A lesson in how not to deal with the media, by Mitt Romney


Photo by Flickr user Marrejos

As a former journalist and communicator I’ve been watching the media coverage of the presidential election closely.  I’ve advised hundreds of clients, in both large and small businesses, from senior executives with years of experience to product managers doing their first press interviews – and one thing caught my eye recently that I wanted to talk about.

As a PR there are times when I help clients manage crises and deal with difficult questions.  One thing I’d never never advise a client to do ignore a question, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable they are about it, so I’m fascinated by Mitt Romney’s seeming reluctance to ignore questions during a recent fund-raising event for the victims of Hurricane Sandy.  According to reports Mr. Romney was asked the same question by multiple reporters on fourteen occasions.  It’s a PR no-no!  He did the same thing in the first Republican presidential debate earlier in the year, stating “… you get to ask the questions you want, I get to give the answers I want!“.

While we all know that interviewees, from politicians to businessmen, don’t always  answer the question they were asked – they often use a technique known as bridging to get from the question that they’ve been asked to the message they want to communicate – its rare that they simply fail to respond at all.  This approach shows contempt for the journalist; disrespect for the audience; and makes you appear dishonest and that you have something to hide.  If you really don’t want to answer a question then explaining to a reporter that you can’t, or aren’t able to answer it, is preferable to simply ignoring the question.

Mr. Romney either isn’t being briefed properly, or isn’t taking the advice of his communications advisors.  To show you what happens when an interviewee chooses to avoid an interviewers question take a look at this clip from 1997.  It’s a long clip, but worth the investment for anybody either doing, or advising about, media interviews.  The main attraction starts about 3 minutes in as Jeremy Paxman asks Conservative MP Michael Howard, the first [of fifteen] ‘Did you threaten to overrule him?”.

What does Google defamation suit mean for the future of search?

Recently I wrote about my concerns over comments posted on the web and how many online publishers are putting themselves at risk by allowing readers to post accusations about others online without evidence to support them.  In WWW – The Wild West Web I talk about the defamation laws and how many publishers, let alone those posting the comments – don’t understand them.

Now there is legal precedent, thanks to a case in Australia. Milorad Trkulja had alleged that the US firm’s image and web results had caused harm to his reputation.  The court found in Mr. Trkulja’s favour that a picture contained in its web search created a false innuendo but the jury found that Google was not liable for the web search results since Mr Trkulja had incorrectly filled out a complaint form, missing out the web address of the content to which he had objected.

Google may yet appeal the verdict, but if the ruling stands it opens up the flood gates for others to bring suits against publishers and search engines who publish information about both individuals and businesses that cannot meet the requisite legal burden of proof.

Despite the not-guilty verdict on the search complaint the case, Mr. Trkulja’s suit will fundamental change in online comment policies as well as online  news sites, blogs and chatrooms:

  • It will bring an end to anonymous posters
  • Expect tighter regulations that require publishers and search engines to provide user data in defamation suits
  • It will require online publications to moderate the comments added to their sites much more carefully
  • Search engines will need to be much more careful about the content they present.  Repeating a defamation makes you as liable as the person who originally broadcast it!
  • Significant changes to the way in which search engines collect and present results will be needed – websites will come under much closer scrutiny from search engine companies to demonstrate they have strict moderation policies
  • Websites will see changes to the terms and conditions used by search engines and a review of indemnity policies [Ignorance isn’t a defence against defamation, so claiming that you didn’t know the claims were inaccurate won’t help you].
  • I expect that search engines will make website owners liable for any losses they incur as a result of defamation cases
  • We will see a huge increase in defamation suits by individuals and businesses against online publishers and search engine companies.  In reality, if the defamation is published then the suit will go after the organization with the deepest pockets

I’ll write more about this in the coming days, but it’s worth remembering that in law there are only three defences against a defamation suit:

  1. It is the truth
  2. Prejudice and Malice [there are some jurisdictions, like the UK Houses of Parliament that are not bound by defamation laws]
  3. It is in the public interest that people are made aware of something – even if the statement is untrue.

You have been warned!

Coca Cola – Magazine Amplifier


Another example of creative marketing from Coca Cola, who celebrated the first birthday, of CocaCola.fm – an online radio station in Latin America – by turning a Brazilian teen magazine into an iPhone amplifier!  It’s a great combination of traditional print and event marketing combined with a clever promotional giveaway idea that is memorable, relevant and uses a subliminal call to action [I’m trying to find out what impact it had on visitors to the site/downloads of the CocaCola.fm app].

The Great TEDxToronto Bike Furnace of 2012

If you want to see how social media can spiral out of control then I’ve not seen a better recent example than the Toronto TEDxToronto Bike Furnace.  As far as I can tell it was started by @BrendleWhat, who tweeted, “Why is the City of Toronto taking bikes from @TedXToronto and throwing them into a furnace? #TedXToronto #BikeFurnace“.  Why? In response to a tweet about Rob Ford’s supposed vendetta against cyclists.

