Social Media Tag - BissettMatheson Communications Sun, 19 Nov 2017 14:17:29 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Covered Bridge Chips, who's the bad guy?


Reading many of the comments on social media in reaction to the strike at Covered Bridge Chips, I can’t help but wonder why organized labour has fallen so out of favour with the public.

I’m not overly surprised as unions have grown more and more out of favour over recent years all over North America, and while there are also lots of comments in support of the workers at the potato chip plant, those are definitely in the minority. Which begs the question why?


Here we have a company, that is into its third expansion so it is safe to assume is doing well. And it is paying its employees minimum wages. Just how many are being paid the minimum is in dispute, but obviously some are. No one will disagree that it’s hard to make a living on minimum wage. Most I would hope would also agree that if you are working full time you deserve to make a living wage.  So why is it that when they organize and fight for just that, they become the bad guys?

When you pay minimum wage, what you are really saying to your employee is – “I would pay you less if there was any legal way I could, but I can’t, so here’s what I have to give you”.  That seems to be the mindset of many employers, but in the minds of many it is the people on the line who are the unreasonable ones.

The point is that organized labour has become the whipping boy for what ails us. When a company sends its manufacturing to China or wherever so it can get its widgets made by slave labour for the cheapest price possible, nobody blames the greed of the company for the subsequent unemployment, but rather it is because of the inflexibility of the union.

The problem is that organized labour has not done an effective enough job with its communication. That’s unfortunate because study after study, including by conservative organizations such as the World Bank, concludes that higher rates of unionization lead to lower inequality, lower unemployment, higher productivity, better social justice, healthier environments and a quicker recovery from economic downturns.


To see the flip side of this you need look no further than the United States. Nearly half the American states over the past few years adopted what is called Right to Work legislation. It sounds good but in reality it is designed to weaken unions. Twenty-one of the twenty-three states that adopted Right to Work now have per capita incomes below the US average, and increased poverty levels. It’s a race to the bottom and a race we as a society should avoid.

I appreciate this is big picture stuff and may be far removed from the labour dispute at Covered Bridge Chips, but the comments that strike has prompted does speak to the overall anti-union attitude that prevails.  And yes, I know there are examples of unreasonable unions, but for every old school union that hasn’t yet realized that management and employees are in this together, there is an unenlightened management that doesn’t get it either.


But back to Hartland, I don’t know who is being reasonable and who is not in the Covered Bridge situation. What I do know is that unions don’t get their foot in the door at any place where the workforce is satisfied that they are being treated fairly. And I also know it is quite a leap to be labeling people greedy because they can’t make do on minimum wage and want to be able to provide for their families. Seems fair for eight hours work, or is that just me? 

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Thu, 07 Jan 2016 23:59:21 +0000
The curious case of Dr. Cleary


There’s a principle in communications that when there is a void, it will be filled. There is a void as wide as a Mack truck in the curious case of Dr. Eilish Cleary and there has been no shortage of fill.

In the absence of any plausible explanation from the people who know, those who don’t are filling the void with all manner of rumour and speculation. But more than anything else, with outrage.

Social media is all-abuzz and its collective wrath is landing squarely on the shoulders of the Brian Gallant government.


Health Minister Victor Boudreau is hiding behind the usual screen of it being a “personnel matter”, adding later that her firing was not politically motivated.  But many are not buying that.

By keeping the reasons behind the popular and respected former Chief Medical Officer’s dismissal a mystery, the government has not only drawn condemnation on itself, but also on JD Irving. This because much of the speculation is that Dr. Cleary was let go because she was investigating the health risks of the use of glyphosate, a herbicide used by the forestry company, and one that the World Health Organization says is “probably carcinogenic”. People are connecting the dots suggesting, possibly quite falsely, that because of her research into this herbicide, Irving wanted her gone and the government was quick to comply.


The government denies any connection, saying that research will continue, but unless and until it offers up something better, this belief will continue. Dr. Cleary isn’t speculating, at least not publicly, saying only that she’s also in the dark, saying all she has been told is that her particular skillset doesn’t meet the government’s needs.

Social media has been quick to call bullshit on that, and with no shortage of sarcasm, along the lines of the government’s requirements are for someone who will do only what they are told, and never to do anything that might upset Irving.  Other speculation ranges from the environmentalist company she keeps and her apparently related speaking engagements, to the language issue to it being about her stand on fracking. But far and away it’s the alleged Irving connection that is resonating most.

If JDI is completely innocent in this, the government is doing the company a major disservice by allowing this speculation to thrive by not clearing the air with the real reason she was let go.


NDP Leader Dominic Cardy has called for independent investigation, calling it a muzzling of New Brunswick’s most prominent government scientist. Can’t see that happening but he makes a good point when he asks which is it –was she let go because of a personnel matter or because her skillset was lacking, as they have given both as reasons.

The words of Walter Scott come to mind “O, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” 

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Tue, 08 Dec 2015 03:55:55 +0000
Communications around Syrian refugee crisis shows our character for what it is


As could be expected, the Paris attacks have heightened the public debate over the Syrian refugees. That debate has been burning up social media as it puts on display both the best and worst of our collective character. It is centered of course on the fact the refugees are mainly Muslim, just like the terrorists.

For some, that’s license to parade their racism and for others to share their exaggerated but honest fears. For some politicians, it’s a chance to grandstand and score some points with anti-Muslim rhetoric. Stephen Harper tried that in the recent election, but to Canadians’ credit, it didn’t work. But in the United States, on the heels of what happened in Paris, at least 31 Governors are declaring that they don’t want any Syrian refugees in their states. They don’t have the legal authority to enforce any such thing, but that’s another matter – this is about catering to the majority of voters.

It’s good to see that in Canada we are doing things a little differently. We’re displaying a more generous spirit. But a quick scan of social media shows we don’t have room to be smug, as there is no shortage of naysayers, but for all the mean-spirited and nasty content, there are many times more generous and compassionate comments.

The good thing about this volume and diversity of opinion is that it forces the debate, and it puts our own beliefs, prejudices and hypocrisy to the test, and a little soul searching never hurt anybody. Often it is the memes that do this most effectively. Some through humour, like this:


Others are more poignant.


Or this:


While a lot of criticism is aimed at Christians for being hypocritical – it is mainly the southern states in the US where the Christian Right holds great sway that are the most vocally opposed to allowing any Syrian refugees in. But on the other side of the coin, and jumping back to New Brunswick now, it is the churches that are among the first to step up as sponsors, just as they have in the past.

What all this discussion also does is crank up all that old BS about refugees and immigrants taking our jobs and being a drain on our economy, and about how we should be looking after our own first. On that, gotta share one more:


Participating in the political panel on CBC Shift last Friday, I made the point that governments and multicultural organizations have failed in their communications in not doing enough to counter these myths. It turns out I just wasn’t patient enough.

So credit where credit is due, it is great to see that the New Brunswick Multicultural Council has now taken the initiative with #RestoreHope, a campaign aimed at giving New Brunswickers an opportunity to sign a petition of support for bringing Syrian refugees to the province. But more than that, the site lists eight specific reasons why we should support the refugee effort, including tackling some of the persistent misinformation. It’s a start.  

So if you are so inclined, go check it out, and if you sign you can also mention why you have signed it. I can think of a lot of reasons, but they are all variations of simply because it is the right thing to do.

And if you want to help with this refugee settlement initiative, the Multicultural Council has started weekly lunch and learn sessions, at least here in Fredericton, where you can find out how.

