Advanced screening technologies, including body scanners, were trialled at three Australian airports between 15 October and 28 November 2008.
Reputation was engaged by the Office of Transport Security (OTS), part of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, three months before the Trials to develop and implement a communication strategy for the Trials.
Overseas experience had highlighted the potential for fiery opposition to body scanners and extensive debate in the media and online.
Recognising the potential for similar controversy in Australia, Reputation developed a set of detailed strategies that would enable the Department to handle any eventuality. These included a communication and stakeholder engagement strategy, and specific media, issues management and marketing strategies – that were then distilled into a comprehensive Road Map to ensure successful implementation.
Reputation’s strategic approach in anticipating and minimising hot issues helped the Department achieve significant volunteer involvement and broad public acceptance of the technology Trials, and ensured the Trials achieved a ‘good run’ in the media.
The Department commenced Trials of new security equipment at three Australian airports in October 2008. The Trials sought to assess the technical effectiveness and operational efficiency of advanced explosive detection technology in selected Australian airports. For the Trials to attract sufficient volunteers, it was necessary to provide clear information and achieve informed consent.
Overseas experience had demonstrated fiery opposition to body scanners and extensive debate in the media and across the internet. Media in several countries had locked onto terminology such as ‘virtual strip search’ and bloggers had built up a vast website collection of mostly negative reactions.
The Department and Reputation recognised the potential for similar controversy in Australia, particularly from privacy and civil liberties groups, and cultural, religious and special interest groups and Reputation set out to develop detailed strategies that would enable the Department to handle any eventuality.
Reputation undertook an intensive, full day research and planning session with the Department to identify communication objectives, key stakeholders, issues to be addressed by the campaign and key messages required to make the campaign a success. In addition, Reputation conducted extensive desk-top research on similar trials held overseas, which demonstrated
significant opposition to body scanners.
Public opinion research was also conducted by Colmar Brunton Social Research to address the concerns, preferred communication methods and key messages for the travelling public. This research indicated that largest concerns of Australian travellers were related to the health and privacy implications of such technologies.
It was therefore considered essential that screeners who were involved in the Trials be thoroughly briefed about what they should say to trial participants and how they should behave. Communications materials developed were designed to highlight that screening personnel will follow an agreed protocol, and reinforce the safety of the equipment and it was recommended that “Trial Assistants” be employed to enhance the customer service experience.
Reputation also researched and studied the new guidelines for Government advertising campaigns that were introduced just before the project implementation.
Internal / Government agencies – Coordination with all relevant staff, Government Departments and Government agencies (such as the Australian Federal Police and Australian Customs Service) was essential to ensure the successful operation of the Trials, and demonstrate the Government’s commitment to airport security.
Members of the travelling community / volunteers – The purpose of the Trials was to test the public response, in order to inform any future policy approaches around the technologies. Raising awareness of the Trials among the travelling public was therefore essential, as was managing concerns and expectations in order to minimise the potential for complaints.
Media – Accurately informing the media was a major priority of the campaign as overseas experience indicated widespread opposition to the technologies being trialled. Proactive engagement was recommended with mainstream media (newswires, print, TV, radio and online), travel and industry focussed media, and rural, regional and multi-cultural publications.
Privacy, civil liberty and other consumer groups – It was anticipated that privacy and civil liberties groups would react negatively to the Trials. It was therefore imperative that they be made aware of the facts and have the opportunity to provide direct feedback to the Department.
Unions / staff associations and the aviation industry – Training airport staff in the specifics of the trails, and educating appropriate members of the aviation industry (including unions / associations) was also important to avoid confusion and / or negative reactions to the Trials.
Given the potential for controversy, media issues and public debate, Reputation produced comprehensive strategies that would equip the Department for any eventuality. These included:
• An overarching communication strategy that set the tone, described the approach and addressed vital aspects of stakeholder engagement;
• A media relations strategy that described a two-step launch concept and media liaison;
• A comprehensive issues management strategy that provided a protocol and ways to identify, handle and monitor issues; and
• An advertising and marketing strategy that described production of a website, information collateral and signage.
The communication strategies recommended by Reputation focussed on:
• Providing consistent, factual information to stakeholders and target audiences about what the Trials entailed (and what they didn’t);
• Working cooperatively with trial partners;
• Ensuring that materials were developed to cater to the diversity of Australians and Australian travellers;
• Utilising existing channels for communicating with the travel industry; and
• Engaging proactively with media and stakeholders.
Overall, the strategies developed targeted three main areas:
Recruiting Volunteers – To achieve sufficient volunteers, informed consent at the screening points of travellers was required (for sample consent card, see Appendix A.4). Communication tools such as signs, fact sheets, consent cards, a detailed website and feedback response forms were to be developed in eight languages, including English, to cover off potential information gaps in advance (for samples, see Appendix A.1-A.3).
Reputation also recommended the employment of branded, on-site Trial Assistants who would encourage participation in the Trials, answer questions and encourage feedback (see Appendix A.7 for apparel design).
Educating the Media – Keen media interest in the Trials was anticipated so Reputation needed to ensure the media understood the purpose of the Trials and how the technologies worked. Reputation recommended the development of a Media and Issues Management Protocol, media materials such as fact sheets (including sample images of body scans), video news releases, MP3 grabs for radio and key talking points for spokespersons.
