1,600 each that are actively deployed.

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A nuclear “exchange” between these two superpowers would take little over one hour to complete. A twenty-megaton bomb (the equivalent of twenty million tons of TNT) would excavate a hole three-quarters of a mile wide and 800 feet deep, converting all buildings and people into radioactive fallout that would be shot up in the mushroom cloud.

Within six miles in all directions, every living thing would be vaporised. Twenty miles from the epicentre, huge fires would erupt, as winds of up to 500 miles per hour would suck people out of buildings and turn them into missiles travelling at 100 miles per hour. The fires would coalesce, incinerating much of the United States and causing most nuclear power plants to melt down, greatly exacerbating radioactive fallout.

Potentially billions of people would die hideously from acute radiation sickness, vomiting and bleeding to death. As thick black radioactive smoke engulfed the stratosphere, the Earth would, over time, be plunged into another ice age — a “nuclear winter,” annihilating almost all living organisms.

Seventy-five years after the dawn of the nuclear age, we are as ready as ever to extinguish ourselves. The human race is clearly an evolutionary aberrant on a suicidal mission. Our planet is in the intensive care unit, approaching several terminal events.

Will we gradually burn and shrivel life on our wondrous Earth by emitting the ancient carbon stored over billions of years to drive our cars and power our industries, or will we end it suddenly by creating a global gas oven?

The International Energy Agency said recently that we only have six months left to avert the effects of global warming before it is too late. Earlier this year, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved its Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it’s ever been.

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In truth, the U.S. Department of Defense is a misnomer; it is actually the Department of War, Death and Suicide. Hundreds of billions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer money are spent annually by corporations such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, BAE Systems and Raytheon Technologies Corporation to create and build the most hideous weapons of destruction.

Brilliant people employed by these massive corporations, mostly men, are deploying their brainpower to devise better and more hideous ways of killing.  

President Donald Trump is right when he says we need to make friends with the Russians, for it is Russian bombs that might well annihilate the United States. Indeed, we need to foster friendship with all nations and reinvest the trillions of dollars spent on war, killing and death, saving the ecosphere by powering the world with renewable energy including solar, wind, and geothermal and planting trillions of trees.

Such a move would also free up billions of dollars that could be reallocated to such purposes as providing free medical care for all U.S. citizens, along with free education, housing for the homeless and care for those with mental illness.

The United States needs to rise to its full moral and spiritual height and lead the world to sanity and survival. I know this is possible because, in the 1980s, millions of wonderful people rose up, nationally and internationally, in opposition to the arms race and the Cold War.

New nuclear power proposal needs public debate

But what is the present reality in the United States?

There are 450 Minuteman III missiles operational on the Great Plains — in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming. In each missile silo are two missileers, who control and launch the missiles which contain one or two hydrogen bombs. Planes armed with hydrogen bombs stand ready to take off at any moment, and nuclear submarines silently plough the oceans ready to launch.

Both the United States and Russia have nuclear weapons targeted at military facilities and population centres. Nuclear war could happen at any time, by accident or design. The late Stephen Hawking warned in 2014 that artificial intelligence, now being deployed by the military, could become so autonomous that it could start a nuclear war by itself.

This threat is largely ignored by politicians and the mainstream media, who continue to practice psychic numbing as we stumble blindly toward our demise.

 How come the physicists, engineers and military personnel who have laced the world with nuclear weapons ready to launch never factored into their equations the probability that an immature, petulant man-baby could hold the trigger for our destruction in his hands?

You can follow Dr Caldicott on Twitter @DrHCaldicott. Click here for Dr Caldicott’s complete curriculum vitae.

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What leaders can learn from Airbnb’s 2020 comeback


In 2007, designers Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia couldn’t afford the rent on their San Francisco apartment. To make ends meet, they decided to turn their loft into a lodging space. Since there was a design conference coming to town and hotel space was limited, they set up a simple website with pictures of their lodging space — complete with three air mattresses on the floor and the promise of a home-cooked breakfast in the morning. 

This site got them their first three renters, each one paying US$80, and, after that first weekend, they began receiving emails from people around the world asking when the site would be available as a platform in places like Buenos Aires, London, and Japan.

