COM0015 Blog#1 Personal Vs Corporate Tools & Sources

I have been in the business of media relations since 1995 and I have seen my fair share of tools and sources trends that have emerged and disappeared.  The “Next big thing” is always around the next corner.  So the question one must ask is what are the objectives of our social media communications plan? And how do these tools and sources afford us the ability to engage in critical thinking?  In other words, the tail (e.g. tools and sources) should not be waging the dog (e.g. social media comm plan).  The easiest way to look at this issue is through the eyes of a personal media plan versus a corporate media plan.

Personal Social Media Plan:  In this case, the free tools and sources are the safest way to go since they afford both a media monitoring and organic engagement capability.  In my case, I use a Hootsuite account with your standard RSS feeds, Twitter account and Facebook helps too.  For the rest of my personal media monitoring and feedback capability, I rely on Google Alerts.  Aside from the inordinate amount of time required to apply and familiarize myself with the tools and sources, one must also be aware of their other limitations.

Limitations:  Google alerts searches a database of approximately 1,000 outlets in Canada.Google Alerts Logo  It is unable to provide searches that are time based (e.g. past year, past month, past week or the past 24 hours).  In other words, everything is lumped together.  There is also something to be said for having the ability to consult with someone  to help you with your searches and/or resolve issues.  Finally, Google Alerts has virtual no social media monitoring capability. So you have to have something in addition to Google Alerts to gain an accurate monitoring capability.

Corporate Social Media Plan:  Before I appear to be placing and advert in this blog for the Meltwater company, let me just say that I am using them as an example to contrast the tools and sources afforded by corporate media monitoring capabilities with those of free media monitoring and will try to keep my comments to the generic advantages.  Perhaps the most obvious is the fact that by relying on an external company one does not have to research, choose, constantly validate and apply various monitoring tools and sources.  This can take a lot of time.  Other advantages include:Meltwater Social Media Monitoring

Advantages: Hiring a company like Meltwater significantly increases the searchable database.  They have access to approximately 10,000 outlets in both official languages that can be divided by provinces, with specific time frames and are listed in chronological order.  This provides the user with the ability to detect trends.  In fact, their database can be searched as far back as 2010!  They also provide you with some analysis that may help direct your focus on the issues of importance.  You may also reach a contact person that can help you with your searches and they have a partnership with Facebook and Twitter, so searches done through Meltwater also includes these two important social media platforms.

Summary:  Notwithstanding the price differential between free monitoring versus corporate monitoring, one must ask themselve: How do these tools and sources afford us the ability to engage in critical thinking?  when time is in short supply, given the speed with which social and traditional media operate, we need to make sure that the tail (e.g. tools and sources) is not waging the dog (e.g. social media comm plan).






COMM0014 Blog#7 How Storytelling will Help Veterans

Storytelling is the art of turning information into something that will both entertain and educate us by appealing to the human body’s senses, specifically: seeing and hearing all the while appealing to our imagination and emotions. For these reasons, social media plays a crucial role for storytellers since social media is all about real conversations with real human beings.

bruce-writingThat being said, there is already more digital content than any one human being will ever be able to read in their respective lifetime.  So the challenge for any blogger is to create content and “weave compelling stories” that readers will want to devote some of their precious time.  This outcome will only be achieved if the blogger is sensitive to the diverse nature and beliefs of his or her potential readers (e.g. target audience).

In my case, the stories will deal with veteran issues and they will be stories about veterans with a message of hope, guidance and resolution.  The ultimate goal would be to create stories that are “compelling, emotional and moving, but also raises people’s consciousness” about the plight surrounding veterans and their families.   I believe in the necessity of telling these stories and that good stories will be shared.  This will be my barometer of success – the number of shares.  Thanks to this particular course, I believe that my stories will be more “sticky” and shared more than ever before.

NB: The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Royal Canadian Legion.

