Parliamentary debates that spotlight the commercial property sector are as rare as Midnight Oil reunions.
Politicians got their chance to rhapsodise on our sector’s collective strengths and weaknesses during the recent debate on the Australian Business Investment Partnership, known to most as ‘Ruddbank’.
A mass episode of RSI ensued as our political representatives repeatedly reached for the stereotypes.
Try these on for size:
There’s the spiv angle: “why should we be allowing the white shoe brigade … the opportunity to buy more white shoes.”
Others conceived a new economic theory that lower capital values would lead to lower rents – “the tenant might actually pay lower rent because the new owner has less capital to service.”
That’s because tenants are “paying artificially high rents to prop up artificially high values,” observed another.
Incredibly, one politician declared there’s no link between the commercial property sector and employment: “there are not a lot of jobs in … development projects.”
According to some, there’s also no link between commercial property and mainstream Australia: “this is about the big end of town … this has nothing to do with small or medium size business.”
Property owners lie about capital values: owners are “carrying these deceitful asset values into the future …”
Another pollie noted that the sector relies on “friendly valuations”.
Many ventured that the commercial property sector is over-geared and caused the economic downturn: “I seem to recall that highly geared, highly leveraged activity is what brought us to where we are now.”
Many others hammered away on the theme that the sector was untamed and speculative: “… you roll the dice when you invest in areas such as speculative commercial property.”
Commercial property players have been “speculating for over a decade and have been living high on the hog over the good times.”
“[it’s time] … the high risk, highly geared speculative arm [of commercial property development was} brought into line – as it should have been some time ago.”
Finally, we heard the rusty refrain about the commercial property sector’s lack of value adding: “we have seen … profits being made by people who were really doing very little in terms of productive activity …”
Weirdly, most of these utterings spilled from Coalition members, which might cause a few to scratch their heads while pondering whether a befuddled technician had switched the political DNA in the lab.
That would be ignoring the lesson.
I think it was Neville Wran who said that when you’ve made your point a thousand times and you’re heartily sick of your message, you know you’re only just starting to cut through.
Taking a leaf from the Johnny Mercer public affairs playbook, we need to “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch onto the affirmative.” *
As its stands, Mr In-Between has been messing with our image.
Just when we thought we’d consigned the white shoes to the political footlocker, a gaggle of pollies have flung them onto the power lines to dangle like spectral reminders of past sins.
They say we’re a tax-avoiding, over-leveraged, unproductive industry, nursing botoxed asset prices that disfigure the economy.
Public relations firms would probably suggest the property sector adopt the Paula Yates gambit.
The late Ms Yates took offence at accusations that Michael Hutchence had committed suicide. In order to protect the INXS front man’s image for posterity and shield the sensibilities of her daughters, Paula argued that Michael had, in fact, expired from autoerotic asphyxiation.
Should we white wash the white shoes with a similarly inventive re-branding strategy?
Ms Yates might again provide clues to an innovative branding program. She was certainly adept at proper nouns.
While her daughters’ names - Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily, Little Pixie, Peaches Honeyblossom and Fifi Trixibelle – might sound like monikers pinned to the doors of resort bungalows, they highlight the value of startling boldness.
Then again, the lesson might be to stick with simple, factual messages.
The property industry has great stories to tell about its roles in community-building, in creating retirement security for millions of Australians, in forging a competitive economy and in providing the nation’s collateral.
The recent ‘Ruddbank’ debate highlights the destructive power of negative stereotypes.
We’ve run plenty of branding campaigns in the past. A new campaign woven around positive messages starts in April. We need to run it a thousand times.
Or, as the great Mr Mercer counselled:
You’ve got to spread joy up
to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith otherwise pandemonium’s
Liable to walk upon the scene
*Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive – Published 1944, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, music by Harold Arlen
Peter Verwer |
Thursday, 2 April 2009 6:00 AM |