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.


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!

Media elite was out to get me – Palin

February 24, 2009

Instead of looking ahead and nurturing her relationship with the media, Sarah Palin set to… heck, I really don’t know what she’s trying to accomplish by this.

“We are going to seek and we are going to destroy this candidacy of Sarah Palin’s because of what it is that she represents,” the former vice presidential candidate described as the attitude members of the press adopted.

“It is foreign to me the way some in the mainstream media are thinking.”

Yes, we have noticed she has no idea how the mainstream media works. Or public relations, for that matter.

The problem with those little nasty documentaries is that the only ones who will see them are those who are already converted. So while Republican spokespersons should be reaching out to the American people, they prefer to preach to the choir.

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.

Ignatieff’s speaking style: a little weirdness can work

January 28, 2009

So Michael Ignatieff has an amendment that is unlikely to precipitate an election, although it’s still within the realm of possibilities. That is what we heard once the National Press Gallery Amphitheatre technicians managed to get the rarely-used microphones to work.

Michael Ignatieff is a lot better behind a podium than in sit-down interviews. His PR people will need to graft braces to his legs and hips to stop that annoying swaying, but aside from that his style kind of works for him. I presume some might be put off by his somewhat peculiar use of rhymes and a speaking style reminiscent of the 1940s, but it can also be compelling. I wouldn’t mind seeing some good focus-group reports on this (if a leaky liberal out there is in the mood to share, don’t be shy and email).

You’re angry? So am I then!

January 26, 2009

So Minister Tony Clement is angry that crooks are using the CRTC’s no-call list as a telemarketing list, thus subverting its intent and causing endless irritation for citizens.

Good for him. People feel betrayed and they are angry, so it’s a good PR strategy to publicly show some empathy. Even if he doesn’t intend to do anything about it? You bet – especially since he doesn’t intend to do anything.

silly or apoplectic

Angry Dion: silly or apoplectic

Like Mr. Clement, Mr. Flaherty likes to get angry at people lacking civic virtues. He pulled the same trick a few months ago about banking machine fees. Then he did it again on gas prices. The anger didn’t produce any measurable results, but everybody concerned can remember that the Minister was angry, just like they were.

But good public anger needs either talent or practice. To take a clear example, Stéphane Dion never got it right. He looked either silly or apoplectic.

Some get caught up in the performance and take it way too far. When John Baird does it (nearly every day it seems), he looks sincerely enraged. He doesn’t seem to be angry with us, but at us. No empathy, just aggression.


Angry Baird: rage

Seriously, folks. When your spokesperson faces angry, distressed, exasperated or – it happens – joyful people, the very first thing to do is show she/he sincerely shares their feelings. Not to turn them into a torch-wielding mob, but to relate to them. If necessary, have him/her practice before the interviews.

A public figure showing emotion in public may seem corny and manipulative to our jaded eyes, but it helps to establish an understanding with the people you want to communicate with and allows them to hear your message. Especially if the message is only “I care”.

That works

Angry Flaherty: That works