Why Rob Ford’s Media Interviews Were The Wrong Strategy

Rob Ford has spent time today doing one-on-one interviews – and it will only do him harm.  Having said, on Monday, he takes full responsibility for his substance abuse today he said he had been born with a disease that, effectively, was the reason he had said and done things that he has repeatedly denied and, more recently, apologized for.

Having made a statement, slash political campaign speech on Monday after two months in rehab where he failed to answer questions, Ford subsequently invited select media outlets where he preceded to dodge almost every question posed to him.  The problem is that the interviews are now being scrutinized and – as expected – there are also some discrepancies.  These discrepancies create more questions than they answer.  For Ford, this creates a problem.  It creates a credibility problem – and for a man who is trying to regain the trust of Toronto’s electorate it creates a serious problem.

Ford had the perfect opportunity to answer the questions everybody wants answers to on Monday.  He had an opportunity to answer them once and for all.  He had an opportunity to avoid any misunderstandings or discrepancies, nuances or questions that may result from multiple interviews with different media outlets.  But he blew it.

Rob Ford had the chance to explain the situation he is currently in with his drug and alcohol addictions, he had an opportunity to apologize to everybody he has hurt through his actions and words, and to answer any and all questions that need to be answered and put it behind him.  But he didn’t. And, now he’s back in the same situation he has faced for the last 14 months where a lack of clarity or consistency raises more questions that it has answered.

For Rob Ford it was his last chance at redemption – and he blew it.  In a way that only Rob Ford appears able to.

Rob Ford’s PR and Media ‘Strategies’

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’

Do you want your business to be like Apple… or Rob Ford?

I wrote recently about the myth that all PR and publicity is good.  I couldn’t have hoped for a better example of this than Rob Ford on the Jimmy Kimmel show last night.  Far too often public relations companies sell only media coverage – often driven by their customers desire to be seen in the pages of every possible publication – in print and, increasingly, on line – without any consideration about whether this is the right strategy.

All too often much of the media coverage achieved by public relations companies goes to waste – either because it’s not read by the right audience, or because the interview fails to deliver the right message.  Sometimes, it’s opening up a can of worms that the customer doesn’t want opening but, because they’ve been told that all PR is good PR – people will see the brand or spokesperson name [called visibility or awareness] – they walk head-first in to an ambush, as Rob Ford did last night.  He appears to be the only person that didn’t see it coming!

I often talk to customers about Apple’s approach to PR, publicity and marketing.  The company is selective. Some would call them secretive.  It doesn’t talk to everybody and it doesn’t talk to the media until it has something to say.  It spends the majority of its time building strong and long-lasting relationships with the journalists, analysts and influencers that matter.  It invests in the people that can help it build relationships with a wider audience.

Most importantly, focusing on only a small number media opportunities – the right opportunities – and on building relationships rather than a steady stream of press hits – Apple gets the outcomes it wants.  It gets the adoration of the right media outlets when it has a new product to launch and doesn’t get battered by the media when things don’t go to plan.  Admittedly, the iPhone 5C and Antenna Gate aren’t on the same scale as smoking crack cocaine while in elected office or insulting the Chief of Police in Jamaican patois… but it could have been had Apple not built the right relationships, but spent time, money and energy chasing every media opportunity available.

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

73 words that could have saved Rob Ford’s political career

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford Meets The Media
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford Meets The Media
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford meets the media. The question is, which one has the most power.

Rob Ford is in a mess.  His credibility and trustworthiness are gone.  While much has been written about Ford’s media strategy, or lack of it, the truth is that by the time Torontonians left the city for their cottages on the afternoon of May 17th for the Victoria Day long weekend, it was always going to come to this.  The only person that didn’t appear to realize was the Mayor himself.

These 73 words, had Ford made a formal statement on the morning the story broke, could have saved him and the city from ridicule, embarrassment and the media throng that has engulfed him for the last six months.

“I wanted to come and talk to you about the allegations made by a number of media outlets overnight.  Clearly, these are serious allegations.

