Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Lo Pub: how small businesses can use Facebook in crisis management

A widely-reported brawl broke out on a downtown Winnipeg street outside The Lo Pub late Monday night. At least one of the participants reportedly had been in the bar earlier in the evening, but the altercation itself took place outside The Lo Pub's property.

Winnipeg media on Tuesday were all over the story, each time identifying the brawl with The Lo Pub.

For any of my readers unfamiliar with Winnipeg, stories of senseless violence and alcohol-fuelled acts of idiocy in our downtown are, unfortunately, not that unusual. So when people hear “stabbing,” “downtown,” and “The Lo Pub” together in a story, there's an assumed association between the three. The Lo Pub, the unaware reader might assume, must be another one of those violent places you’re not smart to choose if you’re just looking for good music without the thrill of danger.

The thing is, from what I’m told by my students and others who've been in recent years, it's not. I'm told The Lo Pub is a friendly, safe, comfortable place where young musicians are welcome to find an audience.

The Lo Pub's owner Jack Jonasson may not be a PR guy, but he has the right instincts when it comes to dealing with a potentially business-threatening situation like this one. Through his interviews with the local media he communicated key messages including the fact that the brawl didn't happen at The Lo Pub, that he hasn't seen a violent incident like this in the entire time he has owned it, and that he and his establishment don't tolerate violence. He also makes it clear that, despite all that, he will do whatever he can to prevent something similar from happening again.

So Jonasson deserves a tip of the hat for speaking to local media and getting his messages out there, rather than letting the headlines tell his story. But he didn’t stop there; yesterday, he backed up his messages in the media with a letter to the members of The Lo Pub’s Facebook group (at this writing, more than 1600 people), in which he reiterated his key messages and underscored his personal position against violence.

Here’s the message:

"Hey Folks,

As I'm sure most of you have heard, there was an incident outside the bar and off the property yesterday that culminated in 20 people fighting and 4 people being taken to hospital with non-life threatening injuries. I thought it prudent to start a dialogue with you all about it so that you can hear the facts from my mouth instead of some of the factually inaccurate reporting that has occurred today.

These people were patrons of the bar earlier in the night, but were not regulars or people that any of us have ever seen here before. They were here for a performance for an out of town hip hop act that was performing as a part of Mass Appeal Mondays, which is a weekly event that has been occurring here since December without incident.

Let me be clear that this unfortunate and horrible incident is unrelated to Mass Appeal, the promoters or performers of the evening. This was (from what I understand) a beef between two individuals that escalated to two groups of friends fighting OFF THE PROPERTY - an isolated incident. There was no indication inside the bar that anything was amiss - In fact, up until 3 minutes before the fight started, everything inside the bar was shaping up to be a great night - the atmosphere was light, people were having fun, and the music was great.

To say that what happened has deeply affected me would be a gross understatement. I'm not a violent person, and don't understand what brings people to the place where these kinds of actions are their only recourse for solving conflict. Why can't we talk about our problems and come up with a solution instead of resorting to violence?

For the two and a half years that I've been running this place, I've worked long and difficult hours helping to develop our downtown and this place into a safe, comfortable and inviting community for everyone that walks in the door, and I think we've done a great job. We've had two and a half years with no major problems, all while helping to support the music and arts community in Winnipeg in a way that few others are or can.

Unfortunately, for the time being we will be stopping Mass Appeal Mondays. As well, we will be assessing how we operate to ensure that this kind of incident or anything remotely close to it will never happen again.

I implore you all not to let the actions of a few troubled individuals change your perceptions of what we do here. We are committed to seeing the blood, sweat, love and tears that we've poured into this place through. This place has developed into a community, and I consider all of you my family, so when something like this occurs, it hurts.

This Thursday at 4:30, we're inviting all of you down here to show your support for this place. Come have a drink. Enjoy some of the delicious vegetarian and vegan food we have on our new menu. Meet with friends. Create some memories. Show those who fight violence with violence that there is a better way.

Jack Jonasson, Publican

Jonasson knows that he can speak directly to many of the people who support his and his employees’ livelihoods through his Facebook group. While interviews given to mainstream media may or may not reach the people who actually frequent The Lo Pub, Facebook offers a direct link to 1600 people who have volunteered to receive information from him.

