Monday, December 21, 2009

VERITAS: FUMBLE - CHERRY F-BOMBS

Don Cherry never met a mic he didn’t like – until this week. Grapes had just been taping his FAN 590 radio show when he was approached by a 680 NEWS reporter. Both stations are owned by Rogers Broadcasting and are housed in the same complex, so 680 had an easy opportunity to seek comment from Cherry in response to criticism from neurologist Charles Tator. Tator had made headlines by suggesting that Cherry’s acceptance of fighting in hockey contributes to more injuries among players. When asked by the reporter if he cared to respond, Cherry let loose with a series of expletives. Now, most of it was done in a somewhat joking tone, which suggests a couple of things: perhaps he felt he was simply kibitzing with “one of the boys” from the newsroom down the hall; or, maybe he was deliberately attempting to ensure that his approach to a “no comment” would be completely unusable on the air. And, actually, 680 NEWS opted not to air the tape. But in the new online world, it quickly started getting passed around, and was soon in the hands of the Globe & Mail which decided to upload it to their website. From there it was picked up and broadcast by numerous other outlets, and Cherry was suddenly in the midst of a storm. As a result, the focus of the overall story immediately shifted from that of hockey injuries to the use of bad language by a professional broadcaster who is also a role model to countless young hockey fans. It’s a cautionary tale to all: in the digital era, anything can turn up online, on record and on-the-air – whether you’re just playing around or not. Second, if you don’t want to comment, a brief but respectful declination of the opportunity is always the better way to go. Notably, by subsequently refusing all requests for comment on his salty comments, Cherry did manage to starve the story of any fresh oxygen – pointing instead to his regular Saturday night slot on Hockey Night in Canada as the time and place where he will respond. He would be wise to briefly acknowledge his inappropriate choice of language, purely to assuage any parents whose kids have heard the tirade online – but should then quickly bridge to the real issue at hand, namely the allegations made by Dr. Tator and what Cherry thinks of them. Bet this week’s ratings are through the roof.

VERITAS: FUMBLE - OBAMA GRADES HIMSELF


I know what he was trying to do, but U.S. President Barack Obama committed a rare communications Fumble during his otherwise flawless visit with Oprah Winfrey at the White House which aired last Sunday night. Oprah asked how he thought he was doing so far, as president. Obama replied that he feels he deserves “a solid B plus” and that if he can get his health insurance legislation passed it would even tip him into an A minus. By picking a grade, Obama was then able to rationalize it by pointing to his achievements to date despite being hit with the sharp, deep recession just as he was taking power. I’m sure he felt he was creating an opportunity to reiterate his messages about progress. I say he had that opportunity anyway, by the very nature of the question – but the Fumble was in letting himself get walled in by Oprah’s design (not that she’s anything less than a full-on Obama supporter and hardly a challenging interviewer for him). But by picking a grade, he identified a new sidebar for others – and his critics in particular – to debate. Is he marking himself too high? Too low? What’s he saying? Does he get it? You’re usually damned if you do, when given rigid parameters by an interviewer: “on a scale of 1 to 10 …” It makes for an easy headline and lead on the story, and rarely does the interviewee any favours. The best approach is usually to “leave the numbers for others to decide” and then bridge immediately to your key positioning – as Obama should have done.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - ASHLEY MADISON NEEDS NO ADS


A reminder, given some of the subject matter here, that we make our calls purely on the communications and not on the underlying issue itself. Right then. I wanted to comment on this one last week, and fortunately it kept rolling right on into this one: Ashley Madison, the online dating outfit aimed directly at married people, approached the TTC about ad-wrapping several streetcars with the company’s logo and slogan line – “Life is short; have an affair.” The potential for the ad campaign got significant media play, driven largely by the debate about whether it was an appropriate campaign for a public agency to take on. Then the TTC rejected it, and that got even more coverage. Then Ashley Madison said they’re going to sue and … yep, another round of headlines and reiteration of the whole thing – including another printing of the artist’s concept of what the streetcars would look like. Whatever the proposed ad budget was is irrelevant – the earned media mileage Ashley Madison got out of the whole controversy was staggering. Touchdown.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - LULULEMON RUNS RINGS AROUND VANOC


This week's perspective from Orli Giroux Namian

Earlier this week,
Lululemon launched a new collection of athletic gear branded “Cool Sporting Event That Takes Place in British Columbia Between 2009 and 2011 Edition.” Suffice it to say, the Vancouver Olympic Committee’s (VANOC) officially-branded knickers are in a twist. Even though VANOC admitted that Lululemon was acting within the letter of the law, the Committee still had some stern words: “We expected better sportsmanship from a local Canadian company than to produce a clothing line that attempts to profit from the Games but doesn't support the Games or the success of the Canadian Olympic team.” Sure they were pushing the envelope, but Lululemon’s unveiling of its athletic apparel was done with the full knowledge that it hadn’t overtly broken any Olympic branding and marketing rules. “We went through a litany of things you cannot say and started throwing out a bunch of things we felt we could say that were respectful of the rules and regulations.” The brainstormers behind this clever campaign had no doubt anticipated the PR potential of a VANOC response to the provocatively branded gear. VANOC’s strong reaction was directly responsible for propelling the new gear into headline news, garnering the very best kind of marketing boost for Lululemon - the free kind. This is not to take anything away from VANOC and the important role it plays in protecting Olympic symbols and officially licensed gear that supports Canadian athletes and the Games. That said, VANOC would have been well advised to turn the other cheek because as Canadian women know already, nobody does cheek(s) like Lululemon. Touchdown.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - MORE TURBULENCE FOR AMERICAN AIRLINES

By Aliya Jiwan

We all have bad days. The reasons vary: getting some terrible news, getting stuck in traffic when you’re already late, having a heated argument with a loved one. It happens. Last week, it seems, an American Airlines flight attendant was having a really bad day and her actions took the airline on yet another rough PR ride. John Reed of California was travelling in First Class when, by all accounts, the flight attendant went nuts after he asked for a glass of orange juice. Viral blog posts by witnesses recounted the interaction as follows: “'This must be your first time in first class,’ she said. He asked what she meant by that. He told her he was actually on the flight that made him Executive Platinum for the 10th year in a row. She said, 'You obviously don’t know how this works.’” Later, she handed him a federal warning saying that he could be jailed for interfering with a crew member’s duties. He was greeted by authorities when he landed. The viral blog posts were picked up by the media and consumer travel web sites. I should note that this is the same airline which faced public backlash after firing one of its web designers for responding to a customer complaint. Rather than take the OJ incident as an opportunity to do something right, the airline did too little too late. It took more than a week for the airline to issue an apology and the following statement “As to the flight attendant in question, American has taken specific action related to that employee.” They would not elaborate. When you’ve spent a lot of time in hot water, it’s crucial that you seize opportunities to cool public perception. Competitor, Delta Airlines did just that, offering elite status to everyone on the ill-fated American Airlines flight. A true testament to the quote: ‘When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.’ Or in this case, some OJ.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - WIND MOBILE'S FIRST GUST OF COMMUNICATION


This week's perspective from Ed Lee:

Today’s touchdown is brought to you courtesy of our two friends “customer centrism” and “integration”. Whenever a new player joins a mature market, they have two choices. One, play by the existing rules and hope to beat out the established players that way, or two, to disrupt the market and focus on something no one is or has done. Wind Mobile is clearly choosing the disruptive path in the wireless market. After announcing the new brand, but no products, the company set up a virtual “soapbox” to allow disgruntled Canadian wireless customers to air their grievances. Through this massive online focus group, the company has been able to develop and refine its products to be incredibly customer centric. Whether or not input from Canadians had any impact on the final product is irrelevant – from a communications perspective, Wind can give the impression of being intune with and listening to the voice of the consumer. Touchdown! For the two-point conversion, Wind followed this up with a brilliant “hello world” creative ad which ran in the Globe and Mail (Canada’s pre-eminent national daily) containing the comments which most align with Wind’s policy and product – thanking those people by name who contributed to the soapbox discussion. Never mind the fact that “lailapalooza” or “cmisty” will likely not be the type to read the Globe and see the creative, the message comes over loud and clear to everyone – we listen to and value your opinion. This piece of integration was a fantastic play from a newcomer who needs to be disruptive in order to win in this market place.

