Friday, October 2, 2009


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.

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