Sunday, February 28, 2010

VERITAS: FUMBLE - PALM EXTENDS A HAND TO EMPLOYEES


Here is this week's perspective from TD&F Special Teams, com.motion:

In the world of business, surprises are infrequently welcome. Taking steps to avoid any anxiety inducing surprises a day before it would become public, Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein sent a letter to employees letting them now that revenues for this fiscal year were well below forecasts. Throughout the end of 2008 and 2009 we’ve seen many attempts at internal communications and employee engagement aimed at cushioning tough news, striving to retain employees and to keep moral high in the work place. Often overlooked, quality employee communications that are inspirational rather than simply informational is a craft with a measureable benefit in the workplace. If you read Rubinstein’s letter to employeesm, it is an attempt to diffuse surprise by providing information with one caveat. He attempts to end the letter with a spark of energy and enthusiasm to overcome the preceding bad news. His last phrase in the letter is “Go team!!!”. It comes terribly out of place after a letter of bad news and has been teased around the internet broadly in the aftermath. Just do a quick search on Twitter for examples. Engagement can’t be achieved through the use of exclamation points or cliché motivation statements. It needs to be real and built around the realities in your work force. This is an unfortunately Fumble for Jon Rubinstein and Palm at a difficult time for their business.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - AKIO TOYODA TESTIFIES BEFORE CONGRESS


Here is this week's perspective for Joe Chidley:

Sometimes, winning isn't the point. Tiger Woods, for instance, must have known that he wouldn't be getting any popularity awards after his televised statement apologizing for his misdeeds. But he had to do it anyway. In the court of public opinion, redemption begins with confession. And that goes as much for the brands one represents as it does for broken marriages. In that sense, Toyota president and CEO Akio Toyoda's Feb. 24 apology before a U.S. congressional hearing into the recall scandal was both necessary and effective. In fact, as early messaging in a crisis in which there is no question over who's to blame, Toyoda's 10-minute speech was a master class. First, he began by stating core corporate principles (commitment to safety, quality and sales last). Second, he explained how the company had strayed from that philosophy, putting sales volume over safety and quality. The result: defects in manufacturing. Here, Toyoda apologized, and offered his condolences to those who had been injured or died as a result of the defects. Third, he laid out plainly what he was going to do "to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again" – a few clear steps (whose effectiveness would be measurable only over the long term, but no matter) that would return the company to its core philosophy. And finally, he took personal responsibility. He reminded the committee members that his name is on every car (Toyoda is the grandson of the company's founder). "For me, when the cars are damaged, it is as though I am as well," he said. Of course, after he finished, the congressmen laid into him with invective, but that had to be expected. Did Toyoda restore his company's tarnished image? Of course not. But it was a solid start to what will be a long and difficult process.

VERITAS: FUMBLE - OWN THE PODIUM


Here is this week's perspective from Joe Chidley:

Elite athletes often set themselves impossible objectives in order to attain their goals. They aim high, even if that aim is unrealistic, in order to win. Such self-delusion can be an effective form of self-motivation, but it does not make much of a communications strategy. Witness the oxymoron that is Own the Podium, the Canadian Olympic Committee program that has garnered its share of criticism for not delivering on its objective – namely, that Canada would win more medals than any other country at the Vancouver Games. As the Olympics march toward Closing Ceremonies, it’s pretty clear that ain’t gonna happen. And now the program, which helps Canadian athletes get better training and coaching, is in the vertiginous spiral of a communications crisis. The media are running with stories that government and corporate donors might not fund the $100-million initiative post-Olympics. Armchair Olympians are swiping that the whole idea is somehow unsportsmanlike and unpatriotic. And worst of all, the medal-race-winning Americans are making fun of us, joking that they are renting the podium during the Olympics but we Canadians can have it back when they’re done. (Oooo, I hope we beat them in hockey….) Given all that, Chris Rudge, chief executive of the COC, has done some hard back-pedaling, admitting to reporters that Own the Podium would not attain its goal and conceding that maybe somebody should have come up with a better name. “We could’ve maybe more euphemistically come up with a name that described helping out athletes be the best they could be,” he said. But the most damaging thing about Own the Podium isn’t the moniker; it’s that its organizers overpromised, publicly. Maybe there is merit internally in setting a super-ambitious objective, but for the love of the Pete don’t communicate it – unless you’re double darned sure you have a good message around not delivering. Before setting the objective six years ago to win the medal count, did anyone ask, What do we say if we don’t make it? It’s not as if no one warned them. Back in 2004 when the COC declared the win-in-2010 ambition, a qualified observer had this to say about it: “You need to think long and hard about statements you’re making on how you’re going to do. You need to have everything perfect just to make the podium, let alone win the race, because that’s what the Olympics is. It makes me shake my head when I hear those predictions because I know what it takes.” The observer? Clara Hughes, who just won speed-skating bronze for Canada in Vancouver. Smart lady – maybe she should go into PR now that she’s retiring from competition. This whole thing is a Fumble for the COC.