Two launches were recommended: a soft launch at Adelaide Airport, designed to draw out any issues prior to the official trial period commencing; and an official launch at Melbourne Airport to mark the start of the Trials. Media, key stakeholders and union groups would be invited to attend (for sample, see Appendix A.5).
Engaging Privacy, Civil Liberty and Other Stakeholder Groups – The reaction of privacy and civil liberties groups to the Trials was expected to be negative but the degree of attention they might achieve in the media was unknown. Opinions from religious or cultural groups were also anticipated. Reputation identified all of the key groups during the planning phase and recommended a letter be sent by the Department informing each of these groups about the Trials and inviting them to make contact. Ongoing engagement and communication with these groups was also recommended.
The campaign delivery followed a detailed implementation Road Map (see Appendix A.9) which enabled the effective delivery of the following campaign elements:
Recruiting Volunteers –Information collateral in eight languages was designed to enable ‘informed consent’ and to direct travellers to a website providing more detail (see Appendix A.4). Recruitment at the airport locations was aided by clearly signposted trial areas, display banners and information materials.
Reputation designed and delivered training for the Trial Assistants before the Trials commenced. These Trial Assistants would prove to be a very important asset as they were well informed and deemed to be experienced and knowledgeable by members of the public.
Educating the Media – The soft launch at Adelaide Airport on the 1 October was designed to foreshadow the Trials and draw out any ‘issues’ and a launch at Melbourne Airport on the 15 October provided media with an opportunity to see the scanning equipment and the steps taken to protect personal privacy (see Appendix A.6 for sample media coverage).
Reputation produced a Media and Issues Management Protocol that was used by the Department, airports and trial partners.
Reputation organised the launches and wrote all media materials, as well as a Q&A and talking points for Departmental spokespeople. A video news release, MP3 grabs and sample images of body scans were used in much of the reporting.
Engaging Privacy, Civil Liberty and Other Stakeholder Groups –
Before launching, the Department wrote to key privacy, civil liberty, health and special interest groups informing them about the Trials, providing information and inviting them to make contact. The Privacy Commissioner was consulted and her staff observed the third and final trial at Sydney Airport.
An area of the Department’s website was also devoted to the Trials. It contained clear, concise information about the Trials, the advanced screening technologies, what to expect at airports, and copies of all collateral materials.
Over 90 media stories were generated and despite the controversial nature of body scanning, most of the coverage was factual and balanced, with Departmental spokespeople achieving dominant voice (for sample coverage, please see Appendix A.6).
Volunteer recruitment targets of 1000 travellers per day across three airports were achieved after only three weeks of the campaign; volunteer feedback, captured on response forms, was generally positive and accepting of the trails (see Appendix A.8 for sample feedback).
Trial Assistants had a positive and measurable effect on the smooth conduct and acceptance of the Trials. They were able to answer questions, maintain a personalised service and ensure informed consent (see Appendix A.8 for sample feedback, and Appendix A.7 for Trial Assistant apparel design).
Civil liberties spokespersons voiced concerns in the media but broader public concern or negative campaigns did not materialise. A consumer complaints channel was made available on the OTS website where a General Manager of OTS was nominated as a direct contact for complaints – only four complaints were received, objecting to invasions of privacy.
• Raise public awareness of the trial of new screening equipment – Public awareness was successfully raised by achieving two waves of national media coverage via a soft launch at Adelaide Airport and the launch of the Trials at Melbourne Airport. Coverage was largely balanced and factual, and volunteer numbers were easily obtained.
• Achieve sufficient volunteers to take part in the Trials, communicating with English and non-English speaking travellers – Reputation’s preparation of campaign collateral (developed in multiple languages) both on the Department’s website and signage and collateral material within the Airports, coupled with the efforts of airport Trial Assistants and positive media attention, ensured that the volunteer recruitment targets of 1000 travellers per day across the three airports were easily achieved.
• Demonstrate the Government’s commitment to providing a secure travelling environment, and objectivity in examining new technologies – The goal of the technology trials were made clear in campaign materials, and media coverage consistently picked up key messages developed for the Trials or featured a Departmental spokesperson.
• Minimise consumer complaints associated with the Trials – Effective communication about the goal of the Trials, as well proactive planning to address the anticipated concerns of consumers resulted in just four complaints being received during the Trials (regarding privacy issues).
• Minimise negative media coverage of the Trials – Over 90 stories were generated and despite the controversial nature of body scanning, coverage was factual and balanced. Civil liberties spokesperson voiced concerns in the media but broad public complaints and / or negative campaigns did not materialise.
• Reassure travellers that the equipment does not pose a health risk and would not be an undue invasion of privacy – Campaign materials made it clear that no images could be retained, saved or transferred by the technologies, that participation was voluntary and that there were no health risks involved.
All campaign elements / objectives were deemed to be 100 per cent successful by Reputation and the Department. Reputation’s strategic approach helped the Department minimise what could have been a ‘hot issue’, and instead enhanced the reputation of the Australian Government as being proactive in managing Australia’s airport security. The Trials achieved public acceptance, surpassed volunteer involvement requirements, and achieved a ‘good run’ in the media.