Posted by: Ian Ross | July 11, 2008

Gone On Safari

No more PR blog posts until October.

My wife and I are on vacation in Africa for three months. We started in South Africa last week and will be making our way to Kenya by bus, combi, train and boat.

If you want to follow our antics and adventures, we started a travel blog (suprise suprise).

Posted by: Ian Ross | June 24, 2008

Another Beijing Olympic PR Blunder

Poor PR decisions continue to dog Beijing and its attempt to save face with the international community. Here is the latest blunder: the hotel hosting media at the Olympics Games is offering cash for coverage.

According to the Guardian, “The Gehua New Century Hotel…has promised journalists up to 1,000 yuan ($145) for articles about it….’We want to extend our reputation through the opportunity of the Olympics, it is necessary to promote our brand,’ PR manager Zhao Xiaoda told Reuters by telephone on Monday. ‘I understand it is different from international practice. It was a decision of the PR department not the hotel.'”

This just reinforces an image of corruption and bribery in China, in addition to damaging our profession. The Olympic’s focus on fair competition is a perfect opportunity for a host country to show how it also reflects that value. Instead, this unethical PR tactic shows the world that China is not ready for foreign investment and doesn’t have a free press.

Posted by: Ian Ross | June 20, 2008

Enterprise Continues To Engage

A few days ago, I wrote about my satisfaction with Enterprise Rent-A-Car’s customer service. That night I got a call from a telemarketer from the car company. I shivered for the first moment thinking that my positive experience with the company was about to be ruined. I’ve blogged before about how telemarketing can often damage a PR strategy.

Instead, she was polite, asked me to answer three survey questions about my car rental experience and then wished me a good night. Less than two minutes in total.

Wow! Another impressive communication tactic to build my loyalty.

Of course, the thought crossed my mind that it may have been more than a coincidence considering they have never called before. But if someone from the company did add my name to the call list after seeing my blog, well that’s even more impressive that they are actively scanning the web for customer comments.

Posted by: Ian Ross | June 17, 2008

Consumers Deserve Same Attention As Reporters

Enterprise Rent-A-Car has earned my business. They are always friendly and helpful. They’ve offered small discounts when small problems arise. They’ve worked miracles when I’ve booked a car for the wrong day. And they always ask for feedback when I bring back the car. So I’m willing to be loyal to them even if it costs me a few extra dollars. And I’ve told lots of people exactly that.

On a recent road trip down the 401 in my rental car, I started thinking about the relationship between PR and customer service. We often think about customer service as a sales function. But if it is done right, isn’t it really about establishing a relationship with a key public and building two-way communication? Isn’t it PR?

Clearly, customer service can make a huge impact of word-of-mouth marketing. I’ve raved and ranted about banks, telephone services and clothing stores at parties and other events in the past.

And now in the age of the blogosphere, any individual can write about his or her experience with a company and reach hundreds, if not thousands, of other people.

Rarely does a week go by when I’m not reading about a blogger’s customer service experience. Some times it is good – like mine with Enterprise or Dave Fleet with WestJet. And sometimes not so good – like Bob LeDrew with Grand and Toy.

Which begs the question – doesn’t a customer now deserve the same attention and response as a reporter?

Posted by: Ian Ross | June 12, 2008

Saying ‘sorry’ does make a difference

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s apology to the Aboriginal community yesterday was a brilliant piece of communication to rebuild the rocky relationship between Natives and government.

He was apologizing for a government policy (1870s-1970s) that forced thousands of young Aboriginals to leave their families to be taught in residential boarding schools devoid of Native culture. Many of these youth were abused.

The intention of the apology was leaked nearly a week before – extending the coverage of the story. The speech delivered in the House of Commons by the Prime Minister was emotional and honest. And the National Post reports that the Prime Minister rewrote the majority of it – rejecting drafts provided by public servants and political staff – making his words seem more sincere. But more than anything else three words made a difference “I am sorry.”

Politicians and corporate heads have said these words before – sometimes they are blown off as spin or ‘what they were told to do.’ This time, the PM seems to have hit the mark.

Most of the aboriginal community is overjoyed by the apology.

And it also received highly positive coverage from the media. The National Post headline was “Native leaders praise apology” while the lead paragraph stated, “Aboriginal leaders hailed the Prime Minister’s apology for the residential school system yesterday as a turning point in the history of relations between natives and other Canadians.” 

 The Toronto Star reported, “”These are happy tears,” said Holly Danyluk, a James Bay Cree. The atmosphere among the many native families who had gathered on Parliament Hill was almost festive early in the afternoon, like a big family picnic. Old friends and family members reunited, pinched babies’ cheeks and shared cold drinks and ice cream. Music played in the background in the form of traditional drumming and chanting.”
The Victoria Times Colonist headline stated “Joy, hope greet apology” while the Montreal Gazette used “Apology is the first step to true reconciliation.”

 Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivers an apology on residential schools while native leaders look on.

Posted by: Ian Ross | June 11, 2008

CBC PR Goes To The Penalty Box

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation poorly stick handled their public communication around the Hockey Night in Canada theme song.

The fact that they lost the song is tragic, but I don’t want to get into the business or cultural perspectives. Just the PR side of things.

First of all, the CBC failed to get its messages out first. Composer Dolores Claman and her agent framed the issue by distributing a media release on the night the Stanley Cup was awarded to the Detroit Red Wings. They were kind enough not to create a distraction during the playoffs. And smart enough to get their side of the story into the news first.

Second, the CBC appeared unprepared to answer media questions once the story hit. According to the Globe and Mail, CBC Sports executive director Scott Moore “said he was surprised to step off a plane from Pittsburgh, where he had celebrated the end of the playoffs, to be greeted by a firestorm as the story dominated newscasts and call-in radio shows.” He told CBC News, “We have no real idea why the deal fell apart. We’re not sure why because the other side hasn’t communicated with us. You have to ask the other side what happened.” Not the best key messaging.

Third, I still haven’t seen an explanation from the CBC on why a long-standing lawsuit brought by the composer over copyright infringement hasn’t been settled. How did they intend to convince the public that a deal was so close when they hadn’t dealt with that issue? The Toronto Star‘s Chris Zelkovich commented, “it’s hard to win a public relations battle when a 77-year-old woman (now 80) sues you for breach of contract and four years later is still waiting for a settlement.”

Finally, the CBC’s PR team failed to provide its side of the story in any social media forum I’ve visited. There are Facebook groups and hundreds of blog posts – but no one from CBC to comment.

It would appear to me that the CBC didn’t keep their eye on the PR puck. And the result was a heavy hit from thousands of hockey crazy hoosers and one 80-year-old composer.

Posted by: Ian Ross | June 3, 2008

You Snooze, You Lose Your Identity Online

You must be proactive in the social media world if you hope to keep control of your brand, image or identity. I’ve heard this line a million times over the past few years; yet too many people and firms are still being attacked… and don’t even know it. 

There are simply no excuses anymore for being too busy, too old or too relaxed. You must go on the offensive.

Two more examples came to my attention this week. In Toronto, veteran city councillor Howard Moscoe was shocked to find out that someone else had created and was maintaining a Facebook account with his identity. The fake profile contained some harsh words for city councillor Rod Ford. But Moscoe didn’t know until someone mentioned they had become his Facebook friend. That triggered an online investigation led by his granddaughter.

Searching for some information yesterday on PR mega-agency Hill and Knowlton, I clicked on its wikipedia page. More than two-thirds of the entry outlines examples of the company’s propaganda and unethical campaigns.  And its history page shows little effort to correct or re-balance the wiki entry.

If you are not there to defend yourself or your company, how will your friends, family and clients know they have the wrong info or profile?

A few quick tips to retain your social media identity:

  • Create a profile for yourself on the major social networking sites — wikipedia, Facebook, youTube and MySpace. And check in at least once a week.
  • Set up a Google Alert for your name or company.
  • Search your name and company name periodically with Google and Technorati.
  • Stay on top of social media trends.
  • Keep your ear out for people suggesting they connected with you or read about your company in a way that is unfamiliar.


This isn’t meant to be a full list of what you can do. Just the basics. But much better than nothing at all.

Any other suggestions?

Posted by: Ian Ross | May 29, 2008

Former Bush Spokesperson Crosses The Ethics Line

Scott McClennan has decided to forgo PR ethics to sell a book. From 2003-06, he held one of the top communication posts in America as press secretary to President George W. Bush. He was a big part of the team that launched the Iraq War and responded to Hurricane Katrina.

Now he is selling his story for millions like every other former political insider. He claims the president shaded the truth and used propaganda and innuendo to sell the war in Iraq. In addition, the president lived in a state of denial during the week after the hurricane hit New Orleans.

Am I interested in how the Bush campaign developed their communication strategies? Absolutely.

Does McClennan have the right to tell me? I don’t think so. In my mind, it is unethical of him to disclose confidential information about the White House’s approach to communications.

If former military and policy advisers want to tell their tales out of school, I don’t care. But PR professionals need to hold themselves to a higher standard if we are ever going to get proper respect and trust. That’s why most PR societies have a code of conduct against such behaviour.

The Canadian Public Relations Society code says, “Members shall not use or disclose confidential information obtained from past or present employers / clients without the expressed permission of the employers / clients or an order of a court of law.” The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) has similar ethnical guidelines.

And if the lying was so prevalent during McClennan’s tenure, why did he remain in the job? How could he remain at the White House when he was helping his employer deceive the public? That’s another ethical question that he needs to be addressed.

It appears McClennan is more interested in fame and fortune than advancing our profession.

Posted by: Ian Ross | May 28, 2008

A Successful Fundraising Drive Using Social Media

Using social media to fundraise for a wonderful Malawi orphanage proved to be a very smart move. 

My wife and I launched the campaign (called Project 42) last month using email, a Facebook group, this blog and an online service called The latter allowed us to use social bookmarking, Flickr pictures and other social media tools to bring attention to our cause.

The response from family and friends was outstanding and we raised $4,458 — surpassing our target of $4,200. I’m doubtful we would have had the same success using the traditional approach of canvassing our offices and calling friends on the phone. 

I had ‘Facebook friends’ (who I accepted last year but honestly haven’t communicated with for 10+ years) make donations.  Many of our donors added comments and well wishes to our fundraising website. 

We also had several donations from people we don’t know – perhaps friends of friends or people who stumbled across our websites.  Our fundraising webpage ranks second only behind the orphanage’s page when you google ‘Mulanje orphans’ and this blog comes up first when you google ‘Malawi orphan fundraising.’

Many people commented that they liked the online appeal approach. Compared to in-person or telephone canvassing, they said there was less pressure to decide immediately, it was easier to donate online and there was a community feel with the list of donors and dozens of comments posted on our fundraising website and Facebook group page.

So this turned out to be an excellent experiment that we may build on in the future.

Posted by: Ian Ross | May 18, 2008

Greenwashing staining PR

It seems nearly everyone is trying to paint themselves green these days. And to be seen as the greenest, millions of dollars are being poured into public relations campaigns.

Unfortunately, many politicians, celebrities and companies want to put most of their effort into appearances and little into policy or products changes. For example, Alberta is trying convince everyone that oil sands are not environmentally harmful and John Travolta rails against climate change while flying around alone in his personal 747. And this is just the tip of the melting iceberg – there are dozens of similar recent cases.

This is greenwashing – “disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image.” I would argue it is not only harmful to the environment by misleading environmentally-conscience consumers, it is also harming the PR industry. It reinforces our image as unethical spinners.

This was echoed once again in a quote by Mark Winfield, a York University environmental studies professor, in the Toronto Star. He looks at environmental campaigns to see “Has there been a change in behaviour, or is it just PR strategy? You’ve got to look behind the green tinsel.”

The Canadian Public Relations Society’s code of ethics clearly states, “A member shall practice the highest standards of honesty, accuracy, integrity and truth, and shall not knowingly disseminate false or misleading information.”

So why aren’t PR agencies and professionals taking a harder line with their clients and bosses? Why are we creating enviro PR campaigns that have no substance? Are we not harming our profession by doing this?

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