COMM0014 Blog#6 Why Veterans Matter

One day, while attending church, I thought I recognized a military buddy who, like me, had recently retired from the Canadian Armed Forces.  He was sitting in the pew in front of me and I leaned over to say hi and soon found out, after my third attempt to get his attention that he suffered from hearing loss.  After I had finally got his attention and we started chatting, I asked him if he had submitted a disability claim for his hearing loss with Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC)?

His response, typical of many military veterans, is that he had not because the bureaucracy, forms and policies surrounding these kinds of disability claims were daunting and he simply could not be bothered.  I offered to help and, within 8 weeks, VAC approved his disability claim and his hearing aids would now be covered by VAC because the hearing loss was deemed to be related to his military service.  Receiving free hearing aids and treatment for someone on a fixed income is significant and he thanked me many times over – much more than I deserved.


The author with the Minister of Veterans Affairs and the Associate Minister of National Defence, Hon. Kent Herr. (Author is fourth from left in front row).

My experience as an officer in the military coupled with my own disability claim and work as a service officer with the Legion afforded me the opportunity to understand the VAC disability claim process.  It really feels good to be able to share my knowledge of the process and help fellow veterans .

Stories like the one I just mentioned are repeated dozens of times by veterans all across the country and these stories need to be collected and shared so that our veterans know that the federal government will answer their call much like they did when our country called upon them to serve their country.  They just need a hand-up not a hand-out.

NB.  The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Royal Canadian Legion.

COMM0014 Blog#5 Veterans Matter

As a fourth generation military member, who also has a son that is currently in the Canadian military, our family has seen its fair share of injured and disabled veterans and of loss to defend this great country.  Our legacy is one that few other Canadian family’s share.  It is a legacy that has been purchased through considerable sacrifice to defend our human rights and freedoms as well as our constitutional monarchy.

National Remembrance Day Ceremony

As a fourth generation baby boomer veteran, I understand that veterans matter.  Author (middle)

For my part, I am a military college graduate and former officer in the Reserve and Regular Force.  During my final years in the military, I worked as a public affairs officer.  After I retired from the military, I worked as the Manager of Communications for The Royal Canadian Legion – Canada’s largest traditional veterans’ based not-for-profit organization.

I have a unique understanding of the Canadian military.  Furthermore, my blog would add value to the discussion among the traditional and virtual veteran communities as well as the traditional and social media because they would be neutral without the bias associated with traditional veterans’ organization’s self-interests.  In short, my brand would be accountable to all veterans and beholden to no one.

The military has shaped many facets of my entire personal and professional life.  It has also given me a unique understanding of the Canadian military as it relates to defence policy, veterans issues, the importance of Remembrance and the positive impact our veterans have in our communities. These issues can be grouped into a short yet effective mission statement I like to call: “Veterans Matter.”

COMMoo14 Blog#4 Martell Custom Homes

As I prepare to set up my blog dedicated to the wellness of Veterans, I am mindful of the necessity of telling the right stories based on purpose, relevance and conversation. Failing to do so means my blog may get lost among the estimated 152 million blogs that are already out there.  With this thought in mind, I have searched the Internet for successful B2C social media programs.   To my mind, Amy Porterfield’s suggestion that Martell Custom Homes has a solid social media program is a good one.

When MCH started in New Brunswick, its founders relied almost exclusively on realtors for their business.  Adopting a social media presence allowed them to eliminate the middle person and reduce costs, all-the-while remaining faithful to its purpose: building custom homes.

The key to any successful social media presence was to ensure relevance to the potential consumer.  So, rather than simply state the obvious and try to sell custom homes, they developed a fan base by delivering attractive content on the needs of home buyers through a blog.  The content, according to their own statistics, suggests that 86% of their custom home buyers contacted them directly as opposed to through realtors largely as a result of this social media fan base.

