Archive for the ‘Public Affairs’ Category

Digital Miscellany: Media vs Government / Speed vs Accuracy

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Following a week-long (yet far too short) respite in Baskerville country, and endless hours playing catch-up on email and my various feeds, several items caught my eye that further reinforced the good, bad and ugly of this wild west world of social media.

It would seem that not without a few scratches, scrapes and bruises are those who seek to both ignore and embrace the changing communications and media landscape emerging from the social media scullery. 

Case in point #1:

(h/t to the crisisblogger) So it’s not enough that we exist in a culture of misinformation defined by media democratization and fragmentation, immediate electronic delivery and increasing “sensationalism”, but now it appears the Wall Street Journal has decided to throw caution and, quite possibly, common sense to the wind:

According to the story, WSJ managing editor Robert Thomson recently outlined in a memo to staff his new vision around breaking news: “A breaking corporate, economic or political news story is of crucial value to our Newswires subscribers, who are being relentlessly wooed by less worthy competitors. Even a headstart of a few seconds is priceless for a commodities trader or a bond dealer – that same story can be repurposed for a range of different audiences, but its value diminishes with the passing of time. 

“Given that revenue reality, henceforth all Journal reporters will be judged, in significant part, by whether they break news for the Newswires.”

 Without question, traditional journalism is in the fight of its life. And for most traditional media outlets any hope of emerging unscathed (or, in some extreme cases, even staying afloat) as the digital tsunami rolls ashore is clearly folly. Brutally translated, however, what this edict says to me (despite assurances that might be made to the contrary) is simply this: the need to be first will henceforth trump the need for accuracy and context.

Case in point #2

As with the good writers at the Torch (who also offered up some useful tips for engaging with bloggers), I too applaud Conservative MP and parliamentary defence secretary Laurie Hawn’s foray into social media engagement, specifically his recent response to a posting by Ottawa Citizen Journalist and Defencewatch blogger David Pugliese (You can read Pugliese’s take on it here, and Hawn’s comments here - and below).

Just noticed this silly piece and, although I know I shouldn’t do this, I can’t help it this once.  Like a lot of jouranlists, Mr. Pugliese is not averse to being selective with facts and context, so let me add what he forgot to tell you.  My question to VAdm McFadden was in response to an earlier question from one of the opposition members who implied that the CF was ill-prepared to react effectively to an airspace incursion at the Olympics, similar to what we had seen in the North.  VAdm McFadden knew exactly why I was asking the question and it was intended to show the ridiculous nature of the opposition member’s suggestion.  Since Mr. Pugliese is selective with his facts, one should be equally selective in using him as a source of truth and accuracy in journalism.  As for the other inaccuracies in some of the contributions, I’ll let you labour on in self-delusion.  Rage on, my friends.”

It’s juicy stuff, and perhaps – per the comments via the Torch writers – a tad heated. That said, I’m all for journalists and bloggers being held to account for what they write. Moreover, to see our elected officials engaging in the conversation is something I’d like to see more of. My hope is that the outcome of this doesn’t scare such folk away.

The critical learnings: 1) If you’re going to play in the sandbox, get your facts right and be prepared to back them up. As a trained journalist, Pugliese appears to have done his homework. And I trust that he has (although I’ve not read the transcript in question). Can the same be said for Hawn?  2) When you jump in, be prepared to swim. Should Hawn feel obliged to answer every question thrown back at him by Hawn. I’m not so sure, for a variety of reasons. However, some form of response, if even to acknowledge the questions and to point him to the right folk (although it seems that David’s appreciation for DND’s public affairs team isn’t overly high) would be appropriate.

Dialing the noise up to Eleven… US Airways Flight 1549 and citizen media

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Yesterday, my colleague David Jones pointed to an animation created by Niall Cook, H&Ker and fellow blogger, showing the rapid transformation of Wikipedia’s entry on the crash of US Airways Flight 1549 on Jan 15. By itself, it highlighted the extraordinary speed by which citizens are increasingly able to match and, very often, surpass the speed of media in accessing and distributing new information around the incident.

As a companion to that animation, H&K Canada’s digital team also captured (as the event unfolded) screen caps of key sites – search engines, blogs, social networks, corporate sites, aggregators etc. – that I believe further demonstrates and reinforces the sheer dynamism of the communications environment in which we now exist; as it relates to the speed by which information on an incident is communicated and shared (e.g. via Twitter), the competitiveness as well as the synergy shaping the relationship between traditional and citizen media, and the actions taken by corporations to respond within this new environment.

Not all the timestamps on this slide deck are accurate or absolute, although they are certainly captured within minutes (if not seconds) of the event occuring – particularly during the first hours. Nor is the deck intended to be an exhaustive summary of all activity simply those that we felt captured this landscape, and these new issues, most effectively. Most importantly, these slides are not intended to comment either positively or negatively on the actions of authors, witnesses, posters or organizations involved.

Canada’s first ‘embedded’ blogger?

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Update: Mr. Brooks is on the ground and (sort of) reporting.

Impressive, indeed… and a further sign that pockets within the Government of Canada really do get social media, and can see the PR value in making this sort of thing happen. Likewise, it acknowledges the increasingly important role of well-written, widely-read and respected blogs such as the Torch in guiding and influencing complex issues – military, political or otherwise.

Things that I’d be interested in learning more from the authors include specifics on the rules of engagement (if any), approval processes of posts (if any), and the Department’s own positioning of such an initiative, specifically, why now?

Most importantly of all, however, I wish the author a safe yet rewarding on-the-ground experience. I believe firmly that Canadians are not exposed to the full reality of the Afghan mission. I hope this helps shed a broader light on the good works our men and women in the forces are doing.

H&K Election Predictor 2008 Nails It! … (well, almost)

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Thirty-six days, 72,000 visits, nearly 700,000 page views, and 100+ mentions across various political and media blogs and discussion forums later, and the moment of judgement for the 2008 version of Hill & Knowlton Canada’s Federal Election Predictor is upon us…

As always, there is considerable trepidation when the final voting percentages are added into the system. And as always, it’s for naught. When broken down by party, our calculation (baked in proprietary mathematical goodness) was remarkably close to the end result… In fact, it was off by - wait for it - six seats (6).

Official Results:    CPC – 143 / LIB – 76 / NDP – 37 / BQ – 50 / GREEN – 0 / IND – 2

Predictor Results: CPC – 143 / LIB – 74 / NDP – 38 / BQ – 52 / GREEN – 0 / IND – 1 

Granted, a few discrepancies appear when the data is analyzed at the specific riding level (meaning that a few of the ridings we predicted didn’t match up with the official outcome). Overall, however, the digital team at H&K is pretty chuffed that we were able to play along with the big boys – pollsters, pundits and academics alike – in the seat projection game.

Of course, we’ll let others figure out what this all means, if anything, to the art and/or science of seat projection. From the standpoint of what it means for H&K, however, it’s clearly become a powerful franchise for ensuring the H&K brand remains top-of-mind with target audiences during an election campaign.

As an exercise in social media activation, our respective French and English Facebook pages generated a respectable 700 referrals collectively, while the site itself received positive saturation across the Canadian political blogosphere. Traditional media sites also played an important role with MacLean’s alone driving 1500+ visits (and further amplifying our footprint). And not surprisingly, Wikipedia was a key vehicle for awareness-raising, driving 3500+ visits to the site.

Ultimately, it was interesting to see such a high level of engagement on the site itself – with an average of 5 minutes spent per visit – as well as by bloggers and digital pundits via their own sites. Likewise, it was great to see (where the stats allowed) strong representation by those audiences who matter most to H&K’s public affairs teams – government bureaucrats at all levels, elected officials, academic institutions, competitors, and corporations both large and small.

Oh yeah, and the Conservatives secured another minority government.

Another Federal Election in Canada means another H&K Election Predictor

posted by Brendan Hodgson

As had been rumoured for a couple of weeks and confirmed this past Sunday, a snap federal election is now on the agenda. Which means that Canadians will be going to the polls on October 14, 2008. And, of course, during these past few weeks – and secretly hoping against hope that the call would never come - we’ve been working furiously to prepare the latest version of the 2008 Federal Election Predictor (http://predictor.hillandknowlton.ca).

And with only a few minor bumps and scrapes, along with the most ill-timed server outages EVER, it’s here!

What’s new this year? A simpler interface for one. More importantly, we’ve also launched our new mobile version (www.mobilepredictor.ca) for those who wish to make and share their election predictions on the fly via their Crackberries or iPhones. And we’re back with the team blogging on digital trends in politics and other insightful miscellany.

As always, we try to keep mum on the inner workings of the predictor, other than to say that for past elections – federally, as well as for recent elections in Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec – the predictor (and its provincial brethren) has shown itself to be almost frighteningly accurate. That said, the goal of the Election Predictor franchise has always been – unlike other sites that offer predictions – to provide a fun and interactive way for armchair pundits to view the numbers, and to test how shifts in voting patterns might translate into actual seats.

We hope you’ll enjoy this version as much as you enjoyed previous versions, and we look forward to your thoughts, comments, and critiques of the tool and it’s results.

Transparency and the Media – a behind-the-scenes glimpse into why a story changes

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Transparency is a term oft-used in the web 2.0 context. Typically, however, it applies to the application of social media by consumers/citizens to impose a previously-unattainable level of transparency on corporate behaviour. Examples are legion – Sleeping Comcast Technicians, battlin’ AOL client service reps, breakable bike locks, leaking toilets on aircraft, astro-turfing – and many more (just check out the Consumerist for the latest juice).

But from the perspective of crisis and issues management, mainstream media are also facing increasing scrutiny (as they should) from the ranks of citizen journalists. Ever since the Dan Rather hullabaloo over reporting of George W. Bush’s war record, otherwise known as Memogate or Rathergate, the impact of bloggers as media watchdogs has only intensified. 

The implications are significant and should continue to be discussed. A recent email exchange purported to be between an activist and a BBC reporter over perceived ”inaccuracies” in a story on climate change offers a fascinating insight into today’s news environment, and raises some interesting questions:

Regardless if the changes made the story more accurate or, in the words of one blogger, ”(morphed) the article’s tenor from dialogue to lecture with a minimum of extorted word processing” (and that’s not the point of this post), should the reporter – for the sake of transparency - have made the changes as a discrete ”update” to the original with an adjusted timestamp, or was he within his rights to make the changes into the existing story without reflecting the fact that the original story had in fact been altered?

Secondly, does this not speak to the importance of including a comments section (as many media outlets now do) on all stories or features in order to allow interested parties to address perceived inaccuracies without injecting their potential bias into the actual story. A less optimal solution, perhaps, but could the journalist not simply have continued the story based on the email exchange that ensued?

In a crisis environment, where media are already under incredible pressure and where the need to be first often overrides the need to be accurate, incidents such as this (assuming that this is an accurate reflection of a real exchange – and I tend to believe it is) are worth considering. From this writer’s perspective, it compromises the trust that many place in the mainstream media to be as accurate and unbiased as possible, potentially leading those audiences to seek information elsewhere. At the same time, it acknowledges the need to work closely with media to ensure that what you provide in times of crisis go beyond soundbites and are substantiated by credible information and defensible proof points (since, clearly there will be pressure on the journalist from all fronts to “get it right”). And it further reinforces the importance of relying on your own channels to communicate versus relying solely on a “filtered” media. 

Alberta election campaign heats up online… but is it all for naught?

posted by Brendan Hodgson

According to political scientist David Taras, quoted in a recent Canadian Press story, apparently so: “The basic rule so far is that things that go on in cyberspace don’t have an impact unless they’re picked up and legitimized by the mainstream media.”

And while I make no claim of academic rigour in my argument against Mr. Taras’ assertion, I tend to disagree.

Amid all the hype around the 2.0-ification of politics, and in particular the impressive application of these tools south of the border, I would suggest the web is still having an increasingly powerful impact on how politics is conducted and in the way voters inform their decisions – particularly those still sitting on the fence.

Without question, the mainstream media is still a highly relevant channel by which to engage voters of all stripes on the issues (as well as the non-issues). And it’s certainly easy to be dissuaded by the various attempts of various political parties and activists to exploit social media – we’ve all seen the “blogs” that offer no RSS nor any ability to engage with the authors. We’ve seen the Youtube channels that are simply a re-hash of TV ads with view numbers that only reinforce the perception of irrelevance. And we’re seeing the myriad yet seemingly necessary Facebook groups – be they official party pages, activists both “officialandun-official“ - emerging with little by which to measure their effectiveness or visibility within the broader campaign universe.

Likewise, the considerable noise among political bloggers of all stripes might speak more to the echochamber effect than real debate or dialog on the issues.

But, to me, that misses the point. First, a considerable part of any campaign is to mobilize existing supporters and provide them with the tools to support their activism on your behalf. Set aside the need to convert fence-sitters (which is still important), the real goal of a campaign is for my party to bring out more supporters than yours. And if I have the tools at my disposal to actively engage supporters, mobilize them, arm them with content to convert the fence-sitters on the party’s behalf, and make them feel like they’re part of a team – then I’m a long way toward achieving my goal (and doing so in a way that is extremely cost-effective, time efficient and visible to all supporters – and non-supporters – alike).

Sure, the social media stuff is sexy as hell… but from this observer’s perspective, only if it’s used well to mobilize supporters – getting them out to events, driving them to the polls, donating and putting forth arguments on your behalf in whatever forum is required – traditional media or otherwise. I would suggest, however, that we might see more of sites like this and this, examples of how political parties and candidates might use a blog to quickly and visibly counter misinformation, rumour, inaccuracies and other points of contention.

With respect to fence-sitters – and I’ve tended to be a fence-sitter for many different elections – my guess is that it would take a lot more than a Facebook group or a video to sway me. That said, and if used appropriately (and perhaps Dalton McGuinty nearly did it best in the last provincial election in Ontario), I would agree with Laura Shutiak, an Alberta Liberal candidate, who said in the CP article: “I think it gives people a sense of who I am. If it translates into a vote, great,” she said. “There are so many undecided voters right now that they’re looking for a sense of who a person is, and they’re looking to go a step further to find out more.”

As a means to create a more human connection between a candidate and a potential voter, the potential certainly exists, and I’m surprised it’s not more fully exploited across all forms of media.

Is it a first point of information as blogger Dave Cournoyer points out in the article? “The Internet is playing more of a central role in these campaigns because it’s where a lot more Albertans are looking for a first source of information,” said Cournoyer, who will also make his TV debut this campaign as a political analyst. “I don’t think it’s a distrust of the mainstream media. People are just accessing information in different ways.”

I would agree wholeheartedly, given the number of campaign guides and tools (including our very own Alberta 2008 election predictor) that exist to help point voters to informed education and debate. As the Internet expands what’s available to us – and as we seek out those who share similar ideas and viewpoints – it will certainly reinforce our existing political affiliations. But will it change them? I’m not so sure. And as Dave notes, we still for the most part put a degree of trust in the mainstream media to provide accurate, if not unbiased, analysis of the platforms and issues.

So what’s my point in all this?… like everything about social media, I think we need to ensure that we don’t get caught on the dark side of the hype, and understand the “real” value of what the web offers. And I think that’s something we’re still all looking for.

Alberta Election Predictor 2008 launches… What’s your take on the numbers?

posted by Brendan Hodgson

2008 Alberta Election PredictorOnce more into the breach! H&K Canada has today unveiled the newest edition of its highly popular Election Predictor franchise in time for the March 3rd election in Alberta, home to much of Canada’s oil and gas industry, and key driver of Canada’s economy.

As with previous versions, we’re giving Albertans (and anyone else with an interest in Alberta politics) to test their predictions and view how those predictions translate into seats.

You can also register to save your prediction and share it via your own blog or Facebook profile, and to see your predictions and the saved predictions of others via our Google Map.

As bloggers of all stripes jump into the debate, we hope the election predictor will provide an informative and entertaining perspective on the numbers. As always, we look forward to your feedback.

Update: Those of you seeking a good summary overview of the election platforms of the various parties, current polls, and links to a variety of relevant sources, can find it here and here.

Kerry Diotte at the Calgary Sun is also seeking your predictions on his blog here.

Check out the Globe & Mail’s Alberta Election blog (Alberta Votes) here.

HKDP Quebec Election Predictor: The Final Numbers are in!

posted by Brendan Hodgson

final_Predictionshkdp

 

Nearly a month, 100,000+ page views, approx. 37,500 unique visitors, and numerous media and blog hits later, HKDP’s Quebec election predictor appears to have (just about) nailed it… that is, if you had correctly predicted last night’s outcome. (click on the image for a larger size)

With the final voting percentages tossed into the mix, the end result showed the predictor giving the Liberals (PLQ) slightly fewer seats (45) from their actual (48), the separatist PQ scoring slightly higher (39) than their actual (36), and bang on for the ADQ at 41.

Not bad, I think, when it’s a system based purely on playing the numbers. Next up (sooner or later being the question), the next version of the Federal Election Predictor.

Virgin America goes Web 2.0 in its Advocacy Efforts

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Through its innovative LetVAFly site, Virgin America has taken its advocacy efforts online – incorporating both YouTube and blogs – as it seeks to galvanize grassroot support for its campaign to obtain permission to operate on local routes in the US.

Update: You can read more about the issue here.

Although the proof will be in the pudding in terms of whether the campaign is successful, and in determining the extent to which this component of the campaign actually impacted that success, this is – in my view – a potent example of 21st century lobbying and public affairs at its best, most creative, and most strategic given the digital environment in which we all now live, and which is transforming our business.

The site itself not only informs and educates visitors on the issue in an easily readable, friendly and understandable format, it also engages them to take action. It goes beyond text, using video and static imagery, to convey its messaging. It presents third-party support – in the form of letters from prominent politicians and organizations - in a compelling and easily readable format. It links to editorial coverage in the MSM. It provides visitors with the tools to directly engage local government representatives. It provides banners that supporters can add to their own sites. And they even sell merchandise. 

With respect to the blog – I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. However, in just a day, the video has already garnered more than 10,000+ hits – demonstrating the power of an integrated campaign that connects media, lobbying and digital. And the video is good. CEO Fred Reid is personable, passionate and likable – and puts a face to the organization that reflects the Virgin brand.

Merchandising aside, and I say that rather casually, each of these activities are increasingly critical elements of any integrated campaign intended to influence decision-makers – PR to drive GR and lobbying, Digital alongside media, and all focused on driving action.

This is an example of an organization that clearly understands how advocacy and public affairs is changing in the Web 2.0 and Internet age.

(Hat tip to Om for the lead)

Disclosure: Virgin Mobile is a client of H&K Canada.