VERITAS: TOUCHOWN - BRONZE, SCHMONZE ... JOANNIE'S PURE GOLD

Many have already said this, but if you haven’t been deeply moved by the story of Joannie Rochette, you’d better check for a pulse. The Montreal figure skater has captured the hearts of the nation with her medal-winning display of incredible poise, focus and determination amid unimaginable grief following the sudden death of her mother in Vancouver earlier this week. Steeling herself, Rochette turned in two career-best performances and landed on the podium with Canada’s first figure skating (bronze) medal since Elizabeth Manley’s surprise star turn in Calgary back in 1988. Afterward, she spoke to reporters, demonstrating grace equal to that which she showed on the ice. “I feel proud, and the result didn’t matter, but I’m happy to be on the podium,” she said. “That was my goal coming here. It’s been a lifetime project with my mom, and we achieved that.” Other quotes: “She was my biggest fan, my best friend. She was with me every step of the way.” Lovely, and endearing, but also this: “And even though she’s not here anymore, and I’m not afraid to say it, sometimes she was a pain in the ass,” Rochette said, as CNN noted, “laughing, probably for the first time in days.” Bravery, grace under pressure, and still a sense of humour. The medal may be bronze, but Joannie’s pure gold.

VERITAS: FUMBLE RECOVERY - GUERGIS GETS APOLOGY IN SAME NEWS CYCLE

We seem to have more and more examples of the public apology to dissect here at TD&F, and the latest comes courtesy of Helena Guergis, federal minister of state for the status of women. She threw a hissy fit at the Charlottetown airport, ranting at security staff and one of her own aides after being made to remove her boots as part of the pre-flight screening process. As word of the incident reached the media (with help from Liberal MP Wayne Easter), Guergis wisely issued a full and unequivocal apology for her behaviour – “an unusually abject mea culpa,” as described by the Toronto Star. Taking full lumps for her outburst was the right thing to do, and it was also a good move to ensure that it was done within the same news cycle, ensuring that the apology was part of the news of the outburst itself. The only thing worse than having to apologize for a public meltdown is having to do it seemingly in response to a round of bad press – something Guergis has avoided.

VERITAS: FUMBLE - DANNY WILLIAMS REDUX

A few weeks back, when the whole controversy about Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams’ decision to seek cardiac surgery in the U.S. first surfaced, I gave his office a Fumble for not coming clean right out of the gate with details on where he was going, what the nature of the procedure was, and why he went stateside for it in the first place. Regardless of the reasons, the cat-and-mouse act with the information was only going to keep the story rolling … and it did. Now that he has had the procedure and is recovering and giving some interviews, I have to call a second Fumble on Premier Williams himself. Not for saying “it’s my heart, it’s my choice,” or any of the other political aspects which swirl around this story, but rather for the fact that Williams has either been inaccurate or worse with the facts of the matter. Being inaccurate with the media – deliberately or otherwise – is at best an honest error or at worst scandalous, but in any case it’s something to be avoided at all costs. The true facts will always emerge in the end, and those proffering inaccuracies will suffer. Williams told NTV in a post-op interview that “the surgery I eventually got … was not offered to me in Canada.” This was quickly countered by prominent cardiologists across the country in both live quotes and released statements. Again, let me be clear: the communications play isn’t about where and how he got his surgery, it’s about the way it was positioned. By suggesting he could only get what he was after south of the border – a statement quickly proven untrue by leading health care voices – it became a Fumble.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

