Peak Communicators
December 4, 2019

Why the image makeover for Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou?

On December 2nd I had the opportunity to provide input for CTV Vancouver’s televised news story of Meng Wanzhou’s open letter on her one year anniversary of house arrest. While Peak Communicators specializes in spokesperson training and crisis communications management, we have no association with Huawei or Ms. Wanzhou.

From afar it is apparent to me that she has started working with a communications firm to help make Meng more sympathetic and gain public support for her. Here is what I see:

During the first half of 2019, any time Ms. Wanzhou was on her way to and from the courthouse, she was following her lawyer’s advice. She wore conservative clothing; muted colours (grey and/or black). She kept her head down, eyes to the ground and did not engage with anyone. She showed no emotion.

Before and after – Meng Wangzhou’s makeover

This fall 2019 there was a dramatic adjustment. Ms. Wanzhou was stepping out in colourful dresses and often sparkly stilettos. Was she going to a party? No, same court appearances with her lawyers, but now she looked neighbors and the media in the eyes. She laughed in conversation, smiled and thanked onlookers for their support. She was looking like a happy Vancouverite, open and accessible.

In late September 2019, a British tabloid (the Daily Mail) suggested Ms. Wanzhou was wearing sparkling $675 Jimmy Choo shoes. No doubt to draw attention to the unsightly ankle monitor on her left leg.

Meng Wanzhou’s sparkly shoes and her unflattering ankle monitor

This past weekend, Ms. Wangzhou posted an open letter to Canadians. She had help with it.

“Every time I appear in court, a crowd waits outside. Your passion and support have always warmed my heart . . . My dear friends, your warmth is a beacon that lights my way forward, and I appreciate it more than words can say.”

So why the image makeover? It is all about the court of public opinion. The USA – China politics are messy. By showing Meng as a likeable, well-dressed Vancouverite who is warm and approachable, she is no longer a villain or a sullen victim. She now presents as a positive, more likeable person.

Much easier to feel sorry for her – much like Canadians feel upset with the detained Canadian pawns Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Canada has been a supportive neighbor to the USA by holding Ms. Wangzhou for the past year. But this is starting to get tiresome.

While Liberal deputy John Manley suggested a prisoner exchange with China – it is unlikely to happen. Interesting to see how this plays out in the new year.

Ross Sullivan comments on Meng Wanzhou’s open letter and image for CTV News Vancouver

August 8, 2016

Chelsea Clinton’s Speech vs Ivanka Trump’s Speech – who won?

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Chelsea Clinton at the National Democratic Convention 2016

 

Both of the Presidential candidate’s daughters spoke a week apart at the respective conventions. Both are young and attractive women and mothers. Both spoke with praise about their parents. For both it was the most important speech of their lives and in front of the biggest audience ever.

Chelsea Clinton talked of her mother’s love for service and her great skills and love as a mother and grandmother. In contrast Ivanka Trump’s speech was about her dad’s focus on his business career.

If you were reading the text of each speech, they both supported their parents and described what they are well known for. But that is not how TV works.

Back in 1964 Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase: “The Medium is the Message.”  He wrote all about it in his most widely known book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, published in 1964. McLuhan proposes that a medium itself, not the content it carries, should be the focus of study. McLuhan said that a medium affects the society in which it plays a role not only by the content delivered over the medium, but also by the characteristics of the medium itself.

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Invanka Trump at the Republican National Convention 2016

So put the content of the speeches aside, and think back on how the ladies presented. One person had a clear advantage and expertise performing on TV.  That was Ivanka Trump.  She has co-hosted her dad’s national TV show “The Apprentice” and spoke with ease to the thousands in the stadium and the millions tuning in. She was confident, paused when she needed to and looked like she had made dozens of similar speeches before. She definitely has the training and like her dad she knows how to put on a show.

Chelsea Clinton, not so much. Chelsea has made speeches before, but she’s more tentative, not a commanding presence as all.  While pleasant, she is not a forceful personality. Subtly, she came across as lacking confidence.

