Thursday, July 30, 2009

VERITAS TD&F: TOUCHDOWN- THE HUMANE SOCIETY OF THE UNITED STATES TEAMS UP WITH MICHAEL VICK ON ANTI-DOG FIGHTING EFFORTS

As the NFL decides what to do with Michael Vick, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the organization that played a pivotal role in his fall from grace and his temporary exile from the NFL, has made a bold play and agreed to work with Vick on their anti-dog fighting campaign. The HSUS was Vick’s worst enemy when the charges came to light and they used the notoriety he brought to dog fighting to have 21 new and stiffer laws passed. Throughout his trial and incarceration they were able to keep a very unpleasant topic in the headlines and now, with his release and claimed rehabilitation, they will be able to keep it there for many more months. The true Touchdown for the HSUS is that they can get past their anger and disgust and see what using Vick can bring to their crusade. Because of his background, NFL status and jail time, he can reach an audience the HSUS never could – he can reach those individuals who would be drawn into the ‘sport’ of dog fighting. Vick’s Touchdown is one scored off the field, one that represents his attempt to regain some of his former status and to repair his name. Vick, or his people, have realized that an apology is not good enough and that he needs to go above and beyond by offering to become part of the solution. Whether he is sincere or not, it is too early to tell and he could very well turn this potential Touchdown into a very public Fumble as the HSUS will be keeping an eye out and will be only too willing to turn on their spokesperson if he fails to deliver on his promise. The HSUS aren’t blind to the fact that he may be using them but they recognize that by using him he will help advance their overall goal - protection of animals, by helping encourage individual people and institutions to change for the better in all of their dealings with animals. Let’s hope this turns out to be a Touchdown for both players and that in the end, the dogs come out on top.

VERITAS TD&F: TOUCHDOWN- REPORT ON TANNING BEDS BLINDINGLY CLEAR

The actual language by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC – a subset of the World Health Organization) was actually rather bland, but the impact of its report on the dangers posed by tanning beds was a shot heard ‘round the world. “Sunbeds pose such a risk of causing cancer they have now been moved to the highest level of danger classification, putting them on a par with asbestos, mustard gas and particles from atomic bombs,” was the lead on one report, and reflecting the majority of media coverage. The IARC ranks exposure to stuff based on its potential to cause cancer, and after reviewing the latest available research, the agency moved the ultraviolet radiation produced by tanning beds from “probably carcinogenic” to “carcinogenic to humans” – landing them in the same category as arsenic, plutonium and the aforementioned asbestos and mustard gas. It’s about as damning as it gets, and presented a huge issue management challenge for the electric beach industry. The Indoor Tanning Association gamely fired back with full-page newspaper ads in the U.S., noting that just as with the sun itself, it’s “overexposure” that is dangerous, and that tanning bed UV radiation is no different from red wine or salted fish in that regard. It will be a long and tough fight for them.

VERITAS TD&F: FUMBLE- MILLER TAKES SPIN TOO FAR

Let us once again note that TD&F pronounces judgment on communications, not policy – a point worth reiterating when looking at an issue as polarizing as the strike by Toronto city staff. Throughout, Mayor David Miller has positioned the dispute as being centred around the issue of bankable sick days, under which unionized staff can cash out up to six months of unused sick time upon retirement. When speaking to reporters after a settlement was reached this week, Miller claimed that the deal “eliminates the provision of bankable sick days.” However, after more than half an hour of media questioning, Miller changed his language, to say that the sick bank is instead being “phased out.” New hires will be given a new, “modernized” short-term disability plan, but for all existing employees, the status quo remains in place. Critics and pundits have been pounding Miller ever since, for holding up a web-footed, long-billed, quacking contract agreement and trying to call it anything other than a duck. In the communications business, we’re all about strategic positioning and careful choice of language when articulating an important message – but that said, you can’t be too cute by half. Miller tried, and Fumbled. He should have talked about “phasing out” or “grandfathering” right at the outset and been ready to defend his decision, rather than shredding his credibility by trying to call it something which it clearly isn’t.

