It must be tough to have your band the target of a 50,000-plus name online petition against your big upcoming gig – but that’s exactly where Canada’s own Nickelback found themselves in advance of yesterday’s big U.S. Thanksgiving day NFL tilt in Detroit. Seems many weren’t happy about the choice of half-time entertainment, and the story quickly got big legs. So kudos to the band for not only showing up and playing the show with good humour, but for the killer www.funnyordie.com video they uploaded earlier in the week, showing an “emergency meeting” with a record company weasel who proposed a wacky range of potential new tactics for dealing with the image crisis. It was as smart as it was funny.
So Republican presidential hopeful Michelle Bachmann steps out of the wings for her appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon this week, to plug both her campaign and her new book. The house band, The Roots, do their thing and launch into a musical excerpt to “play her on.” Trouble is, the tune chosen by the band was a Fishbone track from 1985 titled “Lyin’ Ass B—-.” Bachmann didn’t twig to it at first, but sure got it soon after, demanding apologies from all involved (although professing her affection for Fallon and his show). She said it crossed the line, suggesting that there’s no way that, say, Michelle Obama would have been intro’d with a song like that – and that if she had, apologies would have been forthcoming right away from the top levels of NBC and heads would have rolled over the stunt. Fair enough, and a valid point. But then, she took it a step further, saying it smacked of sexism: “This is clearly a form of bias on the part of the Hollywood entertainment elite,” Bachmann said. “This wouldn’t be tolerated if this was Michelle Obama. It shouldn’t be tolerated if it’s a conservative woman either.” You already had us, Michelle … but by taking it to the realm of sexism, media bias and partisan politics, you took the bloom off your hurt. Often, the smartest communications play is to recognize where the line is and make sure you don’t stomp on it. In the end, she got apologies from both Fallon and the network brass, which was the right thing for them to do.
I’m gonna miss them. Occupy Toronto has given us so much TD&F fodder over the past month and change, because it had so many dimensions to it, with communications being one of the main ones. So as sad as I am to see this reliable supply of material concluded (for now, anyway), I’m happy to be able to call communications Touchdowns to both sides of the story. From (most) Toronto civic officials, to the Toronto Police Service, to the occupiers themselves, all played it cool and smart – and none fell into the potential minefields that lined the path. The cops kept their cool and kept the dialogue open with the demonstrators, no doubt walking an extra fine line in their first major public order challenge since the G-20. By telling the protesters what they were going to do – and what they were asking of them – the police managed their messages as well as they did the operation itself, to the point that the Toronto Sun’s Joe Warmington quoted Occupy activist Ian Smart as saying “They were outstanding. We must acknowledge it because we would certainly point it out if they had not been.” And, with the inevitable few exceptions, the occupiers overall kept their actions true to their messages – that they were strident in their views but ultimately non-violent and non-confrontational in their tactics. By handling the communications so very well, all sides in this thing emerged able to claim victory and able to move forward with their credibility intact, unhaunted by ugly scenes which could have easily unspooled and been a lasting stain for one group or the other were they not so careful and measured.
It has been a week since the infamous Republican presidential debate, and the media are already saying that candidate Herman Cain has “Rick Perry’d” it. Asked whether he supported President Obama’ s decision-making on Libya, Cain blanked, looked at the ceiling, shifted awkwardly in his chair and rambled on vaguely that he would have done a better job “assessing the situation.” Maybe he should have done a better job assessing his own weaknesses, because clearly ad-libbing is not his strong suit – nor is it something anyone should ever do, be you junior spokesperson or presidential candidate. One of the fundamentals of effective communications is preparation, and Cain’s team clearly failed to prepare him for a basic question about current events. We can excuse Cain for initially blanking – taking a moment to collect your thoughts isn’t necessarily a bad thing – but his subsequent rambling is inexcusable. If asked about something that is outside of your frame of knowledge, it’s always better (painful though it may be right in the moment) to admit you aren’t able to offer a comment on that at this time, then redirect to a point of strength. Cain should have said something like “I recognize Libya is an important foreign policy issue, but my focus in this campaign has been on domestic matters, in other words, what’s wrong with America. I will have more to say on foreign policy as my campaign unfolds, but for now, I’m concentrating on the important matters here at home such as …” Instead, Cain has now starred in a video clip that will dog him throughout his campaign, to the point that in this seemingly endless cycle of front-runners for the GOP, we are now likely going to accuse the next candidate who has a slip-up of ‘Herman Cain’ing’ it.
