Posts Tagged ‘communication’

“You don’t say, Mr. Spicer!”

Saturday, April 15th, 2017

On the wall above our computer is an old framed black and white Frank & Ernest cartoon with four characters in the wigs and knee-britches of the colonial period. One of the gentlemen, who does not look like George Washington is saying: “’Cannot tell a lie,’ eh? … In that case, you’ll need a press secretary.”

The cartoon was a gift from an old friend from years ago who was also in the media relations game. He had also partaken in some of those awkward moments in providing media briefings, that we have all had to handle. It is in thinking of Sean Spicer, Press Secretary for President Donald Trump that the cartoon has added meaning.

Spicer has an absolutely impossible task and he handles it so badly. He not only holds his client up for ridicule but he comes across as a complete fool.

The basic problem with his briefings is that everybody there knows that the President is a congenital liar. The media end up with two levels of lies and have no idea what to believe anymore.

And it hardly helps that the media being briefed come into the room knowing that Spicer will lie to them. It all comes down to how big a load is left in his diaper after each session? You are almost thankful that this lame-brain is no political spin doctor.

But remember, he is Donald Trump’s man. Whether you are spokesperson for the Pope or a serial killer, that person has selected you to spread the word. And you speak for them.

There were times when representing the Liberal Party to the national media, you would sometimes have a snide party official feed you false information just to put you on the spot. They would soon find out who it is at the microphone and who has the final say.

And it is not always what is said on the podium that matters as much as the chats over a beer after work. An effective spokesperson is someone who has earned a reputation for being knowledgeable and telling the media what can be said in a straightforward manner.

And before you make any casual comparison to other leaders, living or dead, you had better be damn sure of your facts.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

The Candidate: That pre-writ lit.

Sunday, April 12th, 2015

Part 2 of our series for Canada’s federal candidates.

There are many arguments about the literature required by candidates in the pre-writ period (the time between being chosen as the candidate and the election call being official). If the Prime Minister decides to wait for the chosen date of October 19, you can expect the writ to be issued, at the latest, shortly after Labour Day, allowing at least 36 days for the election period. There will be new rules in play for this writ period.

Since the rules are lax in the pre-writ period, some people spend a lot on communication. Most of this is a waste of money. The reality is that you only need two printed pieces in this period and the rest of your communication can be concentrated in social media.

The first piece is the candidate’s card. These are handed out and left everywhere by the candidate. They should be of just good enough quality that people will not automatically throw them in the garbage—you want them to read it first. They can be as simple as a two-sided business card and as elaborate as a slightly larger version that is folded.

The key information on the card is 1) the candidate’s name, 2) a contact number that will be operational for the entire campaign, 3) the political party and 4) the name of the electoral district. You might also show a small map of the riding if it has been changed.

Stay away from trying to include any policies or trite slogans. You might start thinking now of seven words or less that explain why people are voting for your candidate instead of any other. Do not hold up producing the card waiting for the answer.

The second piece is a candidate introduction. This is the one time that the literature really is about the candidate. It should never be an eight-and-a-half by 11 two-fold piece. It has to be something of substance. Think light card stock or heavy glossy paper. And be sure to write the copy first. Designers are not always good copywriters. Make sure there is room for all the copy. One of the best designs is like the Time Magazine cover with two inside pages with a grouping of stories about the candidate’s career and community involvement. The back page is all the contact, volunteer, donations, lawn sign, etc. stuff and do not forget to cover all the social media and other Internet sites.

This is also the time to build and promote the candidate in social media. Use it creatively, use it well and keep it lively. Your people have to remember that half your followers will probably be too young to vote but they make great volunteers and have older siblings, parents and friends. The job is to get them interested, including their friends in the novelty of something different, and volunteering—do not be an old fogey!

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to peter@lowry.me

Babel media spar during summer’s dog days.

Friday, August 5th, 2011

The dog days of summer are actually rooted in the past but today it an excuse for the media to produce some really cornball material.  It is as bad on television as it is in newspapers.  They all act as though they have nothing to write or talk about.  It is getting so bad that one of the two chain newspapers that ill-serve Babel wrote an extensive editorial about its print competition.

