Archive for October, 2009

Mixing Messages

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

In my last blog I wrote that the federal Liberals had a competitive advantage over the Harper Conservatives because they weren’t saddled by the “rigid command-and-control mentality that … characterizes Conservative communications strategy”. But a failed Liberal PR stunt earlier today suggests that a little planning,  control and message discipline still have their place in effective communications.

 This is what CBC reporter Rosemary Barton had to say about it:

Running communications for a political party is a trying task at the best of times.

Even more so when you’re competing with…yourself.

Picture it: the Hall of Honour of the Centre Block. Liberal MP Wayne Easter and the party’s spin-machine, Warren Kinsella, camped outside the door to the Conservative caucus meeting. Clearly waiting to do something.

But, what…

Three sombre -looking Liberal staffers stand behind Easter with 8 x 10 photos of Conservative MPs who have, according to Easter, denounced the whole cheque-signing “scandal”.

Easter explains how this is must be stopped.

Wouldn’t be a bad little stunt if only: in the room right next door the Liberal caucus is launching the Pink Book on women’s issues.

Cameras and reporters gathered around Easter.

And although there were other reporters and cameras in the room for the launch, one media event can’t outdo the other.

Suddenly, Ignatieff’s director of communications, Jill Fairbrother arrives in the scrum and abruptly whisks Easter away.

She didn’t look pleased.

And the “stunt” ended awkwardly.

A sign of duelling communications strategies?

For the record, Jill Fairbrother says the two events were intended to take place 20 minutes apart, but ended up being at the same time because the Conservatives left from the back door.”

 The problem is not so much crossed wires or the Conservative caucus’ disappearing act but that the Liberals planned two “competing” media events on the same day.   

Planning a PR stunt designed to embarrass Conservative MPs on the same day that the party’s Women’s Caucus releases its platform recommendations was bound, at best, to limit media attention to both. At worst, it ran the risk of crowding out coverage of an event designed to showcase, among other things, the role and place of women in the Liberal party.

Talk about mixing messages.


Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Getting to 30

In an earlier post about social media and Woodstock, I wrote that we may not know our audience until it shows up (as happened at Woodstock in 1969) and that social media makes it possible for an organization to plant its flag on the web and have people rally around. Our recent experience validates that premise, with an important caveat: organizations must invest in an ongoing conversation with their community.

Last May, as a pro bono contribution, we created a Facebook fan page for a campaign to get more women into municipal government. The campaign is led by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). While the campaign has attracted some mainstream media attention and has pockets of support across the country, it’s far from a household name.

We thought we could help by setting up a virtual space where people from all parts of the country could meet, interact and organize, with the fan page becoming the organizational hub of the campaign. We developed the fan page and a companion Twitter account and launched them in June, seeded with our own contacts.

Today, the page has more than 770 fans and the number continues to grow. Fans come from all walks of life, including politicians (provincial, municipal and federal), journalists, students, academics and business people, demonstrating that support for the cause is widespread and cuts across demographic and gender lines.

Facebook was the obvious choice for this, because it’s free, simple to set up and familiar to millions. We chose the fan-page format over a group page, because the fan page supports interaction. Facebook’s huge user base made it easy to connect with interested people and for fans to incorporate our page into their existing social media routine.

Other advantages of the fan-page format for a campaign are that it’s visible to unregistered users and indexed by search engines. Particularly important is Facebook’s news feed. When fans interact with the page, the news feed sends the post to their friends. As these friends also interact with the page, the news feed spreads the word to an ever-widening circle, recruiting more fans and promoting the campaign.

However, we found that we couldn’t just “plant our flag” and have people rally round. Active engagement is crucial to generating and maintaining interest in the page. People respond to fresh comment and content; they lose interest if the page goes stale. As well, campaigns have goals, and organizers need to encourage conversations that support those goals.

On October 1, we formally turned over management of the page to FCM. We expect it will become a key element in the effort to bring more women into municipal government. We will be watching with interest as this community continues to develop. You can show your support for more women in municipal government by becoming a fan of the page at