Ted Kennedy: An Appreciation

Welcome back!

A very sad day with the news of the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy. Much has already been written and we will be seeing so much more in the days ahead. President Obama said it best:
"Even though we knew this day was coming, we awaited it with no small amount of dread. His extraordinary life on this earth has come to an end. The extraordinary good that he did lives on."

So I just want to add a few thoughts of my own. On a personal level, he was truly larger than life. One of those rare people who lit up a room just by entering it. He put his personal warmth and charm to work on Senators across the aisle for the issues that he believed in. I remember seeing him a few times at the Kennedy School and was always struck by his interest in other people. If he faked that smiled then he was a better actor than many in Hollywood. He literally lit up when he met people.

Back when I was a student at the Kennedy School, my good friend Joe and I were walking toward the school on JFK Street and doing what we would call "dueling Kennedys" impressions. I had the strangest feeling and turned around to see Ted himself walking a few feet behind us with one of his aides. I won't say I was embarrassed or anything, but my face turned so red several cars screeched to a stop! It's hard to say if he heard us or realized what we were doing but what are the odds?!

A number of years later, Laura and I were at a Harvard event and the Senator was entering a building off Harvard Yard. The media were there and there was a small crowd, but the atmosphere was for some inexplicable reason, very tight. No one was saying anything, and his face looked taut. Laura called out, "hey Ted, over here." He turned around and saw her and lit up with a big smile and a wave, and then the reporters and the crowd began calling out to him. He was now in his element and he was literally beaming as he relaxed visibly.

He was certainly not a perfect person, and indeed, his flaws threatened for years to over-ride his accomplishments. As the youngest in the family, his talents were over-shadowed by his high-achieving brothers and sisters, and so he knew he had so much to prove. In fact, he served longer in the Senate than any of his three brothers lived. So what stands out was his steadfast determination to make his life have meaning, and to make a difference for the less-fortunate.

On a political level no one was more partisan and vocal in his beliefs, yet he was renowned for his bipartisanship. That's how he was able to accomplish more legislatively than almost any other Senator in modern times.

His unsuccessful bid for the Presidency was marred by a disastrous interview that he agreed to do with Roger Mudd on CBS. As you will see, he couldn't seem to answer directly the question, 'why are you running for President?' What many didn't realize, however, was the interview was pre-taped prior to his announcement and he was clearly uncomfortable admitting he was running. He had been doubling President Carter's poll numbers prior to this broadcast, and they began to slip noticeably once it aired. Take a look:

With all the heat and anger surrounding the health care reform legislation, it's a perfect opportunity for Senators and Congressmen to display some of that bi-partisanship. Perhaps, given the timing of his passing, it could be a last gift from the Senator.

Until next time....


Hockey Star Faces PR Challenge

Welcome back to the dog days of August. Often it's a time when otherwise mundane stories can escalate into front-page national stories, causing pain and notoriety - whether deserved or not. For Ottawa Senators fans, the handling of star forward Dany Heatley fits into this category of news event. Word had leaked out back in June that Dany was unhappy with the way coach Cory Clousten had been treating him and told Senators management that he wished to be traded (only one year into a six year, $40 million plus contract. Outrage immediately followed - casting Dany as a spoiled, ungrateful brat turning his back on Ottawa fans. [Whoever said politics is mean? Sports fans can show no mercy at all.]

Dany waited all summer, refusing to say anything, and then only days before beginning hockey camp with the Canadian Olympic team, he holds a conference call/news conference.
Did he meet the test? Clearly not. What went wrong? I was interviewed on that and here is the resulting Ottawa Citizen story:

Upcoming Media Hit....

Check out CBC radio Monday morning (August 24th) for a discussion with moi and two Conservative politicos on the fortunes of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party with regard to a possible election.


Until next time....



'The Woz' Shares His Stories

On Monday at 8:30 a.m. I will be on CBC Radio's 'The Current' for the third time in as many weeks - this time to explore Canada's Conservative Party and Prime Minister Stephen Harper's brand and positioning on the electoral landscape. Hope you can tune in: http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/

On Wednesday, Laura and I, along with several hundred others attended an OCRI luncheon event featuring Steve 'the Woz" Wozniak, who, along with Steve Jobs, founded Apple. A technology guru who is much admired, shared with the audience his vision and his creative history.

What is immediate apparent is his ability to tell stories as a vehicle to convey his vision and values and to connect with the audience.