How did TEDxToronto respond to this, albeit good-natured, hijacking of its event? It investigated, checked with delegates to check whether there was a real issue, “The bikes seem to be in order outside – please let us know if you are running into any issues! #TEDxToronto” and has repeated this appeal a couple of times. Then, having established that there wasn’t a real world problem, it has let the Twittersphere have its fun.

The hashtag #TEDxToronto is trending in Canada right now.  It’s been a great event and anybody looking for an example of how to deal with the unexpected on Twitter could do worse than learn from the example set by the TEDxToronto social media team.


Why the iPad Mini is Bad For Apple

rotten to the core
image by Flickr user kristinhoppe

If, as is widely predicted, Apple launches the iPad mini later today it’ll be breaking one of the golden rules of product marketing: don’t cannibalize your own market.  I’ve written about my concerns with Apple’s recent product marketing in recent weeks, and I believe this is further evidence that the company’s product and marketing strategy is getting out of control.

With the launch of a 7.85″ iPad, Apple would have three mobile devices – a 9.7 and 7.85″ iPad and a 4″ iPhone.  Effectively it will have three products competing for the same share of the customers and, while customers may justify buying an iPhone 5 and an iPad, will they be able to justify a third device?  My concern, and it should be Apple’s, is that people will decide that they can manage with a smaller [and cheaper?] tablet.  If the prices for the iPad mini are correct then will consumers still justify paying an extra $600 for a couple of additional inches?

In addition to creating a problem for consumers, an iPad mini creates marketing challenges for Apple.  Not so much, ‘This changes everything”… more “this doesn’t change very much at all”.  Having three devices with the same functionality makes it more difficult to give consumers a clear reason to buy one Apple product over another.  I have no doubt initial sales will be strong but, over time, the company will find it increasingly difficult to differentiate in an ever more crowded marketplace.

Unlock the 007 in you. You have 70 seconds!


I wanted to share this marketing idea from Coca Cola here because it’s a great example of how thinking differently delivers delivers real value. Designed to tie in with the new James Bond movie Skyfall, partner Coca Cola used a blend of display, point of sale, live event, interactive and social media tools to create a compelling marketing piece.  Most companies would have used each of these channels independently – using a theme, message or call to action to tie them all together, but by combining them Coke creates an event that none of the participants or bystanders will ever forget.

While not every company has the marketing budget or the resources that Coca Cola does to pull off such an elaborate marketing stunt, using a little creativity and being prepared to think outside of the traditional linear confines of each channel it is possible to differentiate yourself from the competition and make your brand experience a memorable one.

Classic Adverts – Cadbury’s Gorilla Drummer

Anybody who grew up in the UK knew which company this advert was for within the first second, even though the brand name only ran for the last three of this sixty second spot.  The colour scheme used would have told most, even without the words, ‘A Glass and a Half Full Productions’.  As a child a glass and a half was synonymous with Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate, and the shade of purple was an integral part of the company’s product branding to this day.

It’s a perfect example of how context makes a world of difference to any kind of PR or marketing.  Friends and colleagues from around the world didn’t understand the advert when it first ran – and went viral.  When asked about why they made the advert – and what the point of it was – one of Cadbury’s senior marketing executives is reported to have said, ‘It’s a gorilla, playing the drums to a Phil Collins song.  That’s the point’.

I wrote a post a few months ago about the recipe for viral video success – something that makes your audience smile and want to share it – and I can’t think of a better example.  The slow reveal is genius and the 60 second spot is designed to perfection.



Classic Adverts – Lexus Rome

I’ve had this song – Open Heart Zoo by Martin Grech – going around in my head for the last few days.  For me it’s permanently linked to the Lexus advert that made it famous.

I’ve been talking a lot about creating memorable content recently – and how simplicity always works better than complex marketing or PR pieces.  The advert originally ran in 2003 when Lexus launched the SC430 in the UK – the fact that I remember it in detail some ten years later tells you everything you need to know.  Agency Saatchi and Saatchi combines an unforgettable soundtrack, with a memorable story and a simple take message – It’s the feeling inside.

It’s the perfect recipe for any marketing campaign.

Launching Toronto Media Makers

Tomorrow evening I’m co-hosting the inaugural Toronto Media Makers event with Talk Show Host, Author and Founder of Boston Media Makers, Steve Garfield [@SteveGarfield].  If you work in, or around, the media and creative industries in Toronto then we’d love to see you there.

The format, established by Steve, is for attendees to talk about the projects they are currently working on and to network with fellow industry professionals.  To sign up for tomorrow’s event visit http://torontomediamakers.eventbrite.com and we look forward to meeting you there.

A Master Class in Creative Thinking from The Ohio State Marching Band

I’m sharing this video because it’s cool.  It’s a demonstration of how thinking differently about things can differentiate you from the crowd.  This video, of the Ohio State Marching Band,  has already been viewed more than 3 million times on YouTube alone.   If you’re a geek, a retro-gamer or just appreciate watching creative new ideas then sit back and enjoy this 9 minute master class.