Are they an interested audience? Yes.
Are they an easy-to-reach audience? Thanks to Facebook, yes.
Are they an audience that matters to his business? Absolutely.

If you look at the Wall for The Lo Pub's Facebook group, you’ll see comment after comment praising Jonasson for what he’s done with the establishment, and showing continued support for it despite the events of Monday night. In an email today, Jonasson told me he has received more than 200 emails of support from his community of customers since the incident.

I’ll be interested to hear how many people come to The Lo Pub on Thursday to show their support and their stance against violence; I have a feeling it’ll be a great turnout.

Student networking opportunity!

This afternoon, CPRS Manitoba is putting on a new event aimed at connecting communications students with industry professionals for some networking.

The free event, running from 5-7 p.m. today at the University of Winnipeg's Division of Continuing Education on the 18th floor of 275 Portage Avenue, is organized like speed-dating -- except that it's speed networking. Participating students will have a few minutes to visit with each of a number of working communicators, to introduce themselves and ask about their experiences, their jobs... and their advice on getting hired.

CPRS Manitoba's Acting President Shawna Forester Smith says it's not too late for communications students who may not have registered yet for this free event; just go to the CPRS Manitoba website for more information.

Not a student?

No worries! The CPRS Manitoba Spring Mixer follows the student networking event, from 7-9 p.m. at Tavern United Downtown. Come out and catch up with old -- and new -- friends.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Emotionally attached to your writing? Maybe PR isn't for you.

President Obama shares his hand-written edits
on a speech about health care reform
Photo by Pete Souza, courtesy of the White House via Flickr

In PR, we do a lot of writing – for a wide range of audiences, and many different objectives. We are skilled wordsmiths, who understand how to cast a message in a multitude of ways to make it persuasive to a multitude of audiences.

We’re experts, and our clients and employers reward us for that expertise.

Does that mean they always use our writing without making edits? Absolutely not.

Do their edits upset us or bruise our egos? Nope; or at least, they shouldn’t.

Don’t forget the client is the client

I once worked with a gifted writer who was tortured by the edits an internal client would make to his prose. He would work diligently to create beautiful pieces of writing that clearly and engagingly told a story and conveyed key messages, only to see them, as he perceived it, jargoned-up before they were sent off to press.

It seemed he’d be in a funk for days before he could shake it off: how could they? How could they take such excellent writing and strip it of its clarity?

Corporate writers should absolutely strive for perfection in their writing; they should absolutely be proud of their work. It’s their responsibility to debate ill-advised revisions with the client, in an effort to show why clearer, simpler writing is always the most effective choice.

But they also have to remember that their client – whether inside the organization or outside it – is the boss. The client decides what (s)he wants to say and how to say it. And, believe it or not, the client may actually know his/her own audiences even better than the writer does.

Young communicators sometimes worry that edits from a client mean they didn’t get it “right.” What’s important to remember is that some clients have pre-conceived ideas about how the final text should sound, and that the only way to get it perfectly “right” is to get inside the client’s head and write it from there. A text may be effective and lovely – but sometimes, if it isn’t written exactly as the client had envisioned it, (s)he’s going to change it. And oftentimes, (s)he should.

A boss I once had in the corporate world used to say “They pay me to give my advice, but no-one is paid to take it.” I think that’s a healthy way to look at professional writing, too: I’m paid to draft a text, but in the end, the client gets to decide what the final version will say. I’ll suggest revisions to the revisions if I’m welcome to, but always position them as “suggestions for your consideration.”

And if the client doesn’t use them? No worries. Hey, even Barack Obama’s speechwriters get edits from the boss.

Friday, March 19, 2010

How long is the media's memory?

For an embarrassing story: long.

This afternoon, the Winnipeg Free Press is running a story about a long-time Conservative provincial politician, Marcel Laurendeau, deciding to run for the Liberals in his old constituency of St. Norbert.

Laurendeau served as a Conservative member of Manitoba's Legislative Assembly for 13 years, ending in 2003. During that time, he played a number of roles, including Deputy Speaker and Opposition House Leader.

As I'm sure he'd hoped, the Free Press headline publicizes the newsworthy angle of his switch to the Liberal camp, giving him ink that opponents without his background wouldn't get.

