Friday, November 5, 2010


This week's perspective from Joe Chidley:

The foodie twitter-sphere was aghast this week at allegations of plagiarism leveled at Cooks Source magazine, which according to a writer named Monica Gaudio reprinted a story she posted online in 2005 called “A tale of two tarts”—but without her knowledge, permission, nor any payment at all. What makes this a communications misfire is the response from the magazine’s managing editor, Judith Griggs, who in response to Gaudio’s complaint retorted that content found on the Web is public domain, and that the editorial process vastly improved the story—so basically, Gaudio should be thanking her, not complaining. Later, on Facebook, Griggs boasted that the controversy had boosted the magazine’s Facebook fan base from 110 to 1870—prompting one reaction that called the post “smug, arrogant and tone-deaf.” It’s hard to disagree. And it seems that Cooks Source in its response broke a couple cardinal rules of crisis communications. First, don’t attempt to minimize the impact of alleged wrongdoing—that just makes you look more concerned for your own skin than for the damage that’s been done. And second—and it’s a big one—get your facts straight. In this case, it’s just not true that what’s posted on the Web is public domain—it’s protected by the same copyright laws as any other form of content. Now, the magazine has become the target for a slew of allegations of ripping off stories (including from The Food Network)—and Gaudio’s complaint might just be the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Friday, October 29, 2010


Nothing succeeds like excess, it seems. KFC’s infamous “Double Down” sandwich – cheesy bacony gooeyness slathered between a pair of deep fried chicken breasts – made its Canadian debut this week, and everyone was talking about it. Innumerable media outlets documented their staffers’ reactions to giving the salt and fat-laden a whirl right out of the gate, but then the best possible thing happened: Ontario Health Promotion Minister Margaret Best mused about it as something the government might “take a look at and review.” Not since former Toronto Mayor June Rowlands banned Barenaked Ladies from performing at Nathan Phillips Square had something this innocuous become so immediately infamous. The government quickly back-pedaled, but by then an otherwise puffy fast food story had taken a rocket ride to downtown hardnewsville. Somewhere, the Colonel is smiling …


This week's perspective from Bob Reid:

Yet another cautionary tale of the importance to mind one’s p’s and q’s in the social media realm, this time courtesy of Ontario Research and Innovation Minister Glen Murray. Tweeting his opposition to Rob Ford’s mayoral bid last weekend, Murray suggested that first Ford, and then fellow Conservatives Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak represented “bigotry.” Hudak said that crossed the line and demanded an apology from Murray, who initially responded by saying he regretted the comments but then in the same breath called on Hudak to “root out any of those working in his ranks who would try to exploit hatred.” In effect, Murray’s apology merely U-turned him right back into trouble again, as it suggested Hudak might be OK but his team was still suspect. Mixed messages are always problematic, and especially so when one is trying to apologize for a mis-step. There should be no equivocation, no “I’m sorry, BUT …” Express the regret, and move on. Murray wound up with two days of bad press over something which could have – and should have – been quickly and easily resolved.


This week's perspective from Bob Reid:

Rarely are communications campaigns – let alone political campaigns – so sharply focused as was that of the now victorious Rob Ford in his bid for Toronto’s mayoralty. It wasn’t the sole factor in his landslide win, but Ford’s consistency of message throughout was definitely a key part of the winning formula. “Stopping the Gravy Train at City Hall” was Ford’s mantra throughout, and that one sound bite encapsulated perfectly his core positioning of eliminating wasteful spending, respecting taxpayers’ dollars and running a tighter ship all the way around. His refusal to deviate from that message track drove reporters and pundits crazy, but it obviously continued to resonate with voters throughout the campaign period. One golden sound bite does not a guaranteed election win make, but Ford clearly demonstrated the value of consistency when trying to develop a clear brand for a mass audience.


Allegations of sexual and official impropriety are nothing new for Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi , but their cumulative effect might finally be having an impact on his political fortunes. His own wife has accused him of “consorting with minors,” he took heat last year over attending the birthday party of an 18-year-old model, and now a 17-year-old Moroccan girl has claimed to legal authorities that she attended parties at the Prime Minister’s private residence. What happened at those parties is unclear, but Berlusconi doesn’t deny anything. “I am very proud of my ability to be a host, a rather rare, perhaps unique host,” he said to reporters. “I am a playful person, full of life. I love life, I love women.” He went on to say that he deserves some playtime because “I have a terrible life—I have a life that requires super-human efforts.” The comments break two cardinal rules of crisis communications. One is, don’t downplay the seriousness or impact on others of your actions. And second, never make the crisis about yourself, as BP’s Tony Hayward did when in the midst of the Gulf of Mexico spill he expressed a desire to get back to his normal life. Do it, and you come across not just as somebody who might have made a mistake, but also a jerk. Granted, Berlusconi has got away with indiscretions before by pleading he’s a bon vivant, but this time he might not be so lucky—as his plummeting approval ratings suggest. Fumble, Silvio Berlusconi.


This week's perspective from Joe Chidley:

I have always held Randy Quaid in the highest esteem, if only because he was so hilarious as the Quaker bowling prodigy Ishmael in the Farrelly Bros. 1996 classic King Pin. But his performances of late have been less “funny ha-ha” than “funny strange.” Like, really strange. Quaid and his wife Evi were released from custody in Vancouver this week, after being arrested on a California warrant over allegations they were illegally squatting on a property they once owned. (Why released? Turns out Evi’s dad might have been born in Canada, leaving the couple’s legal status in on-the-lam limbo.) Ill-advisedly (but not surprisingly), Randy made a statement to reporters, and it was surely one of the more oddly disturbing tracts ever read in public. Charity forbids making too much fun of it, and sanity forbids taking it too seriously—the guy claims that he is the target of “star-whackers” out to slander him, wreck his career and eventually murder him, just as they have already done to the likes of Chris Penn, Heath Ledger and David Carradine . But let’s take a closer look at just one element of his statement—the part where he vehemently claims that he and Evi are not criminals, and “nor are we crazy.” This is a classic case of parroting the negative—something we consistently warn against in our media training here at Veritas. It’s understandable enough: when someone says you are something nasty, your first instinct is to categorically say you are not that something. But the instinct is usually wrong, at least in media situations. For one thing, it’s a missed opportunity—typically you want to talk about what you are, not what you aren’t. More importantly, when everyone thinks you’re something bad, just saying you’re not doesn’t really cut it—it just feeds skepticism. (Think of Richard Nixon ’s unintentional epitaph, “I’m not a crook.”) And once you say it, you own it. His actual statement read, in part, “We are not criminals, nor are we fugitives from justice, nor are we crazy. We are just artists and film-makers…” Doesn’t matter: the headlines read “We’re not crazy – Quaid” and “Quaid: ‘I am not crazy or a criminal.’” Sure you’re not, Ishmael… Sure you’re not.

Friday, October 22, 2010


You know, I had forgotten all about “Officer Bubbles” and most of the rest of the G-20 noise … until this week. Toronto Police Constable Adam Josephs – his real name – was so upset with the YouTube videos which sprung up in the wake of his confrontation with a bubble-blowing demonstrator that he filed a $20 million lawsuit against the internet portal, the creator of the videos, and the 24 people who posted derogatory comments about him. However, for a guy stung by the online attacks directed against him, the move bought him a ton more ink and airtime, reminding one and all about the initial incident and the cyber-slurs which followed – not to mention a brand new raft of online flame attacks. As frustrating as the wild west of “new media” can be, before mounting any high-profile response (like, say, a multi-million dollar lawsuit), you’ve always got to ask yourself: how might this play out in the end, both online and in traditional media? If the answer is “way bigger than simply forgetting all about it,” you should probably consider the latter. If you hate the media stories, don’t do something that will only generate more – each and every one containing a recap of the original slight that started it all in the first place.