In the light of the allegations I have spoken with members of my executive committee and have asked Council for permission to take a leave of absence.  Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday will be deputizing in my absence.

I have no plans to make additional comment at this time.”

This short, simple, statement would done a number of things.  It would have removed the Mayor from the focus of the  media scrum; it would have enabled him to take proper legal counsel and prepare future statements with consideration; and it would have enabled him to avoid the perception that he was ducking the questions everybody wanted answers to.

The statement would also have allowed him time to get whatever help he may need; it would have enabled others to make prepared statements on his behalf; enabled brother Doug, or his lawyer, to sit down with editors of the city’s major media outlets to explain some of the things the Mayor has now confirmed are true; and, most importantly, it would have demonstrated that he takes both the situation and respects the position which he holds.

Ford could, despite his admission that he has smoked crack cocaine, have even used the leave for political gain.  In the event that he did have a substance abuse problem, Ford could have taken time to address it away from the media spotlight and, as a result, ensure that none of his political rivals could use it against him.   It’s hard to criticize somebody for acknowledging they have a problem, apologize for behaviour resulting from it, and who got the necessary treatment.

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

Public Relations lessons every entrepreneur can learn from Rob Ford

Rob Ford, Lessons

Today Toronto Mayor Rob Ford finally admitted that he has smoked crack cocaine.  Having dodged media questions for more than six months, issued repeated denials there was a video of him smoking crack, that he had used crack and that he had a substance abuse issue, and accused the media of being out to get him today we saw a clearly contrite Ford acknowledging that he has smoked crack on at least one occasion.

From a PR perspective the crack is now a side-issue.  It’s a serious issue, but had Ford done what he has done today when the allegations first surfaced he wouldn’t find himself in the mess he does today.  Had he provided clear, honest answers, accepted that there was a video, that he had a substance problem and taken a leave of absence to take care of his personal problems he would have killed the story.  He could have dealt with the problems away from the spotlight and worked with his advisers on a strategy to return to city hall and run for a second term as Mayor.

What are the lessons that entrepreneurs can learn from Rob Ford?

First – get ahead of the story.  Had Ford admitted there was a chance the rumors of a video were true, that he has an alcohol problem and taken an immediate leave of absence he would have avoided the media feeding frenzy that has descended on him and City Hall over the last six months.

Second – be specific. Vague arguments or semantics will only encourage the media to seek clarity.  Had Rob Ford been specific about, what he is now saying is a single use of crack cocaine, it would have avoided the media speculation.

Third – change the story.  An admission that he had smoked crack cocaine, had a substance problem and was taking a leave of absence to seek help would have meant the story would have quickly moved on from him smoking crack.  There is no long-term story in a man who is seeking treatment for a substance abuse problem.

Fourth – the truth will likely be known.  It might not be immediately, but – like Lance Armstrong found out – repeated denials, threats and protestations of innocence only make the situation worse when the truth does eventually emerge.

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

Rob Ford’s Last, Best, Chance?

Dealing with the media can be challenging at the best of times.  At the worst of times it can be overwhelming – for even the best practitioners.  If, as we are being led to believe, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford addresses the accusations that have been made over the last six months it could be his last and, perhaps, his best chance.

Ford has had a difficult relationship with the media since he took office in October 2010.  He’s made things worse with his constant name-calling and baiting the ‘left-leaning media’ that he claims are out to get him.  This has only strengthened their resolve to have him answer their questions and their pursuit of him – ‘door-stepping’ him at every opportunity.

Rob Ford should take this opportunity – he should have taken it sooner in my opinion – to answer some of the questions that have been raised about his conduct.  What is the truth behind the video the Toronto Star and Gawker first, and this week Police Chief Bill Blair, reported they had seen? Does he have a substance dependency problem? Why would Toronto Police be surveilling him?

Out of the glare of the cameras, the shouted questions, the growing throng of media outside his City Hall office he has an opportunity to put his side of the story.  He has a sympathetic co-host in brother Doug Ford. He can set out his plans for the coming weeks and months. He has the opportunity to take a temporary, or permanent, leave of absence that will afford him the time he needs to take care, and control, of a situation that will continue to spiral out of control if he allows it.