VERITAS TD&F: FUMBLE- BECKHAM IS A MESS

He was once heralded as the genius who would save American professional soccer. Then he became the pariah who criticized his teammates. Next he was the player who was too selfish and self-absorbed (according to a new book called The Beckham Experiment) and finally he became the guy who tried to escape back to a European team, AC Milan. David Beckham was finally back on U.S. soil for an exhibition match between AC Milan and his MLS team, the Los Angeles Galaxy after being forced to fulfill the terms of a rich contract he signed with the Galaxy – but he’s clearly not happy about it. Beckham basically lost his mind when Galaxy fans, part of a so-called Riot Squad section of the stands, booed and jeered him during the game and displayed banners saying: “Go Home Fraud” and “Is Evil Something You Are or Something You Do?” Beckham charged toward the Galaxy fan section at half time yelling obscenities, gestured for some of the fans to come down and meet him on the field, presumably to fight, then tried to scramble over some advertising boards to get at the fans himself, before security guards intervened. Then he was given a chance to apologize for his behavior and blew it off. “It’s not a setback for myself. It’s other people that have to change,” Beckham told reporters. “It’s not about whether I can move on. I wasn’t the one booing.” Beckham added of the fan behavior: “I think it was disrespectful.” That’s often the risk of superstardom from a communications perspective – you commit grievous Fumbles and you have absolutely no clue whatsoever. From a ‘good PR’ perspective, Beckham is done in L.A., he’s cooked. They would probably sell more tickets if they released him.

VERITAS TD&F: FUMBLE- PHELPS THREATENS TO SIT

Sometimes the arrogance of sports figures and their “handlers” is breathtaking. Michael Phelps lost a race this week to Paul Biedermann of Germany in the 200-metre freestyle final at the World Championships in Rome, the first time he has lost at a major swim meet in four years. The reaction from the Phelps camp, coming off the record-setting gold medal winner’s bong smoking, stripper-dating, painting Las Vegas red post-Olympic free-for-all? That unless the international swim federation immediately banned the new bodysuits swimmers are wearing, Phelps would take his toys and go home. The ban on the aerodynamic suits (which Phelps is eligible to wear in the meantime, by the way) has already been announced and takes effect in spring 2010, but apparently that’s not soon enough for this superstar. “Probably expect Michael not to swim until (the ban is) implemented. I’m done with this. It has to be implemented immediately. The sport is in shambles right now and they better do something or they’re going to lose their guy who fills these seats,” threatened his coach Bob Bowman. Then he went on to question the training regimen of the German winner, which many interpreted as a dark hint at steroids. “That’s an amazing training program. I would love to know how that works,” Bowman spat. Wow. Given all the trouble Phelps got himself into this spring and summer, you’d think he’d have been a bit more humble as he tries to rebuild what’s been lost of his public image. And yet all he had to say was: “Bob chooses where I swim,” thereby leaving the threat hanging out there. It was cheap and tawdry, just like much of Phelps’ behavior since the Olympics.

VERITAS TD&F: TOUCHDOWN- ROGERS COMES CLEAN ON JAYS

After issuing a Fumble last week to the Toronto Blue Jays' GM for his handling of the issue of trading ace pitcher Roy Halladay, it’s only fitting to issue a Touchdown for the transparency of the comments made this week about the team’s costs on a Rogers quarterly earnings conference call with media. “We believe that the financial performance of the Blue Jays can improve,” said Tony Viner, president of Rogers Media, the corporate arm responsible for the team, stadium and broadcasting. “In fact, it’s the one division of the media company this year which, on a year over year basis, is performing better than it was. We think that we can bring costs reasonably under control and more in line with revenues.” It was a full and frank admission that the parent company needs to control costs and that this probably means rebuilding and dealing star players for younger, developing players who come with more manageable salaries. You can build a World Series champion that way, as the Jays have twice proven. It might come as bad news to some fans who thought the Jays were a few key trades away from being a playoff contender. But at least it makes clear to the Blue Jays faithful where this franchise is headed in the near term. In addition, Viner balanced his comments nicely with positive messages. As a communications play, that kind of honesty is Touchdown-worthy.

