Rob Ford Blew It!

Rob Ford, Media, Public Relations

After 2 months in rehab, Rob Ford faced the media to explain what everybody already knows – that he has substance abuse issues and has started treatment.  He fell in to the trap that so many entrepreneurs fall into when talking to the media: shamelessly pitching rather than answering questions.

It was Ford’s first formal appearance since he took a leave of absence to get professional treatment.  He acknowledged that he had been at a Muskoka-area facility undergoing, what he described as ‘intensive’ therapy.  He says he has nobody else to blame, apologized to his family, the people of Toronto, Karen Stintz.  Ford also said that he wasn’t asking for forgiveness from the media – some of whom he had not invited to the press conference – and said that some of the ‘associations’ that had been the focus of many of the media reports over the last year had ended.

Ford also talked about addiction being a disease and that everybody knows somebody who suffers.  Rob wants us to believe he’s an average guy; average guys make mistakes, right? They can be forgiven, can’t they?!

And, it might have been OK had he left it there.  Had he taken questions from reporters. Offered contrite, honest answers.  People might have respected him for that.  But he did neither.  Ford, like so many entrepreneurs, just can’t resist himself.  The media is like, dare I say it, a drug.  Ford, never wanting to miss an opportunity to pitch his credentials turned from contrition to campaigning mode on a dime.

Having said his piece, rather than leaving the stage Ford was back to the politician we knew pre-rehab.  Once again – he talked about this record – taxpayers dollars, garbage and the unions all featuring – and how he intends to serve as Mayor for ‘many more years’ to come.

Let there be no doubt Ford was using this speech to restart his reelection campaign.  He just couldn’t resist it.  And, as happens so many times with conversation isn’t about you, it’s about me.  It’s about what I want to say; what I want you to publish; it’s about my agenda, not yours. It’s also why everything that was said before the pitch will be forgotten, questioned or disbelieved.

Sometimes dealing with the media is about knowing when to stop.

Read more about Rob Ford’s PR and Media ‘Strategies’

Why this ‘PR guy’ agrees with Mark Cuban

Today I was reading a piece on LinkedIn where a PR professional was explaining why he disagreed with Mark Cuban’s assertion that startups should never hire a PR firm.  I found myself agreeing – with Mark Cuban.

The author of the piece I was reading, written recently, was talking about a bullet point in an article published in Entrepreneur magazine more than two years ago. It was called Mark Cuban’s 12 Rules for Startups.  He was explaining that PR professionals play a valuable role in helping early-stage businesses to grow.  I agree. In part.  But what he was describing wasn’t public relations it was publicity – media coverage. Awareness. Brand-building.  Call it what you will the majority of the companies that claim to sell PR are actually in the publicity game.  On that basis, I wholeheartedly agree with Mark.

I wrote a piece recently that explains what PR companies don’t tell their prospects or customers.  Over the last few days I’ve become even more convinced that the traditional PR industry is scared to death that you’ll discover these things.  It is the key to their business model and without the illusion of value the industry as we know it quickly unravels.

The author of the piece I read today – I would mention him by name but I can’t find the post again*.  Having viewed it via the LinkedIn app on my phone it updated between leaving the subway and getting on the bus – makes some interesting points about the value of using strategic communications strategists, and I agree with that.  Startups need advice on building the relationships they need to grow their business; they need help in communicating their value proposition, developing messaging, figure out how to deliver it and at the right time for the audience.  But, it’s not what most PR companies offer.

The majority offer, at best, a tactical approach that focuses on pitching journalists [a single audience or public] in order to get the right to talk with every other one of a company’s audiences.  What’s more most PR companies act as a barrier between an organization and journalists, rather than helping their customers to build relationships with journalists or any of an early-stage business’ critical audience groups. Imagine if every conversation you had with the important people in your life used the same ‘strategy’.  Your relationships were managed by a third-party and then had to be approved by another arbiter who decided whether your message would be passed on to the intended audience.  Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?!  It’s definitely unworkable.

Yet, for this ‘strategy’ they charge exorbitant amounts of money. Every month. And, they ask for a minimum commitment, irrespective of whether the arrangement delivers any value.

This is, I suspect, why Mark Cuban says that startups can do without it.  And it is why this PR guy agrees.


*I spent about 30 minutes looking for it using the information I remembered – the company was called UberStrategy, and the author was called Mario – and still can’t find it. Everything you need to know about the effectiveness of ‘awareness’ -based public relations [or publicity as it should accurately be described] is demonstrated right there. When I type UberStrategy into Google I get results about taxicab industry disruptor Uber’s business strategy.

