Family violence prevention campaign #KeepFamiliesSafe

Have you heard about the shadow pandemic of family violence? The global research linking pandemics and rising family violence is very clear.

Right now in Canada

  • 1 in 3 Canadians is concerned about stress in the home due to isolation
  • 1 in 10 women is very or extremely concerned about violence in the home

Accolade Communications is very proud to work with a coalition of 13+ agencies and municipalities in the #KeepFamiliesSafe family violence prevention campaign in Waterloo Region.

While there is ample evidence that family violence is increasing – literally in our backyards, in our community and in our workplaces, there is also ample evidence that shows small gestures matter a lot.

Know the signs and know what to do. Visit

In praise of our public service professionals

“…what we’re seeing is basically 4-D chess of public policy. International, federal, provincial and municipal coordination and massive coordination across departments at each level.”

When you’re watching the news today and see a Cabinet minister or political leader announce a new relief policy or a border closure, I hope you think about the hundreds – likely thousands – of people who have been working around the clock to arrive at comprehensive policy and the means to deliver it – at lightning speed – while at the same time shifting their own operations to work from home wherever possible.

These announcements would be incredibly fast even if they only had to contend with one department or one level of government; but what we’re seeing is basically 4-D chess of public policy. International, federal, provincial and municipal coordination and massive coordination across departments at each level – not to mention coordination with labour unions, the private sector and other stakeholders in many cases. When we hear the policy announcement – health, economy, borders, etc. it may seem simple but public servants – people like you and me – have been sweating the details. Here is a gross oversimplification of what they are trying to figure out – while at the same time activating their own business continuity plans:

  • what is the policy objective?
  • what is the most effective policy approach?
  • who is the ideal beneficiary of the policy (employers to keep people working? people directly? other levels of government?)
  • what is the best policy instrument? (grants, tax breaks, inducements, declarations, regulation… should it be something new or an enhancement to something already in place)
  • what are the financial impacts?
  • what are the upstream and downstream impacts?
  • what are the impacts on other levels of government, if any?
  • which agency is the best one to deliver it?
  • what are the regulations and the details around it?
  • what IT systems can support the delivery? This is critical.
  • What tangible locations, materials are required? Additional supports?

There are usually rounds and rounds of analysis, meetings, considerations, professional expertise to narrow down the options, prioritize and decide. Multiply that by “n” if it involves aligning international decision-making, like closing a border for non-essential travel.

Once these and other considerations are determined

  • what is the communication strategy? timeline? copy for websites? lay-out? Q&A? advertising campaigns? translation? etc…
    • Just think for a moment that the simple form you fill out has to be very clear, easy to use, capture all the required information, link to appropriate data-bases to trigger the action you intended. It has to be in plain language and accessible. It has to have sign-off from a number of departments, including legal.
  • are the partners prepared?
  • do people at the call centre and IT have all the information they need to answer questions and trouble shoot?
  • Are the tracking systems in place? They have to be able to track and audit for transparency and accountability.
  • on and on and on…

So be kind when you hear a policy announcement that doesn’t have every single regulation nailed down. These are accountants, lawyers, doctors, scientists, economists, admin, IT, communication, policy analysts, front-line service people, designers, translators, etc. who are working their tails off and doing their best professionally and personally to get this far – in record time- for the public good. For you. To keep you safe. To keep some cash in your pocket. To keep the economy afloat.

So rather than say: “They missed this detail,” maybe think “Wow, that is an incredible amount of work in so little time” or “Thank God for policy analysts, government economist and the folks in IT.” Thank you to our professional public service.

I know I have missed so many steps, considerations and roles of people involved. Please feel free to add your praise for professional public servants in the comments below.

With sincere thanks. Merci du fonds du coeur.

CEO advocacy: what’s old is new again

Last February, the Edelman Trust Barometer released its global results and related insights for businesses that want to build trust. Among these is the finding that 76% of people want corporate CEOs to take the lead on critical social issues rather than waiting for governments to impose change and 71% want their employer to respond on key social issues. It’s about your social licence to operate, your employee engagement and building trust in the process.

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CEO activism isn’t new but you might argue that it’s taking on more amplitude. Two days ago, Heather Reisman, CEO of Indigo Books was interviewed on the CBC about CEO activism.  Last week, Maple Leaf Foods CEO, Michael McCain, took to Twitter to denounce President Trump’s role in the missile strike on Ukranian Airlines flight 752 that killed 57 Canadians.