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Fri, 20 Nov 2015 00:18:17 +0000
Concerned that social media is getting away from you? Here's help

When I left the media to do broader based communications 20-plus years ago, social media was just sparkle in some nerd’s eye. Few companies even had websites – in fact thanks to one of our earliest clients, we were one of the first local communications companies to have one (Thanks Glenn and Kim).  But we had little clue what to do with it.


Our focus then, as it is now, was on developing communications strategies to help clients position themselves with the right image and messages, and if they ended up in do-do up to their eyeballs, to help them weather the storm with their reputation as intact as possible.

None of that has changed. But of course what has changed over the years is the increased emphasis on social media. Back when we started, social media would be an afterthought in any communications strategy if it found its way there at all - a footnote at best.

Being old school, I still don’t see social media as the be-all or end-all. But I certainly see where it holds an ever-increasing role in any communications plan, and we wouldn’t for a minute ever suggest a communications strategy to anybody that didn’t have an increasingly heavy social media component. 

What I find exciting now is developing plans where the traditional and social media components are tailored to complement each other. The synergy there can be powerful.


The challenge for us, and I expect for many of our contemporaries, is keeping up. We’re good at strategy, but we don’t pretend to be on top of social media. If it stopped changing we might have had a hope, but since that’s not going to happen, for the sake of our clients we searched out help; someone who could bring that element.


We found one of the best in Jeff Roach and his Saint John based company Sociallogical.  We started working with Jeff after I took his course on social media last year. It was quite excellent in helping me better understand what social media can and can’t do – strengths, weaknesses, how best to use it to advance your business, that kind of thing.

I believe that even if you have someone who does your social media for you, it’s still good to understand more about it yourself. For one thing, it puts you in a better position to know if you are getting all you can out of your social media efforts, not to mention budget.

I am mentioning this because next week Jeff is going to repeat the course that I took. I am not plugging it for any other reason than I believe in it, having seen the value first hand, because some of you may be interested, and because it is a good fit for a blog based on communications, something I intend to get back to now that the election is behind us.

If you want to check it out Jeff’s course:

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Wed, 28 Oct 2015 00:28:42 +0000
Atcon, the AG, and for the Opposition, the gift that keeps on giving


Auditor General Kim MacPherson has done in one day what the Liberal government hasn’t been able to do for months – get the Opposition’s Question Period focus off fracking.

This week, she released her report on Atcon and the Tories were on that like a hungry dog on a bone. Premier Gallant’s position, on the other hand, is more along the line of “Nothing to see here folks. Nothing new here. Move along now.”


But the Opposition isn’t about move along anytime soon. Question period yesterday was an interesting battle with the Conservatives pushing first to see if the Premier would identify the Minister mentioned in the report who signed away the province’s security on the loan. No dice.

Then asking if the government will authorize the Auditor General to conduct a forensic audit to see where the money went. No dice there either.

And the Premier didn’t bite when the Opposition asked, or to use their language demanded, that the six Ministers of his cabinet who were also in the Shawn Graham cabinet when the Atcon decision was made, be fired.

The Premier’s rebuttal was that the people of New Brunswick knew what happened with Atcon and still re-elected these members. He didn’t go so far as to say this proves the people of New Brunswick are OK with it; in fact he said he doesn’t blame New Brunswickers for being upset.


But he’s walking a fine line here, and his position that there’s nothing new in the report doesn’t seem to be resonating.

The difference may be that this time, the word is coming down from our very credible Auditor General, and Kim MacPherson didn’t mince her words, remarking that the government of the day showed what she termed "a very troubling disregard for taxpayers’ money". She laid out a whole pattern of irresponsibility from the decision to ignore advice from senior bureaucrats who advised against loaning the money, to the government signing away its security on the loan, thereby putting taxpayers at even more risk.


The difference is also that for the first time, we learned the actual content of the memos the cabinet received from their advisors, and we could see the very strong and straightforward warning they received that this was a bad deal. The documents show that bureaucrats advised the government that Atcon’s viability was “very questionable” and that Atcon “had a “dismal track record of repaying government money” and was “on the verge of collapse”. 

The Auditor General concluded there was absolutely no rational reason for the government to act as it did.


No question it was a damning indictment of what amounts to blowing $70 million of taxpayers money.

Premier Gallant had absolutely nothing to do with it. But, six members of his cabinet did. And so far, while he’s saying the government is taking the AG’s report seriously, he’s otherwise stonewalling in counter to the Opposition’s efforts to keep the issue alive.

Those six ministers, meantime, have been avoiding the media for two days. Asked about that, the Premier would only say that all the information is out there.


If by that he’s suggesting it is time to move on, that appears to be wishful thinking. The Opposition certainly isn’t about to stop, and you can bet that from here on they will remind New Brunswickers at every turn that what has been dubbed the Atcon 6, the ones that were party to wasting $70 million, are now the key decision makers in the Gallant government. Not the best message for a government that is about to bring down a budget of restraint with a message that we can’t afford to do otherwise.  

A quick scan of social media suggests many New Brunswickers aren’t ready to move on either, nor do they agree all the information is out there. The most common sentiment, for example in the comments on the CBC website, is outrage.

And despite the Premier saying all the information is known, questions do remain, the biggest being why these questionable decisions were made? People would like to hear from those six ministers, if not with an explanation of why, at least perhaps with an apology.

There’s risk in that, because the AG has pretty much said what they did is indefensible. But really, could apologizing possibly make it worse?  But mea culpa doesn't come easy for any politician, so we shouldn't expect it. So what then? 

The Premier is trying hard to put the focus on the future, not the past. So here’s something he could do. He could change the rules so that in the future, whenever a government cabinet decides to ignore bureaucratic advice, that it will be obliged to make that decision public, and explain why. That would be a step in the right direction.

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Thu, 26 Mar 2015 01:52:27 +0000
The road rage was over-the-top, but so too was the media coverage


The coverage this week of that road rage incident in Fredericton says as much about the state of journalism as it does about the individuals directly involved in the confrontation. And not in a good way.

Social media has led to public shaming at a level never experienced before. Not that public shaming in and of itself is bad. On the contrary it serves to keep people in check, and often people deserve to be shamed. Usually it would be in proportion – you do something boneheaded in public, and the people who are around nail you for it. You feel ashamed, and life goes on. Been there and done that.


But with social media, when someone captures the incident on video, and promptly puts it on YouTube for the world to see, the proportion of the bad behaviour to ridicule has the potential to go seriously out of whack.

That’s what happened in this case when the video went viral.


Then the media piled on. From what I can tell every media in Fredericton was part of this. The radio stations, ATV, Global but especially CBC. The driver on the receiving end of the tirade happened to work at the CBC, and he got his son to video the encounter. That video made its way to several CBC radio programs, and became a top story on the suppertime TV newscast.  

The next morning, CBC Radio is going at it yet again. As I was listening I pulled my Gleaner out of the mailbox and there the story was again, smack on the front page.

Here’s the thing. The irate driver went way overboard. That’s a given. I expect the other driver did do something to provoke him, as I can’t imagine this guy would go off like that for no reason, but that’s beside the point. He over-reacted. We get that. And he apologized. The video has caused him and his family considerable grief and embarrassment.


He has been publicly shamed big time, and way out of proportion to his crime. But there’s a journalistic question here around news judgment and ethics. One would hope it would prompt some soul searching in some newsrooms.

What’s even more troubling, journalistically, were the comments of STU journalism professor Jan Wong. On CBC Information Morning yesterday morning, she was asked about the newsworthiness of this incident. Her response was that it wasn’t that the road rage incident was newsworthy, but what was newsworthy is the fact that the YouTube video of it went viral and was watched by half a million people.

It is true that news is, by definition, the unusual. And this video grabbing this much attention therefore fit. But her response is too simplistic. If this is what the next generation of journalists is being taught, this does not bode well for the profession. By her explanation, content is secondary to the popularity.

There is, or should be, a responsibility on journalists to weigh all manner of factors in determining newsworthiness, and popularity should be more toward the bottom than top of that list. In this case this should have included asking themselves if they would be guilty of contributing to this modern day phenomenon of excessive shaming. The answer to that should have determined the manner in which they reported the story.

“Proportion” being the key thing. The story can be covered without the necessity of playing that video at every opportunity. It’s not as if people wouldn’t have seen it otherwise. Just as the incident was over-the-top, so too was the coverage.

By coincidence, over the weekend I watched a Ted Talks video on this very issue, public shaming, delivered by someone who would know, Monica Lewinsky. What she has to say about our culture of humiliation is well worth listening to, by all of us, including journalists. Here's a link

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Wed, 25 Mar 2015 14:17:16 +0000
Lay off of photographers just the latest assault on quality journalism by Irving papers


You’ve heard that thing about how if you put a frog in a pot of water then slowly heat it to boiling and the frog doesn’t try to jump out because the change is so gradual it doesn’t notice how bad it's getting.

That’s what came to mind yesterday when I heard that Brunswick News laid off all of its photographers.

It’s just a few more degrees of heat for those of us who read these Irving newspapers. And you have to wonder if readers notice how bad these papers are getting.

That’s not a slam on the reporters. Many are very good, and they do their best but the cumulative changes can’t help but negatively affect the journalism.


By deciding the photographers are expendable the owners are either showing that they don’t understand that professional photography is part and parcel of a newspaper’s journalistic product, or they simply don’t care, and are telling us that second-rate photos are good enough.

This decision adds a larger burden on the reporters. Now as well as researching, doing interviews and writing their stories, they have to take supporting photography. This may not be a big deal sometimes, maybe not even often.


But when there is breaking news with a lot of activity, that’s where professional news photographers, such as the ones who have just been shown the door, shine. Catching those moments in history, maneuvering to find the angle for that perfect photo, finding the shot that captures the human condition at its best…or worst.  These are the pictures that grab us and pull us into the story; they are the ones that stay with us; the ones we remember. They are not accidental. They are split seconds born of years of experience.


Brunswick News' Regional General Manager explained that the move was made because reporters now have the technology to handle the photography. This shows he doesn't get it. It's not about the technology. A reporter with an iPhone is not the same as the trained eye of a photographer.  

We may not miss those shots because of course we won’t know what might have been. But there is no doubt that overall the quality of the photography in the Gleaner, TJ and Times and Transcript will be diminished.

And so will the quality of the reporting. Now Brunswick News reporters have to think about getting photography. This on top of the Brunswick News new emphasis on its website, with demands on reporters to post stories quicker, and update often.

And on top of this, there’s the quota system with its focus on quantity over quality.

The reporters are doing their best and I feel for them, but the long and short of it is that it seems every development at the Irving papers over recent times has been at the expense of quality journalism.

The owners are banking on the fact that as readers we’re okay with that. We are the frog in the boiling water. 


]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Tue, 10 Mar 2015 02:15:50 +0000
Thou shalt not discuss duality - what's that all about?


The response was strong and swift and the message unmistakable when Fredericton Mayor Brad Woodside suggested in a tweet that the costs of duality should be discussed. And that message wasn’t just for the mayor, it was for all of us - don’t you ever dare suggest we discuss duality.

Because he did bring it up, francophone mayors demanded an immediate apology, with the Mayor of Dieppe even suggesting a boycott of the upcoming Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference, apparently because Mayor Woodside is the President.  

Most New Brunswickers, including Mayor Woodside, are not against bilingualism. Neither are they bigots. Most of us understand that we are an officially bilingual province, and that duality is part and parcel of that. And most of us understand that it is enshrined in the constitution.


But what many of us don’t understand is that it is somehow outrageous to suggest we even talk about it. It can’t be the fact it is in Canada’s Constitution that places it out of bounds. We talk about all manner of things that are in the constitution, all the time. How often has the Charter of Rights and Freedoms been openly discussed for instance, and that’s part of the Constitution?

But for whatever reason, any discussion of duality is out of order, out of bounds, never to be mentioned, at least not in polite company, and certainly not in public.

In a province that prides itself on openness and tolerance, why is that?  

I’m not talking about the dinosaurs that backed the old Confederation of Regions Party in the early 1990s. I’m talking about reasonable and fair New Brunswickers who understand and respect the necessity to protect the francophone culture, but don’t understand why, in a province that is on the verge of bankruptcy, we can’t consider common-sense solutions such as having English and French kids travel to their respective schools on the same bus.


Why, these New Brunswickers wonder, are we running separate school buses over the same streets when there is room on one bus to accommodate everybody? There are other examples but this is the one that has become a symbol of what some see as the apparent waste of duality.

Do these duality-driven costs amount to much? I have no idea.

What I do know is that when you refuse to talk about these things people will sometimes jump to outrageous conclusions.  The costs may very well be grossly exaggerated, and probably are.

But until governments and politicians change their attitude and agree it is time they explained to New Brunswickers why, for example, we need to run two half-filled school buses when one would do the trick, these questions will remain, as will the outrageous conclusions.

How has refusing to address these issues worked out so far? 


In his recent State of the Province speech, Premier Gallant made an impassioned plea for New Brunswickers to get onside with his government’s efforts to reduce spending. He said something to the effect that we all have to be part of it.

No question our financial situation is a mess and it has to be addressed. But what is compromising Premier Gallant's effort to get necessary buy-in from New Brunswickers is that many see his, and others, reluctance to even discuss duality in the context of saving money as an excuse not to be supportive.

The Premier’s phone conversation with Mayor Woodside where he told him duality is not on the table has apparently silenced the mayor. But it does nothing to satisfy a whole lot of other fair-minded New Brunswickers who are simply looking for answers to what they see as legitimate questions.

I have been working in communications all my adult life and I have not seen an example yet where a refusal to discuss something leads to a better understanding of it.

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Wed, 04 Mar 2015 00:11:50 +0000
Clawing back a penny from kids? Really? What was this Irving company thinking?


I see in my Daily Gleaner this morning that the company has changed its mind about cutting all paper carriers pay from 15 to 14 cents per paper. Those who walk their routes will get the penny back, but those who use a vehicle will continue to have their pay reduced because the company wanted to, in its words, “align with the falling cost of gasoline, which reduced expenses for carriers who use their cars for delivery.”

Back to that in a minute, but what confuses me is that until CBC reported the corporate decision to reduce the paperboys and papergirls pay by a penny, I hadn’t heard about it.


And I don’t know why. Because every morning, as regular as day follows night, the young lad that delivers our paper never misses. It doesn’t matter how cold or dark it is, how hard it is raining, or how much snow he has to tramp through to get to the mailbox, he delivers.


So I never missed a paper, and I always read it. But I don’t recall reading about Brunswick News reducing the amount they pay that little guy and the other carriers.

And this reduction took place several weeks ago so it’s not as if CBC simply beat them to the punch.


