Monday, May 31, 2010


This week's perspective from Com.motion:

It's seems that environmental issues create fertile grounds for brand jacking. Not so long ago, NestlĂ© lost all control of its new Facebook page after some environmental criticisms and unfortunate issue management by the administrators of the page. As a result of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, BP has become the latest victim of brand jacking. The twitter account @bpglobalpr now has over 75,000 followers who receive frequent and sarcastic updates about BP's activities in the Gulf. The Twitter account leads to a website selling t-shirts marked "BP Cares." There's also a Tumblr blog to spread even more bad news. Yet the worst news is that there’s little BP can do about it. The ongoing crisis in the Gulf dictates that BP can’t mount an overt PR counter-offensive until the leak is stopped. But as with most crises, the real action should have taken place before it hit—when BP could have locked up such obvious brand-jacking avenues as @bpglobalpr on Twitter.


This week's perspective from Joe Chidley:

The oil leak from a deep-sea BP well in the Gulf of Mexico is quickly becoming Barack Obama’s Hurricane Katrina. And it’s no thanks to the President’s erstwhile political friends. Democrat opinionator James Carville, who used to work for Bill Clinton, appeared on television to blast Obama for not doing more—more visibly—to address the disaster in the Gulf, which has now officially surpassed the Exxon Valdez spill as the worst oil-related disaster in US history. Carville said the President was not being seen enough in the disaster zone, and was missing a huge opportunity to boost his popularity by being the voice and defender of the people in a time of crisis. Instead, “we are dying down here,” Carville practically screamed to interviewer George Stephanopoulos. Clearly the Administration heard him. Within hours, Obama jumped to his own defence, allowing that he made a mistake in believing oil companies could handle such crises, but declaring that the government was in charge of the response. And by week’s end, there he was—making the rounds and the media appearances in Louisiana. Fair enough. But this might be too much, too late. After all, who wants ownership of a cleanup that is now widely seen to be ineffective and marred by bureaucratic bungling? There may be opportunity in every crisis, but the timing is all. Fumble, Barack Obama.


This week's perspective from Joe Chidley:

Good logos are hard to come by; good stories about creating a new logo are even harder. So I was impressed by Astral Media’s successful earned media coverage of its recent rebrand, which was done by Toronto agency Juniper Park. Fact is, rebranding pitches are among the perennial “who cares?” items for media, since they typically mean a whole lot more to the company doing the rebranding than to anybody else—unless, that is, they are complete disasters. So pushing a rebrand/new logo like Astral did makes for a potentially risky exercise, but they pulled it off. Part of that might have to do with the rebrand itself—a stylized A for Astral that’s more colourful and flowing than the old corporate identity—but I’ll leave the reviews to other commentators who might actually know their fonts from their feet. From a communications perspective, what was cool was how the Astral rebrand ended up in media coverage (including Globe and Mail and Marketing) as part of an industry trend about the psychology of logos—how they’re moving away from the steady, corporate visual identity to a less-standoff-ish, warmer look and feel. That trend vehicle gave the new Astral identity high visibility, sure, but it also placed the company as a thought leader in the space. Upshot: when you can get your story talked about in the context of a positive trend.


This week's perspective from Joe Chidley:

I’ve seen The Blind Side. It’s not very good. But the critics agree: while Sandra Bullock might not have deserved an Oscar for her performance in that movie, she didn’t deserve the kind of treatment she received from soon-to-be-ex-hubby Jesse James. The appropriately named James has certainly come off as a bad guy since revelations of his philandering sent Bullock into self-enforced hiding and him onto the “world’s most hated men” list. This week James decided to take the bull by the horns and “set the record straight” about him and Bullock and his life, by appearing on ABC’s Nightline. Looking a bit haggard and oh-so-earnest, he said all the right things about being sorry for having hurt the one person in his life he loved the most (Bullock). But then he turned the interview into a weird mix of self-loathing and self-serving. First he attributed his fooling-around to an urge to “self-sacrifice my own life”: he had affairs with other women because he wanted to get caught. “It’s hard for me to talk about it a little bit,” he said, begging the question of why he was appearing on national television to do just that. Then, oddly, a discussion of the paparazzi’s unwelcome attention leads him to credit the paparazzi for making him get help: he was getting so stressed by all the media interest that he checked into rehab. What for? Sex addiction (just a li’l bit). Anger management. But mostly because as a child he was “a victim of physical and emotional abuse” at the hands of his father, who allegedly laughed one time when young Jesse fell down and broke his arm. (At this point in the interview, he asked for a few moments to collect himself.) None of this really explains why he committed adultery, of course. And his explanation of a now-infamous photo depicting him wearing Nazi regalia and giving the Heil Hitler salute wasn’t exactly exculpatory. James said it was part of “a perfect storm. People were out for blood and that photo gave it to them.” No, actually, Jesse, you gave it to them, when you put on that stupid hat and made that offensive gesture. The lesson: when your reputation is in the outhouse, it’s often a good idea to get out in front of the accusations, ‘fess up and talk about how you’re going to set things right. But it’s not easy, and you’ve got to be prepared to both make sense and accept real responsibility. Otherwise, you’re just not credible. Fumble, Jesse James. Now please go away forever.


