This was an interesting year in Canadian PR, with plenty of lessons to be learned from those who did PR right and those who didn’t. I’ll start by heaping praise on those organizations and individuals – in government, business and the entertainment and cultural industries – who, in my humble opinion, represent the very best of PR in 2013. In my next post, I’ll review those whose performance left something to be desired.
The Best in Government PR
The headline in the National Post article on the Calgary floods summed it up well: “Flood leaves Mayor Naheed Nenshi with Superman status in Calgary.” (See http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/06/28/the-voice-of-all-calgarians-flood-leaves-mayor-naheed-nenshi-with-superman-status/)
Mayor Nenshi was everything a leader should be in a time of crisis: comforting, organized, and visible when he needed to be. He tirelessly conducted dozens of interviews with local, national and international media outlets. What emerged from these is the image of a man who is good natured in the face of adversity, organized and confident. He never panicked and rarely stopped smiling. The t-shirts for sale in the city perhaps said it best: “Keep calm and Nenshi on.”
The lesson here: in times of crisis, the effort to be visible and positive pays off.
Honourable mention: The Transportation Safety Board of Canada and the Sûreté du Québec both did admirable work under difficult circumstances in the town of Lac-Mégantic, after a train carrying crude oil through the town derailed, causing a massive explosion and deadly fire. Both organizations were highly professional, presented very effective spokespeople and managed to reassure the shaken citizens of the town and the country. Their experience in crises and the systems they had in place to plan and execute crisis communications were evident.
Best in Business PR
Galen Weston gets a nod first for a smart response to tragic and deadly fire in Bangladesh, at a factory that – among others – made garments for the company’s Joe Fresh line. Rather than duck the issue and lay low, Weston responded immediately and accepted the charge that North American and European marketers needed to do more to ensure their factories overseas were safe. He signed on to an agreement by numerous other retailers to work to that end and called on other CEOs to join in an effort to better monitor and improve safety conditions at these factories.
Weston also gets the nod for a well-executed announcement of Loblaw’s takeover of Shoppers Drugmart. The takeover was greeted positively by the market and by the business media in Canada, becoming one of the top business stories of the year.
Thanks to these moves and to solid performances in a series of TV commercials for the company, Weston has a high profile and a positive image that helps to position the brand. See Canadian Business magazine’s excellent review of his excellent year (http://site.canadianbusiness.com/winners-and-losers/2013/people/).
The first lesson here is that PR crises – like any other threat – should be confronted with speed, clarity and strategy. The second lesson is that positioning an organization or brand is best accomplished when the visible leaders of that organization are aligned with that positioning.
Best in Culture and Entertainment PR
Commander Chris Hadfield has earned our salute for excellence in all forms of communication. From brilliant social media use to strong visuals (OK, orbiting the planet gave him an advantage), Commander Hadfield consistently demonstrated superb PR skills and instinct in his time aboard the International Space Station and his months back on earth since. He mastered publicity stunts (e.g., his YouTube video of David Bowie’s Space Oddity); he showed great skill in engaging and educating youth; and he gave one solid interview after another. He became Canada’s most trusted celebrity on so many fronts.
His recent decision to forego politics and head back to a position with the University of Waterloo cemented that reputation (see http://uwaterloo.ca/stories/chris-hadfield-comes-home). This is a man who seems driven more by the desire to share knowledge than a quest for money or power. With more than 1 million followers on Twitter, a bestselling new book and the continuing attention of the news media, Hadfield continues to have considerable influence and to use it well.
The lesson: The importance of strong visuals, consistent social media use and a great story in PR cannot be overstated.
Stay tuned for my next post, reviewing the worst in Canadian PR for 2013.