"Be Honest With the World"

His big theme is "be honest with the world.' It's important to him to have authentic relationships with people he meets. He began by recounting his recent experience with the reality series,'Dancing with the Stars'. At first this seemed like an outlandishly out-of-character move for someone of his credibility. But as he told his story, it became clear that his appearance on the show was part of his approach to life.

On the series, he worked incredibly hard and did his best. To him, that was what it was all about. To do something that was outside his comfort zone to the best of his abilities. Afterward, he said he hand-wrote 27 one-or-two-page notes to each of his fellow contestants, host and producers (which he believes has far greater meaning than emailing them!)

He described himself as a shy child, and mused that his pursuit of disruptive technologies was perhaps a way to some some attention in the world.

Wozniak's 'What If' Key to Innovation

What I found revealing was his use of the "what if?" technique to develop the solutions and innovations that led to Apple and other creative products. One of his first inventions was 'Dial a Joke'. As a student in San Francisco, he spent more on renting the answering machine than his apartment rent. He recalled how the demand was so high that he found himself pretending at times that it was a taped joke, when actually he did some of them live! He said it helped him come out of his shell.

The Power of 'Lucky Accidents'

He also created a pong-like game for a home television (he described as a 'lucky accident' that he'd first seen Pong in a bowling alley).

Before Apple, even though he had no university degree, HP hired him to design a scientific calculator - which he did.

In case anyone might think he would be jealous of his former partner, Steve Jobs, he seemed to be very proud of his abilities and his relationship with his better known Apple co-founder. He mentioned that Jobs always goes to the top level people. He related how Jobs got Atari to go in on the pong game.

Another time, early on, Jobs gave him a 'must-hit' deadline of 4 days to come up with a game. And doing without sleep, he did it.

Woz went on to describe his creation of Apple II as a "Eureka moment".

He told a great anecdote of Apple being invited to an early technology conference in Las Vegas. Only Jobs and two others were going, but Wozniak was dying to go. so he said, what if I can create a floppy-disk drive to go with the Apple? He took on the challenge and created it in two weeks! And as he finished it the day before, he got to go to Vegas. He said, "it's surprising what can motivate engineers!"

The Magic of 'Disruptive Technologies'

Now Chief Scientist of Fusion-io,[http://www.fusionio.com] he is attracted by the disruptive technology involved in Fusion i.o's plug-in hardware memory with 10 times the storage capacity of existing solutions, while consuming far less energy.

What can you say about a guy who gives up five years of his career(post-Apple) to finish university and teach grade five? Incidentally, he believes that his real role as an educator is not to learn the material before the students - necessarily - but to get the kids excited about learning in the first place! [I wish a number of the educators I have met actually shared that belief!]

Finally, Steve Wozniak as a public speaker has learned the power of story to reach an audience and to motivate them.

Here it is here:

It's been a bad year for CBS News Legends...R.I.P. Don Hewitt

The creator of 60 Minutes, Don Hewitt has passed away from pancreatic cancer. He had long described his work as being a 'story-teller' which I think is very apt, given our theme in this post.

Until next time....


Selling Health Care Reform Obama-Style

Welcome back
Well how did you like the opening episode of Mad Men, Season 3? As usual Matt Weiner had an incredible eye for not only the look and feel of the early 60s [how would I know right?] but he can say more with no dialogue than any other show on television.

As promised I was up early Monday morning to be on the CBC Radio Show, The Current, along with Liberal MP Martha Hall Findlay and ex-liberal MP Carolyn Parish. We were exploring why Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and his party are still trailing Stephen Harper and the Conservatives by 2% in the polls.

Check it out to see how we did:


The Selling of Health Care Reform

As with all of you I've been watching how the health care reform legislation is being
'debated' in town halls by Senators, Congressmen and the President himself. Without arguing the actual issue, here are five factors which are working against Mr. Obama:

1. The political zeitgeist has shifted in the past six months - from 'quick throw all the money you can at our problems now and it will help kick-start the economy' to 'hey, who's going to pay for all this?" That's a very different question which an extra trillion dollars added onto the debt doesn't seem to address.[I mentioned this in the above interview.]

2. The key principle of persuasion is 'sell the problem before you sell the solution." It sounds like 70% of the American public are not convinced they have a problem with their health care - at least not enough to embrace the sweep of the proposed changes.