This week's perspective from Bob Reid:

I was considering calling this one a Field Goal – somewhat less than a full Touchdown in communications terms – but, upon reflection, I think that would be nit-picking. After word that the charges against him in connection with last summer’s fatal run-in with a cyclist were being dropped altogether, former Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant stepped before the cameras and microphones. He gave an eloquent – albeit flowery at times – statement, describing the sequence of events as one that “has turned out to be a tale about addiction and mental health, an independent justice system, a tragic death and a couple out on their wedding anniversary with the top down. It is not a morality play about bikes versus cars, couriers versus drivers, or about class, privilege or politics. It's about how in 28 seconds, everything can change." In doing so (backed by the official court record of evidence, including testimony and photos of his assailant involved in previous aggressive acts against drivers), Bryant was able to frame what happened as a perfect storm of circumstance. He wisely noted the loss of the life of Darcy Sheppard (“A young man is dead, and for his family and friends - that remains the searing memory. To them I express my sympathies and sincere condolences. I have grieved that loss and I always will.") And at the end of the day, major newspaper editorials and person-on-the-street comment all seemed in his favour. That’s what counts in a play this big, hence the Touchdown. In the end, Bryant was vindicated, in both the court of law and the court of public opinion, and that is a Touchdown, twice over.

Monday, May 17, 2010


This week's perspective from Com.motion:

With every new feature or platform adjustment, the howls of Facebook users and privacy activists are heard loud and clear - every single time, without fail. The cries of late, following Facebooks F8 Conference on April 21st, are the loudest yet. From a user perspective, some of us recognize that Facebook is a free service and that, as a result, users have less of a say in how it works and should be cautious in how much information we share. Others are either unaware of the implications of such personal information sharing, or are unsure of how to make the appropriate adjustments to their profile. Bottom line - Facebook has not done well by any of those user groups. Worse yet, they've been thoroughly mediocre explaining themselves to the public. Mark Zuckerberg himself, a billionaire at the age of 26, hasn't yet developed an ability to describe his product and assure his audience like, say, Steve Jobs or Bill Gates have. The New York Times hosted a Q&A session between a Vice President at Facebook and the public - unfortunately, it did very little to calm the privacy concerns and was not received as being particularly sincere. Since that time, four United States Senators have issued letters, scores of blog posts have been written, and influencers like Leo Laporte have closed their account. Newsweek is reporting that despite the storm now, there's more to come in October when Aaron Sorkin's movie, The Social Network, is released telling the storied history of Facebook and its founders (it doesn't look to be a sympathetic version for Zuckerberg). Unfortunately, this is a complicated issue from Facebook's perspective. Personal information and users contributing content (photos, videos, etc...) is what drives revenue, in the end. Facebook has tried to provide a huge menu of ways that users can itemize and control exactly what is and what isn't publicly available - unfortunately, their privacy statement has become larger than the American Constitution (minus Amendments) and a maze for users to understand. As Facebook slowly tries to take hold of this crisis, they will need to rethink their approach to the public and take a better approach to the ongoing dialog that is currently boiling over. All eyes are on them and these concerns aren't going away.


This week's perspective from Joe Chidley:

Situation normal, all Facebooked up. For users of the social media mega site, a controversial glitch in early May that allowed Facebookers to see supposedly private information about their “friends” was just another in a recent string of issues that has folks wondering how much (if at all) Facebook cares about their privacy. At least the company acknowledges there is a problem. On May 11, Facebook’s vice-president for public policy, Elliot Schrage, responded to questions submitted by readers of the New York Times about the service problems, and he was suitably and appropriately apologetic, clear and committed to doing better. The trouble is, he was the wrong guy for the job. When the integrity and/or competence of an entire organization is under assault, there really is only one place from which to mount a defense: the top. And amid the onslaught this week, Mark Zuckerberg, the fresh-faced wunderkind at the top of Facebook, was nowhere to be seen or heard. As blogger Kim-Mai Cutler of SocialBeat correctly pointed out, Apple’s Steve Jobs and Google’s Sergey Brin routinely take a stand on controversial issues surrounding their companies and take the lumps when screw-ups occur. Accepting responsibility and being the public face of a corporation is a CEO’s job, in good times and in bad. Realizing that is what separates the men (and women) from the boys. See the blog post above for more perspective on this issue from Com.motion’s Social Media leader Sean McDonald