Friday, July 24, 2009

VERITAS TD&F: FUMBLE- GM'S WRONG MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE

General Motors Co. (GM) announced it will be using ‘its iconic Cadillac brand to sell a line of fragrance for men.’ The new line, licensed to Beauty Contact Inc, is expected to launch this fall to mark Cadillac’s 100th anniversary. GM, a company emerging from bankruptcy and a recipient of billions of dollars in government bailouts, has been trying to set its message on ‘reinvention’. The company's bold messaging about a renewed focus on ‘fewer, stronger brands and models’ has made stakeholders take notice. Spending newly acquired taxpayers dollars on a new cologne seems a departure from this message. This type of mixed messaging is something GM cannot afford to be sending, especially when it is trying to gain confidence in a depleting and shaken customer base. This campaign easily earns GM a Veritas Eau-de-Fumble. GM should focus more on its cars and less on the scent of the driver.

VERITAS TD&F: TOUCHDOWN - THE KILLER QUOTE

In our Veritas Media Coaching sessions, we always talk about the often elusive “killer quote:” the art of nailing your point in a way that is so eloquent, so clever, so irresistible to reporters that they can’t possibly help themselves from featuring it in their stories. There was a great example of exactly that in a column this week by Globe & Mail’s Margaret Wente. At issue is the impending ban in Ontario on the use of hand-held cell phones while driving – something Wente says led to a far-too-close call for her once. But she says evidence shows that hands-free cell phones are just as much of a safety hazard when used behind the wheel, and quotes cognitive psychologist David Strayer as follows: “It’s not that your hands aren’t on the wheel, it’s that your mind is not on the road.” Oooooh. Read it again. Just as good the second time around, isn’t it? That my friends is, as a long-time “newspaper man” pal likes to put it, a “ready to eat” quote. Reporters just can’t help but find a way to use something that good – and copy editors sometimes make headlines out of them. Give some thought to your message. Play around with it. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll hit upon a way of conveying it that ties the whole thing up in a bow. Touchdown!

VERITAS TD&F: FUMBLE- TOO MUCH INFORMATION, MR. PRESIDENT

Barack Obama makes so few communications Fumbles (and I have fawningly given him so many Touchdowns to date) that any time the U.S. President makes a mis-step, I’m gonna call him on it. Case in point: this week’s (latest) prime time news conference and, as is often the case, his mishandling of the final question of the night. A reporter asked what he thought the arrest in his own home of Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. by a white police officer. The incident began when Gates apparently realized he had forgotten his keys and was locked out of his house. Someone spotted him trying to jimmy his way inside and called police, thinking it was a burglary in progress. Gates refused to come out of the house when police arrived, but did provide his driver’s licence and Harvard ID card to prove that he was, in fact, standing inside his own home. He also reportedly asked the officer if the fact that he is black was underlying the interrogation. When Gates stepped out onto the porch – and outside of the constitutional protection against arrest afforded by being in his own home, he was promptly arrested and charged with disorderly conduct (charges which were later dropped). Obama, who declared at the start of his answer that he is a friend of Gates, had a number of comments he wanted to make on disproportionate arrest rates of blacks and Hispanics, and how despite the racial progress in America of which his presidency is a testament, there still remains a long way to go. That was all well and good – but in getting there, Obama went through a blow-by-blow description of his understanding of the chain of events surrounding the arrest. Gates is considering laying charges against the police. Having the President of the United States give the White House Press Corps and the millions watching on TV his take on what went down will surely be an issue if those charges ever go to trial. Obama could have made his broader points quite effectively without turning it into CSI D.C. And he really should have known better than to have weighed in far enough to declare the actions of the police “stupid,” which fast became the headline on the story (and, in many cases, got bigger play than his real news conference primary message about health care reform). That’s a Fumble, Mr. President.