Talk about the skillet calling the frying pan black!  This is the blunderer complaining about the incompetent.  The Torstar publication, a free distribution grocery and furniture store wrap, the one we call Babel Backward, ran an editorial by Torstar Chairman John Honderich.  Entitled Accountable to no one, the editorial complains bitterly about Sun Media, owner of the Barrie Examiner, quitting the Ontario Press Council.

The Ontario Press Council is near and dear to the Toronto Star which helped create the Council.  It has made Torstar look good over the years while other people get to arbitrate when someone claims to have been wronged by the publication.  It cuts down on cost of lawyers to handle the law suits and usually resolves any incorrect utterance with a deep and moving apology.  And who cares?

Sun Media, the print media accumulation of Pierre-Karl Péladeau’s integrated media empire, has dumped all links to other media through such cooperatives as Canadian Press and the Canadian Newspaper Association.  It was very amusing to hear that one of Péladeau’s executive’s accused the Ontario Press Council of being ‘Politically Correct.’  It is hard to imagine Péladeau understanding what that term means.  It certainly does not apply to his flagship newspapers Le Journal de Montréal and Le Journal de Québec—publications that could make Rupert Murdoch blush!

What Péladeau is creating across his media empire is best described as editorial anarchy.  Conrad Black, no matter how much we hated him, at least brought a level of discipline to the newsrooms when he owned newspapers.  Talking to one of the few real reporters at the Sun Media outlet in Babel, we once remarked that the Canadian Press Style Book had stopped spelling a farmer’s plow or a snowplow as ‘plough’ more than 50 years ago.  He laughed and told us that the publisher did not care and the reporter liked spelling it the old way. ‘So there!’

John Honderich should try to read some of the sorry excuses for newspapers that Torstar produces across Ontario.  The newspaper industry is not dying because of the evolution of electronic media but because of the greed and uncaring attitude of the Canadian newspaper industry’s corporate ownership.

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All material in this blog is copyright © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Kai Nagata’s “mad as hell, and he’s not going to take this anymore!”

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

Kai Nagata meet Howard Beale.  Kai Nagata used to work for CTV at the network’s Quebec City bureau.  Howard Beale is fictional.  He was played by the late Peter Finch in the 1976 movie Network. They both have their rants.  Howard Beale’s rant was a one-liner.  Kai Nagata did not have an editor for his rant and it ran on for some 3000 words.

But if you think the Beale character was pissed, you should read what Nagata has to say.  Rife with youthful idealism, Nagata scolds both CTV and CBC for their management of what they think is news and their political biases.  He regurgitates all over the recent Will and Kate show on both networks and questions the gushing excesses.  You get the feeling that the subservient treatment of the royals was the final straw.

We were particularly amused by his comments about the clash of cultures between CTV News and its new Bell Canada bosses.  Konrad von Finckenstein and his Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) cohorts were warned of what would happen if they allowed the Bell Canada takeover of CTV.  This is just the start.

Regrettably, there is nothing really new in Nagata’s rant.  He only had about ten months in Quebec City and one tends to question whether he really had enough experience to be in that position.  His complaint about the sexualization of television reporters is hardly new.  Again we wonder if he felt he had somehow passed the sexual measurement by his bosses.

What Nagata complains most vociferously about is the directions of the Harper government.  While we can hardly disagree with him about that, we wonder what that has to do with his job in Quebec City.  The Quebec National Assembly will hardly be a front-line effort by CTV news while its friend Mr. Harper is running the country in Ottawa.  If anything, Quebec would be a good place to work and gain experience for that period.

The only concern in that last statement was something Nagata said in his rant that still has us puzzled.  He said about his posting to Quebec City that it is a good place to learn French.  We simply cannot believe that CTV News would send someone to report from the National Assembly who was not completely fluent in both Canada’s official languages.  Nobody is that pretty on air!

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Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

The Wondering World of Stephen Harper.

Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

It is unseemly for adult males to giggle but we recently read an op-ed in which a National Citizen’s Coalition apologist complained that Prime Minister Stephen Harper was no longer conservative enough.  It is important to explain that op-ed is newspaper jargon for opposite the editorial.  This has been the location which larger newspapers traditionally use for opinion articles that do not necessarily reflect the publication’s opinion.

Since we are referring to the Toronto Star, we can only assume that this is not the same opinion as is held by the Toronto Star editors.  Our very best giggle in the article was when the writer referred to the Fraser Institute as “a respected economic think-tank.”  Obviously the Toronto Star’s bureau of accuracy missed that typographical error.

