Friday, July 23, 2010

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - TIGER WOODS, AMERICA'S SWEETHEART

This week's perspective from Joe Chidley:

What’s the difference between John Daly and Tiger Woods? Both are great golfers, in their own ways, of course. Both have had more than their share of scandals and embarrassments. So why is one the subject of a Golf Channel reality show, and the other the most-liked athlete in the United States? It comes down to this: Tiger is a winner. Daly? Not so much. (His last PGA Tour victory was six years ago.) In fact, all of Tiger’s PR struggles last year seem not to have dimmed his light in the eyes of the American public, which according to a recent poll find Tiger even more likeable than Kobe Bryant (himself no stranger to allegations of sexual impropriety). I’ve said it before, but the real path to Tiger’s rehabilitation from sex-addictive infamy has to take place on the golf course, not in front of the microphone. His time-off from the sport, his return at the Masters, and his very human struggles with his golf game—which seems to be steadily improving through a difficult season personally and physically—have all been good moves because they focused attention on the game, not the boudoir. When he appeared at the Masters in April, I said the best thing Tiger can do to repair his damaged reputation is win a tournament. He hasn’t done that—yet—this year. But the bigger victory is that the drama now for Tiger, and the one that the public seems to care about most, is no longer about SUVs and fire hydrants and marital infidelity: it’s about him on the golf course. Touchdown, Tiger Woods.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - FALLS AVENUE RESORT SHOWS TORONTO THE LOVE

This week's perspective from Aliya Jiwan:

We’re always on the lookout for good or bad communications plays, and when paid media generates earned media, it always makes the team here at TD+F stop and look. Sometimes, the attention is unwanted, as was the case this week with the Niagara Parks Commission (NPC), when they launched an ad campaign that painted Toronto as a crime and graffiti-ridden city and left many GTA residents fuming. The commercials contrast one scene of stressful life in the city with another of peaceful Niagara. The resulting headlines focused on Toronto’s dismay at the campaign, mayoral candidate “Furious” George Smitherman’s anger over the commercials and then the NPC’s decision to scale them back. The whole thing had Hogtowners screaming foul. But sometimes even the worst media coverage yields a great opportunity. In this case, while NPC officials were trying to kiss and makeup with their big-city neighbour, one Niagara Falls resort was cozying up to GTA tourists with a “We Love Toronto” offer. The Falls Avenue Resort, which includes the downtown Sheraton, Crowne Plaza, Skyline and Hampton Inn hotels, will offer rooms for most of September to GTA visitors for $79 a night, with the proceeds going to the Hospital for Sick Children. Now that’s love. During a crisis, thought leadership or CSR initiatives can often lessen the impact. This quick-thinking reaction to negative media attention has insulated the Falls Avenue Resort from what could have been a damaging PR campaign. For a deft recovery, it’s a touchdown.

VERITAS: FUMBLE - THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION ON THE SHERROD AFFAIR

This week's perspective from Orli Giroux-Namian:

Pity Shirley Sherrod, a mid-level official at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who has become the centre of a storm of controversy about race, race sensitivity and political bungling in Washington. Her saga began after blogger Andrew Breitbart posted a sliced-and-diced portion of a speech Sherrod gave at a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) event last year, at which she mentioned an instance of not offering her full help to a white farmer. Within hours, the “story” was picked up by other websites and pushed out as news by cable network FOX News. Sherrod was promptly denounced by the NAACP and, more importantly, fired by US government officials. Oops. Anyone viewing the full speech would have quickly learned three things: first, the incident happened long before Sherrod’s days with the Agriculture Department, and second, the point Sherrod was making in her speech was that people should move beyond race. In fact, the farmer Sherrod referred to came forward to tell reporters that she had helped him save his farm. Of course, once the full version of the speech was released, the media pack charged in the opposite direction. Sherrod received a flurry of apologies, including calls from President Barack Obama, the Agriculture Secretary and the NAACP, not to mention some rarely heard mea culpas from Fox TV personalities. One bright light at FOX News, Shepard Smith, denounced his network for running with the story in the first place: "We here at Studio B did not run the video and did not reference the story in any way for many reasons, among them: we didn't know who shot it, we didn't know when it was shot, we didn't know the context of the statement, and because of the history of the videos on the site where it was posted, in short we do not and did not trust the source." From a PR perspective, that’s good general direction for anyone facing a damaging news story of questionable accuracy. And it’s something the White House might have considered. Instead, it got swept up in a media frenzy and didn’t take the time to verify before acting—almost always a recipe for disaster. Now, an employee’s professional and personal reputation has been damaged, but not so much as the Obama