Just like a train wreck, it’s hard to stop watching an uncomfortable public display of affection. Especially if it’s a stolen kiss between world leaders. Benetton knew that full well and hence the launch of its creative campaign this week entitled” unhate” – depicting doctored up compromising kiss & tell photos of the powerful and mighty. Among the kissing couples were the likes of President Obama and his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez, North and South Korean leaders and the most controversial of them all, Pope Benedict XVI puckering up with Ahmed el Tayyeb , grand imam of the Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, Egypt. An advisor to the imam commented on how “irresponsible and absurd” the ad was. The Vatican said the mock photo “is wounding not only to the dignity of the Pope but also to the sensibilities of the faithful.” Benetton was quick to qualify its campaign’s objective as “solely to battle the culture of hate in all its forms.” The company also issued an apology stating, “We are sorry that the use of an image of the pontiff and the imam should have offended the sensibilities of the faithful in this way.” The faux-blessed embrace was removed within an hour. The communications play here has nothing to do with religion or nationality. Neither does it matter whether Benetton planned its end-game from the outset; Benetton acted smart and fast. Taking down the photo within an hour of the Vatican making a stink resulted in significant media mileage. A good solid PR Punt counts for a Touchdown here.
His lawyer thought it was a good idea. I disagree. Having Jerry Sandusky – the now infamous Penn State football coach, charged with multiple counts of sexual assaults on children – take questions from veteran NBC interviewer Bob Costas went as bad as it possibly could. Costas rightly asked what everyone wanted to know: what do you say to your accusers? Are you a pedophile? Are you sexually attracted to young boys? If you are innocent as you claim, why would these people come forward with the claims they have made? The only good answer Sandusky offered was “no” to the “are you a pedophile” question. Other than that, he was unsteady, convoluted and rambling …at one point attempting to rationalize what he considers appropriate touching of the young boys he admits to showering with. The hole he was digging got deeper with every word. The broader point here is about people accused or charged with criminal acts – and especially ones as reprehensible as those laid against Sandusky – starting their defense in the media prior to the courtroom process. In general, it’s a better strategy to let your lawyer do the talking. If you’re going to proclaim your innocence directly, you had better be absolutely resolute and seamless in your pronouncements, and ready to defend against any and all tough questions – something Sandusky certainly was not.
It’s an absolutely hideous story. A long time senior football coach with Penn State University is charged with a string of sexual assaults on young boys dating back many years. Two senior university officials are also charged, for failing to report it to police years ago, as soon as they became aware of the allegations. And, ultimately, beloved head coach Joe Paterno is fired, accused of also failing to make it a police matter. Let’s look at how the university responded. First, Penn State president Graham Spanier issued a statement that was a textbook example of how not to respond to such an awful situation. It began well enough: “The allegations about a former coach are troubling, and it is appropriate that they be investigated thoroughly. Protecting children requires the utmost vigilance.” But then it went entirely in the wrong direction, with Spanier expressing nothing but faith in and solidarity with the two accused – and absolutely zero empathy for the victimized children and their families, with Spanier making only an oblique reference to “the other presentments” in the matter. It was a massive Fumble, and it quickly cost him his job, when the Penn State University Board of Trustees showed how best to respond to such a situation. Its statement was blunt, honest and emotional, peppered with words like “outraged” and “horrifying.” “Our hearts go out all of those impacted by these terrible events, especially the tragedies involving children and their families. We cannot begin to express the combination of sorrow and anger that we feel about the allegations … We hear those of you who feel betrayed and we want to assure all of you that the Board will take swift, decisive action,” it said. Empathy and action – namely the firing of Spanier, Paterno and the announcement of a special committee to probe exactly what went down and to enact measures to ensure it could never happen again – were the hallmarks of the Board’s response, and it was an absolute Touchdown.