But he has to pay for that ink with a visit from an embarrassing story from his good old days at the Leg: a short-lived "kidnapping" in 1992, which left him locked in the trunk of his own car on Pembina Highway until he could be rescued.

Eighteen years and a political career have gone by; but for Marcel Laurendeau, unfortunately, the story is just too good for the media to resist.

Now, courtesy of the good folks at wikiHow, here are some tips on How to Escape from the Trunk of a Car.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

CPRS Manitoba 2010 Social Media Conference

On Wednesday, March 24th, CPRS Manitoba will be hosting a half-day conference at Winnipeg's Hotel Fort Garry on "integrating social media into public relations and communications strategies."

The program promises a great line-up of speakers who'll share their own experience and perspectives, with panels on how social media is changing local news and how to leverage your social networks.

Speakers will include:
  • Keith Bilous, ICUC Moderation Services
  • Bruce Owen, Winnipeg Free Press
  • Glenn Tinley, Studio Publications
  • Curtis Brown, Endless Spin Cycle and Probe Research
  • Jason Hasselmann, New Media Now
  • Corey Quintaine, Kildonan Place Shopping Centre
  • Shel Zolkewich, Shiny Packages
  • Rebecca McCormack, Cake Clothing
  • Colin Whitney, Mars Hill Group
The conference will run from 7:30 a.m. to noon, and will be followed by the third annual CPRS Manitoba Communicator of the Year luncheon. This year's recipient, Clare MacKay of The Forks North Portage Partnership, will share her experience as the communicator behind The Forks' revitalized brand as an exciting destination for visitors and locals alike.

Click here for the event brochure. For more information or to register, check out the CPRS Manitoba website.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Red River College students making snoows

This week, graduating students in the program in which I teach, Red River College's Creative Communications, are presenting their year-long independent projects to a packed house in south Winnipeg's Park Theatre.

These presentations are an annual tradition in Creative Communications; but this year, there's a new twist: they're being live-tweeted by a quintet of first-year students using the hashtag #ipp10.

I wrote a guest post for the blog about this, and many of the ways our program has evolved to reflect the changing communications industry, this week.

If today's excellent presentations were any indication, there's a lot more in store for us Thursday and Friday. If you're in Winnipeg and have some time to be impressed, come down to the Park Theatre -- and if not, follow the event live on Twitter!

Friday, March 5, 2010

John Daly: victim or volunteer?

The Florida Times-Union ran a story this week about golf reporters asking the PGA to suspend larger-than-life pro John Daly. Daly drew the reporters’ ire when he tweeted the cellphone number of a Times-Union journalist who had written an embarrassing story about him, suggesting his fans call the reporter with their feedback. (The tweet has since been deleted, but you can see it here, on It's worth noting that a year ago, a libel case Daly had brought against the same newspaper was thrown out of court.

The story, titled “PGA Tour file of John Daly details his many breakdowns,” contains exactly what you’d expect it to, given the title. I won’t re-print the lead, partly because I don’t particularly want John Daly’s fans calling me.

Daly’s file is public record, so the information it contains is fair game. There isn’t a libel issue here; it’s just a case of a reporter making hay by exposing someone else’s weaknesses – certainly nothing new in the world of journalism.

So did John Daly just reach his breaking point, and lash out in retaliation against what he perceives as the unfairness of the system?

Or, was it just the kind of publicity John Daly wanted?

As it happens, this week also marks the launch of a new reality TV show on the Golf Channel, called… wait for it… Being John Daly.

The show positions the mercurial Daly as a man who has struggled with his own demons – using that struggle as the compelling human interest producers hope will attract viewers. Clearly, Daly isn’t averse to open discussion of his past; maybe he’s just averse to open discussion of his past in forums which don’t deliver ad revenues to him.

Bill Clinton is quoted as having said "never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel," meaning that journalists will always have the last word. And while social media has changed that dynamic somewhat (that is, the Internet gives us all endless opportunity to rant), it's still good advice: because you'll never do yourself any favours by picking a fight with a reporter (and worse, by making it personal).

But was Daly's tweet calculated to draw the ire of the reporter and with it, more coverage of Daly's own antics, to coincide with the launch of the show?

And if it was, was it worth it?

Time will tell.

(Photo credit: Florida Times-Union)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

To The Winnipeg School Division: the correct answer is "thank you."

Last week, when news broke about two judgmentally-impaired Winnipeg high school teachers apparently simulating a lap dance and fellatio at a pep rally, the story roared through both the social and mainstream media. It began with a short video posted to YouTube by a student who recorded it on a cellphone, and quickly garnered international media attention including coverage on Fox News.

In case you missed it, here's the video:

In PR class, we talked about how the school might have been well-advised to reach out to parents the very day the dance happened, even before being “caught” by the YouTube video, to explain that two staff members had made a very poor decision, to underline its commitment to providing a safe, comfortable and appropriate learning environment for their children, and to promise to deal with the teachers involved.

The foundation of good PR is a healthy relationship based on openness and mutual respect. Given this case, we discussed how one of the school's most important audiences, the parents of its students, might have appreciated the administration's proactive admission of the incident. Between the lines, such an act would have said "keeping our relationship with you healthy means more to us than the possibility of avoiding public embarrassment."

That doesn't mean parents would be happy to hear the news, and it doesn't mean parents would be any less outraged. But they would at least know that if something bad happened in their child's school, the school would have the integrity to come forward and let them know about it.

Yesterday, the Winnipeg Free Press reports, "school board chairwoman Jackie Sneesby refused to rule out punishment for the students" who posted videos of the incident to YouTube, since the school board has rules against the use of cellphone video cameras in school.

Sometimes, the rules should take a back seat.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m big on rules. I like making them, I’m more comfortable following them. I think they create order out of chaos; and I think that environments in which (reasonable) rules are followed can be more productive than those in which they aren’t.


This story hasn't shown The Winnipeg School Division in its best light.

1. It hired teachers who exhibit this kind of judgment in the first place, and put them in a position to set an example for Winnipeg teenagers.
2. It hosts the kind of high school environment in which at least some people feel this kind of dance might be acceptable.
3. It hosts the kind of high school environment in which this kind of dance can play out without any other responsible adult intervening.
4. It remains unclear what repercussions the teachers involved will face, beyond "suspension with pay."

Given all that, I’d advise The Winnipeg School Division to let this cellphone infraction go – and to clearly say so if anyone should ask. Yes, rules are important – but one of their key audiences, the public whose children they’re employed to educate, may legitimately feel that had these students not broken the cellphone rule, the teachers involved (and school administration) mightn’t have had to answer for the behaviour. And accordingly, that this sort of thing might have been allowed to happen again.

So, just ignore a blatantly broken rule?

Of course not. But there are many ways the school's administration could address the issue with students that wouldn't involve punishment for the "offenders," while making it clear that the rules exist for a good reason and will be enforced in all but extraordinary circumstances.

Today's Free Press story drew a number of comments from readers who felt the students should be punished because they posted the video to YouTube rather than taking it to the principal or the school board. Personally, I wouldn't expect high school students to understand the bureaucracy of the educational system; I think it entirely possible that from their perspective, the show was sanctioned by the administration since some of its "officials" (i.e. their teachers) attended, witnessed the incident, and didn't stop it. If that's the case, I couldn't blame them for thinking it was fair game for public consumption.

Opening the lines of communication with students could help with that, too. If school administration told them unequivocally that its door is always open in case of student concerns, it might find itself better-equipped to address future issues before they become PR nightmares.

Whistleblower or attention-seeker?

Today's story in the Free Press also bears a number of reader comments taking issue with the characterization of the students who posted videos to YouTube as whistleblowers, painting them instead as attention-seekers whose objective wasn't to expose wrongdoing at all.

Maybe they're right, maybe not... but it doesn't matter. The effect of the students' action was to bring attention to bad behaviour that hadn't otherwise gotten out. To punish them now could seem like retaliation for the public embarrassment, the blame for which rests squarely on the shoulders of the school no matter how you slice it.

If a whistleblower breaks the rules in exposing wrongdoing, an organization committed to the best interests of its audiences shouldn't concern itself with ensuring a price is paid for the broken rule.

Even if the whistleblower's motivation wasn't to blow the whistle, the correct answer is "thank you."