What was known initially as ‘Airbed and Breakfast’ is now Airbnb — a household name that has now surpassed Hilton Hotels in the number of nights booked. As of 2014, the platform had 10 million guests and 550,000 properties listed worldwide, along with a US$10 billion valuation — making Airbnb worth more than legacy players like Wyndham and Hyatt.

13 years after the concept was born, not only has Airbnb Inc. been listed, but that long-anticipated milestone comes just 10 months after the Covid-19 pandemic upended the travel industry, beating all expectations.

The rise in Airbnb’s stock on its debut came just a day after the share price of food delivery company DoorDash Inc doubled in its first day of trading. Now, the company has a market cap of about US$86.5 billion, more than double the valuation the company sought in the IPO just a day ago. Airbnb’s market value now exceeds that of travel giant Booking.com, which has a valuation of more than US$86 billion, and competitor Expedia that has a market cap of more than US$18 billion.

Airbnb chief executive Brian Chesky told Reuters how achieving the IPO felt like a comeback for the company after crushed demand and, he hopes, the travel industry at large. “We were planning on going public, we put our IPO on hold and this has been the most unbelievable journey.”

Getting to this point, however, has come with hardships. For the first nine months of 2020, Airbnb had a net loss of US$697 million on revenue of US$2.5 billion, compared with a net loss of US$323 million on revenue of US$3.7 billion for the same period last year, according to its filings.

The company’s IPO plans were put on hold in March and by April after room and other bookings had plunged 72%. Airbnb rolled out a blanket refund policy and doled out more than US$1 billion in cancellation fees. The company also laid off a quarter of its roughly 7,600 workers and raised emergency funding.

This is a difficult decision for any business to have to face, but Airbnb attracted positive coverage for its support of laid-off staff, when it launched a talent directory for those affected, alongside the creation of an alumni placement team from its recruiters, and an offer of four months of career services through RiseSmart, a company that specializes in career transition and job placements.

The company also provided a comprehensive severance package for those affected by the layoffs — including a minimum 14 weeks of base pay in the US.

“Throughout this harrowing experience, I have been inspired by all of you,” said Chesky at the time of that decision. “Even in the worst of circumstances, I’ve seen the very best of us. The world needs human connection now more than ever, and I know that Airbnb will rise to the occasion.”

In the third quarter, which tends to be the company’s most profitable each year, these though decisions looked to be paying off. Revenue declined only 18%, compared to the near 60% decline for Expedia and Marriott International Inc. 

Today, including securities such as options and restricted stock units, Airbnb’s fully-diluted valuation comes to US$100.7 billion, more than five times the US$18 billion Airbnb was valued at in a private fundraising round in April at the outset of the pandemic.

Home rentals have outperformed hotels in 27 global markets since the onset of Covid-19, according to a report by the hotel benchmarking firm STR and the short-term rental analysts AirDNA. The biggest player in the short-term rental market, with more than 7 million listings in over 220 countries, is Airbnb.

Business leaders can look to Airbnb as one example of how to navigate a downward market and the tough decisions that come with it. Expressing empathy and a seemingly genuine duty to assist laid-off staff, Chesky and his company have overcome a difficult year with grace, ready to continue scaling in 2021 as a newly-made travel sector titan.





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Havas New York CEO Laura Maness: Listen, Learn, and Lead


LAURA MANESS: There was such an emphasis for me personally for many years, and I think what I realized through that journey is that had I put that same level of attention and focus on truly fighting for justice and really prioritizing and putting the emphasis on our black and BIPOC employees, where would we be?

PORTER BRASWELL: From HBR Presents, this is Race at Work – the show where we explore how race affects our careers AND our lives. I’m Porter Braswell. I left a Wall Street career to start a company called Jopwell – because I wanted to help corporate America build a more diverse workforce. Each week, we talk to a different leader about their journey with race, equity, and inclusion. These are the conversations we don’t usually have at work. But this show is a safe place to share and learn from each other.

PORTER BRASWELL: Do you ever think about the people who create the ads we all talk about? Do you ever wonder how their backgrounds and experiences influence their work? Work that can be so influential to our culture? This week, Laura Maness is here to talk about the business case for improving racial representation in the advertising industry. Laura is the CEO of Havas New York – one of the world’s largest and most influential ad agencies. Their work has included campaigns for BIG brands like Dos Equis, IBM, Unilever, and Citigroup – to name just a few. Our conversation started with Havas’s recent efforts to make its culture more inclusive and equitable.

