Posted by: Ian Ross | April 11, 2009

Alberta Government Goes 2.0

The Alberta government has taken the bold step into social media. It launched a public blog a few weeks ago spotlighting government initiatives and inviting public discussion on important topics. Three authors have been hired to run it.youralbertablog711

A public blog can be nerve wracking for many companies who worry about negative comments, consumer confidence and brand identity. But for a government, this must be terrifying. There is the whole political element that leaves ministers fair game on their own website. There are also bureaucratic approval processes that are not the most speedy to respond to comments. Then there is the question about how public servants can respond to negative political rants.

The site’s first comment reads “Hahahah – “foster” and “transparent” in the same sentence about this Tory government! We’re all doomed. Been reading the news much lately Jas? This government is the furthest thing from transparent, especially when it comes to “foster” care. This blog is just another PR spinning tool. Open your eyes.”

Ouch. But I’m impressed that wasn’t deleted by the authors. Appears they are going to let the good, the bad and the ugly stay.

I also noticed at least one of the authors is doing blog searches and responding. David Sands was the first commenter on a negative blog entry about tar sands on PRWatch.

This is fantastic. Two-way communications should be the cornerstone of the political process. Going online shows that Alberta is willing to look past the risks to get the benefits of Web 2.0. Congratulations.

Posted by: Ian Ross | April 10, 2009

Extra Pain Is Gain For Fundraising Media Relations

I spent the day brainstorming some ideas for a fundraising event this summer. I raised about $4,500 last year for a wonderful Malawi orphan centre (Friends of Mulanje Orphans) by running the Ottawa marathon. We visited them during our three-month Africa journey and the kids absolutely captured our hearts.

So this year I want to increase the amount raised, and perhaps get a little news media attention. But the marathon isn’t going to cut it for the later objective. Maybe once upon a time, the media rewarded people who ran a marathon for a charity. But the pain of hitting the pavement for 42km isn’t enough anymore. Terry Fox taught that lesson.

Here are some folks who will get the media spotlight this year for torturing their feet and minds for a cause:

  • Richard Dunwoody from England is going to walk a mile each hour for 42 days (a total of 1000 miles) for four charities including the Alzheimer’s Society. He won’t sleep for more than 80 minutes at one time for a month and a half.
  • Linda Theron from Toronto will walk from coast to coast, performing concerts along the way for worthy causes — for the second time.
  • Natasha Peters from Ottawa is running a marathon on seven continents in seven weeks for AIDS orphans. The Ottawa Citizen just gave her some love.

Kudos to them. I’m not that crazy. So running is out as a tactic to get media attention for my fundraising efforts. Other ideas are percolating….including refocusing on social media instead. Stay tuned.

Posted by: Ian Ross | April 5, 2009

Porter Airline’s Image Is Flying High

Porter Airlines appears to have won over the hearts and minds of passengers, and the broader community, in Toronto.  A good PR success story.

It was only six years or so ago that David Miller won the mayor’s race – in large part by railing against the expansion of Toronto’s island airport. Nevertheless, Porter managed to establish itself a few years ago as a small commuter airline to Montreal and Ottawa off the island. Many in Toronto were a little wary. There was even a protest when the first plane departed.


Two years later, Porter appears to be flying high. Their PR and customer service (which I have long argued are not two separate things) have been the key. I haven’t flown with them, but the buzz I’ve heard from friends is extremely positive – always on time, great lounge, free drinks, decent price, polite staff and easy access from downtown. Twitter comments also reflect that.

They’ve also generated lots of good mainstream media attention, including recent coverage in the Globe and Mail (the spark for this blog post), the Chicago Sun-Times and a range of media courtesy of a big federal government announcement at their hangar.

Their social media efforts are also pretty good.  Their “I Love Porter Airline” Facebook page has nearly 400 members. And lots of good YouTube videos.

Overall, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of angst as Porter expands from six to 16 planes. The airline has successfully built a strong relationship with its customers and acceptance from the Toronto public.

