3/3 – Did earls underestimate the beef backlash? – How not to be them

Well, obviously.

And you may make a decision someday that will put your brand in the cross-hairs of an unknown enemy: the social sphere. You don’t think that will ever happen to you when you’re so proud of a decision, yet your brand may be next.

That’s the reality of today’s world of communication. You just don’t know.

See previous posts on this topic: Post 1 / Post 2

In the past few years, I have personally experienced this in projects I’ve managed. Fortunately, none have blown up as quickly and widely as this one has for earls.

And there is no template for how to do it better, yet.

earls did it right according to how today’s public relations, corporate leaders, and community leaders are taught and generally practice without issue.

They wanted to make a change they felt was fitting for their brand. After all, they have boasted “friendly” menu items for years, and have been expanding them constantly. This simply follows in previous steps they have made that have been welcomed by customers, as they can likely demonstrate with an improved bottom line.

A nearby example, Costco was recently celebrated for stating it would not be supporting the genetically-modified salmon for it’s US stores despite a recent FDA approval for the producer  – thus not supporting a US producer.

Canada’s trade deficit shows a massive drop in Canadian innovation and marketing

And let’s face it, with imports greatly beating exports in Canada, reaching a $1.9 billion trade deficit in February – earls is the symptom of a large failure to innovate and market over the past decade. The proof is in a nasty trend where an   all time high of $8.5 CAD billion was hit in January of 2001, and the decline began in mid-2010 to eventually hit a record low of -$3.7 CAD billion in March 2015.

Yes, that’s a $12.2 billion drop! 

It’s equal to  every Canadian spending $348 more  on non-Canadian products than on Canadian ones … every month. 



In short, there’s a simple template for issues management:

Knowledge, Action, Empathy

  • Knowledge explains what they know, why they know it, and if there is anything else you should know.
  • Action is what their decision is, why it is that way, and who’s involved.
  • Empathy expresses understanding of how it may impact  others.

earls did all of these through the site  they launched when they announced their decision to move to Certified Humane® beef. The site had a load of information, videos from the CEO, producers and documentaries. It included a Q&A section explaining many aspects of their lengthy thought process, challenges, and reasons why.

It didn’t matter.

Everyone had an immediate opinion without basing any of their statements on fact. Welcome to our world today.

  • What you  see is a series of opinions that are interconnected to weave a story that nobody controls.
  • It doesn’t matter who started it, and it won’t matter who ends it. The story broke the internet five days ago, and it barely exists today.

Welcome to the new news cycle. What you just read about earls in the past week was not news. News journalism, done properly (rare today due to extreme cutbacks) presents both sides of a story, with factual accounts that are verified to back up the sources.

That didn’t happen. And that’s the new norm for your business – whether you are on social media or not. Do not think for a moment you are immune to it.

Where did earls go wrong?

One of many memes passing around on the subject
  • Did they do focus groups or surveys to test their strategy and tactics?
  • Did they consider the growing Alberta-based movement to have Alberta-produced oil used in Canadian facilities?
  • Did they consider the recent decision by Loblaws to not sell French’s Canadian-made ketchup, which was ultimately reversed.
  • Was the reality that keyboard activists in Alberta – home to Canada’s largest beef market – have more time on their hands due to the recession in the province?
  • Did they consider the Alberta economy which is strained, and thus the people of Alberta are stressed?
  • Did they consider that the protectionism shown by US presidential candidates Sanders and Trump could be rubbing off through coverage Canadians see  in the USA or Canada?
  • Did they look at other certified methods that may closely resemble  Certified Humane®?

There are many more questions that they have answered, such as:

  • They have been working on this change for over two years!
  • The change meant switching to a Kansas-based producer (no mention of their previous producer.)
  • That they wanted to have beef that was free of many concerns that customers in  North America have pushed other companies such as Costco to provide better alternatives.
  • That they would consider a Canadian beef producer that met the standard they had decided upon, if a Canadian supplier was to become available.
  • That they were excited and proud of the change.
  • And as of today, they stand behind their decision despite the backlash.


What can you do?

Have a professional communicator as a trusted advisor on your executive team. They must be a graduate of public relations or communications, have over five years experience in issues management, and in cases like this, must have an APR or Masters in Communications/Public Relations and  be a member of CPRS or IABC.

Trusted advisor – This means when they talk, you listen…and don’t discount what they say. Experienced communicators won’t feed you BS. They’ll feed you what they’ve learned through real experience, tough education, watching current affairs, learning from  others through professional development, and  are not afraid to be honest (or as I say – hard truths). They don’t want the scar of your stupid decision on their resume.

A graduate – Using someone with no communications degree/diploma is a very bad idea. They must be a graduate of a reputable program. Among today’s graduates there is also the PRK exam which graduates can take, although this was only introduced in January 2013 and is not widely used by graduates, yet. Do not hire someone who has taken a course on communications – that is not good enough – that is the equivalent of one course in one semester. It takes at least a full year of intensive training to develop a public relations practitioner. They almost always have previously completed a degree or diploma in a related field. Do not use a marketing graduate or a human resources person to handle communications – most aren’t interested in the job, and if they are, they’ll suck at it.  A mass communicator is not a human resources advisor, and a marketing grad will struggle in crisis.

Experience – If you have an issue which could blow up, or you want to blow it up, you need someone who knows strategy and tactics. Tactics are learned and practiced in the early years working public relations.  Strategy is also learned, however, a practitioner will generally not get consistent experience practicing strategy until five years and onward. This is because they need to earn their stripes, and there are less  jobs in strategy which are generally at management levels, therefore, unreachable for a junior communicator.

As well, make sure the communicator hasn’t worked in the same sector or employer most of their career. We’re better if we’re passed around – as dirty as that may sound. When you move from one sector or employer to another, it changes your lens, and adds to your experience. It’s not unusual for a communicator with 10 years experience to have worked in five sectors and 10 positions.  (At 18 years into the business I have worked in nine positions and dozens of sectors).

Issues management is also a segment of public relations. It’s specific, and not every public relations graduate will get the opportunity to work in issues management in their career. To complicate it further, some public relations people don’t work in social media. If they don’t – do not hire them!

If the issues manager is a former journalist, their time as a journalist does not count toward the first five years – despite their smooth talking. (Sorry hacks to flacks.)

