Archive for the ‘Communications’ Category


Thursday, December 19th, 2013

Sometimes really smart people say really dumb things. We got a perfect  example yesterday courtesy of Canada Post CEO Deepak Chopra.

Appearing before the Commons Transport Committee to explain the corporation’s decision to eliminate home delivery, the head of Canada Post made a comment about seniors that showcased about the same tonal acuity as Marie-Antoinette’s “let them eat cake”.

Asked to explain how the cancellation of home mail delivery would affect seniors, Chopra replied that seniors had told the corporation that they wanted more fresh air and exercise in their lives. In other words, opined the Canada Post supremo, this was good news.

Any reporter covering the committee who had been wondering what the story from the daylong proceedings would be, had their answer when Chopra finished suggesting that seniors welcomed the end of home delivery because of the healthier lifestyle choices that would follow in its wake.

In addition to painting the corporation as woefully out of touch, Chopra’s unfortunate framing had the effect of burying Canada Post’s overall narrative and the business rationale for its decision at the bottom of the story.

But what became an embarrassing soundbite and headline for Canada Post and Chopra, could easily have been avoided–and that’s the takeaway–with a little preparation and a little humility.

It’s likely that having an emergency Transport committee hearing called after the House had risen caught the corporation a little flat-footed and contributed to a less-than-stellar public relations effort. But questions about the impact of the elimination of home delivery on seniors and people with disabilities were totally predictable and the Corporation’s public affairs staff should have prepared an appropriate Qs & As strategy as part of the CEO’s briefing.

There’s no doubt that “how will seniors get their mail”, is a tough question for a PR team to nail, particularly when you’re on the hot seat and your organization has yet to work out a credible answer.   But the better part of valour truly is discretion, and in this case it should have meant avoiding disingenuous answers.

In prepping Mr. Chopra for his committee appearance,  the Canada Post PR team should have done two things. First, they should have tried to put some bedrock under their answers by leveraging the long transition period before home delivery is abolished as the foundation for their messaging. Second, they should have advised their CEO that his demeanour had to balance decisiveness and humility;  that he would have to acknowledge that Canada Post had no ready-made answer to that particular question, and tell the Committee that the lengthy transition would allow for the fine-tuning of the corporate plan, and that he was committed to finding a solution.

Such an answer might not have made opposition politicians (or the boss) happy, but sometimes when you’re in corporate communications and are called in at the last minute to put a golden sheen on whatever the C-suite has hatched,  you just need to buy some time for yourself and for the organization. In those circumstances, it’s less about being a hero and  more about surviving to fight another day.

Had the Canada Post brass adopted that approach to their committee appearance yesterday, Mr. Chopra might not be seen today as the man with all the answers, but neither would he be the poster boy for monopolistic arrogance.


Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

A little exercise for you: Next time you open your paper or surf the news online, count the number of times that stories concerning the Harper government carry e-mailed comments attributed to government or party spokespersons. Then count the number of times that such comments do not come with the e-mail qualifier.

I counted at least half a dozen news stories last week alone where a government spokesperson provided comment by way of e-mailed media lines. If you add Twitter to the mix, the majority of official replies to direct queries or emerging stories now come in digital format.

Live, on the record (or even on background) conversations between a reporter and a media relations officer or spokesperson are now the exception. E-mailing replies to media queries has become the standard operating procedure in federal media relations shops across the country.

Much has been said about the current government’s centralized message-control that would spur this robotic approach to media relations. What’s worrisome is that the practice is becoming more prevalent in other organizations, private and nonprofit alike.

Whenever an organization is now pressed by a reporter on a fast-breaking story with problematic undertones, the default response is to e-mail talking points that more often than not have only a vague familial connection to the questions being asked or the issue.

This is one of the subtle unintended consequences of the rise of digital communications: the convergence of enabling technology (digital messaging), long-standing suspicion (and fear) of the media, and dwindling resources and growing time-pressures in traditional newsrooms–call it media relations 2.0.

So, what does media relations 2.0 mean for corporate communications?

Deflecting or bridging are well known media relations techniques, and there was a time when media lines were crafted to help spokespeople deflect and bridge their way to a particular corporate take on an issue.

The difference is that in the past, these lines were used as part of the two-way dynamic of interviews and question and answer sessions that tested their validity and often overtook them. In media relations 2.0, talking points have become take-it-or-leave propositions.

But just because organizations are getting away with this, and everybody seems to be doing it, doesn’t make it a good communication practice.

For one thing, this new approach to media relations only contributes to suspicion and mistrust on both sides of the hack and flack divide.

It is a sign of an organization that can’t see the strategic forest for the tactical trees when talking points grudgingly inserted by reporters like non-sequiturs in news stories are viewed as more valuable than developing relations of trust with those same journalists.

Basically, in the media relations 2.0 paradigm, marking each and every story with unadulterated corporate DNA is more important than ensuring you have the reputational capital to carry the day when an e-mailed or Tweeted reply just won’t be enough.

Media relations 2.0 is also fundamentally unimaginative and reactive.

At its core is a mistrust of the mainstream media and a lack of understanding of its role and importance in framing public perceptions, and more fundamentally, of how it works.

As a result, great corporate stories remain untold or are poorly told, or are told by someone else.

The upside is that unlike the old-fashioned media relations I engaged in as a government flack in the late 90s, media relations 2.0 is safe–there’s no danger of being misquoted or losing control of an interview.  The problem is, it’s like the safety of standing on the sidelines during your high school formal: no one turned you down, but neither did you dance.


Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

Recently, a number of Quebec commentators mused about the extensive use of social media before and during the current Quebec election campaign, with several calling it the province’s first election 2.0. In an op ed in yesterday’s L’,  Chantal Hebert waded into the discussion with a thoughtful piece   on the true value of social media in election campaigns, arguing that online discussions tend to be far removed from voters’ mainstreet concerns.

Hebert says that while there are good tactical reasons for using social media in election campaigns, it would be a mistake to assume that the conversations populating the various online platforms are the ones that resonate with ordinary voters.

The key problem is that  (in Quebec and in Canada) political parties have yet to embrace the social paradigm that actually drives engagement and digital sharing.  We can see it in the content that they generate. Complex issues are dumbed down to a few simple talking points. Individuals and personalities become (in some cases, literally) black and white cardboard cutouts.

This content is based on what Andrew Coyne calls “the totalitarian assumptions that inform most advertising, and its close cousin, politics” He adds, “in the world inhabited by this brand or that party, nothing bad ever happens, nothing ever goes wrong, no one ever is unhappy”.

It’s  what I call the Pleasantville school of advertising. Pleasantville was the 1998 indie film where two teenagers are transported into the black and white world of a 50’s sitcom.  And it’s a view of the world that still dominates Canadian politics.

A good example can be seen in negative ads (its not a coincidence that these are often in black and white). Once the exception, these have now become the staple of election campaigns.  More interesting though, is their use between elections where political parties traditionally do not engage in large media buys and rely on earned and social media.

A quick look at the YouTube channel of both the NDP and CPC shows that neither of their most recent negative ads went viral.  The NDP ad generated some 68,000 hits while the CPC anti-Mulcair ad generated a little over 30,000 views. And a large number of those were views not from social platforms, but from the online pages of mainstream media outlets.  Hardly game changing stuff.

This traditional advertising and political marketing paradigm is well-suited to large traditional media buys as ways to frame consumer perceptions, but not social engagement.  It works when you can buy eyeballs and multiple views. It fails miserably when your audience is your medium.


Because effective digital engagement requires content that is sharable. That means content that members of diverse online communities will feel comfortable sharing among their peers. It means content that is real.  Anything else misses the point.

Let’s look at one politician who got it.  We don’t have to go far, right here in Canada, Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi went from long shot to mayor, largely thanks to smart, funny and personal social-media engagement.

Three things distinguished his use of social media from that of our federal parties in the last  election: content, tone and genuine engagement. Mr. Nenshi was able to use social media to engage with a growing audience because, from day one, his message was positive, fresh and, most important, sharable. His commitment to dialogue built political capital and most importantly, trust. And while municipal elections don’t have the partisan trapping of their federal or provincial cousins, Nemshi succeeded by avoiding shrill personal attacks and focusing instead on positive and optimistic messaging. Ultimately, his approach translated into boots on the ground, contributions to the campaign and votes.

In the last federal election, social media was used largely as a one-way bulletin board and echo chamber for partisan talking points and videos. Absent, for the most part, was any genuine engagement or content with broad non-partisan appeal.

Unfortunately, what we see in Quebec and in the rest-of-Canada today suggests that parties will continue to use social media as a tactical tool to energize their base, raise funds and generate traditional media coverage. And so doing they will fail to capitalize on its true transformative potential: Its capacity to amplify messages a million-fold and to mobilize thousands.

But capitalizing on that potential would require acknowledging the world is not black and white and the bad guys can sometimes be good guys. It would mean saying goodbye to Pleasantville.


Monday, September 19th, 2011

As MPs return from their summer recess, a number of storylines—from Nycole Turmel’s political inexperience to Bob Dechert’s flirtations to turmoil at National Defense HQ–are coming into focus and will bear following.  None will be as important for the future of the government however, as how Prime Minister Harper stickhandles his deficit reduction agenda through a fall sitting that will likely be dominated by sour global economic news.

The Prime Minister has a lot going for him at the start of this session. He enjoys a healthy majority in both the House and Senate and is in the enviable position of being the only non-interim leader of a major party in the House.

With the stronger legislative engine the May 2 election gave him, some observers suggest that the road is clear for an ambitious agenda that includes a massive overhaul of Canada’s crime legislation and policy, Senate reform and a markedly slimmer federal government.

That is far from certain.

While rent-a-cops may be pulling traffic duty on the Opposition benches, they are still in a position to slow the government’s legislative plans, particularly if their arguments gain traction in public opinion.

Majority or not, the Prime Minister runs the risk of seeing his agenda of institutional change run aground if Parliament becomes gridlocked because of worsening economic conditions and political opportunism.

After all, who wants to see their government push Senate reform when the economy is tanking?

For the Prime Minister, how well he finesses this will be measured less by the level of short term political pain than by how well he safeguards his ability to implement key planks of his non-economic platform and lay the foundations for a lasting conservative legacy.

The challenge for Prime Minister Harper and his government this fall will be to craft a narrative and a policy approach that balances political and economic imperatives.

As currently crafted, the dominant story—going from funding roads and bridges to cutting government workers and programs–won’t be an easy one to explain or sell to Canadians.

First, the public can be forgiven for not “getting” this coming policy shift as the same conditions that are now creeping into daily newscasts–a stumbling economy and flat jobs growth–were cited as the reasons for the 2009 stimulus-laden Economic Action Plan.

Second, the story coming from the U.S. is all about stimulus, as president Obama is taking one more kick at the Keynesian can. His massive economic package, unveiled last week, aims at recovering jobs and boosting consumer demand.

While Obama’s approach sets his administration apart from many European governments that have opted for austerity measures, the news from Washington has more immediacy and impact for Canadians than stories from Berlin or Paris.

The task for the Prime Minister and his front bench lies less in attacking the Opposition–of whom the public care little about–than in reassuring Canadians that they have a plan and explaining how it will work to safeguard jobs of which the public cares a great deal about.

With the economic news continuing to be gloomy–the Toronto Dominion bank revised its 2011 growth forecast from 2.8 to 2.2 percent and its 2012 forecast from 2.5 to 1.9 percent—in the next few days look for a subtle shift in the government’s narrative away from strict deficit reduction toward a balanced approach that includes protecting jobs.

If there is no marked improvement in the economic outlook by early November, expect the government to take a page out of Jean Chretien’s 1994-95 playbook and push a new government narrative revolving around cutting unnecessary expenditures—getting our house in order–while spending on public infrastructure and jobs.

While we are not likely to see the stimulus spigots opened to the extent they were under the Economic Action Plan, we might see the renewal of elements of the Building Canada Fund, the government’s flagship infrastructure program.

Although the government’s deficit reduction action plan may be temporarily sidelined as a branding narrative, every indication is that all federal departments and agencies will continue to have all of their spending—program and operations—placed under a microscope, and a scalpel.

A subtle shift in tone and policy will provide political cover for the government’s austerity plans, and more importantly, help keep Prime Minister Harper’s transformative legacy agenda on the rails.


Friday, September 2nd, 2011

Many nonprofits looking to  use social media to boost their profile, mobilize their base or raise funds assume that all they have to do is create a Facebook page or a Twitter account and people will automatically converge.  That may be the case for the most visible brands (personal or corporate) but for most nonprofits, building a network and a following requires work and genuine engagement.

That’s where a community manager can help.

While for smaller organizations it may not be necessary to have a  person dedicated full-time to social media engagement, it is absolutely necessary for every organization that hopes to leverage social media to have  someone on staff with primary responsibility for online outreach and engagement.  

The role of an organization’s online community manager is to listen, engage and fuel conversations within the social environment created for the organization.  

Typically, the community manager is expected to interact with the community to help maintain a smooth flow of information as well as coordinate and moderate online discussions; less frequently, they are expected to act as the corporate social evangelist.

Too often the role of corporate evangelist is overlooked because of an exclusively external focus by the organization, and that is a mistake. 

By keeping the entire organization focused, engaged, contributing to the conversations and following policy guidelines and principles, the community manager can help employees, associates and volunteers become brand ambassadors and leverage their own networks in support of the organization’s goals.  

Another way that the community manager can play a key role is by ensuring that content responds to the needs and expectations of both the community and the organization.  

Social content is what brings people to your site; jump starts conversations and amplifies messages. The best content is informative, timely, original and easy-to-share.  Content should always be developed with an organization’s audience and community in mind, and the best way to start is by listening to ongoing conversations and identifying what it is that most resonates or gains traction within the key communities.

The community manager’s role is to listen to these conversations and figure out how they align with the organization’s own narrative and then help develop content that reflects and leverages these linkages.

It’s not everybody that can be a good community manager.  Sure,  it helps if they understand the basic technology and functionalities of the most popular platforms, but it doesn’t mean that they have to be tecchies.  Howvere, they do have to be good communicators and most important, they have to be social.

A good community manager is someone who understands the basic principles of effective communications and who genuinely likes to connect with people and share information, ideas and opinions.  It is also someone who is passionate about social media and who can communicate that passion to colleagues as well as to the organization’s leadership.

For a nonprofit that is struggling to gain traction in the social sphere, creating a commuity manager role within the organization can bring focus, energy and ultimately, success.


Monday, August 29th, 2011

It is the nature of social media that content, good or bad, can be shared and viewed almost instantaneously. This is what makes it such a powerful communications and marketing tool. It is also what makes it potentially very damaging to reputations, brands and bottom lines.

The real time nature of digital communications makes responsive damage control very tricky. Just  ask United Airlines who in 2009 got caught in the  social media turbulence created by a disgruntled passenger and his now iconic video, United Breaks Guitars and was unable to respond effectively.   The airline saw the value of its shares tumble by almost $ 200 million and its reputation take a hit it is only now recovering from.  

But managing external hits to one’s online reputation will be the topic of a future blog, today I want to look at one way organizations can protect themselves from self-inflicted online damage: social media policies.

In theory, it’s simple; most organizations have policies governing just about every aspect of corporate and employee behaviour. From the size of their cubicle, to what they can wear at work, to the type of car they can rent on company business, policies spell out what employees can and cannot do. So, why not policies telling them what they can and cannot do on social media?

In fact,  more and more organizations are adopting precisely those kinds of policies. The problem is that many of them miss the mark.

Effective social media policies should allow the emergence of brand ambassadors within an organization while setting boundaries that facilitate engagement by providing a knowledge safety net for staff and others.

The difficulty in implementing effective social media policies lies in the very essence of social interaction: spontaneity. Throw up a wall around what people can say or do online, and you limit spontaneity and genuine interaction.

This may not be a problem (and in fact may be seen as a good thing) for a company that sees social media as something that should be managed and controlled. But for organizations that recognize the potential of employee and associate online engagement, developing policies that do what they’re supposed to do is a priority.

A few months ago, while developing a social media policy for a client, I stumbled on a great–if somewhat dated– social media policy database that provides examples of the best and the worst policies around.

I found the best policies to be the ones that eschewed highly prescriptive language and focused on four things: trust, clear principles, common sense and simple rules.

Like most corporate policies, rules governing corporate social media use cannot cover every contingency or situation. The best policy is one that rests on clear principles that empower and guide the exercise of discretion by staff and others, while providing clear direction in critical areas. 

Policies that are too stringent will only serve to discourage online interaction or render it stilted and lacking in spontaneity. At the end of the day, how can an organization expect its employees to become effective brand ambassadors if  social media policy is so prescriptive, they feel like they need to consult a lawyer before they tweet?


Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

According to the Ottawa Citizen, the Government of Canada has issued a request for proposals inviting firms to bid for the opportunity to lead a “whole of government” re-branding of the federal government’s image in everything from newspaper ads to  its Facebook pages. The government is looking to refresh its brand to better compete ” in a crowded market of images and ideas”.

Good luck to the winning firm.

Anyone who has been involved in these exercises will tell you that effective branding needs to be more than skin deep and has to reflect an organization’s true culture and values. And when an organization’s struggles reflect an out-of-date culture and values, a sound branding exercise will create a forum for hashing out a new vision.  Otherwise, all you’re doing is covering up problems with a fresh coat of paint.

Unfortunately, in many cases that’s exactly what happens as changes to an organization’s visual and audio identity become a proxy for real change, and are often designed to resonate more around the boardroom table–where decisions are made–than among its audiences.

Given the complexity and scale of the organization involved and the multitude of audiences-domestic and international–it engages with daily,  it is difficult to see how the current project will come even close to creating a synergistic and truly fresh “whole of government” Canada brand.

That’s where the boardroom (cabinet) table comes in.

But while the exercise may result in understated changes more than radical re-engineering, it merits monitoring for the lessons it will provide.

Notably, it will be interesting to see how this re-branding exercise affects the federal government’s approach to social media,  which can now best be described as cautious. It will be particularly interesting to see if it affects how content is generated.

One strategy the government could take from the playbook of many of the world’s leading brands is encouraging community generated and inspired content.

These brands know that good social content is what brings people to your site; jump starts conversations and amplifies messages. And they know that effective social media engagement is a bottom up process that starts with listening to your community.

If the Government of Canada wants to truly revamp and make more relevant its online brand it has to take the lead from its communities and generate content that resonates with them, meets their needs, is fresh, and–dare I say it–even a little bit edgy.

Fundamentally, it will require a new take on social engagement–now that would be re-branding success.


Friday, July 22nd, 2011

In a blog earlier this week, I wrote that social media can transform how nonprofit organizations operate. One important way is in leveraging traditional or mainstream media (MSM) coverage in support of their brand or to advance their advocacy agendas. This involves taking advantage of the changing media landscape which is characterized by: 1) a growing MSM online presence; 2) changing news cycle; and 3) reporters’ growing reliance on social media channels for story ideas, breaking news, background and fresh voices.