VERITAS: TURNOVER - VANOC TRIES GAMELY BUT LOSES FIRST WEEK

I feel for John Furlong and the rest of the officials with the Vancouver Olympic organizing committee (VANOC), I really do. Logistical headaches are inevitable at any event on this scale; throw in the warmest weather in ages, and you’ve got a communications nightmare. For his part, CEO Furlong has gamely followed good crisis (and we use the term loosely in this case) communications fundamentals by being available to reporters regularly and frequently. He has also answered the key questions as to what happened and what is being done to correct the various problems, i.e. course conditions, lineups, transportation, etc. But for me, what tips this call to a Turnover – I think VANOC’s defence has been too strong to call it a Fumble – is the fracas around the massive Olympic cauldron. The public had been kept far, far away from the iconic structure, with an ugly chain-link security fence blocking all camera angles. VANOC did the right thing by moving the fence line such that people can now get much closer, and facilitating photos with an eye-level cut in the fence and access to an adjacent rooftop vantage point offering a clean shot. The big communications problems here have been two-fold: first, although they moved the fence, VANOC never once admitted it was a bad idea to have it where it was in the first place. A suitable acceptance of responsibility – and, in this case, an overt apology would have been in order – is essential in crisis communications response. And, more than that, the best solution to a potential PR disaster is to not have one in the first place. Unlike most (if not all) of the other problems giving VANOC bad press, somebody should have seen this one coming and fixed it at the outset.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

VERITAS: FUMBLE - GOOGLE PUNTS MUSIC BLOGS


This week's perspective from TD&F Special Teams, com.motion:
The debate over file sharing and the United States’ Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is far from over and Google may have just fanned the flames. Earlier this week, Google deleted six of the most popular music blogs (including all archived information) on its popular blogging site Blogger.com. Music blogs have been instrumental (pun intended) in the spread and rise in popularity of independent music over the past few years. Although it remains unconfirmed, blog owners have insisted they were not hosting any copyrighted material, nor were they issued any notices to remove their content as would be customary in an infringement situation. Google has defended their actions saying, “When we receive multiple DMCA complaints about the same blog, and have no indication that the offending content is being used in an authorized manner, we will remove the blog.” Pushback was instant, spreading on Twitter through the use of the popularized hashtag #musicblogocide2k10 Without weighing into issues of copyright, we’re calling this a Fumble. Failing to communicate with blog owners and the wider blogging community created fertile grounds for complaints. Normally more savvy of the online space, Google would have benefited from posting its rationale prior to deleting the blogs, not after.

VERITAS: FUMBLE - MIS-SHIFT FOR FORD

This week's perspective from Orli Giroux Namian:
Ford Motor Company has come a long way down the road from the days when car afficionados joked that FORD stood for Fix Or Repair Daily. From having weathered the recession far better than either GM or Chrysler, to recent wins in consumer satisfaction and quality surveys, Ford has been on a roll. Small wonder that Ford wants to tout its improved quality ratings in its advertising campaigns. "Ford quality is equal to Toyota" goes the claim in its current Ford Drive One TV commercial. With Toyota having long been a byword for reliability, the ad would have seemed right on message when the copy was hot off the printer at Ford’s Ad agency. The early reviews praised Ford's savvy for targeting Toyota's market at a time when the high Yen has made its cars less competitive in North America. What Ford hadn't counted on was Toyota’s massive global recall, sales halt on eight models and the highly-publicized apology for quality failures made by Toyota's President Akio Toyoda. The lesson here is that it's all very well to compare yourself to the industry leader but you'd better stay on top of the news currents or you run the risk of being run off course.