But what a difference a day makes. The CBC breaks the story, the social media kicks in with outrage about how this is a new low for the Irving company, the pressure hits, and Irving partially reverses the decision because “we have listened to people’s concerns and we understand their reactions”.

Translation – we’ve got to do some damage control here. 

The reduction from 15 to 14 cents per delivered paper remains in effect for those who drive their rounds because the price of gas is less than it used to be. This begs a couple of questions. First, how much of an increase did these carriers get when the price of gas soared? And second, the price of gas is now increasing again, so will the pay cut be rescinded to align with that?

From a communications point of view, the fact we wouldn’t even know about how the company is treating its carriers if not for CBC speaks to one of the downsides of the near monopoly ownership of the print media in this province.

It’s pretty clear this decision was only reversed because the Irving owned company  was shamed into it. And they had the odds stacked in their favour because they owned the papers and were probably pretty sure they wouldn’t be exposed in those pages.

But the odds were also that it would get out at some point, so why would a company make this decision in the first place, and risk looking pretty petty for a penny a paper? (How’s that for alliteration? but I disgress.) You have to wonder what the discussions were around the table that produced this decision to pinch a penny.


A large corporation taking pennies from school children just because they can. The optics are absolutely terrible. It’s been so frigidly cold lately, the better discussion should have been around finding some way to reward them.

A couple of images come to mind - Ebenezer Scrooge rubbing his hands in greed, and this - Fagin, from Oliver:


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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Thu, 12 Feb 2015 19:29:01 +0000
Poor communications in Bathurst police shooting leads to the inevitable

In crisis communications, in other words at times when your reputation hangs in the balance, you better make darn sure that you don't come off as trying to cover anything up.

But as often as not, it is at these very times – when your reputation is hanging out there, that people tend to hunker down under the false impression that if they just lay low, whatever it is will blow over.  

It is a communications mistake of the first order, but one that is not that rare – it is human nature driven.


The latest example is the fatal shooting by Bathurst Police Monday morning of a 51-year old businessman from Tracadie. From the scant details available so far, Michel Vienneau got off a Via Rail train at the Bathurst station, and when he and the woman he was with got in their car, they were surrounded by armed police.

From there, who knows, but according to the woman several people with guns approached the car. She says she and Michel tried to get out of there and in their haste they struck one of the armed men and that is when Vienneau was shot. The woman says they did not know the men approaching the car were police.


How much of this is accurate? Don’t know, because aside from verifying that police shot the driver, they are saying nothing.

The woman says it is a case of mistaken identity; that Michel did nothing wrong.

The Bathurst police have handed over the investigation to the Nova Scotia RCMP, and this is where the communications gets worse. Rather than being definitive that all facts will come out once the investigation is complete, something that the public should be able to expect in a case like this, a spokesperson for the RCMP refused to say whether the results of the investigation would be made public.

So here’s a situation where a man is dead by a police bullet, the police force is being investigated by another police force, neither force is saying much of anything, and the suggestion is out there that the public may never find out what happened.

If the police wanted to set the stage for innuendo and rumours to run rampant, this is certainly the formula.

A French newspaper in the area is apparently reporting that the officer who approached the car was wearing a hoodie and had his gun drawn. Accurate? Again, who knows, but it is out there, and creates an image for the public that accurate or not, suggests why the guy in the car may have been understandably scared and struck an officer in his hurry to get away.

Most people are fair-minded. Most people realize it is early days and that the investigation will take time, and must be thorough. Most people don’t rush to judgment. But in a case like this people expect at least some basic information, and assurances that in due course the truth will be known.

And in the absence of any of that, people will and do jump to conclusions. And they will be cynical.

Want to see what I mean? Go to the CBC website and look at the comments under the story on this that was posted yesterday

People are jumping to conclusions. A couple of examples:

“Let me guess.........the official police report.... two years from now will say the police did nothing wrong.”

If this murdered man was really the target of a legitimate police investigation that would have been the first thing the police would have said. He was ISIS or Al Qaida or he was part of a drug investigation or Mafia but strangely enough there is nothing but this is an incident. There silence is telling!”

It is unfortunate that the authorities won’t say that eventually we will find out what actually happened. That one assurance would be enough for many.

I expect they will revisit that decision over the next day or two. Transparency within our police force is simply too fundamental to our society for people to accept anything less.

In the meantime, so far at least, the authorities are falling short with their communications.

Thanks for reading. Please consider "Liking" this blog above, and/or ReTweeting. As well, comments are always welcome. 


]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Wed, 14 Jan 2015 03:13:25 +0000
The Crisis Communications around the Dal Dentistry School scandal

I’m watching with interest the way the scandal at Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Dentistry is playing out. One thing for sure — I am glad I’m not Richard Florizone.

As president, he is charged with finding an appropriate and fair way to deal with this situation and, at the same time, restore the institution’s reputation and credibility, while trying to ensure that alumni donations don’t dry up.


Moreover, he’s doing all this amid a divided and emotionally charged public. On one side, there are those who are demanding the heads of the male students involved on a platter. On the other side, there are those who see it as bad, but not terrible.

No question, what these fourth-year students who were participants in this so-called "gentlemen's club" did was stupid and about as ungentlemanly as you can get. Hard to believe in this day and age that none of them twigged onto the fact that a Facebook page with such content might become public. Or if they did entertain that possibility, considered that it could cause some grief. Either way, you have to wonder about their judgment.


As for the content, of course, it was disrespectful to women. As a male from an earlier generation, though, I remember my college days and those times when we guys would get together and talk in some pretty basic terms about the females in our class. It was never in violent or hate terms, in fact anything but, but trust me, it was pretty graphic discussion. And from some female friends I've spoken with, young women weren’t above doing the same. The key difference is back then we didn’t have social media. And I don’t think my experiences were all that unique. So it would be a little hypocritical for a lot of us to pile on in outrage and disgust.

Watching the media coverage of this situation, I am amazed at the loaded language being thrown around, such as calling the female dental students survivors. Survivors? Really? That sure makes them sound like victims. I suspect the females in that class are strong, self-assured women who can look after themselves. But that’s conjecture – I don’t know them, just as I suspect those who are labeling them as victims and survivors don’t know them. The rhetoric surrounding this emotionally laden situation makes the handling of it that much more difficult.


From a crisis communications point of view, I appreciate that President Florizone is trying to be fair, but he has made some fundamental crisis communications mistakes. His biggest is not providing clarity of position. No clarity of position creates confusion and that serves no one. So much has been written about what is happening — much of it contradictory — it's hard to determine where it will end up.

Some reports contend that Florizone was aware of this issue four months ago. If so, why didn’t he do something before it blew up? And what about this restorative justice approach? The president said he decided on this course after meeting with the female students involved. It was what they wanted, he said. But now, some of those female students are emphatically saying that that is not what they want and that restorative justice is being forced on them.

Then there is the whole thing about not naming the dozen or so male students. I understand the hesitation, but not naming them puts all of Dal's male fourth-year dentistry students under a cloud of suspicion that could adversely affect their ability to obtain a license to practice. Some provincial dentistry bodies have already requested the names on a confidential basis.

There's no doubt that this is a complicated situation with many related issues. From a crisis communications perspective until there is clarity of position things will not improve. In fact, the lack of clarity is feeding emotions, creating pressure to act decisively. While decisiveness is often a good approach, haste is not.

On the positive side, all but the most fervent, would probably agree that President Florizone desires to do the right thing with consequences for the students that are appropriate. The problem is that he’s in a no-win situation. Some, perhaps even many, will not be satisfied with anything less than expulsion. The big question for him is this: Should he sacrifice the budding careers and futures of a few young men who did something stupid just to make the crisis go away?

