You’re a fundraising organization and you’d like to draw attention to the events you’ve organized.
This won’t be easy.
If anything makes media yawn, it’s another charity doing another walk to raise money.
Whether that makes sense or is simply callous, it’s a fact. It’s exactly what happens in a newsroom – they get pitched pretty much every day about those sorts of initiatives, and are often invited to write about the event based on, frankly, uninspiring hooks.
There are so many of them, it’s understandable so many get deleted. It’s hard to tell one from another. And the excuse for not biting is an easy one: “We get these pitches every single day. If we’re going to say yes to one, we’re going to have to say yes to all of them.”
Look, you and I both know that’s not true. Media doesn’t have to say yes to all of them. But they’ll say yes if — and here’s the big if — there are compelling stories to tell.
So when our longtime client, the Alzheimer Society of B.C., asked us to pitch the 2018 Investors Group Walk for Alzheimer’s – 23 fundraising walks around the province on May 6 – we couldn’t help but feel challenged. The society planned to honour longtime volunteers, or others who’ve been impacted by Alzheimer’s, at each site. If you think charity events are a tough thing to pitch, how about volunteerism? In both cases, absolutely worthy. In both cases, media usually shrugs.
How, then, did we do it? By investing time. Effort. Delving into the subject. Getting to know people. And becoming emotionally involved with our client’s story.
The society wanted us to pitch Michele Buchignani and her parents, Reg and Sally. They were, no doubt, keen and experienced volunteers. Reg’s mother had had Alzheimer’s. Reg came to the society for help, for guidance. And 30 years later, he’s still giving his time. So is Michele, who’s had her boots on the ground as a volunteer as well as being the past chair of the board of directors.
We knew we needed more than the volunteer angle. So we invited Michele to Peak’s offices one Friday afternoon. We sat her down and said: “Tell us about your grandma. Take us back to when she was healthy. What was she like?” And just like that, Michele brought her grandma back to life. It was really something: funny in places, sad in others. Mary Buchignani was a strong woman of tremendous character and personality – and then she wasn’t. Michele learned a lot, watching her grandma’s long struggle with Alzheimer’s. It led to her getting involved, becoming an advocate.
After an hour in our boardroom, we knew we had at least one great story. We had someone with lived experience who had the personal story, but also could deliver the key messages – the walks, the fundraising, the need for increased awareness about and support for people with Alzheimer’s and their loved ones – in succinct and effective ways. Listening to Michele, we knew she would make a compelling TV or radio talk show guest.
From there, our task was simple: Sell Michele. And determine what the other best stories were. We had a planner from the City of New Westminster who’s not only been working on New West becoming B.C.’s first dementia-friendly community but also has a father who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s; a couple who’ve had a long life together, filled with affection and love, and the disease won’t steal those things from them; and a 69-year-old woman, several years into her diagnosis, who decided she wanted to go skydiving. Fantastic stories of different types. All meaningful. All human.
We went into this project knowing it would be a challenge. But when we take on a project, we always find a way to get media results. It’s where Peak has earned its reputation. So we landed the major media, from the Vancouver Sun to Global TV to CBC Radio and CKNW. And the regional media, who told those powerful stories about people who live in their area. We had a client in the Alzheimer Society of B.C. that was passionate and communicative and positive, and we were able to help successfully convey their chief messages time and time again.
When it was all over, the event was behind us and we all knew so much more about Alzheimer’s, we were able to say to the client: We can keep getting you, and the work you’re doing, attention. And we don’t need the walk to do it.
Tags: Alzheimer Society of B.C., Alzheimer's, CBC, CKNW, Global TV, Investors Group Walk for Alzheimer's, Michele Buchignani, New Westminster, Peak Communicators, Vancouver Sun
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.
Tags: CBC, crisis, crisis communications, Ghomeshi, media relations, scandal
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.
Ghomeshi’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.
At 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.
Tags: CBC, communications, crisis communications, Ghomeshi, scandal