VERITAS: FUMBLE - BAKED ALASKA


This week's perspective from Orli Giroux Namian:
Sarah Palin, 2008 Republican Vice-Presidential candidate and potential contender for the top spot in 2012 was caught red-handed (actually it was black ink, but let’s not quibble) at the Tea Party Convention in Nashville last week. During her speech, Palin took President Obama to task about his reliance on a teleprompter during his recent State of the Union Address: “This is about the people…and it’s a lot bigger than any charismatic guy with a teleprompter,” said Palin. There are those who might think it a stretch for Sarah Palin to be critiquing Barack Obama’s oratorical skills. But even those who favour Palin’s folksy “Aw shucks” style will have cringed when the camera picked up crib notes scribbled on the palm of her left hand: “Energy:”, “ Tax”, “Lift American Spirits” and “Budget Cuts” with the word “Budget” crossed out. There are two lessons here: First, know your key messages cold, then rehearse, rehearse and rehearse them yet again. Second, don’t be slagging the other guy’s communication technique when your own won’t withstand much scrutiny.

VERITAS: FUMBLE - TMI, JOHN MAYER

Man, for a guy who’s apparently really worried about coming off as a “DB” he really talks a lot about being worried about being a “DB” and you can’t help but thinking about him being a “DB” by the end of it. That’s my thumbnail take on the lengthy interview by John Mayer in the current issue of Playboy. I read it online, no pictures. Honest. But speaking of pictures, Mayer goes on at length in the interview about how he really likes his porn, as well as solo activities often related thereto, and, if that wasn’t enough, equates his private part to that of “a white supremacist” or “David Duke.” On this note, he’s taking a lot of heat right now (in ripple-effect media coverage about this very interview) for dropping the N-word, but in the context of the full statement, I can see how he wasn’t using it to be offensive – quite the contrary, actually. But what Mayer clearly doesn’t get is that you can never use a word like that an expect it to be heard in any other way. And yes, he talks a lot (I mean, a LOT) about Jennifer Aniston (most of which is rather tender, I thought) and also Jessica Simpson (much more carnally - “Yeah, that girl is like crack cocaine to me.”) It’s frank, it’s candid, and it’s an interview that left me wondering what the hell he was trying to accomplish. And because I can’t figure that out (unless it’s a pure publicity stunt aimed at selling records with zero regard for his personal brand), it tells me that Mayer had no strategic plan going in. He just talked and talked and talked about whatever was on his mind. At one point, most tellingly, he tells the reporter “you can print that” – apparently not understanding that he can – and did – actually print ALL of it. Maybe he was telling the honest truth when he said “in 2010 my goal is to get more mentions in US Weekly than ever.” Heavier Things indeed.

VERITAS: CAUTION - POLITICIANS HAD BETTER PICK THEIR OLYMPIC SPOTS CAREFULLY


This call is a first here at TD&F, but it’s a pre-emptive warning from this official to those politicians assembling on the field of dreamy-good Olympic media coverage. From Stephen Harper and his federal colleagues to the lowliest of Vancouver city councilors, getting their mugs on camera amid the Olympic fervour now taking hold is the crack cocaine of photo-ops. The temptation for politicos to horn in on magical sporting moments can be irresistible – just ask Otto Jelinek, who was the federal Minister of Sport during our last Olympic hosting turn in Calgary, 1988. You couldn’t swing a zoom lens without hitting the guy (and he wasn’t the only one), and it rubbed people the wrong way. Of course there is a place for elected officials at this international celebration of sport – but it’s a limited one, and smart politicians will govern themselves, accordingly.

