The Rules for Going Negative

Welcome back!
To the land of snow and freezing temperatures, and as we dig our way out of winter's offerings, right about now we start to dream of heading south, once it reaches the intolerable level, or 'March break' as it's known. It's easy to get into a negative 'funk' at this time of year....something to do with Vitamin D deficiency, I believe.

I was happy to see The King's Speech win all those SAG Awards. Not only was the movie enjoyable and the acting by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush terrific, but it gets at a sensitive subject of overcoming one's barriers in life - no matter how exalted one's life appears to be. As a kid who had a stammer - although not a stutter - I have always had a great empathy for people with speech impediments or communications difficulties. [And probably contributed to my chosen field of coaching executives and others to communicate more effectively.]

Speaking of movies, I presume most of you have seen the highly enjoyable "The Social Network' and its tale of intrigue and disloyalty behind the runaway success story of Mark Zuckerberg? Ironically, half way around the world, Facebook® is playing a role in the revolutions underway in Egypt [as well as Tunisia  and Yemen.] The people have become empowered as they learn that they are not alone.

If you get a chance, check out the always compelling Bob McKeown of CBC's The Fifth Estate as he uncovers the extent of the Mafia in Canada, in The Death of the Don - about the killing of Nicolo Rizzuto in Montreal. Thanks to brave journalists and authors, along with highly dedicated police specialists, they serve to remind us of this dangerous menace in Canada and the United States (let alone Italy and Sicily).

You Too Can be a Pundit!
It seems that our television and radio outlets have gone pundit-crazy. If you're thinking of becoming a TV pundit, check out this clip of the BBC interviewing a cab driver who had shown up applying for a job, only to end up on-air as a putative IT expert. What is amazing about this video clip is not only that he pulled it off, but that the BBC host/interviewer didn't seem to notice! See, there's hope for everyone!

The Launch of Negative Political Ads in Canada
For those of you who may have caught the interview I did last week on the CBC National with Wendy Mesley [first news item] , you would have seen me commenting on the ads launched by the Conservatives and the Liberals. The Conservatives are employing a two-pronged strategy to position themselves and the Opposition parties. Their goal is to position Stephen Harper as the hard-working steady leader toiling away on Parliament Hill while the world outside goes to hell in a hand-basket. In the Tories attack ads on Michael Ignatieff, they aim directly at Michael Ignatieff, with the tag line, "he didn't come back for you." Those spots represent a return to the old "just visiting" attacks on Mr. Ignatieff. If it worked before (which it did), they are going back to their greatest 'hits' [pun not intended]. The attack ad on NDP Leader Jack Layton links him to the failed attempt at a coalition government within weeks of the 2008 election. They continue to bring up the spectre of a coalition with the separatist Bloc Party. Again, that strategy got them out of a jam two years ago, so they are following the rule, 'go back to what works'.

The Liberals on the other hand are using the tagline "Harper's Canada" as they attack the government for the F-35 fighter jets and the planned corporate tax cut.

So let's say that you are in a political campaign and wondering about the effectiveness of negative, 'attack ads', what 'rules' should you keep in mind?

The Rules of Engagement  for Negative Attack Ads
1. The ad has to resonate with the public's perception of your opponent. For example, don't try to paint your opponent as a stumble-bum who is totally incompetent if the polls indicate he/she is highly competent. [For example, Stephen Harper scores highly on competence but may be vulnerable on other perceptions.]
2. Don't distort the truth - otherwise you end up on the defensive and it will backfire on your Party or candidate.
3. Don't over-reach. The Tory attack ad on Jean Chretien in the 1993 campaign was seen as crossing the line from 'tough' to 'mean' as it appeared to be a personal attack on his dis-figured face. [Chretien's response really stuck the knife in, when he said in media interviews, "I can't help it. That's the way God made me." Ouch!
4. Keep the focus on policy - not on personality. Both the Liberals and the Conservatives are hitting hard on the other's leader. But the lines start to blur the more each hammers the other.
5. If you don't have anything nice to say...speak directly into the camera. The Tea Party brought out Rep. Michele Bachman [R-Minn] for their Response to the State of the Union, but bizarrely was advised to look into their website camera - not the pool camera. Decide for yourself if that was a wise idea? This same rule would apply if planning a negative attack ad.