This week's perspective from Joe Chidley:

On May 7, Tony Noakes, fire chief for the territory of Nunavut, reported the dangerous conditions at the Baffin Correctional Centre in Iqaluit to the RCMP as cause for an investigation into possible criminal negligence. Four days later, the Nunavut government fired him. But that didn’t shut Noakes up. Instead, he talked to reporters about the prison, where more than a hundred men are housed in a facility built for 50. A story in the Globe and Mail recounted how Noakes’ inspectors documented “a long list of code violations,” including improper storage of combustibles, blocked exits and light fixtures hanging by wires. A former military man, Noakes compared conditions in Iqaluit prison with those he saw while inspecting Taliban jails in Afghanistan: “If I were a prisoner, I would much rather be there than here.” And where was the government of Nunavut while Noakes was making these damning allegations? Not commenting. Granted, dismissals are always delicate situations for employers, who have to obey privacy obligations. But the government here could and should have spoken up on the nub of the controversy: conditions in the Iqaluit jail and what exactly it was doing to address them. Anything less looks like evasiveness.


This week's perspective from Bob Reid:

She’s been under fire for weeks, ultimately ending up out of Stephen Harper’s cabinet, out of the Conservative caucus, and verboten from running as a party candidate in the next election. So Helena Guergis had little – make that nothing – to lose when she agreed to sit down with Peter Mansbridge for an exclusive one-on-one interview on CBC-TV. With the exception of how a packet of drugs ended up in husband (former MP) Rahim Jaffer’s pocket (“He has no idea,” she said – and Mansbridge let that go?!) Guergis was overall frank and forthright on all that has befallen her. She flatly denied ever using drugs, having any real estate or bank accounts in Belize, or letting Jaffer use her office or status for any improper purpose. But her key message – and the one which came through most clearly – was one of frustration with never being provided with any specifics on the allegedly criminal allegations which even the Prime Minister pointed to as the heart of the matter. That, combined with the fortuitous appearance on Parliament Hill the next day by private eye Derrick Snowdy – who said he’s got nothing on her in that regard – saw this story definitely take a turn back in Guergis’ favour this week. It worked. Touchdown.


This week's perspective from Bob Reid:

How quickly the tide can turn. Just a few months ago, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals had positioned itself as the white knight, riding to the rescue of animals at the Toronto Humane Society’s shelter on River Street at the height of the fracas between the two organizations. But this week, any armour the OSPCA may have had was pierced by its own petard. The outcry over reports that 350 cats and dogs were to be euthanized at the Society’s Newmarket shelter was heard nationwide. Protesters massed at the gates, screaming “murderers!” at frightened staff and leading the media coverage in the process. A recently-fired staffer gave angry interviews, denouncing the plan. Veterinarians told reporters there’s no need for the animals to be put down over something as relatively minor as ringworm. The aforementioned Toronto Humane Society joined the pile-on, seizing the opportunity to denounce its nemesis. And amid the storm, the OSPCA said relatively little, letting the other, noisier voices frame the story. That’s why moving quickly to ensure prominence in the media coverage is essential for any organization in the midst of a crisis situation. It was Thursday morning before the Society held a news conference, at which chair Rob Godfrey announced that there would be “no mass euthanization” after all, and admitted the “miscommunication” which was now so painfully self-evident. It was the OSPCA which floated the 350 animals figure to begin with – the match that touched off the firestorm in the first place. Godfrey said most of the right things on Thursday – admitting mistakes in both communications and in internal protocols surrounding disease outbreaks, and committing to a full investigation as to what went wrong and why. But the damage had been done by then, and Godfrey’s ill-advised attempts at humour amid such an emotionally-charged situation was simply baffling (“It’s a good day to be a turtle at the OSPCA.”). Finally, although the chair definitely needed to be out front on this, where were the organization’s staff veterinarians, who would have been the most credible possible supplementary voices with respect to the animals at issue and their condition? This was a crisis of the Society’s own making, and one from which it will not soon recover.