APR or Masters – If you are looking for a senior communications professional, they need a designation behind their name. APR is Accredited in Public Relations – it’s what I have – and it comes after a minimum of five years practicing (generally, most don’t enter until they have closer to 10 years under their belt), a rigorous  application and evaluation, an oral and written exam, and a measurement by dozens of their peers who already have an APR. A Masters can be taken at the start or middle of a career. Ideally, if someone has a Masters, they also have five years experience as well.  Masters grads  go through a load of extra education – so trust that they’ve seen lots to inform their decisions, much like an APR.

CPRS/IABC membership – Support this. Pay for their memberships.  Pay for them to attend professional development sessions and conferences.

The CPRS is the Canadian Public Relations Society and is part of a Global Alliance for PR and Communication Management (160,000 worldwide members). CPRS also issues the aforementioned  APR designation.

The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC)  is a competing society to CPRS and has 4,500 members in Canada.  They don’t currently offer a designation for members.

Pay – You’ll need to pay a communication person. (No, we oddly don’t like working for free, even though most of us start our first gig that way.) A junior starts at too low of a wage to survive, so they’ll be clearing tables on the side.  A senior communicator is upwards of $100k a year. They’re worth their weight in gold if they are a good fit for your organization. They also rank in the top 10 for most stressful jobs, so when they want time off – give it to them.  (They share the top 10 with firefighters, military, and air traffic controllers.)

Fit – Not every communicator will be a fit. We all talk a lot, get used to it. We do all have different personalities, education and experience. Some will fit for your organization perfectly, and others will destroy it. Find one that matches your values.

Respect culture and community – Culture can have many meanings. I prefer to use community. Communities can be within cultures, across them, or not have any culture replacing it with community. They can be groups we are part of, were part of, or communities we have lived in. Respect them, know them, and seek to understand them and their thoughts. Talk to them and listen to them. Do not try and change them unless you’re prepared to work for three generations.

Timing is important – I’ve had big announcements ready to go and pulled the plug last minute due to another issue that could develop and impact our announcement. Sometimes, I’ve waited months to setup the announcement again.

Current affairs – Keep an eye on the news, trends, statistics,  events, announcements, and even moon cycles. A good issues manager is one who wakes up on their mobile and goes to sleep with one. It’s sad, yet true – my wife hates my device.

Measure – You need to know what to measure and why to measure it. Spending money on surveys and focus groups pays off. It results in less issues as people will tell you about things you never thought about – despite years of time invested. You need to pre-measure to have a baseline, and post-measure to see results.

Statistics – They tell you about your communities. Who they are, what makes them tick, and what issues may impact them. Know them and know them well. Never stop adding to your stats.

Plan – I don’t doubt earls   planned this launch, it’s obvious they did.  You need to have an detailed communications plan that outlines everything, including warning signs to watch for if things get off the rails and what your plan for getting things back on track. And today, you may need your plan reviewed by other communicators outside your organization. I see the  need to start a support group for this!


I’m sure there is much more, and I’d invite my PR colleagues across the country to add their thoughts below.


Either way, there are lessons to be learned with every crisis. And for earls – they’ll be  wondering why they were the target of so much displeasure for years.

And as I develop my theory on today’s communications further, all I have to tell you right now is this symbol:

Fact Check – It’s in a Brand: Alberta Beef & Certified Humane®

A follow-up to my previous post:  Canada’s innovation left for greener pastures decades ago – and earls’ restaurant must die for it, today

As the #Boycottearls movement moves forward – I’ve been watching the misinformation unfold. As nearly everyone has witnessed, social media results in issues like this taking on their own life – one that may be filled with inaccurate information.

As a modern issues manager who has worked within social media communications for over a decade (yes, longer than Facebook) I have seen this pattern repeatedly   – and  with unfortunate results for those on the receiving ends of misinformed  memes and posts by ranters, trolls and others who jump on  the driver-less bandwagon.

Below, I’ll demonstrate how misinformed some of the trending postings on the topic are.



It's a brand too
It’s a brand too

Statement: Alberta Beef is it, I’m choosing to eat Canadian beef only

FALSE:  Alberta Beef…is a brand, just like Certified Humane®. Further, it’s not always Canadian. (that was all news to me)

From the Alberta Beef web site: “We know that some of the cattle are born and raised in other provinces before coming to Alberta for feeding and processing. Some cattle are born, raised and fed in other provinces before coming to Alberta for processing. A small number of cattle may come here from northern states in the U.S. These cattle may not be completely Alberta cattle, but the beef is still Alberta Beef.”

PS. Alberta raised beef (bought at a local butcher) is the most amazing beef I’ve ever consumed. There really is no comparison. Bought elsewhere, it’s most likely the branded Alberta Beef and isn’t quite as good yet is better than what I’ve found anywhere so far.

Update 27 May 2016:  Alberta Beef Producers says Earls ‘mistake’ cooks up new opportunities


Statement: Creekstone Farms – the producer chosen by earls for Certified Humane beef is Halal certified

FALSE – I could find no information on their site about this, and subsequent searches turned up articles from within the Muslim community that Creekstone Farms was not a Halal producer (2014 online discussion).

30 April – CORRECTION –  TRUE – Thanks to earls, who posted this document, Creekstone is Halal certified. I will note that this is controversial within the Muslim community as there is debate (2014 online discussion) over the  stunning  prior to throat slitting.


I’m not even sure why this matters – in order to eat a cow, it needs to die. There are many ways to do this. I couldn’t find any Canadian-specific videos on slaughter, however, here is a video demonstrating different types of slaughter. You’ll note the throat is slit or cut in various slaughter methods. (Yes, if you want beef on your plate, the cow must die for that to happen.)

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_aL94_10YE[/embedyt]

earls facebook post terrorismTo the idiot that suggested supporting Halal turns into   rainbows/unicorns/dragons and ends with earls   supporting terrorism: That’s  the only way I’d seen a cow killed until the video above, and I’m not a terrorist and never plan on being one.  Oh, and I think I’ve met many  steers that were smarter than you. Update 30 April: Chandler resigned from a Board  due to this post.


Statement: Certified Humane is available in Alberta

TRUE – earls has stated this on their Twitter feed  in the past few days. However, they also note there is not a supplier who can meet the needs of all of their restaurants  (soon to be 65 locations). They’ve also stated they are not boycotting Canadian beef, and that if supply changes, they will revisit in the future.