Until next time....stay positive!


Update from Washington D.C.

Welcome back!
It was two years ago this week that we were in town as volunteers on Inauguration Day and by coincidence were back this week in Washington D.C. for some meetings at our office. It turned out to be perfect timing for several reasons.

First, we attended a terrific panel discussion at the Newseum on Pennsylvania Ave., called, "Canada-U.S.: Best Friends or Perfect Strangers" - in conversation with Macleans Magazine. Broadcast live on CSPAN 2 in the U.S. and CPAC in Canada, it was ably hosted by Peter Van Dusen, the evening featured Canada's erudite and highly effective Ambassador, Gary Doer, Macleans columnists Paul Wells and Andrew Coyne, along with author and commentator David Frum, Senator Pamela Wallin, 'Scotty' Greenwood, Executive Director of the Canadian-American Business Council and the Hudson Institute's Christopher Sands.
The essential outcome of the discussion?
Americans don't really know Canada - but freely admit it. While Canadians are very confident that they do know America, but don't know as much as they think. Also, we are at times "two nations divided by a common language." Pamela Wallin told the story of attending a high-level event in New York when she was Canada's Consul General there. The Canadian politicians were proudly proclaiming that Canada had tabled legislation to deal with the terrorist threat (post 9/11). The Americans attending were furious and quite put off at this news. Pamela figured out it was because in Canada, when legislation is 'tabled' it means it's presented before Parliament. In the United States, it means that it's been put off to some future time. [Actually it's very similar to a flare-up near the end of World War II in a meeting among Churchill, Roosevelt and Prime Minister Mackenzie King. It was King that figured out that the word 'tabling' was the cause of the problem.] There were lots of keen insights into the relationship.
Highlights About the Relationship Between Canada and the U.S.
1. When Canadians complain about the 'thickening' of the border [impeding the flow of goods and services] the Americans tend to think that's a good thing (which Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is reported to have said, after she was first appointed). So Canada needs to change its vocabulary (see 'tabling' discussion above).
2. The reality of media coverage is the old 'if it bleeds, it leads' and Canada gets hurt by that as it is not nearly as controversial.
3. Although the two countries have many similarities, Canadians like being different from Americans.
4. Canadians can sometimes come across as thinking they are better than Americans (besides hockey, of course) - health care, education and other social programs etc. However, there are many myths (Michael Moore) as Paul Wells said - that Canadians leave their doors unlocked at night....no guns....etc. are simply not true.
5. The 'framing' around the border issue has shifted under the Obama Administration from 'security trumps trade' to 'climate change'. Canada needs to make a better case for the work it's doing on climate change - otherwise Canada's heavy oil products may be replaced by those ethical leaders Venezuela, Iran, Nigeria or Saudi Arabia.
I asked a question about what the media could be doing differently or perhaps what new media models could be developed to focus more on the relationship between the two countries. A lively discussion ensued. You can find it on CSPAN 2 on the web
It's being repeated as well on CPAC.ca here: Canada and the U.S.:Best Friends or Perfect Strangers
Commenting on Negative Political Ads
Speaking of media, I was on CBC's The National last night analyzing the pre-campaign ads. So check it out at:  www.cbc.ca/thenational (first item) analyzing the Conservative and Liberal pre-campaign ads.