Friday, July 16, 2010

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - SPICING IT UP

This week's perspective from Com.motion:

Isaiah Mustafa likely didn’t know where his role as the “Old Spice Man” was headed when he shot his first commercial for Old Spice deodorant. As you’ve no doubt seen, the Old Spice Man has had an explosive week. Leveraging real time content, online influencers and some interesting commentary from online conversations, Old Spice has managed to achieve over five million impressions this week online. Building on the success of the “I’m On A Horse” commercial, Old Spice took a leap. Old Spice engaged a group of agency copywriters and social media folks to produce one-minute videos directly addressing people online, focusing on those with Twitter accounts. Producing on average one video every seven minutes for two days, Old Spice took the advertising world by storm in real time. Often spoken about, but infrequently done by brands, real time personalization was the key for this campaign. Old Spice targeted everyone from celebrities like Alyssa Milano to folks with as few as 100 followers online, going so far as to facilitate an engagement! This is a great example of aligning with a client, producing real time content and engaging consumers in a way that we haven't seen done quite like this before. Against all odds, Isaiah Mustafa is now an iconic brand image that has created huge waves online and won’t soon be forgotten.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - PAMELA ANDERSON'S PETA POSTER

This week's perspective from Joe Chidley:

My colleague Bob Reid and I were talking about the pride of Ladysmith, BC the other day (I had the hardship posting once of having to interview her during her Baywatch days), and both of us agreed that despite the, um, contortions her career has taken over the years, Pamela Anderson has displayed remarkable savvy in managing her personal brand. After all, how many sex symbols can rival her for sheer longevity and continued notoriety? Then, as if someone was listening to us, Anderson unveiled (or tried to unveil) a provocative new campaign for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), her favoured charity. The ad depicts a bikini-clad Anderson tattooed in the style of a butcher’s chart – with parts labelled in butcheresque terms like “breast,” “round,” “rump” and so on – under the headline, “All animals have the same parts.” Anderson’s plan was to launch the campaign in front of City Hall in Montreal, where she’s appearing at the Just for Laughs comedy festival. Mais non, said city officials, who judged the poster too sexist and racy for a public unveiling (which, of course, played right into Anderson’s hand.) She remarked (not without some merit) on the irony of being “banned” in Montreal – a city renowned for its palaces of pole dancing, among other pulchritudinous pastimes. But more to the point the banning got national and international media play for the ad, garnering her and her cause far more visibility than they ever would have enjoyed otherwise. Just luck? Or really smart PR? It’s a question that applies equally well to Anderson’s entire career as it does to the PETA ad dustup. Touchdown, Pam Anderson.

VERITAS: FUMBLE - APPLE'S iPHONE SIGNALS

This week's perspective from Joe Chidley:

Apple’s iPhone4 certainly looks good, but the controversy over the new model’s allegedly faulty antenna design has turned downright ugly. And maybe therein lies a lesson for the darling of the technocrat set. As soon as the new phones went on sale after their June launch, a litany of customer complaints came in that the darned things just didn’t work right – the reception dropped whenever you covered a certain portion of the phone with your hand. First, the company told customers that, basically, they were holding the phone in the wrong way. (Patient to doctor: “It hurts when I walk.” Doctor to patient: “Then stop walking.”) Then, Apple laid the blame on a software error that made the on-screen reception level indicators make the signal look stronger than it actually was – and that this was a problem on all iPhones from the beginning. That’s an explanation you might think is so unflattering to the product quality protocols at Apple, it must be true. But not according to Consumer Reports, which has challenged Apple’s explanation and has alleged the fault lies in bad hardware. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal cited “people familiar with the matter” in a story that claims Apple knew about the signal glitch before the iPhone 4’s release. The subtext of the WSJ story is that the decision to go forward anyway was based on Apple’s (and CEO Steve Jobs’) love of its design, whatever the performance problems. If that’s the case, it might explain the company’s apparent reluctance to admit a mistake – after all, great design is where Apple lives, right? But if so, that’s misguided. For consumers, Apple’s design excellence is a proxy for quality. Without that perception of quality, all the great design in the world won’t protect the brand. For any company facing allegations of shoddy products, the key is first to be seen to take the complaints seriously, then to be seen to be doing something to find out what’s wrong, and then coming up with one – and hopefully only one – fix for it, even if that means a product recall. By those measures, mighty Apple has fallen down to earth.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - IGGY LAUGHS IT OFF

This week's perspective from Bob Reid:

As a former political press secretary, I can tell you: this is the stuff that makes your blood run cold. Once, in the middle of an actual election campaign, I had to explain to the traveling press corps the utter absence of the boss’s bus for the first leg of one particular road day, after an overnight mechanical incident while in the hands of well-intentioned minders the night before. Good times. So I felt for federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and his “Liberal Express” road crew this week, when on day one – DAY ONE – of his man-of-the-people tour, his bus went ka-blooey and broke down en route to an event. Stuff happens, especially on the road, and we at TD&F are always careful to put that stuff aside and instead look not to the incident itself, but to the communications thereof: and it’s a Touchdown for Iggy. He did all one really can in such a less-than-perfect alignment of the stars, namely, he laughed it off. He said he knew the media would find every possible way to link the transmission problem to his broader image, but added “Sometimes a bump in the road is just a bump in the road. It’s not a metaphor for anything.” Then, he quickly bridged into noting that by getting into a bus and getting out there among the masses, he was doing exactly the kind of thing that his nemesis, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, generally doesn’t. A nice bit of what I like to call “communications judo” – using one’s opponent’s weight back against him.

VERITAS: FUMBLE - THE MEL GIBSON TAPES

This week's perspective from Bob Reid:

Some things just can’t be spun. You got somewhat of a bye the last time you were caught spewing sexist, racist, anti-Semitic bile … not this time, Mel. Announce that you’re going into intensive counseling? Fund a series of women’s shelters? Make a massive donation to racial co-operation efforts? He should do all of that – Lord knows he needs it – but it won’t help save his image. Stick a fork in that shrimp on the barbie … he’s done.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - "THUMB OVER A GARDEN HOSE"

This week's perspective from Bob Reid:

It’s the biggest environmental disaster in American history. For 87 days, crude oil had been spewing into the Gulf of Mexico from that blown-out undersea BP well-head. It’s beyond grim. And you’re on the cusp of maybe – just maybe – fixing it, through yet more complex engineering manouvres. But first they had to pressure-test the channel. How best to communicate that to a general public audience? Enter retired U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the Obama administration’s point-man on the spill, who found himself the most widely-quoted person on the file when he used a simple yet crystal-clear analogy to explain the procedure. “It’s like putting your thumb over a garden hose,” he said. Bingo. We all get that. Slip your thumb over the end of the hose, pressure builds up like crazy – and, as a result, any little holes further back in the hose are suddenly apparent. In our Media Coaching and message development work, we always extol the virtues of a tidy analogy to make the complex suddenly simple. Touchdown, Admiral Allen.

