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.


Wake up and smell the recession

March 2, 2009

“You’re richer than you think”, they said.

Kudos to Scotiabank’s marketing team for waking up fairly early on and asking themselves the question: ‘Is our little catchphrase becoming an object of ridicule?’

Apparently, ‘no, not really’ is the official answer. But Scotia seems to be letting go of the slogan anyway. Just like that slightly discoloured ‘still wearable’ shirt you don’t want to throw away, but always stays in the closet anyway.

The environment is shifting. Time to review that comm plan and comm tools.

When blocked ads make the news

February 22, 2009

It’s funny how advertizing messages become a lot more interesting when they get banned.

Last month in the U.S., People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent their Veggie Love spot to NBC for broadcasting during the Super Bowl. NBC is fine with spots featuring half-naked women being sprayed with beer, but PETA’s broccoli lust was a bit too rich for a football game. It turns out that those lovable rascals at PETA never intended to buy Super Bowl airtime, but figured they would get more mileage from news stories about their ad being banned. They were right: the YouTube version of the ad was viewed 513,227 times. I bet the donations are pouring in, too.

Closer to home, bus ads from the Freethought Association of Canada (atheists) have been rejected by the City of Ottawa committee supervising public transit. The Freethought Association did want to get their message on buses, but they ended up getting much better: mentions in 107 news articles in Canadian dailies, including this column from Dan Gardner, the Ottawa Citizen’s resident atheist. It’s pretty damn good and most of those articles printed their complete message: “There’s probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” That’s more earned media than many media relations campaigns I’ve seen (including some of mine).

No wonder shes smiling

No wonder she's smiling

In both cases, the organization looked pretty smart. After all, the ads look quirky, not the work of foaming-at-the-mouth radicals. Which in PETA’s case is a bit a tour de force.

So go ahead: be daring, be bold, be risqué. And hopefully, get banned.

CTV in trouble in this kind-of-not-great economy

January 28, 2009

For those who haven’t got it yet, large media organizations are watching their revenues melt in the harsh sun of the economic slowdown (I’m not even calling it a recession,  for fear that Dan Gardner will write nasty things about me).

In this we’ve-seen-better economy, CTV is having trouble selling their Superbowl ads. Rick Brace is saying sales are “behind where we were last year”. Uh… the Superbowl is this Sunday. Whatever ad time remains is up for a fire sale right now.

CTV is the same network that has to sell bucket-loads of ad time for next year’s Vancouver Olympics. How much advertizing money is that? CTV paid $ 153 million (US) just for the rights and there are significant production costs involved, so they certainly need to sell close to $ 200 million in ads just to break even. They’ll have to do that in the thick of a not-great-but-let’s-not-get-all-panicky economy. How long until they announce the “buy-one-spot-get-two-more-for-free Olympic Games sale”?

As our prime Minister said during the last election, there are bargains out there for those who have money to invest. If you still have an advertizing budget.

Determined determination, eh?

December 11, 2008

Michael Ignatieff held the most important news conference of his life so far yesterday, an hour after he was acclaimed as the new leader of the Liberal party. One would think that he would learn his lines properly for this solemn occasion.

Threatening to pull the plug on the minority Harper government, the newly minted leader says “he must not doubt my calm, quiet, determined determination that he has to walk back down the hill.” His expression made it clear that he knew he had just screwed up his big line.

Mr. Ignatieff was trying to use the Rule of three, a favourite gimmick of speechwriters and academics. “Calm, quiet and resolute determination” perhaps? Unflinching? Righteous? Churchillian? Napoleonic?

I hate to throw stones at a public figure flubbing a line. Hey, most of us arrogant flacks would get slaughtered if put in similar circumstances, like the Toby Ziegler character in The West Wing. But it’s more than the screwed-up line. Ignatieff is okay behind a podium, but in interviews his non-verbal sucks. We barely see his eyes because he looks down a lot, he seems to be hunched over (a common trait in tall people in a sit-down interview). I’m not a make-up guy, but it seems to me something could be done on that front too. The whole thing leaves a bad impression.

The man needs a two-day media training session with some heartless flack who will break his bad habits. Judging by the performance of the previous leader, that person is not available within the Liberal brain pool. They need to bring in somebody from outside.


Speaking of The West Wing, is anybody in PR using this book? I’m curious about it.

Government of Canada wins award at important environment conference

December 8, 2008

While the Canadian Parliament lockout continues, Environment Minister Jim Prentice is in Poznan (Poland), spinning his way through the latest round of negotiations on climate change. Canada was awarded a Fossil of the Day Award (2nd place) on Friday, for aggressive back-pedalling on its commitments. Unfortunately, Mr. Prentice couldn’t make it to the awards ceremony…

Way to go, Minister Prentice. Let’s assume this is only the first of a long list of awards you plan to earn as Canada’s new Environment Minister.

Liberal-NDP coalition agreement signed

December 1, 2008

I’ve been spending as much time watching CBC Newsworld as I could this afternoon, with the indulgence of my boss and colleagues. Whatever will happen in the next week, the day’s events will make history.

An agreement has just been signed between the Liberal, New Democratic Party and Bloc Quebecois allowing a Liberal-NDP Cabinet with the support of the Bloc. Contingent upon the Conservatives losing power, of course… The agreement would guarantee a stable government until at least June, 2010.

Kudos to CBC reporter Rosemary Barton, who was able to translate as she read from the French copy coalition agreement she was given by the liberal flacks, before the English version reached her.

To spice it up further, the Conservatives have released the transcript of a telephone conversation involving NDP leader Jack Layton, prompting accusations of Watergate-like phone tapping.

Whatever the Conservatives had in mind with last week’s stange economic statement, it failed miserably. I’m the first one to be surprised at seeing their strategy fall apart. The PR moves of the next few days will need to be consistent with clear communication objectives if they are to regain the initiative. Their first reflex – “it’s a coup!” – does seems to be somewhat of a gaffe. The Conservative pundits I’ve seen so far look somewhat befuddled and don’t seem to have clear speaking points. Is there a problem with the Conservative spin machine?

See also: Liberal-NDP coalition agreement signed, post 2