Remembering Sargent Shriver
Laura and I dropped into Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown to pay our respects to Sargent Shriver, and  ended up meeting most of the Shrivers and Kennedys attending. I admired the way they put everyone at ease in a very down-to-earth way. They have a great appreciation for Canadians - particularly as Canada was the first country where they brought the Special Olympics. Governor Schwarzenegger told Laura and me that one of the reasons he has a very soft spot for Canadians is that it was two Canadians -the Weider brothers - who helped him leave Austria and start his career over here. So his first post- Gubernatorial speaking tour will be in....Canada.
For journalistic buffs like Laura and me it was great to meet the legendary Ben Bradlee, former editor of the Washington Post, who was most gracious in his comments - and looked surprisingly spry. He reminisced that the first time he set eyes on Sarge Shriver - it was in Wisconsin - and he was struck by how he looked like he was this great-looking charismatic guy - had stepped out of a Brooks Brothers ad - remembering every detail of what he wore. Not bad for a guy into his eighties!
The whole event had a somewhat nostalgic feel to it, as yesterday was the 50th anniversary of JFK's Inauguration and Sarge Shriver was an important player in the Kennedy Administration.
Until next time...


Leaders in Troubling Times

Welcome back.
As the world has responded with shock and sadness over the terrible events last weekend in Tucson, I can only echo those profound feelings of loss mix with deep appreciation for those who were lost and for those who were injured, including Congresswoman Gabby Giffords who was struck down doing her job by reaching out to her constituents.

Watching the speech of the President in Tucson, and the video post on Sarah Palin's website prompts me to explore the qualities of a Leader that are called upon in the wake of such a tragedy.

The Role of a President as a Nation Mourns
The first President in recent memory who was forced to rally a nation after a national tragedy was Lyndon Baines Johnson. LBJ's speech to the nation after Air Force One touched down at Andrew's Air Force base on Nov. 22nd, 1963, was succinct, spoken from the heart and with humility asked for the help of God and the American people. Simple, but powerful: LBJ speaks to the nation after Dallas

A leader has to hit the right tone and the right message in such difficult times. Presidents are called upon to try to make sense of the senseless, to bring the nation together and to find hope in times of despair. Ronald Reagan managed to do that after the Challenger explosion: Reagan comforts the nation
He was gentle in tone, sensitive to the young people who watched it live, and hopeful about the future of the space program, but his tribute to the courageous astronauts who lost their lives was a classic - deft, etched in historical context, and 'slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God' was a powerful closer. [courtesy of Canada's Pilot Officer John Gillespie McGee's High Flight by way of Peggy Noonan.]

Bill Clinton was referred to - not without admiration - as the 'Mourner-in-Chief' because of his uncanny ability to reflect the feelings and aspirations of communities in pain. His visit and speech in Oklahoma City after the bombing of the Federal Building killed 168 people almost single-handedly raised him up from his near death-bed mid-term election. At the same time he lifted up the country with the power of his rhetoric. Bill Clinton at Oklahoma City 1995

The best speech that George W. Bush ever gave was at Ground Zero a few days after the horror of 9/11. In many ways it was not Presidential in the traditional sense, but his ad lib remarks really hit the mark - not just with the workers there - but with the public glued to their televisions looking for some sense that America would rally from that terrible day. George W. Bush with the bullhorn

Which brings us....to Sarah Palin's Missed Opportunity
Within hours of the shooting, the usual suspects came out of the woodwork trying to smear others - in particular trying to link Sarah Palin for her 'targeting' of Gabby Giffords, among others, in her political ads. Of course, this did leave her susceptible to such attacks by her critics, which obviously triggered her to post a video she titled 'America's Enduring Strength' on her Facebook page. This would be classically known as a 'missed opportunity'. Instead of keeping her focus on the victims of the shooting, and the chance to pull the nation together, she went in the opposite direction, capping her counter-attack with the now-infamous 'blood libel' phrase.

She should have been advised that she is only preaching to the converted with such a defensive video - it seemed to be more about her sense of hurt more than the victims' pain. She needed to rise above all the noise and accusations and speak from the heart as a mother, a former Governor and as a national leader.

