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Fellow Americans, are you in or are you out

In Uncategorized on June 27, 2016 at 10:16 am

As an American living in Toronto, it’s painful to watch the too-frequent reports of mass shootings in my former homeland. The US and Canada have different founding stories, which may explain our different views on gun laws. But that was a very long time ago. Over more than two centuries, the U.S. has proved it’s a union that works. The Second Amendment is an escape clause that is no longer relevant.

This link is to an article by me on this subject, published in the Toronto Star.joinordie22-300x200


Men are from Hooters, Women are from Christian Louboutin

In Uncategorized on July 7, 2014 at 11:28 am

By Geoffrey Rowan

Walk with me ladies and let’s explore one of the great mysteries of hetero maleness. You may view it as a tolerable, even comical idiosyncrasy of the Y chromosome, or perhaps a weak insensitivity, a sexist deal-breaker, or just the way it is.

However you deal with it, at some point you have wondered why your boyfriend/husband/employee/employer/father/grandfather or any other hetero man cannot stop himself from ogling the waitress’s bosom when she bends over the table?

Sex in the city shoes

I don’t know. But there is a single word that may help you understand and even related to their helplessness; a word that offers you a visceral, emotional light-bulb insight into their slavering. It is offered here as a public service to increase understanding between the sexes.

That word is shoes.

Like breasts, shoes are functional objects that come in pairs and inspire lust. A pair of one to feed the children and of the other to protect your feet from the elements. You’d think that would be the end of it. What could be more mundane?

Why then must men and boys of every age always look? Science has its theories.
Maybe breast-obsessed men have mommy issues, or have been programmed by media’s constant sexualizing of the breast, or are stuck in an adolescent sex loop. These are all reasonable speculations and there are others. But do any of them satisfy your desire to know why he can’t stop?

Intellectually, you know your contented life partner doesn’t really want to blow up his family in order to get his hands on the freckled cleavage of the bank teller. So why must he look? He is smart enough to silently remind himself “eye contact, eye contact, eye contact” during meetings with his boss. And certainly he knows his semi-salacious, never-subtle-enough glance is not really going to ignite the bartender’s loins or inspire his hair stylist to rip open her bodice and mount him in the chair.

But then, you know that no matter how hard you press your nose against the storefront glass on Fifth Avenue, no matter how profoundly you long and sigh over glossy magazine pages, you’re not going to blow the family budget on that $1,000 pair of Manolos. Why must you look? In your fantasy world, you buy them all.

So, before you bust him for not-so-subtly trying to catch a glance of waitress décolletage, admit it. You had already checked out her shoes. Cute ballet flats. When you’re walking down the street together and he does the head swivel, like radar tracking an incoming brace of inter-ballistics, admit you had already checked her out, and were lingering dreamily on her Prada Studded Shoe Booties in grey.

There are as many attempted rationalizations for women’s shoe-porn addiction as for male titillation, and they are about as reasonable. Some say shoe size rarely fluctuates, so women never have to beat themselves up over not being able to fit into their skinny slingbacks.

Another rationalization in the self-esteem category: heels lengthen the leg and lift the buttocks, highlighting posture and curves in a way that inspires feelings of self-confidence and sexiness.
Maybe, but we’re not buying, ladies. Neither explains the feelings of breathless excitement and urgent desire so many women report having when they look at pictures of shoes, see them on display or fondle them in a store.

Women’s shoes and women’s breasts are sensuous and sexy, to women and men respectively and often collectively. The curves, colours, lines, shapes, supple textures, the ratios and juxtapositions, the totality of the experience and the sublime exquisiteness of each molecule that comprise them. The imagined conversation between fingertips and skin. The intoxicating smell of new shoe/boob. The fantasy. Blahnik, Louboutin, Prada, Chanel. Big, small, pert, pendulous.
Breasts and shoes are secondary sexual characteristics. Each provokes feelings of desire and sexuality, but you don’t actually have sex with them. Well, most people don’t.

“I love shoes, desire and lust after them,” Alyssa Siegel wrote in Psychology Tomorrow Magazine, after attending Shoe Obsession, an exhibition at The Museum of New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. “I feel my heart race when I look at shoes I am considering buying, feel a jolt of joy when I wear them the first time.”

She desires them all. “Flats, heels, boots, ballets, sandals, clogs, platforms, wedges, strappy, buckled, lace-ups, peep-toes.”

Compare that to Andre Cross, writing in “Yes, I like big breasts, but I like small breasts as well. I have never encountered a breast that I didn’t like. There are only two things I require from a woman’s breast: nipples and accessibility.

Breasts have a gravitational pull on hetero men only slightly weaker than the sun’s gravitational pull, right before you’re sucked into it and vaporized. Maybe that’s because the 14-year-old who still inhabits the rec room of the hetero male mind believes breasts are the on button for female sexuality. Push here to ignite. Of course that is stupid (right?). But have you ever seen guys under the influence in a strip club? Not the peak of our self-aware, intellectual selves.

Have you ever seen women under the influence in a shoe store? Same-same. Same feigned insouciance, trying to look just as chill and nonchalant as guys in a strip club, but a little too much animation in the voice, a little too giddy.

Still, if shoe store is to woman as strip club is to man, there are some important differences. You can’t get microwaved nachos in a shoe store, and few have football on big-screen TVs to provide a respite from the constant, emotionally exhausting visual stimulation.

But then, in a shoe store, you can touch the object of your desire all you want with no fear that a 350-pound guy named Tiny will grab you by your upper lip and back of your pants and toss you to the sidewalk. And you don’t have to pay $20 a song to sit with a pair of Manolos on your lap.

In the end, there is no convincing explanation for the lust-inducing powers of shoes/breasts. A breast is an erogenous zone located on a woman’s body. A shoe store is an erogenous zone located in a mall.

Nor should we want to live in a world that has demystified the allure of the shoe/breast. All we should care about is that no shoe/breast goes unadored. A flat can be as sexy as a four-inch stiletto. Strappy, buckled, lace-ups, peep-toes. They’re all good. They all bring happiness.

All except for espadrilles. They are a shoe that says: “I don’t like the way you’re looking at me, and don’t even think about touching me.”

Weasel words and the failure of leadership: we get what we accept

In Uncategorized on March 20, 2012 at 4:25 pm

By Geoffrey Rowan
TORONTO, March 20, 2012 — Short-sheeting your brother’s bed is a dirty trick.(“Ohh, you brat!”)  Impersonating a government official to rig an election is a felony.
But the sad truth is most of us don’t care. We don’t expect any better from our leaders. We don’t believe what they say, and who can blame us. In the political arena, at least, we have been conditioned to ignore all the faux wounded hyperbole and ersatz indignation of our leaders. Every day someone in government does something so egregious it can only be fixed by his or her resignation, or the prime minister’s resignation or someone’s ceremonial disembowelment. Who’s to know when something serious actually happens?
Many if not most business leaders are just as disingenuous, obtuse, evasive and self-serving. Leadership in the worlds of religion, not-for-profits and at the local community level is no more inspiring. If perception is reality then we are one sorry family of man because around the world we perceive our leaders as a dismal lot.
You know this because you are aware of the U.S. race for the Republican presidential nomination, or our own robo-call scandal, a dysfunctional city council and mayor’s office or countless other examples that range from bumbling buffoonery to malicious malfeasance. I know it because my colleagues in research at Ketchum surveyed people in 13 countries to find out what they think about leaders. The results were dismal. (Here’s the link to the results media release –

There is a huge gap — a 28 percentage point difference — between what we expect from our leaders and what we think they deliver.

Business leaders were the best of a weak lot globally, with a little more than a third of respondents giving them an excellent rating of eight or above on a scale of 0-10. (In Canada, not-for-profit leaders were best.) Even more surprising, among businesses, leaders in banking and financial services rated near the top of the pack. (Leaders of tech companies were rated highest by 44 per cent of respondents for effective leadership, compared to consumer packaged goods firms at the opposite end of the spectrum, cited by just 20 per cent for effective leadership.) 
As jaded as we are in our view of leaders, we’re still hopeful. We want good leaders and believe that we need them to guide us through these difficult times. And we don’t seek the impossible in leadership. Around the world, across many countries and languages, people were pretty consistent about their expectations in response to this survey.

1. Close the Say-Do Gap — People aren’t as stupid as our leaders seem to think. If you say you love people and then you bomb them, or take away their jobs, or their health care, or abuse their trust, they will grow cynical. We want more from our leaders than catchy slogans and lyrical sound bites. We want people who lead by example, who have the courage and commitment to act, and who keep a level head in a crisis.
2. Strong, Silent Types Need Not Apply — As important as it is to act decisively and with integrity, leaders also must keep people informed. In the absence of clear communication – whenever there is ambiguity – we will assume the worst. So, no to slogans and sound bites but yes to clear, consistent communication, with a little humility. Be willing to admit mistakes. Be aware that different situations require different leadership styles, and different leadership styles require different communication styles, but they all require good communication.
3. Don’t sugar-coat it — The survey was decisive on this. Speak the truth with purpose and without ambiguity. We can handle a challenge if we understand it and if we know what our leaders are doing to address it.  
4. The way to be seen to be trustworthy is to be trustworthy — (See No. 1, Close the Say-Do Gap.) For organizations to be seen to be leaders, nothing rated higher in the survey than trustworthiness, including quality of products, services or management, financial strength, or innovation.
5. Let Them Look You In The Eyes — Face-to-face communication is by far the communication channel that creates the greatest sense of leadership credibility. The lack of credibility given to some digital communication channels was surprising given their fast proliferation, but we believe Twitter feeds and social media were useless for leadership is because most of the content doesn’t meet the other criteria for effective leadership. It’s usually bland marketing speak and sloganeering, and it’s rarely actually written by the leader. Does anyone believe Stephen Harper writes his own Tweets?

The bad news is that we have grown so cynical that we expect our leaders are going to be even worse in 2012 than they were in 2011. There is such a powerful hunger in so many to be anointed “a leader” and then to hang onto that perceived power that they have forgotten the fundamental tenet of leadership – that they work for the people they are leading.

And so cynicism grows, and alientation, and disengagement, until we end up with leaders no one listens to, or until a new kind of leader emerges — one who leads instead of manages. That’s where leadership opportunity exists now.


Business, Political, Religious Leadership a Big Disappointment

In Uncategorized on March 20, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Leadership crisis expected to worsen, Ketchum global survey reveals

Canadians rate not-for-profit leaders best of a weak lot of leaders
Globally, business leaders rated first; bankers surprise
  Politicians rated worst on leadership; vast gap between expectation, reality
  Traditional media far outperforms social media for leadership credibility

 TORONTO, March 20, 2012 – Leaders in business, politics, religion, local communities and the not-for-profit sector fall far short of expectations around the world, according to a 12-country survey by global communications firm Ketchum, and we expect it to get worse this year.