The third and perhaps most crucial part of any successful blog is to ensure there is a conversation.  Martell Custom Homes followed some of the basic rules governing the use of social media but they also adopted some rather unique and interesting features on social media: (1) they installed GPS tracking devices on their contractors, so home buyers know where their respective contractor is and working on their homes; (2) they also posted photos of the MCH homes to show the progress being made.  Home buyers were then afforded the opportunity to share the photos along with their excitement with friends and family which, in turn, helped promote MCH.

While there may not be a silver bullet that automatically guarantees success on social media, it is clear that Martell Custom Homes understands something that Steve Jobs once said once said “You‘ve got to start w/the customer experience & work backward – not the other way around”

COMM0014 Blog#3 Analytics of the Defence Community

According to Veterans Affairs Canada statistics published in 2015, there are approximately 685,000 Canadian military veterans.  By my calculations, Traditional Veterans Organizations (TVOs) have less than 25 percent of this community as members.  Of these, more than 90% are Caucasian males with a High School diploma.  Perhaps of greater concern is that half of these mostly male military veterans in the TVOs tend to be above the age of 75 whereas the average age of the majority of veterans in Canada are Baby Boomers with a much larger female component with more post High School education.  Moreover, the ethnicity, religious affiliations and choice of spouse is much more diverse.

The difference between the two groups also has a psychographic component.  Unlike military Baby Boomers and Millennials, the TVO member is more likely to be retired, living on a single fixed income revenue stream (e.g. pension) and looking at traveling (e.g. cruises).


A member of the Greatest Generation, Danny Daniels (left), and a Baby Boomer, the author (right).

TVO members may still be inclined to use the phone, websites and emails, but statistics show that Facebook, Twitter, text messaging and YouTube videos become increasingly important for military Baby Boomers and Millennials.

Seen from this perspective, my preferred option is to focus on four social media forums to concentrate on the largest component of the veteran community: Baby Boomers and Millennials military veteran community.  They are: (1) Twitter that will encourage people to visit my blog; (2) Facebook page that will refer people to my blog; (3) YouTube videos on Facebook that will encourage people to visit my blog and finally (4) my blog.  This approach would be my priority which reflects the current rate of posts by medium for my entire blog and not just any specific issue.  In others words, I would post more often on Twitter than Facebook but more often on Facebook that on my blog.

COMM0014 – Blog#2 Internet Content – a case for State Intervention or Free Market?

From cave walls to the Internet, the tools for communicating have evolved tremendously throughout the history of Humanity.  Indeed, we are being inundated by its unprecedented ability for mass distribution of content of varying quality.  Yet the best content seems to transcend the technological revolution in communications. These stories are able to do so because they religiously follow a certain format – a not-so-secret formula that has withstood the test of time.

The theory of “inverted pyramid writing” has been around a long time and the required readings for this lesson present cogent guidelines supporting the need to adhere to the not-so-secret formula for good content.


The Author testing his theory to see if paper refuses ink

The problem is that the Internet does not refuse bad content anymore than paper refuses ink or cave walls refuse paint.  So  social media writers do not need to be properly trained to write nor do they need to be aware of the “inverted pyramid writing.”  So most of their stories, articles, and blogs fall flat.

By way of contrast, professional writers are trained but they are generating less good content because they tend to work for government and big corporations.  They are the only ones that can afford to hire professional writers and the latter are increasingly busy re-writing yesterday’s weather to pander for votes or trying to pawn more bells, bobbles and whistles on the consumer than worry about good content.


The author with a great Canadian storyteller: Chris Hadfield

The readings from this lesson point towards one simple question: How do we spare readers the dribble  and trial and error method of finding good content and instill some form of  adherence to a format that has withstood the test of time and generated bigly (it’s a real word!) content?  (e.g. certification, permits, licences, etc…) Or do we simply let the readers decide what to read for themselves?  State intervention or free market?

COM0014: Blog Post#1 Can you Cheat A Swami?