Today, not only is real-time monitoring of social media chatter a must for news organizations, but traditional media organizations have begun using all of the tools in the social media toolkit to maintain market share and relevance.   Strategies such as search engine optimization of stories, social amplification, and increased use of shareability-enhancing video, are being used by MSM to leverage social media traffic and influence and push their own online and traditional content.  

In response to this changing media environment, nonprofits that in the past monitored traditional media channels and coverage as part of their environmental scanning, are now turning their attention to the monitoring of media chatter on social platforms.  They are also using social media platforms to engage in conversations with reporters and news outlets, or push out statements, news releases and background information.

The most popular of these platforms is Twitter.Twitter is ideally suited for the real time nature of the modern news cycle. In fact, the immediacy of Twitter has contributed to changing the news cycle.

Before the rise of social media, radio was the medium that provided the greatest flexibility and ability to cover breaking news. Twitter has now outgrown its role as amplifier of mainstream media news to become a “news breaker”. This has generated huge pressure on MSM outlets to be the first to report–with predictable implications for the quality and depth of reporting.

For organizations looking to use social media to enhance their MSM reach, Twitter can provide an important and direct channel to news rooms but it also means competing for attention on what is becoming a very crowded platform. 

Tips on using Twitter for MSM relations

  • Use Twitter Search to identify reporters that cover or are interested in your issues and start following them 
  • Listen. Use Twitter to learn about specific journalists’ interests, needs, styles
  • Build a rapport, engage in conversations, be genuine
  • Provide background and respond to queries
  • Be available for on-the-record comment, including online
  • Use Twitter to inform reporters of upcoming media opportunities (press conferences, product launches)
  • Post your news releases on Twitter
  • Do not use Twitter to pitch stories directly; paticularly if you have no rapport with a reporter
  • Don’t neglect personal, face-to-face interaction with reporters

Success in this new environment means being nimble  and responsive, and it means understanding the reality of the modern news room: fewer resources and more pressure to break stories. Failure to do so means running the risk of being left behind when your story breaks. 

In practical terms, this means nonprofits have to take stock of their internal procedures and streamline decision-making.  It  means empowering front-line communications staff to engage with reporters, frame the story and provide comment.  

In this new environment, organizations–nonprofits, private or public–no longer have all day to ponder the text of a statement,  news release, or Tweet. Overly cautious or bureaucratic media relations procedures will fail in the hypercompetitive real-time world in which MSM outlets operate.


Monday, July 18th, 2011

The growing buzz around social media is making  jumping on the social bandwagon “de rigueur” for more and more nonprofit organizations. That’s the good news. The bad news is that most are embracing social media without really understanding how it  works, how it can help them meet their goals, and more often than not, without a real plan. 

Nonprofits that turn to social media to keep up with the Joneses but without a clear sense of direction or purpose, will likely fail.

Social media engagement is not like a switch that can be turned on and off at will.  Online relations need to be developed and nurtured over time and organizations that want to take advantage of these powerful new tools must be prepared to invest in listening, participation and genuine conversation. A good place for them to start is by distinguishing between their tactical and strategic objectives and opportunities.   

At a tactical level, social media platforms and social media engagement can be particularly helpful in facilitating consistent and targeted contact and engagement with an organization’s key audiences.

Twitter for example, can be used to start conversations and carve out relations with influential reporters or politicians.   

In addition to using Twitter to engage with important external audiences (mainstream media, political influencers, potential third-party supporters), organizations can use social media to connect and engage their membership, the sector they represent and the general population.

One low-cost way to do this is to create a Facebook Page around an issue of concern to the sector the organization represents  and around which an online community of interest already exists.  An example of this is the Facebook page created by InterChange Public Affairs to support FCM’s campaign to increase the number of women in municipal government.   

This tactic can be used to support efforts to mobilize an organization’s members, its sector and public opinion in the run-up to a key legislative vote, policy announcement, election or simply to raise awareness around a particular cause.

It is important however that organizations not fall into the social media “if-you-build-it-they-will-come” trap. A platform does not a social media campaign make.

Scoping out whether a community of interest around an issue or issues exists, its scope, level of engagement and top influencers are all critical first steps before undertaking any kind of social media campaign. This is particularly true if the campaign is designed for short term tactical impact.  

Absent an existing and broad-based conversation around an issue it can be very difficult to mobilize sufficient numbers to create political room for an issue. In fact, a social media campaign that sputters can have the opposite effect and serve only to demonstrate the absence of interest and support for an issue.

In the absence of a well-established online community or ongoing online conversations around an issue, a social media platform like Facebook can still be used to initiate engagement, amplify messaging and build a network, but its use should not be positioned or branded as a social media campaign.

Listening should be step one for any organization contemplating social media engagement.

Unlike full blown social media engagement where an organization openly and transparently shares information, responds to comments and queries, and actually becomes part of a community, listening is the first—but essential–step in successful social media engagement. 

As a general principle of social engagement, listening uncovers the nature of the conversations within a particular community. Just as you would not arrive at a cocktail party unannounced and attempt to monopolize the conversation, listening within a social media network allows you to determine your comfort zone and ease into conversations.

Whether it’s from a business perspective, a public institution, or that of a nonprofit advocacy association,  listening allows organizations to determine who the thought leaders are in a given community and what it is that makes them most relevant. Listening allows organizations to determine what content is most relevant and why. And most important, listening allows them to hear what people are saying about them, their brand or their issues.

Listening is easy and there are a number of tools available, from simple online search tools to advanced brand and reputation management platforms.

More strategically, social media can be used to expand and diversify an organization’s communication reach. In the short run, it can be used to grow its network by identifying like-minded influencers and encouraging conversations. In addition to expanding an organization’s network, this will amplify its message by promoting the sharing of content on multiple platforms.  

In the longer term, social media has the potential to fundamentally transform how organizations view and conduct advocacy, engage their members and staff, raise funds and develop policies.   

While tactical social media engagement is largely transactional and focused on achieving short term objectives, strategic engagement is based on a vision of emerging technologies as enabling transformative change.

From an organizational perspective, strategic social media engagement needs to rest on four things: a corporate vision of technology that embraces and facilitates change, the resources to implement it, a sound understanding of the dynamics of social media engagement and a well-established social network.


Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

Every once in a while, a story breaks that stands as a monument to bad media relations.  Last year it was former Newfoundland premier Danny Williams’ decision to have heart surgery in the US while leaving an ill-prepared deputy preem Kathy Dunderdale to deal with the ensuing media questions about the quality of health care in Newfoundland.  This year it’s the story of Quebec mining executive Bernard Coulombe’s interview with the The Daily Show‘s Aasif Mandvi that provides our “teachable moment” .

Coulombe, Executive Director of the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos, Quebec, learned a hard lesson in media relations when he granted an interview to Mandvi, a comedian  posing as an investigative reporter digging into the dangers of asbestos fibres.   The three minute spoof news item aired earlier this week on the Comedy Network and brought howls of protest from Coulombe who said in a news release that he was ” disgusted that he was made the subject of such an inappropriate parody, whose only purpose was to discredit him and make the people of the region look like ignorant imbeciles.”

But putting out a news release after the fact only served to bring even more unwanted public and media attention to Mr. Coulombe’s on air performance.  In granting the interview in the first place, and squaring off with someone who did not operate under the accepted rules of mainstream journalism, Mr. Coulombe placed himself and his company in a vulnerable position. 

Mr. Coulombe or the Jeffry mine’s PR flack failed to follow one of the most basic rules of media relations: When the phone rings, find out who’s calling!  A simple Google search would have brought up the name of the Comedy Network alongside that of the Daily Show, a dead give-away… one would think.