But the article was funnier than that.  The writer assures us that Stephen Harper does not have some sort of a right-wing agenda.  He tells us that is the old Stephen Harper.  He introduces us to a new, kinder, gentler Stephen Harper who only wants Canadians to have the benefits of paternalistic conservative governments for ever and ever.

The writer denies emphatically that Stephen Harper has any intention of using his majority in parliament to embark on an ideological or right-wing crusade.  By this stage, the writer had this reader in paroxysms of almost wet-your-pants laughter.

He sees Mr. Harper as wanting his Conservative Party to occupy the “centre” or “moderate” political ground, a piece of real estate, the writer believes the Liberal Party once owned.  He fails to tell us how Mr. Harper could possibly find it.

A further bit of humour from this guy is that the Harper government will cut the deficit and balance the government’s books only, he assures us, if it can be done in a relatively painless fashion.  He notes that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has told Canadians that he can easily find $4 billion per year in savings.  Hell, what is $4 billion these days?

Mind you, he quotes some of those ‘thinkers’ at the Fraser Institute as saying the government’s plan will not work.  They say that drastic spending cuts are necessary.  They want “real and substantial spending reductions that either significantly cut programs or eliminate them entirely.”

Think about it.  These are the people who brought Stephen Harper to power.   We might not be in the majority these days but we can be proud we voted Liberal.

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Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

The speech and how to tame it.

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Why are people afraid of addressing an audience?  The most common answer to that is that they lack confidence.  In teaching courses in public speaking, we have seen the most timid person become a tiger on the platform.  All it requires is the time to show the individual what they can accomplish.

Mind you, the basics can be learned but it is application and practice that creates the really great speakers.  We learned how far practice can take a person from our late friend Charles Templeton.  Chuck got his early start from listening to the evangelists who came to Toronto when he was young.  He used to practice their styles in front of a mirror.  He had learned how they used words and how they used their bodies for emphasis   He would admit with a laugh that he really started out to be a cartoonist but found that it was much easier just to talk.  That confidence in speaking never left him, even after he quit the church, tried politics and found his niche in the media.

But confidence can be deceiving.  In making a brief presentation to city council a couple weeks ago, we were overconfident and did not do well.  People who watched on television said that it was fine but we knew we lost our place in our notes a couple times and we could have done better if we had practiced it a few times.

But we really prefer to write speeches than deliver them.  We learned very early in our career that we had a knack for being able to hear the person say the words in our mind as we wrote them.  It is also the way good dialogue is created when writing for radio and television or producing fiction.

The key to speech writing is to build on audience agreement.  You layer agreements through the speech, building acceptance of what the person is telling the audience. You structure the sentences to allow the audience to react to the speech at planned intervals.  You create applause points for example to enable the audience to react.

A person for whom we wrote a speech recently tried to change some of the sentence structure.  He was correct in his grammar but it was wrong for the speech.  We convinced him to use our wording.  He was impressed when the audience proved the point by feeling free to applaud at what he thought was the wrong way to end some sentences.

Good writing is not always a good speech.  Speech writers research the audience and then research the topic.  They know how the words are understood.  There are many examples of that.

Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream and he used heavy repetition to drive home his point in a brilliant speech that was heard around the world.  Abraham Lincoln told the audience at Gettysburg that few would remember his words that day.  Millions of American school children know he was wrong.  Marc Anthony told the Roman mob that he came to bury Caesar, not to praise him.  He lied.  He turned the mob.

A good speech is communication at its most basic.  It identifies with the audience.  It uses words that are easy for the audience to understand.  It employs emotion.  It challenges.  It motivates.  It informs.  It paints pictures.  It asks for commitment.  It is memorable.  It is visceral.  It shows leadership.  And you thought it was just another speech.

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Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

How to learn to love the microphone.

Monday, June 27th, 2011

The microphone is your friend.  It can help you communicate with large groups.  No matter how big your voice, there are audiences that are bigger than your voice alone can handle.  If you want to be a communicator, you have to learn to use the microphone.