Posted by: Ian Ross | April 1, 2009

Getting Older Isn’t A Good Communication Campaign

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been noticing a lot of anniversaries in Toronto being celebrated very publicly with PR and advertising.

The City of Toronto is celebrating 175 years. They had song contests, a book published, free concerts, a full week of activities in March and lots of speeches from the Mayor. York University is 50 and telling everyone they can with ads covering subway stations floor to ceiling, lots of fundraising activities, an online video contest, public lectures and much more.

I’ve seen lots of banks, retailers and others do the same — spend big money and effort to promote their age.

But why? What are you strategically trying to communicate to your publics? Look at me, I’m old?

Yes, anniversaries tend to get attention. The media often eat it up – a decent news peg. Perhaps if you are trying to establish yourself as the solid, reliable veteran in your industry, this could be a good opportunity. But otherwise, it means going off message for a year and spending a lot of money to do that. Then the next year you are scrambling to reestablish your public image and message again.

Newfoundland seems to have it right. They ain’t doing much for their 60th birthday this year. Premier Danny Williams, never lost for a good quote, said, “If it just happens to be another decade, the 60th, to me [it] doesn’t seem extra special.”

Posted by: Ian Ross | March 24, 2009

Obama’s Humour Blocking His Message

Twice in the past week, American President Barack Obama has used improv humour during big television interviews. And both times, his little quips have been seen as off-colour — distracting millions of viewers from his key messages.

He certainly has important things to say about turning around the economy. But going off message to seem ‘down to earth’ has somewhat derailed his public relations campaign.

On Thursday night, he made a silly comment about the Special Olympics when describing his poor bowling skills on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The ratings for the show were the highest in more than 10 years, reaching millions.obama2

On Sunday night, it was 60 Minutes when he laughed while talking about the economy, followed by interviewer Steve Kroft asking if he was ‘punch drunk?’ Obama had 16 million viewers.

I bet many were talking about his poor humour and not his policies around the watercooler the following days.

Reporters and bloggers were certainly buzzing. The New York Times has some differing insights from PR folks about the 60 Minutes interview. Gawker thought Obama’s gallows humour could be good PR.  In the Huffington Post, Richard Greene doesn’t think the outbursts are such a big deal, but Stanton Peele calls them PR mistakes.

If Obama’s humour is this distracting, it isn’t helping his cause. He needs to stay focused on his key messages.

Posted by: Ian Ross | March 19, 2009

AIG’s PR Is A Disaster

AIG has become the symbol of corporate evil in these trouble times. And their public relations has become a joke… and an insult to the profession.

The company that is receiving billions in US bailouts, keeps making big public blunders — expensive corporate retreats, its restructuring officer joking that it woud be “better to go to jail” then deal with securities law, and the latest, million dollar bonuses to people who caused the company’s failure.blog_aig_cartoon

AdAge had a great article a few days ago. It noted, “…PR pros are shaking their heads at the blundering giant insurer, which is fast becoming not only the poster boy for financial-industry greed, but also a company seen as too arrogant or stupid to keep out of its own way.”

You would think that it is time that AIG got some good public relations help. But the fact is they have plenty. According to a CNN report, they have employed PR firms Kekst and Company, Hill & Knowlton and Burson-Marsteller. Plus they already have a big in-house team. The fact that their excessive PR spending is also making news just shows how bad things are.

There are some other interesting blog posts out there on this topic: PR Junkie, ODwyer and EthicalOptimist. They offer more scorn… but also a few solutions and a little hope that AIG can turn things around.

In my opinion, AIG’s public image is damaged goods. It is going to take a miracle to turn things around.

Posted by: Ian Ross | March 15, 2009

Maple Leafs sleight of hand PR magic

The Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team demonstrated probably the best slight of hand in public relations I have seen in a while. And by that I mean distracting the public with good news, while slipping out the bad news unnoticed.may290outdoorpractice2

About three weeks ago, the Leafs needed to reveal increases in next year’s ticket prices during a horrible season and an economic downturn. So what do they do? They scheduled it at the same time that they sent the Boys in Blue out to High Park in Toronto to have a practice on an outdoor rink that the club partly built. Hundreds of fans showed up for the free event including Mayor David Miller. The perfect photo and video op with plenty of good news.