Screen Shot 2020-01-22 at 8.25.53 AMIn 2018, Laurence D. Fink, founder and chief executive of the investment firm BlackRock, which manages $6 trillion in investments, sent a letter to Wall Street CEOs putting them on notice that they have to contribute to society and not simply focus on profits for investors. This was the same year the Wall Street Journal pointed to higher stock value for socially responsible companies and promoted: Doing Well by Doing Good: The New Corporate Citizenship.

None of this is new. As far back as 1994, you had companies like commercial carpet tile manufacturer, Interface, leading the way on climate with pledges – and actions – to go net zero. Patagonia and The Body Shop also led the way on issues they cared about corporately.

While 1994 may seem like a long time ago now, the idea of CEO activism and companies doing what’s right for society – at least from a PR perspective – goes back to the late 1920’s. At the time, AT&T vice-president, Arthur Page ushered in a new era of strategic, corporate public relations. He advocated for organizations to respond to the needs and concerns of the public and to shift from one-way communication to real change on the part of the organization. In essence, he advanced the notion that public support provides an organization’s licence to operate.

So, perhaps it’s the 80’s “greed is good” that is the aberration and after the global financial crisis of 2008 we’re just now returning to first principles, but when we fail to heed the wisdom that’s been around for a century, we fail to understand the cost of losing trust in the interim.

If you’ve read any of my previous articles on building trust, you know that my formula is Trust = competence + benevolence. It’s the benevolence that builds trust, everything else is just a transaction. Arthur Page told us this 100 years ago.


“Accidental” nuclear emergency alert

At 7:23 a.m. today the Province of Ontario broadcast an emergency bulletin to cellphones across the province. Still mostly asleep, my cell phone blared and this message appeared:

This is a Province of Ontario emergency bulletin which applies to people within ten (10) kilometres of the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station. An incident was reported at the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station. There has been NO abnormal release of radioactivity from the station and emergency staff are responding to the situation. People near the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station DO NOT need to take any protective action at this time. Remain tuned to local media for further information and instructions.”

IMG_7356What a wake-up call. My sister and her family live just North of Pickering so, of course, we were concerned… plus the whole nuclear thing, of course. So we tuned in to media to see what was happening. Crickets.

  • Around 45 minutes later the news reported that the message was sent by accident.
  • One hour and 45 minutes later, at 9:11 am, a second email emergency blast came through.

“There is NO active nuclear situation taking place at the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station. The previous alert was issued in error. There is no danger to the public or environment. No further action is required.”

Hmmm. I’ve led crisis communications teams and further action is definitely required. Like, explaining what the heck happened?

Here are my first three questions:

  • Who signed off on the original alert and what is the process to do that? I’ve worked in government, you need sign off for everything. On top of that, a golden rule of communication is the information needs to be accurate.
    • Several hours later, the province is saying the error took place during emergency measures training. If that’s the case: you need a better “are you sure?” message; you need a step where you confirm with the agency in question; AND the “oopsies” response should have been much faster.
  • Another important communication rule is that if you are going to scare people, you have to tell them what to do. “Stay tuned” is much too light under the circumstances. While this might have been a canned message, it’s not a good one.
  • Why was the news that this was error come through Twitter at 8:06 a.m.? It’s a totally different channel. It won’t reach the same people you scared almost two hours ago and people will only find it if they are following you. This is terrible communication.

To the best of my knowledge, it’s the first time a crisis communications team caused its own crisis. These are massive errors in messaging, medium and timing. There will be a lot of explaining to do and processes to reinforce.

If you, or your organization, are unfamiliar with crisis communications or don’t have a crisis communications plan, perhaps this is a catalyst to think about one. “Nothing ever happens here,” is not accurate. Every day, organizations of all sizes have data security breaches, harassment issues, violence, product recalls, financial impropriety – you name it. If you are in a large organization, your Public Affairs department should have a crisis plan and practice it regularly. This means back-up technology, off-site recovery and staff relocation plans, alternate communications methods, call-trees, access to social accounts, you name it.

What would you do today if there was a wildfire? Active shooter? Data breach? The key is to create your plan before there is a crisis and test it. The real thing will never follow your plan precisely but you will have essentially mapped out best practices ahead of time. You follow-them as closely as you can, making allowances for the circumstance.

I’ve lived this. In January 2003, I was the manager of media relations for a company whose hard drive, containing 170,000 client files was stolen from a secure location. We’re used to Equifax, Desjardins, LifeLabs privacy breaches now, but at the time, we were one of the first companies in the country to disclose a breach that was national in scale. We used the crisis communication plan. You should have one too.