The survey found a 28-percentage-point gap between respondents’ expectations of leaders and their view of how well leaders are meeting those expectations.

In Canada*, survey respondents were at least as harsh in their judgment of leaders as elsewhere, but rather than rating business leaders as the best of a weak lot, Canadians gave that recognition to leaders of not-for-profit organizations.

 Canadians gave not-for-profit leaders a mean score of 6, on a sale of 0-10, for effective leadership. Canada’s business leaders followed with a mean score of 5.6 out of 10. Canadians rated political leaders tied for last place, with celebrities, with a 4.2 mean score.

Besides showing the depth of the world’s lack of faith in our leader, the global survey also provides a roadmap for leadership effectiveness. Being perceived as an effective leader requires a combination of decisive action and honest, transparent communication, which is best achieved through a leader’s personal presence and involvement.

“Our study reveals for the first time the full extent of the world’s disappointment with its leaders across every category of human endeavour,” said Geoffrey Rowan, managing director of Ketchum’s Canadian operations and a partner in the global firm. “But the research is also full of practical insights – a clear blueprint for more effective leadership. One point of clarity was how inextricably linked effective leadership is to effective communication.”

A surprise finding outside of Canada, given the lingering global financial crisis, business leaders were seen as the most effective over the past year – beating politicians, not-for-profit bosses and religious leaders. But in Canada, not only did not-for-profit leaders get the highest mean score. They also got the highest number of “excellent” ratings (8 or above on a scale of 0-10) at 23 per cent. Globally, it was the business leaders who got the most excellent ratings, at 36 per cent.

“The key to leadership, particularly in the ‘social profit’ sector, is knowing what to do with it,” said Rahul Bhardwaj, president and CEO of Toronto Community Foundation, one of Canada’s most far-reaching not-for-profits. “When working to build stronger communities, cities, and, by extension, a stronger country, it’s important to remain focused, transparent and committed to open and authentic communication. You must be guided by and communicate strong values – be constructive not destructive. “Above all, don’t confuse managing with leading.”

Within the business community globally, knowledge-based industries were perceived as having the most effective bosses. Ranked highest on leadership effectiveness was technology, with a 44 per cent approval rating, followed by media (39 per cent) and telecommunications (36 per cent). Banking chiefs came in fourth overall in the poll worldwide with 32 per cent. The energy sector and financial services leaders were ranked fifth (31 per cent) and sixth (30 per cent) respectively. Consumer business leaders lagged far behind on leadership, with consumer packaged goods leaders being rated effective by only 20 per cent.

Perhaps most significant for the business community, the research makes a direct link between positive perceptions of leadership and business-critical decisions such as a willingness to buy stock, goods and services or recommend working at a company. This explains crisis response being seen as the most important area for business leaders to communicate personally (53 per cent), followed by financial results (48 per cent) and the state of the business (40 per cent).

Personal Leadership and Powerful CommunicationA Direct Link

Clear, transparent communication topped the table of key leadership behaviours globally. For 84 per cent, effective communication is extremely important to strong leadership, while 48 per cent rated it as the number one factor. In Canada, not-for-profit and business leaders tied for top spot in effective communication, at a fairly dismal mean rating of 5.7 out of 10. Political and religious leaders tied with the lowest mean rating of 4.6 on effective communication.

 Action also matters in rating leadership. Being able to make the tough decisions, leading by example and staying calm in a crisis rated immediately behind effective communication. The study revealed that the number one action leaders should take to restore confidence in 2012 is to be open and honest about the nature and scale of the challenge ahead (57 per cent US; 52 per cent Europe vs. 43 per cent China). By contrast, only 17 per cent indicated a preference for leaders to spare them the full picture to avoid panic.

Trustworthiness was seen as the number one source of leadership credibility for corporations, placed above quality of management and financial strength. In order to win that trust, the report found that the personal “presence” and involvement of a leader in communicating was vital. As a result, communication via face-to-face and traditional media left social media trailing. Face-to-face contact provided the greatest source of leadership credibility (50 per cent), followed by televised speeches (43 per cent), broadcast media (41 per cent) and print media (38 per cent). Digital platforms and social media were well off pace, with blogs at 20 per cent, Facebook at 16 per cent, advertising at 13 per cent and Twitter at just 8 per cent.

“We were a little surprised that mainstream media was still far ahead of digital and social media in conveying leadership credibility,” said Mr. Rowan. “The message we take is that most organizations aren’t using social media as a leadership channel. It’s mostly used to push marketing messages, and even when a leader’s name is involved, most people don’t believe it’s the leader who is actually communicating. This doesn’t mean we should write off social media as a channel for building credible leadership but rather that we have to make the authentic ‘presence’ of the leader shine through.”