PORTER BRASWELL: Let’s get into a little bit the recent movements that have happened within Havas. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, I believe Havas went out and did a survey around understanding your employees’ race within the U.S. Out of the 4,000 employees, it revealed that six percent were black and just under three percent of the executives are black. When you saw those numbers, what was your first, honest reaction?

LAURA MANESS: It’s a starting point. Releasing the data was really about understanding where we are – to see where we can go. Clearly the mix needs to shift. We released our “Commit to Change” plan, I believe it was in the middle of July. And really took a 360 view on the level of inherent bias that is part of really every aspect of the company. It’s in our community. It’s in society. I think to really understand that, at the most intimate level, it was about starting with our employees and having one on one conversations with hundreds of people to really understand what it’s like and focusing at home first. There’s a tendency to – we’re fixers and we’re fighters. People want to immediately take action and write a check or do things that claim the narrative. For us, it was about a much more thoughtful 360 approach to unpacking those experiences and trying to listen and learn and understand what we need to do. This is not designed to be a short-term fix. There are things that are in the plan that don’t cost anything. It’s about focus and prioritization and intention and driving accountability at scale.

PORTER BRASWELL: Yes but what was your first personal reaction? I understand, from a corporate perspective, it was – this is a starting place, so here are the things we have to do. But that moment when you saw it, take us inside of your personal thoughts. Were you shocked? Were you not surprised? What hit you?

LAURA MANESS: I was definitely taken aback, but not shocked because I think it’s clear, just in the numbers and we had several employees that hadn’t self-identified. It hadn’t been a requirement. Even to be able to transparently share and release the data we had to unpack some of the systems that enable us even collecting that. Really understanding where we are and recognizing that we need to accelerate change for all the programming and efforts to build a culture of consciousness and creativity and to not have it equally represented is unforgivable and it needs to change.

PORTER BRASWELL: What was it that sparked, we have to now address it? Whether it’s Havas or the larger ad industry more broadly, the lack of representation has always been a challenge. So why now?

LAURA MANESS: The level of intensity and I think the events of George Floyd certainly refocused. We had, like I said, for years we’ve had an all-in global DE&I [diversity, equity, and inclusion] approach. We’ve always believed, as a company, and even personally, I’ve railed against a bit a single role, owning the accountability for this. This is a shared accountability. It needs to be owned by every single person in the company and every single leader, in order to drive the impact and change. When we reflected on our all-in approach and across our US agencies what was the focus. And here we are in New York as the flagship, role modeling behavior on behalf of the globe. And realizing that for the efforts – and certainly there have been considerable efforts along the way – it just hasn’t yielded a different mix. That’s what needs to change.

PORTER BRASWELL: Do you find that with the representation that currently exists, and has existed in the past, has that influenced or impacted the type of work that Havas can go after as you are setting out to advise clients on creating authentic brands that help resonate with, in many instances, diverse communities?

LAURA MANESS: I do think it’s front and center and will continue to be a new lens in which partnerships are shaped, absolutely. I think it starts by really understanding what we all mean when we say diversity and where it’s rooted and how that needs to show up in the work. It’s interesting, I was recently in an assembly and we were talking about how important language is and starting to dissect the roots of diversity. People often misunderstand that it’s not about sitting next to one another or having people in the room necessarily, but it is about focusing on equity and justice and history and references and points of view that are going to shape the work itself. And so it’s not about being in the room and feeling superficially like you’ve checked the box on having a diverse team. It’s about the whole experience and how that comes to life in the work and creating a safe environment.

PORTER BRASWELL: I know that you are a big proponent for advancing the culture and driving better representation. As an ally, what are some of the things that you do to help show up and make that impact?

LAURA MANESS: It’s an everyday experience. It’s continuously being willing to be vulnerable. It’s about putting myself in uncomfortable conversations and getting to the root of that and learning as I go and then bringing that experience back into the agency and shaping that as a leader to make sure that the values are clear, that the accountability is there and felt, and is being driven no different than you would a client or working on a pitch to drive to an outcome.

PORTER BRASWELL: Do you have examples for listeners for specific times, when you reflect back, when you were a very powerful ally? Or other times where you look back and you’re like, I should have done it differently?