Obama had a 'sense of the moment'
With his Tucson speech, Barack Obama was able to speak to and for the American people, while paying tribute to the victims, their families and the 'heroes'. He knew what he had to do, and he did it with passion and eloquence. Other than being somewhat lengthy, it will stand the test of time as a Leader doing the job that the people hope he will do when they are most in need. Never be partisan. Never let your anger trump your sorrow. Never let your personal issues trump your public responsibilities. If Sarah Palin were to take a deep breath, study that video and learn from it, it would really help her become a leader that can inspire a nation in troubling times.

A 'Next Generation' Leader Speaks
In case you missed it, Giffords' aide, Daniel Hernandez did a phenomenal job of speaking to what the tragedy meant. He politely declined the label of hero and conferred it on the first responders, the nurses and physicians and others. I'd say the young man has a big future in politics, don't you?

Until next time .......


Happy New Year!!!

Welcome back to my annual New Year's blog post. I hope you had a relaxed and enjoyable Christmas and holiday period. I know I did! It was my perfect idea of a vacation - no commitments, no schedule, go to some movies ('The King's Speech', 'True Grit') read some books ('The Confession', 'Resistance') hang out with family and friends. Perfection! 
Below you will see my 'Quick Predictions for 2011'. But first, to finish off 2010 once and for all.....
I remember back in the day looking forward to Esquire Magazine's annual 'Dubious Achievements' year-end edition for their tribute to the strange, perplexing people and events of the year. So, to keep that legacy alive, I will be looking back with my mini-version of.....

Dubious Achievements of 2010
1. The reality TV series pitch from hell..... Fox TV's new sequel.....'Sarah Palin's 'Alaska Wimps'.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's popularity is slipping in her home state, according to a poll released Tuesday. The survey from Democrat pollster, Public Policy Polling (PPP), showed only 33 percent of Alaska voters have a favorable opinion of the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee, while 58 percent have a negative one. Out of 10 states polled, only Massachusetts gave Palin a more negative rating (27- 68 percent.)

2. Dad's Cookies proudly announces the worst video contest entry in our history....Stephen Duckett, President and CEO of Alberta's Health Services is forced out following a disastrous effort to force feed a reporter one of his cookies. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DxeCK5Ne_Q 
3. "She had that KKK look in her eyes - kind of reminded me of David Cameron."
In the final days of the 2010 British election, Prime Minister Gordon Brown meets the voter from hell on the campaign trail but then adds the death knell comment into the waiting microphones. Gordon Brown meets a 'bigoted woman'
4. If a two-bit Mafia gangster can't trust Santa, what is this world coming to?
5. "Coming soon to a nightmare multiplex near you, Aaron Sorkin's "The Sweaty Hoodie"!
This is a classic example of how not to do a media interview: Mark Zuckerberg Sweats Buckets in Media Interview  
Quick Predictions for 2011
1. There will be no federal election in Canada - the Government doesn't want one, and the Opposition don't either no matter how much they bark, scratch and paw the ground.
2. The Republicans in the House will flex their power and if they're not careful will find themselves in a similar position as the Newt Gingrich 'Contract with America' Congressional class of 1994-96 (which enabled Bill Clinton to come back from 'irrelevance'). President Obama may well do a 'rope-a-dope' strategy lulling them into threatening to shut down the Government, creating gridlock, thus throwing themselves offside with the American people (who just want government to work and their politicians to listen to them without playing partisan games). 
3. The first politician who says, 'what's a trillion'?, while talking about the U.S. debt of $14 trillion will be vilified. [The fact that no one has any clear plan to reduce it will go largely unnoticed, of course.]
4. The internet has already passed television as the main source of news for those between 18 and 30. For those between 30 and 49, they are on track to follow suit - if not late this year, then certainly in 2012. Internet set to be main source of news-PEW Research
5. As more mistakes are made in front of microphones by politicians, government officials and executives, there will be an increased demand for media training. And that, after all, is a good thing!

I wish each and every one of you a Happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

Until next time...