As with many crisis communications issues, there's no easy answer.

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Fri, 09 Jan 2015 01:04:54 +0000
Ghomeshi blew it on communications front too


When I blogged about the Jian Ghomeshi mess last week, I mentioned that I found it a fascinating study in crisis communications. The developments since then have made it even more compelling, especially the circumstances and misunderstanding that led to the whole thing going public.

Crisis communications 101 has a basic rule. It is don’t lie. In Ghomeshi’s now infamous Facebook post and by other details that have since emerged, it seems pretty obvious he did, to his bosses at the CBC, to Navigator (the crisis communications firm he hired), and to his fans and other Canadians who read his Facebook essay.


It still isn’t clear whether Navigator wrote that Facebook entry, although the nature of the writing suggests a very strategic, professional touch, so probably so. But I can’t imagine they would have, had they known that the Toronto Star was about to blow it apart with a story in which four women alleged that Ghomeshi abused them.

Any crisis communications consultancy that got blindsided like that has every right to walk away, which is apparently how it went down.

As a crisis communications strategy, if you can call it that, that Facebook entry was, in retrospect as ill-advised as you can get. It was brilliant for that short window between its posting and the Toronto Star story, because it worked in positioning Ghomeshi as the victim of a jilted ex-lover and an ambitious freelance writer. But now it stands as testament of a man who tried to mislead everybody.


But now, there is even more to suggest how stupid it was.

As a result of this story, I discovered Canadaland, the podcast site of said freelance journalist, a reporter named Jesse Brown. And from what I see he’s a damn good one. The site is a look at the business of journalism in Canada, sort of an on-line Canadian version of CNN’s Reliable Sources, but with an investigative journalism bent.

Brown is the reporter who was actually behind the story getting out.

Understandably nervous because he knew he would be attacked and quite possibly sued, he took what he had, the allegations of four women who say Ghomeshi sexually and physically abused them, to the Toronto Star, which of course has more resources to deal with lawsuit threats. The Star assigned one of their investigative reporters, Kevin Donovan, to work with him. So there was more digging, but the story was put on hold because they couldn’t prove the allegations by the four women they talked to, plus, they wanted to remain anonymous.


What happened next is incredible. The timeline is important here as it speaks to why the story came out when it did. (The following is paraphrased from Brown’s latest podcast, which also offers up some interesting insight into the working environment on the Q show. You can listen to it here)

In June, Brown and Donovan confronted Ghomeshi and his lawyers with what they had, looking for his side of the story. The response was the threat of a lawsuit. But as well, this prompted Ghomeshi to go to CBC management and tell them that a story may come out that suggests he abused some women in non-consensual sex. He confessed about his strange sexual preferences, but insisted that it was always consensual and that if anyone says differently, it would be a lie.


Then, as you can imagine, Ghomeshi likely checked the Toronto Star every morning, looking to see if they published anything. It wasn’t there and it wasn’t there.

Jump ahead to October 20th. Brown tells listeners to his podcast that he had information that, in his words, is a “monster story”, a huge revelation that will be worse than embarrassing.

Brown, considering the timing, assumes that this is what prompted Ghomeshi to present CBC management with the evidence that apparently he felt would exonerate him, but in fact that CBC saw what he showed them as the last straw, and fired him that weekend.

But here’s the kicker. Brown says when he was hinting at a monster story, it wasn’t about Ghomeshi at all, it was about CBC reporter Terry Milewski.


As a result though, Ghomeshi got fired and posted his Facebook confessional, and this is what prompted the Toronto Star to run its story, which started the whole chain of events of more and more women coming forward, a police investigation, and now it has grown even bigger by opening up a whole dialogue about women and sexual abuse. But as Brown says, that Toronto Star story wasn’t imminent. If not for Ghomeshi assuming that October 20th podcast was a reference to him, none of this would ever have surfaced, at least not at this time.

Talk about the power of social and traditional media. This is a great example of the two communication forms complementing each other. And in the process, taking something that is very ugly, and transforming it into something that just might lead to some positive social change around the way women who are sexually abused are treated. Dark clouds and silver linings come to mind.   

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Mon, 03 Nov 2014 21:48:15 +0000
Ghomeshi, sex, public reputations and PR strategies


Talk about your interesting case study in crisis communications - this Jian Ghomeshi story has it all.

I mean, what a mix – a well-loved, high profile celebrity, the cornerstone of the CBC’s effort to appeal to younger listeners, a firing that nobody saw coming, followed by the pre-emptive strike of a Facebook entry of revelations about kinky but consensual sex. But then maybe not consensual, with allegations of three women half his age who claim he sexually abused them, as well as allegations of sexual harassment within the CBC.

And as if that isn’t enough, enter a high priced, high-powered PR/crisis communications agency, a multi-million dollar lawsuit, and a twitterverse divided over who the victim or victims is.


It’s not for me to say if Ghomeshi is the victim of a smear campaign by a jilted ex-lover of the “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” variety, or whether he is a sick puppy who is finally getting his comeuppance. Lord knows, there has been enough rush to judgment on both sides already.  

But unlike the hundreds or thousands of people who know for sure, I don’t. So I’ll focus on the communications strategies at play here.

First, there’s the rare Sunday afternoon news release from the CBC, which said “information came to our attention recently, that in CBC’s judgment, precludes us from continuing our relationship with Jian Ghomeshi.” And then they said they would have nothing more to say.

That was crafted solely to keep lawyers happy, not to explain why the CBC fired him. It’s tantamount to my going into a room where you and your friends are gathered and saying, “I heard what you did and it’s disgusting and I don’t want to ever have anything to do with you again”, then turning around and walking out.

All that does is fuel the fires of speculation, and if you don’t say something, those fires are going to run rampant. So CBC pretty much forced his hand.


And respond he did, in spades. A fifty million dollar lawsuit, then an apparent tell-all of a Facebook entry, no doubt crafted by Navigator, the PR firm retained to salvage Ghomeshi’s reputation and in the process try to bring public opinion around to the point where CBC could see their way clear to rehire him. That last part is a long shot, but hey, Michael Vick is back in the NFL after being convicted of involvement in an illegal dog-fighting ring. This guy hanged and drowned dogs that didn’t perform well and that didn’t kill his career, so there you go. Strange things happen.

As crisis communications goes, strategically the Facebook essay was bang on for several key reasons.

1     It allowed Ghomeshi to get ahead of the story; to get his version out there first.

2     It positioned him as the victim.

3     It also positioned him as courageous, with the detail he provided seeming to lay bare his private life, especially when he framed it as his choice rather than taking the CBC offer to go away quietly.

At this point, judging from what I was seeing on social media, most people were on side, condemning the CBC for unfairly firing him because “it was nobody’s business what he does in his bedroom with another consenting adult” and supporting him against the vindictive former girlfriend.

And that’s probably where it would have stayed if not for the Toronto Star. The Star story, which had been in the works since the spring, changed the narrative completely. Through interviews with three different young women, a story emerges that paints Ghomeshi in a much darker light; in fact as an abuser, throwing doubt of the suggestion that the bedroom antics were in fact consensual and all in good fun.

With this story out there public opinion turned dramatically. He still has his supporters, but a big percentage seems to be siding with the three women, even though they are unidentified and have never brought complaints to the police. Usually, that would hurt their credibility, but their explanation of fear of being victimized again by public opinion, resonated with many.