Monday, May 10, 2010


This week's perspective from Bob Reid:

Forgive me the headline … heh-heh-heh. But it was a well-timed bit of business that Loblaw president Allan Leighton worked into an analyst call this week, while trotting out the grocery giant’s latest quarterlies. I refer to his mention of Loblaw’s intent to move further into pharmacy services at its stores, a nugget that was music to the ears of both news editors everywhere and the McGuinty government, which is currently at war with Ontario’s pharmacists over the money it pays for prescription drugs and related fees. When there’s a major issue on the boil in the media, it creates opportunities for any organization that can leverage the big story at play for its own messaging purposes – and that’s exactly with Leighton and Loblaw did by advancing a “local” angle, if you will, on the big, ongoing issue which already owned a big chunk of media play by default.


This week's perspective from Bob Reid:

Quite often in communications, timing is just as – and potential more – important than the message. Witness the Toronto Transit Commission taking in on the chin yet again this week, for mulling the possibility of moving out of its existing head office at Yonge and Davisville to a brand new headquarters somewhere else. The idea itself might make tremendous sense in terms of possibly being cheaper than upgrading and expanding the existing space, and bringing together staff currently having to work out of far-flung satellite offices. But no matter: much like the Warren Commission’s magic bullet, they’ve got a timing problem. To even float the notion of shiny new digs in the wake of months of brutal press regarding just about every other aspect of its operations – not to mention their PR campaign pleading for no cuts to funding from the deficit-addled province – automatically trumps any merit that the TTC’s thinking might have. And, in doing so, they handed Toronto mayoral candidate George Smitherman an easy hand grenade to lob back across the subway tracks, which he did without hesitation (pronouncing as “stupid” the plan for a “gleaming new headquarters”) and earned himself some badly-needed campaign media play without breaking a sweat.


This week's perspective from Bob Reid:

The stronger the language, the more attention you’ll get: that’s the general rule of thumb for those who communicate through the media. But I’ve gotta say, I have never made that observation in the context of a page one F-bomb before. Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth took the limits to a whole new level this week when she now infamously told a group of women’s issues activists to “shut the f*** up” about the Harper government’s refusal to support abortion-related initiatives as part of its support plan for women’s health programs in the developing world. It should be noted – and, in fairness to the media, it was very widely reported as such – that Ruth was sympathetic to the pro-choice view of the organizations she was addressing, so her blunt directive was designed to be helpful advice, not a scolding rebuke. But by including the expletive, Ruth broke a cardinal rule of communications: never let your tactic overwhelm your message. As soon as she, ahem, went “blue,” the focus was immediately put on how she said it, rather than what she was trying to say in the first place. And despite the clarity in most media reports regarding her position on the issue at hand, the overwhelming impression was one of bully pulpit as opposed to frank yet friendly advice. A second Fumble goes to Ruth for assuming that she was speaking to a private meeting and could therefore speak freely without concern about her words becoming countless front pages. Admittedly, I’m assuming that’s what she assumed, but either way it goes to show that in this day and age where every cell-phone is also a camera and probably a video recorder, no public figure can ever bank on their comments being securely out of the public eye. Unless they are only talking to their mom … but even then, better check her purse.


This week's perspective from Orli Giroux Namian

Even those of us who can’t manage to stay up to watch late night TV are familiar with the sharp-elbowed exchanges around NBC’s reshuffling of its late night show line up last January. It isn’t as though Conan O’Brien left the struggling network with only the clothes on his back – in exchange for a non-disparagement clause, CoCo got a $32 million buy out. The newly jobless and greatly enriched O’Brien bided his time, grew a beard, embarked on a 40 city comedy tour and inked a deal with TBS in the few months before he could legally take to the airwaves. In the meantime, a bruised Jay Leno went back to hosting the Tonight Show. Last Sunday, with the non-disparage clause barely expired, Conan appeared on 60 Minutes for his first post-NBC departure interview. Surprisingly, in his first TV appearance in months, Conan lacked the comedic touch that has marked his career. He likened the events at NBC to “a marriage breaking up suddenly, violently, quickly.” He said he “got very depressed at times” and that he was “laughing because crying would be sad.” Instead of wallowing in self-pity, why not turn the page, take the opportunity to talk about things to come and set the stage for the next step in what has been a pretty stellar and lucrative career thus far? The “woe is me” route, when there is not much woe to speak of, is not exactly the best way to expand your fan base and endear yourself to an audience save for your die-hard supporters. So for coming off all wet in his first prime time interview, the dry humour guy gets a Fumble.