Donald Trump does not have a lot of substance in what he says, but his bombastic, argumentative and dominating presence his taken him to the top of the Republican ticket. None of his competitors work TV the way Trump does.

One of the big knocks on Hillary Clinton is that people don’t know who she is – they don’t know her; therefore they don’t trust her. Even when TV media are friendly to her, the TV medium is not.

Does the top TV performer always win? The Trumps hope so.

Fun to watch.

 

November 4, 2014

Ghomeshi Media Crisis: Peeling Back the Layers of Truth

Layers of truth have defined every crisis I have been involved with during my 15 years in public relations. While it seems obvious that a client would recount their story fully when first meeting with the team they’ve hired to help them, in my experience that has not always been the case. I’ve learned that people often ‘forget’ major details, and it can take a few days or longer for all the information to come out. Indeed, in some cases it never does.

As the story of Jian Ghomeshi and his accusers unfolded last week, and the media and public narrative around him shifted, I asked myself: If Ghomeshi had asked Peak to work with him through this crisis, would we have said yes?

On Monday, the answer was yes. By Thursday, the answer was no.

When Ghomeshi first published his 1,600-word Facebook post last Sunday, some assumed it had been written without assistance from his publicist or the PR firm he had hired to handle his crisis, yet it displayed fundamental principles of crisis communications 101:

  • Take control of the message and frame the narrative
  • Be credible and human
  • Provide media with enough detail to cover the story

His confession was shocking and intimate, and was directly communicated to a huge audience via a social channel that is both personal and viral. In the first 48 hours, tens of thousands expressed their support for him and shared his post, which had soon garnered over 100,000 Likes. His support was palpable and very real. By all accounts it was a PR win.

But, over the course of the week, more women came forward and more accusations of non-consensual, unprovoked sexual violence were laid against him. The stories these women told were shocking, disturbing and offensive. Doubt began to collect around Ghomeshi’s side of the story. People began to question what he didn’t reveal in that candid Facebook post.

By mid-week, Ghomeshi had begun to lose Facebook Likes at a rate of 350 an hour. By the end of the week, he had been dropped by Navigator, his crisis communications firm, and Rock-it Promotions, his longstanding PR firm. He was also dropped by his publisher, two speaking firms and an electro-pop singer whose career he managed through his production company. Perhaps most importantly, Toronto’s Metro police have now opened a sexual assault investigation into the allegations against him.

Public opinion is stacking up against Ghomeshi and has moved to the side of Ghomeshi’s accusers.

Did Ghomeshi reveal everything to Navigator when he first met with them? Instinct and experience lead me to believe he withheld major details. As a PR professional advising clients in a time of crisis, you need your client to be forthcoming with information, accept the consequences of their actions, and work collaboratively with you to manage their brand and public perception. Without equal measures of credibility and accountability—and without co-operation—planning and implementing a successful crisis commuications strategy becomes almost impossible. Without these elements, I would never want to support a client through a crisis.

At the end of the day, it is up to the client to decide if they want to move forward with the agreed-upon communications strategy. But PR consultants also have the option of saying no, and at Peak we have said no to potential clients in the past. Ghomeshi, had he sought our expertise, would have been another. By the end of last week, it was clear Navigator and Rock-it Promotions felt something similar.

We shall see how Ghomeshi manages public perception and his brand in the weeks and months going forward. For now, though, as Ghomeshi’s layers of truth begin to curl and peel away, we will wait to see what week two of the crisis brings.

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October 30, 2014

50 Shades of Ghomeshi

For the last three days the biggest water cooler topic across the country has been CBC’s firing of Jian Ghomeshi.

Ghomeshi‘s $55-million lawsuit and the numerous allegations about Ghomeshi’s violent sexual behavior, lead many to conclude that he will never work in the media again. Most people are wondering: “Who would hire him?”

While the CBC won’t take Ghomeshi back (ever), I expect he’ll have little problem bouncing back in his successful media career. Here’s why:

Many talented film, sports and media stars have had similar moments of “heightened awareness,” about their abnormal or illegal sexual behavior, yet most have gone on with their careers. I don’t recall Roman Polanski or Woody Allen making apologies for their disturbing sexual relationships.  The revelations resulted in a loss of fans, but both continued with their successful careers as film directors.