Statement: I’ll be taking my business elsewhere

TRUE: You will. Sadly, you’ll be eating non-Canadian beef, poultry, fish, vegetables, and other non-Canadian products there.  Just keep that in mind. I know this as I worked many years in restaurants  years ago – and our suppliers were sometimes all non-Canadian, or partly non-Canadian.

There are also many products we as Canadians excel at producing: lobster, wheat, apples, blueberries, and beef to name a few. That doesn’t mean that you’ll be eating Canadian produced items every time you put it in your mouth – that’s very difficult to do in some regions.

Despite our need for food, it is still a product which is marketed and sold globally. In fact, some producers in Canada would prefer to sell 100% to export markets as they get a better price (ya, we suck at supporting our Canadian producers.)

I would challenge you to order a meal at restaurants only if everything is born, raised and /or produced fully in Canada. You may get hungry quickly. You’ll also realize that we Canadians excel at certain products, and don’t make others. And that’s okay. Remember, we want to export more than we import – which we don’t currently.

In some communities, we would run out of food in  3-5 days as we import most of our food. “The reality is that we have about three to five days’ worth of fruits and vegetables on our grocery store shelves in Grande Prairie,” says Foundation CEO Tracey Vavrek, in the release of the 2013 Vital Signs report for Grande Prairie.  Mrs. Vavrek continued to say  “In the event that, say, our borders were closed, the region is closed off due to a disaster, or there is a global crisis, this study has shown that with planning and some added infrastructure, we do have the ability to grow the foods to feed residents around our region a well-rounded, healthy diet.”


Statement: earls doesn’t support Canada, so I won’t support earls

FALSE: From earls site where they explain their decision (this site was prepared for the announcement, not in response to the backlash):

Is all your meat and poultry from the US?  No, we source cage-free eggs from all over Canada and the U.S., use Canadian-produced pork in all of our restaurants and use local free-run chicken, Certified Humane where possible, in all our locations.


Final remarks:

The earls issue is a good one to bring about discussion. It’s not one that deserves you joining the #BoycottEarls movement, especially if you’ve believed any of the information you’ve seen that is false, or   if you believe  the restaurant down the street is serving all-Canadian products.

It is one that makes us all rethink our food sources   in a country that survives due to exports. We must realize in order for us to be competitive in an export market , we need to be market leaders through innovation and change, or we’ll lose out to an importer who beat us to the race just as Creekstone Farms did in this case.

One headline read “Earls decision a ‘slap in the face’ for Alberta ranchers, but some experts say Canadian beef industry dropped the ball

And that says it all.

Canada’s innovation left for greener pastures decades ago – and earls’ restaurant must die for it, today

earlsearls restaurant recently made a decision, after considerable time and effort, to switch their source of beef to a Certified Humane® manufacturer.

They made the announcement on April 27 at 9:01 a.m. on Twitter, which led people to this page which explained their choice in detail, and  as they note in later videos, follows previous decisions on sustainable sources for their food.

By later in the day, the restaurant faced a growing   backlash because their source was in Kansas. It was boosted by opposition MLA’s and MP’s mostly within Alberta – home of Canada’s largest beef sector. It’s a full-on frenzy now as the online community rants and leads an effort to  #BoycottEarls which has been trending in social media for 12 hours so far.  (I’ll note that it was very sad for me to see multiple Canadian politicians shaming a successful Canadian company  when many other non-Canadian companies don’t support Canadian industry.)

earls is a  chain restaurant with roots in Montana and a head office in Vancouver. It’s also a multi-national brand – meaning it has restaurants outside of Canada, and is targeting growth in the United States right now.

This was a photo from before the dress code change at earls in March 2016

In an odd twist, earls  restaurant has been hot this past year – undergoing a re-branding, and suffering due to a CBC Marketplace report about their sexist dress code.  As noted in that story, they weren’t alone in their dress code, something anyone has experienced if they eat at any number of food/drink establishments – and many would agree that earls dress  for their staff was less revealing than many others.

Regardless, earls met the issue head-on, and made a change to their dress code, and they did it promptly. Others have been silent.  The result was earls received negative and positive coverage as the issue unfolded.

I doubt earls expected the kind of beef they are getting now. Especially when the humans working their locations in received less attention.

I understand the backlash on the beef choice – they wanted to continue down a path of sustainable food choices as they have with seafood, and add  Certified Humane® beef to their menu in all countries their restaurant is in – while Canadians think it should be Canadian-made products  on their menu. That’s admirable. 

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sf-LSf0V3h4[/embedyt]

However, I don’t think they are being treated fairly, and here’s why:

  1. If you fly almost anywhere in Canada – you’re on a plane purchased from another country.
  2. If you use a mobile device – you’ve most likely purchased a product designed and created in another country.
  3. If you buy food   in a Canadian grocery store – you’re most likely to buy a non-Canadian product many times during your visit.
  4. If you buy a new vehicle in Canada – the chances it is made in Canada are slim.
  5. If you buy a television, computer, printer, picture frame, clothing, shoes, glasses, medication, a book, a hearing aid, or a toilet seat from a store in your town  – it most likely came from outside of Canada.
  6. If you are sitting on a chair right now – that’s most likely not from Canada either.
  7. The music you listen to, the cleaning products you use, the  make-up or hair product, and yes, even the gas in your vehicle – all likely from another country outside Canada.
  8. The newspaper writing the scathing story on  earls shameful choice for beef – also not Canadian.

This list would be huge if I continued. And with it, would come questionable health & safety practices, poor wages, and corporate welfare to get it all in front of you right now. Look around the room. Most of what you are looking at was made in ______________ country…but you can only put Canada in that blank a few times.

earls logoSo, why is that earls’ fault? Why should their reputation suffer? Why should you stop eating there? Why should their market share suffer?

Where were we when all of the Canadian-made products we used to have vanished? Why weren’t we throwing manure then?

Over my lifetime (40 years) “Made in Canada” has vanished off of labels. And NOW we have a problem with one restaurant that doesn’t serve Canadian made products?

What about everything else?

Why is earls to blame for bad trade deals?  Why are they to blame because they couldn’t find a Canadian company who was  Certified Humane®?

