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.

Friday, October 2, 2009

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - BA MESSAGE TAKES FLIGHT

Veritas Team Huddle compiled by Whitney Shanfield

Two colleagues and I recently had the pleasure of flying roundtrip from Toronto to Ireland on a British Airways flight. We were highly impressed with the airline’s communication tactics and attention to detail at every touch-point. The flight attendants were a model for professionalism, our lunchbox told us the historical origin of ‘the sandwich,’ in-flight recycling efforts were communicated on meal containers, and the CSR program (a great fit for the airline) was well-articulated through a simple friendly announcement prior to landing.
On Tuesday, the airline announced the launch of a new service that would further set it apart from its competitors; an all-business-class service from London to New York that features 32 fully flat beds, and for the first time for BA, passengers can send emails, texts and use the internet from the air. The announcement was made via a press conference at London City airport, followed by an inaugural flight for members of the travel media. Not surprisingly, the announcement was picked up by international media. Also not surprisingly for an announcement of this scale in a troubled economic environment, it was met by a mix of both excitement and criticism. Critics questioned the business-only model, said to have caused the failure of three airlines. Environmentalists argued that the service will create three times the emissions per traveler of regular flights. Despite an abundance of challenging questions from the media, BA chief executive Willie Walsh made himself available. And in keeping with BA’s record of transparency, accountability and innovation, Walsh acknowledged challenges, and answered questions with confidence, positivity and facts to back up the airline’s economic and environmental positions. At Veritas, we encourage our media coaching students to always consider the audience with whom they are speaking. We feel British Airways deserves a Touchdown for appropriately managing a message with multiple stakeholders, providing just the right mix of excitement and realism.

VERITAS: FUMBLE - BUSSIN BUSTED ON THE AIR


What WAS she thinking? Toronto Councillor Sandra Bussin went after former (and potentially returning?) Toronto mayoral candidate John Tory, who now hosts a radio show on NewsTalk 1010, attacking his criticism of Mayor David Miller and calling Tory a “three-time loser.” Trouble is, she only identified herself as “Sandra from Toronto” and, when asked if she worked for the city by co-host Tarek Fatah, she said no. Bussin’s voice was promptly recognized by many, and the next day, she was forced to admit it on the air to CFRB’s Dave Trafford. Rather than express contrition at the fib, she tried to rationalize it by saying she “works for her constituents.” Playing fast and loose with the facts when you’ve been caught being less than honest is never a good idea, and Bussin’s five minute phone call turned into days of front-page stories and vicious editorials. Lesson to all: when you make a mistake, own up, apologize, and don’t try and spin your way out of the hole. Put the shovel down, take your lumps, and don’t turn a momentary lapse of judgment into days of bad press.

VERITAS: FUMBLE -ZOO BLOWS PANDA JUNKET POSITIONING


Streeter polls on the radio this morning found most people think it’s fine to spend $63,000 on bringing a pair of pandas to the Toronto Zoo from China – the money will be made back very quickly off the ringing turnstiles, if the last such exhibit was any indication. But when that’s presented as the cost of sending nine people to China to make it happen, suddenly it’s slammed as a junket that abuses taxpayers’ money. See, it’s all about positioning, and this is where the Toronto Zoo dropped the ball from where I sit. I used to work for the Ontario government and logged many miles as part of trade missions to various countries, and what I learned from that is the value of optics in closing deals. Physical presence, and a sizeable one at that, is often key to getting things done in other lands, and in certain cultures in particular. The Zoo’s acting CEO, Peter Evans tried gamely, saying "the personal contact through face-to-face meetings is deemed important to demonstrate the zoo's commitment to this project." But his message was easily trumped by critics like board member and Toronto Councillor Paul Ainslie, who asked “Why throw away $60,000 when you could make a phone call to China?” There’s more to it than that, but it wasn’t there in the communications effort.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - LETTERMAN LEADS HIS OWN STORY


At the moment a man was charged with trying to blackmail David Letterman, threatening to make public tales of Dave’s sexual relationships with women who worked on his CBS Late Show, Letterman had a decision to make. With the charge being laid, the story would become public – hugely, and quickly. Letterman’s choices: keep out of it by saying little or nothing (as he has done before, i.e. when he was being stalked by a crazed fan), or get out in front of it. Wisely, Letterman chose the latter, disclosing to his studio audience that yes, he had been intimately involved with un-named female staffers, and that someone was trying to use it to extort money out of him. The Late Show tapes in the afternoon, so video of Dave’s disclosure quickly made the rounds, letting people see him tell the tale first-hand, with equal parts honesty, bluntness and self-deprecating humour, in a way that few others can manage. He was earnest, sincere, and funny – and, ultimately, fairly endearing, as evidenced by the warm applause from his studio audience when he thanked them for letting him “bend your ear.” And by referencing the “creepy stuff” that we’re sure to hear more about, I think he took some of the edge off of the potentially lurid details which will surely emerge over time, i.e. age differences between the 62 year-old TV host and the women he was with. Ultimately, by leading his own story, Letterman ensured that his positioning and his comments would be the dominant aspects of this, his self-declared sole public statement on the matter. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a backlash from various corners, but he has established the initial shape of the story at the outset.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN- THE HOCKEY GODS ARE SMILING IN TORONTO


This week's perspective from Kathy Barnett

I’m a Leafs fan. There - I’ve said it. And as soon as this is circulated, all the crazy Habs fans I work with here at Veritas (yes, there are lots of them, God help me) will be all over me about it. Even so, I’ve been carefully quiet about my opinions on Leafs GM Brian Burke and the moves he has made to rebuild my (our, his) team. I’m biding my time, waiting until we actually make the playoffs to congratulate him. Luckily, though, Mr. Burke uttered a Touchdown-worthy statement in a media interview just prior to this week’s season opener against those pesky Habs. Commenting on how it feels to be at the helm of the team that is (at least in my opinion) the centre of the hockey universe, Burke said, "It's awesome. It's the Vatican. It's everything." Sometimes, a perfectly placed metaphor or analogy can convey your meaning as strongly as an entire suite of key messages. In this case, I know exactly what Burke means.

VERITAS: FUMBLE - IT'S NOT MAKING WHOOPEE, WHOOPI


This week's perspective from Kathy Barnett

We PR folk just love a good helping of third party endorsement. It’s particularly useful when it comes from an expert in a relevant field – someone who can be a credible voice on your side of the ledger because they have the credentials to back their opinions. We call these individuals “Key Opinion Leaders” (KOLs). In some cases though, having a strong opinion AND a microphone, camera or other communication platform presents such a tempting combination that we take it upon ourselves to BE the KOL, even when we’re not. We say: DON’T RISK IT. Whoopi Goldberg took that risk this week when the topic of Roman Polanski was raised on The View. Goldberg postured, "I know it wasn't ‘rape’ rape. It was something else but I don't believe it was ‘rape’ rape.” The public response was swift and strident, with many chastising her for trying to challenge the definition of rape or pass judgment on the severity of a crime without any “credentials” to back it up. At TD&F, we don’t analyze opinions. We simply call the play. And in this case, since Ms. Goldberg is not a ‘doctor’ doctor or a ‘lawyer’ lawyer, we think her comments make her sound, plainly and simply, ‘dumb’ dumb.