A Day in the Life of a Cube Intern


Alex Pugliese

Hi there, I’m Alex – student, lover of travel and fashion, concert-goer, chocolate addict and the resident Cube intern! Time has certainly flown since I began my internship in mid-2011, and with it I have gained an incredible amount of first-hand experience and insight into the world of public relations. Choosing a career path wasn’t easy though and I actually got off to a bit of a rocky start. This is my story and a snapshot of my role as Cube’s intern.

In 2011, I began a media degree at Macquarie University however quickly became unsure of what I wanted to get out of it. I decided the best option for me was to leave the course and take a year off– surely it couldn’t hurt? My plan was to take a year to enjoy ‘out of school life’, and hopefully gain clarity on which direction I wanted to head in.

Little did I know, within six months of my ‘gap year’ – I would know exactly which path I intended to take. In June 2011, the Cube team opened their arms to me for what was originally a four week work experience stint so I could gain a better grasp on the real PR world – and I’ve been a part of the Cube team ever since! After a couple of weeks working with such a brilliant team, I knew PR was where I wanted to be. With that, I re-applied for university and am now a year deep into my media degree at Macquarie University.

Cube has been such a fabulous and vibrant place to have been introduced into the exciting world of PR. During my time at Cube I have assisted team members across many projects and clients – from sourcing media contacts to assisting with project evaluations to pitching stories to media outlets. As my experience has progressed at Cube, so have the tasks I’ve been involved in and thus the overall knowledge I’ve gained.

So what does a normal day as an intern at Cube look like? The beginning of my day always begins with some media monitoring and a few media contact updates – from there I could be working on anything  from digital strategy, new business research or even helping the team with client presentations. I guess it would be right to say there is no ‘standard’ day at Cube as each is different – which has to be one of my favourite aspects of working in PR at Cube, the variety!

Another favourite…the social perks! The monthly social is always something each team member looks forward to, especially me! We always have something fun and different planned – most recently The Swisse Colour Run and a visit to the Noodle Markets during Sydney Festival. And of course weekly Friday night drinks, the office lunches, internal celebrations and annual volunteer days. Working amongst the Cube team never gets boring!

Helping out at the local Waterloo Neighbourhood Centre for their annual Salvation Army community Christmas lunch in 2012

Where to from here? First and foremost, I’ll be finishing my degree within the next few years and I will definitely be aiming to develop a career in the PR industry with my internship at Cube forming a very solid basis. But I also intend to make the most of my time and travel (a lot!) while enjoying university life. For anyone tossing up whether PR is the career choice for them, I highly recommend getting out there and getting some real world, hands on experience!

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2013 – Year of the Snake and…Year of the ‘Fun Run’?


Jade McCudden 

Sunday saw the ringing in of the Chinese New Year, celebrating the year of the snake! According to Chinese customs, your behaviour on New Year’s Day will set the tone for the year to follow, so for 20,000+ Sydney-siders, Cube team included, 2013 is set to be the year to embrace the ever-increasing popularity of the ‘fun run’.

Cube kicked off the Chinese New Year with the Swisse Color Run, battling the heat to complete the #happiest5k run, and that it was! The event did not disappoint and if our clothes were anything to go by, not to mention the blondes in the office and their stained pink hair, Cube definitely got in on the colour fun.

So if you want to train for a milestone fun run, raise money for a charity or just simply have a good time, we suggest earmarking some (or all?) of the upcoming fun runs in your diary and getting in on the action.

Remember, you don’t have to be a marathon runner to get involved – most events are open to all fitness levels and having a goal to work towards is always a good thing! A few suggestions for upcoming events are made by TimeOut below.

For those up for the 2013 ‘fun run’ challenge – Goodluck, we might see you there!

  • Spartan Race – Sat March 16
  • Surf Swim – Sun March 17
  • Nike She Runs the Night – Sat May 4
  • City2Surf 2013 – Sun August 11
  • 2012 Parkinson’s NSW Unity Walk and Fun Run – Mon August 26
  • Sydney Running Festival 2013 – Sun September 22
  • Mud Run – November 30-December 1

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One month on – ‘Pinning’ down that New Year’s Resolution


If 2012 is anything to go by, it seems young Aussie women who’ve pledged to eat better and lose weight as a part of their 2013 New Year’s resolution may need a helping hand to reach to their goals.

The ‘Young Women’s Nutrition Study’, commissioned by the Dietitians Association of Australia, revealed that although around two in three tried to lose weight in the past year, 80 per cent did not achieve what they had hoped and would still like to lose more.

The study also found that this year 68 per cent of 18-24 year-old Aussie women have resolved to eat healthier and 42 per cent are hoping to lose weight.

So now that the first month of the year has come to a close, why not try a new approach to make those newly-found health commitments year-long habits, and consult the digital realm?

Virtual pinboard Pinterest exploded in popularity during 2012, and could be a solution for those who find themselves visually inspired.

According to website Social Media News, about 650,000 Australians were using Pinterest by the end of 2012, making it the 10th most popular social media site. This is a significant increase from the end of 2011 when there were fewer than 48,000 users.

Whether you’re after healthy recipes, exercise tips, weight-loss stories, motivational mantras – or all of the above – to help you stick to your 2013 resolution, you’re sure to find it on Pinterest.

But be warned: the most popular pin of all time is a recipe for cheesy garlic bread, with almost 97,000 pins at last count. If you’re worried such temptations may derail your 2013 health strategy, or are new to Pinterest, refine your search by heading straight to the ‘health and fitness’ category.

Alternatively, below are a few of Cube’s top health and fitness pin-boards to get you started. Happy health-pinning!


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Being Creative: Are You or Aren’t You?


Jade McCudden

“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try” Dr Seuss.

Creativity: What is it? Who has it? Can you ‘get it’? And what does it mean for those in the world of communications?

Over the years there have been many past and modern figures who have offered insights into the concept of creativity. Although a difficult concept to pin a single definition to, Tim Bills and Chris Genasi in their book Creative Business (2003) sum it up well, stating creativity is:

“The capacity to challenge the existing order of things, by deliberately forcing ourselves out of our usual way of thinking, to see the status quo from a new and enlightened perspective, to form new ideas and find practical ways to implement change in light of fresh insights.”

With this in mind, when you hear the word creative, who do you think of: an artist, painter, graphic designer, architect, musician? The role of creativity, however, does not limit itself to those in the arts. Jan Phillips of The Huffington Post argues:

“The world is not divided into two groups of the creative and the uncreative. If there’s a distinction, it’s between those who are creatively productive and those with unexpressed potential…Each of us, to varying degrees, is intrinsically motivated to create, to be original and to solve challenging problems. The question to ask is not, ‘Am I creative?’ but rather, ‘What inspires me to create?‘” 

For those in the communications industry who work to deliver creative campaigns, the challenge is to deliver fresh, differentiating ideas that will ultimately meet and deliver on business objectives.

So what are some basic tips and tricks to open one’s mind and inspire creative thinking? We asked communications expert and global facilitator Andy Eklund (@andyeklund), author of blog Creative Streak, for his favourite ways to spark creativity.

1. Create light bulbs every day. Creativity isn’t a skill, it’s a behaviour. Hemingway demanded that writers write every day. Musicians of all sorts have spoken on how they force themselves to write music, every day. It’s not the outcome that’s important: it’s the practice and discipline. Start small. Keep a diary. Write a visual journal. Make an environment for yourself that encourages your creativity. Find a second – or third, or fourth – answer to any problem you face. Think of it as mental calisthenics.

2. Get a point. The key to creativity is clarity and authenticity. What is your goal (clarity), and why’s it important to you (authenticity)? Write down a problem statement about your creative challenge in the form a question. It begins with: “How can I …?” Once you have your first question, re-write 7-8 times until you find a question that’s provocative and stimulates your imagination.

3. Clear the trash out of your head.As much as 90% of your day is spent in the Closed Mind. Responding to the day’s tasks. Reacting to other’s requests.  Organising, sorting, prioritising and deciding. They’re all retroactive thinking, and worse, it fills your mind up with debris more relevant to the past than the future. Open Mind is forward thinking, pro-active and constructive. Call it daydreaming if you like, but considered, thoughtful and focused thinking on future problems is how creativity begins.

4. Stop talking to yourself. Self-talk – a powerful but not very objective voice in the back of your head – speaks to you all day long. On one hand, it gives you balance and context, but more often than not, it’s critical and deflective. At its worst, it tells you your ideas aren’t good enough, it assumes the pre-judgment of others, and destroys any idea before it has a chance for improvement. Remember: your negative voice is just one voice, not the voice.

5. Visit alien cultures. If you have a cat or dog, you know they’ll stop drinking from their water dish if the water gets too stagnant. Strange as it may sound, your brain easily turns into a stagnant pool of water. To be creative, it needs constant refreshment. Absorb as much as you can from the life that swirls around you. Act like an alien. Soak up anything foreign to you – fashion, sport, art, architecture, music, movies – particularly things or events which you’d not immediately respond to. You’ll never know when something might spark an idea.

6. Be a creative cheerleader. Sad but true, it’s unlikely that every single person will eventually turn into a creative zealot with ideas spewing out on a regular basis. But these people – which can be any of us, depending upon our mood – still have a creative duty. We must be creative cheerleaders. Champion ideas around you, at work and in your community. Recognize and allow others to run full-tilt with their ideas, even if it might not be immediately apparent, cost-effective or timely. Improve ideas without killing the passion. To suppress ideas in others is as bad as suppressing ideas in yourself.

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Social Highlights of 2012


Niki Hennessy

To cap off 2012 and welcome the New Year, Cube has decided to jump on the ‘year in review’ bandwagon and compile a list of social media highlights (in no particular order) from last year. Here are some of our favourite trends, milestones and moments in social media from 2012. We hope you enjoy! Let us know if there are any you love or that we’ve missed.

Felix Baumgartner’s freefall from 128,100 feet
Felix Baumgartner’s space jump was not only an amazing feat of human adrenaline-junkie craziness, but a very effective piece of branded content from Red Bull.

The first ‘social’ Olympics

Touted as the first ‘social’ Olympics, London 2012 certainly brought a new aspect to the Olympics commentary. More tweets were sent during a single day of the London Olympics than were posted during the entire 17 days of the Beijing Olympics. For the first time athletes tweeting during the games were given the chance to broadcast their own thoughts, experiences and messages of thanks to the world. While most were positive and grateful, there were some who still needed to be briefed on the ‘dos and don’ts’ of social media as a public figure.
According to Radian6, the first day of the Olympics scored almost 3 million mentions on Twitter alone. Usain Bolt had over 960,000 social media mentions throughout the games, taking gold as the athlete most discussed, whilst Michael Phelps came in second with 830,000.

Ridiculously Photogenic Guy
(We couldn’t compile a highlights list without him :) )
Being snapped turning to smile at a friend while participating in a fun run turned into an internet sensation for Zeddie Little aka ‘Ridiculously Photogenic Guy’. The photo, posted by a photographer Will King, became one of the highlight (we believe) memes of 2012.

The rise and rise of Pinterest
Having only officially become an ‘open’ platform in August 2012, the exponential growth of Pinterest has been incredible. The network drives more referral traffic to retailers than
YouTube, LinkedIn and Google+ combined and sees users spend an average of just under 17 minutes on the site.

With the launch of business profiles last October, 2013 will be an interesting year for Pinterest, and we think we can expect to see more growth and developments from the platform.

The first Pinterest campaign
Kotex in Israel, with help from Smoyz, was quick off the mark when Pinterest began to boom, launching the first Pinterest campaign with Women’s Inspiration Day.
A simple idea, beautifully executed, Women’s Inspiration Day saw Kotex find 50 women and identify what inspired them through their Pinterest boards. Their inspiration boards were then brought to life as a gift pack and sent to each woman – generating chatter on Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.


The most re-tweeted image ever

The Pope joins Twitter

Sh*t Mates Don’t Say

The Cancer Council took a bit more of a risqué approach in 2012 with their play on the popular ‘Sh*t Girls Say’ meme with their own campaign ‘Sh*t mates don’t say’ campaign.

Gangnam Style Hits 1 Billion YouTube views
Knocking Justin Bieber from his perch as ‘Most watched YouTube video in history’, K-Pop star PSY hit 1 billion views with his Gangnam Style video clip in December. Love it or hate it, the song has scored a major social media milestone.


Facebook hits 1 Billion Users

One Small Tweet
In honour of Neil Armstrong and to celebrate his life the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum developed One Small Tweet a ‘tweet-fuelled Luna voyage’ to digitally retrace Neil Armstrong’s famous journey to the moon one tribute at a time.

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The rise of the infographic


By Claire Leggott

‘Infographic’ – a word few were familiar with a few years ago but one that now rolls of the tongue of many seasoned PR or marketing professionals.  So, what exactly is an infographic?

According to the Oxford Dictionary an infographic is “a visual image such as a chart or diagram used to represent information or data.”  I think this simplifies the notion giving the impression that it is merely a bar chart, flow chart or table, when in fact a good infographic is so much more – it is a way of telling a story without words.  Infographics paint a picture to explain complex information via a quick glance.

Infographics have been around for many years  but have recently become mainstream thanks to the ease of sharing them online and via social media platforms.

Are they of use in the world of PR?  We would say a resounding yes.  In a world of information overload and lack of time, the infographic can cut through the crowd to grab people’s attention, be it a journalist or a consumer.  What’s more, their attention doesn’t have to be held for long, within moments an infographic can educate readers about a new topic and inspire them to learn more or take action.

If developing an infographic there are a few top tips to bear in mind:

  • Be clear and concise
  • Don’t cram in too much detail
  • Present ‘nugget’ style information
  • Stick to the facts
  • Limit the number of words used
  • Include interactivity or
    moving images
    to increase impact
  • Ensure it is easy to download, upload and re-post

They aren’t always the ideal tool to use, not every complicated story or set of survey results will translate effectively into an infographic.  However, we would recommend considering presenting a news story or providing background information with an infographic.  They say a picture can be worth a thousand words.  We say a carefully crafted infographic can be worth 10,000 words.


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World Public Relations Forum 2012: Day 2


Off the back of a hugely successful first day at the World PR Forum (WPRF), Day 2 did not disappoint! Not only did the insightful presentations continue, but the morning saw the #WPRF Twitter hashtag hit the number one trending topic in Australia, and the exciting announcement that the 2014 World PR Forum will be held in Madrid, Spain, followed by Kenya in 2015.

First on the agenda after the welcome address was the keynote presentation via Skype by Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman (Richard was to attend the conference but was unable to travel due to personal circumstances). Richard’s presentation was self-branded as ‘provocative’, discussing ideas and notions such as the ‘flip of the influencer pyramid’ i.e. the idea that communication is increasingly horizontal and peer-to-peer as opposed to top down. He also discussed the drastically changing media landscape and the perception / trustworthiness of PR as a profession – discussing the question, is the term PR toxic?

Continuing  the Forum’s theme of ‘Communication Without Borders’, a plenary discussion followed titled ‘The Future of PR in a Borderless World’ involving Paul Druckman, International Integrated Reporting Council, Anne Gregory, Leeds Metropolitan University, Paul Holmes, The Holmes Report and Daniel Tisch, the Global Alliance for PR and Communications Management. Each speaker shed a different perspective on the topic, and interestingly, like Richard Edelman, the speakers also discussed the idea that top down message control is no longer the name of the game, rather influence is now based on dialogue.

After the plenary discussion, Jane Burns, Young and Well Research Cooperative, Allison Lee, IMPACT Communications Australia and Roger Marshall, Bite Communications, took to the stage to discuss ‘Communications and Connecting in Digital and Social Spaces’. Amongst other topics, the ever-evolving landscape of social media was discussed as well as the role and importance of bloggers and best practice for engagement. Allison Lee also raised the question, in the era of the blogger – should all PR practitioners be bloggers also?

After a jam-packed morning, the early afternoon session was one the Cube duo were particularly looking forward to – ‘Social Media for Social Change’ with Paull Young, Charity Water and Michael Sheldrick, Global Poverty Project. Both speakers were truly inspiring (even having a few of us shedding a tear at one point) and emphasised the role social media plays globally in engaging an audience and beginning a two-way dialogue that can provoke action and behavioural change. What’s the key to encouraging audience engagement / participation? According to Paull Young – inspiration and providing a platform where people can create and share their own story and experiences.

A quick 30 minutes was spent attending a ‘Lightening Talk’ session – ‘Content Obesity: an Organisation’s Silent Killer’ was presented by Sally Bagshaw (key message – lose the junk and produce lean, high quality content), while Warren Kirby spoke about the importance of truth and trust in communications.

To bring the day and Forum to a close, there was a final discussion and presentation of the revised Melbourne Mandate where amends to the document were shared based on the feedback received by the Forum attendees. With the incorporated feedback the Mandate received the stamp of approval from attendees and formal endorsement of the Forum. A final ‘Insights and Foresight’ session was then held by Daniel Tisch and Nick Turner, Public Relations Institute of Australia, which summarised what was a successful and informative two-day, international event.

We will be posting a couple more blogs regarding the Forum in the coming weeks – looking at key topics in more depth, so keep an eye out and be sure to follow us at @CubeBytes for all the Cube news!


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World Public Relations Forum 2012: Day 1


Melbourne is currently playing host to the biggest contingent of PR professionals ever to descend on Australian soil at the World PR Forum, and a couple of ‘Cubans’ – Niki Hennessy and Jade McCudden – have joined the more than 800 delegates from 21 countries to talk about all things PR and communication! Here’s the duo’s overview of the highlights from Day 1.

The Forum is being facilitated by the ABC’s Virginia Trioli – who is doing a great job of keeping enthusiastic communicators in-line and on schedule, and apparently enjoying getting a look behind the scenes of ‘the dark side’!

After the welcome address from Nick Turner, PRIA, Robina Xavier, Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and Dan Tisch, Global Alliance for PR and Communications Management, we were treated to a keynote presentation from Wadah Khanfer, who is described as one of the world’s few gentlemen in broadcast TV. Khanfer is President of the Sharq Forum and former Director General of Al-Jazeera.

The presentation was a huge highlight, providing insight into the changing face of broadcast journalism, the emergence of the ‘two speed newsroom’ and the impact of social media in empowering the populace as agents of social change.

Khanfer’s presentation then moved onto a panel discussion that further explored communication without borders (or communication across borders) with Wadah Khanfer, Andrew Beswick from Amnesty International, Jehan Bseiso from Medecins Sans Frontieres and Archie Law from Action Aid Australia.

After morning tea the Cube team attended the Marketing and Brand session with Marne Fechner, Netball Australia, Brian Finn, Ideas Shop and Peter Young, Cricket Australia. The session focused on transforming and revitalising your brand by re-engaging with traditional fans/brand advocates and reaching new ones. According to Brian Finn, for Rugby New Zealand’s 2011 World Cup bid, this meant strong themes, taking an inclusive approach, engaging its stakeholders, demonstrating ways for people to get involved and actively managing risk. Moving forward it apparently involves Taylor Swift.

As part of the 2012 Forum the Global Alliance is producing the Melbourne mandate, a ‘dialogue on how communication is changing our world, our organisations and our profession – and how communication must change as a consequence’. During the first afternoon session we participated in a working session to discuss and critique the draft mandate. We’ll share more about the mandate at a later date, so stay tuned!

The afternoon also saw Professor Mark Pearson from Bond University and Claire O’Rourke from Essential Media discuss some of the legal and ethical issues presented by social media. As Prof. Pearson summed it up, ‘this is the new media literacy’, and something every communications professional should be aware of, so we’ll have more on this later as well.

After a day of inspiring and informative sessions it was time to glam it up as we headed to the MCG for the 2012 PRIA Golden Target Awards and the World PR Forum Gala Dinner.

Highlights of the night included Prof. Jim MacNamara from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) – where quit a few Cubans graduated from – being awarded the Educator of the Year Award, and the retro photo booth at the gala dinner.

Niki and Jade having fun playing dress-ups at the World PR Forum Gala dinner.

Congratulations to all of last night’s winners at the Golden Target Awards! Stay tuned for more on Day 2 of the Forum. You can also stay up-to-date on all the action as it happens by following us on @CubeBytes.


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Latest social media statistics confirm Aussies’ appetite for online action


The latest social media statistics are now available, painting an interesting picture of how Aussies currently engage with key online platforms.

Twitter has received the most publicity in recent weeks with the launch of the cyber-bullying #stopthetrolls campaign as a result of the Charlotte Dawson being a high profile victim of online bullies, NRL star Robbie Farah joining the call for tougher laws to fight cyber-bullying only to be caught out tweeting offensive comments about Julia Gillard, and Olympic tweets being seen as a contributing factor to the lack of Gold medals amongst our swimming team. Yet despite this, Facebook remains the number one site for Aussies in terms of both Unique Australian Visitors (UAVs) and average time spent per visit.

It currently has 11.5 million users /accounts accessed from various locations – home, work and at school – and users spend over 20 minutes a day perusing their page and those of their friends and family.
To put this into perspective globally, ‘Down Under’ is mere dot on the Facebook landscape. Facebook now has 955 million active users and just over 11 million of them are Australian; that is, 1.51% of Facebook’s total audience is Australian.

YouTube is hot on its heels with 11m UAVs and an average visit time of 20 minutes. The Top 5 is rounded out with Blogspot (4million, down by 10,000), LinkedIn (steady at 2.2million) and Twitter (just over 2million).

The time spent on content-rich sites like YouTube, Blogspot and Tumblr is understandably high, and newer social media platforms like Pinterest are growing steadily – it currently has 620,000 Aussies spending up to 13 minutes per session ‘pinning’ images.

It appears that Aussies are following the global trend when it comes to Google Plus which is 12th in the UAV league table (it remains steady at 600,000). The jury is still out on whether this social media platform will really take off, and there is no data about how long Australians are spending on Plus functionality linked to their Google accounts.

Social media is a dynamic space that evolves constantly, with each platform offering a different way to engage with key audiences. What’s clear is the Aussie appetite for online action is growing, and we’re happy to spend a significant amount of time searching and soaking up all it has to offer. The challenge for marketers is to identify the right spot for campaigns so it truly resonates.

social media stats

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Getting the balance right ….for all Australians!


Accredited practicing dietitian and nutritionist, Kate Di Prima, shares her thoughts on the ‘Australia’s food and nutrition 2012’ report

Australians have access to one of the best and healthiest food supplies in the world, however it appears that a balance between unhealthy foods containing excess fat and sugar, and more nutritious choices is not being DAA Kate 22641_cropped achieved. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) recently released its report ‘Australia’s food and nutrition 2012’, looking at the dietary habits of Australian adults and children.

The major findings highlighted in the report were that many adults and children are still not eating the required serves of fruit and vegetables per day and many are consuming more fat and salt in their food than is recommended. The lack of balance means that children’s and adult’s diets fall short in providing the required nutrients for healthy growth and development. Excess fats and sugars consumed in the diet contribute to excess energy measured in kilojoules or calories. Children and adults consuming more energy than needed increase their risk of gaining excess weight.

The common foods in the Australian diet that contribute to excess energy with very little nourishment include chips, biscuits, cakes, chocolates, soft drinks and takeaway foods, and are often referred to as ‘treat’ foods. The report indicated that ‘treat’ foods were contributing on average over 1/3 of an adult’s calories and 2/5 of an average child’s intake – well and truly more than is recommended by health professionals such as doctors and dietitians.

Poor dietary intake in infancy may lead to nutritional inbalances; this in turn increases the risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease as an adult. Unbalanced diets favouring excess energy from fat and sugar can also lead to obesity. The report indicated that the latest figures show a staggering 60% of adults and 23% of children are overweight or obese.

The Dietitans Association of Australia welcomes the findings from the ‘Australia’s food and nutrition 2012’ report and believes preventing poor health has been overlooked for too long. Getting the balance right is a major priority for the health of all Australians and starts with healthy habits in infancy.

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Doctor or dotcom – is a digital diagnosis more important than the doc?


Have you ever found yourself reaching for your keyboard to research an ailment you are convinced you are a perfect candidate for? “Feeling fatigued? Check! Some weight gain? Yes! General muscle pain? That confirms it, I have contracted an incurable disease,” you hear yourself say.

If this is vaguely familiar, consider yourself an active contributor to a nation of ‘cyberchondriacs.’

Most of us will admit to Googling ‘[name of an exotic/obscure illness] + symptoms’ following a late night viewing of Medical Mysteries – but are Aussies taking their health too lightly by substituting doctor with .com?

New research from research company TNS found that 1 in 4 Australians will search the internet for medical advice to self-diagnose and even treat themselves. Over a quarter of this group feel that they are able to diagnose and treat an ailment without the need of a healthcare professional.

Considering ‘pregnancy’ and ‘cancer’ are the top two Googled health conditions (generating around 7.7 million search queries each month) and the fact that anyone can publish anything online (Wikipedia, anyone?) – these findings are somewhat concerning. 

A recent HCF survey also reveals that Gen Y and women are the most common web medicos. Could this be because more than half of those aged 18-34 said they were too embarrassed to talk to a GP?

Searching for health information online

Searching for health information online

Both TNS and the Australian Medical Association (AMA) agree that while the internet has its uses, those searching for health information must be careful. People may be at risk of diagnosing non-existent symptoms and possibly using treatments which may not be appropriate.

So, next time a mystery illness on hospital drama House prompts you to e-diagnose, remember to take the information with a grain of salt and speak to your pharmacist or GP                                                                                                     if you have concerns.

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Is Ho-ho perbole hi-jacking our holiday spirit?


Santa_Clause_obeseThe final countdown to Christmas kicked-off today and as many Aussies brace themselves for puddings and presents, Scrooge has surfaced – demanding a slimmer, trimmer Santa. 

A paper published in the British Medical Journal suggests Santa swap his sled for a bike and ditch the brandy and mince pies for Rudolf’s carrots. Dr Nathan Grills from Monash University has accused Father Christmas of inadvertently endorsing obesity, drink-driving, speeding and a general unhealthy lifestyle. Could the crises of the 21st Century really derail the Claus dynasty?

The weighty issue of obesity has been a hot topic for a number of years, and Government legislation has echoed the concerns of Australia’s healthcare professionals by establishing a National Preventative Health Taskforce to help curb the nation’s expanding waistlines. But, should we be blaming Santa for the 300 million people who are overweight worldwide?

Dr Grills argues that due to his popularity, “Santa needs to affect health by only 0.1 per cent to damage millions of lives”. With the weight of the world on his shoulders, Santa hit back, saying he eats plenty of fish, enjoys running and often prefers milk over spirits – commendable role-model behaviour.

As the silly season gets into full swing, many affiliates of the anti-Santa brigade are creeping out of the woodwork. And although we should demonstrate some restraint during this period of indulgence, should Bah Humbugs deny today’s children the delight of finding a half-eaten mince pie on Christmas morning?

Merry Christmas to all!

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Beating the back to work blues



Beat the blues

It’s the first week of January and you’re back at work. After a fabulous Christmas and spectacular New Year, suddenly it’s all over and normal life resumes once again. So here are our top 5 ways to get you out and about in Sydney during January to shake those blues away…

1. Sydney Festival
There is so much going on with the Sydney Festival this month it’s hard to fit it all in, from family activities to music, dance and theatre across the CBD. Why not get a group of friends together and head down to the Domain, find a patch of grass, sit back and relax with a glass of wine and watch the vast array of entertainment.

2. Flickerfest
Flickerfest is Sydney’s first beachside cinema where you can watch up-and-coming stars from under the stars. The event screens the best short films from Australia and the world in a unique, relaxed summer environment. Gourmet food and wine of the organic variety can be purchased from the Beachside Bar at the Pavilion.

3. Australia Day
With your cork hat on and boomerang in hand, head down to Darling Harbour and join the excitement of Australia Day 2010. This year there will be a harbour boat parade, as well as live music from Leo Sayer and Australian Idol winner Stan Walker, followed by an amazing display of fireworks lighting up the Harbour.

4. Moonlight Cinema & Open Air Cinema       
Whether it be a romantic night out or a get together with your friends, book your tickets online for seats at the Centennial Park or Mrs Macquarie’s Chair outdoor cinemas. You can select from a range of old and new films with the breathtaking back-drop of the Opera House or Harbour Bridge… just don’t forget a warm jumper and insect repellent!

5. Sydney Fish Markets Seafood School
At number 5 in our list is the Sydney Fish Markets Seafood School in Pyrmont. At one of Sydney’s leading cooking schools you will be shown just how easy it is to cook and prepare seafood at home. You can impress your friends and family with your newfound skills learnt from one of the leading Australian expert chefs.

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Twitter and healthcare – could 2010 be the year they come together?


Hands up who’s been on Twitter for more than 12 months? Be honest!

If, like most people, you can’t put up your hand then don’t worry, because it was only in 2009 that Twitter really hit the mainstream. Created back in 2006, the site provided a unique microblogging service that enabled users to send messages (tweets) of up to 140 characters to their network of followers across the globe. However, by 2008 there were still only a few hundred thousand users.

It wasn’t until the beginning of last year when big-name celebrities began using the service to connect with their fan base, and Governments and big corporations used the site to extend the reach of their campaigns, that Twitter hit the headlines and experienced serious exponential growth.

The exact number of users is hard to quantify, but by September last year the number of live Twitter accounts is said to have passed an incredible 50 million. One in five internet users employ Twitter or another service to send updates about themselves or to see other people’s updates.

Twitter and healthcare – could 2010 be the year they come together?

Twitter and healthcare – could 2010 be the year they come together?

The early adopters of Twitter in the healthcare arena have been clinical groups, hospitals and healthcare organisations who are beginning to use Twitter to communicate timely information within the medical community, to patients and the public. Real-time tweets provide a fast and easy way to reach multiple people in a short space of time. This has advantages for sharing time-critical information such as drug safety warnings, tracking disease outbreaks and disseminating healthcare information.

Twitter applications are now available to help patients find out about clinical trials or to link brief news alerts from organisations like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reliable websites that provide more detailed information. International congresses are now using tweet streams to update followers on the latest news and data announcements.

Twitter has become an integral part of communication in today’s society. In fact, for the first time, the updated Medicines Australia Code of Conduct includes reference to social media (section 12.9 for consumers, 2.4.2 for healthcare professionals) – removing the current ambiguity and providing definitive acceptance of this medium as a valid communication channel within the healthcare arena.

With major health issues like swine flu topping the charts as the second most tweeted about topic in 2009, it’s clear that health will continue to be discussed via social media. It’s time the Pharma industry began dipping its toe into the water and using this channel to openly interact with its target audiences.

If Pharma is not part of the conversation to begin with, how can we expect our voice to be heard?

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To Bing or to Google – a new e-health dilemma?


To Bing or to Google – a new e-health dilemma?

A new e-health dilemma?

The battle for world search engine dominance enters a new phase this month with the arrival of a new ‘health’ search capability from Microsoft’s Bing, which seeks to challenge Google’s seemingly impenetrable global position. With health being one of the most commonly searched-for topics online, this could represent a very smart competitive move!

For those spending regular time researching health diagnoses or specific medical information (see our recent blog on ‘cyberchondriacs’), Bing does offer the potential to introduce some changes to their web search style. The .com community state Bing prioritises nine trusted and verified medical resources – such as the Mayo Clinic – as the basis of its search capabilities, making it easier to find results that can be trusted.

The declaration that Bing joins Yahoo in the war against the ‘ten blue links’ approach to reporting search results does not in fact appear to be the case in reality! But what Bing does offer is a Quick Preview feature giving text based summaries of pages displayed in the search results. An Explorer Pane also allows quick access to symptoms, causes and treatments. 

Bing offers good practical features to support general health searches – but cannot surpass Google’s unique health strategy which offers the potential for secure and private storage of medical records, easy reference to relevant health information and connection to service providers. This personal, secure medical storage capability could gain greater attention as the Federal Government make moves mid-year to integrate and digitise medical records. Discussion has already commenced on the security of the new national identity system – a key component of this new legislation.

So will health prompt the masses to start ‘Binging’ instead of ‘Googling’?  Some say if Microsoft continues to make ongoing improvements and embark on a massive advertising initiative, Bing does stand a chance in converting more than an impressionable few! Watch this space.

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Cracking the Code: A communications insight into Edition 16


2010 marks 50 years since Medicines Australia first introduced the Code of Conduct. In five decades the Code has evolved dramatically. From a small booklet in the 1960s that could practically fit in a back pocket and scrutinised use of telegrams as a communications channel – to Edition 16 now two A4 manuscripts holding almost 300 pages with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube under the microscope!

Edition 16 now provides the pharmaceutical industry with even tighter and more specific standards for the marketing and promotion of prescription products and engagement with healthcare professionals, patients and the general public.

When it comes to communicating with the general public what was once quite ‘grey’ and open to interpretation, has become far more lucid.

New Code now in play

New Code now in play

For the first time there is clarity on previously debated areas. When a company can issue a product-specific media release and what can and can’t be included is now qualified. How a company can respond to journalists requesting internationally released data on unregistered or ‘off-label’ products is also specified.

Edition 16 also features a sub-section on social media, recognising that while industry is still a little cautious with this new sphere of communication, it cannot be ignored.

At first glance Edition 16 may come across as more restrictive when it comes to industry’s relationship with the general public and media. And no doubt, it has prompted many a communications professional to consider how to convey a balanced, Code-compliant message that also piques the interest of one of its primary conduits of communication – the media.

However, on closer assessment, clarification of ‘grey’ areas and the setting of very clear parameters to work within can only be seen as a positive step. Greater alignment and consistency among each company’s approach to marketing and communications is important – and may assist in minimising the public scrutiny the industry has been forced to face in recent years.

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Paging Dr iPad?


In true Steve Jobs (Apple CEO) fashion, the iPad launched last week with a bang. Apple’s slick answer to the tablet computer is essentially a bigger and better iPod Touch – sitting somewhere between smartphones and small computers.

Even before the gadget has hit Australian shores, speculation about the iPad has thundered through the community. Not surprisingly, it has also made noise in the medical area – after all, many healthcare professionals already use the iPhone and about 3,100 (granted, US-centric) health apps are already in existence. This week, 6minutes published an interesting article on the iPad’s potential role in medicine, which has already attracted mixed reviews of the device from local medics.

Steve Jobs shows off the iPad

Steve Jobs shows off the iPad - Cube blog post

So, is it time to tout this new device as ‘iDoc’?

The reviews have certainly been mixed. While some suggest the iPad is what doctors have been dreaming of since the PC revolution began, others say the iPad is not ready for healthcare.

To focus on one area, many have discussed the iPad’s potential in the hospital setting. Will it help doctors with ward rounds – gathering and sharing patient information, as well as its use as a patient education tool? Features like portability, a high-definition colour touch screen, multimedia content and wireless connectivity may certainly help. However, critics list a plethora of reasons why the iPad has no place in the hospital. It’s inability to multitask or take a photo and lack of a USB port and Flash support.

Local physicians offer mixed reviews. Sydney General Practitioner Dr Raymond Seidler says that for a GP who likes gadgets, the sleek and stylish iPad has everything he wants. Both he and his 12-year-old daughter are eagerly awaiting the iPad – but for different reasons.

Dr Seidler’s daughter is looking forward to watching movies, checking her Facebook and downloading first-run books to take to school, without adding to the 15 kg to her backpack. While Dr Seidler will be able to check e-mail, YouTube and listen to podcasts from his favourite online sites, the BBC or the New Yorker.

Medical textbooks like Harrison’s online will be a click away and the large screen does away with my need for spectacles, which are necessary when I’m squinting at my tiny iPhone, he said.

Professor Jeff Szer, a Melbourne-based haematologist, agrees that technology like the iPhone/iPod Touch have a role to play in medicine. Professor Szer’s perspective on the iPad, however, is that the gadget is unlikely to change the face of how medicine is practiced.

This device has been preceded by a decade of tablet devices, none of which has found anything but niche uses in some health-related areas. I do not expect the iPad to be a game-changer.

While Professor Szer believes that “connectedness” is important for information exchange and communication in medicine, he will not rush out to buy an iPad.

A recent survey by Software Advice showed that while healthcare professionals welcome tablet computers and iPhones, this does not mean the iPad is the solution, as it lacks a number of fundamental features necessary in the healthcare field. 

The iPad certainly has its supporters and critics – but will it affect how medicine is practiced in Australia? We’ll just have to wait and see.

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Will you be love sick – or love well – this Valentine’s Day?


As Saint Valentine shines his bow and sharpens his arrow in preparation for a pop at lovers around the world on Sunday 14th February, the question on everyone’s pursed lips is this: is love good or bad for your health?valentines_day

Take the time to Google the topic and you will come across a wide range of opinions – for some it can cure all our ills, yet for others it’s the very cause of them.

If you are a believer in love and its positive powers, you’d be forgiven for wondering why modern medicine exists at all. Expert comment and research draws conclusions including ‘love makes you smarter’ (as it improves memory by triggering brain cells), ‘love helps fight cancer’ (promoting killer cell activity), ‘love is good for your heart’ (makes it beats faster and increases blood supply whilst lowers blood pressure) and even the Holy Grail, ‘love makes you live longer’ (scarily, social isolation increases the risk of early death).

Based on this high-level science, how could anyone claim love is bad for you? Google doesn’t make it too easy to find scientific information on the lower points of love. But it does readily offer in one long list the plethora of popular music dedicated to the downsides of dating.

In 1960 The Everly Brothers were blunt in their summations (Love Hurts) and Jon Bon Jovi sang about love being ‘bad medicine’ in the 1980s. More recently, American Idol winner Jordin Sparks asked “why does love always feels like a battlefield?”

And we’ve all been party – directly or indirectly – to a conversation where one half of a couple claims emphatically that the other will in fact ‘be the death’ of them.

Whatever your relationship status perhaps it’s wisest to take note of Whitney Houston’s 1986 smash hit song – The Greatest Love of All – where she claimed it was simply learning to love yourself.

Well, at least until Johnny Depp or Angelina Jolie arrives. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Could an app a day keep the doctor away?


The search for health information online is now part of everyday life (we are living in a nation of cyberchondriacs after all). Yet the technology we’re using to find this information is changing as software giants try to keep up with our fast-paced lifestyles. Rather than Google-searching on a PC, Aussies are increasingly downloading the latest and funkiest health-related applications on their iPhones.

More than 70 per cent of us access information services from our mobile phones and with a rapidly increasing market share in Australia, the iPhone is predicted to surpass the BlackBerry as the dominant smartphone by this time in 2012. Stats show iPhone users in Australia consume a massive six times more data than the average mobile user – consuming almost 2MB more data per session and spending a lot longer browsing, even ahead of desktop users.

Capitalising on this consumer trend, Apple have hit the jackpot with the creation of their applications (or ‘apps’ for short) – third-party software programs developed specifically for the iPhone and iPod Touch that can be downloaded directly by the phone or downloaded onto a computer and transferred to the phone. And the good news is you can literally get an app for anything!

iPhone health apps

Could an app a day keep the doctor away? Cube healthcare communications blog

 Out of approximately 140,000 apps, there are around 3,100 within the ‘Health & Fitness’ category. Whether they are free or paid-for, global or local, the range of health apps is vast. From a lifestyle perspective you can track your personal food intake and the nutritional value of what you’re are eating with CalorieTrack, or for just $0.99 you can download SmokeCount to help boost your willpower in the battle against cigarettes.

From a healthcare perspective, examples include the AutismTest – developed by KOLs as an accurate guideline for self-screening; Drugs&Medications – a quick reference guide to FDA drug information aimed at pharmacists, nurses, physicians and students;  iAnemia – a ‘diagnostic medical tool’ for those managing blood diseases; and VaxTrack – a personal vaccination planner which links to the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) schedule of recommended vaccinations.

Other useful examples include iDoc – a free US-based service through which users can get in touch with real physicians to ask medically-related questions (specialists available to answer questions include surgeons, medical specialists and mental health doctors), an app that has received great feedback from users; and Sleep Cycle – download the app, place your iphone under your mattress and the bio-alarm clock analyses your sleep patterns and wakes you when you are in the lightest sleep phase. The app uses the accelerometer in your iPhone to monitor your movement to determine which sleep phase you are in. This interactivity between the user’s physical environment and the software in their phone is where the potential for truly innovative, value-add apps really lies.

You’re also less likely to download a futile app as users can rate them individually, so you quickly get a sense of whether an app will offer any real value. The apps also link through to websites for further information. 

So could the iPhone app be the future of the online health search? More and more companies are incorporating the development of apps into their e-marketing strategies and we will no doubt see a major increase in the number of apps available to download this year.

And for those you use that don’t yet have an iPhone, don’t worry – the majority of apps also have versions available on BlackBerry and mobile phones running Google’s Android software.

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Stand up if you sit down too much


The working year is now in full swing – gone are the summer holidays filled with long walks, backyard cricket and swimming at the beach. We’re now at our desks and computer screens resulting in hours of sitting, slouching and stillness.

Australians are internationally applauded for a love of the laid-back lifestyle and viewed from afar as masters of the work-life balance. But did you know the average Aussie spends 1855 hours per year at work which The Australia Institute believes is the highest number of hours in the developed world?

With so many of us chained to the chair and staring at screens for most of the day it’s unsettling to learn the possible health ramifications of this ‘sedentary schedule’.

Is sitting down a health hazard?

Is sitting down a health hazard?

Perhaps the least surprising consequence was found in a study revealing sitting down as the culprit of headaches and back, neck, shoulder and arm pain.

More concerning is the fact that staying idle can also put us at risk of death from heart disease. In New Zealand, researchers discovered sitting at a computer for hours on end can cause fatal blood clots, just as long flights can lead to deep vein thrombosis. (Apparently they discovered the link when a 32-year-old man who sat at his computer terminal for up to 18 hours a day nearly died). 

It’s easy to assume going to the gym, running and participating in team sports before or after work will reverse the potential risks of a sedentary desk schedule – however they remain even if we exercise regularly.

According to Sydney-based personal trainer and life coach Rob Derbyshire, many of the aches and pains ‘desk devotees’ suffer from are caused by posture problems.

Poor posture is likely to be brought on by tight muscles (mainly the quads, hip flexors and abdominals (prolonged sitting is again responsible) and weak/lengthened muscles (such as the glutes, deep core muscles, and upper back including rhomboids & lower traps), which are relaxed whilst sitting and not regularly contracted to defy gravity.

As with any condition, prevention is better than cure, so to prevent postural problems it is important to possess a good amount of functional strength, flexibility and stability – and importantly core strength.

Here are Rob’s simple strategies to combat poor posture and move more at work:

  • Sitting on a fit ball 50% of the time
  • Stretching & moving around regularly throughout the working day – take the stairs, make a cup of tea or simply wander to colleague’s desk to say G’day
  • Setting up your desk to the correct ergonomic specs
  • Embarking on a posture improving exercise plan, like yoga, Pilates or a class run by a skilled personal trainer
  • Avoiding exercise that is contra-indicative to good posture such as, lots of sit ups and activities that repeatedly perform the same movement
  • Indulging in a massage or learn some SMFR (Self Myofascial Release) techniques

You’re probably sitting down at your desk right now…so get up, move and make 2010 the year you take your work health standing up, not sitting down!

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Going the extra mile for a good cause


If someone asked you to drive a rusty old car worth less than your TV set, don an Akubra and drive 3,500kms through the 45®C unforgiving Australian outback on just $500 worth of petrol, would you say yes? Well someone from Cube did, and for a good reason – to raise funds for Cancer Council NSW.

People from around the world are coming together to take part in the inaugural Sh*tbox Rally this month to raise funds for Cancer Council NSW. On 20 March, 17 teams will each drive an old car of less than $1,000 value – in other words, a sh*tbox – 3,500 kms from Sydney to Alice Springs. The challenge is to get there in one piece – both the cars and the participants!

The 2010 Shitbox Rally Route

The 2010 Shitbox Rally Route

From the gateway of the outback at Nyngan, to Broken Hill, up the Oodnadatta Track, onto Uluru/Ayres Rock and finishing in Alice Springs, the Rally will incorporate some of the most challenging roads in Australia. Participants range from their early 20’s to late 30’s and herald from the UK, Hong Kong as well as various states across Australia including VIC, QLD, NSW and SA.

One of Cube’s very own employees, Polly Lutter, is taking part: “The challenge will be to ensure our old car reaches the destination in one piece whilst raising as much money as possible. Sadly, we all know someone who has been affected by cancer and I wanted to raise awareness of the wonderful work done by the Cancer Council of NSW. It’s also a great way to see some of this amazing country whilst ‘roughing it’ a little along the way!”

Organiser and founder of the Sh*tbox Rally, James Freeman, who recently lost both his parents as well as his brother (five years ago) to cancer, hopes not only to raise funds for Cancer Council NSW, but also help support the greater community of people the disease affects. “Like me, the type of people that are doing the Rally want to make a bigger and more meaningful contribution to the fight against cancer.” 

Cancer Council NSW funds vital cancer research, prevention, information and support services like the Cancer Council Helpline. Help the team reach their fundraising goal by donating online at Everyday Hero.

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TGA to cut approval times for new medicines, how will industry respond?


New reforms proposed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) could see future prescription medicines approved in less than 300 days.

For Australians waiting for medicines which could potentially lead to better health outcomes and improved quality of life, it’s still a long wait. But the reduced timeframe (down from an average of 500 days) represents a significant development in facilitating earlier access to novel therapies in Australia.

The TGA believes a new pre-submission phase, to be conducted over 90 days, will ensure companies are clear on core requirements for an effective submission. This in turn should encourage higher quality submissions and eliminate unnecessary queues and delays in the evaluation process.

For the pharmaceutical industry, the proposed reforms are a positive outcome but it is clear that many challenges lie ahead.

In a recent information session held in Sydney, the TGA opened the floor to a few hundred regulatory specialists whose questions related to the underlying requirements which will underpin the new process.

Although pleased with the prospect of reduced timeframes, many expressed concern that 30 days does not provide enough time for companies to respond to a consolidated set of questions (a requirement in the 1st round assessment) – especially when consultation with overseas head offices and external stakeholders is required.

TGA cuts waiting times - industry to consider timelines

TGA cuts waiting times - industry to consider timelines

Other questions revolved around the TGA’s ability to manage the backlog of existing applications and how this will impact on new applications and the process which needs to be followed during the transition stage.

The TGA appreciate the proposed reforms involve a commitment from both the TGA and industry. The TGA must be able to offer effective resource planning, while companies will need to have processes in place to ensure overseas stakeholders can contribute to the company’s response to the TGA’s consolidated set of questions in a timely manner.

Will industry be able to deliver on this core requirement? And will the TGA be able to reassure Australians that standards for safety and efficacy of new prescription medicines will not be compromised with the shorter timelines?

The TGA is inviting external stakeholders to review the proposed changes and provide comment on its consultation paper by 22 March 2010.

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The rise of the responsible blogger


It’s hard to believe blogging began just over ten years ago, primarily as online diaries for a handful of people. In its purest form the blog is a relatively easy way for you and I (the ‘citizen journalist’) to communicate to interested people about any topic we like in a format where having an opinion matters more than being objective. 

Recently, the blog format has migrated into the mass media space, with the format increasingly utilised by traditional media outlets to present news and current affairs online. The first known use of a blog on a news site was in August 1998, when Jonathan Dube of The Charlotte Observer in the United States published one chronicling Hurricane Bonnie. But it was the Iraq war that saw blogging rise in popularity amongst journalists, with many providing a ‘real life, real time’ image of the conflict via their online diaries.

The divide between traditional journalism and blogging is often seen as a chasm rather than a crack, particularly in terms of accuracy and quality. But discussions at last week’s Frocomm Digital Conference challenged the view that all blogs are created equal. 

While bloggers themselves were once seen as ‘media mavericks’, one of Australia’s key bloggers discussed the fact that many bloggers choose to adhere to the commandments of their journalistic counterparts. Duncan Riley, respected blogger and editor of The Inquisitr reiterated the ‘content is king’ mantra, stressing the importance of accuracy and objectiveness. Mr Riley claims his blog jumps through more ‘editorial hoops’ than some of the stories found on sites like news.com.au, which he argues could be seen as content filters rather than content creators.

Rise of the responsible blogger

However, he also admits that “quality blogs don’t get the traction, influential stuff does.” Monty Hamilton, Head of Online at Ubank agreed, labelling the merging of quality and influence “engagement value – what can we offer the blogger that will engage their audience and ultimately attract new followers?”

We are undoubtedly witnessing a closing of the great divide between the blog and traditional media coverage. In the United States alone, an overwhelming 89% of journalists admit to researching and/or sourcing a story from a blog. (Conversely, Duncan Riley would rather his blog was “picked up on Twitter than by the mainstream media” as the power of attracting more followers is greater).

Whatever your personal view, blogs will continue to grow in number and influence, offering healthcare communicators a unique avenue to reach a specific target audience who are interested and highly motivated by what they read – providing that ‘engagement value’ in a way no traditional mass media outlet can.

In the age of the ‘healthsumer’ and at a time when the traditional flow of information has been turned on its head, the question will not be whether to engage with the blogosphere or not, but rather who to appropriately interact with and how to do it.

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Health literacy in Australia… as easy as ABC?


Health literacy in Australia... as easy as ABC? Cube PR blog

Health literacy in Australia... as easy as ABC? Cube PR blog

For all of us working in the healthcare industry, it is easy to focus all our attention on the development and delivery of information to patients and the general public at large. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that we must also pay attention to how that information will be received and understood – a process referred to as ‘health literacy’. At last week’s FROCOMM Health Communications, Marketing & Media Conference, the topic took centre stage – what it is, how Australia is fairing and ways to improve it.

Search the internet and you will find a plethora of information on health literacy, ranging from official Government-funded reports to blogs which ask why Australia, a nation obsessed with health, lags behind, albeit slightly, other first-world countries such as Canada.

Health literacy is described as a person’s ability to use health information effectively. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) provides a more detailed definition - “the knowledge and skills required to understand and use information relating to health issues such as drugs and alcohol, disease prevention and treatment, safety and accident prevention, first aid, emergencies and staying healthy”.

Health literacy has become an increasing focus in recent years amongst Government and academics. The latest version of the ABS ‘Health Literacy, Australia’ report delves deep into demographic distinctions and, whilst it’s not hugely surprising that people with higher formal education attainment achieve higher levels of health literacy, age does have a significant impact. Health literacy it increases from 15 to 39 years, then decreases for those ages 40 and over. The ABS report surmises this is because aging causes physical, psychological and social change.

Just last year, two reports into health literacy were released, both unveiling worrying findings. The National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission (NHHRC) report found six out of every 10 Australians would experience difficulty in understanding or making the choices necessary to stay healthy, or to find their way round the health system. Similarly, a study by Australian doctors at the University of Adelaide stated many people do not understand basic health information.

That is enough of the problem – what are the potential solutions? At the FROCOMM conference a number of people representing universities and industry associations offered their views. Peter Waterman from the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia encourages people to search through the society’s Pharmacy Self Care program online, which has over 80 separate factsheets on topics as diverse as Alzheimer’s, antibiotics and alcohol. The Society also recently set up a Facebook page in an attempt to have as more direct dialogue with consumers.

Deon Schoombie from the Australian Self-Medication Industry (ASMI) agrees consumers should seek to have a direct dialogue with their healthcare professional. He also highlighted social media as the ideal way to engage publicly and directly with people as it is about them and allows the health system to offer a tailored message, bringing the system closer to a real conversation/interaction. ASMI recently launched a Facebook page, Twitter profile and regular blog, demonstrating their tangible belief in this viewpoint.

All FROCOMM panellists agreed that better education in schools is critical as is making the health system more accessible. (Backing up this viewpoint, the NHHRC report also recommends health literacy be included as a core element in the curriculum for both primary and secondary schools).

The provision of information in a consumer-friendly and engaging manner and connecting consumers with HCPs quickly was also discussed. Professor Clare Collins from the Dietitians Association of Australia believes flexibility of information delivery will help ensure it captures the attention of the target population – for example, SMS texting for younger populations.

Is getting Australia’s health literacy levels to the standard they should be as easy as ABC? Not quite, but addressing the issue must remain a priority to ensure Australia remains a truly healthy nation. As part of Australia’s healthcare industry, we have a unique opportunity to help in a tangible way  by ensuring we focus on the 3 d’s with all communications materials – developing, delivering and perhaps most importantly, deciphering.

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Is brown the new green?


For those of us who awoke from our self-induced chocolate coma on Tuesday and waddled into work, only to hear an annoying workmate say “I just had one or two little chocies over Easter”, hold your head high – WE have done our health a world of good!

If you Google the ‘health benefits of brussel sprouts’ there are a mere 78,400 mentions. However, try ‘health benefits of chocolate’ and you’ll be deluged with a whopping 2,150,000! Clearly brown is the new green.

We all love hearing things that are bad for us may actually be good for us.

We’ve known for some years now that chocolate may be good for your heart. Cocoa beans contain polyphenols, a type of antioxidant that may protect against heart disease and cancer.

Last week the media focused on results of a German study which provided further evidence regarding this link. Published in a reputable journal, it included a large research population (almost 20,000 that was part of a larger cancer study) and was carried out by an independent foundation with no conflict of interest declared. The study ticked a lot of important boxes to be taken seriously.Age old question - is chocolate good for you?

‘The more chocolate the better’ was one of the timely pre-Easter messages.  Commencing my dance of joy I noticed the kicker – the difference between ‘more’ and ‘less’ in the study was a mere six grams of chocolate. That’s less than one small square of a 100g bar. And, it really needs to be dark chocolate. No dance.

Then there are the psychological benefits of chocolate. These articles always begin well – “An apple a day? Make that a chocolate bar.”  Whilst that probably sent dietitians around the country into apoplectic shock, it works for me! The smooth indulgence has been said to trigger the same chemical reactions as some anti-depressant medications. It also triggers the release of those feel good endorphins. When was the last time a celery stick gave you a warm fuzzy feeling? 

Surprisingly, chocolate has been found to contain a healthier saturated fat. Chocolate, on average, is approximately 30-45% fat of which around 20% is saturated fat and half of that is stearic acid which does not affect blood cholesterol levels.  In fact, an RMIT study found people who ate 100 grams of chocolate a day had smaller platelets in their blood after three weeks, which could help reduce the risk of coagulation.

And if that isn’t enough to convince you that brown is the new green, Japanese research found that the polyphenols in chocolate can actually prevent dental caries.

So the next time that workmate is sipping mung bean and lentil soup, let your endorphins run free, flash those pearly whites and rest easy in the knowledge that we chocolate lovers are simply oozing health!


Guest written by Maria Padua, PR consultant and chocolate devotee

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Regional media: a forgotten frontier?


A rivalry exists in Australia that spans from the East to West coast, encompassing health, education, the cost of living and even football. City versus country, regional versus metro; there is a clash occurring reminiscent of David vs. Goliath. Regardless of where your loyalties lie, with more than one third of Aussies calling regional Australia home, we have to ask – is it foolhardy to relegate our country cousins to second place?

Don't forget regional mediaRural and regional media outlets often play second fiddle to the likes of big guns such as The Sydney Morning Herald and Herald Sun. While the ability of national and major metropolitan media outlets to create mass awareness cannot be underestimated, the ‘local angle’ can be just as powerful – perhaps even more so when it comes to motivating people to behave in a different way or take action.

Adding credibility to this claim, a survey conducted by Roy Morgan Research reveals no medium is more effective at reaching country Australians than their local newspaper. Regional press is read by 7.3 million Australians – a figure not even the likes of Masterchef can compete with.  Bucking city trends, the steep downturn in readership figures experienced by our national and metro papers has not been felt by regional counterparts who have actually managed to increase their readership. 

With a greater Government focus on health in regional Australia, a unique opportunity beckons to put health back on the ‘bush telegraph’ agenda.

Just this week, the Government announced its first National Male Health Policy will soon be released, a policy shaped by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report: A Snapshot of Men’s Health in Regional and Remote Australia. This focus on regional and rural Australia illustrates the ever-increasing discrepancy between the health of ‘city slickers’ and that of our regional countrymen, and women. And although funding of targeted rural health programs increased by 45 per cent to $700 million in 2009-10, there still remains an opportunity to reach regional Aussies with targeted health information via the media outlets they consume most – knowledge is power after all.

When it comes to health information and proactive self-care, providing details on the latest in diabetes management or cancer treatment should not reflect the banana bread craze and reach our country counterparts months later. 

Regional Australia is too often relegated to the Australian media’s version of Shannon Noll - always the runner-up – but what about them? Be it the Goondiwindi Argus, NBN Coffs Harbour or Outback Radio 2WEB, perhaps regional media is the hidden jewel in our media crown.  National and major metropolitan news and information is important, however it is local content with localised messages which truly has the power to galvanise community empowerment and action.

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Battling the cold war


Flu season looming On a dreary day like today, there is nothing worse than travelling in cramped public transport with someone sneezing, wheezing and coughing all over you. As the chilliness approaches, the cold and flu bug is literally ‘breathing down our backs’.

With swine flu making headlines last year, what lessons did we learn? And at a time of significant discussion about vaccinations, how will we combat the inevitable germs we will be exposed to this winter?

Our own mini poll conducted almost two weeks ago provides a snapshot of 100 Australians’ experience with the winter woes last year – 80% were hit with a cold, almost half took time off work and one-in-five saw a GP as a result.

Of those that visited their GP, the most common diagnosis was a viral infection – very few were diagnosed with influenza.

The poll offers clues to our likely behaviour this year. We asked all participants if they expected to catch a cold this winter and only 21% feel that they won’t get struck down. So what will the rest of us do to fight the dreaded lurgy?

We discovered almost one-third is planning to have a flu vaccination, which is similar to the number of survey respondents who had the jab a year ago.

When asked about cold treatment strategies, short of packing up and moving to a tropical island, heading to a pharmacy for cold and flu medication was the number one remedy by far, followed by resting and taking it easy. Only a small number feel they will need to trouble their GP.

With Australians now urged more than ever to take greater responsibility for managing their own health, these results are encouraging to see. We must be listening. Well at least Cube’s friends and colleagues are! Thank you to everyone who participated in our poll.

So what will you do to contest the cold and flu crusade this year?

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Has anyone seen my super? Start the search now…


With yet another interest rate rise just announced by the Reserve Bank, many will be starting to feel increasing strain on their finances. Now could therefore be a good time to check whether you have any missing funds in lost superannuation!

Did you know the Australian Tax Office (ATO) has around $13 billion in lost superannuation – some of which could be yours? 

Have you changed your job, address or name? If you answer yes to one or more of these questions, chances are you could have ‘lost’ or ‘unclaimed’ super. With over six million lost super accounts, it’s estimated this represents one in two working Australians – so it definitely pays to check.  It’s quick, easy and free!

Start by visiting the ATO website and use SuperSeeker to help you locate any lost funds. To do this, you will need your date of birth and have your tax file number handy, or you can call the ATO on 132865 for assistance.

Do you have hidden treasure in lost super?

Do you have hidden treasure in lost super?

You can also search via Australia’s Unclaimed Super Fund – AUSfund. Just perform a free search online or call them on 1300 361 798.

Another alternative is to contact your previous employers and ask them which funds your contributions were paid into; you can then contact the fund directly and confirm your account details.

We live in a world that increasingly focuses on the ‘here and now’. While not true for everyone, many Australians don’t always give superannuation and retirement the priority and attention it has enjoyed with previous generations.

Taking the time to review your super will pay-off, especially now!  As you may have heard the Government has given super a greater priority and will seek to introduce an increase of employer super contributions from nine to 12 percent over the coming years as recommended in The Henry Tax Review.

Start your super search now – happy hunting!

Ann Patrick is Finance Manager at Cube and a Certified Practising Accountant.

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The 2010 Federal budget – a healthy balance?


Cube attended a post-budget discussion yesterday led by Chris Caton, Chief Economist at BT Financial Group, dissecting the 2010 Federal budget announcement. Contrary to 2009 forecasts – made during the height of the global economic crisis – the Government is aiming to drive the budget back into surplus within just three years.

As predicted, health is high on the priority list in this year’s budget. A total new investment of $7.3 billion in the National Health and Hospitals Network over five years hit the headlines yesterday, funded by major reforms and tax increases across three economic sectors.

Where have the savings been made?

The 2010 Federal budget – a healthy balance?

The 2010 Federal budget – a healthy balance?

Increases in tax revenue across three core sectors will be used to fund the pledged health reform. As pre-announced in the media two weeks ago, taxes on tobacco have increased by 25%; a $9 billion Resource Super Profit Tax on the mineral industry was announced last week; and significant reforms within healthcare through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and a new Community Pharmacy Agreement are predicted to deliver a total $2.5 billion in net savings over five years from 2010-11.

PBS reform plans began back in 2007 and are expected to generate about $6 billion in savings. Designed to take advantage of patent expiry, cuts to the price of prescription medicines are expected to generate $2 billion savings to the Government and about $300 million to patients over four years. Economic experts at the post-budget discussion suggested that leaning against the steady growth in PBS spending seen in recent years was an appropriate measure.

Where is the money going to be spent?

Whilst tax increases are not always popular and reforms can take time, the cuts will help fund the Government’s new health commitment. These savings will provide an additional $2.2 billion to meet the needs of Australia’s healthcare system, including:

  1. $355 million for almost 450 GP ‘Super Clinics’
  2. $417 million to enhance after-hours services, making them more streamlined
  3. $523 million to provide practice nurses in all GP surgeries  
  4. $467 million to rollout the national e-Health strategy, introducing individual electronic health records

Distilling the debate down to a grassroots level, patients may receive cheaper scripts, better access to GPs and practice nurses, shorter waiting lists for elective surgery and emergency department care, and better chronic disease management.

The current Government has placed a major focus in the national health system in an election year and time will quickly show the outcome of its decisions.

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Always on the line…is social media bad for your health?


This week has seen a resurgence in discussion about the effect mobile phones are having on our health, with a large international study receiving widespread media coverage. Suggestions about the health impact of our mobile phone habits are a popular topic, so it may be worthwhile considering the impact the so-called ‘digital age’ and the resulting constant connectivity has on our health.

Our very smart phones allow us to stay connected, longer. But next time you are getting through the flurry of work emails on your Blackberry/iPhone while in traffic or on the bus, or even at home in front of the telly, consider this: a recent study has linked working overtime to an increased risk of heart disease.

This is worrying, considering a survey found nearly one third of Americans feel they need to stay connected to work 24/7, even during weekends and holidays. With Australians working the longest hours of any other country, we must be batting a similar average.

And with almost a third of us now using our mobiles to tweet and update our Facebook accounts, is it any wonder there are suggestions some are becoming addicted? In light of this, Facebook apps like this are eerily ironic.

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2 health social media campaigns worth a look


Whilst on the topic of the health impact of the ‘digital age’, it is worthwhile exploring the power its most current and relevant offspring, social media, has in disseminating health messages and empowering the public.

While it is impossible to talk about all successful campaigns at once (and this is something Cube will be keeping an eye out for), below are two campaigns which have caught our attention:

1. Twitter Autism Day

In this simple and effective example, Twitter was used to create a channel for sufferers of autism and their careAutism Awarenessrs to share their knowledge and experiences of life with autism. Communication and misunderstanding are some of the obstacles faced by people with autism. Twitter was an appropriate medium for this particular disease area, helping sufferers address these obstacles. It also allowed the community an opportunity to show their support by following and re-tweeting. A hashtag was created to help. Twitter Autism Day became a trending topic and this speaks volumes for the success of the campaign in raising awareness and public understanding of the condition (via Engaging Social Media).    

2. Digital Men’s Health Campaign

With last week marking YouTube’s 5th birthday – it is impossible not to give the popular video sharing site a hat-tip. Particularly, as sharing video content online is becoming increasingly important (41% of Australians streamline or download videos).

Click here to view is a reel which encapsulates an interesting digital campaign, developed internationally by the industry, in the area of men’s health (via http://pharmadigital.wordpress.com/). Below is a snapshot of some of the digital content generated.

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New CPD rules ensure HCPs keep on top of their ABCs


The healthcare landscape is constantly changing, and this can be a lot to keep on top of for any busy health professional. So it’s no wonder that ongoing education needs to be such an important element of their roles. Important, but not necessarily mandatory. Not until now, that is…

Enter the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme, a new system coming into effect in Australia from 1st July 2010.

What is it?

The National Registration and Accreditation Scheme is being introduced to create a unified national registration system for medical doctors, nurses/midwives, pharmacists and practitioners in seven other health occupations. It will ensure that consistent standards of practice are upheld by all health professions in Australia. As part of this, the new scheme will make it compulsory for health practitioners to partake in continuing professional development (CPD) and meet specified targets for educational credits accumulated over the course of a year.

Why is it important?

CPD has long been available to health practitioners in the form of training modules, certification courses and sponsored events, such as seminars and symposia; however participation was often reliant on two things: professional interest and personal initiative. By introducing national standards and making CPD mandatory, participation in accredited activities will become a medical mainstay and practitioners will be looking to professional bodies, teaching institutions and commercial purveyors of healthcare education to provide the learning opportunities they require.

But with great power comes great responsibility and educators must always be mindful of their responsibility to provide the highest standards of quality and value to the health professionals who will be relying on them.

For more information on the new system and how to get a pharmacist CPD module accredited visit website of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

Over the coming weeks, additional information will be made available about accreditation procedures for other professions including GPs, specialists, nurses, opticians, dentists, osteopaths, psychologists and the like, so keep your notebooks open  and your pencils at ready – there will be a quiz!

By Mitzi Saitzyk

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What makes a ‘healthy’ health awareness campaign?


Following the combined efforts of six different cancer organisations (Bowel Cancer Australia, the Gut Foundation, the GI Cancer Institute, the Bowel Cancer Foundation, the National Bowel Cancer Coalition and the Cancer Council Australia) last week in raising awareness of Australia’s second largest cancer killer, bowel cancer, it prompted us to ask: what makes a ‘healthy’ health awareness campaign?

Poignant call to action

Poignant call to action

If we take a look at Bowel Cancer Awareness Week as the most recent example, the issue dominated health news headlines all week, generating some 200 media impressions each day.

While there were varying messages from all of the organisations vying for a voice, the most common and resounding messages were: this is a cancer beginning to hit younger people (emotional), screening is critical (call-to-action) and society needs to put ‘social awkwardness’ aside when it comes to talking about bowel cancer (quirkiness).

Some organisations harnessed the power of celebrity to get their message across including Lara Bingle, George Calombaris and John Singleton, while others embraced research, personal stories and a touch of humour to spread the word.

With over 160 local, national and international health awareness days, weeks and months formally recognised by the Australian Department of Health & Ageing each year, why is it that some stand out from the crowd and demand such public and media attention, like Bowel Cancer Awareness Week, while others remain almost unheard of?

We know that not all health awareness campaigns are created equal and when embarking on a health awareness campaign, whether it’s an NGO, charity or pharmaceutical company, there needs to be a number of critical ingredients in place for a level of noise to be achieved. A host of important decisions must be made and depending on the topic/issue in question, one may find they have to work that little bit harder than their counterparts to pique the interest of media and ultimately get their target audience to act.

Working in the area of health and having played a part in many a health awareness campaign over the years, we’ve put together our top tips (with a couple of examples showing these in action) for what can help make a ‘healthy’ health awareness campaign:

1. Compelling, new research & statistics

2. Clear call-to-action that can be measured

3. Celebrity/high profile personality including MPs

4. Appeals to wider community – not just those that are affected

5. Real life stories

6. Specialists, key opinion leaders, clinical spokespeople

7. Original, creative or quirky take on getting the message across

8. Finding a journalist/media outlet with a personal connection

9. Ways to extend the campaign beyond the ‘day’, ‘week’ or ‘month’

10. Strong online presence

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What’s in a name? Harnessing the true potential of Pharmacy Assistants


At the Pharmacy Expo held in Sydney from 4-6 June there was much discussion about the evolving role of the Pharmacy Assistant in the modern pharmacy environment.

The Footy Show in Melbourne leads in with their theme “It’s more than a Game”, but in Community Pharmacy land, the role of the Pharmacy Assistant is certainly “more than a name”. They come into the pharmacy industry with wide-eyed enthusiasm, but is their title really appropriate – one which reflects their status in their role in the Pharmacy healthcare team?

Pharmacy Assistants are fundamentally important to the survival of Community Pharmacy as we know it. As the ‘coalface’ representatives, they offer the caring perspective with which the pharmacy industry is entrusted and must multi-task every day. An average day in Pharmacy sees the whole spectrum of humanity – from those with minor illnesses, to impatient individuals and drug-dependent people with accompanying overt behaviour. Being passionate, understanding, knowledgeable, structured and organised are elementary requirements for a career in this challenging environment.

As an increasing number of Australians look to the pharmacy for ‘everyday’ management of their health concerns, the Pharmacy Assistant will become an increasingly important entity within the business. Pharmacists do expect Pharmacy Assistants to keep abreast of the latest information on treatments and disease areas, but are they encouraged and rewarded for this ongoing career development? There are a number of ways we can do this:

  • Consider initiating a specialised pathway which allows career development in a particular area – diabetes, natural medicines, wound care or cardiovascular health -  complementing the role of the Pharmacist
  • Encourage improvement of their professional skills by providing relevant courses and seminars
  • Provide the opportunity for online study/learning, and incentivise with appropriate rewards
  • Ensure they are kept informed of the latest product news and launches via the pharmacy media, particularly PostScript and Contact
  • Always consider the messages and language appropriate to this audience and focus on helping them to have the confidence to conduct a consultation with customers that offers real solutions
  • Highlight great work – showcase ‘stars’ through appropriate communications channels so all Pharmacy Assistants recognise what ‘the best in the business’ is all about.

Now is the time for the role of Pharmacy Assistants to be recognised and re-branded. What’s in a name? Let us know your thoughts below…

This blog has been co-authored by Gerald Quigley, practicing Community Pharmacist & Accredited Herbalist & Lisa Burling from Cube

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Will Gillard get health?


Last week’s departure of former PM Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard’s ascent into leadership broke Australian news site traffic records. And with every other media outlet in the country still running red hot with Gillard news, it would seem almost unfair not to mention our new PM’s impact on health policy.
As a start, Julia Gillard has proficient experience in the area, serving for three years as the Opposition health spokeswoman during Abbott’s tenure as Federal Health Minister. She has also been involved in Rudd’s own ‘health revolution’.
A recent Galaxy poll shows nearly a quarter of us want to see a fast-track of the health reforms as a first priority. But what do the various industry bodies have to say about whether or not health policy will be given the red light by the new leadership?
The doctors
The AMA says that a leadership change is not likely to change the track of health policy. The group is also of the belief that Rudd’s National Health and Hospitals Network will remain in place.
The nurses
The ANF believes Gillard has what it takes to win the election – ‘Australians want a hospital, aged care and primary health care system that works and Labor has demonstrated a keen understanding of this’. The group also welcomes the first female PM into the fold.

The e-health experts
…say Gillard gets it and they look forward to see how the e-health agenda progresses.

The mental health advocates
Mental health experts are hopeful that our new leader will put mental health higher on the agenda. A great deal of momentum developed in the lead up to the leadership shake up, with over 60 organisations delivering nearly 100,000 signatories calling for an urgent focus on mental health – but this was unfortunately delivered to the wrong PM.

Professor Patrick McGorry sees this momentum as an incredible opportunity for the Gillard Government to take action and score some ‘brownie points’ in the lead up to the election.

But watch out Julia – Tony Abbott just pledged $1.5b to improve front-line mental health services if the Coalition is elected.
Health got a mention in Julia Gillard’s acceptance speech (video below, in case you missed it). Will this enthusiasm translate into action?

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Lab-grown organs – is the future closer than we think?


Australian Doctor reported on some pioneering research this week – researchers in the US have successfully transplanted lab-grown lung tissue into rats that works like the real thing. The pipe dream of organically grown organs has long been discussed in medical circles, but this breakthrough led us to consider whether the future might be closer than we think?

For years, transplant surgery has been the primary way of replacing severely damaged organs. Yet transplantation is one of the most challenging and complex areas of modern medicine – doctors must battle with organ rejections and transplant failure, as well as a major shortage of organs.

In June 2008, the world’s first whole tissue-engineered organ – the windpipe – was successfully transplanted into a 31 year old lady in Spain. 18 months on, she is leading a near-normal life without the need for immunosuppressants.

In cosmetics, ‘Reconstituted Human Epidermis’ (aka lab-grown skin) is already a reality – made from discarded skin during surgery, synthetic skin is being used to test the irritancy of chemicals as an alternative to animal and human testing. The technique has taken 30 years to perfect.

In the last few months, research teams have successfully created biologic blood vessels, corneal tissue and intervertebral discs. Next will be the development of a full-sized, functional organs. Moving one step further into the future, new research is investigating ways to use this technology to repair tissues and might one day prevent organ failure altogether.

However this area is surrounded by controversy. Whilst the development of lab-grown organs may benefit medicine, the use of stem cells continues to influence public opinion on whether or not research should continue. What do you think?

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If the Coalition gets into office, what could Australia’s health system look like?


What could the health system look like if the Coalition was in power?

What could the health system look like if the Coalition was in power?

With an election pending, there has been a lot of noise from the Opposition about potential policies and reforms. In a parallel universe, what would the Australian health system look like if the Coalition was in power?

Recent proposals  from the Federal Opposition include cutting funding from current Labor health reforms including…

  • Medicare Locals
  • GP infrastructure to upgrade primary care facilities 
  • A national e-health system
  • 24 hour GP phone helpline grants

…and using this cash to roll out a $1.5 billion plan to improve mental health services, including:

  • 20 new early psychosis intervention and prevention centres 
  • 60 additional Headspace sites for young people with mental illness  
  • 800 early intervention beds
The Coalition also announced a $35 million grant towards the establishment of a Clinical Trials Network for diabetes. This supplements the $5 million that former PM Kevin Rudd announced back in March.

Whilst Tony Abbott claims Labor has been inactive in mental health reform, Nicola Roxon was quick to hit back against the proposals, saying national hospital and health reforms will be at risk if Labor is voted out of office

“It’s very important we do not neglect mental health and one of the disappointing aspects of the Government’s health reform proposals is that there’s been so little on mental health.”

Tony Abbott

 “The Coalition’s policy is undermined by the fact it is funded by cutting Labor’s health reforms, such as GP super clinics and e-health.”

Nicola Roxon

What are the stakeholders saying?

The AMA is currently sitting on the sidelines and waiting for further updates on what funding would be left for GPs, whilst the Mental Health Foundation of Australia expects the Federal Government to announce its own mental health reforms in the near future.

Australian of the Year, Professor Patrick McGorry, has called on the Federal Government bring physical and mental health together under a new mental health plan, whilst speaking at the National Press Club last week.  

The Coalition said last week they would unveil their primary care policy before the election, in response to concerns about how much (if any) funding would remain for primary care.

With a few months to go until an election, there is plenty of time for further announcements, proposed reforms and complete u-turns, so watch this space!

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Competition or the cause?


A story about a well-known Australian with media connections voicing a Community Service Announcement (CSA) caught the eye of the Cube team last week.

The Daily Telegraph reported on leading Sydney radio station 2GB’s decision not to run a CSA for little-known charity Retina Australia because it used the voice of the charity’s NSW patron, Don Burke. The reason? As it turns out, Burke has a weekend gardening show on rival station 2UE.

2UE's Don Burke

2GB went one step further and declared it would not air any rivals’ voices on its airwaves.

Unsurprisingly, this decision provoked an emotional response from Burke, who claimed the decision was ‘deeply hurtful’, especially as his name is not announced and it’s just his voice. The article also jolted the newspaper’s online readers into action, attracting in excess of 40 comments, most of which supported Burke and dismissed 2GB’s position.

This decision by 2GB raises an important, often unasked question – should competitive issues be set aside in the Australian media when the aim of the communication initiative is to raise vital funds for a charitable organisation? Or is it fair to put the needs of business before greater benefit?

Celebrities are engaged by companies and charities to help highlight a specific health cause more often than not – and their involvement is particularly crucial for organisations like Retina Australia who are inevitably deemed less ‘sexy’ (and therefore un-newsworthy) by the media.

The decision on who to use is often based on a combination of the celebrity’s personal connection to the cause and ability to attract the desired media attention – referred to in journalist circles as their ‘media currency’. If the chosen celebrity also has a regular column in a magazine, or fronts a television program, this is usually viewed as a positive by-product of the agreement.

Ironically, Retina Australia has received far more publicity from the decision taken not to air their CSA than would have been achieved through simply airing the CSA itself. But the situation does highlight celebrity affiliations to media won’t always lead to widespread coverage and that, in some instances, it can hinder – rather than help – the ability of communications professionals to spread a valid, important message far and wide.

This highlights how important it is to consider media outlet competition as well as cause connections and media currency when drawing up the shortlist of celebrities for a campaign.

Tell us what you think below!

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Tic tac toe. Who’s going to give Australia’s mental health a go?


THE ELECTION – it’s THE ‘hot topic’ dominating news headlines, coffee shop banter and online forums. Australia’s mental health has emerged as an issue with potential to derail the major parties. So are the parties bringing enough reform to the table to swing votes their way? 

 Mental health is Australia’s third largest health issue behind cancer and cardiovascular disease. Mental illness is the Is mental health a priority? leading cause of death for all Australians under 45, more than road trauma and binge drinking. It affects 1 in 5 Aussies and is predicted to be one of the world’s largest health problems by 2020. Such statistics can be overwhelming, however, let’s not dwell on why mental health has been relegated to the health backburner; let’s focus on escalating discussion, taking action and moving forward!

Currently, just 6 per cent of the health budget is devoted to mental health and only a third of those suffering will receive access to mental health care. Australian of the Year, Patrick McGorry has used his notoriety to give a voice to those shouting for change, particularly as 2,500 Australians die each year due to mental illness.

McGorry states that the best way to show the Australian community that mental health really is a priority for the Government is to invest in mental health reform and provide Australians with access to genuine 21st century mental health care. 

Recently the Western Australia state government appointed the first ever Mental Health Commissioner and Melbourne played host to the world’s inaugural International Youth Mental Health Conference – both small steps in the right direction.

An analysis of the major political parties’ election promises on mental health, conducted by national charity SANE Australia, has found that both policies lack vision and take a narrow and superficial view  of the complexities of mental health. SANE Australia has challenged the major parties to commit to ‘real action’ and ‘move forward’ promptly if elected.

Everyone who needs help for mental illness should get treatment and support as early as possible, for as long as needed, and in the community where they live.

In Australia, this is far from the reality of people with mental illness – says the Executive Director of SANE Australia, Barbara Hocking.

2010 is a pivotal year for mental health in Australia. Just last week, two dozen organisations have written to both main party leaders demanding for true leadership on mental health. The announcement of an election has propelled mental health out of the policy shadows and into the election spotlight. However, sustained effort and investment will be required to keep people with a mental illness living well in the community. Hopefully this August we will finally be able to give Australia’s mental health the help it deserves.

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Keeping it real


Certified_organicIf the saying is true, and ‘you are what you eat,’ is it a case of organic best, chuck out the rest?


Is the hype surrounding organic food just that- all hype?

Here at Cube, we’ve certainly dipped our toes in going au naturale. Sunflower seeds, carrots, liquorice (an office winner)…  the list goes on. In fact, you name it, we’ve tried it- the ‘certified organic’ sticker has been a star feature in the office for months. 


Yet when we got hold of a University of Sydney study that showed only a slight nutritional benefit in eating organic versus non-organic produce, we Cubans started to question our nutritional ways. If going organic is no healthier, yet considerably costlier, are we just suckers to the latest food craze? When an apple tastes like an apple, is it worth the extra $1 to go organic?

Not so fast….

The Biological Farmers of Australia (the experts should know best, right?) claim that eating organic may help us live longer. What’s more, the largest study into organic food, published in 2007, found that organic fruits and vegetables contain between 20 and 40 per cent more antioxidants than conventionally grown produce.

Presented with two sides of the coin, we decided to dig deeper.  

There’s lot of confusion about what constitutes organic. In Australia, there are currently 7 different organisations that certify (and label) organic products. What’s more, up until October last year, there wasn’t even a legal definition of the word ‘organic’- as long as a product wasn’t ‘certified,’ it could be labelled organic.

Thankfully, there is now a domestic Australian organic standard, which bans the use of fertilisers, pesticides and genetically-modified material. The only downfall is that the standard is voluntary, so it comes down to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to prosecute those who don’t comply. The Organic Federation of Australia (OFA) is pushing for one standard logo.

For the moment, as long as buyers pick products displaying one of the 7 logos, they can be sure their organic pickings are chemical-free- which can’t be a bad thing.

So, after a number of internal office debates, it seems we’ve come to a collective standpoint:

We like organic. In an age when everything is overly processed, there can’t possibly be any harm in ‘keeping it real.’

So, the organic stickers continue their domination in our home and office pantries, and it seems we’re not alone in our quest to go natural. Last weekend’s Organic Expo and Green Show  saw more than 8,000 visitors venture to the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre in Darling Harbour in search of all things chemical-free.

So, if you too are considering giving organic a go, here are a few suggestions:

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It’s time we balanced the ledger


Let me introduce you to Gerald, a 12 year old living in the small outback NSW town of Bourke – population 1,800. Gerald loves fishing, Rugby League (he barracks for the Penrith Panthers) and lives with his Mum, Dad, Nan, brothers – Steven (14) and Adrian (5), and sisters – Becky (3), Isabel (1 ½) and Ruthie (two weeks old).

Gerald is an Indigenous Australian. As we are unfortunately aware, Australia continues to retain developing world standards when it comes to the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait  Islander people. In fact, Aboriginal Australians rank 103rd on the United Nations Index of Human Development (which considers life expectancy, literacy, and standard of living) compared to all Australians, who come in 4th.

Gerald’s Dad, Shaun, is 45 years old and suffers from diabetes and kidney disease. Last week, Gerald travelled 300km to the ‘big metropolis’ of Cobar (population 5,200) for his first-ever visit to the dentist (two adult teeth were removed and three fillings added). Little Ruthie was born with a low birth weight and has an 80 percent chance of developing hearing problems before her 5th birthday. And Nan (60), who has been suffering dementia for six years, was admitted to the local hospital two weeks ago where she will spend the rest of her days.

It’s time we balanced the ledger when it comes to Aboriginal health

It’s time we balanced the ledger when it comes to Aboriginal health

Indigenous health is an issue high on the agenda of the Public Health Association of Australia’s annual conference, which kicked off last week in Adelaide.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the health of Indigenous Australians is inequitable when compared to the rest of the Australian population. The rate of suicide in the Indigenous population is more than three times the non-Indigenous population. The burden of disease and injury for Aboriginal people is 2.5 times the level for non-Indigenous Australians, and dementia rates for older Aboriginal people are five times more than that of non-Indigenous Australians.

What’s more, Indigenous children born in Australia are three times more likely to die before the age of five than non-Indigenous children – survival rates similar to that of Cambodia. Indigenous men and women can expect to live 11.5 years and 10 years respectively, less than their non-Indigenous neighbours.

A harsh outlook this may seem – but it is the reality for 562,681 Indigenous people living in Australia.  So how and when will we Close the Gap 

Last week, the previous Indigenous health minister – Warren Snowdon – was reinstated along with the Indigenous health portfolio as a result of public backlash.

One way to tackle the appalling statistics is to produce more Indigenous doctors. 150 Indigenous Australians are studying medicine in universities across the country – a move in the right direction. And 420km up the road from Bourke, the small rural town of Wilcannia has struck a pioneering agreement with the federal and NSW governments to set-up Indigenous-run small businesses, in addition to improving health services by establishing nurses in schools and setting up better healthcare for pregnant women. Gerald and his family have fingers and toes crossed that Bourke will soon follow suit.

We need to see proactive strategies based at ground level and focused on the premise of community education if we are to see any genuine improvements in the state of Australia’s Indigenous health.

When the health of some Australians is comparable to that of people living in third world countries we must commit to real change to close the gap and dissolve all inequities.

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Nursing Australians back to health


This week marks a landmark moment in Australia’s healthcare system when a key item in the Government’s health reform plans is fully realised.  In a major change that will affect nurses – but also GPs, patients and the pharmaceutical industry – nurse practitioners and midwives will now have the power to access specific Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items and prescribe certain medicines subsidised on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

The change in legislation recognises the highly-skilled and capable Australian nursing and midwifery workforce, providing a new framework to enhance and expand their role in providing quality healthcare.

Nurse prescribing is common practice overseas. The UK has seen a significant shift in the last two decades in nurse prescribing – which started in the 1990s when community based nurses were able to prescribe independently from a limited formulary. Since May 2006 independent nurse prescribers have been given the ability to “prescribe any licensed medicine for any medical condition within their competence.”

With this local shift in prescribing power now happening in Australia’s healthcare system, divisions in opinion and the murmur of a ‘turf war’ were always going to be inevitable. Great effort has been made to ensure the change in legislation preserved the requirement for nurse practitioners and midwives to work in collaboration with medical practitioners to access the MBS and PBS – essentially ensuring GPs are ‘kept in the loop’.  The AMA has gone to considerable lengths to help GPs prepare for the changes asking them to ‘embrace the changes’ or risk the possibility of jeopardising the mandated collaborative arrangements.

Importantly everyday Aussies are reportedly supportive of the Government’s move. Research just released by the Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute (APHCRI) has shown Australians know the difference between being sick and needing a doctor and those “everyday health concerns” when a nurse practitioner would suffice.

Responses to the ongoing APHCRI survey has stated nurses are “good listeners” and could cater for “everyday health concerns, such as repeat prescriptions and minor illnesses, to free up GPs to manage more complex conditions.”  Shorter waiting times and better access to primary care has been identified as important advantages.

There is no doubt this represents a major milestone in Australia’s healthcare system. Ensuring this significant move enhances the delivery of best possible healthcare to Australians will be critical.  Time will tell whether or not we can indeed reach the levels of contribution nurse practitioners are making in the UK.

Big changes for Aussie nurses...

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A search for health


Those who were in attendance at the recent ASMI Conference will surely agree that the event boasted an impressive line up of speakers, who covered both interesting and informative topics.

While all topics discussed and debated were very worthwhile (the Appendix H panel discussion was particularly relevant and thought-provoking) – we thought we would capture a few key points discussed by Ross McDonald from Google. McDonald offered fantastic insights into Google health trends and how the search engine can be effectively utilised by the industry (and it is not as simple as developing a website and keeping your fingers crossed!).


Some interesting facts:

  • Health queries have doubled in the past year (unsurprising, but good to know)
  • Older demographics are going online too (don’t assume your mum doesn’t Google her health questions)!
  • Health searches usually decrease immediately after Christmas (Christmas festivities and New Year Resolutions predictably keeping our anxieties at bay)
  • Some of the most popular health search topics include:
    • HIV
    • Nutrition
    • Cancer
    • There is a demand/supply gap of health information online in Australia – providers are not keeping up with the search needs of Aussie Googlers
    • Mobile searches are on the rise
    • 60% of us go online while watching TV (communications strategists who link a TV presence with a clever online component would be smiling)
    • A large proportion of searches are navigational Vs informational – this year’s most popular search term was Facebook (this is a reason to employ an SEO strategy, if there ever was one)
    • And last but certainly not least: believe it or not – Google can ‘predict’ (within a mere 3 week leadtime) when a flu pandemic is about to hit. Predictive technology records and measures the searches people run (such as flu symptoms, etc.) and forecasts the likelihood of when the population is likely to get struck by a pandemic (we are truly living in the future!)

McDonald’s words of wisdom for companies who are thinking about their online presence included:

  • Consider your organic search ranking and don’t forget the ‘sponsored links’ option  – ‘Sponsored links’ work best for consumers making an immediate decision (for example, those buying car insurance)
  • Start your digital strategy with your audience/the consumer – NOT your website or brand
  • Think beyond your website – remember your audiences are sharing information

…and share information we do – this short post is evidence of this alone.

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Meeting the challenge of true PR measurement – we’re getting closer!


By: Rachael Randal

Within the toolbox of PR research and measurement, there is a no more contentious utensil than the Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE). Its use has long been condemned by the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) and countless PR societies worldwide. By definition, it places media space or time purchased as advertising in parity with that earned through PR, but even if the cost and quantity of the space or time is equivalent, control over content and placement, as well as credibility and influence, are most certainly not.

Despite its significant flaws, the AVE still gets a substantial amount of air time within serious conversation on PR measurement, disproportionate to its value. According to a UK PR Consultants Association survey in May this year, over a third of respondents admitted to continuing to use this evaluation model. It is relatively inexpensive and simple to calculate, and many argue that there is no accessible alternative.

The Valid Metrics Matrix

But now, we are decidedly moving along the path toward another option – a new validated metrics matrix that is the result of a five-month review by the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC). This new approach, which was previewed recently at a conference in London, is not just another industry fad that over simplifies the contribution of PR by implying instant results. It takes into account not only OUTPUTS – how the messages are distributed through a third party in a way that could impact the target audiences – but also OUTTAKES and OUTCOMES – how the messages are consumed by the target audiences and the impact they have on awareness, understanding, interest, support and action. A complex web of parameters can be used depending on the type and objective of PR activity being evaluated– from number, frequency and prominence of media articles, to key message alignment and accuracy of fact, to expressed opinions online, to Likes/retweets and Linkbacks to progress against initial outcome targets. The key underlying principles for best practice in evaluation remain the same as always: plan fro

m the outset what measurements you will do and conduct baseline research so you have clear benchmark data against which you can assess change.

This is an important milestone in the evolution of communications and so

mething agencies and in-house PR teams have been aiming towards for a long time. The new set of metrics provides the reassurance we all need to continue our commitment to demonstrating the true value of PR for achieving business results.

The PR industry needs to move away from measurement as a media analysis tool to something more, as business decision support. - Report International’s director Mike Daniels argued at the AMEC conference

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Info on the move: Top medical podcasts


Recently, the British Medical Journal launched an iPad app – the first general medical journal to do so! This is truly a sign that the health world is embracing medical information ‘on the move’. The app ‘combines the weekly BMJ print journal selection of research, comment, and interactive education, along with live feeds of the latest news, blogs, podcasts, and videos’.

Useful health poscastsThe launch will be welcomed by doctors and nurses armed with tablets and smart phones, who are now more mobile than ever before – particularly those in remote and rural areas.

This mobile medical education, however, is about podcasting as much as it is about apps.

Mainstream sources of medical- and health-related podcasts include key international medical journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine and the Lancet, as well as the World Health Organisation and the Cochrane Library.

Podcasts are also increasingly being used in medical schools, including for downloadable libraries of high resolution heart and respiratory sounds.

Interestingly, a recent survey of student nurses found podcasts allowed greater control over their learning, helping them gauge their individual learning needs and build their understanding of complex topics.

Here are five top audio resources specifically relevant to clinical practice in Australia (although there are surely many more worthwhile resources!):

1.       ABC’s The Health Report – Jargon-free, easy-to-understand information and analysis on health and medical matters, considered within social, scientific and political contexts – presented by Dr Norman Swan.

2.       ABC’s Health Minutes – 60 seconds of straight talk covering the latest in medical research.

3.       Australian Family Physician – Interviews with authors from the official peer-reviewed journal of the RACGP

4.       Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council – Updates on Australia’s major health and medical research issues from the people who shape them.

The rise in popularity of audiovisual media in medical education will likely continue as society moves to using more audio and video and physicians strive to keep current in an era of evidence-based practice. Some futurists believe that we are entering a post-textual period of the Web and that there will be an even greater demand for audio and video content in the future.

Dean Giustini, UBC Biomedical Branch Library, Canada

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2D codes in health – driving audiences online


Much of the current buzz around mobile technologies is centred on the potential of 2D codes for marketing, PR and communications. These are 2-dimensional codes similar to a linear (1-dimensional) barcode, but with more data representation capability. They can be printed on promotional materials and scanned using a mobile device, taking the user to pages of rich visual and audio content, downloads and social media platforms. Types of 2D code include the QR code (Quality Response), which is one of the most popular, the EZ code and Microsoft Tags.

(image via Pulse + Signal)

(image via Pulse + Signal)

Although 2D codes have been around since the 1990s, 2011 is being hyped as the year we finally see the full height of their splash within the industry – thanks to the current mobile device revolution with their host of 2D scanning applications, as well as increased social awareness.

Based on the recommendations of two expert Mashable authors, here are some key dos and don’ts to remember when exploiting this technology to achieve your goals in healthcare communications:


  1. Put your 2D codes on every single piece of promotional material you have – posters, flyers, stickers, media kits, magazine ads, websites – creativity is the key. Check out this balloon example.
  2. Help your audiences to use your 2D codes by including a line of copy that explains what they are and where they can download the code reader, e.g. BeeTag.com, i-nigma.com and ScanLife.com.
  3. Add value for your audiences to motivate them to scan your 2D codes. Offer exclusive, tailored and relevant content, incentives such as giveaways and competitions, videos or interactive activities and games, such as the innovative exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum which invites you to scan the 2D code to morph yourself back in time with MEanderthal.
  4. Place a compelling call to action in a prominent position near your QR code so that it is immediately clear to your audience what they will get from scanning the code.
  5. Track the traffic to your 2D landing page, in order to measure the success of your campaign.
(image via 2D Barcode Strategy)

(image via 2D Barcode Strategy)


  1. Bother if you are not going to offer original, inspiring or relevant content for your audiences.
  2. Use code formats that require a particular scanning app to work.
  3. Forget to scan test the 2D codes printed on your printed proofs.
  4. Drive your users to pages containing Flash or any site not specifically optimised for mobile browsing.
  5. Forget to update your content and offerings – your audiences should be inspired to scan not just once but again and again.

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Pre Budget Overview and the Pharma Industry


By Jody Fassina, Independent Political Consultant, JF Consulting

Against the backdrop of recently released treasury documents under FOI and subsequent media reports claiming they demonstrated Treasurer Wayne Swan had no idea how to implement the mining resource rent tax, next Tuesday will be the Treasurers’ 4th and most difficult Budget – with the pharmaceutical industry at the forefront of the Government’s near manic commitment to bring the Federal Budget back into surplus by 2012/13.

The $1.9b in savings Government secured from industry via the MoU was followed by the announcement in February, by Minister Nicola Roxon, that Cabinet had decided to defer listing of six new drugs that had received positive recommendation by the PBAC. And that in future all PBAC recommendations would be decided by Cabinet.  This has established a totally new political environment for the pharma industry.

The Budget next week is unlikely to offer any joy for the industry.  There is no sign of a reversal in regards to the Government deferring future drug approvals or providing guidance on when past deferrals will be reconsidered, other than the Minister’s statements that they will be reconsidered when ‘fiscal circumstances allow’.

What the Budget will provide however, is the Government’s estimate over the next four years of what it believes the cost of the PBS will be to Australian taxpayers.  This will be interesting as only last Friday, at a gathering of industry and consumer health groups, the Health Minister claimed the PBS was continuing to grow at an unsustainable 6% per annum, and was totally dismissive of industry claims, derived from Medicare data, that the PBS was in fact growing at less than the inflation rate of 3.3.

Given the concern and uncertainty created by Cabinet’s decision to defer the listing of new drugs, it will be interesting to see whether the Budget forward estimates for PBS expenditure provide some insight into the savings this decision is meant to have delivered for Government. 

Will there be more pain for the pharma industry in the Budget?  While crystal ball gazing is always fraught with difficulty, the Government has belatedly ruled out any change to the patient co-payment, but would look at other measures such as expanding pre-existing therapeutic groups.  Given the Government’s actions to date, nothing can be ruled out.

Who would have thought that under the MoU with the Government committing to use best endeavours to consider PBAC recommendations within six months that its response would be to do just that, and indeed announce the deferral of multiple drugs to a time not yet committed to!!

Jody Fassina specialises in providing strategic counsel to both corporate and non-profit organisations requiring high level advice on public policy issues of paramount importance to their organisation. Jody has worked as a senior public affairs manager in the corporate sector with Macquarie Bank, a political consultant with a boutique Sydney firm and as a senior policy advisor to federal MPs . He is currently an independent political consultant, having established JF Consulting.

 For more information contact Jody Fassina at fassinaconsulting@bigpond.com 

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The Federal Budget and Pharma – the pain continues


By Jody Fassina, Independent Political Consultant, JF Consulting 

The Federal Budget has done nothing to allay fears of further PBS deferrals for the pharmaceutical industry, or indeed if there is any chance at all that the Government would reconsider these listings.  The deferment of PBS listings has become a key Government management tool to contain PBS costs and the absence of any budget guidance basically confirms this, now and into the future.

The Budget provides the following forward estimate costs for the PBS.

• 2010/11 – $10,337m
• 2011/12 – $10,794m
• 2012/13 – $11,245m
• 2013/14 – $12,070m
• 2014/15 – $12,882m

Year-on-year this results in percentage increases of 4.4%, 4.2%, 7.3% and 6.7%.  This enables the Government to perpetuate the myth, for as long as possible, that the PBS is growing faster than the rate of inflation and hence maintain pressure on industry in terms of PBS expenditure. Most importantly, it allows the Minister for Health to dismiss industry claims, supported by Medicare data, that the PBS is in fact growing at a rate less than inflation and therefore allow for new approved medicines to be placed on the PBS.

What this also demonstrates is that, with the year-on-year increases being greater than inflation, the February deferrals have not resulted in major savings over the forward estimates; however, the policy of deferrals has certainly become a fiscal management tool for Government to wheel out when required to prevent future PBS listings. The precedent is now firmly in place.

These costs also fail to take into account the impending patent cliff, which could result in savings to the PBS of anywhere up to $2 billion.  The Government clearly and strategically has decided not to factor in the patent cliff so it can maintain its political rhetoric that PBS costs are still growing at an unsustainable rate.

This is a key challenge for the pharma industry – convincing Government and the community at large that the PBS is in fact a sustainable, vital public health program supported by $1.9 billion in savings offered up in the MoU, and the impending patent cliff which will see savings of up to $2 billion. 

It is clear that funds exist to support the ongoing listing of new and innovative medicines for the Australian community; however, as it stands the Government has been relatively successful in demonstrating the need for PBS costs to continue to be reined in.

This Budget confirms by its silence that Government will maintain a tough political stance on the PBS.

The ‘fight’ is most definitely on and the pharmaceutical industry, as well as professional medical groups and patient advocacy, will need to convince the public and the media that Government has got its estimates wrong! This will be vital if there are to be any substantive PBS subsidies in the next few years.


Jody Fassina specialises in providing strategic counsel to both corporate and non-profit organisations requiring high level advice on public policy issues of paramount importance to their organisation. Jody has worked as a senior public affairs manager in the corporate sector with Macquarie Bank, a political consultant with a boutique Sydney firm and as a senior policy advisor to federal MPs. He is currently an independent political consultant, having established JF Consulting.

 For more information contact Jody Fassina at fassinaconsulting@bigpond.com

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Digital Healthcare Today


Mobile phones are no longer just about making calls, they are about finding information and images, sharing insights and managing lifestyles. Mobile phone applications (apps) – whether for iPhone or Android are the latest tool to help the public access, aggregate and consolidate lifestyle related information.

Over a thousand people in Australia were interviewed in 2010 by The Mobile Industry Group and 41% said they had downloaded an application.[1] More than a third of those had downloaded at least one from the category of ‘health and fitness’.

Healthcare Apps







Example Health and Fitness Apps

Smartphone Apps and Pharmaceutical

The majority of medical apps worldwide are aimed at a broad market (such as lifestyle and health tools) but there is a growing number of apps that deliver direct support to those suffering from a particular condition and many of these are created by pharmaceutical companies for specific countries.

With apps, pharmaceutical companies in particular are creating a portfolio of services and support around their products that they can offer to patients and non-patients alike. The benefits for patients are clear – they can receive immediate information, which is personalized and shareable in order to better manage their condition. Patient apps can be broadly classified as:-

1) Dosage Calculators & Medicine Management: Includes personal medical record storage applications, tracking medicine history, appropriate compliance and encouraging patients to take medication correctly

2) Discovery Tools: Applications on symptom management: support group, healthcare professional and resource locators

3) Education Aggregators: General information on weight loss, specific diseases, or broad grouping of information about symptoms and conditions

Examples of benchmark applications to support patients include:-

1) iManage Migraine by Merck & Co. enables patients to learn about migraines, potential triggers and understand the treatment options. The patient can track information in an interactive migraine journal, which can be used to aid discussions between the patient and healthcare provider to help reach an effective action plan for managing migraines.

2) Novartis’ VaxTrack provides parents with one convenient place to store information about their family’s vaccination records. The built-in locater can source local pharmacies for flu jabs and record insurance information.

What Are The Benefits?

Much of the discussion around apps is around potential – they are not currently heavily downloaded and reviewed, but with the growth of tablets and more smartphones this is likely to change. Companies wishing to build deeper relationships with patients and healthcare professionals can add value to their product offering and deliver real support in disease and lifestyle management:-

1) Support specific outreach and healthcare campaigns – For instance to patients suffering from a specific clinical condition, those wanting to improve their health or increase their activity levels

2) Provide a practical support for patients and healthcare professionals – In gauging dose levels and tracking dose history (patient compliance)

3) Deliver insight and education for the broader community – Offering deep and relevant information or access to specialists

Applications – whether free or paid for will become a lasting engagement tool. They are useful, not heavily branded and empower the patient.

[1] http://tinyurl.com/3tk5oyc

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No Respite In Sight For The Pharmaceutical Industry


By Jody Fassina, Independent Political Consultant, JF Consulting 

The announcement of the Government’s new Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) listing deferral policy in February this year caused a lot of anguish for stakeholders, including the pharmaceutical industry.

The impact of the Government’s Deferral Policy is still to play out. Twenty eight Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) recommendations (including five new listings) remain in limbo, between Cabinet and Deferral, which goes against the Government’s own National Medicines Policy. What this means for PBAC independence and a growing number of medicines being held back from patients in need, where the PBAC has stated they should have access; will have long term implications.  

For the Government they face the dilemma of increasing patient costs through the denial of listing new medicines now. The fiscal reality though is that a drug denied listing today is a dollar saved tomorrow, whereas future patient costs from a drug denied listing today does not even show up as a direct cost to the budget tomorrow. So for the Government it is far easier to save a dollar today which is readily quantifiable than worry about patient costs into the future.

Even with this current situation, further developments indicate drug approvals will become even more challenging.

Minister Roxon has recently introduced for the third time legislation to means test the 30% private health insurance rebate. This is budgeted to save the Government approximately $2.8billion over the budget forward estimates.

At the same time when announcing the recent listing of 13 new medications including Erbitux and Gilenya at a cost of $200million per year to the PBS, Roxon also sent an ominous message that future listings are dependent upon the passage of savings measures like the Private Health Insurance (PHI) legislation.

Roxon specifically stated on 21 June that “…we will not be able to keep doing that (list new drugs) if the Opposition keeps opposing sensible savings measures like the private health insurance.”

While the Minister has already articulated that all new drug listings need to have offsetting savings, the Minister’s recent statement is a further development. She is now seeking to place the onus well and truly on the Opposition for any future delay in new drug listings. Her message is simple, unless the Opposition ‘plays ball’ on Government savings measures, then don’t expect any new significant drug listings.

The Minister has admitted she does not yet have the numbers in the House of Representatives to pass the PHI legislation so a $2.8billion hole in the health budget means the pharmaceutical industry could be facing a very bleak future and significant further delays in gaining Cabinet approval for PBS listings despite a positive PBAC recommendation.

The other interesting development is the ascension of the Greens to holding the balance of power in the Senate. They have finally succeeded in supplanting the Australian Democrats as Senate balance of power party.

The Greens are a party that the pharmaceutical industry needs to get to know. The Greens are naturally suspicious of big pharma even going as far as wanting to ban all political parties from receiving political donations from the tobacco, alcohol and pharmaceutical industries.

That said, the Greens did support a Senate Committee Inquiry into the Government’s Deferral Policy where they will be represented by new Victorian Greens Senator and Health Spokesman, Richard Di Natale, a GP and public health expert. This will be the first time for the industry to get a feel of what Senator Di Natale may think of the pharmaceutical industry. 

What is clear is that the impact on patients is so serious that almost 100 Consumer Health Organisations, supported by Health Care Professional Groups, have publically condemned the Government’s politicisation of access to medicines, which is set to play out in the upcoming Senate Committee Inquiry.

 For more information contact Jody Fassina at fassinaconsulting@bigpond.com.au

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How to develop a successful medical/health application


The functionalities and variations of medical applications (apps) are developing at a rapid pace. An iPod can now convert to a heart monitor or an Android phone can act as an electronic stethoscope by connecting to an external sensor. In relation to this, we saw a fundamental development on July 21, 2011 with the draft guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The guidelines suggest three types of apps should require the FDA’s approval: a mobile app that acts as an accessory to a regulated medical device, turns a mobile gadget into such a device or makes suggestions regarding a patient’s diagnosis or treatment. Previously, there has been very little guidance for digital health tools and this could be indicative of digital codes of practice set to emerge in Australia. This is definitely something to bear in mind when considering developing a medical/health app.

medical app

Why your app must be useful to others

It is important to know the users you are serving and/or targeting. When thinking about building an app, you need to validate your assumptions of the perceived value that the app will bring and also do your research! An app can give your business/brand(s) a competitive advantage, but importantly, you must determine its core purposes.

There are many things to consider – for example button size. Will the users predominately be male or female? If the users are men, then they will have bigger hands and the app buttons will need to reflect this in size. Will the users have good eye sight? You may need to incorporate a functionality that enlarges text.

The app development stages

Below are the key stages to consider when developing an app:

1)      The initial concept. Start with the idea and what features the app will include. This is when you map out the timeline and scope out the budget. You need to define your purpose and it is important to be clear about the ultimate use, benefit and functionality. The app functionality needs to be user friendly – it is important to ensure that features are discoverable and not hidden and it helps if the app has the ‘wow’ factor in order to engage the user.

2)      Design. Investing time in the visual design is crucial. Design is a key element to help the app stand out from others on the market and it also impacts on usability and sense of value. High quality visuals influence users’ perceptions that the app is worthwhile and going to provide a benefit. Excellent design also reinforces the business/brand(s).

3)      Development.  Key elements include building a framework, expanding the features, designing the user interface, coding the functionality of the features, and all other creative and technical components of the app. 

4)      Testing. You should look to solicit feedback from a pilot to ensure the launch of the app runs smoothly. Feedback is necessary in the development cycle and usability is critical to the success of an app. You need to think about the processes and factor in suitability testing. There is the expectation amongst users that apps will be immediately intuitive, therefore in-field testing amongst the target demographic will provide valuable insights into the appropriate build for the app. If things go wrong with the functionality, then naturally users will question the usability and rationale of the app.

5)       Release and maintenance. It is important to be mindful of marketplace guidelines to aid market acceptance for your app. Apple, for example, reviews every app featured on the App Store based on a set of technical, content, and design criteria. The Apple review criteria are available in the App Store Review Guidelines.

Other considerations

Be aware of hidden costs. Costs to consider in addition to the app build may, for example, include user experience, testing and online marketing.

Organisational engagement. You need to take the business and/or brand teams on the journey when developing an app. Get all departments on board, so they can take ownership of the app when it launches.  Everyone in the organisation should know who you’re creating the app for, what you are creating and why.

The ultimate measure of success for your app will be determined by downloads, feedback and the user response, which may translate via testimonials.

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How can we help consumers of online health information discern truth from twaddle?


Our complex e-health infrastructure is revolutionising healthcare across the globe. Bupa Health Pulse conducted a survey in 2010 that comprised of over 12,000 people from 12 countries including the UK, Australia and Germany. The internet is increasingly being used as a tool for health-related purposes with people drawn in by highly sophisticated audio and visual content now offered through computers, mobile phones and tablets, as well as opportunities for interaction via social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

In Australia, 4 in 5 people have access to the internet and nearly 45% use Facebook – the largest social networking site in the world. Australians spend more time than any other country using Facebook, averaging at 7.5 hours per month. At least 4 in 5 Australian respondents in the Bupa survey were making some use of the internet to search for advice on health, medicines or medical conditions, including searching for information to make a self-diagnosis and seeking other patients’ experiences.


The internet has the potential to empower Australians to make better, more informed choices about their health and healthcare. It may facilitate economic efficiency for our healthcare system by reducing inappropriate consultations and decreasing the costs of communication between the patient and their healthcare professional.

Unfortunately, there are a huge number of websites that provide bogus information, lacking in evidence-base. This can have serious consequences, leading to needless worry, unnecessary consultations, delay in appropriate diagnosis and use of unproven, ineffective tests and treatments. How can we expect people to decipher through the thousands of results that come up within their Google or Yahoo searches? Also, most of the top 20 healthcare websites are geared towards scientific and academic communities in the US – certainly not the average Aussie.

Of the Bupa Health Pulse survey respondents, 18% are using social networking sites to find out about healthcare issues. Twitter is used by 5% for this purpose. The extent to which individuals who post comments or write blogs are representative of the broader health population is questionable, but of course this may not always be borne in mind by the individuals who take their advice.

The full potential of the internet will only be realised if there is sufficient investment in providing the tools and skills to help people discern high quality, credible content that is jargon-free and tailored to their current knowledge and skills level. Accreditation procedures might be used to ‘badge’ trustworthy websites, but support and advice on how to search for information in the first place is also a must.

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Developing an engaging Facebook page for your business


With more than 10 million users in Australia alone and 500 million global users, Facebook is one of the most influential websites in the world. Increasingly, patients are researching their condition and treatment approach online and Facebook is a very useful resource to share experiences with others and to gain further insights. Here are some simple ways that you can maximise engagement on your Facebook business page.

Focus on your audience and their needs

As with any marketing and communications messaging, it’s important to focus on the outcomes and your audience. Who are you talking to and engaging with on your Facebook page, and what would they value from you? If you have a range of insights that you deliver to clients as part of your services, consider seeding some of these into your Facebook page. Be clear about who you are talking to and be sure to offer them something of ‘value’ – whether that be expert advice, topical news or an offer.

Plan your posts

Publishing valuable content on your business Facebook page is crucial to maximise the audience’s engagement. Scheduling what you want to say and when you want to say it avoids repetition and ensures you integrate different aspects of your communications plan on the Facebook page. Planning content avoids any last minute panics and translates to higher quality posts and enables consistent messaging. The most effective way to do this is to create a content calendar and set aside time each week/month to plan what you are going to say.

Good content is crucial

It seems obvious, but if you publish good quality content, people will return to your Facebook page and will share links with their friends. Here are some top tips to encourage engagement:

1)      Include links to support your message

2)      Be personal – your page is the face of your organisation or your brand

3)      Be active and update your page frequently

4)      Engage with your audience. If someone asks a question ensure you answer it

5)      Have a social media framework in place in case anyone posts defamatory content

6)      When publishing health specific content, remember it must comply must with the ASMI, MA, TGA codes and other relevant industry regulations

7)      Monitor your page – if someone publishes spam, immediately delete it

8)      Think about what would add value to the audience, e.g. a tip of the day may demonstrate your expertise as well as be of use to the audience

9)      Upload varied content, this could include videos and podcasts

Frequency of posting

It is the quality of content, not the quantity that matters. Research shows that businesses who post weekly on their Facebook page get the same result as those who post daily. Always think about the time of day you post content and when your key audience is available.

So what does this mean for the pharma industry?

Pharmaceutical companies face the challenge to host a branded Facebook page which complies with industry regulations and also acts as a forum where patients can have a two way dialogue. The FDA, ASMI, TGA and MA is yet to determine official guidelines for pharmaceutical  brands operating in digital media, so understandably, pharmaceutical companies are cautious in their decision making about how to use Facebook pages as part of their marketing strategy.

 women's confidential

Women’s Confidential Australian Facebook page

As a business, it is important to be within the digital space that your key audience is using. Many organisations are hosting successful unbranded Facebook pages – take a look at the Australian Women’s confidential page from makers of Canesten®. This site is positioned as the “modern girls survival guide offering advice fashion, beauty and health tips.”

The Can you feel my pain? page developed by Pfizer is an exemplary unbranded Facebook page raising awareness about chronic pain and working in collaboration with leading patient and citizen organisations across Europe.

 Can you feel my pain? Facebook page

Can you feel my pain? Facebook page

Evidently, there are strategies to host engaging Facebook pages that educate patients and do not contravene regulatory guidelines.

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Integrating digital into your marketing strategy


Consumer interaction hasn’t changed. The consumer journey is the same as it always has been; people browse, buy and use. What is different in today’s digital environment is people start their research online and to influence this, offline and online marketing needs to work together.

Through blogs and social media channels your marketing content needs to facilitate two way dialogue. Previously, customer relationships worked via a one-way conversation – the company speaking to the consumer. Now discussions are collaborative and work both ways via channels such as Facebook, blogs and forums. To work with this, there has been a shift to ‘inbound’ marketing – marketing that focuses on getting found by customers.

Inbound marketing uses digital channels including:

Content: Blogs, videos, white papers, e-books

SEO: Search engine optimisation and keyword analysis

Social media: Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr

The more materials and content you post online, the more chance people have of finding your content.

Here are some key components to consider when thinking about your digital marketing strategy if you haven’t already:

1)      Create a keyword strategy using Google AdWords

2)      Search engine optimise your website

3)      Develop a business blog

4)      Promote content and participate in social media

5)      Nurture engagement with email marketing, e.g. eDMs

6)      Consider online advertising

7)      Be mobile friendly

8)      Analyse and refine strategies

marketing strategy

You may have heard it before, but the power of digital is growing rapidly and it is important you capitalise on the opportunity as part of your marketing strategy. Now the average time spent online (13.7 hours/week) tips television viewing time (13.3 hours/week). In just 20 minutes on Facebook over one million links are shared, two million friend requests are accepted and almost three million messages are sent. Every day 300,000 new users sign up to Twitter and 48 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute! It is therefore necessary to promote content and participate in social media to open up the discussion and to encourage engagement for your business.

Ultimately when integrating digital into your marketing plans, you need to define your strategy and vision and understand how digital media interrelates with traditional media. With the evolving nature of digital, you also need to be flexible and engage your audience, which may mean reinventing your content to accommodate varying trends and discussions.

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What does Australian consumption of the internet say about us as a nation?


Internet usage in Australia has been hitting the headlines. Last August, Facebook publically announced that Australia has 9.5 million subscribers and that we’re spending more time on the social networking site than any other country. The Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed earlier this year that the number of internet subscribers in Australia has increased by a sizable 10% to 10.4 million in the past ten months. So what does this say about us as a nation?

Australia image

You could argue that it’s something to do with Australia being an island – we’re a long way from everyone else and we use channels like Facebook and Google+ to communicate with long lost friends and relatives overseas. But then wouldn’t the same ring true for the UK, New Zealand and Japan? Perhaps it’s down to us being the stereotypical “friendly, laid back, social” Aussies who like to communicate with our mates. No! What it’s really got to do with is that we are informed, online users and data suggests that we like to do our research on the web before spending our hard earned dollars.

As a nation, we’re spending on average 22 hours a week online and a fifth of that’s using social media channels. You see, we like to browse, make informed decisions and see what other people are saying about a product or brand before making a decision. And this explains why there has been a huge surge in the number of Aussies contributing and using online reviews, discussions, comments and ‘Likes’ before making a purchase.

And the same rings true for the medical profession. In August this year, Cegedim Strategic data released new stats about doctor’s digital habits. The research suggested that 30% of doctors own an iPad and 56% plan to buy one in the future. Out of those who own an iPad, 17% said they use it for both work and personal reasons.

We’re also seeing steps being taken by the government to electronically coordinate patient care across the healthcare sector. It’ll be interesting to monitor the success of the initiative to roll out the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR) system for Australians. From 2012-13, if we register, we’ll be able to see important health information in one consolidated view and share it with healthcare practitioners during our medical appointments. 

Nielsen published some very interesting data earlier in the year showing that we’re also leading the way in social media consumption. 73% of us read reviews, discussions and comments on brands, products and services at some stage and 26% do so on a regular basis. 46% have clicked the Facebook ‘Like’ button for a brand/organisation and 17% do so frequently.

Luckily we don’t have to stay glued to a computer to do our browsing. Nowadays, doctors can readily access mobile medical applications while in the hospital. Migraine patients can track their condition on the move, diabetes patients can log their glucose levels with a glucose buddy and smoking cessation apps motivate quitters while they are socialising by keeping a note of cost savings.

One thing’s for sure – Australian use of the internet is predicted to rise. In terms of what this says about us as a nation – it’s simple. We’re digitally savvy. We like to chat to our friends and family online, conduct web based research and shop around before we buy. Who knows what next year’s stats will suggest about our national digital habits. There’s only one way to find out – keep browsing.

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What does the Twitter explosion mean for journalists?


Back in 2009 when the US Airways flight crashed in New York’s Hudson river, it took a mere four minutes before a member of the public broke the story to the world via Twitter. Jim Hanrahan, wrote: “I just watched a plane crash into the hudson rive [sic] in manhattan”.


It wasn’t long before the story was spreading like wildfire in Twitterverse. Interestingly, it took news outlets longer and it was approximately 15 minutes later that they began reporting the incident.

Love it, or hate it, with the rise of social media channels like Twitter and Flickr, news stories can reach all corners of the world with an immediacy we’ve never seen before. We only need to look at more recent examples of the microblogging’s speedy ability to spread the word, including the death of Steve Jobs and Muammar Gaddafi. So what does this mean for qualified, modern-day journalists and how are they embracing Twitter?

We’re constantly reminded that we’re in the midst of a social media revolution. Twitter is a social networking phenomenon and Australians aren’t holding back! In fact, Australia accounts for 1.8% of Twitter’s traffic and the social networking site attracts 1.1 million unique Australian visitors per month.

So, what is Twitter? Twitter, in essence is a very simple tool. ‘Tweeters’ are limited to posting short, 140 character messages (the same length as a traditional SMS message) to their followers. So a Tweet can’t provide a lot of detailed information, but it can make a concise point, link to an image or webpage and most importantly publish content immediately.

Since it’s creation in 2006 however, Twitter has evolved. ‘Tweeters’ are now able to search the entire network in real-time for specific topics or breaking news, organise their streams with ‘hash tags’ – the # symbol, used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet, and even add photos or videos to their posts.

These developments of the social media channel have translated to journalist engagement. Twitter has become a way for the media to keep up to date and engage with their audiences, locate sources and to report on news in real-time. The sheer speed of Twitter’s ability to spread breaking news has completely changed the way that journalists report and audiences receive news.

Many key Australian health journalists are opting to not only ‘follow’ the news on Twitter but also publish and promote their own stories. Take ABC medical health reporter Sophie Scott. Sophie’s an active Tweeter and uses the channel to broadcast her stories to the world.

Sophie Scott

Twitter itself, is also catching on to the growing trend of journalists engaging the networking site. This is reinforced by Twitter publishing a set of guidelines called Twitter for Newsrooms, which is designed to help journalists use the platform effectively. A Twitter spokesperson explains:

“We want to make our tools easier to use so you can focus on your job: finding sources, verifying facts, publishing stories, promoting your work and yourself and doing all of it faster and faster all the time.”

Twitter for Newsrooms was launched earlier this year and demonstrates to journalists how to “report”, “engage” and “publish” to their followers.

There are a plethora of other helpful tools that are assisting journalists with their mission to conquer the news digitally – be it, Tweetgrid, Twitscoop.com, Twhirl, Tweetdeck or Twellow, and the list goes on.

During a talk in Melbourne on the ‘Twitterisation of Journalism,’ University of Canberra Journalism lecturer and social media researcher/consultant Julie Posetti stated, “It’s fascinating as a citizen, as an academic and as a journalist to watch Twitter progress. Despite all the risks and pitfalls that have well and truly been identified along the way, I think Twitter is an important breakthrough in terms of making journalism more social and accessible to a broader public.”

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The real impact of Australia’s e-health system


Australia has one of the world’s best healthcare systems, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. In the digital age, it’s hard to believe collecting and sharing health information such as medications, test results, scans, or hospital discharge reports is still by paper – an arrangement which undoubtedly has its limitations.

Australia’s move to an electronic health system was only going to be a matter of time. Coupled with the estimated national investment of $466.7million to launch the e-health system next year, healthcare professionals and patients are contemplating the real impact this will make.

According to the Federal Government, the digital management of health information has the potential to transform the way we do things now, streamlining processes, facilitating information sharing and ultimately, making it much easier and efficient to look after the health of the nation. The specific tools that will make this happen include:

  • Personally controlled electronic health records: enabling the communication of patient data between different healthcare professionals including GPs and specialists;
  • Telemedicine: physical and psychological treatments at a distance;
  • Consumer health informatics: use of electronic resources on medical topics by healthy individuals or patients;
  • Health knowledge management: an overview of latest medical journals, best practice guidelines or epidemiological tracking;
  • Virtual healthcare teams: consisting of healthcare professionals who collaborate and share patient information through digital equipment;
  • M-health: including the use of mobile devices in aggregating patient data, providing healthcare information to practitioners, researchers and patients, real-time monitoring of patient vitals, and direct provision of care (via mobile telemedicine);
  • Medical research using grids: powerful computing and data management capabilities to handle large amounts of information;
  • Healthcare information systems: appointment scheduling, patient data management, work schedule management and other administrative tasks surrounding health.

The digital system will increase communication between healthcare professionals and the public – but what difference will it make to their everyday lives?

Patients will be able to access their personal health records and support will be at their fingertips. Ultimately, treatment will be more streamlined resulting in clearer records and more immediate access to healthcare professionals.

For healthcare providers, a seamless roll-out will enable them to access patient information at the click of a button. An electronic system will translate to improved methods for disease surveillance and being able to get a second opinion – resulting in improved patient care.

blog pic

General Practitioner and former Australian Medical Association president, Dr John Gullotta says, “It’s inevitable that an implemented e-health system will alter the way patients and GPs interact. Key elements of personalised health information will be brought together and patients will be able to access their own health details and benefit from streamlined GP visits.”

Despite the anticipated benefits, there are some concerns about the implementation. The media has voiced doubts about the security of patient’s records. In addition to this, there is concern a digital system may isolate people who do not have access to a computer, particularly people living in remote areas, older generations and low socio-economic families. And like all sophisticated IT systems, there is also the risk of technical failures.

The opportunity for patients and healthcare professionals to have access to personal health information whenever needed, and the predicted streamlined treatment journey, paints a very positive picture. But until Australia’s e-health system starts operation and is assessed in practice, nobody is willing to fully sing its praises quite yet.

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You are what you eat? Online and offline consumption


The internet is increasingly influencing our diet and attitudes towards food – from online advertising about the latest diet plan, to accessing nutritional information about what you’re eating, ordering take-away via a smartphone and mobile applications able to assist with developing a grocery list.

The recent media discussions regarding traffic light food labelling have made nutrition a hot national topic – even more so now information about any kind of food is available at the press of a button. We’ve also seen an explosion of apps designed to help us make considered decisions about food and avoid the danger of eating hidden fats and sugars.  One that was launched this week is ‘food switch’- positioned as a tool to empower Australian shoppers to make healthier food choices. The app allows users to scan the barcode of packaged foods using their iPhone camera and receive easy to understand nutritional advice.

New Year resolutions

January is typically the month to kick-start our healthy eating resolutions and the nation’s dietitians are encouraging Australians to take part in a healthy ‘pledge’ campaign in tangent with Australia’s Healthy Weight Week (22-29 January). This social-media based campaign encourages users to publish their pledges via a Facebook page and Twitter profile. Ten years ago, such a supportive and motivating digital platform would not have existed, but in today’s social media environment, we are able to benefit from immediate, interactive digital programs.


Online support

Weight management is also big business online, with the availability of personalised online tools for those who want to access support and information in the comfort of their homes. This is particularly helpful to those situated in remote areas of Australia and who don’t feel comfortable attending a face-to-face meeting. Weight Watchers Online enables people to remotely track what they are eating, monitor their weight and develop an interactive shopping list.

The Government has also launched a number of digital initiatives providing nutritional support. There is the Healthy kids: Eat well, get active website, positioned as a ‘one stop shop’ of information about healthy eating and physical activity for parents and carers, teachers and childcare workers, health and other professionals and kids and teens . There is also the Government’s digital Swap It, Don’t Stop It campaign encompassing a mobile app and website, helping users to make healthier choices.

Accredited practicing dietitian and infant nutritionist Kate di Prima says, “More often than not, patients I see are educated about food and what they’re feeding their families. A contributing factor is the plethora of information accessible via the internet. It’s important to use reputable sources – there is a lot of dialogue happening, which can sometimes seem overwhelming. The flip side is we’re inspired to cook more adventurously and use ingredients that we may not have previously considered.”

Fashionable nutrition

Indeed, examples such as the Create Nutrition blog and journalist/media commentator Sarah Wilson’s blog define modern, fashionable nutrition.

In this day and age, smartphones mean that every one of us is a potential food critic, having the ability to write immediate, online reviews, while seated in the restaurant. This in turn means that food standards need to be high.


It will be interesting to see what the future holds and if the shelf life of online nutrition tools expires before the groceries go off!

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The extra ‘P’ at APP


By Lisa Burling, Director Consumer Health

I’ve been lucky enough to escape Sydney for the sunnier climes of the Gold Coast this week, spending a couple of days at the APP conference.

APP stands for ‘Australian Pharmacy Professional’ and is the annual conference of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia. But after listening to various talks and having conversations with delegates I think a ‘p’ is missing – and that’s one that stands for PEOPLE.


Because I’ve discovered that, behind closed doors, pharmacists spend a lot of time talking about us which is fantastic and hugely positive. Of course there are conversations about other ‘p’s – price points and politics to name just two. But it’s me and you – in our role as their customers – that they’re most interested in.

Senior Drug Information Pharmacist at the Mater Hospital in Brisbane, Dr Geraldine Moses urged pharmacists and their teams communicate the facts to people about pain relief medication – rather than what they think is right. Can we take our pain killers without eating first? It turns out we can. Are all pain relievers the same, and appropriate for all of us? Absolutely not.  This is why it’s so important a conversation takes place.

Dr Colin Mendelsohn, a GP who sits on the Australian Association of Smoking Cessation Professionals painted a vivid picture of people who smoke – and why they do it. For some it’s genetics and the ‘reward pathway’ which increases levels of dopamine in their brain; for others it’s cue-induced cravings like coffee or just the generally positive feelings these people get when they inhale. I didn’t know that 75% of smokers want to quit, but the success rate of trying to do it on their own is extremely low. In fact, 50% of quitters will relapse after 12 months.  Pharmacists and pharmacy assistants who sat in that room with me will take this information and apply it to their customers – people who need professional guidance and support to finally give up and live a healthier life.

Pharmacists also know a lot about the different types of people who walk through their pharmacy doors. Grocery channels like Woolworths and Coles have put their kit on and walked onto their playing field. It’s no secret that Woolworths is looking at healthcare as a source of growth in the coming years.

According to Dr Gary Mortimer from the Queensland University of Technology Business School, pharmacists ask “who walks through my door instead of going to supermarket, and why are they doing it?” Interestingly, Dr Mortimer says the real opportunity for pharmacy and supermarkets is affluent people aged 55 and over. He also highlighted that the basic fundamentals of relationships with people – trust, legitimacy and value – are what differentiate a pharmacist from a shelf-stacker in aisle four. Supermarkets simply can’t operate in this space; professional advice from a real person cannot be addressed with signage and a shelf wobbler. 

Perhaps Dr John Bell from the PSA Self Care Program summed it up best: “Optimal staff selection and training is likely to be the greatest asset and most important investment for ensuring pharmacy success.”

Or put more simply: “employing the right people, trained by the best people, to give the best possible help and advice to people who need it.”

I vote for a name change – APPP in 2013!

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The truth about YouTube


Yesterday the Cube team attended a fascinating digital breakfast hosted by Galaxy Research with guest speakers Kate Mason and Henning Dorstewitz from Google.

With the explosion of viral videos, we explored and busted the top five myths about video content and YouTube.

But before we delve into that, can you guess what the most popular viral video was in Australia last year? To give you a clue, think of the wedding we were all talking about and combine it with some flamboyant dance moves. Yes, the T Mobile Royal Wedding viral was the most popular video in 2011 and has received over 25 million views to date. According to Henning Dorstewitz there are three reasons for this:

1) It’s timely and was developed when the Royal Wedding was on everyone’s minds

2) It’s well executed. It’s shot from the side isles of the cathedral and you feel like you’re there at the wedding amongst the guests

3) It’s funny. Flashmob trends are incredibly popular and this was the perfect opportunity for T Mobile to reinvent their brand

Now here’s to the top five myths about viral videos:

Myth #1: I need to have a viral hit to be successful on YouTube

This isn’t the case. You can be very successful and have a strong presence on YouTube without a viral hit. The most important thing is to think about is what will appeal to your audience!

Myth #2: Only funny videos are popular on YouTube

It’s actually ‘how to’ videos that instruct the end user about something informative that are the most popular videos on YouTube. If a company or business can make use of this strategy for their brand, then they should. An example is this shoe designer tutorial.

Myth #3: YouTube is only for young people

Statistics reveal 55% of women aged 18-57 access YouTube once a month or more.

Myth #4: A successful YouTube video needs to be unique and something nobody has done before

The most popular videos we’re seeing coming through often follow a trend. You only need to take a look at the T Mobile flash mob as the perfect example.

Myth #5: Videos have to be professionally produced to gain traction

Many fantastically produced virals cost less than $300. It’s what you’re telling the viewer that really matters. An example is this very funny and popular video about razors!

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Today’s hot topic: what the Federal Budget will mean for the healthcare system


By Jody Fassina, Independent Political Consultant, JF Consulting

As the raft of media alerts, political alerts and public and political commentary dictate today’s papers and coffee machine conversations, here’s the low down on the health highlights (or low lights) when last night’s Federal Budget was handed down, according to leading political consultant, Jody Fassina.

Against the backdrop of record spending on the Health portfolio, estimated to be $61 billion in 2012/2013 and a 37% increase on 2007/2008 levels of which the PBS is estimated to account for $10.9 billion, in 2012/2013 the Budget did not contain a systematic attack on the PBS.

That being said, while the Government has highlighted the savings that flow from price disclosure resulting in savings of $528 million in 2012/2013, it is predicting growth in PBS expenditure of  5% per annum in 2013/2014, indicating the pressure will still be on the pharmaceutical sector.

The most disturbing initiative contained in the Health portfolio is that the Government will provide funding to the Department of Health and Ageing to recover compensation from pharmaceutical companies as a result of losses incurred by the Government due to the delay in the listing of generic medicines on the PBS.

Hence, a pharma company seeking to litigate an expired patent in the Courts that results in delay and hence foregone savings to the Government, will want to be very sure of their legal footing, because if they lose such an action the Government will seek to sue them for the loss of savings so incurred from a delayed PBS listing.

It’s not all doom and gloom however with the Government committing to deliver major new health initiatives to support front line health services redirecting $74.5 billion to essential health and ageing services and facilitating access to care particularly in rural remote regions. E-health also gets a cash injection of $233.7 million to facilitate the national roll-out and system modernisation.

Additionally, with significant investment in oral health $515.3 million, additional funds for the national bowel screening program ($49.7 million) and health facility construction ($475 million across country areas), perhaps there is a glimmer of light for a healthier nation and the pharma sector that works to support it.

Jody Fassina specialises in providing strategic counsel to both corporate and non-profit organisations requiring high level advice on public policy issues of paramount importance to their organisation. Jody has worked as a senior public affairs manager in the corporate sector with Macquarie Bank, a political consultant with a boutique Sydney firm and as a senior policy advisor to federal MPs. He is currently an independent political consultant, having established JF Consulting.

For more information contact Jody Fassina at fassinaconsulting@bigpond.com

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Pinterest: how digital pictures can tell a thousand words, and then drive traffic to your website


By Johanna Waide

Pinterest – the latest digital media application everyone seems to be using in their personal lives as well as in the business world. It’s hard to believe that the humble pin board that adorns the kitchen walls has morphed into a virtual visual feast that allows us to reach beyond the written word to tell a story.

Put simply, Pinterest is a fast and cheap way to share content including photographs, videos and links to other websites. It’s also a great way to categorise images and content, by moving ‘Pins’ into separate pin boards like advertising, fitness and kids or pregnancy.

Signing up to Pinterest is currently by invitation only. Once the request to join is approved (which may take up to a week), users can then begin to follow, re-pin and comment on the pin boards of others that they find interesting or inspiring.



Since launching in March 2010 Pinterest has made waves because of its ability to draw big numbers in terms of online traffic.

Web information company Alexa.com reported that the site is currently ranked the 42nd most popular website in the world, coming in at number 26 in Australia. Additionally, according to Australian social media statistics, the number of Pinterest users grew from around 190,000 in February 2012 to 350,000 in March – an increase of 160,000 in just one month.

Industry experts say that this popularity will continue to climb as millions of new pins are added everyday from all over the globe. The site also has impressive ‘length of stay’ engagement numbers, third only to time spent on Facebook and Tumblr.

Because of this hype, Pinterest is already being used by businesses to further their online presence.

However, just as with any communication tool, it’s important to consider whether this new social medium aligns with your organisation’s core purpose and values, as well as how it can best be used in ways that benefit all stakeholders.

Here are our top five picks of the ways businesses might use Pinterest:

1. Promote products and services

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, making Pinterest’s visual focus a powerful opportunity for businesses to engage and educate audiences about its products and services. Ways this can be achieved include adding pins of new product images, ‘how-to’ video demonstrations featuring a brand’s products or user-generated photographs showcasing a products’ unique or special features.

2. Showcase core values – all of them

At present the site hasn’t created a distinction between personal and brand profiles. While the temptation may be to post pins related only to your products, user etiquette is very important within the Pinterest community, so boards that are too self-promoting won’t be well received.

US grocery chain Whole Foods Market have set a benchmark in achieving an optimal balance between product-endorsement, enticing user interest and showcasing the different facets of an organisation.

Quoted on Mashable, Whole Foods Market’s Global Online Community Manager, Michael Bepko, explains how they have leveraged the platform as a marketing tool: “It allows us to curate images from across the web that really speak to who we are as a company, images that reflect our core values and essentially communicate the essence of who we are.”

Whole Foods Market’s Pinterest profile currently consists of 40 pin boards. Pin board topics range from recipes using the store’s produce (which have quirky titles such as Cheese is the Bee’s Knees and Eat your Veggies) to boards that promote external causes including Earth Day. Although global in its outreach now, the organisation also pays homage to its humble establishment in Texas in 1980 and has a board that encourages people to pin useful, interesting & influential Texan things & Texans to follow on Pinterest.

To check out why Whole Foods Market has almost 30,000 Pinterest followers, visit their profile by clicking here.

3. Engage in conversation

For businesses Pinterest provides a channel to access and respond to user comments regarding their products or brand/s in general.

Additionally, like Twitter, Pinterest uses hashtags (keywords) to enable its search functionality and generate trending topics. By adding one or multiple hashtags to your pin descriptions (up to 500 characters), you can increase the likelihood users will come across your pins.

4. Add a “Pint It” and/or Pinterest “Follow” button to your website or blog

Adding a Pinterest button to your online platforms not only lets your audience know that you’re present on the site, it allows users to re-pin your posts to their own Pinterest profiles.

Follow this link to learn how to add Pinterest buttons: https://pinterest.com/about/goodies/

5. Drive website traffic

Last but certainly not least, Pintrest may help drive website traffic and boost search engine optimisation (SEO).

When users add a pin, they can include a URL in the description, thus creating links between posts and specific websites or blogs. Additionally, as PR and communications blog Bianchi Biz Blog aptly explain, when a user adds an image to a pin board from an online source, the original link is automatically stored within the image, allowing visitors to click back to the original source.


While these tips highlight just some of Pinterest’s exciting and innovative features, before deciding to use the social media platform, the golden rule of communication still stands: ensure it is (or has the potential to be) relevant and meaningful to your target community.

What primarily separates Pinterest from other social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter is its adherence to a single media form, the picture. In other words, what you need to consider is whether pictures can tell your audience what you want them to hear. Can Pinterest tell your story?

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‘Digital Darwinism’ – how the fittest will survive in the healthcare social media sphere


Picture1Niki Karlson

Social media is fast becoming ‘business as usual’ for brands and organisations. In the healthcare sector we are embracing the opportunities it presents to reach our customers (patients and healthcare professionals) – but there is an understandable sense of trepidation, with the industry approaching social media as an unknown quantity. There are certainly additional restrictions and considerations for healthcare brands moving into the social space; regulations and duty of care to name just two. But today, a major brand that is unavailable to its customers in the social space will leave people asking “where the bloody hell are you?”

Cube recently attended the Inaugural Social Media in Healthcare Conference. The overarching theme was the reticence of many healthcare brands to engage in social media, balanced against the necessity for it to be embraced.

Ramsay Health Care shared their social media strategy, which they approached from a risk assessment point of view. That is, it was a greater risk not being there; staying ‘safely’ away from the unknown wasn’t an option anymore.

The company is using social media for employee communications and training, talent identification, engagement with its customers/audience and to position its senior staff as thought leaders in the industry. Ramsay has rolled out its social media presence by developing employee advocates, who can then educate their peers on the usage and benefits of different platforms.

Ramsay Health Care is a great example of successful social media communications for both internal and external audiences. In contrast, we can clearly see the repercussions of not engaging in the social space by looking at the social storm that was created around the Queensland Health payroll debacle.

As soon as the news of the mis-payment of Queensland Health employees broke it was all over the social sphere. Disgruntled employees were galvanised into action via Facebook groups and pages. Stories, grievances and opinions were shared and all in an open forum, where the public and the media were watching.

Without a presence on key social networking sites Queensland Health left itself open to public judgement without any input or response from the organisation. The body has since joined Facebook and Twitter, but the payroll issue is a good illustration of why waiting until you need a social presence is such a risk.

The development and implementation of social media policy was also discussed. Firstly, policy needs to be fluid; the social landscape is constantly in flux, and as such, your engagement policy should be also. Policy should be inclusive, not exclusive. And finally, the resurgence of the K.I.S.S approach (keep it simple!). The perfect example of this is the Mayo Clinic’s 12 word social media policy, which was released in May:

• Don’t Lie, Don’t Pry
• Don’t Cheat, Can’t Delete
• Don’t Steal, Don’t Reveal”

Social media is necessary in, and complementary to the health industry. As Professor Enrico Coiera, Director, Centre for Health Informatics, Australian Institute of Health Innovation, UNSW opened with; most diseases are social, so shouldn’t the healthcare industry be social as well?

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To engage in social media or not to engage, that is the question! But what’s the answer?


By Claire Leggott

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In part two of Cube’s update from the Inaugural Social Media in Healthcare Conference we explore the hot topic of how and when to enter the world of healthcare social media. 

From Facebook, Twitter and blogs, to the new kids on the block – Google+ and Pinterest – the social media sphere is ever expanding and brands/companies seem to be embracing new communication channels with increasing vigour.

However, hesitancy to engage with digital remains in many industries, including the pharmaceutical industry.  Employing a level of caution is prudent as navigating social media within the confines of the Medicines Australia Code of Conduct can be a daunting and somewhat tricky business.

It need not be scary though, as Andrew Moore, from Sanofi, pointed out .He believes a fear of the unknown or seemingly uncontrollable should not hold pharmaceutical companies back, and spoke about a listening campaign – social media monitoring – which formed part of Sanofi’s first foray into social media.  Getting the campaign up and running involved overcoming challenges regarding the potential for mass adverse event reporting, but in reality adverse event reports occurred with just 0.3% of product mentions.  Andrew advocates a listening campaign as an ideal way for companies to dip their toe into the social media water and as a platform from which an effective social media communications strategy can be developed.

Further voices of experience were heard at the conference, with both Simon Lillis from PwC in Sydney, and Kerrie Noonan from The Groundswell Project, highlighting the vital components to ensuring a successful strategy.  Put simply:

  • Identify a very clear and simple goal/objective
  • Interact with the audience (although beware of going too strong and over-facing the audience)

Elisabeth Tuckey, from Headspace, also emphasised the importance of understanding your audience.  For example, males don’t often ‘like’ pages on Facebook but are drawn by visuals so YouTube is an impactful communication channel for men.

It is clear just how much communication is now taking place online, be it on a computer/laptop or mobile device.  Discussion about a brand will be taking place somewhere within the digital ether regardless of whether said brand is actively targeting audiences in this sphere.

Cultivating a social media presence does come with some risks but ignoring this communication channel could be the biggest risk of all.

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Back to Social Media 101


76631631129749505_2TjWWdld_cThere seem to be a few high profile brands out there in need of a social media 101 refresher course. In the last few weeks we have seen a number of examples where brands have forgotten the first rule of social media management – do not delete.

The two big examples from the last few weeks are Paspaley and Seven News. Following a story on Four Corners regarding the death of one of its divers Paspaley faced scathing social media backlash with angry comments posted on its Facebook page and via Twitter. Paspaley then made the mistake of deleting some of the comments from its Facebook page. (For more details and the response from Paspaley see this article on Mumbrella)

In a similar example, Seven News also deleted comments on its Facebook page from a mother angry at the coverage of her daughter’s death. (More details here: Mumbrella) We have also seen Gloria Jeans and Comic Con Melbourne commit the same basic mistake recently.

The first rule in community management should be do not delete, (obviously there are exceptions to this where offensive or inappropriate content is concerned) but it seems some of the big brands have forgotten this.

Getting the basics right, especially in an issues management situation, is essential. A well executed issues management plan can ideally turn a crisis situation into a positive opportunity for a brand. But getting it wrong can have a devastating impact, especially when it comes to social media issues management.

The old adage that a reputation takes a lifetime to build and seconds to destroy has never been more apt than in today’s social world of instant information dissemination. Breaking the “do not delete” rule seems to point towards a lack of issues preparedness from a social perspective on the brand’s part. Ultimately, you can’t sweep an issue under the social media rug by deleting a comment; it won’t make the problem ‘disappear’, and will most likely inflame further backlash.

If you don’t have a solid social media issues management plan in place, why not give us a call ;)

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