The media ate it up. The local television stations covered it. And the front pages of the Toronto Star, Sun, Metro and 24 the next day were filled with photos from the High Park practice.  The Star and Sun newspapers even shot and posted online videos that could be mistaken for commercials for the hockey club.

This resulted in little attention to the 3.5% ticket increase. For those who did find out, their anger was likely offset by the free outdoor spectacle.

Also, kudos to the Home Depot PR department who partnered with the Leafs to build some outdoor rinks. All of the players wore Home Depot patches on their jerseys and the hardware company also got great profile on the media.

Posted by: Ian Ross | March 14, 2009

Tim Horton’s RRRolling Out The Trashbin

There are few marketing campaigns more successful in Canada than the Tim Horton’s Roll Up The Rim To Win event every winter. It is true Canadiana. But it may not last for much longer.

There are 281,686,000 cups made for the contest — and they all end up in our trashbins and landfills.

Bottled watrolluptherim010er is quickly become a sin. The Toronto City Council voted this week to ban the sale of plastic water bottles on its premises including City Hall and golf courses within the next two years. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities, school boards and corporations are all making the same move. Meanwhile, the City of Toronto hit the headlines last week about their failure to find ways to recycle coffee cups.

So I doubt it will be long until people start questioning the Roll Up campaign’s impact on the environment.

When I’ve brought my travel mug to Tim Hortons, they offer me a cup so I can roll it up. There is no alternative. You must create trash to win. According to Tim’s contest rules, you don’t even have to buy coffee. You can write in and they will send you a cup. There is an online contest without a cup but there is no car or cash… just lots of coffee.

Perhaps it is time for Tim Hortons to offer an eco-friendly solution to participate in the contest. Before the Green tide turns on this iconic Canadian marketing event.

Posted by: Ian Ross | March 10, 2009

Auto Workers Told To Speak Up

Canadian autoworkers are being revved up by their union president to change public perceptions they are underskilled and overpaid. And now could be the perfect time.

Auto Assembly Line

According to the Toronto Star, Ken Lewenza, national president of the Canadian Auto Workers, “told more than 1,500 workers … they need to become more active in combating any public attacks on their pay and benefit packages. The president of the Canadian Autoworkers Union has called on his members to speak up about the value of their profession.”

We all know the auto industry is in bad shape. The corporate offices at GM, Chrysler and Ford are taking a beating in the press for bad management decisions — especially when the bigwigs jump into corporate jets for meetings. So the union may have a great window of opportunity to look like the good guys.

I think they showed a good start over the past week negotiating with GM Canada for less — a wage freeze, lost bonuses, less holiday time and increased health fees for retirees. And they did it with some grace. No threats or strikes.

So perhaps now is the right time for Canadian autoworkers to really try to shift public attitudes. And that is going to take all of their workers communicating to others in their communities, as Lewenza suggests. A real grassroots effort.

It will be interesting to see how this story plays out.

Posted by: Ian Ross | March 10, 2009

Back To Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

Last July, I put the PR Voyageur blog on hold while my wife and I trekked through Africa — from Cape Town, South Africa to Niarobi, Kenya by public bus, boat and thumb. A truly amazing experience.

When we returned to Canada after three months on the road, I just never stopped – visiting friends and family, buying and moving into a new home and getting my groove back at work and in life. Whew… it seems we’ve been busier after returning then during the trip itself.

Anyhow,  I realized last month it is time to put the jumper cables to the blog or pull the plug permanently. After a good deal of toing and froing, I decided to get it up and running again and get back slowly into the social media scene. My goals are similar to before:

  • add content about three times a week
  • stay focused on PR and associated communication thoughts
  • keep the posts short (250 words or less) and sweet
  • contribute three times a week to other blogs
  • plus, an added item (cause the times are a changing), test the waters of Twitter

In a few months, I’ll do another reality check and see if I have built some momentum that can be maintained.

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