April – Touchdowns & Fumbles
FUMBLE: BLACK LIVES MATTER
A double-Fumble of late for Black Lives Matter, the protest group that has been staging occupations in Toronto to press its demands for more discussion and disclosure of information related to police shootings of black men. After an extended stay in front of Toronto Police headquarters, protesters took it up a notch last weekend by turning up at the north Toronto home of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. That was the point where the first Fumble was committed. Regardless of the organization or issue at hand, when a communications tactic (i.e. protesting at the Premier’s home) swamps the underlying message, the opportunity has been blown. As is always the case, the media focus and discussion by pundits immediately shifted from the issues Black Lives Matter were trying to highlight onto the propriety of demonstrating at a politician’s family home. Later in the week, Newstalk 1010 host Jerry Agar revealed a Tweet that had been posted on February 9th (and subsequently deleted) from BLM co-founder Yursa Khogali which said “Plz Allah give me strenght not to cuss/kill these men and white folk out here today plz plz plz.” Khogali has been unreachable ever since. BLM spokesperson Sandy Hudson went on CP 24, but refused to discuss the Tweet at all. “I won’t comment on it,” she said. “It would be besmirching the memory of Andrew Loku, of Jermaine Carby, and the people who have died in our community. This is tabloid,” she said. “It’s not public interest news. It’s not news.” Smart spokespeople are able to minimize discussion on points which are negative or detrimental to their organization – but having absolutely nothing to say about a matter that directly involves the co-founder of your group was a colossal Fumble. So was BLM’s whole approach to managing this issue. There is a time to take your lumps, and an on-the-record comment like Khogali’s is one of them: retract it, apologize, blame the heat of the moment and own the mistake. Otherwise, it will (and is so doing) continue to derail the messages you are trying to put forward.
FUMBLE: TRUMP TOUCHES THIRD RAIL
Abortion has often been called a “third rail” issue in political communications – one that, if you step on it accidentally, can electrocute your messaging (if not your entire campaign). That’s exactly where Donald Trump put his foot recently – and it might just prove to be the moment he finally went too far. It was during a highly combative MSNBC interview with Chris Matthews, but the mistakes were all Trump’s – and, frankly, they were rookie-level blunders. First, he didn’t have a clear, ready-to-go summary message of his position on the issue. That’s no-brainer table stakes for any candidate, of any stripe, in a U.S. election, since abortion is always an issue in at least one way, shape or form. But even more surprisingly, Trump himself steered his comments toward potential changes in abortion law given the upcoming congressional elections and the new vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. Matthews pounced on that with a line of hypothetical questions about who should face criminal prosecution should abortion be outlawed in the future. But instead of dismissing the hypothetical scenario with a ready statement of his position, Trump began grasping for hypothetical answers – first suggesting the woman should be punished, then later trying to point to the doctor. As the capper, the next morning he complained the exchange was edited and positioned out of context (it wasn’t). His already weak ratings with women voters have plummeted since. Just when you thought there’s nothing Trump could say that might derail his campaign, it looks like that third rail might indeed have been stomped with both feet.
TOUCHDOWN: ELLEN & THE BOSS
All of us in the marketing & communications space know the power of the celebrity voice. That’s why untold sums are paid out to the boldface set for endorsements, product placements and the like. But it cuts both ways, as the governments of Mississippi and North Carolina are quickly learning. This week, Ellen DeGeneres made a typically humourous but pointed statement on her daytime TV show about Mississippi’s recent passage of a law that outlaws gay marriage http://ellentube.com/videos/0-0wrxm7u9/. And then came this statement from Bruce Springsteen, announcing the cancellation of his scheduled concert in Greensboro, North Carolina: “North Carolina has just passed HB2, which the media are referring to as the “bathroom” law. HB2 — known officially as the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act — dictates which bathrooms transgender people are permitted to use. Just as important, the law also attacks the rights of LGBT citizens to sue when their human rights are violated in the workplace. No other group of North Carolinians faces such a burden. To my mind, it’s an attempt by people who cannot stand the progress our country has made in recognizing the human rights of all of our citizens to overturn that progress. Right now, there are many groups, businesses, and individuals in North Carolina working to oppose and overcome these negative developments. Taking all of this into account, I feel that this is a time for me and the band to show solidarity for those freedom fighters. As a result, and with deepest apologies to our dedicated fans in Greensboro, we have canceled our show scheduled for Sunday, April 10th. Some things are more important than a rock show and this fight against prejudice and bigotry — which is happening as I write — is one of them. It is the strongest means I have for raising my voice in opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards.” Many people may not have been paying much attention to these recent developments – but given the tremendous influencer status of Ellen & The Boss, that just changed immeasurably.