The outpourings of rage following the effort by something called the 'retail coalition' to get the Government to change the GST rules in their favour has its roots in growing public unhappiness about the nation's retail sector, especially the large conglomerates that dominate it. This heavily-financed self-interested pitch, sugar-coated with lame concerns for 'workers' jobs', provided a lighting-rod for all that build-up of consumer rage, and at the epicentre was Gerry Harvey.
So the first mistake was to appeal for support to a public that is not happy with you, and cynical about your motives. Australian big business worried about keeping jobs in Australia? Pleassse.
And then there is the matter of public spokesperson. Harvey has a high profile (famous for being rich and sounding stupid) but he is hardly an appealing character, he seems to hate the poor and his businesses appear to be the among the most reviled (slippery pricing policies, gouging,poor service, poor range). And after the mining tax 'backlash', the public seems to be sick of hearing from billionaires sprouting about fairness.
Stakeholders? Well, the 'retail coalition' was openly ridiculed by consumers' and representatives' in the days following the launch of their ill-fated campaign. And the retailers association itself was also negative about the claims. Not good.
Issues? A campaign like this needs to be built from an analysis of the reactions it might provoke. A pitch to protect big Australian retailers from unfair competition was always going to be a direct invitation for a public debate on the state of competition in the Australian retail sector.
Thousands of Australians responded to that invitation, many providing examples of huge, and seemingly inexplicable, disparities between prices in Australian shops and those available online from Australian and international sources.
So far, the now leaderless, 'retail coalition' has chosen not to engage in this public debate about pricing. For a good reason. It is not the so-called GST loophole that threatens these big retailers. It is the challenge from low-cost online retailers that don't have the same overheads (especially all those shopping centres and malls) and profit margins as the retail billionaires.
This silly campaign has just highlighted how out-of-touch, complacent and arrogant many people in big business have become in Australia. Those characteristics are a bad starting point for a public relations campaign.