I think Canada has become a wasteland of products from other countries. Yes, everything we consume will either be dumped in our landfills, forests, or water at some point. Walk into a department store or grocery store…any store…and look around. Everything on those shelves will end up as waste eventually, most within weeks or days of your purchase. Most was not Made in Canada.

I’m glad that Canadians are finally angry about “Made in Canada” vanishing. When “Made in Canada” went,   our innovation left with it.

I can assure you earls is not the reason for our loss of innovation. earls has even stated this:  “We needed to source a Certified Humane® producer that could meet our supply. Steaks and hamburgers are among our biggest selling items and we have always used Canadian beef in Canada.
As our commitment to Conscious Sourcing grew, we made the decision that Certified Humane beef was important to us and started sourcing in Canada. However, after months of trying, we were unable to source a federally inspected, Certified Humane producer that could consistently meet our large supply needs.”

That’s not earls problem. That’s a pure example of the death of Canadian innovation – watching as the world surpasses us to open new markets – new ways of producing a product that is wanted by consumers. It’s also very Canadian of us to shame another Canadian company for being an innovator (Look up: Avro Arrow to BlackBerry).

If we want Canadian products from Canadian companies in our communities – we need to innovate so Canadian’s can buy Canadian products.

Instead, we’ll blame a restaurant for decades of market share leaving Canada for greener pastures.

That’s bull s#$%!

The 3 Stooges of Election Strategy #elxn42

(Disclaimer: I've never been a member of a political party or given a donation of money to any party in my life. I'm guilty of only being Canadian, voting in elections, and changing my vote regularly. Please save your name calling for the playground. The only thing I am is a political junkie.)

I don’t  care who you vote for, as long as you vote. It’s the easiest thing you will do  on Monday…and even the whole week.

Stooge 1: Steve Harper

Jim Prentice, move over. There’s a new person to take the top spot for the out-of-touch politician award. Good news, it’s you’re friend Steve Harper, and as a bonus, you didn’t hold the title for long!

Once revered for his crack strategic election strategy skills, Steve was left only with his infinitely worse performance in 2015, capped in the final days with Canada’s crackhead, Rob Ford.

This election, has been brutally ugly. Instead of focusing on issues such as the economy, environment, missing & murdered  women, clean water on Reserves, or the Senate – all top ‘o mind issues for Canadians recent months – it was about hair, race/misogyny, and pot. At least that’s how Steve saw it.

harper squeeze1
The “little deficit” non-verbal message sent social media into a feeding frenzy

The implosion has begun, meaning a change in government is obvious. Really, the final stage of political implosion has been incredible in the last days. Evil Australian strategist quits day one.  Marijuana the end of the world next  day, Crackhead Rob Ford paraded out the next.  Your former lawyer and lifetime Conservative throws you under the bus on the final day.

It all comes down to a simple reality – you were out of touch with your target audience, Steve.

Remember those immigrants you so deftly swooned in past elections? By attacking a piece of cloth on their head you took away their right to adapt to our culture at their pace while keeping their right to religious freedom. We’ve accepted religious & cultural clothing in our country since we became a country. Just as some obvious examples for you: toques (Canadian culture), balaclavas (criminal culture), and Hutterite women (religious clothing), Steve. Steve. Steve? What were you thinking?

Let’s talk about hair…said nobody in an election, ever! Barbers talk about candidates, candidates don’t talk about barbers, Steve.

Weed is not infinitely worse than tobacco. That statement is, and crack cocaine. Crack is infinitely worse if Rob Ford gets some. Rob Ford liked crack a lot this past year, did you watch any television or YouTube last year? He’s a bad weed, Steve.

You even took Alberta for granted, blaming Albertans   who just gave a resounding majority government to a party they chose by voting in an election just this year!  I’d love to hear what Jim has to say about the effectiveness of that tactic! Unusual  move, Steve.

What you oddly failed at, was strategy and tactics. You failed horribly at both, failing to appeal to nearly 70% of Canadian voters! You had lots of money and time to work with, and you failed at both. You simply could have been the agent of change, but instead you were the same ol’ Steve. I expected you to challenge for the win. This is shocking, Steve.

As a Beatles fan, Harper should have known money can’t buy me(you) love.

First lesson in media strategy: Don’t call them out publicly if you want them to write nice stories about you. A student in the first month of school for Public Relations could tell you that.  Buying the front cover on the last Friday before the election isn’t earned media, it’s paid media. People see through that. Dumb, dumb, dumb, Steve.

A history of elections in Canada shows us you really lacked a chance at winning. Canadians have expiry dates on governments and especially Prime Ministers. Only a few have made it past the decade drop-dead deadline. You now are begging for Conservatives to vote in the final hours, because they are jumping off the ship fast. Wikipedia knew. You should’ve known, Steve.

You can’t lie when facts are readily available. You just can’t lie. Didn’t work for Jim, didn’t work for you, Steve.

Lastly, when has an early election call worked out in Canada for the incumbent? The oddest part, you have won elections by opponents doing the same thing! Move over, Jim. Have a seat, Steve. You won!

Stooge 2: Tommy Mulcair

Your team planned only for one thing. A 37 -day campaign. Big oops, Tommy.

The whole English to French translation thing…we call them official languages in Canada. Well, you need to say the same thing in Quebec as the rest of Canada, as French is spoken in every province and territory, Tommy.

Mulcair seemed to struggle for words all campaign. Where were the zingers we saw in the Commons?

Seriously, Steve and you both pick on Justin’s hair, Steve’s hair is based on a Lego man, and yet you’re the hairiest guy and get no attention? Your facial hair covers more than a Niqab does! Should’ve shaved, Tommy.

If you want to build a bigger house, you need to shore up the existing foundation while building on. You forgot Quebec! Pourquoi avez-vous oublié, Tommy?

Speaking of that, where was your base this election? Your party is generally the hardest-working, most organized of them all. I’ve always been impressed with what this party has  done with what you have. We barely saw you in Alberta, a new NDP province. Why did you forget this new base too, Tommy?

Hire a communications team next time…if you did, don’t hire the same one again.  Your words sucked, and didn’t stick. There was no theme, no story, no consistent zingers. Words can take your heart away, Tommy.

Stooge 3: Justin Trudeau

What just happened? You were in first, slipped to third, and then flew to first. How did you do that, Justin?