What The Brand Called Obama Means For Your Business

Social Media, Brand Called Obama, Yes We Can

Yesterday I was lucky enough to interview business journalist Ellen McGirt about a piece she wrote back in 2008, called ‘The Brand Called Obama‘.  It tells the story of the President’s campaign – both to get the Democratic nomination and for President – and how he used social media to build the ‘Yes We Can’ platform.

I wanted to know what businesses and politicians could learn from what Obama did more than 6 years ago.  Here’s my interview:

What do you think companies can learn from Obama’s use of social media?  Why do you think more politicians haven’t been able to emulate what he did?

How To Measure PR Success

Public Relations Espresso

If you believe most PR agencies they’ll tell you that awareness is the key to public relations success.  But awareness without a focus on the right audience, the right message and delivered at the right time via the right channel is meaningless.  So, if you’re not measuring awareness – in the form of page impressions and social media platform shares what should you measure to work out whether your PR activity is working?

Relationships, that’s what.  Think about it, most PR programs are media-focused and agencies guard their journalist contacts as fiercely as they guard your contact details from journalists.  Their perceived value is in the brokerage role they play in securing coverage and if they allow you to build a direct relationship then you don’t need them.  Right?

I’ve written before that public relations is far more than media relations and, the resulting ‘awareness’ that most agencies peddle.  It’s about building and relationships with the people that can help you grow your business; with customers that want to buy – or have a need for –  your product or service.  With influencers that can help people you have no direct relationship with find your business.  With investors that have money to invest in businesses doing what you do.  Very little of that is delivered as the direct result of media coverage.

Awareness and media ‘relationships’ – I describe this as a lease arrangement at best – are a really bad measure of PR success because when you stop paying an agency for their brokerage you often have nothing of tangible benefit.  If you measure public relations on the strength of the relationships you build as a result of your activity – and I mean firm relationships, not fast friends or friends of your agency ‘friends’, then you can calculate whether your public relations activity is helping you move towards commercial outcomes.

There will be my peers that argue that PR is about reputation and trust. And credibility. And authenticity. And awareness.  And, I’d agree.  So long as it is you building relationships based on demonstrating these things, rather than you leasing media relationships based on your agency pitching them on your behalf. Or on journalists being arbiters of your message and the owner of the delivery mechanism.

If you have awareness and coverage but don’t have relationships as a result of your PR activity then we have something different to offer.  Find out more at

I LOVE Marketing Toronto [Review]

I LOVE Marketing, Public Relations, THINK DIFFERENT [LY], PR for Startups
In person, I LOVE Marketing co-organizer Diana Santaguida with Joe Polish and Dean Jackson

A couple of weeks ago I got the opportunity to meet two of marketing’s big-hitters – Joe Polish and Dean Jackson from the I LOVE Marketing website and podcast fame. Actually, that doesn’t really do them justice – they are far more celebrated than that, but it is what most people perhaps associate with them.  The truth is that they are behind the successes of many businesses, without being recognized for it.

I’m primarily a PR ‘guy’, but when you work in any of the marketing communications disciplines there is a fair amount of overlap. Particularly when you work with small businesses where the internal functions are less defined and things move quickly from relationship building to trying to get people to take action – and where publicity is still often the primary goal. So, the chance to hear Joe and Dean talk in person about their take on marketing best practice was something I’ll remember for a long time.

With the focus on digital and social marketing you would, perhaps, expect the evening to have focused on either of these topics.  You’d be wrong.  In fact, I don’t think that social platforms were mentioned at all during the 2 hour Meetup.  Joe says that he’d still default to direct marketing given the chance and Dean talks about marketing and PR leaders as friends [not to be confused with the fast friends of the social media age] that he has either worked with, or continues to work alongside.

I had the privilege to present my take on PR, marketing and publicity to the assembled group – so, no pressure with Joe and Dean in the room.  I also heard their detailed advice to some of the challenges facing the entrepreneurs in the room.  There was none of the generic, echo-chamber, “this is how I did it, so this is what you should do” advice that is so prevalent online these days.  It was refreshing.  I’ve become accustomed to hearing so-called experts talking in general terms about best practice where there is no context other than the “expert” so it was refreshing to hear advice that was specific to the person asking the question and their business.  The examples and advice given was also specific enough for non-marketers to implement.

If you’ve not been to the I LOVE Marketing Toronto Meetup then I’d wholeheartedly recommend it.  I’m not promising that Dean and Joe will be there every time, but you never know!  They have ties to the city, so it is possible they may be there again soon.

I hope so.