The only problem is that most microphones you encounter in banquet halls, church halls, schools, community centres and other such venues are absolute crap. Even if the sound system is of the correct quality and design for the room and installed by an acoustical expert (rarely, if ever), that was two years ago and since then people have been intent on doing severe damage to the system.  They have no idea of the trouble they cause when they hit the microphone, run wheels over cables, play with the amplifier dials, randomly flick switches on and off and drop delicate speakers.  All you can do most of the time is hope the damn system lasts long enough for you to finish communicating what you need to say to the audience.

There is one solution that is practiced by professional communicators.  A professional comes early and checks out the system.  The professional asks that someone be there who knows how the system works.  A paid professional insists that someone be there to manage the system when in use.  Good luck with that.

If checking ahead is impossible, try to watch from the back of the room while someone uses the sound system.    If, for example, you hear popping, screeching, breathing and the voice tends to boom, the speaker is probably too close to the microphone.  That is a common error and is easily corrected by stepping back from the microphone and speaking over it, not directly into it.  And do not forget that the mouth is the most visible part of facial expression.  Do not let the microphone hide it.

And, for goodness sake, do not touch the microphone.  Only professionals use hand microphones.  Unless you are going to spend many, many hours practicing holding it properly, keep your paws off it.  You need both hands for your notes or full speech.  You need your hands for emphasis.

(If it is one of those cheap directional microphones—they are small and have a flat grill face—try talking directly into it from at least eight to ten inches away.)

The macho speaker who listens to previous speakers and claims they do not need that microphone is kidding nobody.  If they keep it up, they will do irreparable harm to their voice, lose all inflection and tone of voice for emphasis and annoy people in the front rows because of shouting at them.  It is a lose, lose, lose situation.

If you know it is a bad microphone, it is not the best course to see how fast you can talk and get out of there.  Many of these bad microphones—positioned properly—will do the job if you speak clearly and distinctly and enunciate every word.

It is critical that you only speak when you are looking at the oldest person (who is a little deaf) in the back row.  If you do not hold this person’s attention, you might as well cut your talk short.  You are not communicating.

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Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

You can have communication or speculation.

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

There is a line in the Paul Newman movie Cool Hand Luke when first the villain explains that the problem is a failure in communication and then, towards the end, it is repeated by the film’s star.  In the first case, the line is used as a replacement for an apology.  In the second use, it expresses hopelessness.  And a failure to communicate is both.

What some people do not understand is that a lack of communication from a person or organization says a great deal about that person or organization.  It allows others to speculate on their intent, motivation, capabilities, manners and fortitude.  The truth is replaced with rumours.

Some time ago, Babel-on-the-bay received a complaint that something we had written annoyed this individual.  The person told us that they did not have time to read what we write but someone had told him what we had written.  Since he failed to communicate what specific item was not to his liking (or his informant’s), we were left very much in the dark.  All we could do was thank him for his communication.  He had failed to communicate.

This is not to suggest that communicators will always win kudos for what they communicate.  There is still a tendency to shoot the messenger.

While we do not always listen to our own good advice, we do have some tips for the neophyte communicator.

First and foremost, you must always know your audience.  Woe onto him or her who takes the wrong approach with the wrong audience.  If you do not know the audience are you going to speak down to them or accidentally use words they might not understand?   A writers’ tool such as the Gunning fog index can help a writer by ensuring that you are communicating to as broad an audience as possible.

And if the audience does not know you, it is strongly recommended that you refrain from telling jokes.  Joking can get you in trouble.

If you have not been introduced in a way that emphasizes your authority with the subject, try to work in your qualifications (as modestly as possible).

Keep your communications brief.  Keep your sentences short.  Keep your paragraphs short.  Keep your items short.  Keep your speeches, newsletters and letters short. One, two-sided sheet of paper makes a reasonable length, general information newsletter.  Lengthier material will be set aside to be read later and never read.

In addition, stick to the subject.  There always seems to be that urge to stretch a newsletter with material that has nothing to do with why you are communicating.  And when you are done, stop.

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Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Let’s face facts about Canadian politics.

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

“I grew so rich that I was sent

By a pocket borough into Parliament

I always voted at my party’s call

And I never thought of thinking for myself at all.”

W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan (1878)

Little seems to have changed since Gilbert and Sullivan twitted the English about their corrupt politics during the Reign of Queen Victoria.  Canada has been mired in the same corrupted political system for almost 150 years.  Sure it has had some band-aids applied over the years but it has never had the thorough housecleaning that it requires.

We now have a Senate that is a permanent joke.  We have a Governor General who does what the leader of the party in power says.  We have created an imperial court surrounding and protecting that leader.  Through the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), we have concentrated the national news media into a tightly controlled and corrupt group of sycophants.

But the voters must share the blame.  Sheep to be shorn show more spunk.  We accept vicious and untruthful attacks on politicians.  We believe scripted and controlled news events that bear so little evidence of truth.  Party leaders used to go out to meet the voters and now they travel to avoid them and we allow it.  We, ignorant and uncaring, vote for the party without questioning the candidates.

In their sweep of more than half of Quebec seats in parliament, there were NDP candidates who did not even need to be in the electoral district to win.  There was one candidate where it was claimed if her constituents had met her, she would not have been able to communicate comfortably in French which is spoken by most voters in the area.

And absentee candidates did not happen just in Quebec.  It was claimed in the Toronto Star that one winning NDP candidate in Toronto was absent during the election campaign, running a campaign for another NDP, in another part of the province.

If we ever needed to point out what is wrong with Canadian politics, this recent election certainly makes the case.  Centralized political parties appointing candidates are preventing and discouraging the involvement of citizens in the political process.  The party hierarchies do no due diligence in terms of the quality of candidates to fill slots in those last throw-away electoral districts.  The quality of MPs elected is in the dumper.  Nobody cares as they vote for nobodies, thinking they are voting for the party leader.  We are willing to pay nerds, nobodies and ne’er-do-wells $157,000 per year with all expenses and a generous pension to sit in our parliament and pick their noses—and nobody cares.

The Canadian news media conglomerates, that are leading us by the nose, are greedy, lazy and uncaring and provide no insight for voters to help them assess local candidates or their leaders.  The news media print and broadcast spurious polls for their shock value as news, not their authenticity.  Media executives curry favour with those campaigns with the most money to spend and the biggest lies to tell.  The Toronto Star editorial board, the supposed last bastion of integrity in the news media, decided to screw the Liberal Party and in the process of their vindictiveness, screwed the Canadian public—giving us a majority Harper government.

There is much wrong with Canadian politics.  We need to do some fixing.

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Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

The news media are not your friends.

Friday, May 6th, 2011

One of the hardest lessons that political candidates eventually learn—the hard way—is that the news media have a job to do.  The media are not there to be helpful.  They are not there to report fairly.  They are definitely not there to be your friend.  They are there to earn their pay from their publisher or station owner or news service.  And you, you poor political postulant, are just another miserable gob of asphalt to be flattened on their road to earning their paycheque.

And every politician we have ever met has made the same mistake.  The only possible exception to that was Pierre Trudeau.  He despised news media people.  Maybe that was based on his experience in founding Cité Libre, the intellectual, left-wing publication created to attack the repressive regime of Maurice Duplessis in Quebec.  Trudeau never met a news reporter whom he considered his intellectual equal.

This was unlike Brian Mulroney who desperately tried to be one of ‘the boys’ with the media.  His uncouth language and risqué jokes made them uncomfortable, while making their jobs more difficult.  Those of us from the time of Diefenbaker and Pearson were used to a far more gentlemanly and respectful relationship.

The most strained relationship for the media is probably the one with Stephen Harper.  There is no relationship as he holds the media reporters in distain and at arms length.  He trots out his wife and children and plays the piano to try to appear human but the media people trying to cover this imperious prime minister know better.  It is the bias of those signing the worker-bees’ paycheques that keeps them in check.

The only problem is that there are fewer and fewer people doing the signing.  It is the greatest risk to Canada’s democracy today, this concentration of the media into fewer and fewer corporate hands.  Bell Canada for example, a body that cannot run a telephone company, now controls the dominant radio and television media in English-speaking Canada.  There is nobody reporting fairly on this worsening situation.

The only hope left to grasp for under these circumstances are the social media.  While you really need hip-high waders to slog through much of the blogs, tweets, posts and commentary of the Internet, there are truths emerging.  There are also scurrilous lies.  There are silly rumours and the compounding of errors.  As much as the social media are out of control, their anarchy is their strength.  Truth is no longer the only defence for slander—belief can become truth.  As many churches will tell you; if enough people believe, then it is true.

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Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me