Many years ago, my grandfather told me that he had been told by a swami in Pakistan that his end of life would be at 94 years of age.  He had been in Pakistan on a UN peacekeeping tour in 1967.  As he is getting on in years, and less mobile, I decided that I would surprise him with a visit on his 92nd birthday.  It would also be the first time that he would meet my wife, and although I had asked my children to join us, they claimed they were not available.  So we made plans to have a romantic getaway and visit my grandfather at the same time.

So, in September, my wife and I headed to the Ottawa airport to catch a flight to Naples, Florida.  It appeared to be the season of surprises because as we were checking in, my youngest son came up behind us and said that he had changed his mind, and was coming along for the vacation too.  Our romantic vacation turned into a family vacation in an instant…Surprise!


My wife and I at the beach in Naples, FL

I nervously anticipated my grandfather’s reaction to my wife.  As it turned out, my nervousness was for not as the first words out of his mouth once he had met my wife for the first time were “You can leave your slippers under my bed anytime!”

For the next two days, I could only have my grandfather’s attention if we were alone. Thankfully, my son was there to keep me company.

My grandfather insisted that he introduce us to his friends at his favourite social club: The Elks.  This was the perfect time to get even with my grandfather (a.k.a. the prankster) by referring to the giant Elk head at their club as a Moose head.  The playful banter went downhill from there, although the other members of the Elk did invite us back anytime.  Not sure whether my grandfather is allowed back? lol

While we were in Naples, we also made arrangements for a birthday cookie wishing my grandfather a happy 92nd birthday.  On the actual day of his birthday, we took him out to dinner, and it was at that time that he indicated that he was only 91.  Needless to say, we tried not to act surprised.  Instead, we scrambled to fix the cake before he saw it.  In the end, the cake looked like a 5-year had decorated as we tried to change the “2” to a “1”.


My Grandfather on his 91st birthday

In true family humour, my grandfather laughed it off, and said that he managed to cheat the Swami out of another year.

We headed back to the airport, with son in tow, only to find out that he had mistakenly booked his return flight 24 hours after ours.  As a starving student, I could not let him sleep overnight in the airport, and ended up forking out $200 to change his flight so he could leave with us.

As I did so, I heard my grandfather whispering to me “See you next year.  You did promise me a visit on my 92nd birthday after all!”

I guess we are heading to Naples, Florida again in 2017.  This time, though, I’m asking my wife to wear a turtleneck.  LOL

COM0012 Example of Crisis Communications and the Need to Listen

Like most Sundays in Legion branches across the country, the Legion Vimy No. 27 Branch in Halifax, Nova Scotia, was holding its regularly scheduled live entertainment dance night.  At first glance, Sunday  July 10th 2016 was no different.  That evening’s singer/ performer was Bernie Doucette.  He had already played at this Legion branch a couple of times and had a good sense as to the likes and dislikes of the audience and had gauged his playlist accordingly.

Bernie Doucette and Eldon Gallant

Bernie Doucette (right) and Eldon Gallant (left)

Bernie was hanging outside the Legion branch with his partner of 20 years, Eldon Gallant, having a cigarette before the show. When he decided it was time to go inside the Legion Vimy No.27 Branch to set up, he gave his partner a kiss on the cheek.  Bernie alleges that he noticed a person wearing a blue jacket staring at them after they had kissed but thought nothing of it at the time and went about his work and setting up his instruments inside the Branch.

That evening, as Bernie played some tribute songs by Jimmy Hendricks, Bob Dylan and Neil Diamond, among others, he kept noticing this same man, wearing a blue jacket, going from table to table talking to people in the hall lsitening to the performance and pointing at him.  Eventually, into his second set, he heard someone yell out words to the effect of: “Get that faggot singer off the stage.” Bernie kept playing his repertoire until the bartender came over and told him it would be best if he cut his performance short.  He was paid for the whole night even though he was told to leave before he had finished playing.  The reason given was that he was playing “funeral” music and the patrons were not enjoying it and were leaving.

Legion Vimy No.27 branchThe incident first appeared on CFJC Radio (Halifax) at 7:56am on 12 July 2016 (local time). Aly Thomson, a reporter with the Canadian Press, picked up the story and published it that same day around 2:56pm.  By 10:34pm that same evening, some 64 media outlets had run the story.  On the morning of July 13th the incident was in print and our national media monitoring service picked up the story as part of its daily morning routine.  Soon thereafter, the Manager of Communications at Dominion Command of The Royal Canadian Legion strongly suggested to Executive Director of the Legion provincial command for Nova Scotia & Nunavut that she should look into this matter asap because they are responsible for the conduct of Legion branches within their respective commands and a PR crisis seemed to be unfolding.  Perhaps the most glaring reasons that they needed to get involved was that discrimination is against the law and if anybody should have been asked to leave the Legion Vimy branch, it should have been the homophobic patron not the gay musician.

We needed to get ahead of this story and the Legion provincial command Executive Director agreed and issued a statement around 1:53pm (local Halifax time) to the effect that they had launched an investigation to find out what had happened at that Legion Branch on the night in question.  The statement was distributed to provincial media outlets and we made sure Aly Thomson also received a copy since she was largely the originator of the story.

Aly Thomson

Ms. Aly Tomson, The Canadian Press

By 5:33pm that evening, there were 88 media outlets that had run the story.  The decision to issue a statement to investigate appears to have appeased the media because there were no reports of the incident on Thursday July 14th .  Everyone seemed prepared to hold-off on any commentary pending the results of the investigation.

On the afternoon of July 14th, around 2:30pm, the Executive Director of the Nova Scotia /Nunavut provincial command headquarters issued a news release essentially stating that they could not corroborate Mr. Doucette’s allegations with any witnesses and that the cctv cameras at the Legion branch did not pick up anybody whispering into people’s ears.  As with the previous statement, this news release was distributed provincially and specifically to Aly Thomson.  The next day, some 58 media outlets ran the story that the Legion could not corroborate the claim and that there was no proof of a homophobic slur and that the case was closed.

It would appear that the Legion’s ability to monitor and listen to reports throughout the country, no matter how local, allowed them some time to try and get ahead of this story and become part of the conversation.  Indeed, by remaining in the news cycle, the Legion was able to let the media know they would be investigating asap and the results were known with 24 hours.  The result was a steady decrease in media coverage within four business days. Indeed, there has not been any stories on this incident since Saturday July 16th, 2016.

Granted, the credibility of the investigation leaves much to be desired and it is remains unclear whether this story is actually closed.  For instance, investigators did not speak with Bernie and they have not returned his calls and the cctv does not record sound.  So it is unclear how the investigators were able to draw the conclusions they did or identify the man “wearing a blue jacket.”

Bernie Doucette

Bernie Doucette says he has hired a lawyer

To make matters worse, Bernie has also gone on record lamenting the poor investigation and says he has hired a lawyer and intends to pursue this matter as a Human Rights complaint.

However, notwithstanding the merits of the investigation itself and whether this issue has been resolved, from a purely traditional and social media communications perspective, this was a good example of the important role listening and being a part of the conversation online can have as well as the impact it can have on a story.

NB: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Royal Canadian Legion.

COMM0012 – When Vets Lost their Poppies

The year 1995 was a pivotal one in the history of Canada’s national symbol of Remembrance – the poppy.  It was in December of that year that veterans stopped making wreaths and poppies and production shifted to civilian contractors.  This would not have been possible without the help and support of Dominion Command of The Royal Canadian Legion.

For more almost 75 years, the federal government had hired Vetcraft Industries Ltd. to produce wreaths and poppies. This long-standing sheltered employment workshop arrangement came under review in July 1994 after Treasury Board ruled that persons employed by Vetcraft must be counted as public servants at a time when there was pressure to reduce the number of public servants throughout the federal government.  There was also concern that the employees may be determined to be eligible for Public Service benefits. So the senior civilian management at VAC opted to end its relationship with Vetcraft Industries.