Monday, December 14, 2009

VERITAS TOUCHDOWN - FACEBOOK ANNOUCEMENT SCORES RARE TOUCHDOWN


This week's perspective from Ed Lee:
When you have a community of 350m users worldwide, 14m of whom are in Canada, it is almost impossible to make a change to your site or regulations without getting a portion of the population riled up. Every time the social network Facebook has made changes in the past, they have spurred a widespread backlash – users joining the “bring back the old news feed” group is a favourite example. So while Facebook has racked up scores of fumbles in the past, we had to award the company a Touchdown this week, in a week when the site made some serious structural changes to the way it handles the privacy of its users. Far from being the walled garden it started out as, Facebook has now set each user’s default setting to “public”. In a bid to counteract the inevitable backlash and user confusion, Facebook ensured that each user saw a message from Mark Zuckerberg when they logged into the site. The message was clear, concise and laid out each step needed for the user to protect their own privacy online. While Facebook Fumble lends itself to alliteration, we have to break convention and award a Touchdown. For more on the new privacy policies, their implications to you as a user and what they mean to communicators with corporate presences on Facebook, my colleague Sean McDonald has this enlightening.

VERITAS TOUCHDOWN: MR. SQUIGGLES KNOWS HIS CRISIS MANAGEMENT

This week's perspective from Orli Giroux Namian:

On the other side of this story, Cepia, the small St. Louis company that owns the Zhu Zhu Pets line deserves a Touchdown for its swift action in a crisis situation. Cepia CEO Russel Hornsby happened to be in China, expediting production of Mr. Squiggles and other Zhu Zhu Pets when news hit that Good Guide had issued its damaging test results that could possibly have led to a mass recall and even the complete shutdown of the company. Hornsby, a veteran of Mattel, knew that millions of parents, distributors and retailers would be influenced by Good Guide’s alarming results and knew he had to act quickly. Cepia’s first successful play was to hire a crisis communications firm. Hornsby immediately issued a statement standing firmly by its product and made its own third party independent test results public showing Zhu Zhu products were safe. Cepia also had a spokesperson front and centre to speak to media and to defend their product. The real crisis quasher was the quick reaction and response from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which declared Mr. Squiggles safe and Good Guide testing guidelines insufficient less than 48 hours later, after having run the toy through their own product recall review process. As other communicators have pointed out, “once you have government regulators on your side, its game over. You are no longer the villain.” Both Cepia’s actions and quick handling of the issue lead to the “quick exoneration of Mr. Squiggles.” Parents can now breathe easy and go ahead with plans to put the popular plush hamster under the tree.

VERITAS FUMBLE: NOT SO GOOD GUIDE

This week's perspective from Orli Giroux Namain:

California-based consumer product testing and rating group Good Guide tried to run the wildly popular hamster toy “Mr. Squiggles” off his fuzzy little feet this week, when it issued a consumer alert claiming that the little rodent had above-legal-limit amounts of toxic chemicals in his nose and fur. Citing U.S. federal standards, Good Guide had media abuzz and parents and retailers in a tizzy last Saturday when it released the alarming results of its test. Testing the top toys of the holiday season can seem like a great way to make a name for yourself as a consumer product watchdog, but Good Guide CEO Dr. Dara O’Rourke (also a professor at UC Berkeley) should have known a thing or two about doing one’s homework before making such alarming claims. A day later, the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission said it had found no safety violations involving antimony (the toxic stuff at issue) with the toys. In addition, the toy industry association pointed out that false positives are not unusual for the type of testing technology used by Good Guide, and that decisions should not be based solely on these methods. Good Guide had to retract its initial claims, admit to error for not having used tests that actually met the federal standards, and went as far as to develop new guidelines for testing that involves sending results to regulators before issuing them to the public. That’s all good, but what was missing here was a plain and simple apology. It’s one thing to recognize you’ve made a mistake, but when you are not apologizing to the people most affected by it – in this case, moms, tots and the maker and distributors of the popular toy – well, it reeks more of sanctimony than antimony. Communications rule of thumb: If you’ve done something wrong, of course fix the problem, but don’t forget to acknowledge it, apologize and be empathetic in your response. Fumble.

VERITAS TOUCHDOWN - NATYCZYK CLIMBS DOWN

This week's perspective from Bob Reid:

Clearly. Honestly. Forthrightly. When you’ve got to hit the rewind button in the media, that’s the only way to do it, and that’s exactly what the nation’s Chief of Defence Staff did this week. General Walter Natynczyk had to reverse gears on previous statements about what did or didn’t happen to Afghan detainees handed over by Canada to Afghan forces. "After reviewing this new information I want to correct my statement ... (in fact) the individual who was beaten by the Afghan police was in fact in Canadian custody and then the ANP took control of him," he said. "The moment I saw this report this morning I realized that the information I provided yesterday was incorrect and I am responsible for that." Setting aside the ongoing semantical debate about definitions of “torture,” what the General has done is proactively update the media with new information and, in the process, has reinforced his credibility despite the on-the-surface contradictory nature of his statements. Tough spot; good call.

VERITAS TOUCHDOWN - OBAMA AND THE ELEPHANT

Yet another example this week of sometimes the best way to deal with an elephant in the room: by grabbing it firmly by the tusks. U.S. President Barack Obama went to Oslo to pick up his Nobel Peace Prize, the object of considerable controversy ever since it was announced. The irony of accepting the award on the heels of sending 30,000 more American troops to war in Afghanistan was not lost on the commander-in-chief, so he wisely (in my view) decided to make absolutely no bones about it. “I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy your generous award has generated,” he said right off the top. And he went from there to expand upon – and position his current actions in the context of – the notion of the “just war,” and the idea that sometimes the use of military force is the only way to achieve and/or maintain peace. “Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is a recognition of history,” Obama said. It was a dramatic repositioning of his view of the two wars he finds himself in charge of – to the point that the speech won kudos from conservative critics including the likes of Newt Gingrich. Grabbing the pachyderm by the probiscus can sometimes be the shortest route to credibility and strongest possible impact of one’s message.