Visit for additional survey information and materials. # # # About the Leadership Communication Monitor Ketchum Global Research & Analytics and Ipsos Observer, a worldwide strategic business line within Ipsos, conducted an online survey of 3,759 respondents in 12 markets from Dec. 14, 2011 to Jan. 10, 2012. These were the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Poland, China, Singapore, India, the United Arab Emirates, South Africa and Brazil. The global margin of error is +/-1.6%. About Ketchum Ketchum is a leading global communications firm with operations in more than 70 countries across six continents. Named 2012 Agency of the Year (PRWeek) and the winner of an unprecedented three consecutive PRWeek Campaign of the Year Awards, Ketchum partners with clients to deliver strategic programming, game-changing creative and measurable results that build brands and reputations. For more information on Ketchum, a unit of Omnicom Group Inc. (NYSE:OMC), visit About the Canadian Survey From March 15th, to September 16th, 2012, an online survey was conducted among a sample of 1,003 Canadian adults 18 years plus, who are Angus Reid Forum panel members. The Angus Reid Forum is owned and operated by Vision Critical. Individuals were sampled according to Census data to be representative of the Canadian national adult population. The full dataset has been statistically weighted according to the most current gender, age, region, education (and in Quebec, language) Census data to ensure a sample representative of the entire adult population of Canada. The margin of error is ±3.1%, 19 times out of 20. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding. About Ipsos Ipsos is an independent market research company controlled and managed by research professionals. Founded in France in 1975, Ipsos has grown into a worldwide research group with a strong presence in all key markets. In October 2011 Ipsos completed the acquisition of Synovate. The combination forms the world’s third largest market research company. With offices in 84 countries, Ipsos delivers insightful expertise across six research specializations: advertising, customer loyalty, marketing, media, public affairs research, and survey management. Ipsos researchers assess market potential and interpret market trends. They develop and build brands. They help clients build long-term relationships with their customers. They test advertising and study audience responses to various media and they measure public opinion around the globe. Ipsos has been listed on the Paris Stock Exchange since 1999 and generated global revenues of €1,363 billion (1.897 billion USD) in 2011. Visit to learn more about Ipsos’ offerings and capabilities.

Contact: Sydney Dare —  416-355-7427 —

* The Canadian survey – the 13th country – was conducted for Ketchum by Vision Critical. It was conducted later than the surveys in other countries and asked fewer questions, which may have affected results

Talk about your ‘shoemaker’s children,’ PR is tongue-tied trying to explain itself

In Uncategorized on February 17, 2012 at 2:19 pm

By Geoffrey Rowan

TORONTO, FEB. 17, 2012

Dear Father-of-PR Edward Bernays,

Please save us from ourselves.

In a smart blog post on the almost-always-helpful Ragan’s PR Daily  ( Steve Crescenzo wrote about the PRSA’s bulemic attempt to define PR. (Bulemic because the PRSA PR Definition Task Force took in a huge amount of material, which it has used to produce a bilious product.) Steve is a popular speaker, seminar leader and consultant who blogs at Corporate

The PRSA output is head-explodingly bad communication, exceeded only by the Canadian Public Relations Society in its attempt to violate every precept of human communication with this:

“Public relations is the strategic management of relationships between an organization and its diverse publics, through the use of communication, to achieve mutual understanding, realize organizational goals and serve the public interest.”
Agree with Paul Nz that no one but a “task force” that believes it is doing life-defining work would use the word “publics.”

The PRSA is asking its members to choose from these offerings:

Public relations is the management function of researching, communicating and collaborating with publics to build mutually beneficial relationships.

Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.

Public relations is the strategic process of engagement between organizations and publics to achieve mutual understanding and realize goals.

How about:
“PR is communication with purpose.”
Or “PR is communication to achieve something.”

The problem with saying something in five or six plain words instead of 20-35 self-important ones is that it doesn’t sufficiently mystify what we do. It doesn’t create a barrier to entry. If PR is just “communication to achieve something,” well, doesn’t everybody do that? Yes, everybody does that. And a lot of people participate in sports and the arts but they don’t do so at a professional level. Besides being dreadful communication, the association definitions reek of insecurity and desperation. (“Really, we do something special, we really do, and you don’t know how to do it.”)
Let’s differentiate ourselves by excelling in the art and science of communicating to achieve results, rather than by defining our craft with an arcane, impenetrable, self-aggrandizing, jargon-filled, uninspiring and meaningless bit of tripe that will never be used anywhere anyway.   Too much?


Bumper sticker Tweets: Beware the feel-good response

In Uncategorized on January 13, 2012 at 8:59 pm

By Geoffrey Rowan

TORONTO — Three days in a row, I’ve been sitting at a red light behind a car with a bumper sticker that reads: “If you don’t stand behind our troops, feel free to stand in front of them.” You know the rules. Three times makes a trend.


By the way, chrome (the vehicular adornment, not the browser that is part of a plot to control the known universe) is an underappreciated social medium. It operates in every country and every language. It has hundreds of millions of users and has for decades. It’s mobile. And it pioneered near-field communication.

But back to the militaristic bumper sticker. That really is an uncharacteristically jingoist sentiment for Canada, isn’t it?

“If you don’t stand behind our troops, feel free to stand in front of them.” What does that mean?

Is the driver saying that if you don’t support the development, maintenance and use of a military force he would be happy to see you murdered by that military force?

I bet the committed, highly trained professional men and women in our armed forces don’t appreciate being cast in the role of death squad bully. We saw in the Arab Spring that many of the soldiers of Tunisia, and all the soldiers in Egypt refused to make war on their own people. Who thinks less of our own military men and women?

Does the guy with the bumper sticker think that our professional servicemen and women, who join the services because they want to – and sorry for being redundant here – serve, does he think our countrymen would shoot their fellow citizens because they don’t support the military? Most people in service think more about the values they have sworn to uphold than the rest of us. They live them every day.

But perhaps the bumper sticker is meant in a different way. Maybe the drivers aren’t saying that our brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and mothers and fathers and sons and daughters should mow down their countrymen for having a different point of view. Maybe they are saying that anyone who doesn’t support the use of military might should be willing to stand between our soldiers and harm.

