Friday, October 29, 2010


Nothing succeeds like excess, it seems. KFC’s infamous “Double Down” sandwich – cheesy bacony gooeyness slathered between a pair of deep fried chicken breasts – made its Canadian debut this week, and everyone was talking about it. Innumerable media outlets documented their staffers’ reactions to giving the salt and fat-laden a whirl right out of the gate, but then the best possible thing happened: Ontario Health Promotion Minister Margaret Best mused about it as something the government might “take a look at and review.” Not since former Toronto Mayor June Rowlands banned Barenaked Ladies from performing at Nathan Phillips Square had something this innocuous become so immediately infamous. The government quickly back-pedaled, but by then an otherwise puffy fast food story had taken a rocket ride to downtown hardnewsville. Somewhere, the Colonel is smiling …


This week's perspective from Bob Reid:

Yet another cautionary tale of the importance to mind one’s p’s and q’s in the social media realm, this time courtesy of Ontario Research and Innovation Minister Glen Murray. Tweeting his opposition to Rob Ford’s mayoral bid last weekend, Murray suggested that first Ford, and then fellow Conservatives Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak represented “bigotry.” Hudak said that crossed the line and demanded an apology from Murray, who initially responded by saying he regretted the comments but then in the same breath called on Hudak to “root out any of those working in his ranks who would try to exploit hatred.” In effect, Murray’s apology merely U-turned him right back into trouble again, as it suggested Hudak might be OK but his team was still suspect. Mixed messages are always problematic, and especially so when one is trying to apologize for a mis-step. There should be no equivocation, no “I’m sorry, BUT …” Express the regret, and move on. Murray wound up with two days of bad press over something which could have – and should have – been quickly and easily resolved.


This week's perspective from Bob Reid:

Rarely are communications campaigns – let alone political campaigns – so sharply focused as was that of the now victorious Rob Ford in his bid for Toronto’s mayoralty. It wasn’t the sole factor in his landslide win, but Ford’s consistency of message throughout was definitely a key part of the winning formula. “Stopping the Gravy Train at City Hall” was Ford’s mantra throughout, and that one sound bite encapsulated perfectly his core positioning of eliminating wasteful spending, respecting taxpayers’ dollars and running a tighter ship all the way around. His refusal to deviate from that message track drove reporters and pundits crazy, but it obviously continued to resonate with voters throughout the campaign period. One golden sound bite does not a guaranteed election win make, but Ford clearly demonstrated the value of consistency when trying to develop a clear brand for a mass audience.


Allegations of sexual and official impropriety are nothing new for Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi , but their cumulative effect might finally be having an impact on his political fortunes. His own wife has accused him of “consorting with minors,” he took heat last year over attending the birthday party of an 18-year-old model, and now a 17-year-old Moroccan girl has claimed to legal authorities that she attended parties at the Prime Minister’s private residence. What happened at those parties is unclear, but Berlusconi doesn’t deny anything. “I am very proud of my ability to be a host, a rather rare, perhaps unique host,” he said to reporters. “I am a playful person, full of life. I love life, I love women.” He went on to say that he deserves some playtime because “I have a terrible life—I have a life that requires super-human efforts.” The comments break two cardinal rules of crisis communications. One is, don’t downplay the seriousness or impact on others of your actions. And second, never make the crisis about yourself, as BP’s Tony Hayward did when in the midst of the Gulf of Mexico spill he expressed a desire to get back to his normal life. Do it, and you come across not just as somebody who might have made a mistake, but also a jerk. Granted, Berlusconi has got away with indiscretions before by pleading he’s a bon vivant, but this time he might not be so lucky—as his plummeting approval ratings suggest. Fumble, Silvio Berlusconi.


This week's perspective from Joe Chidley:

I have always held Randy Quaid in the highest esteem, if only because he was so hilarious as the Quaker bowling prodigy Ishmael in the Farrelly Bros. 1996 classic King Pin. But his performances of late have been less “funny ha-ha” than “funny strange.” Like, really strange. Quaid and his wife Evi were released from custody in Vancouver this week, after being arrested on a California warrant over allegations they were illegally squatting on a property they once owned. (Why released? Turns out Evi’s dad might have been born in Canada, leaving the couple’s legal status in on-the-lam limbo.) Ill-advisedly (but not surprisingly), Randy made a statement to reporters, and it was surely one of the more oddly disturbing tracts ever read in public. Charity forbids making too much fun of it, and sanity forbids taking it too seriously—the guy claims that he is the target of “star-whackers” out to slander him, wreck his career and eventually murder him, just as they have already done to the likes of Chris Penn, Heath Ledger and David Carradine . But let’s take a closer look at just one element of his statement—the part where he vehemently claims that he and Evi are not criminals, and “nor are we crazy.” This is a classic case of parroting the negative—something we consistently warn against in our media training here at Veritas. It’s understandable enough: when someone says you are something nasty, your first instinct is to categorically say you are not that something. But the instinct is usually wrong, at least in media situations. For one thing, it’s a missed opportunity—typically you want to talk about what you are, not what you aren’t. More importantly, when everyone thinks you’re something bad, just saying you’re not doesn’t really cut it—it just feeds skepticism. (Think of Richard Nixon ’s unintentional epitaph, “I’m not a crook.”) And once you say it, you own it. His actual statement read, in part, “We are not criminals, nor are we fugitives from justice, nor are we crazy. We are just artists and film-makers…” Doesn’t matter: the headlines read “We’re not crazy – Quaid” and “Quaid: ‘I am not crazy or a criminal.’” Sure you’re not, Ishmael… Sure you’re not.

Friday, October 22, 2010


You know, I had forgotten all about “Officer Bubbles” and most of the rest of the G-20 noise … until this week. Toronto Police Constable Adam Josephs – his real name – was so upset with the YouTube videos which sprung up in the wake of his confrontation with a bubble-blowing demonstrator that he filed a $20 million lawsuit against the internet portal, the creator of the videos, and the 24 people who posted derogatory comments about him. However, for a guy stung by the online attacks directed against him, the move bought him a ton more ink and airtime, reminding one and all about the initial incident and the cyber-slurs which followed – not to mention a brand new raft of online flame attacks. As frustrating as the wild west of “new media” can be, before mounting any high-profile response (like, say, a multi-million dollar lawsuit), you’ve always got to ask yourself: how might this play out in the end, both online and in traditional media? If the answer is “way bigger than simply forgetting all about it,” you should probably consider the latter. If you hate the media stories, don’t do something that will only generate more – each and every one containing a recap of the original slight that started it all in the first place.


An uncontestable Touchdown to Toronto agency The Hive for taking home a major honour from the Globes Awards in Washington this week. The Hive’s “Bicycle Factory” promotion, for Cadbury, won “The Best of the Best in the World”—the top prize from the Marketing Agencies Association Worldwide. In our opinion, it was much deserved kudos for a great campaign, which invited Cadbury customers to help needy Africans by entering UPC codes from chocolate bars and other Cadbury products online—each code represented a bicycle part, and when you got 100 the actual bicycle was shipped to a community in need. Since its launch in 2009, more than 8,000 bikes have been built and shipped. A terrific CSR project—well-executed, consistent with Cadbury’s brand and its work to be seen as a responsible corporate citizen in the developing world, from which many of its products come. Plus it does no small amount of good. Congrats.


Here at Touchdowns & Fumbles, we love football—and not just because our name is, well, Touchdowns & Fumbles. We also love the drama, the high stakes, the action—and the penchant the gridiron gang has for PR foul-ups. Latest on the hit list: the NFL’s missteps in announcing what almost everyone agrees is a good policy of get tough with players who make illegal head shots. The league made the announcement while handing out a slew of fines from last weekend’s contests—tens of thousands of dollars to Brandon Meriweather of the Patriots, Dunta Robinson of the Atlanta Falcons, and Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison, who got dinged $75,000 for an illegal hit to Cleveland Brown receiver Mohamed Massaquoi. Good policy? Sure—it’s all about saving lives, after all. But the league overlooked one small item: it was selling photos of the hits and the offenders on its website even as it said it was cracking down on them. After news reports picked up on the gaffe, Harrison, in a radio interview, accused the NFL of “wanting to get their money on the front end and the back end.” Lesson here: Before any public declaration, think about any potential vulnerabilities in terms of your organization’s reputation, and fix them before (not after) the big announcement. True, the NFL promptly removed the images. Still a fumble. But wait, there’s more: we’re going to give a fumble to Harrison, too, for his crybaby reaction to the fine. He complained that if he could not play the sport the way he wanted, which included trying to hurt people, then he would retire. A couple days later, he released a statement to the effect that in fact he would not retire, though not without taking a swipe at the league: “I cannot and will not let the league office stop me from playing the game I love.” And then he clarified that it was wrong of him to say that he intended to hurt people, when what he really meant was that he intended not to injure them. Oh, ok, now we get it. God, we love football…

