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.


Social Media Retro: the Strumpette Tapes

January 28, 2009

Social media watcher Prof. Bill Sledzik and a colleague interviewed Brian Connolly, one of the creators of the blog character of Amanda Chapel, the fictional PR professional who allegedly wrote the Strumpette blog.

Those of us who were lurking in the dark recesses of PR blogs way back in 2006 have to remember Chapel. After all, she was custom-made to draw the attention of geeky flacks, she was loud and provocative, she was alluring and she wrote good copy (at least at first). The authors did their best to fuel the speculations about her identity, although the fact that ‘she’ was an experiment in social media was fairly obvious – I always felt sorry for the few poor gullible souls who believed in her existence. I stopped following the Strumpette’s adventures after a couple of months as the novelty wore off and quality declined, but Chapel’s production team kept the show going for a lot longer.

Anyway, Sledzik posted portions of the interview on his blog. They are much too short, but it still does a good job of documenting a small piece of seedy PR social media history. As a bonus, you get Connolly’s musings about the current state of the PR social media practices. The journey starts here.

Budget now about “policy communication”, veteran budget-watcher says

January 26, 2009

Budget day tomorrow (Speech from the Throne in just 2 hours… but who cares?). Instead of trying to read the collective mind of the PMO like I did the last time, I’m going to turn over this blogging space to Bruce Doern, retired Carleton University academic and famous budget-watcher. From an interview in the Hill Times this morning:

“Another trend Prof. Doern has noticed is the centralization of the decision-making into the Prime Minister’s Office and the shift from policy-making to “policy communication,” where much of the crafting and what goes around budgets is about taking care of the wording and proper framing of the policy so that it’s well-received by the public.

Ah yes… once a muted and fairly straightforward exercise, budgets are now shrouded in a thick veil of public relations. Witness the massive leaking of the budget’s content this time around, for example. The spin doesn’t always work too well though:

Prof. Doern said the Nov. 27 economic and fiscal update and “the events surrounding” what is usually a fairly apolitical document dealing with the overall state of the economy were “amongst the most incompetent” he’s ever seen. (…)

“Just the way that it was prepared and how vindictive it was, and then the consequences of what happened, and I also think it tended to show that the Department of Finance was itself kind of asleep at the switch because it’s clear that a lot of that was being drafted out of the Prime Minister’s Office so I just think that was a real low point,” said Prof. Doern.

“This one will be different because I think they really got burnt at the last one so I’m sure they are listening and they are getting lots of advice,” said Prof. Doern.

Advice from whom?

The combination of fiscal forecasting by think-tanks, banks, international bodies and the Parliamentary budget officer creates a more “pluralistic set of views” that is “healthier for fiscal policymaking” he said.

Ah yes. Prof. Doern is too well mannered to use the “L” word, but the Hill Times isn’t. See its front-page text posted on the Web:

Lobbyists to descend on Parliament Hill on budget day

They asked and they shall receive. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving for lobbyists.

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.

Economic update leak a way to distract from deficit?

November 27, 2008

The big leak about this afternoon’s economic update is that the government will eliminate the $27-million subsidy to political parties. “Sources” have been busy propagating the news yesterday to as many major media outlets as they could (but not Maclean’s bloggers apparently – theys must be pissed).

If this little maneuver comes from the flacks at the Prime Minister’s Office (Tory Teneyke and the gang), and and it probably does, the question is why.

Well, they know it’s going to be controversial, but probably fairly popular. Everybody will suffer, why not those dastardly politicians? It’s probably difficult for folks to accept the argument that this would effectively lead to a single-party system for a little while, the elusive “permanent majority” as they say down south.

I bet the leak is all about the deficit. That is what the newspapers would normally focus on this morning – the threat of a multi-billion deficit that may take at least 24 months to get rid of.

In the long winter nights that are coming to Ottawa’s drinking establishments, perhaps the Conservative flacks will tell the tale of how they eclipsed a $5-billion deficit with a $27-million cut.

WAS-I-EVER-WRONG UPDATE: No deficit after all. So this morning’s leak wasn’t about covering that up, it was about getting the political funding thing covered in the morning, so that precious TV time tonight would focus more on other aspects of the announcement – mostly, the fact that they don’t intend to run a deficit. A quick look at the early coverage indicates that it is indeed the case. It’s easy to do good PR when you have good material to work from.

Only the truth can be embellished

November 24, 2008

The above is what one of my PR teachers used to say back in university, when he felt the need to explain to us PR professionals do not lie. For some reason, he felt he had to repeat his mantra almost every class.

I was reminded of that teacher and his desperate attempts at finding some moral ground for our profession to stand on when I read this CBC report on tar sands carbon sequestration.

So yes, there are ways to capture carbon from tar sands extraction so that it doesn’t get released into the atmosphere. The technology exists and can be improved. It’s the truth.

Except the truth has been embellished in a monstrous way. It turns out that according to the government scientists working on carbon capture, the method is very inefficient, at least when applied to the tar sands. It’s only possible to treat a small proportion of the carbon. That will continue to be the case even after governments spend $2.5 billion to improve the technology.

It’s simple arithmetic: when you treat only a small fraction of the emissions, it doesn’t matter much if your treatment is 20% or 100% effective. It’s like trying to cure a bad case of cancer by using a really good treatment, but only on the patient’s feet.

No matter. Somebody decided the government would focus on carbon capture as the way to go to reduce carbon emissions causing climate change. So government communicators have been pushing carbon sequestration as a way to address our little flatulence problem while we keep drilling and pumping. Or in the case of the tar sands: digging, trucking, rinsing, heating, pressurizing, emitting, spilling … and spinning.

The whole thing raises interesting policy questions, which I will leave to other blogs to address. This here blog is only concerned about public relations. So here’s the question I should have asked my teacher back then:

How much can truth be embellished before it becomes a lie?

You paid $ 400,000 for… what?

October 28, 2008

Another story about a public entity spending impressive amounts of money to get a new logo and public image. The Montreal Gazette berates the 82 municipalities of the Greater Montreal for a $487,000 branding and promotion exercise that produced a new logo the Gazette describes as “a stylized M in the colours of a roll of LifeSavers.”

Life Savers, anyone?

Life Savers, anyone?

It’s not even 8 a.m. yet and predictably, the snarky comments have stared pouring in.

I feel for the Montreal Metropolitain Community and for National, the marketing firm who got the contract, I really do. People don’t realize how much work goes into those things: strategic scan, creative design, research, focus groups, consultations, etc. A lot of people get involved.

Except the logo alone cost $ 400,000, according to the text. If that is true, it’s hard not to think that’s excessive. And the result, well… it’s sweet, but underwhelming. Kind of a 1980 Télé-Québec look. It’s also liable to induce nausea if your look at it for more than five seconds.

Apparently the new logo will only be used abroad (a relief) and will not replace the logos of the municipalities. It’s missing a good opportunity though. The graphic elements some of those towns use really ought to be changed. Take Laval’s Tetris-like cheap 3-D logo, for instance.