And, after the show, he can slip away from the studio quietly to fight the allegations without the pressure of the media spotlight; to get the help and support he clearly needs [regardless of the veracity of the accusations, the stress of the last 6 months has clearly taken its toll]; and give himself time to take care of himself and his family.

I hope he does.

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

Rob Ford Needs A Better Media Strategy

Update 6 [March 3 2014]

Rob Ford says his interview with Jimmy Kimmel was scripted.  You couldn’t make it up… but, he could!

Update 5 [October 31]

It’s over for Rob Ford whatever he does from here, but it could have been very different had he handled the situation differently.  Over the last few months, since allegations about a video reported to show him smoking what appeared to be crack cocaine, his relationship with the media has been confrontational.  This morning there are videos of the Mayor shouting at reporters and appearing to push at least one photographer in attempt to get him to move off of his driveway.

Had Ford dealt with the questions and allegations differently, as I suggested in this post when the story broke, he could have stayed ahead of the story, changed the discussion and looked at ways in which he could survive the growing crisis.

Here are five key elements of surviving any media crisis:

  1. Have a clear strategic and tactical plan developed.  You may never need it, but if you do it’ll repay the investment in time and money.
  2. Get ahead of the story.  Address the allegations and questions as quickly as you can.  Use the pre-prepared crisis comms plan developed for use in the event that you need it.
  3. Tell the truth.  The facts will, likely, out and it’s better if the media hears it from you rather than via somebody else.
  4. If the allegations are true accept them and commit to taking the necessary action to ensure that they are dealt with or that action is taken to address an organizational failing.
  5. Stay calm,  don’t raise your voice, don’t confront journalists and remain polite and courteous.

For advice on effective crisis management planning call me on 647.773.2677 or email lyndon@thinkdifferently.ca

Update 4 [Sunday May 26]

The statement made by Rob Ford on Friday afternoon was a complete waste of time – leaving the key questions now being asked by typically pro-Ford media unanswered.  This afternoon, reading the reports of some of the Ford Brothers’ comments on their Sunday afternoon radio show highlights the point of my original post [below] – you can’t call the press names and expect them to like you – and then whine when they ask difficult questions.  The press isn’t bad because they ask challenging questions, and good if they support you and give you a platform – that’s not how it works!

My advice to the Ford’s? Read ‘If -‘ by Rudyard Kipling.  A couple of lines in particular, stand out:

‘ If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster; And treat those two impostors just the same… ‘ 

‘…you’ll be a man, my son.’

The Ford Brothers need a media strategy that enables them to deal with both triumph and difficult questions.  It’ll make them look like men, not like spoilt whining school yard bullies that are being asked to account for their behaviour.

Update 3 [Friday May 24 2013]

Rob Ford needs to get in front of the media – and do it quickly.  Yes, I know this isn’t new – but the opportunity in front of him is – and, if he’s sensible, he’ll seize it.  It could be the difference between a potentially career-ending disaster and giving him a chance to move forward.

The typical thinking when situations like the one that has engulfed Toronto’s Mayor over the last seven days is to get your side of the story on record – and quickly.  Having missed many opportunities to take control of the situation by addressing the media in a planned and dignified  manner – and dealing with the allegations made against him with the seriousness they deserve, a perfect storm has emerged over the last 18 hours.

Gawker and the Toronto Star both say the owners of the alleged video have gone to ground casting doubt over whether the video, they claim supports their allegations, will ever see the light of day.  Ford needs to get his side of the story out – whatever that is – with a short, clear, meticulously worded statement – and deliver it with passion, but dignity.  He needs to give the sort of speech a mayor might be expected to give faced with these kinds of allegations.

