Born to broadcast

Everyone who has studied Canadian history has at least heard about the Family Compact, a ‘wealthy, conservative, [and] elite’ group that controlled the government of Upper Canada (Ontario) from just past the War of 1812 and up to approximately 1841 (though some historians contend their influence lasted into the 1880s).

I thought about the notion this weekend when I read about Astral Media’s proposed takeover of Standard Broadcasting (Greenbergs vs. Slaights).

And in fact, isn’t the Family Compact what this country’s broadcast media is all about?

It doesn’t take a William Lyon Mackenzie to see how our TV and cable conglomerates bear more than a striking resemblance to the well-placed Compact of yore:

  • CTVglobemedia – Thomson family which recently acquired holdings of the powerful though feuding Waters
  • Canwest Global – Asper family (relocated to UC) has gobbled up MacMillan and Co.
  • Rogers – of the eponymous cable dynasty
  • Corus – Western Canada’ Shaw clan – cable cousins to Rogers
  • Quebecor – M. Peladeau – much of the same but with a fancier suit
  • Astral – need I say more?

According to the Canadian Encyclopedia: ‘The compact, centred at York [Toronto], was linked by family, patronage and shared political and social beliefs to the professional and mercantile upper middle class.’

Not all of these scions are HQ’d in York, though many of them are (and virtually all are listed on the TSX). But collectively they have a huge impact (influence?) on the flow of news and information in this country. On how the public behaves and thinks.

As they say, the more things change…



Of pocket protectors and other little things

This June I’m leading a roundtable discussion at an upcoming PR industry conference. The subject is client relationships. So I’ve been thinking about what I can talk about and something happened last week that felt like a good starting point.

A client gave me a plastic pocket protector.

You know the kind: they fit into your breast pocket with a flap that holds it in place. Very Revenge of the Nerds or ’50s gas station chic.

And that one small act made my day, my week even. Now lest you think I am a total nerd (though I will admit to certain nerd-like tendencies), I’ll tell you why this had such a big impact on me.

A few weeks earlier, I was about to meet with this same client and noticed the pen in my jacket pocket leaked and left a huge blue stain on my shirt. Feeling a bit self-conscious I ran out to the mall across from my office, which, fortuitously was in sidewalk sale mode. And I actually picked up a decent cotton shirt for a good deal. I wore it to the presentation and mentioned my sartorial 911 to the client. He suggested I should wear a pocket protector and we all had a good laugh.

You can imagine my surprise the next time I saw him when he actually presented me with one. This got me thinking about the minutiae of life and how important they can be. They humanize a business relationship and imbue it with personality, wit and style. And we remember.

So that’s one point for my upcoming talk: Little things count big.

Now, I just need eight or nine more. Any suggestions?


A passage of rites

When I was a kid in Winnipeg and my family went out for a drive, the radio was tuned to CBW, which I found a bit dry and dull (hey, there was no music, no Edison Lighthouse). But even at a young age I recognized that grown-ups liked CBC’s ‘content’. And I thought maybe CBC radio is a rite of passage, something you grow into and appreciate when you’re an adult.

Which brings me to last week when I was lecturing on PR to a group of 3rd and 4th year students at the University of Windsor. I was curious how these young people found their news and information and did an informal poll in the class. Most said they didn’t read newspapers much, which is what we’ve been hearing. They used the Internet to find out what’s going on (and, surprising to me, was one of their favourite sites).

So what does this mean? At first it seemed like yet another example of the impending demise of print. Yes, and this time I’d seen it with my own eyes rather than reading about it in the paper.
But then it occurred to me, they’re tuning into CBC, at a much earlier age than I did. The method of delivery may be changing but the sources are staying the same.

And from what they said, they used social media for socializing (almost all of them blogged on MySpace or Facebook). For news they looked to MSM.

Maybe the newspaper industry has a chance after all. Sure it’s evolving. But that’s nothing new. When was the last time you heard, ‘Extra, extra…’ or read an afternoon edition? Maybe to these students reading the paper is like listening to CBC radio was for me: something you do when you’re older, a rite (or read) of passage.


No more fake IDs

I tuned into episode two of the CBC Radio documentary, ‘Spin Cycles’, a six-part series focusing on the often uneasy relationship between journalism and PR. I wasn’t crazy about the show concept when I first heard about it. For one thing I had my doubts about whether public relations would be portrayed in a fair light. And something else: as a PR person I like to work quietly behind the scenes and all of a sudden my profession is being given centre stage. (OK, maybe a milk crate on a street corner is a more apt metaphor.)

But I was pleasantly surprised. In a segment that talked about video news releases (VNRs) and TV’s insatiable appetite to fill dead air, the producer said that both PR and media should come clean and identify the source material. I’m all for that. It’s time for both sides to stop hiding. It could be as simple as a super that says where a visual came from. Or maybe a reporter discloses that a quote is from a news release.

About five years ago I had an argument with a senior colleague over this very topic. When she contracted a third-party spokesperson to promote a brand, she believed the media pitch should be sent out on blank paper, rather than company letterhead. The spokesperson would then have to slip in a brand reference whenever they could. I disagreed. I’ve always felt that ethical PR people should say who we are and what we represent up front. Then, it’s up to us to tell the best story we can and either sell it or not.

I feel the same about anonymous blog postings. If you don’t have the guts to say who you are why should I be interested in reading or believing your snipe, swipe, gripe or tripe? Put away those fake (or nonexistent) IDs and expose yourself (…but maybe not like that).