Toronto Mayor’s Reality Show

 Toronto Mayors Reality Show

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

Some Canadians were tweeting that last week’s Toronto city council hearings were the best reality show on television, but most aren’t laughing. Further revelations about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford‘s admitted purchase and use of illegal drugs are shocking, but not as much as his refusal to resign.

Time was any good PR advisor would have told the mayor to step down after just one of the many offenses he’s admitted to: being caught on videotape smocking crack cocaine. Being caught on videotape threatening to kill someone. His explanation for that: “I was extremely, extremely inebriated.” Telling a cadre of reporters that he had bought and used drugs. Admitting same during live televised hearings. Still, Ford clings to his mayoral seat, despite mobs of his constituents chanting “Resign!” outside his office.

With the help of PRs, politicians who have fallen from grace can construct careful comeback trails. And there is a precedent for Ford’s case. Marion Barry, the Mayor of Washington, DC, was videotaped smoking crack in 1990, served six months in prison, and was re-elected mayor in 1994. However, Ford is missing a key component of this example: in order to make a comeback, one must first go away.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Between a fall from grace and bouncing back, one must admit defeat. Though Marion Barry’s act of contrition – a prison sentence – was involuntary, he had it in hand to show he’d reformed. But no amount of PR can save Ford’s train wreck. He has taken the first step of saying he has some sort of rehab team on his case, but now would be the time to resign and take care of business in private. The last thing he or Toronto needs is for his recovery to become the next episode of this reality show.

The Unraveling of Rob Ford

 The Unraveling of Rob Ford

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Rob Ford, mayor of Toronto.

Rob Ford, mayor of Toronto, Canada’s largest city, would never be considered a staid politician. But his public confession of drug use was bizarre even by his own lofty standards.

In May, video of the mayor allegedly smoking crack cocaine was shown to certain journalists – then disappeared. Ford said it wasn’t him. With his repeated denials and the video missing, the story began to fade. Last week, however, Toronto police said the same video was recovered on a laptop seized in a drug raid.

In what will go down as one of the most jaw-dropping political moments ever, Ford this week stepped off a City Hall elevator into a scrum of reporters and, apparently off-the-cuff, admitted he did indeed smoke crack. “When?” the astounded press corps asks. “Probably in one of my drunken stupors… a year ago,” he responds. A few hours later, a flushed and gulping Ford held a formal press conference in which he repeated his admission, asked for forgiveness, said he won’t do it again and refused to resign.

Shocking, perhaps, but not surprising. Ford is a colorful character with a loyal following. Indeed, after the video resurfaced, his approval ratings actually climbed. But even relaxed Canadians have a breaking point. The specter of a crack-smoking clown as mayor may be a tolerance too high for most Torontonians.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Rob Ford. The flamboyant mayor may have finally cracked up.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: You can be your own worst enemy, and that’s why it pays to get outside advice. Ford no doubt breathed more than one sigh of relief after that pesky video disappeared. When it turned up again, he panicked and wound up blurting out his complicity in the worst possible way. But Ford was too close to the issue. Had he consulted with crisis management pros, they could have helped him orchestrate a more strategic and potentially career-saving way of confirming his participation. After all, as Washington DC Mayor Marion Barry proved, crack isn’t so whack that you can’t come back.

To see the video, click here.

Guest Column: Canadian Political Party Smackdown!

598e8a954113bbd41d651c0b7a2f 300x214 Guest Column: Canadian Political Party Smackdown!

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the NDP.

Canadians are used to conservative party political attack ads, even when there isn’t an imminent election. Since 2007, the norm has been for the ad to run and the Liberal Party not to respond. The Liberals lost the last two elections. Apparently, Canada’s new Opposition Party, the ultra-left NDP, has had enough.

Some history: The old ads from the party of the Canadian Prime Minster, Stephen Harper, suggested that the Liberal Leader of the Opposition was “not a leader”; the Liberals sat on their hands, and Leader Stephane Dion was subsequently trounced in the next election. The Liberals then got a new Leader, Michael Ignatieff, a Harvard professor and frequent expat. Harper painted Ignatieff as a crass opportunist who “didn’t come back [to Canada] for you.” Ignatieff also chose not to respond and promptly led his party to the biggest defeat in Liberal history.

Canada got a new Opposition Party with the NDP. Harper started attack ads on the new Leader of the NDP, admonishing the Party with the innuendo, “This is the best you can do?” This time, the NDP shot back with an ad accusing Harper of attacking the most vulnerable Canadians during the recession. Even without an election in the offing, the ads say that current policies aren’t working and that Canadians will have to pay the price. The war is on–but who will win?

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the NDP. While necessary to respond to the attack ads, the NDP policy wonks obviously won the day by attacking policies, not personalities. 

The PR Takeaway: Politics is about popularity, rarely policy. The Prime Minister’s attack ads are directed at the subject’s image and reputation; these attributes take years to build, but only 30 seconds to undermine. The NDP took the moral high ground by talking about policies, which Canadians find tough but pragmatic in a recession. Leading up to the next election, the Prime Minister can backtrack, soften, or amend these policies to diffuse the NDP’s salvos. More likely than not, the NDP will find it harder to fight the PM’s more personal attack campaign. Hitting back with policy is a hard sell. 

Is the NDP attack tactic effective, or should they have stayed out of the muck altogether? What’s your PR Verdict? 


What’s A Mean Girl To Do?

Sarahmacintyre1 Whats A Mean Girl To Do?

The PR Verdict; “F” for Sarah MacIntyre and her future relationship with the media.

It clearly was a bad day for  Canadian Sara MacIntyre, the new Director of Communications for British Columbia’s Premier, Christy Clark.  The spokeswoman made headlines, culminating in an entire news segment on CBC,  for her PR style.  Probably  best described as “Mean Girl” PR.

What got journalists agitated were her tone and demeanour at a public forum where the press were clearly invited.  Taking on the mantle of an overly officious gatekeeper, the Premier’s communications head simmered with visible irritation and anger, declining to make the Premier available to reporters despite the fact that her boss was only several feet away.  While it was her debut week in the role, (she was previously with the Canadian Prime Minister’s office),  MacIntyre came off as an uppity sorority girl, gate-keeping a drinks party, rather than the communications head of a public official with a commitment to transparency.

A bad start for the first week in the job.  From now on have someone else front the cameras.

The PR Verdict; “F” for Sarah MacIntyre and her future relationship with the media.  Claiming the Premier is unavailable and is not taking questions should only be used rarely as a PR tactic.  And preferably when the Premier isn’t there in the room.

PR Lesson: Choreography matters. Stage manage these encounters so that every journalist feels there was at least some justification for attending the event.  Next time, if the Premier doesn’t want to answer questions (for whatever reason) shepherd all the journalists into one area, set aside three minutes and call on one of the friendlier, sympathetic reporters for a question.  Following the brief answer, wrap it up and move the Premier on,  complaining the schedule for the day is very tight and beyond your control.  Done.

To see the CBC news segment click here.

What’s your PR verdict for Sarah MacIntrye?

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