It’s not important what he says.  Whether the allegations are true of false is irrelevant. What matters right now for Rob Ford is that there is a window where he can regain control of a situation that has been spiralling out of his control for more than a week.  It’s a rare opportunity this far down the line and he needs to recognize it and seize it with both hands.  The storm may have passed come Monday…

Rob Ford’s future may very well depend on the choices he makes in the next few hours.

Update 2

Rob Ford’s continued refusal to formally address the allegations made by Gawker and The Toronto Star is as fascinating as it is unbelievable.  Arriving with your back to the press, refusing to answer questions… this is not the behaviour you’d expect of an elected official and his continued silence allows his accusers the opportunity to speculate.  It also does him as much, if not more, damage than addressing the accusations head on – after all, if they are, as Ford maintains, ridiculous then he deserves to have his reputation protected – and both the Toronto Star and Gawker held to account.

Public Relations is about perception and hiding [because that’s what he’s doing when he turns his back on the press and refuses to answer questions directly] will only harm Ford and allow his accusers to continue to make their claims.  If the rumours are unfounded, as Ford claims, there’s a very easy way to deal with them and protect his reputation. I explain how here dealing with defamatory comments online.

Update 

Many of the problems that I talk about in my original post, written in January, are compounding the problems Mayor Ford faces in the light of the accusations made by Gawker and the Toronto Star.  Ford’s current strategy has been to dismiss the accusations as ‘ridiculous’ during a brief exchange with journalists on Friday morning – he has not answered specific questions directly.

If the accusations are ridiculous, as Ford claims, then his strategy – allowing two key questions [is the person in the video him and, if it is, is he doing what his accusers say he is] to go unaddressed – the speculation could do him as much damage as the allegations being true.  He needs to call a press conference immediately, answer the allegations directly and take back some control of the situation while there is still a chance to save his career.

Original post:

I’ve been watching how mayor Ford handles the media since he took office in October 2010 and can’t help thinking he’d have an easier time of it had his media strategy have been better.

Since Ford took office he’s stumbled from one run-in with the press to another.  He’s bemoaned his continued pursuit by the media, demonstrated a lack of humour when ‘doorstepped’ by a costumed Mary Walsh, then there was the fiasco over his subsequent 911 call, and an unflinching view that he is the victim of a smear campaign… then there’s the negative press over alleged commandeering of TTC vehicles for his football team, questions over his integrity, use of election funds, failing to account for office spending… I could go on, but Torontoist has a great graphic detailing the various scrapes the mayor has gotten in to over the last two years.

My point is that Rob Ford’s approach to dealing with the media – oft referred to as a ‘scorched earth’ policy – damages him more than it does help him.  As a public figure, or the high profile CEO of a company, dealing with the media is part and parcel of the job.  That means being approachable, maintaining a sense of perspective and answering the difficult questions rather than accusing them of “burning” bridges and being “pathological liars“, “sucky little kids” or “a bunch of pricks” who “whine and cry and moan and … lie through their teeth” when they pursue you – either directly, or via somebody seen as speaking on your behalf.

Journalists also don’t like being banned from football fields, when the team is such a large part of your life, or threatening to bar them from a traditional New Year’s event.  It just makes them more determined to dig the dirt.  The sooner Mayor Ford learns that the easier his political and personal life will be.  Embracing the media would not only help take the spotlight off of him it would also allow him to focus his energies on serving the people that elected him, rather than fighting ongoing battles with both his accusers and the press.  After all, right now his attitude and behaviour towards the media is a story in itself right now.  Remove that and there’s less for the press to write about.

Having just listened to Mayor Ford’s post-decision press conference on the radio it seems, at least for today, that he’s adopting a different strategy. He’s more humble, conciliatory, more human. How long it will last though is anybody’s guess!

What can entrepreneurs learn from Rob Ford’s experiences?  Don’t duck questions – no matter how difficult they might be – it makes you look like you have something to hide irrespective of the truth.  Develop considered responses based on a pre-prepared strategic crisis communications plan that is an integral part of your PR toolkit, take control of the situation and control the story, and quickly move the conversation on to more comfortable ground.

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

10 things every entrepreneur needs to know about crisis communications