To be fair, Vetcraft had gone from a peak of 346 veterans in 1924 to about 150 full and part-time employees in 1994, located in ether Montreal or Toronto, many of whom had some military experience or were a widowed spouse of a veteran and many were Legionnaires.


Veterans Making Poppies

Veterans assembling wreaths and poppies in Montreal’s St-Anne-de-Bellevue Hospital.  Photo courtesy: Canadian War Museum – 19720228-001

In order to forestall any potential public backlash against the federal government being seen as firing veterans, VAC asked the Legion for help. The Legion, after all, was the largest purchaser of poppies and wreaths.

The Legion Dominion Command conducted its own analysis of the VAC report in September 1994.  It’s analysis preferred the status quo but recognized that this option was unrealistic.  The second most preferred option was to find an outside supplier since this would offer the “least risk” to the Legion.  Under this option, the Legion recognized that veterans would most likely never be employed by the outside supplier.  According to the VAC Shop Managers, it was difficult to find any veterans that wanted to work at Vetcraft anyway and that the veteran shop workers that have continued to work with Vetcraft do so more for the feeling of self-worth than for financial need.  Taking comfort in this assertion, the Legion requested that the veterans let go would still be treated fairly and with respect.  Besides, the Legion felt that production could triple by employing people without disabilities and that consolidating production in one location would lead to direct cost savings.

Based on internal correspondence, the Legion’s biggest preoccupation with closing down Vetcraft was not about the Veterans but whether it would still enjoy the GST exemption (valued at approx. $100K in 1994 dollars).  While it may not be exempt from the GST, VAC was prepared to “sell” all of the assets, valued at $1M, to the Legion for a nominal fee of $1.  This would provide the Legion with a huge profit margin for the 1995 national poppy Campaign since there would be a much reduced production cost.  On January 13th, 1995, Treasury Board officially approved the closure of Vetcraft Industries Ltd. by December 31st, 1995.

The media released the story in April 1995.  Needless to say, letting Veterans go was not a unanimous policy among Legion members or the employees at Vetcraft.  The Legion received several letters of protests and/or expressions of serious disappointment with the decision – particularly by Legion members at how Dominion Command of the Legion was treating veterans and fellow Legionnaires.  Legion Dominion Secretary, Fred Harrington responded to the criticism stating to the Montreal Gazette and the Canadian Press that, in 1992, the Legion’s National Poppy Campaign raised $8.5M but the campaign cost $8.8M.  In other words, the Legion was losing money, therefore privatization was necessary.  Apparently veterans could not work as effectively as civilians! Ironically, Vetcraft employees pointed out that between 1979 and 1994 VAC reduced the number of employees at the Vetcraft Montreal location by half without any impact on production! Moreover, records showed that VAC budgeted $1.4M every year to operate Vetcraft so it is unclear how it cost the Legion $8.8M when VAC costs amounted to $1.4M.


Civilians making poppies. Allison Sandor 24 Feb 2016

Civilian workers at TRICO Group supervising the production of poppies.  Photo courtesy: Allison Sandor, February 2016.

The Legion awarded the outside supplier contract to Toronto -based Dominion Regalia beginning in 1996.  It was replaced by an Ottawa-based company called TRICO Group in 2014.  Today, there are some 14 full-time employees at TRICO producing poppies and wreaths  while the assembly of Poppies is contracted out to a third party who has hired an undertermined number of people with developmental delays (through the Ottawa-Carleton Association for Persons with Developmental Disabilities – OCAPDD) and prison inmates (through Correctional Services Canada or Corcan). – a far cry from the espoused reasons given when the Legion agreed to have VAC let go its Veterans responsible for assembling poppies. In hindsight, it remains a controversial part of the Legion’s legacy when it opted to forsake its pledge to veterans and fellow Legionnaires at the behest of the government of the day in 1995.