LAURA MANESS: Yeah I think one of the lessons that I’ve learned is it’s about shifting power and getting out of the way and de-centering. Again, I think as fixers and fighters, there was such an emphasis for me personally for many years, and we talk about this journey of trying to raise consciousness and build healthy rituals into the business and really put an emphasis on women and championing women and creating programming specifically designed to help accelerate and up level women from the mid-level into the c-suite because we had seen that drop off. And we saw incredible results. We saw promotions. Almost every department in New York is run by a woman. We have retention that is twice the industry norm. We see that what you put your attention toward and when you set an intention like that, the evidence is there – when you measure it, you track it, and you put your focus there. I think what I realized through that journey is that had I put that same level of attention and focus on truly fighting for justice and really prioritizing and putting the emphasis on our black and BIPOC employees, where would we be? We see three years of “Fem Forward” and what that’s yielded as a result across our company – and not just in the major cities where we’ve piloted these programming, but even globally as a majority. The fact that Havas is majority women is something that, when I started eight years ago, was certainly not the case. I can equate that experience to personally being a better ally, not for women, and largely women of privilege, but for our Black community, which is the emphasis and the priority right now.

PORTER BRASWELL: I appreciate you being so specific about where the emphasis needs to be. And can you explain the why behind that? Why should it be on Black employees?

LAURA MANESS: Because of the systemic and inherent bias of the system. It has been oppressed and it needs to be the focus. You know, the invisibility of racism and our own language that almost hides the emphasis and depositions in a way. We were talking about this coming out of a recent talk that I sat through. And I have a seven-year-old – he just turned seven. We were talking about Rosa Parks and the example that they used was through language. Rosa Parks had to sit at the back of the bus because of the color of her skin. It’s not the color of her skin. It’s not about her specifically. But if we don’t start to create language that’s more clear and direct – to be able to say that Rosa Parks had to sit at the back of the bus because there were racist laws that required her to do so, and then start to get into the actual context and realities around that and actually talk about racism. That’s something that happens at our household with our seven-year-old. That’s something that also needs to feed back in as a CEO of Havas. It’s language creates reality. And it’s just been amazing, I think, just how much my perspective has changed when we’ve really taken a step back and really looked at the business from a bias point of view. Because even things like our real estate footprint or our merger and acquisition strategy or all of the components of the business, we have tons of systems and processes that exist in our community. It has to start there. It’s unpacking that system and then working through the actions against that change. I do think that it’s been incredibly, like I said, enlightening. It continues to be a daily journey of listening and learning, but I’m really starting to see the impact of the dialogue. I know that over time, we’re going to see the impact of the change.

PORTER BRASWELL: So how do you hold people accountable? What will you do to ensure that this now bleeds through the culture of Havas?

LAURA MANESS: The first thing is, in launching the “Commit to Change” plan, we were intentional about time gating everything to really drive that level of accountability. We’re looking at all facets of this. One of the first things we did in North America was launch a committee. The committee is representing across our group, so we’re divided up into Creative, Health, and Media. We have nine members that really represent Black, Asian, Hispanic, LGBTQ community. And their role in this is to really help create a forum to scale and accelerate the accountability. But it is a cohesive approach across the entire region. That’s just one example. Our goals, our compensation is tied to this, and everyone in the company is accountable for this. You know, we’ve talked a lot about education and ownership and skip level and up level promoting. And we have a program underway right now that’s a talent assessment that’s completely deconstructing and re-engineering the way that we assess talent and promote. We have a management development program in the works. It’s measured. It’s tracked. And it’s exciting. I’ve never seen this level of energy around this. And I’m feeling the impact already and we’re nowhere near the kind of impact that we can yield. But I think it’s about maintaining this intensity and continuing to take these actions and continuing to hold everybody accountable for them.

PORTER BRASWELL: I love the energy and passion. And I love that diversity is bleeding throughout the entire organization and it’s not just one person’s job. If it was, it wouldn’t be successful. But we talked about the focus on the Black population within Havas and more broadly within the industry. That’s a new, very specific, focus. So what happens when employees disagree? How do you have that conversation internally? How do you get them on their journey or remove them if they’re really not down to be a part of that? How do you deal with that as a leader?

