Making A Census Amazeballs: The Art Of Spin, And How Not To Do It


Sometimes, in the world of public relations and spin, you can over-egg the pudding.

New Matilda gets an awful lot of them – hundreds a day. Most press releases get a maximum of three seconds or so to grab our attention, otherwise we’d spend the whole day reading them.

This one from the Australian Bureau of Statistics caught our attention this morning, for all the wrong reasons.

“ABS seeking up to 8,850 Census Field Officers to make a difference in New South Wales boundary”

It stood out in part because it didn’t make much sense – New South Wales, last time we checked, is a state, not a ‘boundary’.

The ‘precision parading as not really precision’ in the headline was a little unusual as well – why “up to 8,850”?

But it was more the use of the phrase “make a difference” that caught our eye.

Given that everything you do ‘makes a difference’, does the 2016 Census have something super special planned this year, beyond the collation of a huge series of numbers?

Turns out, no. It just appears to be a press release written by a very enthusiastic press officer, who appears never to have worked in the ultra-cynical environment of a newsroom.

And here’s what we learned from the release.

“Field Officers will be strong communicators who know their community well, and are comfortable using technology.”

Followed by this quote from a past worker a few paragraphs later.

“Philip Witowski, who worked in the NSW/ACT region as a Field Officer on the 2011 Census agrees, saying it was a chance of a lifetime.

“Being in a completely different community with different rules and expectations is a great way for me to develop myself further,” Mr Witowski said.

So maybe “knowing your community well” is more of a guideline, than a rule.

As for the claim that Philip said it was “the chance of a lifetime”… well, obviously, he didn’t say that. Or at least it isn’t included in the release. And that would be because it isn’t.

It’s a temporary job for up to three months, that pays “up to $21.61 per hour”.

On the upside, the Census is a pretty extraordinary event, and the data it mines underpins government decisions for years, and guides the expenditure of more than $1 trillion.

Which is pretty impressive… and probably all the ABS media spin department needs to emphasise in future.

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