An interesting point is that the Star wasn’t ready to run the story because it didn’t have proof, and only did because of Ghomeshi’s Facebook essay convinced them it was now in the public interest. So as well crafted as his entry was, publishing it may have backfired. But that’s simply conjecture, because the story may have come out eventually anyway.

So what now? Well, watch for more revelations. Maybe other women will be prompted to say they too were abused by the former CBC host, or maybe the PR firm he hired will find something that discredits their stories.

And then there’s the CBC which may have to deal with failing to act on a sexual harassment complain against Ghomeshi by a woman who worked on his show and has since left. And then there’s that $50 Million lawsuit.  I expect there may be a morality clause in his contract but that hasn’t been established yet either, but I would think that that would quash any legal action, but what do I know, I’m not a lawyer. 

It’s a high stakes reputational power play, and there are many hands to be played out yet.

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Tue, 28 Oct 2014 02:29:01 +0000
Fredericton area candidate turns to crowdfunding to finance campaign - is this the model of the future?


For many people who agree to run provincially, one of the many challenges is raising money. In an economy such as the one we are experiencing these days, it is especially challenging.

Donors tend to test which way the wind is blowing before signing a cheque. If the sense is that your candidate’s party is going to win, the cheques tend to flow easier. If the thinking is that you are going to lose, you couldn’t pry some former donors wallets open with a crowbar.

Traditionally the NDP have never been seen as a serious contender, so they had to rely on people who simply shared their philosophy and would donate more as a sense of responsibility or conviction than anything else. But that would never be near the amount the Tories and Liberals could raise. Back to the NDP in a minute.

We have limits on what people and especially corporations can contribute. This is a good thing designed to control any influence a company or organization may have over a party or government.

For an example of how bad unfettered contributions can be, we need only look to our neighbours to the south, where the deep pockets of the National Rifle Association. It has purchased enough politicians that, as recent history shows, they never have to worry about any meaningful restrictions to gun laws ever getting passed. (on the heels of Canada Day one more reason to be thankful we aren’t them.)


But we can also look to the United States for good examples of innovation, and raising campaign funds is a case in point. When he had his sights on running for President, Howard Dean came up with the idea of using the power of the Internet.  He figured if he can get a little bit of money from a lot of people, that would be easier, and better, than trying to get a lot of money from a select few. He lost the nomination to John Kerry, but his fund raising was a great success. A few years later Barrack Obama would take it to the next level with Facebook and Twitter bringing in many millions, much of it in donations of nothing more than five dollars.

Now back to New Brunswick and the NDP. Interesting to see that Aimée Foreman, the candidate for the Fredericton area riding of New Maryland–Sunbury is going that route. She needs to raise $35,000 and has taken to the Internet to appeal to anyone and everyone who feels an investment in an NDP government via her candidacy would be money well spent.

Unless I am mistaken, she is the first candidate in New Brunswick, perhaps in Canada, to try a crowdfunding strategy. 


From her time as President of the Board of Fredericton Homeless Shelters she knows better than most how difficult fund-raising can be, and the need to be innovative.  She has had to be creative and innovative in that capacity and now she’s doing it again.

Is Foreman a trailblazer for candidate’s fund raising of the future? I expect if this experiment works, absolutely. Other campaigns will be watching. We just may be witnessing the campaign funding norm of the future.  

Thanks for reading. You can RATE this blog below, LIKE it above, and/or leave a comment. RTs are also appreciated.  

ADDENDUM - I see from Shawn Berry's story in today's Daily Gleaner that crowdfunding was used by a candidate in a municipal election in western Canada,   but Foreman remains the first provincial candidate to do so.  

]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Fri, 04 Jul 2014 01:35:55 +0000
Twitter comes of age in Moncton tragedy

Like many, I heard about what was unfolding in Moncton last Wednesday evening from Twitter. And like many I was overcome with the horror of it, and the profound sadness at the loss of those lives and the bravery of the emergency responders who had to venture into the face of danger while everyone else was trying to avoid it.

I spend Wednesday night and into the wee hours of Thursday with my computer on my lap, and dial surfing for coverage on television.

The drama of what was unfolding brought me to back to 1974 and the police murders in Moncton. I was a junior reporter at a Moncton radio station then, and in those days, everyone turned to radio for the most recent information. One of the murderers was on the loose for quiet some time so you had the same kind of tenseness throughout the city as the search for him continued.


Flash ahead four decades and it's the same scenario but my how the dissemination of information, and the role of journalism has changed.

Radio is a shadow of what it was then, having long ago surrendered the biggest part of their newsrooms on the alter of profit. So people had learned long ago they couldn't rely on radio for updates on community emergencies like they used to. In fact we have a generation that doesn't even know it used to be different.

Now it is about social media, especially until live television catches up.

Once thing that struck me about last Wednesday is that, in Moncton, it is when Twitter came of age. Just as it had in Boston with the Marathon bombers a year before.

Through Moncton, across New Brunswick and beyond, people turned to Twitter, and it had blown up, with all manner of citizen journalist spreading important information to stay away from certain areas.


What happened that night and over the following hours until it ended, was a test for traditional journalists as well as for the RCMP, and it underlined that they both do have a definitive place in this world of social media, and that place is not to compete with it, but to engage in it, and be the voice of verification.

Social media has caused trepidation of both mainstream journalists and police organizations over where it would leave them when it comes to communications and doing their job. After all, social media is something they can't control and in an emergency situation more so than at any other time, police want to have control. And for journalists, with their responsibility to check their facts, a detail no one else has to worry about, how do they compete with those who have no such restrictions?

These are legitimate concerns, which makes the way events unfolded Wednesday night a most interesting study in communications, and what we witnessed was a glimpse into the new face of breaking news journalism.

I saw a few things. There were unsubstantiated rumours, but Twitter wasn't rampant with them. But more than that I saw traditional journalists, the people whose names I was familiar with heavily engaged in Twitter, but careful to separate fact from rumour and working to verify. We learned to trust their tweets over others, as they worked to legitimize first hand accounts. It was a healthy combination of eyewitness information, verified through solid journalism, for the benefit of the public.

I saw responsibility. After police requested that social media refrain from giving away dangerous information such as where the police were, people complied, and any who didn't, quickly saw the peer pressure come to bear. This was social media, a so-called uncontrollable medium, policing itself.

The communications challenge of the police in a case like this is to maintain control of the message, so that social media doesn't run rampant, and police are acknowledged as the voice of authority. In this case, the RCMP did just that, and given the enormity of events, that is a considerable accomplishment.

As for that paywall thing with the Irving papers, I don't know what that was about, but there was a lot of criticism over Brunswick News failure to take it down. I don't know why they didn't. I'd like to hear an explanation, and I expect a lot of print reporters would too, as they would have liked to have been able to reach that broader audience. I am out of the country as I write this so maybe it has been explained and I missed it. But if there was one failing of traditional journalism this night, this was it. I don't know the technical side, but I do know the Boston Globe lifted theirs when the search was on for the Boston Marathon bombers.

One final though as I end this blog. This isn't about communication, but as someone whose firm has worked with RCMP on and off going back 20 years, our sincere condolences for their fallen brothers and an equally sincere congratulations and thank you for a job well done.

The force has had a lot of scandal to deal with over recent years and much of it deserved. But what happened in Moncton, for all its tragedy, served to remind all of us that the RCMP has much to be proud of. The bravery, humanity and professionalism we all witnessed showed our national police force at its best. That is the RCMP I was brought up to respect.

 You can rate this blog below, "like " it above, share it, and/or leave a comment. Thanks for taking the time. 

]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Mon, 09 Jun 2014 11:48:08 +0000
#myNYPD - talk about a social media fiasco


People who know a whole lot more about social media than I do tell us that if you are a company trying to compete, or an organization trying to build support, or enhance your reputation, you have to engage in social media. And we subscribe to that. Social media is a key part of just about every communications strategy we develop. Of course it is.

But here’s a cautionary tale, complements of the New York City Police Department. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time, and I suspect it was the result of somebody heeding the advice that you have to interact with your stakeholders, in this case the people of New York.

So to facilitate this social media interacting, somebody representing the NYPD thought it would be a really good idea to go on Twitter and invite people to jump in and share their photos of the police interacting with the public. They asked them to do this using the hashtag #myNYPD

What they got, I dare say, isn’t quite what they expected or were hoping for.  They tweeted this call for photos Tuesday morning. By Tuesday evening more than 70,000 people responded, making #myNYPD the top trending topic in the United States.

Only five, count ‘em, five, pictures were of the sort that the police department choose to retweet.


The overwhelming response were with photos of alleged police brutality – a bloodied 84 year old who purportedly was being manhandled by the police for jaywalking, a woman being hauled by the hair with the caption “the NYPD will also help you de-tangle your hair”, and it went on and on.

The police department lost control of the #myNYPD almost immediately.

What went wrong? After all, they were trying to engage people on social media, just like we are all told we should.

According to many of the social media experts who have weighed in on this, the police department’s big mistake was choosing the wrong platform. Twitter, they note, is mainly used by young people. Young people, like the people involved in the Occupy movement. The same movement that clashed with New York City police last summer, where thousands were arrested for protesting. Young people, who especially on social media will say exactly what want to, totally unfiltered.

The experts say the NYPD should have instead, ran a contest on Facebook, inviting people to submit their photos of interaction with the police. That way, they’d have control over what photos get posted.

That makes sense but I can’t help thinking something even more basic. If you were looking for people to react publicly to your organization, in a way that reflects what they think of your organization, wouldn’t it be a good idea to have a good reputation in the first place? Especially with the very group you are targeting? I don’t know – call it common sense.

Apparently overwhelmed by this social media fiasco, the police department has not responded. But that’s the thing – they have lost control. It’s not as if they can stop it. In fact the newest development is that this whole thing is spreading to other American cities, including #myLAPD and #myMiamiPD.

No putting this genie back into the bottle. No reports of it spreading to Canada yet, but I wouldn’t bet against it.

Thanks for taking the time to read this blog.  You can rate it below, “like” it above, leave a comment or, if you find it has value, Retweet it. Thanks again.



]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Thu, 24 Apr 2014 23:44:34 +0000
A pastor walks into a restaurant - and PR disasters follow


As crisis communications go, this one certainly has no shortage of victims.  Fingers can be pointed in every direction, and with ample justification. Of the lessons to be taken from it, the most important one may be the considerable backlash against the restaurant from social media, most of it self-inflicted.


If you aren't aware, and you may not be because it hasn't received nearly the coverage in Canada as it has in the United States, here's the story in a nutshell.


Last Friday evening, a pastor in the St. Louis area took a group from her congregation to an Applebee's. At many restaurants, if the group is larger than eight, an 18% gratuity is added to the bill. This was the policy here.


The Minister didn't want to pay the 18%, so scratched it out on the bill and entered a zero for a tip and then wrote on the bill “I give God 10%, why do you get 18” and then she signed it Pastor Alois Bell.


The waiter showed it to one of her fellow employees, who took a photo of it and posted it to the Internet.  From there, it went viral.


The pastor got wind of it becoming public, and complained to Applebee's. Applebee's fired the waitress who posted it.


More than 17,000 posted in one hour alone to Applebee's Facebook site, the vast majority critical of the restaurant for firing their employee.


Trying to stop the bleeding, Applebee's got involved in the discussion, but for the most part only served to make things worse. They explained the firing, saying the employee breached the customers right to privacy.


The reaction – Applebee's was accused of being hypocritical with posters pointing to an earlier post from a customer who said complimentary things about the restaurant, in which that customer was identified.


Then Applebee's posted an apology to the customer, mentioned how much it values its customers.


This prompted another wave of negative reaction, about how Applebee's chooses to value customers who are jerks over their lowly paid and hard working employees.


The Facebook and Twitter action continued through the night, and got worst for Applebee's. From a crisis communications point of view, they just kept digging. They removed posts and got called out for that. They started arguing with posters, something that is never a good idea.


For anyone interested, here's a detailed review of how it all unfolded on social media. 


So in short, what we have here is a social media crisis with three victims


  • The Minister who was embarrassed for everything from being cheap to invoking God as an excuse for avoiding paying the normal gratuity (although it came out later that she did leave six dollars and change in cash as a tip)
  • Applebee's, which is threatened with a widespread boycott and damage to its brand for how it handled the issue
  • And the waitress who posted a photo of the bill, who lost her job and breached the pastor's privacy


There are a few lessons to take from this. The most obvious one might be that if you are going to be a jerk, don't do it in writing and don't bring God in on it.


Another might be to understand that the right to privacy doesn't just apply to nice people.


And then there is Applebee's. They need to learn a few things about how to handle social media when you are in the eye of the storm, starting with having a social media crisis communications strategy. If they did they wouldn't have made the basic mistakes they made in this case.


It's not as if they felt immune to such problems. This is the same chain that got a toddler drunk when the child was accidently given alcohol instead of apple juice in his sippy cup, and then blew the response to it by focusing on a discrepancy on how much alcohol was involved.


It's also the same chain that sent out 10,000 flyers with money off coupons to potential customers when it was reopening a newly renovated restaurant in Maple Grove, Minnesota. Across the bottom in capital letters it read “REDISCOVER YOUR WHITE MAPLE GROVE APPLEBEE'S”.


It was an honest mistake. The flyer was based on an earlier one from a reopening in White Bear Lake and the printer simply screwed up in interchanging the words. It happens, but what is less forgivable is that there was no apology and little explanation.


By not commenting, Applebee's broke the crisis communications rule of staying ahead of the story. They allowed others to create the narrative, and it caused more grief than it needed to. 


So in one case they didn't communicate enough, in another they communicated with the wrong focus, and in another they didn't know when to stop talking.


Often, companies realize they need to be prepared for a crisis when it is too late. In other words, they have to suffer through one first. Then, often, they do what they need to do to be prepared for next time.


But Applebee's – You know that thing they say about third time being a charm – it doesn't always apply. You have to actually learn from your failures.


]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Sun, 03 Feb 2013 16:01:00 +0000
Perfecting your tweet - What makes a tweet stand out


The fact you are reading this suggests you use Twitter, unless you landed here through Facebook, but most people who read my blog arrive here because they followed a tweet. So let's assume you are a twit (that is what you call people who tweet, right?) And let's assume you want your tweets to be read – a logical assumption, and retweeted – also logical.


This then should interest you.


It is research on what makes the perfect tweet. I found this on PR Daily. It is based on research at UCLA and Hewlett-Packard's HP Labs, combined with research by social media scientist Dan Zarrella. Hard to believe, but he apparently analyzed five million tweets and 40 million retweets, to try to determine what makes a tweet popular.


Based on all of this, here are eight tips for writing the perfect tweet.