Again, do they have no respect for the professionalism of the Canadian armed forces? Are they really suggesting that Canadian soldiers, peacekeepers who have volunteered to go into the hottest, most unstable areas of the world to separate combatants, are they really suggesting these men and women of integrity and courage would stoop to using human shields? That is an odious slur on one of the best trained, most skilled and professional fighting forces that has ever existed.

I don’t know how many characters a bumper can hold, but chrome Twitter has obvious limitations. So do other social media platforms. They all make it too easy to promote simplistic ideas. The world is a complicated place. When we allow ourselves to be seduced by simple-minded answers, we end up creating bigger problems.

Falling for simple solutions can lead to bigger problems, like this.

The Leadership Wisdom of Howard Stern

In Uncategorized on December 17, 2011 at 12:10 pm

You Don’t Get To Be ‘King of All Media

Just By Talking Dirty

By Geoffrey Rowan

Dec. 17, 2011

Disparaged and reviled by some as a “shock jock,” and adored by legions as the King of All Media, Howard Stern has created billions of dollars in value for the entertainment industry. He is a success by just about every measure and has created success for those around him. And he has done it through brilliant leadership – personifying the text-book traits of a great leader. If Stern’s empire was built on office supplies rather than edgy entertainment his leadership style would be studied at Harvard, INSEAD, the London School of Economics and all the world’s great business schools. It would be a must-read case study in the Harvard Business Review, mandatory for every executive education program. Here’s how Stern lives leadership.


His vision is clear, concise, and easy to understand. He communicates it often and he measures his performance constantly.  It is to be “the king of all media.” He has had best-selling books, a box-office hit movie, a top-performing radio show (broadcast and satellite) for decades, cable TV success and has just signed a lucrative contract to be a judge on top-rated America’s Got Talent.


Stern has navigated the notoriously treacherous egos, politics and business practices of the entertainment industry for decades, all while maintaining his core team, and in many cases elevating their abilities beyond any level they could have achieved on their own. He recognizes where team chemistry creates a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Supporting cast member Robin Quivers, for example, was a local market radio news reader. She lacks comedic talent but she was an early supporter and part of an ensemble that evolves over time but remains recognizable.

Stern’s loyalty seems personal and genuine, even when it’s difficult and possibly risky. He worked with comedian Artie Lange through Lange’s many lapses into substance abuse, and a suicide attempt. He suffered through the abuses of mediocre comedian Jackie Martling, who seemed to be constantly trading off his connection to Stern, sometimes at risk to Stern’s own brand.

But Howard’s most important loyalties are for his audience. He has never betrayed the core following whose support has been the foundation of his success. Forays into other media – even the prime time America’s Got talent – have always been built around his offering to his core audience. His brand extensions (into other media) always provide additional value to his base rather than depleting them.

The result is that Stern has a legion of brand ambassadors who are out in the world every day, promoting the Stern brand online, through prank phone calls to call in shows, or in water-cooler conversations at the office.

Honest feedback, accountability

His loyalty isn’t blind. Listeners to his radio show know that Stern gives tough, in-the-moment, and very specific feedback to his people when their performance does not meet the standards expected. That feedback is always in service of providing the best entertainment experience for his audience – an experience that is always pushing toward the vision to be “the king of all media.”


Stern is an innovation engine. He created the so-called shock-jock genre. His version stands alone as a sophisticated and constantly improving iteration, head and shoulders above pale imitations. He pushes the boundaries of entertainment, whether with content – Crackhead Bob, the late Hank the Angry Dwarf, Eric the Midget et al – or technology, such as the Sybaran female masturbation saddle or Real Doll sex mannequins. But his biggest innovation, and risk, was the move into satellite radio.

He is slow to tamper with the core value proposition for his consumers, but is aggressive and demanding in seeking new ways to present and build on that value.


A leader decides what to do and what not to do. Throughout his career, Stern has made tough decisions always in support of his strategic vision. He has pushed boundaries past the breaking point, and as a result has been fired several times. He made the risky transition into satellite radio, knowing that it would mean some lost audience but betting that the value to his most loyal consumers would outweigh the loss of less loyal followers. He was also able to leverage that risk into a significant cash-generation opportunity for himself and his team, but at the same time invested significantly back into his core offer to produce a higher quality product. He has also declined lucrative opportunities that he felt could move him too far away from his core.

Confidence, with a willingness to admit weakness

One does not declare oneself “the king of all media” without a significant measure of either self-delusion or self-confidence. Stern has a track record of delivering. Those around him know that if he says he is going to achieve a goal, he will very likely achieve it. But his self-confidence is not pure egotism. He holds himself accountable to the same high standards he demands of others, and he willingly mocks his own perceived shortcomings, whether that’s penis size, a shopping list of neuroses, or a temporarily raspy voice from a head-cold or a late night.

Authenticity and Integrity

There is a mistaken perception that charisma is a significant leadership quality. Leaders may or may not have personal magnetism. Stern may or may not. That is a highly subjective judgment. More important qualities for effective leaders are authenticity and integrity.

Stern’s most powerful asset is that for his audience, he seems to have erased the line between his entertainment character and his real self. He is authentic, believable. He seems to be who he says he is. He seems to live the way he says he lives, by the values his character talks about every day. He has to. The people he seems to take greatest pleasure in ripping into are those he believes are hypocrites.

There is also a mistaken perception that integrity is synonymous with sobriety and conservative sexual and social mores. It is not. Integrity is the quality of living by the values you espouse – of doing what you say. Stern has courageous honesty. For that reason, he will never win over a segment of society with different beliefs. He rejects sexual hypocrisy – on one hand sex is a fundamental necessity to maintain human existence and we live in a highly sexualized society; on the other hand we demonize sexuality and vilify people who are open and honest about sexuality.

Leaders get in trouble when there is a gap between what they say and what they do. While Stern has built his media empire with no significant scandal, countless charismatic business, political and religious leaders have destroyed themselves by falling into the huge chasm between what they say and what they do. That matters.


Stern is child-like in his curiosity, whether it’s learning karate, chess, photography, or understanding the sex drive of lesbians. Curiosity keeps him fresh. It activates other parts of his brain, enabling him to approach issues from creative and ever-changing perspectives. It feeds his hunger for the continuous improvement.


A great leader almost has to be neurotic. He or she must obsess about quality, about competition, and about new opportunities. Is the leader getting the best out of individuals, teams, processes and tools? Where is the weakness? How can it be addressed? Stern plays out his neuroses in front of millions of people every day. He does it with too much thought and too much purpose to be insane. Therefore it must be courageous leadership.

When you strip away the content of Stern’s media empire – which some find too uncomfortable to deal with or morally reprehensible – what’s left are the values and behaviours of excellent leadership.

Stern has earned the leadership title King of All Media.

Nickelback makes love to goats, RIM gets pissed, Jack Layton touches our hearts

In Uncategorized on December 7, 2011 at 11:53 am

Ketchum Canada’s Best and Worst Communicators of 2011 show us how it’s done, or not

TORONTO, Dec. 7, 2011 – From the self-mockery (“we make love to goats”) of the Alberta rockers everyone loves to hate, to a moving farewell from a dying politician who so many grew to love, it has been a poignant, perilous and sometimes pathetic year for Canada’s public communicators.

This eighth annual ranking by Ketchum Public Relations Canada recognizes skillful, colourful and effective communication as well as the verbose, impenetrable and downright stupid. Every year, Ketchum PR professionals track hundreds of newsmakers as they deal with potentially damaging issues in business, government, news, sports, and the arts. The results reveal trends in communication and identify valuable lessons.

“When everyone with a cell phone is a potential publisher, there’s really no such thing as private these days,” said Geoffrey Rowan, Partner/Managing Director of Ketchum Public Relations Canada. “But today’s always-on world doesn’t excuse blatherskite from those with a duty to communicate with clarity, integrity and purpose.”

Here are the lessons we learned from Canada’s best and worst communicators in 2011.

 1.        Appeal to our better selves, with feeling

 When NDP leader Jack Layton had every right to be thinking about himself, just two days before his death, he was writing an encouraging farewell letter to Canadians. His final words touched our hearts because they showed that he knew the end was imminent for him but his thoughts were with those who would carry on. His was a simple, genuine message – part instruction manual, part poetry – delivered with grace and eloquence.

“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

  1. 2.       Don’t be arrogant unless you’re the only game in town, forever

A lot of lessons from former tech darling RIM this year. First is that you shouldn’t bank on your status as “tech darling.” The media and the world love to bring down darlings.

Co-CEO Mike Lazaridis found himself in hot water after the BBC posted a short video of him abruptly ending an interview because he didn’t like the questions — about government interference in India and the Middle East with RIM’s BlackBerry network security. “Not fair,” he complained. But when you take the public’s money by issuing stock, you don’t get to pick the questions reporters ask you.

Then the co-CEOs seemed to sleep through a reputation-crushing service outage. The good news was that a lot of people rely on Blackberries to conduct their daily business. The bad news is that the bigger the gap between what you promise and what you deliver, the madder your customers get. But that only becomes a problem for RIM if there’s ever some other smart phone alternative, and what’s the likelihood of that iHappening? It’s enough to drive employees to drink too much on airplanes.

3.       Good gravy, Mr. Mayor.

Last year we acknowledged Toronto Mayor Rob Ford for using a simple, clear, credible message to connect with the Toronto electorate. “No more gravy train.”  A year later, Mayor Ford’s battle with the gravy train has left him a hot mess.

There’s too much bad communication by Mayor Ford and his brother Doug to single out one issue. By all reports, when he’s not directing rude digital (middle-digit) communication at fellow motorists, he’s directing vulgar verbal torrents at fellow city employees after being confronted by fictional TV characters, or petulantly picking a fight with the Toronto Star. Governments should not play favourites when it comes to sharing information. Publicly-funded. Public information.  For a big, tough politician sometimes he seems pretty delicate.

Also, see above: minimize the difference between what you say you’re going to do (no service cuts, no layoffs) and what you actually do to preserve credibility.

4.       Occupy huh?

The Occupy Wall Street movement successfully communicated the ideas that the world isn’t fair and that some people are unhappy about that. Unless it transforms itself into something other than a forum for whinging, it is doomed to irrelevancy. After visiting the camps, reading the signs, watching countless hours of live, streaming video, poring over main stream media coverage and blogosphere journaling, we have been able to distill the essence of the OWS discussion:

“You suck! No you suck! Well, you’re stupid. Am not. You’re stupid! Drum break!”

Communication failures include: lack of focus, lack of anything new to say, lack of credibility, excess of irony (being photographed, Starbucks cup in hand, screaming at police about the evils of  globalization),  lack of direction, and in many cases lack of connection to the real world.

5.       We’re sorry you suck

Small wonder the OWS movement vilifies the business community when they see stories like this. A group of Montreal business school students painted themselves in black face and acted out insulting stereotypes of Jamaicans. A student of Jamaican descent found the performances degrading and offensive, given the history of insulting and degrading black-face performances by whites, and the fact that it was in fact insulting and degrading.