VERITAS: FUMBLE - MADAM, I'M ADAM


Where to begin? This whole thing was such a train-wreck that it’s hard to tell the wheels from the rails … OK, let’s set aside the “who’s-zooming-who” salacious details surrounding now ex-Toronto mayoral candidate Adam Giambrone’s fall from grace and look purely at the communications aspect (as we do as a matter of course here at TD&F). We can only assume that the sequence of events was something like this: girlfriend Kristen Lucas goes to the Toronto Star with the story of her clandestine relationship with Giambrone, supplying text message transcripts, posing for photos, and talking openly about certain activities taking place on the councilor’s office sofa. The Star puts story together, then calls Giambrone, informing him of plans to publish, and offering the opportunity to comment. What to do, what to do …? When confronted with a messy issue that is about to get page one treatment in the media, the cardinal rule is simple: complete and utter full disclosure – no matter how painful – and for good reason, as witnessed by the out-of-control spiral into which Giambrone fell. Day One, he gave the Star a statement which quickly unraveled, i.e. “inappropriate contact” with “one woman” which took the sole forms of text messages and face-to-face encounters only at public events. Lucas’ claims and text message corroboration shredded that, as did the before-11-PM identification of yet another woman by Global TV. Day Two, there’s Giambrone, with another front-page exclusive statement to the Star, essentially admitting that 24 hours ago he was outright lying to them in an attempt to control the damage. If you’re in a crisis situation and there is more bad news lurking out there that hasn’t come out yet (but probably will,) lance that boil yourself. Have one really, really bad day and you might be able to survive to fight on. Have one really, really bad day after another and you’re toast. Backing up a step, the text-messaging revelation that Giambrone’s so-called partnership with Sarah McQuarrie was purely “political” and for the purpose of the “campaign” only further showed that his carefully constructed domestic home life image was nothing more than that: a backdrop. In any communications effort, credibility is absolutely everything – and that’s never more true than in the realm of politics. But regardless of whether you’re running for higher office or simply trying to reach a targeted audience with a message, if you self-immolate your own credibility, well, you got nothin’. Just ask Adam Giambrone.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

VERITAS: FUMBLE - OHHHH, DANNY BOY


It’s always dicey ground when a political leader has a personal matter on the go. Where does the line fall between the public’s right to know and a human being’s privacy – and the person’s right to decide how to handle whatever it is that’s going on? The big one this week was Newfoundland & Labrador Premier Danny Williams’ “unspecified” heart condition, and his decision to have it treated at an “undisclosed” hospital south of the border. Those were the words used by media across the country, honing in on the unanswered questions – which were immediately turned into political footballs both here and in the U.S. as Williams’ condition became the latest flash point on Canadian vs. American health care policy. Nature abhors a vacuum and will fill it with whatever gets sucked in through the first breach in the weakest spot of the barrier – and the same holds true with a hot media story. Leave large blanks in the information you release, and it will immediately be filled with speculation – informed or otherwise – by commentators and activists alike. And that’s exactly what has happened with “Danny Millions,” as his detractors love to label him. Even setting aside previous political comments he has made with respect to Canadian medicare, the real communications Fumble was the simple fact that his office made what was really only half an announcement about what was wrong with him, where he was going and the nature of his treatment. Rather than laying all of those facts out at once – with a single round of reportage – Williams has instead initiated a game of cat and mouse with the national media, all of whom were quickly immersed in trying to be first to find the Premier, the hospital and the specifics on his condition and the procedure which will address it. It will all come out eventually anyway – why endure a thousand cuts in the media before the scapel even finds its mark in the O.R.?

VERITAS: FUMBLE - MEL GIBSON RETURNS TO FORM


Did you hear the one about the Hollywood star whose personal foibles threatened to overshadow his box office bankability? This is hardly a new concept or concern – just ask Tom Cruise, Gary Busey, Russell Crowe, Michael “Kramer” Richards … so you’d think Mel Gibson wouldn’t be exactly surprised to be asked about his tabloid-documented misconduct during the period between his last starring roles, i.e. drunk driving charges and anti-Semitic rants. More to the point, anyone who works in the public spotlight has been the focus of such reports should be locked, loaded and ready to deal with questions about personal conducts in the context of their next career steps. So it was with astonishment that I watched Gibson get his back up and then some during a satellite interview to promote his new movie with a Chicago-based TV interviewer who asked an entirely legitimate question in an entirely non-obnoxious manner: did Gibson think that his publicly-reported personal issues might still be on the minds of moviegoers, as he promotes his first starring-role film since those matters went down? First, he ridiculed the interviewer – twice calling him “dude,” for some reason – challenging with “What are you referring to specifically?” then shaking his head in mock amazement as the list of transgressions was specified. “That’s almost four years ago dude. I mean, I’ve moved on; I guess YOU haven’t,” was the response, followed later by “I’ve done all the necessary mea culpas … let’s move on, dude.” Then, the capper – switching from “dude” to “a**hole,” after he thought the satellite link had been closed. For an often brilliant public performer, this was worse than amateur hour. Anticipate the tough/likely questions ahead of time, and be prepared to deal with them with aplomb. Gibson’s push-back tactics might have worked with his die-hard fans who have stuck through him through thin and thinner over the past several years, but that’s not the audience he needs to reach – and reach out to – today.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - MILDRED'S SERVES UP SOME LOVIN IN THE LOO