How many times do we have to say this? If you’re in front of the media, it ain’t over till it’s over. That means microphones off, journalists out of the room, doors locked, cone of silence firmly engaged, etc. Obviously, somebody failed to make this point strenuously enough to either French President Nicolas Sarkozy or US President Barack Obama, both of whom put their proverbial foots in it while meeting at the G-20 summit in Cannes earlier this month. Chatting with Obama in front of a handful of reporters, Sarkozy opined that he didn’t trust Benjamin Netanyahu, saying he was “fed up” with the Israeli Prime Minister and calling him “a liar.” Obama didn’t exactly disagree. “You’re fed up with him,” he said to Sarkozy, “but I have to deal with him even more often than you.” Apparently, neither leader realized that the monitors were still on and that the journalists could hear the exchange. When handlers learned of the technical gaffe, they asked the reporters to refrain from publishing the leaders’ conversation – which they did, until French website Arrêt Sur Images broke the silence the following week and Reuters confirmed the report. That media forbearance might be commendable (or not), but that doesn’t change the fact that the conversation should never have taken place in that forum at all. Word to the wise: if you’re going to swap nasty words about a putative friend and ally, get a room and do it behind closed doors.
Three things any political figure needs to do in a debate situation: Number one, keep your cool; Number two, always bridge back to your key messages; and number three … uh … oops. Texas Governor Rick Perry had the brain cramp heard ‘round the political world in the midst of a debate against his fellow Republican presidential hopefuls, blanking entirely on one of the federal institutions he would take an axe to if he wins the White House. It’s a cringe-worthy moment – mainly because it could happen to any one of us, regardless of what we do for a living. But if you want to be the leader of the U.S./free world, forgetting one of your main campaign positions live on national television is about the last thing you want to have happen. So how did Perry deal with the aftermath? Brilliantly – and the only way he could: by grabbing the bull by the horns, and delivering the inevitable punch-lines himself. “I really stepped in it last night,” he said repeatedly as he made the rounds of the major political talk shows, being absolutely unequivocal in what an embarrassing moment it was but also stressing that while he may not be the best debater, he’s still the best candidate for the Republican nomination. Even better, he went on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and then to Letterman to personally read the Top 10 List of Rick Perry Excuses. By doing so, he communicated three things: first, that he’s only human and it was just one of those things that could happen to anyone; second, that he has a sense of humour and doesn’t take himself too seriously; and third … uh …. <rim shot>. But seriously folks, Perry has done well to try and laugh it off – now he needs to close the chapter, turn the page, and get on with the business of serious campaigning. Will it be enough? Stranger things have happened in politics … we’ll see.
We’re 3 for 3 on Occupy Toronto-related items over the past trio of weeks – because they keep on serving them up. The latest development is the arrival of a set of large, heavily insulated, good-for-winter-weather tents known in their native Kazakhstan as “yurts” down at St James’ Park. Their $20,000 apiece price-tag covered by the membership of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, the big tents have caused some excitement – and created some issues – for the occupiers. “Who gets priority access to sleeping in a yurt?” asked protester Jeff Wong in a Toronto Star story. Excellent question – how does a movement based on equality and consensus grant access to the toasty tents to some, while others have to tough it out in the cold camper tents that are home for the majority? A mixed message indeed. But still not as bad as the spectre raised – unprompted – by a member of Occupy Toronto’s “food team” who said they will keep the yurts under lock and key “so that they don’t turn into crack dens.” Nice image … Fumble!