The response from this institution of higher learning?

“We spoke to the students and they found the reaction regrettable and are sorry.”

Really? They found the reaction to their incredibly offensive behaviour regrettable? They regret that people were offended by their offensiveness?

6.       In the thick of it, communicate well and often

Mining is a dirty business on a large scale that often takes place in remote, undeveloped areas and often involves enormously complex human, environmental, economic and political issues. Unless we decide we don’t want the products that mining enables, we have to accept its necessity and do our best to ensure miners behave responsibly.

Barrick Gold made front-page news when the world’s largest gold miner was involved in a scandal where allegations of sexual assault at its mines in Tanzania and Papua New Guinea came to light.

“The allegations were highly disturbing and will be fully investigated and publicly reported,” the company vowed. It pledged to fire any employee involved in human-rights violations, or who knows of human-rights abuses and fails to report them.

“These deplorable crimes, if confirmed, are neither acceptable nor excusable. They send a clear message to us that we have not met the promises we have made to the community, and to ourselves, to pursue responsible mining in every location where our affiliates and we operate. We can, and will, do more.”

Barrick is involved in some of the world’s most difficult mining environments, facing problems that defy simple answers. But it is consistently open about these difficulties, takes responsibility for finding solutions, and keeps the channels of communication open. That doesn’t mean it is beyond reproach, but it’s the best way to protect your reputation in an industry as big and dangerous as mining.

7.       Don’t wing it, or even chopper it

Even the most experienced communicator can’t afford to helicopter … errr phone it in. Defence Minister Peter MacKay, suffering lately from a bit of changing-story-itis over his use of a Canadian Forces helicopter to pick him up from a fishing trip, had another embarrassing gaffe this year. In an on-camera meeting with former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mr. MacKay observed that British Columbia and California share a border. If Arnold, or Sarah Palin, or some other American politician had displayed such geographic ignorance, Canada might have recalled its ambassador. Mr. Mackay got off easy, and has probably learned not to fish out any old statement without researching it.

8.       Don’t take yourself too seriously

It’s one of life’s enduring mysteries. How have Alberta’s three-chord rockers Nickelback managed to sell more than 50 million albums and regularly fill arenas around the world when no one on the planet will admit to liking their music. (We don’t, really.)

One of their biggest anti-fans, on learning the band would play the halftime show during the Detroit Lions’ Thanksgiving game, launched a no-Nickelback online petition. Some 54,000 people signed it, hoping to get the appearance cancelled.

Rather than cursing out a 911 operator, or taking over a park and beating a drum until all meanness is removed from the Internet, front man Chad Kroeger and the band sat down on camera with their (faux) record label boss to address some of the roots of the “crisis.”

“We make love to goats,” corrected Kroeger, when asked about a particular nasty rumour making the rounds on the Internet. After brainstorming a bunch of ideas to appease fans in Detroit— such as playing Motown music as The Four Nickels — the band dressed up as different people and characters from Detroit, including RoboCop and Alice Cooper.

We liked it, we really liked it. (Now about that music …)

9.       Know what century you’re in. Hell, know what planet you are on.

We have three winners in the out-of-touch-old-guy category this year. Unfortunately one is the bright, young hope of the Liberal Party, Justin Trudeau. Trudeau said he was “uncomfortable” calling honour killings “barbaric.”

Eventually he apologized for his remarks, “if they’ve been interpreted by any one as dismissing or diminishing the serious and appalling nature of honour killings and other gender-based violence.”

  •  So, it’s our fault that when you dismissed the heinous nature of honour killings that we “interpreted it” as … dismissing the heinous nature of honour killings? Oops. We’re sorry, Justin.
  •  Cut to the Toronto cop who advised staff and students at Osgoode Hall law school “not to dress like sluts” if they want to avoid sexual assault.

The officer eventually “apologized,” saying he was “embarrassed” by the remark and that assaulted women are “not victims by choice.”

Our bad. Sorry for the discomfort you experience by being embarrassed. The good news is that Slut Walks have been held around the world to remind people not to blame the victim.

In contrast, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair stepped up right away, taking responsibility. “If that type of, frankly, archaic thinking still exists among any of my officers, it highlights for me the need to continue to train my officers and sensitize them to the reality of victimization.”

  •  Then there’s hockey icon Don Cherry, who lambasted some former enforcers as “pukes,” “hypocrites,” and “turncoats” when they spoke out against fighting.

Being an icon affords one some leeway. But Don cut it pretty close with this one. Ultimately, he pulled it out in sudden death overtime with an apology just like the man. It pulled no punches.

“I’ve got to admit I was wrong on a lot of things,” Cherry said. “I put down three enforcers, tough guys, my type of guys, I threw them under the bus. I’m sorry about it, I really am.”

10.   Learn from Nickelback and react appropriately

  Yes, take any complaints of wrong-doing seriously.  Assess the threat. Is it core to what you are, like an accounting firm getting caught cooking the books? Is it credible? Does it have legs?

Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos caused himself more trouble than he needed by calling a press conference to deny rumours that the Jays were stealing signs (cheating.) The Jays were a mediocre (but exciting) team. The story would have died quickly but Anthopolous gave it legs by holding an emotional news conference. Something that few people heard about was spread to many people. A year from now al they’ll remember is something about the Blue Jays cheating.