Monthly Federal Polls
Reversal of fortunes – the polls were interesting to watch this election.

Here’s   some of it. You had time as a third-place party to travel and listen. You made it clear you did just that. Face time isn’t just an app,  people have an appetite for that. You executed  research perfectly, Justin.

You were prepared for any scenario. Short campaign, long campaign, loads of issues, no issues, good issues, stupid issues. Your team did an excellent job analyzing your research and compiling multiple scenarios for a campaign. They even dealt with a hairy issue with humour and strong communication. Kudos to them, Justin.

Your communication was timely, engaging, and authentic. You didn’t cross over a line, you didn’t miss a line to walk up to. Nobody ever came close to you, Justin. (Sorry to others if that hurts your feelings, but you know it’s true.)

This video showed how well prepared you were, to tackle even the toughest of topics. Most of us could not have done this without getting more emotional. Well done, Justin.

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rmrei-IDRtY[/embedyt]

The ultimate measure is about to come, and you nailed it in one interview.  “I’d love for you to vote Liberal, but I don’t even care as long as you vote.”  That was a humbling approach we didn’t see consistently from anyone but you, Justin.

You respected the media, took as many questions as they wanted to ask, and even cut out hecklers. The media didn’t side with you because they are left-wing and had a conspiracy. You allowed media to do their job, even if you didn’t like the topic in the final days. Democracy includes freedom of the press, and you demonstrated you were a real change in that area, Justin.

Your  next election won’t be as easy,  Justin.

Honourable Stooge: Elizabeth May

We only saw glimpses of you, and many were impressed. You spoke well,  and many people were impressed, Elizabeth.

Considering you had no resources and no huge team, pat yourself on the back for your debate  skills  (or when you weren’t allowed, your tweets). You should be proud, you were a breath of fresh air in an old boys club. Thank you, Elizabeth.


This election is a tough one to predict. I’ve said for years the Liberals were poised to win. Then, they appeared to lose support, which whipped back and higher in a big way during the campaign. All poll positions changed throughout the past year, with all parties holding a lead and losing it, and all leaders holding a lead and losing it, according to various polls.

Provincial elections, which often have only minor impact on federal elections, went in odd directions. BC Liberals won with NDP in second, a provincial  Conservative movement doesn’t even exist. PCAA won then lost to NDP in Alberta, falling to third after four decades in majority rule.  Liberals won in Ontario, something many didn’t expect.  The Liberals took back Quebec strongly. PEI stayed Liberal and NS went  Liberal from NDP which followed PC.  Others will go to the polls in the next year.

As I noted above, very few governments in Canada survive past 10 years. Canadians have an expiry date for governments. It’s a very set trend that only two   Prime Ministers managed to crack, the odd William Lyon Mackenzie King (1935-48, among other terms) and Sir Wilfred Laurier (1896-1911) with the record. Sir John A., Pierre  T, and Jean C. also made it by, but only barely.

It appears today, Steve H. won’t make that list.

Strategy wins, and strategy with tactics that connect win votes. This  is a popularity contest, and the person with the largest amount of popular vote will be the winner in their respective riding, and the party with the most riding wins will be the government. As Canadians, we will accept the results and move on with our lives, hoping their governing aligns with our values. The question is, will  their strategy and tactics fool us or match our expectations?

The Winners:

trudeau rally edmonton 9 sep

Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party  –  I feel with absolute certainty the Liberals will win the most seats by a margin of at least 10 seats.  My prediction could see them obtaining anywhere from a strong  minority to a very strong majority (and a resulting collapse of the Conservative and NDP vote).

Elizabeth May and the Green Party – When you  start an election with one seat and add any, that’s a win. The Greens have some base in PEI, NB and BC. I see them getting as many as a handful of seats across the country.

The Losers:

Harper struggled instantly with the Duffy scandal, the same types of scandals he promised to clean up
Harper struggled instantly with the Duffy scandal, the same types of scandals he promised to clean up

Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party – Their election to lose, and it looks like they will. My prediction ranges anywhere from them falling to 10 seats off the leading Liberals, to falling just a bit below the NDP to be in third, and realizing a massive collapse in support in the process. They’ve run a terrible campaign, a war of words with a horrible strategy and tactic deployment. They also ran with a leader who had run his course, which is also normal. (P. Trudeau, B. Mulroney and J. Chretien had the same ending…although their “fall guys” were J. Turner, K. Campbell, and P. Martin, respectively.)

Thomas Mulcair and the NDP – Failed to build on their base in Quebec, their only provincial base of Alberta, and failed to connect with voters. Their strategy lacked distance and focused solely on the Conservatives, while taking the Liberals for granted. My prediction is they will go from anywhere from second to third place. A shame if third, as they have made an excellent opposition.

I feel worst for Thomas, and bad for all who lose. Politics is an ugly business that people constantly say is lacking good leadership. Like all leaders, they get the worst attacks on them during elections, and it is constantly relentless. Imagine getting up everyday to see social media posts and media stories about how awful a person you are? Thousands of posts telling you are horrible. In reality, it’s likely Thomas, Stephen , Elizabeth and Justin are really people that most of us would like. However, because some of us attach ourselves so strongly to a person or leader, or we hate another leader/person so much, we spew  disgusting statements about the opposing players constantly. We forget, they are not only a person just like us, they are a fellow Canadian who is willing to take a beating for the most thankless job.

Regardless of the numbers, by the end of 2015, it’s likely this will be the way politics will look in Canada:

  1. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister, Liberals
  2. Unknown leader, Leader of the Opposition, Conservatives
  3. Unknown leader, NDP

The winners and losers  can learn a few things:

  • Develop multiple strategies for any way a campaign could go.
  • Tell the truth.
  • Be authentic and timely.
  • Don’t slander media. If you do, do it to their face and behind closed doors.
  • Positive beats negative, especially if negative is what you have to start.
  • Test your talking points, practice them, and repeat them. Make them your own words.
  • Hair is important only if it looks good.

Congratulations to all leaders, to all people who put their names forward to be a Member of Parliament, and to all people who worked to get our votes and worked at elections postings.

Very few  apply for the job and even fewer get a chance to serve. I commend all of you for running and to those that win, good luck! I can’t give you enough of that for what you’ll be expected to deliver.

Tactics Are Not Strategy

As I get more comfortable in my second stint as a marketing/communications entrepreneur I am realising that some people still don’t get it, and I gave them nine years to learn!

“I ran an advertisement and it didn’t work,” or “I used to print that and nobody wanted it,” are two common statements. While I smack my head, it is their head I should be smacking.

To me, it is fairly simple. Tactics are not strategy. That is, an advertisement – even a campaign of advertisements – is not a strategy, it is a tactic or a series of tactics. The blame does not rest with the advertisement placement, graphic designer, or advertisement media. It is often the complete lack of a strategy. The tactics just get the blame because the strategy didn’t exist or was poor.

Strategy in marketing/communications looks first at research, an analysis of the past, current and future, and the development of strategy. I often see “strategy” as a title and a list of tactics under this section – wrong!

Strategy is the big picture (0.5-10 years), or if you are dealing with me on some projects, the future picture (20-30 years out.) I’ll have your head confused on the latter.

Strategy is defined. It is focused. It’s measurable in real things (those are not “likes” however “likes” will get you there.)

So, when you are wondering why an advertisement, post, sign (my favourite) or media release didn’t work, please stop blaming those items.

A failure to plan, is a plan to failure. Focus on strategy and the tactics will come.

I did the math: It’s UGLY! An Alberta Post-Election Communication Analysis (PR politipost)

The NDP have gone from fourth to first, breaking 43 years of PCAA governments
The NDP have gone from fourth to first, breaking 43 years of PCAA governments

If it feels different, it is. For nearly 44 years the same party has held power in Alberta. Until now.

The NDP has won the rights to form a majority government in Alberta. The PCAA dynasty has come to an end.

Read that again. Let it sink in. This is a historic moment for Canada. Equality spreads its wings from coast-to-coast for the first time in nearly half a decade. Be proud that you have done, even though some of you absolutely hate this moment and are in complete disbelief.

When I moved to Alberta five years ago, there was a fear for voting anything but Conservative. I was told that by everyone around me. “Just vote PC.” “Don’t cross them, they’ll crush you.” “Is there any other party?” Those were the statements I heard. Every time I shook my head and looked at the flag to see if I was still in Canada or had moved to dictatorship North Korea?

I met many of the PCAA folks over the years. Many I would consider friends. I don’t blame them for doing what they did, they were exercising a simple human behaviour: retaining power. 

Voters rejected fear as a tactic on May 5. What Albertans really rejected – was a lack of sound strategy. 

It’s safe to say now that the PCAA was an old and tired group. They failed at following through the simplest of communication: Research, Analyze, Communicate/Execute, Evaluate.

Projection Front
Polls were nearly bang on. NDP majority, WR official opposition, and PC’s in third. The signs were everywhere.

The research was obvious for anyone – anyone who looked. Albertans were tired of paying the ultimate price every time the economy stumbled. They were tired of a constantly stumbling economy. They were tired that their government didn’t have their back, a government who couldn’t balance the books when times were good, and a government who made them pay more when times were bad (remember, employment insurance claims have risen 30% for two consecutive months in Alberta).

The analysis of data and comments on various social media would have easily shown voters were not happy, and they told you (PCAA) why they were unhappy. You failed to research, you failed to analyze.

Next, your communication sucked. You began with a pre-budget message to “look in the mirror.” Without considering many Albertans were selling their mirror to put food on the table. At that point, they even used that mirror to reflect the sun in your eyes in an effort to wake you up. You put sunglasses on and walked away.

The grimmest of handshakes
The grimmest of handshakes

You continued with a budget that punished Albertans who were already paying with wage reductions, layoffs, and various other cutbacks. At the same time, your party, known for having a hand in the pocket of corporate big-wigs (not unusual for a party in power for a decade or more), proved just that. You didn’t make corporations pay a Canadian discontinued penny, while the people suffering due to corporate mismanagement as well as your party’s mismanagement, had to foot a $1.5 billion tax/fee increase alone. You forgot those that line your party pockets only have one vote each (and 1% of the total vote). The rest (that’s 99%, since math is hard), were unhappy with your lack of research, analysis and communication – and they also controlled the vote.

Albertans wanted increased taxes, and you ignored their views. 44% of them told you. This is the same percentage that showed support consistently for the NDP in the days before the polls. That is no coincidence.

You failed at one large piece you took for granted. After decades of booms and busts in Alberta, you showed proof your party could not manage a government. People saw that, and gave up on you. That was after you gave up on them.

Here’s the hard truth. Albertans wanted a better government, and you obviously were not it. They chose Alberta’s future, and it doesn’t involve you. 


Next time, start with developing a communications strategy. It appears you didn’t have one this time. You had a series of poorly-executed tactics. It was ugly.

The evaluation was just as ugly. Your party lost this election all on your own. If you are shocked by that today, your party has an ugly future in Alberta. Research will show you that.

“I haven’t done the math yet,” said Rachel Notley. Well, when you do, it’s ugly. And partly because your communications strategy sucked.

Election results via the Calgary Herald


PR Politipost – Alberta Election

Disclaimer: I am not a member, nor have I ever been a member of any political party in Canada. I’ve not even donated to any party, ever. I have voted for all parties at some point in my life, red, blue, green, orange, rhinoceros purple, and independent grey. I could care less who wins this election. I think it’s more important to see improved voter turnout. I will admit, after many years of the same thing, change is always a good thing. This is an analysis of the way I see this campaign for the three leading parties.

We PR folk like to watch politics and elections closely. A good chunk of us work/ed in various government roles creating many of the words government officials and politicians speak. However, don’t ever believe we control politicians. We try to help them, and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Hence, governments change, and people choose a different path.

mathishard Edm Journal

The 2015 Alberta election, appears in pre-election, to be one of the most interesting in recent (pretty much what anyone working today)  would remember. After all, for nearly 44 years, it’s all any Alberta worker has known. Three generations of workers have only known the Tory dynasty. Crazy thought, eh? What else is crazy? The latest poll has the NDP at 44% support.