In 2009 David Letterman issued a preemptive strike to a breaking scandal by using his national talk show to drop a five-minute bombshell in his monologue. He used the platform to talk about his affair with a coworker only six months after he was married. His show and contract with CBS continued like nothing happened and his marriage is still intact.

imagesGhomeshi’s incident is reminiscent of the Marv Albert scandal in 1997. Albert had charges filed against him for viciously biting and having forced sex with a woman he’d had a relationship with for several years. Marv was a very big personality in the USA at the time. He’d appeared on “Late Night with David Letterman” over 100 times with his presentation of the plays of the month. And he’d been the play-by-play voice of the New York Knicks basketball team for 30 years leading up to this incident and had done national broadcasts for Super Bowls, Stanley Cup finals and basketball finals.

Albert lost all his jobs and contracts at the time. His lawyers and PR advisors recommended he take a six-month long ‘time out’. After the court case and Marv Albert’s guilty plea, he did a series of high-profile media appearances. In a one week blitz he appeared on Larry King on CNN, David Letterman on CBS, Katie Couric on NBC’s ”The Today Show” and “20/20” with Barbara Walters on ABC.

The PR strategy was for Marv to tell his story fully and quickly. He overexposed himself for a week. Being an experienced media veteran, he was sympathetic and got a passing grade in the court of public opinion. He then stopped the interviews.

MarvAlbert.imagesAt 74 years old, Marv Albert is still active today, calling NBA and NFL games on American TV networks and he is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

We are still in week one of a drama that hasn’t fully played out. Ghomeshi issued his preemptive strike online. He should now take a ‘time out’ and let the story fade.

Will another Canadian network provide him with a similar platform as the CBC’s? Will he get a gig with NPR who aired Q in US markets?  I think he’ll land somewhere. He’s a talented broadcaster with a loyal following. He’ll be back.

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May 23, 2014

First Step to a Job: A Well-written Cover Letter and Resumé

In another era, before personal computers and email, when I was just out of school, letters and resumés were different. When you were competing with the herds of graduates looking for creative jobs you needed to have an outstanding, nonconformist approach. I chose a blue rag stationery that reflected my character. I wasted lots of that expensive paper because I typed the letter repeatedly until it fit the page and was free of mistakes. The process often took hours.

The resumé was even worse. I recall struggling to get the blocks of experience on my curriculum vitae to fit on a page. The ink was uneven. Because of my heavy hand on my manual typewriter, the dots on my i’s looked like pinholes on the page.

I’ve lived a great life in Vancouver largely because of my bold approach to a resumé. Back in 1977, I had drawn my self-portrait on the cover of Broadcastermagazine and had written my name into all the article teasers. A daring first page of my resumé. Page two showed I was slim on actual TV work experience.

Within a week of mailing my resumé and letter to CKVU’s president Daryl Duke, I received a long distance phone call and was told how creative my resumé and writing was. I was hired sight unseen.

Later in my career, working as a TV producer, I received many creative resumés from people wanting to break into the business. One wannabe production assistant sent a Styrofoam egg container to me with his name and contact information on the lid. Inside each of the dozen egg shells was a slip of paper with a reason why the candidate should be hired. Creative. I didn’t throw it out for weeks, but his reasons weren’t enough for me to call him for an interview.

At Peak Communicators, I receive about 100 resumés and cover letters a year. Almost all arrive by email. So right away the factors of the quality of paper, texture, lumps of whiteout and lots of creativity are eliminated from the equation. With personal computers, resumés all look similar today. The text is uniform, the borders straight and as a result, what the candidate has to say is accentuated. There are few distractions.

I dismiss about 25 per cent of candidates because of the typos and bad grammar they display. Many get our company name wrong. We are not “Peak Communications.” It’s Peak Communicators.

At our PR agency we look for people who have at least one university degree. They have to be presentable, speak well, tell a story and think. We don’t settle for less. If they can’t write effectively, it is doubtful we’ll meet.