1. Include links.Tweets that included a link were three times more prevalent in retweets than those without, according to Zarrella's researcher. That means you don't tell your Twitter audience, “We conducted some great research.” You show them the research by sharing a link to where they can find it (your blog, ideally).


2. Opt for timely news (most of the time). Zarrella found that that tweets mentioning news were the most shared. Rest assured, however, that if you can't share breaking news—and 99 percent of the time a new “solution” is not breaking—evergreen advice will do the trick. The most shared tweets beyond news were instructional in nature, followed by entertainment, opinion, products, and small talk.


3. Share tech news (or maybe mention a celebrity).This won't apply to everyone with a Twitter account, but the researchers at UCLA and HP Labs said tweets about tech news were the most shared. Health news and “fun stuff” were Nos. 2 and 3 in terms of popularity. The study also said that mentioning a celebrity, such as @LadyGaga, will probably result in a popular tweet.


4. Use “you” instead of “I.”Specific words can spark retweets, Zarrella deduced. Among the words most commonly found in heavily shared tweets are “you,” “Twitter,” “please,” “retweet,” “post,” and “check out.” Another term found often in these tweets is “please retweet.” Despite these findings, asking someone to “please retweet” is a practice you should avoid. It's tacky—no matter what science tells you.


5. Calm down. With all the noise online, especially in the Twittersphere, it stands to reason that a frantic tweet with a healthy dose of hyperbole would stand out. For example: “INCREDIBLE photo. You MUST check it out IMMEDIATELY!” Not so, say researchers at UCLA and HP Labs. Objective language performs as well as subjective, they discovered.


6. Embrace verbosity, to an extent. Zarrella found that as the length of tweets grew, so did the number of clicks for a link in the tweet. Once the tweet reached 130 characters, the number of click-throughs fell, so don't go above 130, if possible. You'll probably want to shoot for fewer, in case someone wants to retweet you and include his or her own comment.


7. Use punctuation, especially colons and periods.Nearly all retweets have some form of punctuation, according to Zarrella. Colons and periods were by far the most common. Surprisingly, question marks weren't common in retweets, nor were semicolons. The latter isn't surprising; most people misunderstand this handy punctuation mark and therefore tend to avoid it.


8. Drop a brand name.“Brand, even and especially on the Internet, matters,” Garber writes in The Atlantic. She's referencing the UCLA and HP Labs data, which determined that reliable sources—such as media outlets and brand names—led to more commonly shared tweets. That doesn't mean, however, that established media brands only will garner retweets. UCLA and HP Labs found that in some cases the opposite was true. Stories shared by popular traditional media—Reuters, AP, Christian Science Monitor—received fewer tweets than upstart media such as Mashable and AllFacebook. Even corporate and marketing blogs, among them Google's blog and Seth Godin's blog, sparked more retweets than many “old” media sources.


So those are the tips. Do with them as you will.  


]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Wed, 02 Jan 2013 15:40:00 +0000
PR bungle turns what may have been an awkward breakfast into what may turn out to be much worse  

Usually, it's the PR guy's job to keep clients out of trouble. It's not good, well, PR, for the PR guy to be the cause of the s*#t storm, but that's what seems to be the case here. And at the centre of it one of the biggest, most powerful PR firms in the world, Fleishman-Hillard. And the result is, how should I say it – delicious.


Here's what happened. Dr. Yoni Freedhoff is an Assistant Professor at the University of Ottawa but even more on point he's founder of the Bariatric Medical Institute. It's an evidence-based nutrition and weight management centre in Ottawa.


Last month, he was invited by the Ontario Medical Association to speak at a food industry breakfast on the subject of what the industry could do to help further public health.


So he cancelled his patients for that day, booked his flight and hotel, and prepared his presentation.


But then, just three days before the breakfast, the food industry's PR guy for reasons I can only assume had to do with potential bad publicity from the presentation, or maybe because the doctor's message might not go down well with the food industry folks, uninvited Dr. Freedhoff.


And oh what a mistake that has turned out to be.


Because you see, rather than have the doctor's message, which was a pretty strong condemnation of food industry practices confined to the room, the snubbed doctor decided, since the presentation was ready anyway, to take it to social media.


So he dropped it into his own blog ( Why the Fleishman-Hillard PR guy apparently couldn't see this coming is a bit mind-boggling, but in any case, this is how it started.


In his blog explaining how this came to be, he wrote “My blog is read by policy makers, public health authorities, chief medical officers, professors, physicians/dietitians and other allied health professionals, journalists and nutrition bloggers the world over - folks that wouldn't have been attending that small, intimate, food industry sponsored breakfast. You'd almost think … Fleishman-Hillard were working for me and not for the food industry as uninviting me will enable me to communicate my message far further than I ever would have done otherwise.”


Ouch. If you're the PR guy that's got to be embarrassing.


And then he ends with a request, worded this way “So here's my talk. It's about what the food industry could do to improve public health, why they're not going to, and what we can do about it. But before you click it, a quick request - I want you to share it by means of every socially networked channel and email contact you have, because if Fleishman-Hillard the communications firm hired by the food industry to help cultivate good Big Food PR didn't want it heard, I figure it probably ought to get spread.”


I'm kind of on a health kick these days, and I've always felt that the misleading information the food industry spreads should be exposed, so I'm more than pleased to do my part to spread Dr. Freedhoff's presentation. Maybe you'll consider doing the same. BTW, it runs about about 13 minutes, but if you have the time, it's worth watching.  




]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Mon, 10 Dec 2012 15:39:00 +0000
Canadian Mint dodges a public relations bullet, and a Canadian musician shows he's a class act Maybe they had visions of United Breaks Guitars surfacing in their collective subconscious, but whatever the reason, the Royal Canadian Mint may have just dodged a public relations bullet.


If you aren't familiar with what has been going on – here's the story in a nutshell.


Nova Scotia folk musician Dave Gunning recorded a new CD, and as a tribute to the iconic Canadian penny being taken out of production, he called it No More Pennies.


Consistent with that theme, Juno award winning graphic artist Michael Wrycraft designed the cover and the booklet that accompanies the CD.


A fan of Gunning's who happens to work at the Mint thought he would try to help the musician by suggesting that the Mint get involved, perhaps by selling the No More Pennies CD at their outlets.


Mistake. When this fan brought the CD to the powers that be at the Mint, they didn't see an opportunity to help a Canadian musician; they choose to see copyright infringement.


The Mint didn't like that the artwork incorporated a scan of pennies. Gunning was told that for every 2000 copies of the CD he sold, he'd have to pay $1,200.  


After the story first surfaced the Mint told Gunning they wouldn't charge him for the first 2000 copies, since they were already in production, but would charge him for any after that. Then, amid a growing firestorm of negative comments on social media and elsewhere, they backed down completely.


From a crisis communications perspective – shame on the Mint for making a bone-headed decision in the first place (somehow I can't shake this sneaking suspicion there was a lawyer behind it somewhere), but kudos for realizing soon enough that they were courting a PR disaster and for nipping it in the bud. This whole thing unfolded in fewer than three days.


An interesting thing about this is the way Gunning handled it. Class all the way. No attacks on the Mint. No outrage. Just a classy, reasonable approach. Here's his interview on CBC's As It Happens last night (go to the 19 minute mark)


So in the end, a Maritime musician shows himself as a classy guy and gets some great publicity for his music (even though he's embarrassed by it), the Royal Canadian Mint does a solid recovery, and a silly policy will be reviewed.



]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Thu, 13 Sep 2012 15:28:00 +0000