Campaign to combat information vacuum

CONCERN at the level of bad publicity and misinformation surrounding the nation’s blue gum harvest has prompted one industry group to look to marketing to mend some fences.

But it might be a case of too little too late, as the market watches the listed timber companies post dismal annual results or slide into administration, as was the case with Australian Plantation Timber earlier this month.

8M Media & Communications director Thomas Murrell has developed an audiotape of 13 interviews with key stakeholders in the blue gum industry, including local communities.

Acting on behalf of a group called Commercial Plantations WA, a branch of the Australian Forest Growers, Mr Murrell claims the industry is dogged by misconceptions and bad publicity.

Mr Murrell said the issue of community concern was identified by a number of the listed timber companies in the Great Southern and South West.

“I identified 10 different community issues that people have concerns with and, out of that, I identified that there was an information vacuum,” he said.

Mr Murrell claims that, as a result of this information vacuum, people have been unable to access the facts.

“I played the role of disseminating information because there was a demand for information,” he said.

As ethical investment gathers momentum in the community, individuals increasingly want to know their superannuation or share portfolio only supports businesses that are good corporate citizens.

“This is one of the challenges that faces the industry. They (the timber companies) haven’t been very savvy with the local community,” Mr Murrell said.

Earlier this year Treefarm Investment Managers Australia (TIMA) launched a national awareness campaign to address declining investor confidence and the criticism tree farming practices had attracted in regional areas.

An arm of the Australian Forest Growers, TIMA is comprised of seven of Australia’s biggest plantation timber investment companies, including Great Southern Plantations, Timbercorp and Yates.

Treefarm Investment Managers Australia executive officer Alan Cummine said the awareness campaign was developed to distance the major plantation timber projects from the projects that had been disallowed by the Australian Taxation Office.

“It was quite ineffective as a campaign. The media’s general attitude was we’re all as bad as one another,” he said.

“I would not be frightened to use the word irresponsible to describe the way the media has dealt with this … we were just overwhelmed by the tidal wave of negative media.”

The members of TIMA are scheduled to meet this week to discuss their next move but for now Mr Cummine believes the companies will focus on their own marketing.

“We’ve just got to chip away at it I suppose and work hard on the PR side, working on opinion leaders and make sure you’re squeaky clean,” Mr Cummine said.

“Basically the industry is saying this is what we have to do and we’re going to do it.

“We won’t be throwing the baby out with the bath water.”

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