Using social media to trace victims of a rare disease

March 22, 2009

On March 15, a fifteen year-old girl died recently in the U.S. of a sudden, degenerative disease that may or may not be linked to a Gardasil vaccination. Her parents happen to be professors in the field of medical science. They are trying to clarify the ‘may of may not be linked’ part of the tragedy by finding other people who went through similar ordeals. So far, they have found at least two.

So, if you happen to know about a teenager who rapidly lost the use of his/her motor functions without a solid medical explanation…

Read Dan Gardner’s introduction of the case, call for action and tragic update.

See the video below.

Click the website.

How do you expand the reach of this little campaign? Given the current state of the social media sphere and the rather dispersed character of the target audience, I can only think about a massively multi-platform approach: make sure it’s in all the bookmark sharing systems with the right tags, get on the relevant Facebook and LinkedIn groups, etc, etc, etc.

And use the on-line campaign to attract the traditional mass media, branding it as an ‘Internet phenomenon’ trying to succeed where the public health bureaucracy seems to be failing. That is one case when the ability of television to reach massive, vaguely-defined audiences can still be useful. Some good old-fashioned PR opportunities there.


Goodyear’s clarification: bad, bad PR

March 18, 2009

Gary Goodyear should not have accepted the appointment as Secretary of State for science and technology if he holds so little regard or interest for science. It doesn’t matter if his distrust comes from religion, childhood experiences or a bad chemistry teacher in Grade 9 (well maybe it does, but at another level).

But it’s hard to refuse a first appointment, especially since it was either that or the backbenches. Fine. But when the very predictable PR crisis came, he should have faced it without hiding behind “I’m a Christian, so back off.” Today’s half-hearted and very strange clarification (footwear as a driver of the genetic evolution of the human species?) shows one of two things: either he was never briefed on the concept, even now that it’s headline news; or his brain turned off during the briefing.

Parliament resumes on Monday. Goodyear’s PR people better make sure the Minister is about to talk about species evolution in an intelligent way at that point.


Enough already with the cocktail party columnists

March 14, 2009

Reading Margaret Wente in the Globe is often unsettling. You recognize the events she’s talking about, you know she’s making observations about the country you live in. But strangely, none of the people know know seem to be living in Wente’s Canada.

I usually don’t mind that Wente’s universe seems to be entirely contained within a few of the nicer Toronto neighbourhoods. It’s even good for a few laughs at times. But today’s column from Wente about how nouveau chic frugality suddenly is, caught in my throat for some reason.

Maybe it’s her admission that the two-person $235 sushi dinner she had the other day looks a little obscene now, even though it used to be a normal treat of their hard-working family before the recession. Maybe it’s the faux-zen reasoning that makes her think people who lost their job get healthier because they have more time to exercise (with a quote from an economist, no less). Maybe it’s residual anger from Jon Stewart’s clobbering of Jim Cramer on the Daily Show.

Or, maybe the column reminds me how frustrating it is to talk with those high-flying columnists with an worldview so limited that you just can’t find anything that will resonate with them. They know the world through the friends they meet for brunch on Sunday, the New Yorker writers they admire and quaint family stories about how their grandparents worked hard to get their kids in college, without taking a handout from the government.

Times are hard for the media. Revenues are declining and the future looks bleak. If daily newspapers are still unwilling to cut on the money it spends on columnists, could they at least replace the cocktail party columnists with people whose writings are relevant to the current situation?


Oil flacks keep their ear to the ground

March 12, 2009

Very good response from the flacks at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers about the National Geographic text on the oil sands. They set up a section on their Web site to deal with this (and certainly encourage friendly columnists to use their speaking points), then intervene on the blogs where the topic is discussed… including our own little Final Spin here.

It’s all very professional. The flack clearly identifies himself. The comment picks up on something that was written in the post (he mistook a quote I used for my own opinion but no matter). It’s respectful. And of course there’s a link to their Web site. Very nice. That’s 21th-Century PR.

I bet they monitor the reactions to their comments too (hello there Mr. Davies). It took them almost three days to get their response on this blog, that’s a bit long but not that much. And it took me more than a day to realize it got stuck in the spam filter – putting two hyperlinks in your comments will do that. Sorry.

I’d love to see the social media campaign report the CAPP flacks will write after that one. There’s a nice little case study in there. How about presenting something at the CPRS conference?


Poll: National Geographic vs. Alberta oil sands

March 8, 2009

This post below received quite a few visits since it got posted a few hours ago. This looks like a good opportunity for a little poll. So read the post and vote if you are so inclined.



National Geographic and the oilsands: what the heck are they complaining about in Calgary?

March 8, 2009

I’ve been scratching my head for a few days now, trying to make sense of the uproar out West about the latest issue of National Geographic Magazine. The venerable yellow-framed publication, famous for the quality of its pictures and focus on conservation, ran a 20-page section on Alberta’s ‘oilsands’. It illustrates the dark side of the sand operations – you know, the scoured landscape, the sick people, the dead birds, the complete lack of restraint from the industry.

The Oil Patch loves playing the victim

The Oil Patch loves playing the victim

Gary Lamphier in the Edmonton Journal denounces it as eco-propaganda. Predictably, the National Post is outraged. Biased, soft-handed tree-huggers from New York, don’t they know they need Canadian oil to drive from their country home to their Manhattan office?

But reading the magazine made me wonder why the heck they are complaining about.

Sure, a text in National Geographic about the oilsands would be cause to send Cheryl Rubb at Syncrude’s media relations service into a panic. But as it turns out, the oil patch, as well as the Alberta government, have plenty of reasons to rejoice: even a cursory reading of the magazine’s text shows that it contains all the messages they’ve been trying to get through to Americans for years:

  • Canada is America’s no. 1 oil supplier and has reserves greater than Saudi Arabia’s.
  • Canadian oil is the best way to reduce America’s dependency on oil from the Middle-East.
  • Alberta’s oilsands are open for business: it’s full steam ahead and development will not slow down.
  • Extraction even of the deeper oil is plenty profitable.
  • In the grand scheme of things, the oilsands’ carbon footprint is negligible and First Nations are seeing this as an opportunity.

As for the environmental aspect of the oilsands, the text makes it clear that it’s a Canadian problem that has no impact on the U.S. Canada wants to turn part of their own countryside into a hellish hellhole to pump oil south of the border. It’s their business.

I’m sure the oil patch’s PR wizards see it that way, if they have any wits. Curiously, it’s the newsroom hacks who get blinded by rage. Lamphier can’t even get past the pictures:

“No one reads National Geographic. Like Playboy, it’s all about the pictures. And you can bet that everyone from Al Gore to David Suzuki to the righteous folks at Greenpeace will be using the magazine’s grim photos to convince the pliable masses, and U.S. politicians, that the oilsands are indeed the world’s greatest eco-disaster.”

Right. Apparently publishers have a responsibility not only to be balanced, but also not to publish pictures that could be used to support a public relations campaign. Interesting how the ethics of journalism shift with who is doing the spinning.

If Lamphier and the National Post editorial board like to pretend American public opinion is ripe for an eco-crusade involving oil production right now, it’s fine. After all, we’re used to frequent high-pitched whining from either of those sources. But nobody should think their outrage has anything to do with reality.

POLL UPDATE: What do you think? Take the poll!


On the use of teleprompters

March 6, 2009

The New York Times has a piece on the American President’s constant use of teleprompters. Apparently Mr. Obama uses them every time television cameras are around to capture prepared remarks.

Heck, why not? Even his adversaries recognize the man is one of the most gifted public speakers of his generation. Far from making him appear insincere, the teleprompter seems to enhance his performance. It works.

So, does that mean you should train your spokesperson to use one? I would say Yes, if one of the following conditions applies:

  • The spokesperson frequently addresses groups in venues where teleprompters can be set up. That includes seminars, conventions, news conferences, etc. If you can replace cue cards with a teleprompter, you should certainly consider it.
  • He regularly has to make videos, public service announcements, or those annoying free-air-time political messages. By using a ‘prompter, you will drastically reduce the number of takes necessary for anything longer than 30 seconds.

Notice how frequency of use is important. For most people, using the teleprompter requires practice. If it gathers dust for months between uses, chances are your spokesperson should not be using it at all.

You obviously need to train somebody to operate the ‘prompter. Ideally, it’s always the same person (or two) and they have trained with the spokesperson. It’s fairly embarassing to see your boss struggle through his text because the teleprompter operator is not familiar with his delivery speed.

The situation when the teleprompter is most useful in when the boss is tired. She can barely think straight, but there’s this 5-minute address we have to tape (in French!) and send out to the Quebec regional office tomorrow. Getting the teleprompter out of its box is the only way you’ll get quality delivery out of her.

One obvious caveat: if your spokesperson doesn’t like to read from prepared notes during his public speaking performances, he will not be able to use the teleprompter effectively. He will get frustrated, he will hate the machine and he will resent you.


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