LAURA MANESS: I think it is a thousand small decisions. We have ERG’s and we are doing a better job of connecting those across the group to help address the – I’m the only one, or I’ve been the only one – in different pockets of the organization. We have a program called “Press Pause,” which is now running through our DE&I [diversity, equity, and inclusion] filter because it’s important that we hold each other accountable. I think culturally, the strength of that – I mean, one of the insights, and like I said, it’s about being vulnerable. One of the insights came from an employee that said, “Stop saying family. We’re not a family. Family owned, seventh generation, family-owned Havas. Yannick Bolloré, the Bolloré family – they’re family. We’re not family. We’re coworkers. And it’s offensive.” That was like – take a step back for a moment and I didn’t realize the impact of what we thought of as endearing to bring people together was actually alienating and excluding. Again, it’s a thousand learnings. It’s a thousand small decisions and interactions, but it’s about creating a safe space to enable people to recognize the impact of their language, to actually be able to say their race and people want to hear that. I think it’s going to be a journey.

PORTER BRASWELL: And for listeners, can you clarify who Yannick is in that story?

LAURA MANESS: Yannick is our Chairman of Havas and Vivendi. He took the reins for Havas in 2013, I think it was end of 2012, beginning of 2013.

PORTER BRASWELL: Awesome. I appreciate that. Is there a message that Havas wants to lead with that, if the industry is going to effectively help companies and brands more authentically connect and engage with this country. As there are changing demographics in this country and of course globally there are changing demographics – what does that mean for the industry and how it has to start to look if the industry wants to remain relevant in being able to advise brands on the best way to authentically connect and engage as they’re changing demographics?

LAURA MANESS: Yes, absolutely. It’s our collective role to dismantle racism and it does require everyone. And it’s not about risk management. It’s about being equity first.

PORTER BRASWELL: As you think about the future, if Havas starts to resemble what this country looks like and globally – what’s the output? How does that change the messaging for brands that you work with?

LAURA MANESS: Yes, I think it’s more representative of the reality. And it’s unfortunate because I think, you know, our peers in the industry feel like they need to run out and hire as many demographics as possible. And often we’re pulling from each other’s own mix. That’s not actually addressing the core issue. And it’s actually not going to do anything to change the systemic problem in the industry. And it’s not going to show up in the work and the bias that exists inherently in the work.

PORTER BRASWELL: Last question, and this is a question that I ask all of our guests. Should race be discussed at work?

LAURA MANESS: Absolutely.

PORTER BRASWELL: And why?

LAURA MANESS: Because it helps us gain a more in-depth understanding of how we can better support and be active anti-racists. It’s important, I think, to understand the context and to be willing to approach these complex, emotional, personal, and professional conversations about race – wherever you are. And to be able to show up as your whole self wherever you are, and to really be more attuned to the language of what’s required for us to really make change in this justice movement. I do think that the sensitivities and the opportunities for learning are there and the discussion is the enabler of those learnings and of that action. We all have the opportunity, I think, to flip the script. And for all the ways in which race is currently being hidden and weaponized, it’s our collective responsibility, I think, to have the common sense and to come together and be able to have these conversations and learn together and grow together.

PORTER BRASWELL: Awesome. I think that, for me, what I take away from this conversation and what I hope listeners take away is that there is an acceptance that representation needs to be a focus of the industry more broadly. And with Havas being the leader and you being the leader of that, that this is something that you are taking seriously. You’re willing to engage in these dialogues. These should be public conversations. We’re all learning through it. I think that, to me, that came across in this conversation. That’s the goal. That’s why we’re doing this show.

LAURA MANESS: My big thing is, and I say it all the time, words matter very little without action. To be a leader in the company or even in our industry and in society at this time – and I don’t care what vertical you’re in just as a modern leader – if you’re not taking accountability for this, and sustainability, you’re not going to be a leader, let alone the viability of the business moving forward. So it’s a necessity. And I do think that at its core, it’s about providing the most meaningful work experience for everyone.

PORTER BRASWELL: Well, I truly appreciate you taking the time and sharing your journey and your thoughts and your insights with us. Havas clearly plays a major role within the advertisement and public relations world. And so, I’m optimistic that if you all get this right, everybody else will follow. And that’s impactful. So I appreciate you taking the time to have this conversation with us.

LAURA MANESS: Thank you so much.

PORTER BRASWELL: That’s Laura Maness, CEO of the advertising and public relations agency, Havas New York. This episode was produced by Amy Chyan and edited by Anne Saini. I’m Porter Braswell. Thanks for listening to Race at Work – part of the HBR Presents network.



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