The Best and Worst of 2012

If you would like to get in on the fun for Canada’s Best and Worst Communicators of 2012, send your nominations to our Twitter handle @KetchumCanadaPR, or to Each nomination must contain the quote, its speaker, the date it was spoken and a verifiable reference to the media outlet where it was reported.

About Ketchum Public Relations Canada

An innovator in communication since 1923, Ketchum delivers seamless service around the globe through its 21 offices and 35 affiliates and associates in Europe, North America, Asia Pacific and Latin America.  Ketchum is a unit of Omnicom Group Inc. (NYSE:OMC;  Additional information on Ketchum, its award-winning work can be found at

We few, we happy few, we hairy few, we band of brothers

In Uncategorized on November 30, 2011 at 2:40 pm

By Geoffrey Rowan

TORONTO, Nov. 30, 2011 — Tonight, or in the chill gray light of tomorrow’s early morning, thousands of men will stand before their bathroom mirrors, blade in hand, and they will hesitate.

A small voice inside their heads will say: “Damn, I look good.”

Then a louder voice, from outside their head, a voice from the next room, will snap them out of their revery. “Have you gotten rid of that thing yet?!”

It is the end of November, the end of Movember, and for many that means the end of an itchy flirtation with facial greatness. Some, a few, will make the bold decision to keep their mustaches, eschewing the loving arms of their partner for god knows how long. These men, as Shakespeare almost said, will go forward with pride, conviction and probably some cracker crumbs, soup juice, or other little bits of food. To these men, we raise our cups of mead and say: “Good luck with that whole porn ‘stache thing you’ve got going on there.”

No, my fair sub-nasal caterpillar;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one fuzzy man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear, (well maybe it yearns me a little);
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet a splendid Fu Manchu,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more covered lip!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach for pubic hair around his mouth,
Let him depart to his bathroom sink; his passport shall be made,
And Aqua Velva to sting upon his face;
We would not groom in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to let his freak flag fly with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He who’s Salvador Dali or Charlie Chaplin outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will twirl his ends when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall remain hirsute of upper lip, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’
Then will he strip his balaclava and show his Rollie Fingers,
And say ‘These hairy tendrils I kept on Crispian’s day.’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages, though maybe not in the marriage bed
What barbering he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Yosemite Sam, Gene Shalit, Groucho Marx, and Tom Selleck
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we hairy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that wears whiskers with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed and clean shaven
Shall think themselves accurs’d they have naked faces,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That twirled his mustache with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Say ‘you’re welcome.’ It may be our last chance to save humanity

In Uncategorized on November 15, 2011 at 9:25 pm

By Geoffrey Rowan

TORONTO, Nov. 15, 2011 — Whatever happened to saying what you mean?

I mean literally, using words that match the idea you are trying to communicate? We’ve lost it, and this failing of our ability to say what we mean signals the dimming of our intellectual light, as if somewhere Ol’ Sparky was sucking all the juice to deliver a searing jolt to the collective seat of humanity’s pants. It is the end of times. When? We’re already both-feet-out onto a PAM-slick playground slide that empties into a sub-basement of fire, brimstone, zombies, rabid dingoes and machete-wielding, pink-haired trolls. We are done.

What am I saying? One of the simplest, most civilized, humanity-affirming transactions between people is the expression of appreciation for some kindness done – the “thank you.

Somebody holds the door for you, gives you a kidney, buys you a drink or releases you from a leg-hold trap and you say: “thank you.”

That’s nice, but wait. The interaction isn’t finished.

If you’re an asshole, you might respond: “Yeah, that was pretty great of me. I guess you really owe me now.”

But most of us are socialized — and maybe we even want — to respond in a way that frees the beneficiary from any sense of obligation. “You’re welcome.”

It’s dead simple. But something has gone wrong. Maybe the switch from NTSC standard analog television signals to digital signals has mushified a piece of our brains. Maybe there was some piece of subliminal coding in a section of the Dr. Spock book we were all raised on. Maybe hockey really has gotten too fast.

Whatever the cause, that simplest and most civilizing of human transactions has been perverted, no less than any seven-year-old-girl being glossed and rouged by her stage momma.

How so? Take a look at this now ubiquitous interaction.

“Thank you.”

“No problem.”

I recognize that some people think “no problem” is synonymous with “you’re welcome,” but it’s not. It’s synonymous with the rapid decline of human civilization into a state of scab-picking, flesh-eating zombiehood.

What are you saying when you are saying no problem? That “it is not a problem to help you?” That if it required any real effort I wouldn’t be doing this but since it doesn’t, I’ll do it?

A thoughtful response to “Thank you for your kindness” is “I’m glad to be able to help you,” or “it’s my pleasure,” or “you are welcome” to that kindness.

But “you bet?” I bet what? I bet that you will help me if I am ever in need? If that’s what it’s short for, that’s a great sentiment.


“Hey, for you, it’s money in the bank. Any time.” That’s nice. The words mean something.

Or just: “Any time.” That is also an acceptable response in a world where we are trying to stave off pending un-deadness.

But “Uh Huh?”

Are you kidding? Are you such a bilious slacker that you cannot even expend the energy to form a word? Are you already so devoid of humanity that all you can do is belch some air over your vocal chords in a gaseous approximation of a response?

No! Fight for your humanity. It took us millions of years to evolve into sentient creatures capable of expressing ourselves with precise vocalizations that represent sophisticated thoughts. (Yes, it did.) Fight for your right to form words. Fight to prevent de-evolution and the stupefying of the species. Fight for the future of mankind.

Use your words. Say “you’re welcome.”