VERITAS TD&F: FUMBLE- ARGO RECEIVER RUNS OUT OF OPTIONS

Arland Bruce is a talented veteran receiver with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL. But what is it about receivers in pro football? Bruce has been fined four times this season for various infractions, such as leaving his playbook on an airplane, and for doing (what he admitted was) an on-field imitation of the late Michael Jackson in his coffin after scoring a touchdown for the Argos (laying perfectly still on his back in the end zone with his arms folded across his chest). But he ran out of options, it appears, after verbally thrashing his coach and quarterback in the Globe and Mail this week. He accused coach Bart Andrus of “trying to make an example of me” and offered his advice that the coach should instead “worry about getting the quarterback (Kerry Joseph) right and getting on his ass.” Andrus, to his credit, reacted calmly by leaving Bruce at home for the Argo’s game this week and telling The Fan 590: “There's a certain degree of loyalty you need in an organization and when a guy can’t (give it) he can’t function in the group.” Not taking internal conflicts public in the media is a major issue for all organizations, whether you’re in the sports world or not. But it’s particularly frowned upon in sports, and even more so in football, where teammates are expected to be warriors who go to battle shoulder-to-shoulder. As coach Andrus summed up (and coaches always have the last word on these matters): “He (Bruce) has not been a good teammate and he has not been a team player and I think that he needs to take a good look at himself and see if he’s going to be able to function in pro football.”

VERITAS TD&F: TOUCHDOWN- STEWART CINK IN AN ORGE

Poor Stewart Cink, right? The polite and mild-mannered PGA Tour player (he always reminded me more of an accountant than a golfer) wins his first major championship at the British Open and he happens to do it by destroying the Hollywood ending of 59-year-old Tom Watson, beating Watson in a playoff. The British press were not amused. The Scottish Sun called him “Stewart Stink,” while the Telegraph described him as “the giant ogre in a children's story,” and “the Shrek of Turnberry.” But then Cink delivered a great Touchdown by having some fun with it and winning over fans with a great approach. First, he drank Guinness out of the Claret Jug, the tournament trophy, which is a winning strategy unto itself. Then he went on David Letterman’s show to read a Top Ten list of “surprising facts” about himself. One was he would prefer the nickname “50 Cink,” a reference to the formerly bullet-ridden rapper. Others included “most people think I sell plumbing supplies” and “I called Tiger Woods last night. I laughed and hung up.” But the No. 1 fact? “Even I was rooting for Tom Watson.” It was a Touchdown-worthy – and funny – performance that used humour to undoubtedly win over many fans. It’s something to consider under the right circumstances. When done well, it can work.

VERITAS TD&F: FUMBLE- JAYS' WILD PITCH ON HALLADAY

Roy Halladay is a beloved figure among Toronto Blue Jays fans, one of the few bright spots who can be counted on every five days to restore some pride in the home side. So, clearly, any move to trade him would need to be handled carefully by the Blue Jays. It wasn’t handled carefully, or even particularly well. First of all: sports fans pay attention. They remember. The Jays GM knew when he said in response to a journalist’s question that no player was immune from being traded, and then asked specifically if that included Halladay replied “yes,” that it would ignite a firestorm. Communicators understand trial balloons. But when the Jays were pushed, predictably, by the sporting media, the team said they meant nothing by this comment and that they were just answering a question in a speculative way. That was mistake No. 1 – never speculate. But many fans took the team at its word that the beloved Halladay would be safe and sound. Fast forward to this week, when GM J.P. Riccardi actually set a deadline to trade Halladay July 28, prior to his next scheduled start July 29. Whoa. Many fans started trashing Riccardi on sports talk radio and bemoaning the usual “salary dump” trend toward mediocrity rather than the Jays being “buyers” at the trade deadline and building a contending team that Halladay would presumably be more interested in staying with. It was also inconsistent messaging from the Jays, which undermined the team’s credibility on the Halladay issue. As veteran Toronto Star baseball writer Richard Griffin noted: “This Halladay trade phenomenon has spun totally out of control now. It’s like a game of musical chairs played at last call by drunks.” The final note of inconsistency came when Riccardi was asked Thursday on The Fan 590 what changed to reverse the team’s plan to build a 2010 contender with Halladay on board. “What changed is that Roy told us he was going to test the free-agent market,” he replied. Smart fans sense this was the case all along. Sports communicators, like all communicators, just need to be real. Fans can tell when you’re not.

Friday, July 17, 2009

VERITAS TD&F: TOUCHDOWN- DWAYNE THE SHARK MAKES A SPLASH

To promote its shark exhibit, The Toronto Zoo created a Twitter Account for one of toothiest residents: Dwayne The Shark. In just three days, Dwayne has more than tripled his following on Twitter and the attention he’s received goes beyond the online world with coverage from traditional media outlets like The Toronto Star and Metro News. Organizations, like The Toronto Zoo, are always challenged to find new ways to break through in a crowded market. The key is determining your target audience and the best channel(s) to reach them. Did you know teenagers are not frequent Twitter users? But guess who is – parents. Especially young moms. The zoo was spot-on in using Twitter to reach their target audience; it’s the parents who will bring their kids to see the new inhabitants. The zoo also gets a touchdown for using this initiative to cross promote other events by inserting them into the Twitter feed – like their Mitchel Musso concert. And finally, a touchdown for coming up with such creative and educational way to learn about an often misunderstood creature. Giving the shark a personality and a name humanizes a typically scary creature and allows people to better relate to him. Our tips for the Toronto Zoo? Don’t let Dwayne’s Twitter account fall to the wayside. Keep your audience growing by continuing to provide consistent updates and engaging in two-way conversations with followers. You could also include links to multi-media sites (like Twitpics). Happy Tweeting!

VERITAS TD&F: FUMBLE- SOCIAL SECURITY SPENDING

When the U.S. Social Security Administration is basically facing bankruptcy – trustees said in May the program will start paying out more in benefits than it collects in taxes in 2016, and the program’s trust fund will be depleted by 2037 – it’s awfully hard to imagine spending $700,000 on a conference at an Arizona resort, complete with entertainment, dancers, motivational speakers and food. ABC 15 television in Phoenix even discovered that one of the conference sessions was titled “Emotional Intelligence.” What was Fumble-worthy was the denial of any wrongdoing from SSA spokesperson Leslie Walker, who told the station: “This was a training conference. The location was selected through the government’s competitive bidding process. The facility that was selected was the lowest bidder, and we paid well-below the prescribed government rate.” There was no acknowledgement of how taxpayers concerned about their future Social Security payments could view this, or that perception might be that this was wasteful. It’s always better in a situation like this to recognize the elephant in the room rather than just putting up a wall of denial, and offer to look into how the decision was made and whether similar decisions will be made in future. Walls of denial are found too delicious for enterprising media to knock down. When they do, your story and your embarrassment as an organization live on and become more entrenched.

VERITAS TD&F: TOUCHDOWN- WATSON WOWS AT TURNBERRY

With the Canadian Open on tap next week, it’s a nice time of year for a golf Touchdown, and who better than 59-year-old Tom Watson, who turned back the clock for most of Thursday on Day One of the British Open to lead the tournament with an opening round 5-under 65. What was great about Watson’s comments after his stunning round was how humble they were. He admitted the pristine weather conditions left the course “defenseless.” He was showing respect for a golf course where he famously won his second of five British Open Champions in 1977 in the so-called “Duel in the Sun” with Jack Nicklaus. “She was defenseless today,” Watson told reporters after his round. “Obviously the golf course played with no wind, and it was an easy test, if you have an easy test in an Open Championship. The wind is supposed to blow a little bit more (Friday) and blow a little bit on Saturday and stronger on Sunday, so she’s going to bare her teeth a little bit.” This is one of the reasons why Watson is revered by British golf fans. He shows respect for their traditions and their storied golf courses. It would have been tempting on a day when the best golfer in the world (Tiger Woods) struggled to a 1-over 71 to talk about beating the field or his chances to win the tournament, but Watson wisely demurred. He just said he’d been playing well and hitting the ball straight, while talking about how much he’d enjoyed himself in the bogey-free round. A pinch of humility goes a long way.

VERITAS TD&F: TOUCHDOWN - GM SPOKESMAN CHARGES UP HIS MESSAGE

This week the Ontario government announced a new rebate program aimed at encouraging consumers to buy fully electric cars like the coming-soon Chevrolet Volt. I’ll set aside the pro and con comments which led the story, and focus again on a great quote from GM v-p of corporate affairs Chevrolet Volt, who set all of that aside and re-framed the story thusly: “The question for the next 100 years is, who is going to reinvent the automobile? GM is reinventing the automobile.” That’s obviously a corporate key message for the automaker, and the kind of line you’re never going to deliver in response to an ideal set-up question from a reporter, because they just don’t lob ‘em like that. So what does a savvy communicator do? He creates the opportunity for himself, rhetorically posing the “real” question underlying the issues at hand, and then following through with the answer. It’s a clever technique and, as evidenced by the play the quote got in the Globe & Mail, it works.

VERITAS TD&F: TOUCHDOWN - ROCKET MAN FRANK BUT COOL

It’s still got to be tough to speak for NASA, even though things had been going better over the last while for the space agency than they had in the past couple of years. This week, after numerous delays in getting the shuttle Endeavour off the ground, the good news of a successful launch was quickly overshadowed by the darker story of potential damage caused during launch by foam insulation falling off the giant external fuel tank and bouncing off the ship’s delicate belly. They’ll spend the next couple of days assessing whether anything was dented badly enough to question the safety of the ship for the return to Earth. Cue the straight-talking chair of the mission management team: “The bottom line is we saw some stuff,” said Mike Moses. “Some of it your just can’t really speculate on right now. But we have the tools in front of us and the processes in front of us to go clear this vehicle for entry.” I like this: up front about the possible concern, yet he makes it clear that he’s not going to speculate about what may or may not happen – pointing only to the action they’ll take to get the answers. And bonus points for the everyday language – “we saw some stuff.” Touchdown.

VERITAS TD&F: TOUCHDOWN, FUMBLE - EMS CHIEF WINS SOME, LOSES MORE

Lots of controversy this week about the case of a 50 year-old Toronto man who died while awaiting medical attention. EMS Chief Bruce Farr held a news conference and was clearly on a message mission – for a little while, anyway. He wanted to make clear that there was no truth to rumours that the strike by city workers somehow delayed paramedics from getting to the man in time. That message got through clearly in most of the coverage of Farr’s news conference – but it was the rest of the story that was problematic. He pointed to the information provided by the person who made the initial 9-1-1 call as one of the key reasons for the way the response was handled, specifically because the caller did not indicate that it was a life-threatening situation. But then, when asked if he had personally reviewed the 9-1-1 call tape, Farr admitted that he hadn’t – and, only when questioned further, explained that he isn’t directly involved in the investigation (which would have neatly explained why he hadn’t listened to the tape). Also, he said there was a “health and safety” concern on the part of the ambulance crew when they arrived, and that’s why they didn’t enter the apartment building where the victim lay until some time later. But again, when questioned, he would not disclose neither what that safety concern was, nor the precise timeline of events. This isn’t to say that spokespeople must have all the answers to a situation that has yet to be fully investigated (which, as it turns out, really IS being held up by the civic workers’ strike), but you’ve got to at least be ready to answer the fundamentals – or, if not, be able to clearly articulate WHY you can’t speak to those details at this time. The Globe & Mail’s Brodie Fenlon said the news conference “raised more questions than it answered” while CTV’s Austin Delaney told Farr point blank that his answers left a “huge hole” in the information he was trying to provide to his viewers.

Friday, July 10, 2009

VERITAS TD&F: TOUCHDOWN - MICHAEL JACKSON MEMORIAL CLASSY OVER TRASHY

Veritas Team Huddle compiled by Sarah Daly.

With an estimated one billion people watching the televised memorial this week, it’s tough to argue with Queen Latifah’s description of Michael Jackson as the ‘biggest star on earth.’ Everyone will remember where they were on July 7, 2009 for the two and a half hour star-studded tribute that Veritasians declared a classy Touchdown. Some of our team felt the memorial was over the top, yet also fitting for an ‘over the top’ performer. This demonstrates that the event delivered on the brand that was/still is Michael Jackson. In crass communications terms, we felt it was important they reinforced that brand in the minds of the public - particularly given all the controversy surrounding his death. The spectacle provided a significant cache of positive reflections on Michael’s talent and his music that "owned the news", minimizing opportunities for further media focus on negatives (court cases, the father of his children, etc.) One item did detract from the day’s events, however: the City of L.A. has a very prominent ask on their website (www.lacity.org)– they are requesting donations from fans to help pay for the memorial event. The same event, by the way, that drew tens of thousands of those same fans to L.A. in the first place, where they spent plenty of money. For this Veritas calls a flag on the play. Michael Jackson was, and probably always will be, “the King of Pop,” and overall the tribute remembered the music and the man – not the mayhem and the man. That man may be gone but the “MJ” brand appears to be – at least for now, anyway – alive and well.

VERITAS TD&F: TOUCHDOWN - HOTEL DEALS MESSAGE HITS HOME

There are good news stories to tell even in a less-than-stellar economy. The Toronto Star published a story about discounts of up to 50 per cent on Toronto hotel rooms and mentioned that locals might want to consider “staycations” given the Canadian dollar is at 86 cents compared to 98 cents U.S. a year ago. “You can get the most stars for the lowest price in Toronto,” said Clem Bason, president of the Hotwire Group, part of the online travel site Expedia. It was a great soundbite: simple, pithy, easy to understand and memorable. It drove home the message and enticed consumers to go online and see for themselves how good the deals really are. Similarly effective was Sean Shannon, managing director at Expedia.ca, who said: “Typically at this time of year, we’re sold out, or only have rooms at very high prices… This year, the prices are lower than they’ve been in years. We’re back to the post 9/11 days.” The other communications lesson in this story was that these online travel companies very effectively attached themselves to an issue that was top-of-mind for Canadians, namely the economy. By “slip-streaming” that powerful media issue, and then providing a new hook to it, these companies drove a good strong story by the Star’s Ellen Roseman. A worthy Touchdown.

VERITAS TD&F: TOUCHDOWN - PERSPECTIVE ON HOME SALES

There was surprising news this week that sales of existing Toronto homes (resales) shot up 27 per cent in June from the same month a year ago. Hardly recessionary. “Multiple offers. Frenzied buyers. Higher prices.” That was the lead on veteran Toronto Star Business reporter Tony Wong’s piece. But what was really Touchdown-worthy about the story was the context that was brought to it by Wong and those he interviewed. It would have been awfully tempting to take this theme too far and issue an ‘all is well’ war cry. “Shifting mortgage rates and a great unfreezing of confidence have resulted in a very strong wave of home buying in the GTA,” housing analyst Will Dunning said. “But what really matters over longer periods is job creation, and the signals from the market are discouraging.” Added Dunning: “I expect the short-term impacts of changing rates and postponed buying will soon pass and the GTA housing market will be weaker in the second half of the year.” The reason Dunning is respected by journalists, aside from the 25-plus years he’s being doing this, is that he doesn’t necessarily feed his quotes into the theme of an article. He is honest and analytical. It’s great to make your story as “sexy” as possible, but not at the cost of your long term credibility. Yes the numbers were surprisingly good news, but there are still challenges ahead and more to be done to fix the economy. That was a good balanced message and a Touchdown.

VERITAS TD&F: TOUCHDOWN - FAB PHOTO GETS INK EVERYWHERE

Paul McCartney is playing in Halifax tomorrow. Having a Beatle (and let’s face it, we’re down to either him or Ringo now) perform anywhere is newsworthy, but Sir Cute Beatle draws massive crowds wherever he goes, and Halifax ain’t exactly concert megastar Mecca, so Macca coming to town is huge. I think it was sheer genius on the part of whoever it was that got Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly and Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter to play the parts of Paul and Ringo, respectively, in a photo shot at a Halifax crosswalk (with two other un-named accomplices) recreating the iconic Abbey Road album cover photo of the Beatles in mid-stride on that London zebra-crossing. The photo ran all over the country (helping raise Halifax’s profile as a tourist destination), and was a perfect way to visually advance an event yet to happen while also buying unparalleled cool-cred points for the two politicians involved.

VERITAS TD&F: TOUCHDOWN - BLAIR TAKES OWNERSHIP OF CRIME DROP

“Crime Rate Plunges 30%.” Man, if you’re the police chief, that’s a headline you want to own. And that’s exactly what Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair did, folding that headline-worthy stat into a media event this week announcing the extension of provincial funding for a community policing program which Blair says is responsible for taking the bite outta crime. Yes, there have been spikes in select areas like, say, murders and shootings, but the city’s overall major crime rate is down significantly compared to last year. Also, Toronto’s crime decline is pretty much consistent with what is being experienced in major centres across North America, and there are numerous theories about what’s behind it, from a generally aging population to locking up more bad guys. No matter. There’s no proof as to what’s NOT working, so Blair was very savvy in pointing to procedural changes made on his watch, timed to the flow of more provincial funding to keep it going. Great spin on a great story by a savvy communicator. Touchdown.