Friday, October 15, 2010


This week's perspective by Bob Reid:

Consumers by and large don’t like surprises, even if it involves a brand they’re not consuming like they used to. So it was not unexpected that The Gap stores would take a mall-full of heat for unexpectedly changing the long-established “blue box” logo that has become a contemporary retail icon, swapping it on The Gap’s corporate website for a new, rounder font (Helvetica, actually) with a small blue box grafted on the end of the ‘p.’ Gap fans went nuts on the company’s Facebook page, denouncing the move and crying out for the blue box to be brought back. Initially, Gap North America President Marka Hansen defended the move, hanging tough in an op-ed published on the Huffington Post website which read remarkably like a sales pitch. She wrote of the “evolution” of the Gap brand, in “products such as the 1969 premium denim and and the new black pants, and more modern stores in many locations.” She acknowledged the “passionate outpouring” from customers, and pledged to engage them in the dialogue – with details to follow. However, shortly after, Hansen said in a statement that “we did not go about this the right way. We recognize that we missed the opportunity to engage with the online community. This wasn’t the right project at the right time for crowd sourcing.” A PR blunder? An embarrassing reversal? I think not. Sure they riled some geeks, but suddenly a company that has seen sales slipping since 2005 was big news, with passions aflame about its logo for crying out loud – and without making a single change to a store or garment. Shades of New Coke, which prompted a global outcry to save “Classic Coke” and unleashed a torrent of media play and pop culture (pardon the pun) passion for another moribund brand.


This week's perspective by Joe Chidley:

You think it’s just kids that text too much? Well, think again. The NFL’s resident geezer, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre, got a Fumble from us back in August for using text messages to stoke rumours he wasn’t going to return to the field this fall. (Those rumours helped him bag an extra few million from Vikings management.) At the time, we also noted the brewing scandal over allegations he texted pictures of his private parts to a sports reporter and ex-model named Jenn Sterger a couple years ago. Now, those allegations may come back to sack the aging gridiron hero, as the NFL has officially launched an investigation into whether Favre broke the league’s personal conduct rules. Do fans care? The jury is still out. For now, they seem to be worried a lot more that the legendary QB is losing games—the jokes are already circulating that he’s been “emailing it in” on the field. So far, Favre has rightly declined to talk to the media, except to say that his primary concern is the Vikings’ poor showing. Fair enough. But let’s step back a bit. If Favre did send those pictures, it’s a classic case of misplaced confidence in confidentiality. No one can assume that what they send over email or text message is private—no matter how private the subject matter—and that holds especially true for those in the public spotlight or in positions of power. So if you’ve got something really sensitive to share, do the smart thing and pick up the phone. True, phone calls can be recorded (legally, in this country, as long as one of the participants know the call is being recorded), but they’re still a safer route than email or text, no matter how convenient those are. Shouldn’t we all know this already? If Favre didn’t two years ago, he sure does now.

Friday, October 8, 2010


This week's perspective according to Bob Reid:

Has there been a happier-ending story than this week’s rescue of the 33 Chilean miners, trapped since August more than a CN Tower’s depth underground? I mean, aside from the one guy, who’s wife and mistress both arrived when news of the cave-in first broke … It was a gripping story of determination, courage and grace under pressure that literally had the whole world watching. So untold billions of eyes saw that distinctive round logo of Oakley sunglasses riding on the smiling faces of the rescued men, protecting their too-long-in-the-dark eyes from their first taste of sunlight (and/or TV kliegs). Oakley donated 35 pairs of glasses worth $180 per pair to the effort. One estimate placed the value of the product placement in the ubiquitous global news coverage at $41 million in equivalent TV ad time alone. A great score, but even better was Oakley’s approach to be quiet about the entire gesture, doing no proactive advertising about it nor even returning initial media calls for comment. Instead, in a statement, Oakley simply said “Our hearts are with the rescue team and miners as we hope for a joyous end to the crisis.” Classy and Touchdown-worthy for sure.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