VERITAS FUMBLE: THE EVIL CAROLYN

It’s astonishing how little Carolyn Parrish “gets it” about being a public figure, since she’s a Mississauga city councillor and former MP. But clearly the finer points of communications are lost on her, as evidenced by the cringe-worthy aftermath of her bizarre stunt at a Port Credit restaurant last week. Parrish, her husband and two others had enjoyed a meal and were just about to leave, when she spied a poster in the front window in support of her arch-rival, Mississauga mayor/monarch Hazel McCallion. Parrish had been leading the charge for a formal inquiry into McCallion with respect to a land deal and the mayor’s son. Parrish tore the poster out of the window, then tore it to pieces, stomped on the remnants, and carried off into the night. Restaurateur Louis Macerola was stunned and outraged, and availed himself to reporters about it. Parrish originally went to ground, saying she was far too busy to return media calls on the matter. But by day two she was talking to the Toronto Star, going on the offensive against Macerola for disclosing details of her dinner tab ($288.47 including three bottles of wine) and saying she was the one owed an apology by him. Breathtaking. To be fair, she had previously responded apologetically to an email from Macerola, calling her behaviour “inexcusable” and “poor judgment” stemming from what began as “a bit of a dare and a prank.” She should have quit while she was ahead. By subsequently trying to position herself as the wronged party (over the bill disclosure), she was just deepening an already substantial hole. Worse, in her comments to the Star, she actually said “the evil Carolyn surfaced” when she saw the poster, the result of tremendous pressure she has faced in response to her calls the McCallion probe. Again, Parrish claims the victim role, and in doing so serves up a quote (“the evil Carolyn”) that will guaranteed come back to bite her in a future political campaign.

Friday, December 4, 2009

VERITAS: FUMBLE - TIGER DRIVES INTO THE ROUGH

The punch-lines have all been written, and the back story well established, so let’s break down the communications plays around Tiger Woods’ week from hell, shall we? First and foremost, he blew it at the outset with the initial statement he put up on his website. Tactically, it was a good idea: get something out, fast and unfiltered, directly from him to the world. But the trouble lay in the fact that the statement itself raised more questions than it answered, in the aftermath of the car accident and amid the furiously swirling but (at the time) still unconfirmed rumours of infidelity on the golf master’s part. By obliquely talking about “this situation” being “all my fault,” “obviously embarrassing” and something that he would “certainly make sure … doesn’t happen again,” he merely stoked the fires of speculation even higher. Rather than taking the first opportunity to come clean, clearly admit his misconduct, express contrition and humbly ask for privacy, Woods ended up being dragged there when his alleged partners started surfacing in the media. Even then, his follow-up statement only got it half right. His rather petulant knocks against the media for their interest in what he deemed should be a purely private matter (“personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn’t have to mean public confessions”) changed what should have been a turning point in the story into yet another reason to criticize his behaviour. As any public figure needs to understand, there’s a quid pro quo for the velvet rope. The same public acceptance of your fame and special treatment when times are good carries with it an obligation to at least be up-front on the basics when things go bad. You don’t have to get into all the gory details, but you do have to confirm or deny the top-line, indicate whether you’re prepared to talk any further or not, and stay that course. The only thing Woods has done right since is to stay hidden, and I say that for two reasons: I personally don’t think he could handle the strain of making a live statement to the media without potentially going off the rails amid what would undoubtedly be a feeding frenzy; and second, he’s essentially radioactive right now. The story is just too hot, and any interaction with the media would reinforce the image of a fallen icon under fire and back on his heels, so there’s nothing to be gained and great potential of an even bigger downside. As ham-fistedly as it was done, he has fessed up, expressed regret and asked for space. The best thing he can do now is stay behind the gates of his exclusive community and let things cool – at least into the new year – before resurfacing, most likely in the context of a single one-on-one interview where he can say his piece, draw the line, and set the stage for his return to the tournament circuit.

VERITAS: PUNT - OBAMA DOES WHAT HE CAN ON AFGHANISTAN TIMING

Damned if he did, damned if he didn’t – that’s where U.S. President Barack Obama found himself this week on the issue of putting a timeframe around the new “surge” of American troops into Afghanistan. As the guy who campaigned on shifting priority from “the wrong war” (Iraq) to the origin of the al Qaeda attacks of 9/11, he didn’t need to sell his intention so much as his vision for completion. And therein lay the rub – without a date it’s an open-ended quagmire; with any kind of timeframe it’s war with a deadline, and that only helps the enemy. So, purely from a communications standpoint, I think he did about all he could in his prime-time address to the nation this week, putting a target date of July, 2011 out there but referencing it in couched ways including when “our troops will begin to come home” and declaring that “just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition (to Afghan Army soldiers) responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.” That gives him the wiggle room to respond to unforeseen events, if necessary, which is wise. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did her part back-stopping the boss as well, fielding questions at a Senate hearing by saying “I do not believe we have locked ourselves into leaving. It is intended to send a message about resolve and urgency.” Frustrating as that may be to critics and pundits, I think it passes the test of reasonable positioning with regard to a war that has been as unpredictable as it has been hard-fought to date.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - VIRGIN MOBILE SLITHERS OUT OF CRISIS

There are a number of things which scare me, and snakes are high on the list. You couldn’t pay me enough to participate in a challenge where I’d be forced to face that fear. But it didn’t faze ‘Star Spider,’ a Toronto event planner who competed in National Fearless Day – an event put on by Virgin Mobile and hosted by its fearless leader, Sir Richard Branson. She willingly and calmly put her hands into containers filled with waxworms, was covered in snakes and walked a tightrope over a large crowd of people – all for a chance to win $5,000 and the title of Canada’s Most Fearless Person. None of that scared Ms. Spider, but she says what did frighten her was the way the snakes and worms were treated at the event. Offended, she left the competition without finishing the challenges. ‘Star Spider’ posted a video online outlining her disappointment with Branson and Virgin Mobile, stating that she believes "every creature is unique, beautiful, and worthy of respect." The video shows Branson throwing handfuls of worms into the crowd; worms, which she says, were trampled. Within two hours, Virgin Mobile’s head of PR, Chris Baines, contacted ‘Star Spider’ to apologize and listen to her concerns and the company has made a donation to the Toronto Wildlife Centre. ‘Star Spider’ posted a second video online to credit the company for its swift response, “We were thrilled to hear that our voices were heard and Virgin was taking positive action because of our efforts.” The lesson: when faced with a communications crisis, take accountability for your actions and steps to right a wrong, and do it FAST – now, that’s fearless.

VERITAS: FUMBLE - IN-GAME TWITTERING

This week's perspective from Ed Lee:
The $7,500 fines handed down by the NBA to centres Amare Stoudemire (Phoenix) and Tyson Chandler (Charlotte) are timely reminders for us that while social media may be ubiquitous, participants must be judicious in their use. Workers have long known not to post to social networks when they are taking a sick day or when they are on deadline, and we can now add during NBA games to that list. Following a "stern" warning from the NBA commissioner that use of social media during games was prohibited, Messrs Stoudemire and Chandler's activity was in clear violation of league rules. We're mixing our metaphors in awarding them both Fumbles for a lapse in judgement, and want to use this opportunity to remind our readers that your use of social media is always under scrutiny; even if you don't believe anyone is watching.

Friday, November 27, 2009

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - LEAFS GM PRAISES NEWLY "OUT" SON


Brian Burke is the President and General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. His son Brendan is a former goalie and holds a staff position with the highly regarded University of Miami (Ohio) hockey team, currently ranked first in the NCAA. The hockey world – long a bastion of machismo – hasn’t had an openly gay figure within it, until now. Brendan Burke disclosed his homosexuality in an interview with ESPN.com this week, and it has attracted a lot of attention for both son and, here in Toronto, for father as well. Brian Burke, a quintessential hockey tough guy, has responded with nothing but loving and supportive comments for his boy. “I just wish every parent could experience having a child like him,” he said, who recognizes the trail-blazing position that both he and his son are now in. “I've got six kids, I drive a truck, I own a shotgun and I chew tobacco, so sure, this adds a different dimension,” he said. “This isn't about me and it isn't about the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs. It's about a young man who has done something that takes a lot of courage. But if my acceptance can turn into more acceptance on the part of other people, that's great.” Brian Burke understands that his position in the sports world has given him a chance to send a very strong message with respect to this family development, and he has done so with clarity and class. Brendan’s boss had been similarly supportive in his public comments, and the younger Burke has also been impressive in his communications: “Imagine if I was in the opposite situation, with a family that wouldn't accept me, working for a sports team where I knew I couldn't come out because I'd be fired or ostracized,” Brendan told ESPN.com. “People in that situation deserve to know that they can feel safe, that sports isn't all homophobic and that there are plenty of people in sports who accept people for who they are.” Sure, it’s hockey, but it’s still Touchdowns all around.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - FORMER IDOL BLAZES OWN TRAIL

On a somewhat similar note, Adam Lambert kept his orientation close to his chest when he was an American Idol contestant, but after finishing second to some other guy who has gotten way less attention ever since (and at the time, too, for that matter), Lambert has become one of the few former Idols to maintain some pop culture interest. His biggest performance to date was last Sunday’s American Music Awards broadcast, at which he ruffled some feathers with a decidedly risqué number – one that quickly became the headline item on the coverage of the event. So controversial were his same-sex kiss and other stage shenanigans that ABC’s Good Morning America program promptly unbooked him from a scheduled Wednesday morning follow-up spot. CBS snapped him up for its rival “Early Show,” during which Lambert pointedly didn’t apologize. “I admit I did get carried away, but I don’t see anything wrong with it. I do see how people got offended, and that was not my intention,” he said. Normally, we would counsel clients in hot water – regardless of intention – to apologize for the unintended offense, but Lambert had a point to make: “Janet Jackson’s crotch grab – I haven’t heard one peep about that.” His message was clear: there’s a double standard at play between the tolerance for edgy performances from straight artists versus gay ones. Touchdown. Now, a warning to young Mr. Lambert: all publicity is not necessarily good publicity. He has gotten a great ride out of the controversy around his spot on the AMA’s – but if his next high-profile performance is similarly about the shock rather than the rock (and his ability as a singer), he runs the risk of cementing his still-being-formed brand in the wrong direction. Caveat rocker.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - THE MUPPETS ARE BACK!!


OK, time to break the thread here … well, except maybe for Beaker. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Anyway, the single most forwarded viral video clip I’ve been bombarded with in a loooong time is that of the Muppets doing a brilliant take on the Queen classic “Bohemian Rhapsody.” If you haven’t yet seen it, pull your mouse out from whatever rock it has been trapped under, and get thee over to YouTube. I didn’t know anything about it until it started popping up on Facebook and everywhere, but that’s what makes it viral – turns out that Disney, who bought the Muppet franchise a few years ago, released the clip to coincide with the 18th anniversary of Freddie Mercury’s death this week. But the company’s broader PR motive is to put some fresh life into a brand that hasn’t been up to much over the past number of years, to the point where there is now a cohort of little kids who have no idea who Animal, Miss Piggy, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew or even Gonzo The Great are. This oughta go a long way toward fixing that … MAMA!!

VERITAS: FUMBLE -CRIB CRISIS


When crisis hits, it can be tempting to run and hide or to become defensive. How you deal with a crisis can make or break your company’s reputation. That’s the challenge B.C.’s Stork Craft Manufacturing Inc. was faced with this week as it became the centre of the largest crib recall in Canadian and U.S. history. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced the voluntary recall of 2.1 million of the company's drop-side cribs, saying that more than 100 injuries and four infant deaths had been linked to the products. Health Canada issued a similar warning. The news sent parents scrambling, crashing the company’s website and jamming the phone lines for hours. Stork Craft’s President and CEO, Jim Moore, responded by shifting the blame to caregivers, telling reporters that the deaths were a result of improper use, "We do have to tell people these cribs are safe, if you follow the assembly instructions correctly and heed the warnings.” Not only did he essentially absolve his company of any blame, he did not express any concern or sympathy for panicked parents. Empathy is a powerful yet often overlooked communications tool in a crisis situation. By expressing genuine concern, Stork Craft could have established a human connection with the people affected who might have been a bit more understanding about the situation. Instead, the company is now facing a long list of class-action lawsuits and a Veritas Fumble.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - MS SOCIETY RECOVERS FAST AND TAKES LEADERSHIP POSITION


A great story appeared in the Globe and Mail last Saturday with a complementary documentary on CTV’s W-FIVE that heralded research done in Italy by Dr. Paolo Zamboni that, in the words of the Globe, “could well turn what we know about Multiple Sclerosis on its head.” In Canada, with one of the world’s highest rates of MS, it is very exciting news and the story was full of some wonderfully positive anecdotes about patients who have been treated successfully. And where was the MS Society of Canada on this? When initially asked about it they said, “many questions remain about how and when this phenomenon might play a role in nervous system damage seen in MS, and at the present time there is insufficient evidence to suggest that this phenomenon is the cause of MS,” which seems to be the equivalent of saying we’re not interested. However, it’s what followed that, in the view of TD&F, gives them a Touchdown. On Monday, they not only praised the “encouraging results” but put their money where their mouth is and issued an invitation for research proposals to get the evidence needed to validate it. It was a rapid response from an agency not necessarily known for speed and it was consistent with their earlier comments that there is insufficient evidence at this point in time. By championing new research, the move actually positions them in a leadership role.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - ONLINE PROPOSAL WARMS HEARTS


When normal people propose to their loved ones, it is usually a case of getting down on one knee, revealing the rock and then hopefully popping the champagne. But when social media-ite Justin Johnson proposed to his fiancé Marissa, he had a special idea in mind. Helped by his friends at the blogging service tumblr, he created what’s known in the online ad world as a “takeover” where every user's admin page was reconfigured to host a charming video proposal. She said yes but a “technical glitch” prevented her message back from being displayed, leading in turn to a slew of messages to Marissa instructing her to “visit tumblr and say YES”. The proposal garnered more than 9,000 messages of support along with the cynical gazes of other online commentators. As one said “Happiness is a pill hard swallowed by the unhappy.” However, in this inaugural Special Teams piece, I give Justin and tumblr a Touchdown. Justin, for having the guts to put his heart on his sleeve and communicate his feelings not just to his soon-to-be wife but to the world; and to tumblr for finding a really wonderful feel good story to test a new ad format on. Undoubtedly we’ll see this being rolled out by tumblr as a formal offering for advertisers and, with a success story like this, who could turn them down? For more, on the story and the inevitable technical glitches check out New Tee Vee.

Friday, November 20, 2009

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - GOING ROGUE, YOU BETCHA

This week's perspective from Beverley Hammond

If it seemed like Sarah Palin was everywhere you looked this week, it’s because she was. It was like Palin-Palooza with her new book “Going Rogue: an American Life” in virtually every media format from news to entertainment news, late night talk to drive time radio chatter. It felt more like a Harry Potter release than the launch of a political autobiography. While the book appears to be all about exacting revenge on those who wronged her during her failed Vice Presidential bid, the book launch itself was far more pop culture than politics - as evidenced by her leaving Sean Hannity of FOX News and Conservative talk radio king Rush Limbaugh waiting for interviews until after she sat down with “those liberal media types” Barbara Walters and Oprah Winfrey. As Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Centre for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University put it, "this 'second-wave Palinism' seems a lot less likely to be aiming toward the White House than toward her own television show". Her interview with Oprah has been described as a “talk-show marriage made in ratings heaven” and when Regis and Kelly observed that it served as an example of how America can accommodate different points of view (to wild applause from their New York studio audience) it was obvious the launch strategy worked. Through all of it, Palin followed the rules by staying true to her brand and sticking to that “aw-shucks” style she tried to ride to the White House last year. What didn’t work at the polls made for some great daytime TV and then subsequent news content around the globe, including her reference to Katie Couric (whose infamous campaign interview with Palin suggested she didn’t read a newspaper) as “the perky one” and her assessment of media reports about her family as “bull-crap.” For Americans, it seems not having to worry about whether she’ll be Commander in Chief makes it a lot easier to enjoy her. This week the number of fans on her Palin Facebook page broke the million member mark and bookstores can’t keep up with demand for “Going Rogue.” As Mitch Potter reported in the Toronto Star, even though polling would suggest she doesn’t have a chance at the White House, as a candidate for celebrity, Palin has won. By a landslide.

VERITAS: FUMBLE - EMAIL FUMBLE BRINGS LEGAL TROUBLE TO SILICON VALLEY GOLDEN BOY

This week's perspective from Ed Lee:

News this week that eBay, the online auction site, had sold the Web phone call company, Skype, back to its founders also uncovered a cautionary tale in online privacy. During the protracted sale process, Skype founders Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, now running the online TV venture Joost, found themselves bidding against a consortium of venture capital funds, led by Index Ventures for their creation. Nothing new in that but the lead VC firm was proposing former Cisco executive Mike Volpi as the chairman and CEO of Skype, should they be successful in their acquisition. So what’s the problem? That Mike Volpi was the acting CEO of Joost – in effect, bidding for his potential employers against his existing employers! We can’t comment on the legal play but what we can call out is the communications fumble of Volpi using his work email address to conduct negotiations with Index Ventures and providing critical intelligence and unbounded criticism against his employers. As both communicators and consumers, we get lulled into a false sense of security when it comes to using email, thinking it is secure and that only the recipient can read it but in truth, email is far more like a postcard than a sealed letter. Almost anyone can read your email if they really want to. So what does this tell us? Never use your work email for anything other than work and always think about how your emails will seem if they are uncovered and published (with or without context) or used in court filings, as they are now.

VERITAS: FUMBLE - PATIENCE WITH CALGARY PARKING AUTHORITY EXPIRES

This week's perspective from Kathy Barnett:

A clip from Global TV Calgary caught my eye this week. It asked, “How do you call a news conference to cut rates, and end up making a whole city furious?” The Calgary Parking Authority did just that when its General Manager, Dale Fraser, called a news conference (to the surprise of City Council) to announce rate reductions in key downtown parking zones. While the move might seem like a PR home run, it quickly turned into an unmitigated disaster when savvy reporters took the opportunity at the newser to question Fraser about budget documents released the day before. Those documents outlined a number of proposed revenue generators for the CPA – including extending hours for metered parking, and charging for parking on Sundays and holidays – to recoup the shortfall the rate reductions would cause. Council officials quickly took an opposing stance, the resulting media coverage was less than flattering, and the public outcry was immediate – plunging the CPA into damage control mode. All in all, it was an ugly, ugly fumble. Regardless of the logic behind the proposed changes, trying to spin part of the package into a good news story and expecting that the remaining goods will go unnoticed is a dangerous strategy. No matter how lovely the lipstick, if it’s on a pig…well…you get my point.

VERITAS: FUMBLE - DALTON DAYS REDUX

Two weeks ago I gave Premier Dalton McGuinty strategic communications props for not running from the spectre – which he floated himself originally – of so-called “Dalton Days” or the potential of forcing members of the broader public sector to take unpaid time off to help trim the public payroll in the name of deficit reduction. He has been consistently letting that one simmer out there, in what sure looks like a ground-softening exercise. But here’s the thing about strategic spin: you can’t have it both ways. And that’s where the Premier dropped the ball this week, when he seemed to suggest that the media were solely responsible for creating the idea in the first place and then keeping it alive. He has left everything on the table throughout the deficit debate, and joked just two weeks ago he said he “liked the alliteration,” adding that the government would have to “sit down with our public sector partners” and talk about various belt-tightening solutions. But this week, it was a different tack: “I never said we were going to do that,” he said, and when pressed to rule it out added “Why should I now say that I’m not going to do something when I never said I was going to do it?” Trial balloons are tough things to steer sometimes, to be sure – but you can’t be happy letting one bob around in the breeze for weeks, and then get testy with the press once it starts gaining some serious altitude.

VERITAS: FUMBLE - FRENCH FOOTBALLER ADDS INSULT TO INJURY FOR IRELAND

Sometimes the best communications play is to shut the hell up. Apparently this fundamental is lost on French national footballer Thierry Henri, AKA the most hated man in Ireland right now. Henri set up the go-ahead goal that saw France defeat Ireland for a berth in next year’s World Cup – and did so helped by a stunningly blatant case of “hand balling,” meaning he touched the ball with his hands during the play, which is an absolute no-no in soccer. But let’s look, as we do here at TD&F, purely at his communications performance. Caught red-handed by everyone except the referee, Henri fully admitted the foul. “I will not lie, there was a hand. The ball ran up against my hand and I continued to play, the referee did not whistle and there was a goal,” he said. Full points for honesty, and for that reason, it was probably the smartest thing he said after the fact. But Henri blew it when he threw also threw in a finger-point – “I’m not the referee” – and then the capper: “It was just necessary to exploit what was exploitable. The Irishmen could have doubled their lead two or three times.” In other words, I got away with cheating, and they could have done the same thing if they were as weasely as I am. Audacious. Shameless. He won the game, but he has Fumbled his brand forever.

VERITAS: FIRST DOWN - MACKAY REFUTES TORTURE ALLEGATIONS

Some very, very tough questions were put to Defence Minister Peter MacKay both in the House of Commons and in a series of media appearances yesterday, in the wake of claims by a former senior diplomat that Afghan prisoners handed over to their countrymen by the Canadian Forces a few years ago ended up being tortured in custody. For TD&F purposes, this is at its essence a classic crisis communications scenario: what did you know? When did you know it? What did you do about it? These are the key questions at play. And having watched MacKay closely both in Parliament and in media interviews, I say he had some very solid answers. I won’t transcribe the exchanges, but suffice it to say that he had details where details were required, and he never missed an opportunity to bring things back to his top-line messages: the specific allegations don’t stand up to scrutiny, and on the broader issue of prisoner treatment, Canada took action to address concerns two years ago as soon as they were raised and verified. MacKay is an outstanding communicator – he keeps his cool, he addresses questions raised, and he never misses an opportunity to bridge from there into other essential aspects of his message agenda when he’s got the floor.

Friday, October 23, 2009

FUMBLE - FASHIONISTA FAKES SICKNESS AND REINFORCES PAST MISTAKES


This week's Team Huddle compiled by Lisa An

Toronto’s Fashion Week, officially known as LG Fashion Week, is wrapping up this Saturday but the antics of Robin Kay, president of the Fashion Design Council of Canada, the organization which hosts Fashion Week, will likely live on. For those who need a quick refresher on last year’s events, Kay delivered a rambling, incoherent speech while inebriated prior to the start of a fashion show and had to be escorted off the stage. Her behaviour was denounced by the Toronto fashion community with some calling for her resignation. Despite the furor she continues to head the Fashion Council as its leader with no worse for wear (excuse the pun). But that may change given the unflattering feature printed in last Saturday’s issue of the Toronto Star. Kay was clearly unprepared for the interview as she awkwardly avoided questions about last year’s controversy claiming she was too “sick” to directly answer questions and provided an unvarnished look at how she interacts with her “minions.” The article noted that she tried to make up for the disastrous interview by inviting the reporter to speak with her a second time but was still portrayed as being uncomfortable with the one-on-one interaction. My colleagues unanimously awarded Kay a Fumble for obvious reasons: she was clearly unwilling to accept accountability for last year’s events when she should have addressed it head-on. What’s worse is she actually read an answer off a piece of paper in response to last year’s incident, key messages that were obviously prepared by a staff person for the interview. She also gave the impression that she was feigning her illness to avoid the tough questions – the reporter noted that as he left the interview, he could see through the windows that she was “waving her arms animatedly” while conducting a meeting. But in addition to Kay’s Fumble, my colleagues felt that her media team deserved penalties as well. It was clear from the feature that Kay was uncomfortable and unready for the media. She should have been counseled to avoid any interviews and instead have third-parties speak in her stead, suggesting that she’s dedicating to correcting past mistakes and turning a new lead. Instead, what resulted is an entertaining read, but a profile that is a disservice to Kay who is trying to dispel the image as a demanding, drunken diva and another step towards her demise. Need media coaching advice? Contact the Veritas team for help.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - A-ROD TALKS WITH HIS BAT


Ah, October. It’s time for the Fall Classic. Lord knows I have Fumbled New York Yankee’s franchise third baseman Alex Rodriguez enough for his communications plays over the years (steroids, Madonna, you name it), but the time has come not only to pat him on the back, but to demonstrate an important and little discussed communications tool. Namely, situations where your actions speak louder than words. Veteran Toronto Star baseball columnist Dave Perkins wrote a good piece this week suggesting that as the World Series looms, pitchers should consider intentionally walking A-Rod, given how hot he has been at the plate. I mean, as of Thursday, Rodriguez had an on-base percentage of .469 (getting on base almost half the time) and a slugging percentage of 1.000. He had 11 runs batted in during seven post-season games as of TDF press time. This is the same superstar who has folded like a cheap tent in so many Major League Baseball playoff series in the past, and has been widely ridiculed by fans and the vicious New York baseball press. After a single, double, walk and his fifth home run of the playoffs Tuesday against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Perkins noted: “He (Rodriguez) took one look at the horde of notepads before the Yankees’ workout and declined comment, but others spoke about him – usually shaking their heads in a good way.” A-Rod, given his past communications strikeout tendency with the media, is wise to decline comment, let his play on the baseball field speak for itself, and allow his manager and teammates to characterize his performance. There are times when your organization needs to send a message by your actions, and let stakeholders deliver your message. This was a ‘less-is-more’ Touchdown, a rare one for A-Rod.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - NO SPECULATION ON 'DALTON DAYS'


It doesn’t seem that long ago that the then-NDP government of Bob Rae set a record Ontario deficit of more than $12 billion – meaning the difference between how much money the province collected compared to how much it spent in 1992 was bigger than in any year in the province’s history. Well, this week it was announced that the Ontario deficit will exceed forecasts and come in at $24.7 billion. That’s a lot of money. Finance Minister Dwight Duncan rightly referred to some “difficult decisions” that loom ahead for the province, as they have in recent months for many U.S. state governments, including California. Premier Dalton McGuinty was asked by media whether he’s considering a return to the so-called “Rae Days,” the then-premier’s attempt to avoid massive and widespread civil service layoffs by asking public sector staff to take unpaid time off (even if it violated existing union contracts). It was a great example of an instance where any speculation at all by McGuinty would have led to enormous headlines. Nor was it a time to rule anything ‘in’ or ‘out.’ The trick for the Premier was to stay in the “here and now” and only discuss the facts and the process as he knows it right now. “I don't know,” he told reporters. “We’ve all got our own particular approaches obviously. I’ll let people judge, but what I would say is that… the next several months will be very important as we come up to our own particular approach to this.” There are definitely communications reasons why McGuinty has been a successful political leader in the media capital of Canada, and that was a good example.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - HOSPITAL SHUTS DOWN ISSUE FAST


A woman turns up at the hospital ER with her seven year-old son who has suffered a head injury. She was told by a Telehealth operator to take the boy to the hospital, despite the fact that they are in Canada from Mexico seeking refugee status and had an expired health coverage certificate (a new one was in the works from Ottawa). Trouble is, the ER clerk refused to let the boy be seen without payment up front, to the tune of $650. The woman ended up plodding through the rain to a walk-in clinic with her boy and his two brothers. When Brenda Aurajo-Morales’ story came to the attention of the Toronto Star, Humber River Regional Hospital suddenly had a major issue management problem on its hands. But through swift and decisive action, coupled with strong communications right from the top, what was still a less-than-stellar story for the hospital suddenly had a new lead. “Clerk fired after boy, 7, sent from ER” was the headline. "This is a one-time incident and does not represent Humber River as an organization," CEO Reuben Devlin told the Star, calling the incident “disturbing.” “We serve one of the most diverse communities. It's reflected among our staff and we see it as our strength. We do not accept this. This is not part of our value,” Devlin said. That’s pretty unequivocal, and exactly the kind of value statement the CEO needed to be making under the circumstances. I’m not saying firing someone anytime there’s a problem is a magic solution – every issues management situation is different – but the fact that the hospital’s quick action and on-message reaction was so clear meant that this story was reduced to a black eye rather than a critical body blow for the organization.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - CTV'S STRATEGIC SPECULATION


Bill Walker is giving Premier Dalton McGuinty a Touchdown in the space opposite for not speculating this week … I’m giving the same to CTV for doing the exact opposite. Contradictory? Only if you fail to recognize that for every rule there is an exception, and this one demonstrates it. The general rule is that spontaneous speculation about “what if?” scenarios is usually a recipe for disaster. The exception is when that speculation is deliberate and strategic – usually in the form of the highly-effective “doomsday scenario.” CTV and the other major broadcasters are continuing their outstanding PR offensive against the cable companies, complaining that the cable giants take their broadcast signals for free and then sell them to subscribers as part of their cable packages, making huge profits as a result. For their part, the cable companies say their unsubsidized investment in cable system infrastructure has led to increased viewership and, as a direct result, higher ad rates for the broadcasters. But back to CTV specifically, who, during an editorial board meeting with the Toronto Sun (editorial boards are an excellent communications tactic to highlight and explain positioning on an issue), said that “there is an absolute real risk 10 (CTV) stations in Ontario could be shut down” unless the cable companies start paying for their broadcast programming. It’s a hypothetical situation in the one sense – but also a clear and present danger in CTV’s view – and by deliberately postulating that scenario, they are amplifying their message in powerful and tangible terms.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - BLAIR ADMITS 'BIAS'


The above headline is the same one which topped the Toronto Sun story following Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair’s town hall session hosted by the Jamaican-Canadian Association this week. Normally that might seem like a bad thing, for a person in such a position of authority to confess to having experienced less than objective judgment on the job. However, I think that when it’s done appropriately and to the right degree, it can be smart communications for a leader to admit to human foibles as Blair did. By stating what is a universal truth – that no one is perfect – an authority figure can do much to humanize their image and connect more effectively with the masses, without undermining their credibility in the process. “It is terribly important that we be self-aware, that we recognize the effect that bias can have on our decision-making, that we think about it, we catch ourselves, and we be better,” Blair said. Obama is great at this kind of thing – so is the chief.

Friday, October 16, 2009

VERITAS: FUMBLE - WRONG ROUTE FOR THE TTC


This week the TTC began enforcement of a stricter etiquette bylaw that includes a significant hike in the fines TTC special constables can hand out and a lengthened list of fineable offences. These include blocking doorways, lying down on seats and holding subway doors open as the chimes sound. The increased fines were approved earlier this year, followed by a grace period during which the TTC had planned to educate riders about the upcoming bylaw change. Media coverage of the new enforcement and feedback from the team here at Veritas this week has clearly shown very low awareness of the bylaw changes. As a result, public feedback in the online comments section of various articles have people screaming human rights violations. TTC spokesperson Kevin Carrington admitted this week that most TTC riders are not aware that their actions break transit laws, yet claimed ‘emphasis on educating riders first’. But there is no mention of the new bylaw anywhere on the TTC website’s homepage – a lost opportunity. A dig into the TTC website reveals a posting of the actual legal bylaw, which (at more than 3,000 words) is too much legalese to be an effective communications tool. Where the TTC took the wrong turn was in failing to provide the tangible, fact-based evidence that proves etiquette offences cost time and money. Cleaning seats, repairing jammed doorways and delaying service all come with a cost to riders. Earlier and ongoing communications about the costs and how they translate to fare hikes would have provided riders with a greater sense of responsibility and accountability, instead of leaving the door open to a debate on civility. There is applause for making inroads towards better bylaw enforcement, but Veritas calls a Fumble on this communications play for the lack of a strategic and proactive education campaign.

VERITAS: FUMBLE - CONSERVATIVE LOGO ON GOVENMENT FUNDING CHEQUE


Conservative MP Gerald Keddy poses for a photo op in Chester, Nova Scotia, with a proverbial giant cheque representing funding from a federal infrastructure program to renovate the local arena. In the upper left corner was a large Conservative Party of Canada logo. Party logo on public money. A bad and obvious mistake – but a worse communications Fumble, in that it plays right into the hands of critics who want to accuse the federal Tories of porkbarrelling such funding into Conservative ridings. Yikes.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - NOBEL JUDGES BREAK TRADITIONAL SILENCE


When those who normally don’t speak to the media suddenly do, their communications impact is automatically high. So I thought it was the right call indeed for several of the Nobel committee judges who awarded U.S. President Barack Obama his highly controversial Peace Prize to break their traditional silence and defend their decision. “We simply disagree” with those who consider Obama undeserving, said committee chair Thorbjorn Jagland. “He got the prize for what he has done,” noting that Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world and his scaling-down of a Bush-era proposal for a missile defense system in Europe “have contributed to – I wouldn’t say a safer world – but a world with less tension.” Critics will continue to toss barbs at Obama and the Nobel committee, but by uncharacteristically speaking out to defend their choice, I give the judges a Touchdown.

VERITAS: FIELD GOAL - MAMMOLITI SPICES UP MAYORAL RACE


Amid the continuing speculation surrounding the possible mayoral aspirations of high-profile Torontonians John Tory and George Smitherman came the definite declaration this week by city councillor Georgio Mammoliti that he will be throwing his hat into the ring. “I think the city needs change – drastic change, not just mediocre change,” he told the National Post, and then underlined his point with some extremely colourful cases in point, including calls for a Toronto casino, a new city lottery and the regulation and taxing of prostitution. “As mayor I want to think outside the box,” he said. Apparently so. While his bold and controversial proposals were instant headlines in the making, I can’t in good conscience call this a communications Touchdown. Sure, he got loads of ink and airtime, and defined himself as the “drastic change” candidate, but his ideas don’t seem to hold up to scrutiny for very long. The city has jurisdiction in none of the areas mentioned. Mammoliti simply says he believes the powers that be would acquiesce if he got elected mayor and could muster council support for his plans. “I’m throwing an idea out there. I haven’t explored it yet,” he said, referring specifically to the idea of a waterfront casino to be built on new land infilled as a result of some sort of subway construction. It’s great to get lots of attention for your ideas, but if they ultimately come off as less than credible, are you really sending the right message? I’m going to saw off at calling this one a Field Goal.

VERITAS: FUMBLE - WESTERN STYLE TAKEDOWN


Another university, our very own University of Western Ontario (UWO) failed in a communications play this week after the violent arrest of a student was widely viewed on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17mj553jzhM). Pictures don’t lie. And if you watch the video, you see a half dozen campus police at times wailing away on a young man with batons, at other times kneeing him repeatedly. When asked to explain it, spokespersons for the campus police and the university could only say that people who watch the video cannot possibly understand what was going on. Again, really? I think anyone who watches the video will know exactly what was going on. Gitta Kulczycki, a spokeperson for the school, said: “The view of the video itself is somewhat disturbing without knowing the context of the full situation.” The problem was that nobody went on to explain the context. The head of campus police, Elgin Austen, told media that his officers were trying to subdue the student being arrested and “keep other people around safe,” yet on the video there are no other students even remotely near the arrest – in fact the hallway is empty. Austen also said that people watching the video “may not understand what the officers were actually doing.” The communications lesson? We don’t believe it’s ever wise to tell people they shouldn’t believe what they’re seeing. Unless we’re talking about a magic trick. If UWO officials were going to make the case that something else was going on here, they needed to be clear about what that was. If they couldn’t be, they would have been better off to say the arrest was under review.

VERITAS: FUMBLE - UNIVERSITY FEARS LETTERMAN


Talk show host David Letterman’s admission of past affairs with some of his staff members has certainly made for much entertainment news fodder. So it goes without saying that anybody who pops up with a reasonably (some would say even remotely) interesting comment on Letterman is going to make news. That’s great for some communicators in terms of “piggybacking” on a story to promote a product or cause. But one has to seriously wonder why Quinnipiac University, 90 minutes north of New York in Hamden, Conn., needed to weigh in on this and what it had to gain. The school, consistently ranked by U.S. News and World Report as one of America’s best, warned that it will crack down on the management of its internship program in the event of the Letterman revelations. “Due to recent circumstances we will have a discussion with those in charge of placing our interns at the David Letterman show in the future,” the school said, in comments widely reported this week. “We will diligently oversee this internship program to ensure that our interns are out of harm’s way.” Really? They have time to be concerned about that? Perhaps it was a piggyback attempt to raise brand awareness of the school name. But it just seemed dumb, which isn’t the best communications play for a post-secondary institution.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

VERITAS: FUMBLE - GWEN THE HOMELESS DOLL


Mattel subsidiary American Girl has been weathering the tumultuous launch of its latest doll, Gwen. American Girl is an extremely popular product that has cultivated an very devoted consumer base. Dolls are sold for $95, each with its own back-story, and American Girl offers a huge variety of accessories for its dolls. In this case, Gwen’s back-story has sparked controversy: Gwen’s family has fallen on tough times, like many families in the past year, having gone through parental separation and subsequently losing their home and living out of their car. After finding refuge in a homeless shelter, Gwen and her family are able to establish themselves in an apartment. New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser called Mattel’s strategy and execution into question, going so far as to say that Mattel was engaging in ‘political indoctrination.’ From there, opinions from all corners of the internet have emerged. Homeless advocacy blogs (i.e Change.org), parenting blogs (Parentdish, Dadomatic)and consumer focused blogs (Consumerist Blog) have all made their case about the appropriateness of Gwen’s back-story and Mattel’s approach. The Veritas team has discussed this and are giving Mattel a Fumble. Without making any judgments about their choice of back- story, the Fumble stems from the fact that Mattel didn’t provide any context to its consumer or media audience in advance of the launch. Consumers, parents and housing advocates were all left to interpret Mattel’s intentions as they saw fit. With a high price point and little mention of charitable contributions made from profits, Mattel was left open to being called insensitive, and was perceived as profiteering from a very real and sensitive issue. Although Mattel eventually (and reactively) issued a release with HomeAid America to explain their actions, they had already lost the opportunity to participate in the discussion that had taken off without them.

TOUCHDOWN - HARPER'S SURPRISE PERFORMANCE


“I just need someone to love” sang the Prime Minister, with a hint of a grin, in the midst of his surprise performance of “A Little Help From My Friends” with legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma last weekend in Ottawa. Seeing Stephen Harper, who took so much flak for his comments about artists and swanky galas, turn up at a swanky arts gala as a performer himself was as counter-intuitive as it was unexpected. And that, combined with his nervous but pretty fine performance, made it downright endearing. The clip was forwarded here, there and everywhere … and “good on him” was the general reaction, even from many decidedly non-supporters. A great bit of brand management.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - LOCAL TV STATIONS LAUNCH INTEGRATED BARRAGE


It’s war between the cable companies and the TV operations – and local stations in particular – who produce so much of the content they carry. We’ve been hearing about this issue for a while, with some ads previously in play and a fair amount of media coverage around recent CRTC hearings on the “fee for carriage” issue, as it’s known. At issue is a call for compensation by TV outlets for the local news and other programming they generate, which is in turn made available by the cable companies as part of their offerings. The TV folks say with the collapse in ad revenues with which they’ve been hit, the free programming ride has to end for the cable operators, pointing to the recent demise of a Brandon, Manitoba TV station and noting that 20-30 other local outlets across the country are also on shaky financial ground. To amp up their message, the TV operators held a mass news conference Thursday at CTV’s Queen Street HQ, supplementing their argument with the release of new commercials plus the capper – a music video by Dave Carroll. He’s the Nova Scotia singer-songwriter who recently rocketed to viral fame after his internet video “United Breaks Guitars” became an online sensation. Getting media coverage for an issue which directly impacts media is obviously not among the greatest of challenges, but by supplementing the issue talk with the integrated paid ads AND the buzz-worthy music video (already making the social media rounds), it’s a Touchdown.

VERITAS: FUMBLE -LEAFS COACH BATTLES MEDIA


Damien Cox’s Toronto Star blog The Spin on Sports (http://thestar.blogs.com/thespin/) is really a must read for the true sports fan. And it demonstrates the major shifts which have taken place – and continue to occur – in the media landscape. He doesn’t just write, but posts video entries. He had a telling item this week about Toronto Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson, who in his second season behind the Leafs bench he described as “increasingly resentful of the fact fans and media alike have many questions about his hockey club and aren’t afraid to vocalize them. He doesn’t like positive coverage of his team or negative coverage.” Cox cited positive stories about new Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavvson, which Wilson “ridiculed,” as well as negative stories about goalie Vesa Toskala, which Wilson called “grossly unfair.” Cox went on to argue that Wilson basically wants the media to publish his words verbatim with no added commentary. He went on to urge the coach to read former New York Yankees Manager Joe Torre’s book (and it is a great read, by the way) which demonstrates how to handle intense media scrutiny and still win championships. “It’s hard to feel good about yourself when you’re always being questioned,” Cox quoted Wilson as complaining to media. The lesson? Don’t go to war with people who buy ink (or write blogs) by the barrel. Media will have the last word. Yes, they can criticize you. That’s their job. You are the public figure. It doesn’t mean you can, in turn, criticize the job the media is doing. You can, of course, but it will turn out very badly. Better to be honest, try to help them do their jobs and meet their deadlines, and work to mend media relationships that might be damaged. It’s the only way to move forward.

VERITAS: FUMBLE - JOSEPH USES HEATED LANGUAGE


Former CFL outstanding player Kerry Joseph, the Toronto Argonaut quarterback, probably has a right to be frustrated about how his season has unfolded. After being traded to Toronto from Saskatchewan last season, Joseph has lost his starting job to Cody Pickett, who in turn has struggled and was replaced by Joseph in the second half of a loss to Montreal. Add in the fact that the Argos have the worst record in the CFL and you have a recipe for just the kind of quote Joseph provided media when he described his Argo season as a “fiasco.” The problem is that using such loaded words or phrases takes the temperature up several notches, often higher than you as a communicator intended. Joseph was being asked about the fact that he hasn’t been informed by the Argos coach whether he’d get a chance to start the team’s next game. The result? An attention-grabbing headline in the Toronto Star that said: “Time with Argonauts ‘a fiasco,’ says Joseph.” It’s a sweeping statement. It tends to preclude any kind of positive resolution to the situation, never mind how his coach (undecided about giving Joseph another chance at the starting job) might react. The only time it makes sense to use such loaded language is when you plan to do it deliberately, you have war-gamed out the results in advance, and discussed it with your team in advance. To do it on the spur of the moment, out of frustration, is almost always a Fumble.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - JAYS GM WON'T SPECULATE


If you want to see a great example of how to stay in the “here and now” and address only the facts as you know them in the present tense, Google news coverage of Toronto Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos, who was appointed last weekend to lead the team. In particular, veteran sportswriter Robert MacLeod reported in the Globe and Mail on Wednesday a story that attempted to probe the newly-minted GM on some of the changes he might make to the Blue Jays staff. Anthopoulos didn’t take the bait on any actual speculation, demonstrating an important skill in dealing with the media. “We’re doing our jobs looking from top to bottom, talking to people, seeing how we might improve,” he said. Importantly, he indicated that he’d need time to conduct his review and might be in a position to make some of his plans clearer by the end of this year’s World Series. It’s a great lesson for all communicators. All Anthopoulos can say with certainty is what he knows today – the process he has started right now. He was smart not to prejudge the outcome, or make comments that implied his mind was already made up. And yet he gave the media an indication that answers would be forthcoming, even offering up a rough timeline. It’s all about staying in the “here and now” and only speaking to facts as you know them at the moment you are being interviewed. Anthopoulous did a great job in a press conference and several one-on-one interviews. He’s off to a strong start.