Last month I read a three-paragraph cover letter that stopped me in my tracks. It was written by a PR student whom I knew nothing about. She wrote with a refreshing and unconventional clarity. It was like she was sitting at the other side of my desk talking to me about her life and goals. The same unconstrained voice was in her resumé.

When a letter and resumé are that strong, you are seldom disappointed when you meet the person. She aced her interview too.

Emily Kiloh is the talented winner of Peak’s PR Scholarship for spring 2014. She starts her internship with us on June 2.

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January 21, 2014

Media Coverage of Meltdown

You can’t beat the drama and emotion in sports. The media coverage surrounding the drama makes it even more entertaining.

Since the Vancouver Canucks’ coach John Tortorella lost it going after Calgary Flames’ coach Bob Hartley on Hockey Night in Canada last weekend, it has been a field day for sports commentators and the water cooler topic for hockey fans.

Some say that as the bench boss and leader of team, the coach demonstrated intense passion. He had his players’ backs. Others feel it was a big sideshow that has no place in professional sports. The debate continues.

The league showed it was an activity they did not approve of. The coach is banished from working for the next 15 days which includes six hockey games.

Kudos to Vancouver’s local CBC-TV newsroom for its story, which I felt had the most refreshing observation about Tortorella. To quote commentator, Alistair Moes:

“It was like the end of the world. It would make sense for a three-year-old, but not so much for a 55-year-old. Look what happens when you have a temper tantrum. When you lose it, no one listens to what you have to say to them. They just ridicule you and make fun of you.”

Mr. Moes is a Vancouver-based anger management expert.

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October 23, 2013

Peak Pitching

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Whether the task was a new business being launched, the number three firm in an industry aiming to be number one, or promoting an upcoming event, advertising is usually the first and biggest spend in an integrated marketing campaign. A decade ago, Public Relations was often forgotten.

Not anymore. It is now widely accepted that “earned media” offers better value than advertising and carries a validated message since it is not the client telling their own story, it is delivered by a trusted media commentator. A newspaper article or TV news story is considered three to five times more powerful than an advertisement because of the credibility of the reporter delivering the story.

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Since Peak Communicators began operation over a decade ago, we always excelled in one specific area: media pitching. In client pitches I always mention that PR companies are all different. Peak’s pitching team can help a company reach new audiences, achieve top-of-mind awareness, establish a leadership position and enhance their image. We are a secret weapon for many successful businesses. Peak always delivers, and usually we deliver big.

Think of our staff of consultants as storytellers. All PR firms can write and issue news releases. At Peak we do it better because we get on the phone, repeatedly facing the possibility of rejection. We do it the hard way because we know we can be much more persuasive that way. We regularly land the big interview because of this approach. Often, because we believe firmly that the story is right for the media outlet, we’ll lean on a relationship and tell the person why they must do the story. Often an intense plea is hard to resist.

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One of my favorite examples of a persuasive media hit was when I was pitching a CBC News Arts Producer based in Ottawa about a story that was taking place in Toronto two days later. She had many reasons why she did not want to do the story. However I insisted she had to do the story because it had all the elements she was looking for and the sale of a priceless painting was going to be a life-changing moment in a charismatic woman’s life. We were rewarded by a three minute story on the CBC national news with Peter Mansbridge.

The next time I spoke with the Ottawa-based producer, she said the only reason she did the story was because I was so enthusiastic and insistent about it. In the end, she was glad they did the story. It was heartwarming.

Whether we tell stories about 7-Eleven’s Slurpees, an innovative design in a new real estate development or a technology company’s new product, we deliver the pitch with energy and passion. That’s why the media coverage we produce is impressive.

At Peak Communicators the elevator pitch is a way of life; and we pitch media every day of the week on behalf of our clients. It is what we do. . . and we do it better than our competitors.

July 25, 2013

Who Will Replace David Baines?

In June, David Baines, Scott Simpson and John Manthorpe said farewell to Vancouver Sun business readers. They had accepted Postmedia’s voluntary buyout options. Postmedia is losing millions every quarter and is operating under a heavy debt load – reflecting a general decline in the viability of traditional media. 13228899114_4c875b4884_o

I will miss David Baines the most. He was an award-winning columnist who for the past 25 years exposed questionable practices, stock fraud and misconduct in the business world. He was afforded a generous amount of research time and he often took stories to the “legal edge.”  His parting shot was a multi-page article looking at the financial stewardship of the Rick Hansen Foundation.

In his farewell column Baines said, “I learned that it takes money, not just to publish stories, but also to defend them. I am fortunate to have worked for a newspaper that has the means and mindset to do both, and to have had great libel lawyers … to guide me through this jungle.”

In the current media landscape, local TV, radio and print news seldom have the staff, the research time or the finances to pay for libel lawyers.  There are still many talented journalists in our market, but they are provided with less opportunity to do in-depth work.

I’ll miss the journalistic excellence and in-depth stories that Baines provided. Let’s hope local media will still have the resources to cover much more than just the headlines in the months and years ahead.

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February 13, 2013

72 per cent of Canadians are ho-hum about Valentine’s Day

Seventy-two per cent of Canadians do not have strong feelings towards celebrating Valentine’s Day according to survey results out today. The on-line survey of 1,000 Canadians by Research Now, NRG Research Group and Peak Communicators was completed between February 8 and 9, 2013 utilizing the Research Now panel surveying Canadians across the country.

The survey results, which come the day before Valentine’s Day, also found that 27 per cent of Canadians met their Valentine’s date through family or friends compared to only seven per cent meeting through on-line dating.

“Canadians aren’t overwhelmingly excited about Valentine’s Day” says Brian Owen, CEO and founder of NRG Research Group. “The vast majority of us will celebrate the day depending on our mood and significant other.”

The poll revealed interesting dating trends, finding that 16 per cent of females 35-54 years old are more likely to meet their Valentine at a club or bar than the eight per cent of all respondents.  Younger males were more likely to meet their valentine on line.

The survey of 1000 people was conducted in both official languages and provides results with a reliability coefficient of +/- 3.2 per cent 19 times out of 20.

Q1: Which of the following statements best describes your opinion regarding Valentine’s Day?

• One in four respondents view Valentine’s Day as very special.
• Older respondents, particularly males, are more likely to view it as “extra special”.
• Almost no-one, (2%), hates the day and tries to avoid it.

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Q2: Where did you first meet your significant other, partner or spouse that you will be spending this Valentine’s Day with?

• More people (27%) met the person they will be spending Valentine ’s Day with through friends or family.
• Younger males (16%) are more likely to meet their Valentine person at school than other groups (9%) are; females 35-54 (16%) are more likely to meet their Valentine at a club or bar than the average respondents (8%).
• Overall 7% of people, met their Valentine through an online dating service. Males under 55 were more likely to use online dating services than others.

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December 19, 2012

NHL Lockout Resolution: 58 per cent of Canadian’s Just Don’t Care

Fifty-eight per cent of Canadians have no interest in the two sides reaching an agreement in the National Hockey League dispute, according to survey results out today.  The telephone survey by NRG Research Group and Peak Communicators was completed between December 11th and 16th in six regions across Canada. It includes the responses of 801 individuals.

The survey results, which come out a week after the NHL announced the cancellation of games through to December 30th, also found that 25 per cent of Canadians don’t believe the lockout will be resolved in time to salvage a season.

“Canadians are clearly becoming disillusioned with the dispute process,” says Brian Owen, CEO and founder of NRG Research Group. “A large majority of us either don’t care about a settlement or don’t see an end in sight to the negotiations.”

The poll found small pockets of optimism, with 15 per cent of Albertans believing a settlement could be reached in the next couple of weeks and 15 per cent of Quebecers believing a settlement would be reached in the New Year.

The survey was conducted in both official languages. A survey of 801 people provides results with a confidence interval of +/- 3.5 per cent 19 times out of 20.

For a related Vancouver Sun article, read here.

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