Friday, July 9, 2010

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - OBAMA ADMINISTRATION CLOSES THE TECHNOLOGY GAP

This week's perspective from Com.motion:

This week the Obama Administration launched 17 new mobile applications for the iPhone in an attempt to close the technology gap between the public and private sectors. Since taking office, the administration has consistently attempted to communicate in new ways, specifically targeting social media and now mobile. Found at http://apps.usa.gov/?v=all, the applications smartly target the needs of Americans on the go and the correlating requirements of American citizens. Examples include: an Alternative Fuel Locator, FEMA Mobile (emergency services), Find Your Embassy, Product Recalls, UV Index, and two applications focusing on healthier food consumption and body mass index. Given the popularity of the Apple App Store, the Administration has focused its efforts there for now. The Obama Administration is leveraging technology and taking the opportunity to find new ways to bring government services and information to Americans, rather than the status quo approach of having them find it. Offering YouTube videos has better spread the President’s message while encouraging a new audience beyond television and radio to view Presidential Addresses. Mobile applications will not only help Americans to better understand government services, but as a result of providing these simple tools, word of mouth will spread and complaints will most like be reduced. Time will tell.

VERITAS: FUMBLE - LEBRON FEELS THE HEAT

This week's perspective from Joe Chidley:

The best thing that can be said about the LeBron James saga is that the speculation over where he will be playing next season is over: he’s leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat (along with Toronto Raptor Chris Bosh, sad to say). But in the process of announcing that decision, the basketball phenom did his image and his legacy no favours. Instead of holding the standard presser where he thanks his fans and his old team and announces he’s leaving, James capped weeks of media hype by taking up an hour of airspace for a special ESPN show in which the only two important nuggets of information was that he was moving to South Beach. (New York Daily News columnist David Hinckley called the show “a tweet on steroids.”) Yes, the show earned bucks for Boys & Girls Clubs charities, so good on James for that. But that’ doesn’t make up for the fact that the ESPN maneuver was the first time fans in Cleveland and the Cavs’ executive heard about James’s decision (he had told the Heat before the broadcast). That’s a helluva way to find out – team owner Dan Gilbert called it an act of “cowardly betrayal,” and some Cavs fans burned James’ jersey in protest. Maybe those were overreactions, but they’re understandable ones. Sure, James got a PR hit and is the talk of the media now, but he’s achieved that coup at the expense of his personal brand. Instead of a gifted, hardworking and honest athlete, he now seems a guy who cares more about pumping his own celebrity than anything else. It didn’t have to be that way.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - MILLER AND (TWITTER) TO THE RESCUE

This week's perspective from Joe Chidley:

He might be halfway out the door, but Toronto Mayor David Miller still seems to be on the job. When the Great Blackout of 2010 (all two hours of it!) hit the Big Smoke this week, elevator service in buildings throughout the downtown core went down, forcing office workers to use the stairs. But that wouldn’t work for 26-year-old Joel Dembe, a marketing analyst in the TD Bank Tower on King Street – because he’s in a wheelchair. Stranded on an upper floor, Dembe got on Twitter and tweeted his frustration to no less a personage than the mayor of the city. And then the surprising thing: Miller tweeted right back, asking Dembe for his cell phone number, and then following up with a call within 15 seconds. Miller spoke with Dembe for about five minutes, asking whether he was all right and putting him in touch with the fire department. Granted, Dembe acknowledges he was never in an emergency: a freight elevator eventually showed up and took him downstairs. But Miller’s prompt reply surprised and gratified him—along with the rest of Toronto, especially after the Good Samaritan social media play hit the airwaves and the press. What stands out about this is not just that it was a remarkable act of decency (Dembe called it “pretty insane.”); it was also great customer service. Think about it: in the communications world, we like to talk about social media as a great way to get our message out there and change minds. Fact is, avenues like Twitter and Facebook can have real and concrete applications—like really helping people—that will do as much if not more for your brand than online games or hip tweets. Creative organizations (like online shoe and merchandise retailer Zappos) get this, and it’s nice to see at least one politician does, too.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - TIGER PICKS HIS SPOTS

This week's perspective from Bob Reid:

At first I thought that this was for sure going to be an easy Fumble call, when I read headlines as in the Toronto Star and numerous other places via the Associated Press stating “Terse answers from sad-eyed Tiger Woods in Ireland.” If you only read the headlines, and nothing further – as so many regular folks do – you might rightfully assume that the gentler, humbler Tiger we all breathlessly watched at his coming-back-out media events a few months ago had been replaced by the snappy, cranky guy whose marriage seems to have finally imploded. But when one “goes to the video-tape,” I think we see a guy on top of his communications game this week in Ireland. When asked about golf, Woods was engaging, thoughtful and colourful. When asked anything to do with his personal situation, he gave short answers and looked for a new question. That’s a communicator with a clear sense of what he’s willing to engage on, and where he will – yes, perhaps tersely – signal that he’s not prepared to go. But at the end of the day, that’s a guy firmly in command of his messaging.

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - STRIKE WHILE PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING'S HOT

This week's perspective from Bob Reid:

Sometimes the communications stars just line up. Circumstances completely and utterly beyond your control will suddenly make you, or your organization, or your issue the flavour of the moment – and, of course, having some good PR folks to help fan the flames never hurts. And I think all of the above were in play this week for a guy named Stan Cox, author of a new book called “Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World (And Finding New Ways To Get Through The Summer).” With the bulk of northeastern North America sweating under one of the most stubborn heat-waves in recent memory, the storm could not have been more perfect for a guy with a new book about how air conditioning has altered – and not necessarily for the better – the way the world lives. From energy consumption to social interaction to U.S. presidential voting patterns, the book had a long list of angles which dovetailed perfectly with the steamy weather we have suffered through this week – all of which was dutifully rewarded with massive earned media play: Front page in the National Post. The focus of Margaret Wente’s Thursday column in the Globe and Mail. And countless hits in print and on air elsewhere. Enjoy your time in the spotlight, Stan Cox – ain’t it cool?

VERITAS: TOUCHDOWN - FADDEN REDUX

This week's perspective from Bob Reid:

Now that CSIS Director Richard Fadden has, not at all surprisingly (and least of all to him, I would submit) found himself hauled before a Commons committee about that headline-maker of a CBC-TV interview (with the always skilful Peter Mansbridge) we talked about here two weeks ago, I am going to pronounce the final call on this communications play in his favour. When the controversy first broke, I wrote: “If he was deliberately – and strategically – using the CBC interview to sound an alarm that had been ignored in the halls of power, I would have given Fadden a Touchdown for skillfully using a media interview to have his message heard far and wide.” And based on what we’ve heard this week, I stand by that original bit of musing. Admittedly, I called the whole play a Fumble at the time, because his not-quite-a-retraction-retraction about suggesting some elected officials in this country were potentially under foreign influence left the waters pretty muddy indeed. But based on what we have heard since, I think this is a rather appropriate cloak-and-dagger bit of communications spin in action. Fadden is a veteran bureaucrat, but also one with a history of “shooting from the lip,” as the Globe & Mail’s security expert Colin Freeze says, paraphrasing a six-months-ago speech from Fadden as essentially saying “Look, we spy on people. The court and the media and the public [have] got to understand that. We’re not going to apologize for it.” Shades of former Canadian Forces Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier’s job description of the soldier as sometimes needing to "be able to kill people.” Shocking to some – self-evident to others. As for what Fadden said this week, that too speaks volumes about why he dropped the bombshell in the CBC interview in the first place. Recall that in his interview with Peter Mansbridge, Fadden said “I am making this comment because I think it's a real danger that people are … totally oblivious to this kind of issue." Although admitting regret for having gotten as “granular” in the details as he did, he also told the Commons committee that “the reason I gave the two examples was to try and illustrate the nature of the problem that we have. If I had simply said, ‘There is foreign interference in Canada,’ you, ladies and gentlemen, would be all at your holidays right now.” And there you have it. Richard Fadden wanted to light a fire under his issue, and he used the opportunity of a high profile media interview to strike the match. The argument about whether that was appropriate vis-a-vis his mandate to report to the government and everything else is secondary for our purposes here. I think Fadden achieved exactly the result he desired through a high-stakes strategic media communications play, and on those terms, it warrants a Touchdown.