Peak Communicators
April 10, 2014

Avoiding the Impossible Situation

The day before he was to be introduced as the next Vancouver Canucks president of hockey operations, Trevor Linden says he was put in an impossible situation during a live TV interview. He told Global News he had never talked to the Vancouver Canucks about the job. “I had never really thought about it to be honest,” he said. After four and a half minutes, he ended by saying an announcement was not imminent. It would soon be revealed that none of this was true.

The next day, he was apologizing as he was introduced as the team’s new president of hockey operations. The Province newspaper called it a “barefaced lie” while its blog editorial was titled, “Lying to fans is no way for Linden to win their trust.” SportsNet called it a “white lie” and the Vancouver Sun said Linden “wasn’t completely honest.”

As Linden explains his responses to questioning on live TV, he didn’t want to disclose that he had talked to the Aquilini family, owners of the Canucks, because he was trying to protect Mike Gillis, who was about to be fired, and the integrity of the process. He says he had to do what he did. And he did it calmly for four and a half minutes.  

Whether Canucks fans think it matters or not, there is a huge PR lesson here for everyone else.

Linden’s ‘impossible situation’ was of his own making. It shows that, even if you have done thousands of media interviews, you need to be properly prepared and you need to know when to say no. Here’s what he should have done.

Impose a media blackout The safest and smartest step for Linden would have been the media blackout. It’s a common step corporations take when there is big news they don’t want to leak out — and this was big news. As soon as he got into discussions with the Canucks, he should have gone off-the-grid, cutting off all contact with the media and cancelling all personal appearances, especially media interviews. This was not the time to go on TV to promote a new fitness concept.

Be prepared If he was determined to go on television or thought he might be tracked down by a diligent reporter, he should have anticipated the most obvious question: Have you been approached by the Aquilinis? The best answer would have been: “I have met the Aquilini family, but I am not in a position to disclose the details of those discussions.” Simple and truthful while respecting the process and soon-to-be-fired general manager Mike Gillis.

There are lessons for all of us:

  • Each media opportunity needs to be assessed on its own merits. Sometimes the best answer is “no thank you.”
  • Anticipate and be prepared for all media questions
  • Prepare a toolkit of responses for any question that could catch you off-guard
  • Negotiate the interview up front and get assurances any questions you can’t respond to won’t be asked
  • Be prepared if the reporter asks those questions anyway

Trevor Linden’s brand credibility took a hit with fans and the media. He was right to apologize. It is sad that the entire incident could have been avoided.

You can bet the next time he does an interview, someone in the media will be thinking: “Is he telling the truth?” How long that will last is the great reputation unknown.

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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 6, 2011

News Release: New Poll Reveals a Shift in Riot Blame

Vancouver B.C. – October 5, 2011 – Three months after Vancouver’s hockey riot, a new poll finds respondents are placing an increasing amount of blame on the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Police Department. The City of Vancouver’s responsibility rating increased by 16 per cent; rising from 4.9 in June to 5.7 in September. The level of blame directed at the Vancouver Police Department also increased by 16 per cent.

NRG Research Group and Peak Communicators completed 400 random telephone surveys in the City of Vancouver between September 22nd and 25th concerning the public’s beliefs on last June’s hockey riot. The same questions were repeated from a similar survey conducted a week after the riot.

Respondents rated different organizations or groups on their level of responsibility for the riot. The top five responses all related to the crowd that gathered to view the game with respondents rating responsibility for the riot from 0 to 10, with 0 “Not at all Responsible” and 10 “Totally Responsible”.

“Respondents to the phone survey were not given an opportunity to express the reason for their ratings, but we would assume these changing numbers reflect the findings of the Vancouver riot report and the ongoing news coverage that has taken place on the riots over the summer months,” says Tim Chan, Associate Vice President, NRG Research Group.

Committed agitators intending to make trouble after the hockey game were again cited as the most highly responsible for the riot (8.6 out of 10). Crowd alcohol consumption was the second highest factor (7.8 out of 10). Seven out of 10 was the responsibility rating for young people from other parts of the Lower Mainland.

The most sizable change downward in the findings saw a responsibility rating of 5.8 of 10 for curious onlookers who did not leave when trouble started. This was 5 per cent lower or 0.3 less than the findings three months ago.

In the June survey, 78 per cent of respondents believed the effect of the riot would damage Vancouver’s reputation in the rest of Canada and the world. Now, 90 days later only 68 per cent of respondents feel that way, a significant drop from June.

Results of this survey are representative of the population, plus or minus 5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

NRG Research Group is a leading Canadian public affairs and market research company, with offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa and Winnipeg.

Peak Communicators is the largest independent full-service PR agency in Western Canada with a specialty in media relations, communication strategy, media training and digital media.

For more information contact:

Tim Chan/Brian Owen
NRG Research Group
Ph: 604 676-5652

Ross Sullivan/Michael Lowry
Peak Communicators
Ph: 604 689-5559

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