May 2013

TorontoI was born and raised in downtown Toronto. As much as I love the West Coast (and I really do), Toronto will always be my hometown. I have been watching the saga of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford develop – or perhaps I should say unwind – for quite some time now. The most recent development added to the allegations of crack use is now rumours of one of the people in the video having been murdered. This sounds more like the plot of a made-for-TV movie than reality, but it’s real.

Not only has this issue (which I think has actually morphed into a full-blown crisis) created challenges for the people working at City Hall, but Toronto has now become the fodder for late night TV hosts – you can see Jimmy Kimmel’s take on it here. I have to admit, it’s pretty funny. However, from a communications standpoint, you never want to see your boss, client, organization or colleague mocked by the media. Keep in mind that it’s no longer just a few minutes of ridicule by Jon Stewart, Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon and others – it now lives on forever online. And I would bet there are now several investigative reporters digging further into this story – and others concerning Ford – and we will start to see a lot more in the next few days.

From a communications perspective, I don’t think I have seen many better examples of how not to handle an issue or a crisis. Start with the fact that it took Ford a week to respond to allegations regarding the existence of a video that showed him smoking crack cocaine. A week. That left a great deal of time for people to speculate on whether or not it was true – and the fact is, it’s human nature to fill in the gaps. If you don’t provide accurate information, people will create theories, speculate and come up with their version of what could have happened – which, after a few times of talking it through, starts to feel like – in their minds – what really happened.

When Ford did respond, he said: “I do not use crack cocaine.” He declined to comment on the video, which he said he had “never seen” or “does not exist.” Hmmmm… rather than come out and clearly refute crack cocaine use (using words like, “I have never used crack cocaine and will never use crack cocaine.”), he skirted around words. As for the video, if it’s true, he could have said: “Since I have never used crack cocaine, there is no possibility that the alleged video could exist.” Of course, had Mayor Ford just taken a drug test, all of this would have been put to rest quickly. But he did none of the key things necessary to effectively manage an issue or a crisis.

He fired his Chief of Staff and, yesterday, word came out from City Hall that two more senior staff had resigned – both communications people. That sends a clear message. I don’t know these communications professionals at all – not even by name. But I can tell you, in my experience, when one communicator leaves in the middle of a crisis, you start to wonder what is going on behind closed doors. When two leave – well, it signals something pretty big. I know the only reason I would leave during an issue or a crisis is if: a) the client was not listening to me at all; or b) I felt that my ethics or integrity were being violated.

In my next blog post, I will talk about what you can do during an issue or a crisis.

Read more

DSC_0175This is the second post in my “top communications lessons learned in New Zealand” series, and it focuses on the most fabulous Hapuku Lodge in Kaikoura. Kaikoura is on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island. It is a beautiful, rugged, wind-swept seaside area that I completely fell in love with.

Hapuku Lodge is a pretty spectacular place. However, today’s post isn’t about the lodge itself (but the lodge is worth checking out, believe me). It is about the two incredible people who run the lodge – Fiona Read and Chris Sturgeon. As amazing as the lodge is, they made our experience there so much more enjoyable and memorable.

Fiona is a bit of a celebrity in New Zealand – she was a favourite on the television show MasterChef New Zealand. She takes care of the food experience at Hapuku and her husband Chris takes care of the stay side. They make a great team. And without realizing it, they taught me a couple of important life and communications lessons during our brief stay with them.

Lesson 1:  Understand your audience/community/peeps.

I am an aspiring foodie and was thrilled that we had a cooking class – and even more thrilled when I learned that our teacher was Fiona. The class was just with Paul and I, and it was clear that I am no expert – but I am enthusiastic. Fiona completely read our interest and knowledge/experience level and she focused in on that. I was really interested in learning and Paul was pretty interested in eating. She balanced it out so that we felt comfortable and the information wasn’t too basic or too over our heads – so that the experience was enjoyable for us. That is an important skill and one that is often overlooked in the world of communication. It is important to understand what the people or person you are communicating with wants to know; don’t just focus on what you want to tell them.

Lesson 2:  Everything matters – especially the small details.

At Hapuku, Chris was very attentive to our needs without making us feel overwhelmed.  It was quite subtle really, but we were paying attention just like he was. Chris asked us about our wine experiences in New Zealand and what our preference was – and he provided recommendations for what we would like. When we sat in the lounge, which sits in my heart as a place of my dreams (I loved sitting there blogging with a glass of New Zealand sauvignon blanc, looking out at the beautiful landscape), he made sure the fireplace was just right, he checked in to see if the Internet was fast enough, and he brought us little snacks. He would stop by and check in on us at exactly the right time, without breaking our concentration on our blogging or discussions. The tree house room was perfect – comfortable, luxurious, fabulous – everything we could want was in that room.

The big things were there – fabulous scenery, beautiful lodge, amazing region – and if no one spoke to us at all, this would have been a good experience. The attention to detail is what took it from good to exceptional. For one small moment in time (well, 24 hours), life was perfect. And it was the commitment to the details by Chris and the Hapuku team that created that paradise.

The communications lesson: Sweat the small stuff. You can do big things well, but to be excellent, you need to make sure that you pay attention to the small things and do those well too. Freshly brewed coffee for client meetings, one final, solid proofread of a document, showing up on time – every time – sending thank you notes, checking in when you know a client is experiencing a challenge or an issue just to see how they are… They might seem small from a day-to-day perspective, but they have a huge impact.

Lesson 3: Be yourself.

This lesson appears to be the theme from this year’s New Zealand trip. Fiona and Chris are incredibly interesting, charming and welcoming. And what is most interesting and charming about them is that they don’t pretend to be anything or anyone other than who they are. They are down-to-earth, easygoing and incredibly professional (which is quite a balance, in my opinion).

I watched as they engaged with other guests, each other and with the Hapuku team. They didn’t shift out of one persona into another. They were authentic and that comes across. Hapuku is a luxury lodge, but they are inclusive. While they often have guests who are CEOs, rock stars and celebrities, quite often their guests are regular people like you and me who are looking for a special experience. Fiona and Chris treat everyone equally and stay true to themselves and to the lodge – which is an incredibly welcoming, comfortable, luxurious place to stay. Hapuku felt like we were staying at a close friend’s house (a friend who had an incredibly fabulous home!). That didn’t come from the design or the locale of the lodge – that came from the heart and soul of Fiona and Chris.

The communications lesson here: Authenticity matters. When you embrace who you really are, you will attract the clients/customers/guests who are right for you. 

Read more
%d bloggers like this: