Warning: mysql_real_escape_string(): Access denied for user ''@'localhost' (using password: NO) in /home/boogie/public_html/blog/wp-content/plugins/enhanced-custom-permalinks/enh-custom-permalinks.php on line 224

Warning: mysql_real_escape_string(): A link to the server could not be established in /home/boogie/public_html/blog/wp-content/plugins/enhanced-custom-permalinks/enh-custom-permalinks.php on line 224

Warning: mysql_real_escape_string(): Access denied for user ''@'localhost' (using password: NO) in /home/boogie/public_html/blog/wp-content/plugins/enhanced-custom-permalinks/enh-custom-permalinks.php on line 225

Warning: mysql_real_escape_string(): A link to the server could not be established in /home/boogie/public_html/blog/wp-content/plugins/enhanced-custom-permalinks/enh-custom-permalinks.php on line 225

Warning: Cannot modify header information - headers already sent by (output started at /home/boogie/public_html/blog/wp-content/plugins/enhanced-custom-permalinks/enh-custom-permalinks.php:224) in /home/boogie/public_html/blog/wp-includes/feed-rss2.php on line 8
Checkmate Public Affairs | Blog http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog Wed, 28 Dec 2016 16:08:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.25 Did your gifts suck? http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/did-your-gifts-suck/ http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/did-your-gifts-suck/#comments Wed, 28 Dec 2016 16:08:52 +0000 http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/?p=477 I bet you got a gift this season that sucked.

Admit it. Maybe it was an ugly sweater, stinky perfume or a package of socks that made you smile, say “Oh, that’s nice” and promptly set it aside.

It didn’t delight you. It didn’t make your soul tingle in excitement. If we boil this down, the entire gift was entirely… ‘transactional.’ You received something, you thanked them for that, you moved on with life. Blah.


I’m sure you mean nice, but – we’re being real here. The only people who say “Its the thought that counts” are either the givers or the recipents of truly crappy gifts.

Now let’s take this one step further. How many cards did you open at the office this year, look at once, and promptly hang in your doorway to be forgotten about?

How many branded pen sets, or golf balls or logo’d polo shirts did you get this year that made you say “That’s nice” and promptly forget?

Anything with your logo on it is not a gift – it’s a promotion. What can you do that’s truly memorable? How can you truly delight someone?

The good news is that it’s not too late – because I can guarantee no one is expecting gifts in April or May.

Shared a drink with a client in the past? How about a bottle that’s nicer than anything they would ever buy for themselves.

Does an important colleague bring their family to an event each year? Work to get a really good family photo – especially a candid, when they don’t know they’re posing. Now blow it up and put it on canvas for them.

Did you send 1,500 template Christmas cards? I can guarantee 1,475 of them were smiled at and forgotten about. Take some time and write hand-written notes of thanks to 2 people a week and you’ll quadruple your impact.

What other ideas do you have? What’s the best ‘corporate’ gift you’ve ever gotten and what made it special?

http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/did-your-gifts-suck/feed/ 0
President Obama Drops a Time Bomb on Troubled US Hotel Industry http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/president-obama-drops-a-time-bomb-on-troubled-us-hotel-industry/ http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/president-obama-drops-a-time-bomb-on-troubled-us-hotel-industry/#comments Wed, 03 Feb 2016 16:24:17 +0000 http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/?p=465 Times are rough for the hotel and hospitality industry, and they’re about to get dramatically worse.

The next time you’re at an industry convention, shake the hand of the person on either side of you – chances are good that one of you may not come back.

The latest bomb with potential to rock the industry comes from the Obama administration.  US President, Barack Obama, has mandated that all employers with 100 employees or more must submit a detailed report outlining salary information on employees, broken down by race, gender and ethnicity.

The motive is a good one – Obama is attempting to bring transparency to glass ceilings and wage discrepancies.  While it’s a cause everyone can support, the practical implications will create a massive migraine for the hotel industry.

Let’s recognize a politically incorrect stereotype: hotels tend to hire ethnic minority females as housekeeping staff. The stereotype exists for a reason – people imagining a hotel housekeeper will think of a Hispanic woman, simply because very large percentages of housekeeping staffs actually are Hispanic females.

There are reasons for those stereotypes.  But whether those reasons are good or bad, hotels will be forced to admit that they have a very dramatic wage gap – not just on gender lines, but along racial and ethnic lines as well.

Hotel managers – if you were scared of TripAdvisor ratings, equal pay transparency will give you nightmares. (Click to tweet this!)

The tired old messages about “how we work hard to promote from within, and have equal opportunity programs” USED to be able to work.  Not anymore.

Let’s be blunt: when the media discovers that the local Westin/Hyatt/Marriott pays Hispanic women only 25% of what it pays Caucasian males, there will be devastating headlines.Businessman lay on the ground

Special interest groups will have renewed interest in ugly truths.  Conventions will relocate, either due to public pressure or out of a spirit of wanting to do the right thing.

For the hotel industry, the timing couldn’t be worse.  This is an industry that is on its back foot to start, thanks to the disruptive nature of AirBnB – which in only a few short years has become the largest ‘room-seller’ on the planet.  An entire generation of traveler is learning that you don’t NEED to stay in a hotel in order to sleep in a new city.

Add to that a completely useless worldwide travel advisory issued by the US State Department, thanks to the global threat of terrorism, and the headache stew just keeps getting worse.

Thankfully, there are some easy solutions.  The solution depends on which of the three groups of hotel providers you belong to.

The first pool of operators we call the denial pool.  Some providers are going to inevitably dive headfirst into that denial pool.  There can be no problem as long as they pretend there are no problems – after all, “people will always complain about something. Right?” Unfortunately, you can say goodbye to those hotel operators first, because they’re about to discover the pool is empty. That headfirst dive will result in a broken neck.

Then there are the ‘mushy middle’ providers who are afraid of the results.  Some will send out internal memos.  Some will craft tone-deaf denials.  Some will do everything they can to obfuscate, bury and hide.  These are the ones paying SEO firms to bury Google results (with only limited success) and suing third party review sites.

Then there is a third group of providers – a small, elite group – who recognize a dangerous opportunity for being exactly that. An opportunity.

Really smart providers are going to get out in front of this as soon as possible.  If the numbers are ugly, they’ll have put some genuine thought, and crafted a response as to why.

Elite operators will be making plans to sit down with stakeholders and third party groups, so that there are no ugly headlines.  It may hurt, but relationships will be strengthened and alliances forged, despite harsh realities.

The next 18 months are going to be ugly.  But the saving grace is that you can see it coming.  What are you doing to get ready?

http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/president-obama-drops-a-time-bomb-on-troubled-us-hotel-industry/feed/ 0
Introducing CrisisTether http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/news-release-introducing-the-worlds-first-crisis-communications-insurance-program-for-traveltourism-companies/ http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/news-release-introducing-the-worlds-first-crisis-communications-insurance-program-for-traveltourism-companies/#comments Wed, 06 Jan 2016 16:16:20 +0000 http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/?p=460 (Hey folks – thought you may be interested in the news release we sent out)


‘CrisisTether’ helps tourism providers with fewer than 500 employees.

January 6, 2016

KITCHENER, Canada: In what many may hail as a sign of the times, a crisis communications firm now has a solution that addresses one of the scariest problems for tourism providers – damaging headlines and bad publicity.


“The global tourism industry is a mess right now. Recent terror attacks have made consumers nervous. The US State Department has issued a nearly unprecedented, totally useless worldwide travel advisory,” says Checkmate Public Affairs President Jeff Chatterton. “The global tourism environment is ugly and confusing.”

“Large tourism providers have resources to handle moments when things go wrong in a scary environment. But small tourism operators are forced to suffer with negative headlines, rumours, or angry stakeholders,” says Chatterton. “We grew tired of seeing that suffering. So we created CrisisTether to make that expertise available to smaller operators, too.”

CrisisTether takes advantage of group purchasing, using a model similar to the mutual insurance industry. Hundreds of tour operators will band together and each pay a tiny monthly fee. Members get 24/7/365 access to a crisis communicator who is familiar with not only the travel industry, but also their unique business.

In the tourism industry, things will go wrong. It’s not a case of ‘if,’ but ‘when.’ And when something goes wrong, whether it’s a terror attack, a vehicle accident, a volcanic eruption or a propane explosion, members receive immediate advice on what to say, to whom, and how. In the event of a truly serious situation, members can even choose to have a professional communications consultant fly to their operation, without additional fees.

For a small tourism provider, having this level of resource available to them is industry changing. “The old way meant that when a crisis occurred, a small business owner needed to launch an expensive marketing campaign. Bookings would drop, and the owner merely hoped the business could survive. Hope is not a solution,” says Chatterton. “CrisisTether members will get world-class expertise right away, and won’t be charged a dime extra.”

“Our members know two things,” says Chatterton. “First – no matter what, we’ve got their back. Secondly, there are no hidden fees or invoice surprises.”

Checkmate has partnered with eTurboNews, the world’s largest tourism trade journal. CrisisTether members will receive access to a nearly unlimited supply of news release, social media and public relations tools in the event of a crisis.

The flat-rate monthly fee will include everything – the 24/7 access to a dedicated crisis communicator, access to the eTurboNews news release platforms and social media tools, and in-person, on-site assistance. For the vast majority of CrisisTether members, the monthly rate will be $349.

The $349 price was not without internal controversy. “I initially wanted something higher, admits Juergen Thomas Steinmetz, the Publisher of eTurboNews. “I was concerned we may be giving away the store.”

“There’s a possibility that we may have to raise rates slightly in 6 months,” said Chatterton. “We feel the value equation is lopsided in the consumer’s favour. But this is new. It’s a different and unique concept for the travel industry.”

Steinmetz says the product should be appealing to a broad range of travel companies. “It simply makes way too much sense. If you’re a hotel, if you’re in ground transportation, charter flights, tour guides, adventure travel, you name it – this is brilliant. CrisisTether manages the unforeseen, but with consistent and guaranteed costs. This way an operator can focus on growth, versus merely crossing their fingers and hoping bad things never happen.”

For more information about CrisisTether, including how to apply, visit www.crisistether.com.


For more information, contact:

Jeff Chatterton, President
Checkmate Public Affairs
+1 519 513 1053

http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/news-release-introducing-the-worlds-first-crisis-communications-insurance-program-for-traveltourism-companies/feed/ 0
Opinion: Why a Worldwide Travel Alert is Useless http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/opinion-why-a-worldwide-travel-alert-is-useless/ http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/opinion-why-a-worldwide-travel-alert-is-useless/#comments Tue, 24 Nov 2015 00:22:20 +0000 http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/?p=455 The US State Department has issued a nearly unprecedented “worldwide travel alert” for Americans amid concerns that terror groups are planning more attacks after the recent Paris massacres.  But a worldwide travel alert comes with a massive, giant problem.

It’s useless.  Absolutely, completely useless.

The State Department is warning you about absolutely nothing, and absolutely everything, all at the same time.  The alert is not location specific.  It’s not event specific.  The alert does not instruct Americans to avoid travel.   It ‘urges vigilance when in public places or when using public transportation.’

The alert doesn’t even warn traveling Americans.  If a traveler hasn’t heard about the Paris massacres in the mainstream news, it’s highly unlikely they’ll bother to look up travel warnings from the US State Department.  Put frankly, that ship has long since sailed.

So in the absence of anything specific, essentially the alert says, “be careful if you’re outside.  Or maybe sometimes inside, too.”

In other words, it accomplishes absolutely nothing except create a lot of very frantic headlines as the world media frantically pump out byline after byline.  It will attract nominal attention from a bored public, who will then file it under ‘ignore’ since it provides zero useful information.

It has no legal standing.  Travel insurance is not cancelled.  Flights will still continue, hotels still accept bookings, and tour groups will still take pictures of old landmarks while eating overpriced ice cream.

So it may be worth conceding the travel alert has served one purpose. At least now, someone at the State Department gets to feel important because they warned the public about…. well… something.


There are so many ways to improve upon a worldwide announcement that listing them would take hours.  But at the very least, offer specifics.

The current alert manages to create a laundry list of recent attacks without any hint as to regions of the world that merit more attention than others.

I’ll be the first to concede the next attack could happen in Brussels, or it could happen in Burlington, Vermont.  But if there are concerns about a specific area, it is irresponsible not to mention what those concerns may be.  As it currently exists, this is an alert about air.

Creating an alert about everything and nothing at the same time really only accomplishes one thing – it desensitizes the audience you need to reach when you REALLY need to reach them.

Much like the fable of the boy who cried wolf, a weary public will simply ignore future travel warnings.

So there may be a second, and highly unintended purpose here.  By continuing to create useless warnings, that purpose will be to sacrifice innocent lives for the sake of bureaucratic and political expediency.

http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/opinion-why-a-worldwide-travel-alert-is-useless/feed/ 0
There are precisely two ways to end negative headlines http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/there-are-precisely-two-ways-to-end-negative-headlines/ http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/there-are-precisely-two-ways-to-end-negative-headlines/#comments Thu, 29 Oct 2015 20:25:57 +0000 http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/?p=451 Checkmate Public Affairs ran an informal survey on LinkedIn recently, asking 1,000 tourism officials to identify their biggest concern. It’s heavy stuff… the ‘biggest concern’ question is interesting to ask but scary to answer, and we received a range of scary answers back. We had answers citing everything from disgruntled employees, currency devaluations, terrorism concerns to TripAdvisor ratings. But the most common issue cited, regardless of nationality or business size, was ‘negative headlines.’

‘Negative headlines’ are scary for a bunch of reasons. No one likes to see their name in the news for the wrong reasons. Bad stories hurt revenue, bookings and sponsorship. They negatively impact employee morale and goodwill.


Scary headlines are pervasive. Obviously, we’ve all seen them. Any business leader has a collection of stories starring crazy customers or crazy circumstances. But no matter how whacky the circumstances, every damaging story out there has something in common – how to finish it. As wide-ranging as ‘negative headlines’ may be, there are still two ways – and only two ways – to kill a damaging story.

But first, slow down there, Skippy. Before you start to sharpen your story-killing hatchet, it’s important to recognize what type of negative story you’re dealing with.

The first type of story is factual. No problem. That negative story will end because the situation that caused it has ended. Period.

Your region hit by a hurricane? The hurricane has moved on. Therefore, it’s the end of story. That’s it, that’s all. You can all move on. There’s nothing to see here.

Ahh – if only it were that simple. In our experience, only about 5% of negative stories are fact based. Granted, it’s confusing, because 95% of stories START that way. But here’s the problem – stories evolve. When a story evolves, it starts to collect emotions.

When emotions enter the story, that’s when they go squirrely. The microsecond that emotions walk into a room, facts go out a window.

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 12.18.47 PM

It’s shocking how many business leaders have a mythical hope that as long as they don’t have, cause or create a negative situation, there will be no negative headlines. It’s fairytale thinking – “as long as nothing bad happens, we’ll be fine.” It’s also laughably naïve and downright dangerous.

These second phase stories are ‘sticky’. They don’t wash off easily. Whether it’s a product recall, a manufacturing flaw, a privacy breach, a lion attack, or an employee doing something stupid… these headlines boil down to an inescapable fact of life – crap happens and sometimes, people will blame you for it. You may not have done anything wrong, but unless you’re prepared to address the emotion that goes into the allegation, you’re dead in the water.

These ‘sticky stories’ only exist because we allow them to. There are multiple opportunities to kill these stories, but it’s shocking how many companies choose not to. And the reason they choose not to? It’s because they mistakenly assume that an emotion story is a fact story. They wrongly assume they can kill the story by answering facts.

Put simply – if you’re a mayor caught smoking crack, you cannot make headlines go away by simply saying, “I don’t smoke crack cocaine.” There’s a whole bunch of questions you need to answer – and quickly.

Similarly, if you’re a tourism destination under threat of volcanic eruption, it’s not going to be enough to simply point out that your region is in a safe area.

Even if you’re not asked, it’s time to get into full on ‘security blanket’ mode. It’s your job as a communicator to start answering the unasked questions that people are afraid to ask. When did you know? How can you tell? How can you be sure?

Brainstorm all the scary ways your message can be received, and start answering THOSE questions.

When you answer the scary, sticky questions, you do a ju-jitsu move on your opponent. There’s nowhere for fear to live. There’s no room for conflict to grow.

In the absence of conflict, watch the anxiety disappear, watch the media get bored and move on, and watch the tourists come back in droves to see the cool volcano.

It’s awesome and powerfully effective – but it does require thick skin and brave corporate leadership. You cannot get away with ‘half-answers’ in a high-risk environment. But if you’re prepared to answer the tough questions by being open and honest, it’s impressive how quickly you can turn the ‘horrifying’ into the ‘has-been.’


http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/there-are-precisely-two-ways-to-end-negative-headlines/feed/ 0
Great Idea, Bad Execution http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/great-idea-bad-execution/ http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/great-idea-bad-execution/#comments Mon, 13 Apr 2015 15:04:32 +0000 http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/?p=444 Brussels Airlines has launched an international ‘image makeover’ campaign in an effort to disassociate Africa from the horrible headlines regarding the Ebola virus last fall. Unfortunately, they forgot the most important part.

(Brussels Airlines serves a number of destinations in West Africa that were originally affected by the Ebola virus.) The campaign is a fantastic, well-intentioned effort and the concept deserves applause. But the campaign falls apart as soon as you get to the title.

Can you see the problem here?


The first rule of an image rebrand – don’t directly tie yourself to the one thing you’re trying to shake off. Do not take the very worst thing associated with the product you’re working with, and highlight it.

This is simple math. If the point of a campaign is to convince people to ignore 1% that’s wrong and focus on 99% that’s good – don’t focus on that 1%!

Imagine if Coca-Cola developed a “Coke is not sugar-water” campaign. Is it ever going to happen? Of course not!

The Italian Tourism Commission will likely never create “Sicily is not the Mafia.”  Just like Canada won’t launch “Canada is not REALLY cold.”

Every time “Africa is not Ebola” is introduced, it cements two words together – Africa, and Ebola. That is a marriage that an airline servicing Africa really does not want to see.

Africa is more than Ebola. Africa is vivid, full of life, laughter and culture. So the job of any savvy marketing professional is to move the audience away from the scary and into the good.

There’s no denying that is a tough job. Ask potential tourists why they won’t book an Africa trip, and they will inevitably bring up Ebola.

But simply inserting the word ‘not’ in there does little to blunt that negative association. In this title, the word ‘not’ is easy to forget. The words ‘Ebola’ and ‘Africa,’ aren’t so easily ignored.

Negatives are memorable. Negatives are vivid, and stark, and scary, and a stake in the ground – but they’re the stake in the WRONG ground.

Need further proof? Quick – name the most memorable political quote in the last fifty years. If you’re American (or even if you’re not), chances are good you identified one of two: “I am not a crook,” by Richard Nixon, or “I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky” by Bill Clinton.

Negatives are vivid, they’re memorable, and they’re legacy inducing.

Skeptics can point out the statement is memorable because it’s true. They can point to the fact that Nixon WAS a crook, and Clinton DID have sex with that woman. Unfortunately, Africa still has Ebola. But do we need to remind people of that?

Brussels Airlines would have been far better off to focus on what they believe Africa is, rather than try to deny what it is not. Focus on what they want people to remember.

Develop a message like “Africa – More than Safaris.” Or, “Africa – the Friendliest People on Earth.” Or, “Africa- Fastest Growing Economies on the Planet.” Spend half-a-day brainstorming in a boardroom and come up with several slogans that are far more effective.

Need something that’s #hashtag friendly? What about “AwesomeAfrica?” I’m sure any group of people can develop something smarter than that.

But “Africa is not Ebola” is clumsy, and starts what is a long-overdue, and extremely well intentioned campaign by shooting itself in the foot.

What would you like to see here instead? What makes sense? What’s the best title to move people away from scary and into the good?

What do YOU think of when you think of Africa? What’s unique and compelling? How can we help Brussels Airlines – and African tourism in general?

The campaign itself is brilliant. It’s a fantastic concept. Some well-deserved kudos are in order to Brussels Airlines – with the sincere hope that they’ll accept criticism as constructive.

Are you interested in helping restore Africa’s tourism reputation? Chime in with your ideas in the comments section below. We’ll share your ideas with Brussels Airlines – provided they’ll still take our call.

http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/great-idea-bad-execution/feed/ 3
What I learned about innovation by staring at wood, wire and canvas… http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/are-you-stacking-innovations/ http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/are-you-stacking-innovations/#comments Mon, 09 Jun 2014 12:38:15 +0000 http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/?p=415 In just over 100 years, the airplane has progressed from a wood frame covered in cloth that could barely cover 200 feet, to long-range, supersonic fighters and bombers that are completely invisible to radar.  How do they do it?

They do it by building on the innovations of the creators who go before them.


The first airplane, the Wright Flyer, lasted a mere day.  Despite naysayers insisting that Orville and Wilbur were crazy, the Wrights persisted, and flew a piece of wood through the air.  The first flight was only 120 feet, but eleven years later, planes were doing robust aerobatics and shooting each other out of the sky.  How? Stronger engines had an improved ability to push stuff through the air.  What innovations are you ignoring because you’re not giving a ‘crazy,’ audacious idea enough thrust or momentum?

Then engineers twisted their thinking – they made better planes by going in a different direction.  They discovered that a metal body is heavier… but it allows a stronger wing.  A stronger wing means you only need one wing instead of two or three. Having one wing means the plane can fly longer, higher and faster.  That’s being innovative.  What innovations are you ignoring because you can’t see past the immediate detriments?

Planes grew in size, range and scope, to the point where long-range bombing missions could be launched from England into Germany.  But a limiting factor was weight.  Wheels were digging in, making takeoffs and landings dangerous and impractical. How did they fix it?  With the simplest of ideas – instead of one big wheel under each wing, they tried multiple, smaller wheels. Not only did multiple wheels help disperse weight evenly, it was dramatically safer – if a tire blew out, it wasn’t a catastrophic conclusion to your flight.  What changes to your business are you ignoring because you haven’t thought up with a simple solution?

landing gear

Changes within the history of aviation are endless.  Innovations were stacked on top of innovation. 

Jet engines made longer range possible.  Then mid-air refueling changed the way flight planners thought of range. 

Radar changed the way we defend our borders.  Then stealth technology changed the way we fight our wars. 

Improved materials, improved avionics and improved communication have dramatically changed the world of aviation.  But only because those innovations have been able to ‘stack’ on top of each other.

At the end of the day, the principals of flight are constant.  An airplane needs to generate more lift than weight, and needs to generate more thrust than drag.  That will never go away.  But to sit back and assume that you’re a competent pilot because you understand the principals would be laughable.  We don’t see biplane barnstormers getting ready to strap on an F-22 Raptor… they’d kill themselves.

So why is it any different for business innovation?  In the words of former US Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki:

“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”

Don’t sit back and a assume you’ve mastered your airfield… you’re one innovation away from being completely irrelevant.

And just to bring this back to our regularly scheduled topic of crisis communications, let me leave you with one haunting thought – if you thought you were prepared for a crisis in 2011, why on earth do you think you’re equally prepared today?


Are you REALLY prepared, or are you just putting your leather helmet and goggles on and getting ready to start up your biplane?


http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/are-you-stacking-innovations/feed/ 0
Role One – STOP Digging http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/role-one-stop-digging/ http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/role-one-stop-digging/#comments Wed, 14 May 2014 13:20:20 +0000 http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/?p=406 We’ve all been there. (Well – maybe we haven’t been exactly there, but, work with me here – let’s pretend for a minute.)

So you’ve stumbled.  Maybe you’ve done something stupid and made an insensitive joke on Twitter.  Perhaps you’ve been caught cheating, or maybe it’s something REALLY stupid, like telling your girlfriend not to bring ‘blacks to the games’ when you own an NBA franchise.

For whatever reason, you’re in a deep, dark hole, and your thinking is muddied by the chorus of condescension calling for your resignation, your firing, or even worse.


In the cold light of day, it’s easy to figure out your next move.  When you’re in a dark hole, it’s tougher to navigate your way around.  And perhaps because you’re confused, you’re upset, or you’re in denial, you’ll want to make the same mistake most people make when they find themselves in that hole – and keep digging.

Don’t keep digging.  It’s time to put down that shovel.

  • Costa Concordia Captain Francesco Schettino claimed he tripped and accidentally landed in a lifeboat, which then took him to shore.
  • Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, after an audiotape surfaced with him making racist remarks, claimed he is the victim in an elaborate blackmail sting, then proceeded to throw iconic star Magic Johnson under the bus.
  • Toronto Mayor Rob Ford loudly proclaimed his innocence, before overwhelming evidence forced him to admit he was lying.
  • Lance Armstrong appeared cocky as ever in a televised interview with Oprah, completely unrepentant.
  • Yahoo has a list of other infamous ‘non apologies’ worth checking out.

In all cases, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, people who until that point had been leaders within their community point to the flimsiest of excuses, and merely invite further scorn to fall upon them.  Its like they WANT to make things worse for themselves.

In many ways, the very act of attempted salvation is the act that dooms them.

Protesting innocence in a ridiculously feeble way not only tells the world you have no real plausible excuse, it also invites ridicule into the outrage.  It announces to the world “I’m a liar who will say or do anything in order to save my own skin.”

So what SHOULD you do?

Step One – Stop digging.  It’s self explanatory, but if you’re getting in trouble for saying stupid things, maybe it’s time to just stop talking.  Just for a few moments.  You’re going to WANT to jump to your own defense, and this is when you’re going to say something stupid.  I’m promising you – you don’t want to do that.  This is truly a case where sometimes not responding is the better course of action.

Step Two – As soon as you can issue a LEGITIMATE apology, jump on it.  What’s a legitimate apology?  It’s not saying “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

This is NOT the time to be defensive.  Acknowledge your conduct.  Acknowledge and empathize with why people are upset.  Express your emotional turbulence over what harm your actions have taken to a community (this is NOT the same thing as being upset because everyone wants you fired.)  Express your deep, legitimate and authentic apology for acting in such an irresponsible manner.  And if you can, make a meaningful attempt at compensation.

One of the best apologies I’ve seen in the last year?  Justine Sacco.  (Sacco unintentionally became famous when she made a grossly insensitive tweet about AIDS in Africa, then hopped on a plane.  By the time she landed, she had gained thousands of followers looking for her head on a pole, and she was promptly fired from her position as head of communications for a media company.)

In her statement, the PR executive said that she was in “anguish knowing that my remarks have caused pain to so many people” in South Africa where she was born and where her father still lives. “Words cannot express how sorry I am, and how necessary it is for me to apologize to the people of South Africa, who I have offended due to a needless and careless tweet.”

She added: “There is an AIDS crisis taking place in this country, that we read about in America, but do not live with or face on a continuous basis. Unfortunately, it is terribly easy to be cavalier about an epidemic that one has never witnessed firsthand.”

Sacco will, with time, be OK.  It won’t happen overnight, but she will land on her feet.  Conversely, one of the worst apologies of all time?  Rob Ford.  The list of jaw-droppingly bad errors he’s made in attempting to apologize is so long it’s easier to just link to a list.

Unfortunately for NBA fans, Donald Sterling is taking the Rob Ford route rather than the Justine Sacco route.

Step Three: Keep on listening.  A big tactical error Justine Sacco made was deleting her Twitter account.  She gained thousands of new fans on that infamous flight to Capetown, and when she deleted her account, she lost her ability to communicate.

It’s not going to be easy.  It’s not going to be fun.  But remember – you were the one who screwed up.  You brought this on yourself.  If people are going to vent at you, let them do it.  But when the temperature has dropped a few degrees, and the pressure isn’t so intense, this is a fantastic opportunity.

Simply showing that you’re a normal, polite, caring human being will be shocking enough to some people that they may become fans for life.

I’m not suggesting you need to wear sackcloth and ashes for the next ten years, but humility is a tremendously attractive trait in people, for good reason.  Let the anger die down, and use this as an opportunity.  If you’re convinced people have pegged you wrong, this is your opportunity to prove it, time and time again.  But don’t, under any circumstances, forget rule number four:

Rule Four: Don’t do it again.

The public is a TREMENDOUSLY forgiving group of people.  We as a society love the underdog.  We love the reformed alcoholic who can make good, or the truly apologetic CEO who can acknowledge his mistake and change his ways.  In many ways, that level of public anger is simply the public’s way of attempting to teach.  After all, why do you think we have the expression “It’s time we taught him a lesson?”

So make sure the lesson is learned.  Because an alcoholic can be forgiven one time – but if he’s caught in a gutter smelling of booze a year later, that trust is forever broken.  A CEO accused of bad behavior might be forgiven, but if there’s evidence you haven’t learned your lesson, they’re done.  There is no forgiveness on tap anymore.

Donald Sterling COULD have gotten out of this one.  But every indication I’ve seen so far says he’s far more likely to use Rob Ford as a role model.  He has long since used up your “get out of jail free” card.

There’s only one option left now – public opinion jail, where it appears he’ll be serving a life sentence.

http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/role-one-stop-digging/feed/ 1
Santa, West-Jetters, and Putting Points on the Board. http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/santa-west-jetters-and-putting-points-on-the-board/ http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/santa-west-jetters-and-putting-points-on-the-board/#comments Thu, 12 Dec 2013 14:58:26 +0000 http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/?p=382 If you’re Canadian, you’ve likely seen the Westjet video.  If you’re not Canadian, or you’ve been living under a rock (or an igloo… haha, get it?  Igloo?  Self-deprecating Canadian humour…) you can see the video here.  Be warned – you’ll need a tissue.

Not only is this a great, feel good story, it’s also brilliantly strategic, for a few reasons.

1)    It’s instantly viral
Who doesn’t love happy people?  It’s easy to share amongst your Facebook and Twitter friends.

In fact, sharing is the point, and Westjet doesn’t shy away from it: “In a social media environment, the sharing of it almost becomes the point itself: ‘Look what this company did, I find it engaging, I want to tell you about it,’” said Richard Bartrem, WestJet’s vice-president of communications and community relations. “It goes exponentially from there.”

2)    There’s a ‘standout’ factor.
When everyone in your industry is great, it’s harder to be considered ‘greater.’  Westjet does not have that problem.  They’re an airline, so by default, their competition sucks.

Quick – name an airline you like.  Heck – I’ll settle for naming an airline you tolerate (and this is coming from someone who is a Frequent Flyer with both United and American Airlines.)  Facts are facts, and right now, the fact is – people hate airlines.

This is a classic “when your opponent is drowning, you throw them an anvil” tactic.  Westjet’s primary competition right now is Air Canada… one of the most hated companies in Canada.  What’s the easiest way of making Air Canada appear even worse?  By at least appearing to be awesome.

3)    It’s reputational immunization.
What is reputational immunization?  It’s the act of immunizing yourself against a bad reputation.

Chances are good that for most of the companies you interact with on any given day, you’re neither hot nor cold about them.  They’re just – there.  They are part of the landscape.  You buy groceries, and you have preferred brands, but if your preferred brand of milk or peanut butter is unavailable, you shrug and buy another.   In terms of positive/negative scores, on a scale of minus ten to plus ten, most companies float around “zero.”

When a crisis hits, that company instantly dives into the negative.  Major food recall?  That peanut butter company now has to work very hard to convince consumers to trust them again.  CEO gets caught doing something unsavoury?  Same thing.   Major brands execute most of their ‘crisis communications’ planning on how to get back to the surface.  Once they get to surface level, they float there.

What Westjet has done takes public sentiment and parks them at a +5 or +6.  This is important for two reasons – a) people like to do business with companies that they like, sure.  That’s called Marketing 101.  But b) (Ready?  Here’s my main point:)


This is Westjet’s “Get out of Jail, Free” card.  It’s beautiful.

Remember – this is an industry that can lose millions in shareholder value for breaking a customers guitar.

The next time Westjet gets caught doing something stupid (and sadly, yes, it will happen), they get a free pass.

Imagine something stupid – like, stranding a plane full of passengers on the tarmac for 6 hours.  If this was United, Delta, or Air Canada, it makes headlines, and costs the airline a fortune.  But no, Westjet, can say “We feel awful that happened.  We care about our customers and don’t want this to ever happen again.”

And guess what – people are going to believe them!  It’s genius!

Westjet has already made that deposit in the credibility bank.  They’ve put points on the board.

It’s awesome, it’s brilliant, and kudos to the Westjetter who put it all together.

http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/santa-west-jetters-and-putting-points-on-the-board/feed/ 1
The tools may change… http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/thetoolsmaychange/ http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/thetoolsmaychange/#comments Tue, 12 Nov 2013 18:45:51 +0000 http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/?p=369 What’s one of the most damaging habits a crisis communicator can adopt?

Blaming the tools.

The ability to quell a crisis is a learned skill.  It’s a skill that has adapted and evolved over several thousand years based on the tools available, but at the end of the day, it’s up to you to use your tools effectively.

In the days of the cavemen, Grog would want to avoid war with his neighbor.  Not wanting to get into a fight with someone who’s idea of diplomacy involves stealing women and children, Grog would use a variety of sign language and verbal sounds to calm the neighbours down.

Early indigenous peoples would use smoke signals – which was a giant leap in technology.  The communication could now be broadcast over a much larger area.

Medieval troops used carrier pigeons, or signal lanterns strategically placed on hilltops.  When the Anglo-Saxons wanted to invade the Normans, the dance of diplomacy was dictated by the speed of communication.

As times change, the tools we use change, but the principals remain the same.  It’s up to a communicator to ensure the message they want to issue is received in the same way it was sent.  If you think you’re saying “I want to help,” and what they hear is “Screw you, Grog” then you’re not doing your job.  It’s a horrible communicator who blames the audience.

But it’s also a horrible communicator who blames the tools.

“How on earth can we pay attention to what millions of people may or may not be saying about our product?  It’s impossible.”  No it’s not.

“The Internet is full of idiots who don’t know what they’re talking about.  No one believes them.”  Yes they do.

“This is a horrible article because the reporter clearly has no idea what they’re talking about.”  It doesn’t matter.

True leaders have always figured out a way to recognize the limits of the environment they’re in and improve upon it.  It’s been happening since the dawn of time.

Case in point – I’m writing this on a plane, coming back from a business trip in Namibia.  I want to introduce you to Namutenya (the loose English translation is “Sunshine.”)  I met Namutenya when she was selling some wooden trinkets outside the hotel I was staying at in Windhoek.

(Me with Namutenya, holding an early version of email…  Sort of.)

The board she’s holding is the equivalent of early tribal email.  The coloured pegs would be arranged in a particular order, sending a message to the Chief of another nearby tribe.

Originally, when a tribal chief wanted to communicate, he would be forced to send a runner.  Perhaps the runner would mistranslate the message.  In an era where they relied on ‘tongue-click’ languages, a simple hiccup could make the difference between a marriage proposal and a declaration of war.  For the really important stuff, a mere runner wasn’t good enough.

So the indigenous chiefs created the pegboard system.  The handle was uniquely carved so the recipient could verify who it came from.  The pegs were affixed in place – the message was clear.  (At least it was back then – sadly, the ‘peg language’ has been lost to history – Namutenya couldn’t tell me if this particular board was a marriage proposal, a sales transaction or a weather report.)

The leaders of the day recognized the importance of communication, and taught themselves how to improve upon it.  Lives were saved because they improved their environment.

Namibian chiefs recognized that small misunderstandings blossom into crisis, and took steps to prevent that.  They were smart enough to figure that out and act on it – what steps are you taking?

Don’t just brush that off – what steps are you taking?  It’s not the crazy worst-case scenarios that will give you a headache.  It’s the hidden landmines that you really ought to have seen coming.

Need an example?  I recently sat down with an executive for a North American professional sports team – a big one. (We’re not talking Arena Football, this is one of the big four.)  He told me about one of their landmines: call centre staffers who interact with season ticket holders are typically recent college grads.  These are kids who, six months earlier, were more concerned about a keg party than a merger deal.  Yet they were the ones tasked with being the face of the organization, interacting with important business people who pay thousands of dollars for a season ticket. 

And what’s worse – they typically rely on ‘common sense’ to deal with unusual requests or upsetting situations.  That, friends, is a recipe for public relations disaster – he was using bad tools that didn’t have the proper skillset to calm fears or misunderstandings.

Don’t blame your tools if you can’t get the job done.  Facebook?  It’s a tool.  Twitter?  It’s a tool.  Smoke signals, college kids, pegboards, carrier pigeons, email, fax or singing-telegrams?  They’re all just tools.  If your audience isn’t responding, either figure out how to use the tool better, or use a different tool.

Maybe you feel your staff, “just don’t get it.”  Perhaps the people on Facebook are idiots.  Maybe your City Council doesn’t understand your request for a new permit.  Are your neighbours concerned about the nature of your business activities, or the smoke and effluent your facility creates?  Is a government agency simply not playing ball?

The tools change, but principals remain the same.  The questions come in faster and furious on Twitter and Facebook instead of via smoke signal – it’s your responsibility to start communicating just as effectively back.  Don’t blame the tools.

In fact, maybe it’s time to start blaming the messenger.  If you’re not achieving your fundamental communication goals, what are you doing to fix that?

http://checkmatepublicaffairs.com/blog/thetoolsmaychange/feed/ 0