3. In public discourse, heat always cancels out 'light'. Mr. Obama is spending as much time clarifying the distortions and allegations as he is promoting the benefits of change to those who already have insurance. Talk radio and cable news love these angry, heated exchanges - amplifying the noise level so that clear messages aren't getting through.

4. Be careful about changing horses in mid-stream. The Obama Administration is starting to waffle on 'the public option' - signaling that he's ready to throw in the towel on government insurance and replacing it with 'co-operatives'. Hhmm...this could serve to divide supporters and embolden the critics, who now figure, "if we keep hammering away, maybe he'll drop the whole thing."

5. Town halls are the worst of the available vehicles to discuss 'risk' issues
in which emotions are high and facts are cloudy. Other forms of public consultations - such as facilitated meetings, kiosks set up at information nights etc. are more preferable, but the President can't tell Senators how to consult their own people.

6. The well-financed forces are pushing back hard with extensive television advertising. Only now are we seeing the Administration and its supporters fighting back. Is it all too late?

7. From all accounts, it did not develop as a bi-partisan initiative, so there is no vested stakes to support it by Republicans or independents. As well, rather than proceed on a piece-meal basis, he served up the largest change he could possible deliver - risking his political capital in a must-win issue. Change is almost always accepted on a gradual basis, rather than an all-at-once change of these proportions.

The result is, that it's no longer about health care; it's now a heated debate about foundational values, such as 'freedom', 'government control of our lives'. If President Obama is going to regain control of the issue, he is going to have to cool out the rhetoric and calmly focus on how everyday Americans will benefit from this reform initiative.

Hey, whaddya say - maybe President Obama needs to chill in Chilmark? Then he can come back and see how he can move it forward.

If you've seen any of those wild town hall meetings and wondered how you would handle it, here's a great piece by John Baldoni on how to speak to an unruly crowd. Check it out:


Until next time!

P.S. With this posting we say good-bye to our executive assistant, Jessica Jolliffe, who is joining the federal government. We will miss her in her career journey but we wish her good fortune!


Branding the Liberal Party

First smog day of the year! Yay! Summer has finally arrived! I celebrated by playing golf- for the first time in over three weeks. although sweating to death, it made the cold beer all the more incredible after...

Best movie of the year so far?

'Julie and Julia' hands down. Funny, ingeniously constructed storyline, terrific script and direction by Nora Ephron and Meryl Streep is a delight.

I am once again going on CBC Radio's 'The Current' to talk about branding political parties - in this program it will be the Liberal Party. Monday, August 17 @ 8:30 EST

Last Monday I and my fellow panelists talked about re-branding the NDP and the following Monday (August 24th) we will look at the Conservatives. All are at the same time, same day;same place.


Best Buy PR Fiasco

Welcome back
I know it's only been a few days since my last posting, but that is something I am determined to change - particularly when there's a story that resonates with some of the themes of this blog.

One of those themes is 'customer focus'. Faithful readers will know that I have taken a shot at Best Buy in the past for not responding properly to their mistakes. In my case, it was purchasing a DVD box set, which was on the shelves, but when I tried to pay for it, they told me it wasn't supposed to be put on the shelves yet. No effort at recognizing their error etc.

Well along comes a beautiful case of Best Buy not quite getting what their brand is or should be. They accidentally post on their website a 52" HD flat panel TV for the ridiculously low price of $9.95. And lo and behold, a number of people actually believe what they read on the website, and slap down the money on their credit cards.

What does Best Buy do? Read it and weep....


So let's say they sold 100 HD televisions through their website at their 'mistaken' price of $9.95. With the value of $1700 per set, that would be a mistake of $170,000 right? What Best Buy fails to recognize is that mistakes can be turned around instantly into a positive action by the company.

To be fair to Best Buy, they are not much different from most companies in similar circumstances. So let's hope they learn the following lessons for the future:

Lessons from the Best Buy PR Fiasco

1. Look at a 'mistake' as an 'opportunity'; an opportunity to strengthen the company's brand. In other words, 'we stand behind our prices' even if a mistake is made, we will always err on your side. What do they do instead? They make it even worse by, in effect, stating that their prices aren't necessarily what they say they are - even after they process it on your credit card!

2. The cost that the accountants clearly running the company don't seem to get, is the one that you can't see immediately. It is the cost of negative customer perception on the brand of your company. The negative publicity will be in the millions of dollars - all in the effort to save a few hundred thousand dollars. [Actually accountants should recognize that too!]