This week's perspective from Bob Reid:
“What were they thinking?” was the question on everyone’s mind following news that two goons showed up at the Campbellford Legion Hall Hallowe’en party, one dressed as a Ku Klux Klan member, dragging the other (a white guy with his face painted black) around by a noose. It was utterly distasteful and utterly embarrassing for all involved, including the mayor of Campbellford and senior officials with the Royal Canadian Legion. So it was entirely appropriate that Klan-sheeted Blair Crowley would say “I apologize if I offended anybody.” Trouble is, he didn’t quit there, but rather continued on to tell a reporter that “that stuff (slavery) has been gone for years and years and years. I don’t see why the reaction is the way it is. That’s so past tense. It’s a piece of history from long ago … People need to worry about something other than that.” Fumble! Much like last week’s incident with Ontario cabinet minister Glen Murray, this is another “I’m sorry, but …” kind of apology. When you’ve done something publicly stupid, and especially when others have taken offence, you end up undoing any gains from the apology if you then try and suggest that people really oughta lighten up. It took another 24 hours for Crowley to get it right, telling Toronto Sun columnist Joe Warmington “I didn’t see it as a big thing and thought it was just a Halloween costume but after the fact I realize it’s just stupid and was extremely poor judgment. I am sorry for what I have done and take 100% responsibility.” That’s more like it, and the sincerity of both Crowley and his partner warrants calling this one a Fumble Recovery.

Friday, October 1, 2010


This weeks perspective from Bob Reid:

It was the magazine cover heard across the nation, when Maclean’s splashed its cover with Bonhomme, the Quebec Carnival mascot toting a briefcase bursting with cash and the headline “The most corrupt province in Canada.” Howls of outrage echoed around the Quebec National Assembly and on Parliament Hill, where MPs would later pass a resolution denouncing the story. The obviously provocative cover generated tremendous media coverage, all focused on Maclean’s magazine, which defended the piece. However, parent company Rogers Media (which owns major media properties in la belle province) issued a statement from publishing division President Brian Segal, noting that Rogers does not interfere with editorial decisions of its publications, but at the same time saying “we sincerely regret any offence which the cover may have caused.” Some think it was a deft way of covering the corporate assets without meddling in the journalistic aspects of the business. Others say that, in the absence of such a statement, most average consumers may not have even been aware of Rogers’ ownership of Maclean’s – but if they’re mad about the article, they might now think twice about going with Rogers when choosing a cable or cell phone service provider. What do you think?


This week's perspective from Joe Chidley:

You might expect a visit from the man who made Avatar—a 3D movie extravaganza that did not exactly depict the mining industry in a favourable light—to have some pretty damning things to say upon visiting Alberta’s oilsands, one of the world’s largest strip-mining projects. But somehow, the “tar” sands averted disaster when blockbuster director James Cameron visited northern Alberta at the invitation of First Nations activists in Fort Chipewyan. His first stop, however, was a meeting with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Cenovus and Syncrude (two huge oil-sands producers) and Alberta’s environment minister, along with a tour of a reclaimed Syncrude mine site. Cameron came away telling the petro companies “you have a good story to tell,” and displaying an interest in the complexities of mining and environmental management that suggested he took the industry and its efforts seriously—and wasn’t just there to, ahem, tar and feather Big Oil. Tagging along (and tweeting), the National Post’s ever-astute Kevin Libin noted that the director spent a lot of time talking about “the best ways to make the oil sands more palatable to the public, something he seemed keen to do.” Cameron, of course, still voiced concerns about the industry and its environmental impact. But for the oilsands even that measured response is a clear win. By opening up their operations—carefully, of course—the industry managed to defuse a potentially explosive situation rather than escalate it. And in the end, Cameron’s visit made the oilsands’ environmental record seem more a subject for grown-up debate and techno wonks than for moral condemnation. The lesson here: Even if you’re facing your toughest critics, when you really believe you have nothing to hide—don’t hide it.