What’s different this election is the impact multiple recessions have had on the current workforce. I myself have worked through six recessions or slumps (early 90’s, mid 90’s, dot-com bubble burst of 2000, post-9/11, great recession of 2007, and again in 2015 for just Canada). This includes two in my five years in Alberta! To say the least, I’m kind’ve tired of being beat up each time, and I know I’m far from alone. 25% of my working years have been in a recession, and considering I’m just leaving my younger years, it’s had a much greater impact on me and others under 40 as we take the brunt of layoffs, student loan costs, cutbacks, bank fees, the rising cost of living and taxes.

For those younger than 40, they are getting tired of being treated like crap. “Times are tough” is never said to an executive who makes $16 million a year plus $32 million in options when he doesn’t do a good job and people – 10,000 of them – lose their jobs. In elections, we voters can send a message to politicians that “times are tough,” resulting in them being cut. If only we could take a shot at the executive.

That may be happening now in Alberta. On the other side of the spectrum, the lobbyists are trying to buy votes in any way they can. They’ve planted economists like Jim Mintz high in the org chart for advisors to the sitting government and even Wildrose opposition.

It appears that strategy is not working so well at a time when Albertan’s are forced to foot the bill of nearly all budget problems while corporations and their executives funnel cash from Alberta to the US and other countries – and executive’s blooming bank accounts. This reality is at the expense of Albertan’s who must foot extra taxes while government AND official opposition fight for no change in taxes for corporations.

Mix in the small story in the news this week that 761 workers were killed in Alberta so far this decade, and you can kind of understand that common folk are paying ultimate sacrifices while the elusive “man” walks away with full wads of our cash – and 761 lives. You could say, we’re paying the money to ensure executives (and double-double Mintz) get more money in their pockets. So, we’re running a corporate welfare program.

Check that! The middle and lower classes are running a corporate welfare program?! Wrap your head around that one! How socialist of us.

And, it appears, we’re done.

We voters want to cut the program, lower expenses, and reduce overhead. We also want trust and accountability. 

Enter the Alberta NDP. This is not appearing to be your typical NDP party. Known for supposedly destroying economies in other provinces, Notley’s Crue is pledging balance. They are pledging improvements for workers, incremental increases to corporate and high-income taxpayers, and an oddity in Alberta politics – protection of the environment.

Cough cough! Did I just hear environment as a leading issue in an Alberta election? I must be breathing coal-polluted Edmonton mountain air!


I can’t even believe I’m writing this. It all seems fake and unreal to me. Crazy Klein, Stubborn Stelmach, and Redfaced Redford all survived, but Prim n’ Proper Prentice may be the fall of the dynasty? To the NDP?


Sweetjumpingjimminyjeepers this isn’t the first time Alberta’s flipped!

The last four governments prior to the PCAA dynasty: Social Credit, United Farmers, and even the Liberal Party – all who held social values, and also ran governments for consecutive decades.

Math moment: Four governments lead us in 110 years of voting. My home province of Nova Scotia had 10 governments in as many years. Average governments last 11 years in Nova Scotia, but 27.5 years in Alberta. 

Here’s what the PCAA have taken for granted:

  • People under 40
  • Immigrants from other provinces that have voted for nearly every other party in their home province
  • Working people who they thought cared about the corporate executives
  • Their association to the Wildrose Party due to an almost complete merge and use of the same economic advisor Mintz

The Wildrose is another piece. While people quickly forget, they don’t easily forgive. The last election had an ugly end for the Wildrose. Then, a short time ago, a number of Wildrose defected and crossed the floor to the PCAA.

Voter newsflash: you are both now all one in our eyes (to be clear – you means the PCAA and Wildrose Parties.)

Cue the music from JAWS. And here come the NDP.

Spooky experiment + Scary policies for business + Not in this province + Risky experiment. We’re hearing it now…in equal tone…from…wait for it…both the Wildrose and the PCAA, oh, and even the federal Conservatives (after all, they lose Alberta, Quebec, and split the rest of the country – they are doomed.)

If you managed to stick with me through all of this, you now know why the NDP looks so refreshing, leading, and ready for a chance. They aren’t the same, but they are something Albertans are considering giving a chance at guiding our communities into the next decade. Honestly, I never thought I’d ever say that.

How have they done it? Their focus is on listening to the people under 40, people from other provinces that have voted for nearly every other party in their home party, working people, and those who see the association with the Wildrose Party. You can hopefully now see why they are looking so appealing to many Albertans – they listen to key groups. If I’ve learned anything about the NDP, I’ve watched them out-research any party. In this case, market research about their demographic, issues, and competition.

It’s what PR people have as their most important tool: research. It starts everything for us. Strong research, combined with proper analysis, planning and execution, almost always turns into results that meet goals. The NDP party has done that. The PCAA has not listened, not changed, and by running a terribly executed campaign, looks to fall on the sword. At the end of the formula us PR folk use, is evaluation. An election is an evaluation of a campaign.

I’ll be glued to the results on May 5. I love watching elections, analyzing every result and seeing Canadians exercise their right to vote. Take part, it’s the most important thing you can do as a Canadian, and thanks in advance for your decision, no matter what it is. You’re awesome, we’re awesome, when we vote.


Other links – including a couple examples of many implosions which are happening within the PCAA:

NDP Surge in final poll from Mainstreet + Second Story

Angie Klein, daughter of Ralph Klein, supporting NDP (weird video warning!) 

Very damaging blog from ex-PC minister (and very good education minister) Dave King. Says PCs are corrupt.

PC business donors want PC party to be elected: NDP

Spinning Public Relations – What is PR?

What is communications/public relations? Recently, another list came out that ranked PR as one of the most misunderstood jobs. Even for those who practice the trade, it’s difficult to explain. I’m not sure that any of my family knows exactly what I do. Somedays, I wonder what I’m doing – and that’s what I love about PR.

Last night, I saw a long-ago connection watching the Winnipeg Jets game (RIP Jets, was hoping you would’ve won the series.)

sheldon kennedy via Marjorie Dowhos Twitter 23Apr15
Left to right: Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Sheldon Kennedy. Photo: Marjorie Dowhos @marjoriedowhos (Twitter)

I worked with Sheldon Kennedy in my first PR internship at the NS Sport & Recreation Commission (Province of Nova Scotia) to coordinate his first road tour & roller blade across Canada called Are We There Yet? Sheldon, for those who don’t remember, was an NHL player who went public about being sexually abused by his junior hockey coach. He was and remains the face of victims of sexual abuse in Canada, and has done tremendous work in communities across the country since then.