You’ve probably heard the old saying, “Advertising you pay for, public relations you pray for.” Well, the PR Gods must be smiling over Toronto restaurant Mildred’s Temple Kitchen, which is spicing things up for Valentine’s Day by encouraging people to skip dinner and head straight for dessert. Mildred’s is inviting customers to, ahem, have sex in its bathrooms. In an email sent to customers, the Liberty Village restaurant claims its large unisex bathrooms are among the "101 places to have sex before you die." It’s a rather cheeky way to get attention at a time when all kinds of restaurants are flirting for your Valentine’s Day business. The typical routine becomes a bit of a seductive blur after a while – the complimentary box of chocolates with dinner, the candlelight dinner complete with a rose for the lovely lady. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Okay, maybe not the t-shirt but definitely the complimentary rose. So it’s no surprise to see the buzz around Mildred’s saucy promotion. The story has gotten huge traction in mainstream media and has also become the subject of many foodie blogs and generated significant radio chatter. Courting customers is a bit like dating. You know you have something great to offer but you need a way to stand out. PR is a key ingredient in the recipe for success. A public relations campaign can help you break the ice and get their attention. A great experience will keep them coming back and if they like you, they’ll introduce you to their friends. Mildred’s certainly knows how to cook up some business. Touchdown.

VERITAS: FUMBLE - AMAZON TOO FOCUSED ON ITS OWN PLAYBOOK

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

Amazon is facing some very public backlash from the publishing industry of late. Seemingly unprepared for the launch of Apple's iPad, Amazon has waged a very public battle with publishers. With hopes of positioning the Kindle as the de facto ebook standard, Amazon has been buying publications for between $10-14 wholesale and selling them at a loss for $9.99 for use on the Kindle. Unsurprisingly, publishers are publicly concerned that Amazon is undervaluing their publications with hopes of gaining market traction and developing a better negotiating position to push for a lower wholesale cost per publication. Confidently (as usual), Steve Jobs announced that publications would be sold to iBook users for the iPad for $14.99, going so far as to say publishers weren't happy with Amazon's tactics and that in the end, prices would be the same across the board. Given the success of Apple's iPhone, App Store and iTunes, its not surprising that most people believe Jobs. In a refute of Amazon, Macmillan, one of the largest publishers in the world, took out a full page ad in Publishers to voice their side of the spat with Amazon. The iPad and its implications have been widely discussed for months, ad nauseum. It's hard to believe that Amazon wasn't more prepared for this eventuality, having discussed and prepared with business partners, most especially publishers. In the end, Amazon is put in a position where it looks as though they are holding publications hostage to justify their Kindle device. The iPad has taken away their leverage and put them in a position where they need to communicate and negotiate. For Amazon's sake, the sooner the better.

Monday, February 1, 2010

VERITAS: FIRST DOWN - TOYOTA STUCK HALFWAY BETWEEN PROBLEM AND SOLUTION


Crisis communications is a big part of our stock in trade around here, so we’ve been following the Toyota situation very closely. This is one of the biggest corporate crises we’ve seen in a long time, and the circumstances make it one of the worst possible jams in which any organization could find itself. Here’s why: Toyota realized it had a major, massive problem on its hands – one which affects a broad swath of its product line, and one which potentially puts its customers in harm’s way. But worst of all, they know they’ve got a huge problem, yet they have no idea how to fix it. In any crisis situation, your communications needs to encompass three key points: what happened, how it happened, and what you’re doing to remedy the situation and prevent it from happening again. Toyota has the first two, but they desperately need the third. They’ve done the right thing by issuing the recall (albeit one ordered by the U.S. government) and proactively warning their customers through the media. Ditto for stopping sales – and production – of the affected vehicles. And from a communications standpoint, I think they’ve been especially smart in not blaming the (Canadian) supplier who makes the gas pedal assemblies which are at the heart of the problem, instead accepting the ultimate responsibility for everything that comprises a Toyota product. If we look to the Tylenol crisis of the 1980s as the gold standard for crisis comms, so far Toyota is following that lead: they’ve warned the public of the potential danger, and they’ve pulled the product from the shelves, so to speak. Now what they need more than anything is the solution – the equivalent of the safety seal packaging which enabled Tylenol not only to put the immediate problem to rest, but to set the new standard in safety in their category. You can bet they’re working day and night to find it.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - TTC MEA CULPA RESONATES


It’s been a tough couple of months for the Toronto Transit Commission, what with a major subway shutdown, a fare hike, a damning report on mismanagement of the St Clair right-of-way project and the snoring collector heard ‘round the world. So Chair Adam Giambrone and Chief General Manager Gary Webster did the right thing this week, when they put forth a powerful but simple message to riders: we hear you, and we’re going to work hard to get better. “We owe our riders and apology for customer service that does not live up to their expectations” were Giambrone’s exact words. “The most challenging part of our job is the people side,” Webster offered. “This is an opportunity for us to step it up a notch.” A range of coming initiatives was outlined, including better staff screening at the hiring stage and beefed up customer service training, new complaint hotlines, metropass vending machines, electronic screens with next vehicle arrival time information and even text messaging updates – all indicating that some serious work is to be done in a number of areas, consistent with the commitment. The Toronto Star’s Royson James called it “classic damage control” and pronounced it ‘well done,” rightly noting that Giambrone is about to run for mayor and needs to show leadership on the city file he currently holds before setting off in pursuit of the whole enchilada. But based on comments from commuters on radio and TV, most seem just pleased that their complaints are being heard and encouraged by the appearance of some action being taken. Touchdown.

VERITAS: FUMBLE - "QUICKDRAW" MCGRAW LEAKS iPAD DETAILS

This week's perspective from Orli Giroux Namian:

I can just picture the steam coming out of Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ ears. While speculation around Apple’s new product launch has been running at fever pitch, Jobs, famous for creating build-up and hype surrounding a launch, had still managed to keep a lid on many of the iPad’s finer details. Cue Terry McGraw, CEO of McGraw Hill, who appeared on CNBC to discuss the major publishing house’s fourth-quarter earnings. It seemed like a pretty innocuous interview, up until he ended up spilling the beans on the hotly anticipated device. “Yes, they'll make their announcement tomorrow on this one. We have worked with Apple for quite a while. And the Tablet is going to be based on the iPhone operating system and so it will be transferable. So what you are going to be able to do now – we have a consortium of e-books. And we have 95% of all our materials that are in e-book format on that one. So now with the tablet you're going to open up the higher education market, the professional market. The tablet is going to be just really terrific." What followed was a failed attempt at damage control by a McGraw Hill spokesperson, a whirlwind of media reports on Apple’s new tablet device and, one can only presume, some deep displeasure among the folks at Apple. The communications lesson learned here is classic. In an interview, only answer questions related to yourself and your subject matter expertise; don’t speak on behalf of others, be it your competition or your partners. A savvy interviewer, as is CNBC’s Erin Burnett, will run the gamut of relevant topics, relax the interviewee and just when you think your prime time moment is over, casually toss out the very question they’ve wanted to ask you all along. Burnett did just that with her question about Apple and McGraw took an extra-large bite.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - CLINTON PRAISES CANADA

This week's perspective from Joe Chidley:

It was this nation's moment in the spotlight. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, speaking to the movers and shakers of the global economy at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Lots to brag about: a resilient economy. The strongest banking system in the world. A commitment to maintaining and growing the financial services industry while remaining true to the conviction that we will not walk down the path of overregulation of financial institutions and free markets and moreover.... Zzzzzz.... Huh? What? Ok, that's unfair. The PM delivered a solid speech, and included some very noble sentiment about the tremendously important issue of making women's and children's health a top priority of Canada's G8 leadership this year. But this country's real moment in the Davos spotlight came courtesy of ex-President Bill Clinton. Speaking to reporters with Harper at his side, Clinton, who's the U.N.’s Special Envoy to Haiti, singled out Canada for going above and beyond the call of duty in providing aid to that earthquake-ravaged country. In doing so, Clinton showed both his understanding of Canada (home to a substantial Haitian diaspora, he noted) and his diplomatic savvy – like when he praised Canadians for donating "probably more per capita" than any other nation, and gave credit for that in part to the Harper government and its policy of matching private donations. TV cameras captured Stephen Harper looking quite pleased and proud, to say the least. Takeaways: 1)Clinton, for all his faults, is still a great communicator. 2)If someone in the PMO set that news bite up, he or she should get a promotion. 3) And finally, one surefire way to get props is this: do something really good. Touchdown, Canada!

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - GEITHNER IN THE HOUSE!

This week's perspective from Joe Chidley:

OK, you can ask for a video replay on this one, but I think U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner did a superb job talking back to the congressmen on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearings on the controversial bailout of mega-insurer AIG. Democrats and Republicans alike piled on the questions and accusations to make it clear – in an election year, of course – that they were more outraged than anybody else by so many taxpayer dollars going to so few filthy rich people. And they had Geithner, who in his previous job as head of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, was instrumental in the AIG save, firmly in their sights. But for once, Geithner came across as reasoned, single-minded and consistent in his own defence, and in defence of the Obama administration’s response to the crisis on Wall Street. To quote: “If you are outraged by AIG – and you should be – then you should be deeply committed to financial reform that will protect taxpayers and the economy from excessive risk-taking by financial institutions.” Rather crafty, that. This steady performance was something of a surprise. In his televised debut address last February, Geithner tried to explain the government’s plan to clean up the banks, and he came across as unconvincing – almost as if he didn’t understand the plan himself. It was such a bad performance that the stock markets tanked the next day. This time around, Geithner was the strong, even courageous regulatory official – OK, that doesn’t sound exactly inspiring, but you know what I mean – that Obama made him out to be when he got the nod at Treasury. Anyway, I’ll admit that Geithner’s bravado might not be enough to save his job over the long run. But it should at least earn him some respect.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - iWANT, iPAD, iTOUCHDOWN


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

Apple announcement day is to geeks what New Years Eve is to drinkers – it’s when all the amateurs come out of the woodwork. This week was no exception as Apple CEO Steve Jobs finally ended months of speculation and announced the latest in the iPod franchise – the iPad tablet computer. The social media space has literally been throbbing with excitement trying to predict what Jobs would announce – to the point where the product itself didn’t even matter, just the dimly held view that there was going to be a product. “Leaks” have been published, analysed and dismissed on an almost daily basis as Apple’s communications and marketing strategy of staying silent continued to fuel the online excitement. On launch day, the corner of the Internet usually reserved for geeks and propeller heads was invaded by normally rational citizens wanting to know the very second the announcement was made. The microblogging platform Twitter and the popular blog Engadget strained under the weight of users … and their expectations as the launch was reported in real-time. Finally, following the launch, the iPad is the lead story on radio, TV, print and online publications around the world. Whether the product can live up to all this hype is not a matter for TD&F (which has already purchased 76 iPads and counting). It’s a no brainer to give this almost perfectly executed strategy of silence a Touchdown (see “Quickdraw’ Fumble by my colleague Orli). After all, it’s hard to think of a consumer electronics device which has gotten more publicity, before, during and after its launch. Oh wait, there was this phone a few years ago…