3. Where was the CEO in all of this? Nowhere to be found. Why bother? It's just bad news and we try to insulate our CEO from those things right? Wrong! The CEO should have been front and center - apologizing for the error and presenting the 52" flat-panel screens to the customers who bought them in good faith.

Until next time, remember that without competition, do not expect 'customer focus' from any company.


The Court of Public Opinion

Media interview update
I had the pleasure of being on CBC's 'The Current' this morning discussing re-branding of political parties - in this case the question was: Should the NDP change their name to the 'Democratic' Party?
See what you think of the discussion:

Racing update!
By now you may have heard that the heavily-favored 'Muscle Hill' won the Hambletonian race yesterday in East Rutherford NJ! Congratulations to brother-in-law trainer (and media trainer!) Greg Peck who, as it turned out had an unbelievably successful day - winning not only the most prestigious race in the harness racing world, but the Peter Houghton Memorial race earlier in the day with 'Holiday Road'. Congratulations Greg!

Hillary's 'Rage in Kenya'
check out how not to handle a question, when the Secretary of State takes offense at the question in a town hall meeting in Kenya:

Welcome back!
Check out the Hambletonian race this afternoon at 4:00 EST - it's the ultimate race in the world of harness racing. As you will see in this article in today's New York Times, my brother-in-law Greg Peck, is the trainer for Muscle Hill, the favorite in the race. Greg graciously credits yours truly for giving him his break in the media training business, and makes an interesting comparison between reading the body language of horses and executives. Check it out on http:www.nytimes.com 'Teaching is Full-Time Job for Trainer of Top Trotter'by Bill Finley. Don't forget to tune in this afternoon on NBC Sports at 3:30 when Greg will be interviewed.

Tune into CBC Radio One on Monday, August 10th

Speaking of media interviews, I will be on CBC Radio One's The Current on Monday morning at 8:30 a.m. EST, talking about 'branding' political parties - particularly the NDP which is considering re-naming itself the 'Democratic' Party.

Winning in Court vs. Winning in the Court of Public Opinion

For those who have been following this blog and the Canadian media, you know by now that my client, Mayor Larry O'Brien of Ottawa, was found 'not guilty' on two counts of influence peddling regarding the 2006 Mayor's Race in Ottawa. The Hon. Justice Douglas Cunningham rendered a verdict that was so unequivocal, it can only be seen as a complete vindication.

What I found interesting as always, was the media coverage and comportment by reporters. The 'scrum' at the courthouse steps was the largest, apparently, in the history of the court. As one right in the middle of it, it was loud, and jam-packed, but generally well-behaved.

The Mayor, after maintaining a stoic silence throughout the two and a half month trial, finally spoke, giving his statement, which was heart-felt and without a script and spoke of the burden that one's family has to endure when hit with a barrage of over 43 front-page stories, fed by innuendo, half-truths and leaked documents.

Observations on Handling Media During a Trial

From my experience as Mayor O'Brien's media consultant during the trial, I would conclude with the following observations:

1. If you want to fight back, be prepared for a long-term, at-times brutal battle - not just in court, but in the media - trying to determine what actually happened. If you don't have the stomach for it, don't do it. But as Mr. O'Brien said, "if you're right, you fight."

2. Even though you may not like all that the media report, treat reporters, producers and editors with respect. You usually get back the treatment you deserve. I found the media coverage of the trial itself very fair and balanced. Leading up to the trial, that was not always the case, but once it got underway, reporters were highly professional in their coverage. We gave interviews to all the media that asked,immediately following the trial. Only one network correspondent acted a bit like a goon. He didn't ask for an interview, and instead satisfied himself by following the Mayor and yours truly down the lane, screaming at the top of his considerable lungs. So guess what? His was the only network that didn't get an interview. Maybe he thinks that's good journalism.

3. If you're the media consultant, make it your business to read what they write and comment, and give them your comments in a respectful way. I did that regularly - when I felt they got something wrong, or had a strange (in my view) slant on testimony. Be prepared for them to label that as 'spin' but that's the price you pay for fighting for balanced coverage.

4. Don't fight your battles in the media while the trial is underway. Although this was not a jury trial, the last thing the judge wants to read or hear is your client expounding on evidence as the trial is underway. So, for the most part, 'less is more'.

5. Finally, the court of public opinion will ultimately decide the fate of politicians. But it sure does feel good to win in court as well!

Until next time....I hope summer is (finally) being good to you!