My role was to coordinate the province’s welcome of his team and promote the visit with media. I prepared a briefing note for our cabinet minister, scheduled dignitaries, booked venues and equipment, posted advertisements, wrote speeches, prepared a media kit (news release, backgrounder, Q&A) and hosted three media events at different locations in one day. It took about three weeks in those days to plan that sort of thing (fax machines and even typewriters were used!)

It became one of my early experiences being part of something that was going to have an amazing impact on society, and I was simply back stage the whole time – also where I could hide the tears as Sheldon told his story to different audiences from children to grandparents.

Public relations is a role that connects society. It is embedded in the fabric of most information you see passing before you each day. While we are often called spin doctors, that title is reserved within the industry for those who practice ancient deceit and lies. I will admit we wordsmith, which we do for clarity and to ensure all audiences can understand our message – we generally communicate in grade nine language, even as low as grade six or completely in visual & audio. As I often say, “clear, concise, and consistent” and of course, timely.

PR people exist in business, non-profit, and government. Every role is different, even within the same office. I once worked in a unit that had one person who spent most of the time writing, another organized events, and I developed plans which pulled it all together and wrote speeches. There’s never a dull day in PR, as we are often reacting to something that’s behind schedule when we receive the assignment. Often, we see the worst of society, generally hate full moons, and have a very distinct view of politics, media, and societal issues. If you want an opinion with deep analysis, we’ll get your head spinning. Even my PR peeps say I get their head spinning, which I blame on my background in mathematics and likely a wink of ADD and a ridiculous amount of energy.

What is PR? Public relations (or communications, which is a more western Canadian and US term) is a mash-up. Event planner, brand developer, writer, coordinator, project manager, graphic designer, photographer, script writer, advisor, advertiser, sign designer, producer, issues manager, executive, director, social media geek, voice artist, strategist, videographer, coach, reputation manager, digital strategist, leader, media relations coordinator, marketer, publicist, actor, customer service leader, speech writer, spokesperson, mobile addict, researcher, and much more. We work hard, long hours, and are one of the first to get called when crap hits a fan or when they need somebody to do something that nobody else wants to. It’s also one of the funnest jobs in the world, the most stressful jobs in the world, one of those jobs that is either the least regarded or the most respected, and a job I love.

The below video was widely seen across Canada with the 2008 listeria crisis. Michael McCain later said that he kicked his accountant and lawyer out of the room, and listened to his PR person. The result? Maple Leaf Foods saw a rise in their share price, amid the beginning of a global economic recession. 

In the past week, I’ve done nearly all of those listed above as I cycle through a series of clients whose needs vary as much as the weather has over that week. The next time you see a PR person, ask them what they do for a living, and you’ll get a sigh before they attempt to explain it in one sentence. “We connect society to make it stronger.” – It only took me 18 years to come up with that, and I’ll probably not like it tomorrow.

Let’s Change How We Define Our Leaders

I believe greed is the current leadership in most organizations. There’s loads of fluff talk to get employees to fall into the trap. “Our vision is to make widgets the world needs to be healthy.” “We are providing financial freedom through environmentally-sustainable services.” Or the latest trend a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) such as “We will be Canada’s leading crap slinger.”

The reality is, while executives (those are the folks that are supposed to be your “leaders”) are only widely leading in one area. Too often, they aren’t smarter than you, they aren’t more caring than you about customers, they don’t even care as much about their job as you do. They only lead, in greed. Their total compensation – which by the way, you likely will never know, is the combination of several, sometimes dozens, even hundreds of employees salaries.

Want proof?

Look no further than Target Canada’s CEO who led the corporation to a disastrous start, middle, and end. Great job Gregg! Here’s $61 million in compensation. The remaining 17,600 employees got to split the $56 million budgeted for them (budget being a big word) which equals $3,181.82 per employee. Seem fair? Oh, and they were there to the end, dedicated to the company you destroyed and ran from faster than Usain Bolt. He’s currently a board member on The Toro Company and Retail Industry Leaders Association, because the latter really makes sense. (Source: Wikipedia 16 April 2015) Any one of the employees at Target Canada on the last day could have told you all of the things they would have done differently – the hard part for an executive such as Gregg to accept – they would have done a much better job then you!

Rich-Poor-2012 Pew
Pew Research, 2012

Leaders poor decisions make you pay. When a recession hits, you pay. When cutbacks are needed because targets they set weren’t met, you pay. When the dollar is low, you pay. When oil is low, you pay. When all of this happens together, you pay dearly. Meanwhile, they continue to get their pay and healthy bonuses while you struggle to make ends meet. That’s not leadership, that’s greed. And it shows as the rich getting richer, while the gap in between grows and the poor get poorer. There’s a reason you can’t get ahead, you’re not allowed.

We need to must change that!

I want to see more companies leading like the Gravity Payments in Seattle. Gravity’s CEO, a young, likely already wealthy leader, decided to share success evenly. He took a pay cut. Not a small one, a $930,000 pay cut! To some CEO’s this would be a week’s salary, but he was making $1 million. Now he’ll be making $70,000. Why?

“I really do view everything I do as a responsibility and seeing growing inequality and how it is harder to just make ends meet and live the normal American dream,” said Gravity’s CEO, Dan Price.


Responsibility? Growing inequality? Make ends meet? Live normal?

dan price gravity ceo

Dan Price is a leader. Leaders lead, they put themselves before others in a caring and thoughtful way. Hold Dan Price up high, because he also jacked his staff’s salaries to be a minimum of $70,000 a year. That’s the new minimum wage at Gravity. $70,000, no matter what job you do. Let that sink in as one employee cleans the sink at work.

Update 24 Apr 2015: Gravity seeing massive increase in new business and employment applications

So, the next time you are looking to work for a company, if their vision, mission, principles, BHAG or other fluff statement is missing a part about you as an employee, don’t bother. If you need to, set up your own business, and put people first. First your people, then you. Then you will see what success will look like – it’s a shared experience.

And make sure to read the About page on Gravity. You’ll see how important “our team,” “us,” “our reps,” and “community” are to them.

That is leadership. Every one of them is a leader, and that, has power! Let’s change how we define our leaders, starting now.


gravity-payments-teamHere’s some more information on Gravity and another great leader, Sir Richard Branson: