Tuesday, January 26, 2010


This week's perspective from TD&F Special Teams: com.motion

Given that just about everyone’s mobile phone has a camera embedded these days, no one is safe from being caught in an awkward moment. Unfortunately that’s particularly true of uniformed, customer facing employees. As you may have seen, a fare collector for the TTC was caught sleeping, head back and jaw slack while on the job. The photo and relating commentary were sent to the well read Torontoist blog, and has since spread far and wide through mainstream media. Given the recent fee hike, this is a sensitive issue facing the TTC as Torontonians expect to see the results of their increased investment. We’re giving TTC a First Down for immediately recognizing the issue as regrettable (“We need to look into this. Clearly that should not be happening,” said spokesman Brad Ross) and promising an investigation to determine all the issues.


This week's perspective from Orli Giroux Namian:

In recent years, most news stories involving air travel have involved some form of poor customer service resulting in frazzled and frustrated passengers. From interminable delays, through limited snacks to lost luggage, we have come to expect very little from our airlines. This week however, both Air Canada and WestJet delivered where it really matters, making a major contribution to Haitian relief efforts with volunteer-staffed planes, chock full of aid workers and vital emergency response cargo. From a humanitarian standpoint, the Touchdown is obvious. From a communications standpoint, Air Canada deserves a special nod for its clear description of the team effort and complicated logistics required to get aid into a disaster zone - admitting how important the lessons learned from prior relief efforts were to rapid planning and execution this time around. This non-boastful narrative, coupled with validation by a third party aid agency noting “how everyone from the airlines to the airport authorities are really committed to just working together and doing the right thing and getting the relief that we can out of the abundance we have here,” makes for a perfect recipe for communications success. Touchdown to our airlines for being able to deliver both the much needed aid and the message.


The auditions are arguably the most entertaining episodes of American Idol, featuring a plethora of some of the most pitiful renditions of popular songs. True, there are some stunning performers who walk away with a ticket to Hollywood, but it’s the talentless who inevitably win a ticket to the viewer’s heart, most notably, William Hung with his version of “She Bangs.” During this year’s premiere, “General” Larry Platt upstaged the talent in Atlanta with his song called “Pants on the Ground”. The 62-year-old civil rights activist’s song about droopy drawers had the judges howling with laughter. It even earned a hesitant endorsement from Idol judge Simon Cowell who said, "I have a horrible feeling this song could be a hit." Platt’s video went viral; millions watched the video on YouTube and late-night talk show host, Jimmy Fallon’s Neil Young version got thousands of hits. Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre did a locker-room rendition of the now famous song and more than a million people have joined a Facebook fan page for Platt. It was pretty clear from the moment Platt appeared on the show that this was a PR ploy. Auditions are usually limited to people aged 16 to 28. At the age of 62, Platt is about three decades too old to qualify but producers let him through, hoping he would attract viewers. The show has suffered some setbacks lately. Ratings have been declining every year and were expected to take a hit with Paula Abdul’s departure and news that Cowell will be exiting at the end of the season. Platt’s performance generated so much buzz, that many people who weren’t watching were inclined to tune in. While some of the talentless performances might not be music to our ears, the publicity they garner can hit a high note. Following Platt’s performance, American Idol dominated the ratings, bringing in more than 26 million viewers. Touchdown.


Not sure if Jay Leno is a regular Touchdown and Fumbles reader, but this week he finally acted on the advice I offered LAST week, which was to make some kind of statement expressing his empathy for Conan O’Brien and everyone else caught in the NBC late night debacle. On Monday, Leno walked his audience through his take on the sequence of events, at one point saying “Don't blame Conan O'Brien. Nice guy, good family guy, great guy. He and I have talked and not a problem since then. That's what managers and people do, they try to get something for their clients.” Leno later noted that he doesn’t have an agent or a manager – he’s a “handshake agreement” guy. He also went to lengths to send two key messages: he was as much a victim of NBC’s decisions as O’Brien ( with Leno claiming he told them that moving him to prime time wouldn’t work), and that he was really concerned about what would happen to his show’s staff. Leno’s remarks contained all the right things, but I don’t know … because it was so long in coming, it just seemed to smack of being self-serving, especially in the wake of so many attacks against him (witness David Letterman’s ongoing barrage, and this week’s broadside from Rosie O’Donnell). O’Brien may not have gotten the ratings (up 50% since all this started, ironically), but he continues to win the battle for public support.


Now that people are getting used to the new, higher fares, the TTC is wisely changing the channel by announcing a new effort to assess exactly where and how it can truly become the better way. TTC chair Adam Giambrone and Chief General Manager Gary Webster announced plans to bring together what they call a “blue ribbon panel” of outside experts to advise the transit system on how to improve. "There have been other attempts [to improve service] in the past. Clearly, though, I think those haven't worked. So at this point you have to say, 'Look, we've tried a number of initiatives, they haven't worked.' Now we're going to take the next step,” Giambrone told reporters. Good messaging, especially in the face of a 20 per cent increase in complaints. But he fell short of a Touchdown due to lack of details – no specifics on who would be part of the panel or what “blue ribbon” credentials would be brought to the table. Still, being seen to be consulting and listening to your customers is as important as actually doing it. Good start.


I can understand how the imagery which immediately comes to mind puts some people off: the juxtaposition of luxury cruise ships packed with cocktail-schwizzling tourists versus the misery, hunger and death that has become Haiti. So it was clearly going to be a massive PR challenge for cruise line Royal Caribbean to articulate why it would be “steady as she goes” with respect to continuing to send its ships to the Haitian beach resort known as Labadee. But here are the facts: Labadee is 160 kilometres from the epicenter of the quake, and was essentially unscathed. Some 230 Haitians are directly employed by the cruise company, and just as many independent vendors make their living selling their wares to the thousands of tourists who can come ashore with every docking. Royal Caribbean has been including these pertinent facts in its communications in response to the criticism, also noting that they checked with – and got the full blessing of – Haitian officials for continuing the port calls. The company is also donating $1 million to the relief effort in addition to bringing along emergency food supplies on each ship. "Simply put, we cannot abandon Haiti now that they need us most,” was how one executive put it. It would be a different story if Labadee had been hit hard by the quake, and ditto if cruise ships were not fully self-sufficient – in other words, they bring people with money to spend into an area but without putting additional demands on local food and water supplies in a time of need. Finally, if Royal Caribbean had stopped sending its ships at this time of need, THAT would have been a much more difficult position to defend.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


At the beginning of the week, it appeared to be game over for Saskatchewan Roughriders’ general manager Eric Tillman who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting his children’s 16-year-old babysitter in 2008. While we don’t condone Tillman’s actions, we believe, his response in the aftermath is worthy of a Touchdown. In a tearful apology in court, Tillman made an emotional connection with the people most affected—including the victim, her family, his family, and Roughriders fans. “I'm profoundly sorry that I brought embarrassment to not only the organization and to my family, but to the people throughout this province.” Tiger Woods could learn a thing or two from Tillman. His comment towards his wife and parents demonstrates his understanding of the impact the scandal has had on them. “It pains me beyond words that 10 or 15 seconds of my life could impact them so significantly and I am so profoundly sorry.” He also took full responsibility for his actions and promised the judge that it will never happen again. While his apology might not save his job, it did spare him a criminal record. The judge gave him an absolute discharge saying that Tillman's behaviour was "out of character for him". Saying he’s sorry doesn’t right the wrong but it could encourage people to be more forgiving. A poll of Riders fans shows more than 86% of responders believe the organization should keep Tillman regardless of the outcome. At Veritas, we advise our clients that in a crisis, the key is to take charge of the situation quickly. Apologies can take you closer to the end zone but can earn you a Fumble if they’re not immediate and sincere.


It was supposed to be Google’s day to shine. The red carpet was laid out as the world’s leading search engine prepared to unveil ‘Nexus One’, its response to the Apple iPhone. But just before Google made its announcement, Apple executives pulled the rug from under its competitor. Apple announced that the number of iPhone applications downloaded from its App Store since its inception 18 months ago has now topped the 3 billion mark. “This is like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” said CEO Steve Jobs. “We see no signs of the competition catching up anytime soon.” Instead of the media going gaga over Google, Apple stole the headlines that day and into the next. Apple executives did not reveal when this milestone was reached but the timing of the announcement is no coincidence. Jobs had some catching up to do after Microsoft unveiled a new slate computer weeks before Apple’s new Tablet PC will be revealed. So Apple seized this opportunity to win back the spotlight. Steve Jobs is a pro at overshadowing his competitors. When Palm introduced its Pre Smartphone, Apple stole its thunder by coming out with an even better iPhone 3GS which has a higher resolution camera and video capability. It’s a competitive industry where timing is everything. And in this case, while the timing was rotten for Google, it was just ripe for Apple. Touchdown.


During the holidays, NOW Magazine touted Toronto city councilor and potential mayoral candidate Adam Giambrone as a contender thusly: “He’s young. He’s bright. He’s gay. And he looked better than any of his challengers so far.” Trouble is, Giambrone’s straight. So how to react to correct the record, without seeming defensive? Answer: laugh it off, as Giambone did, in young bright style – on Facebook: “Amused but not entirely surprised to learn in NOW Magazine that I'm supposedly gay."
He went on to write that he has "great relationship" with the gay community in Toronto, but: "so as not to mislead anyone, I should correct the record: I'm not, in fact, gay. Sarah, my partner, has taken the news in stride (and) with good humour ..."


During the holidays, NOW Magazine touted Toronto city councilor and potential mayoral candidate Adam Giambrone as a contender thusly: “He’s young. He’s bright. He’s gay. And he looked better than any of his challengers so far.” Trouble is, Giambrone’s straight. So how to react to correct the record, without seeming defensive? Answer: laugh it off, as Giambone did, in young bright style – on Facebook: “Amused but not entirely surprised to learn in NOW Magazine that I'm supposedly gay."
He went on to write that he has "great relationship" with the gay community in Toronto, but: "so as not to mislead anyone, I should correct the record: I'm not, in fact, gay. Sarah, my partner, has taken the news in stride (and) with good humour ..."


U.S. President Barack Obama had a tough time of it over the holidays, being slow out of the blocks to respond to the attempting airliner bombing near Detroit on Christmas Day, and hobbled by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s ham-fisted “the system worked” comment in the aftermath. But I think he has made some good strides since, in announcing the probe into how the plot came so close to succeeding, and then yesterday pronouncing it a system-wide intelligence failure, one for which “the buck” rests with him. Any leader in a crisis situation needs to show that they are “on the file,” actively engaged and aware that people are being adversely affected. Obama got there, eventually.


Setting aside (as we always do) any debate about the issue of proroguing – i.e., shutting down – Parliament, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been a lightning rod since Christmas for all manner of editorial and pundit condemnation for the move, so what to do in response? During the holidays, Harper left it to surrogates like his Press Secretary to deliver the counter-spin. But this week, a strategic decision was made to do one (unless there was any other that I missed), high profile, one-on-one interview to talk about the Parliamentary measure and a range of other issues. The CBC’s Peter Mansbridge got the nod, and I think Harper did quite a fine job both in responding to questions on proroguing and new air security measures – while also having a clear message focus on how economic issues are number one for his government, and even squeezing in a shot on the long-gun registry issue in the context of the “wrong way” to go about dealing with potential dangers vis a vis terrorism. Overall, Harper came off as engaged in the tough issues and willing to talk about them – a stark contrast to the oft-made description of him as one who loathes any such interviews. Doing one appearance, taped in his own office, was a smart strategic move, and the execution was solid.