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Law And Effective Communications – IABC/ Toronto

Guest Post:  Rod Charles is a contributor with PR In Canada,  he is a freelance writer, most recently Rod was Travel and Finance Associate Editor for the Huffington Post Canada.  You can connect with Tara on LinkedIn or Twitter.  Below are notes from the IABC/Toronto “Law and Effective Communications” breakfast seminar:

For Warren Kinsella, President of Daisy Consulting and author of “Fight the Right,”the key to success in any communication strategy basically boils down to two things – defining the issue and telling a good story.

This of course isn’t difficult for a journalist who has also worked as a Special Assistant to the Rt. Hon. Jean Chretien. Kinsella spoke at a seminar at the Toronto Hilton called Law and Effective Communications and says there are key questions every communicator needs to ask.

“Who’s your target, what’s your message, when should you deliver it, and why should anybody care, because sometimes they don’t,” said Kinsella, who spoke about the Pyramid of Power. “In a government relations campaign people are always preoccupied with the top two levels of the pyramid – Premiers, Prime Ministers, Cabinet, and officials, CEOs, senior political staff, and court reporters. The third level is the chattering class – they’re the ones who subscribe to all the papers. These people are the most important part of the pyramid. We often forget about them, but they are your target because in a democracy, they’re the ones who are the bosses of all the other layers. Get them in your campaign, get them in your social media strategy, and you get all of the Pyramid of Power.”

Kinsella had several suggestions that are essential for effective communication, and he had no shortage of anecdotes to drive the message home.

Define your issue immediately – don’t let your opponent do it for you.

Kinsella:How did Toronto Mayor Rob Ford win? He defined his issue very early and he stuck to it like a dog on a bone. Gravy train. Gravy train. Gravy train. Every time he spoke, and I give him credit, he talked about the gravy train. He didn’t talk about anything else. He didn’t need to. The irony is that he lost his way because he lost track of that of that gravy train message. He began using the TTC bus, began using staff resources and stuff for his football team, this is how he lost those people that put him in office.

Identify your top three arguments, and also the top three arguments of your opponents.

Kinsella:A guy who really did this the best, and why he was known as the Great Communicator, was former U.S. President Ronald Reagan. I disagreed with everything he did but he was spectacular at this – he would always, every speech, every press release, every talking point, every scrum, everything he did would have one message, and two supporting messages. That’s what you need to do too.

Tell a story: Facts tell, stories sell.

Kinsella: A pollster once said to me “Warren, 40 per cent of Canadians don’t know how many million are in a billion.” The average citizen has never held a million anything in their hand, let alone a billion. So you’ve got to communicate in stories so that people can relate.

He also spoke about the importance of being brief. KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid is something that we have all heard, but Kinsella stressed that many professionals have a tendency to say too much.


Kinsella: That was Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s genius in the 2006-07 election campaign. Five messages. And you can still remember what some of them were: Getting tough on crime, the accountability act, cuts to the GST, to name three. But I can’t remember what any of (former Prime Minister) Paul Martin’s points were. If you have 100 priorities in a communication strategy, then you don’t have a single priority. 

Leave no charge unanswered

In an age where things happen so quickly, one of the biggest mistakes made is underestimating the seriousness of a situation. Kinsella explained that things can happen to you or your firm that at the outset look like nothing, but before you know it can go “supernova.”


Kinsella:Example, a few years ago a story about a politician and some member of the staff was making its way around news organizations. None of the media organizations wanted to get this story for whatever reason, and the story ended up on a website nobody had ever heard of before. The little website was called the Drudge Report.

The politician was Bill Clinton and the staffer was Monica Lewinsky. The Lewinsky Scandal was broken by a website nobody had ever heard of before. Nobody in Bill Clinton’s administration took that story seriously. That story paralyzed the politics and the affairs of the most powerful nation on earth for two years. So these little things can develop into big things very quickly, so you have to take them seriously. No matter how nonsensical or ridiculous they seem at the outset, you and your organization must pay attention to this stuff and be ready for it to blow the way that Clinton was not.

Deliver your message when you have their attention

In communication, timing is everything. Kinsella spoke about the importance of not sending out important messages “during a traffic jam.”

Kinsella: So last week we had three federal by-elections, the Rob Ford decision by the superior court, and Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney going to Britain. So what does Liberal MP Joyce Murray do? She decides she’s going to announce her leadership bid on that day. Why not just take a gun and shoot yourself in the head? It’s faster. She had all kinds of great messages, but none of us know what they are, do we?

Why should anybody care?

Kinsella: There’s an American writer, a Democrat named David Shenkwho came up with a phrase for this – Data Smog. Already this morning, you guys have been bombarded by hundreds of thousands of words and images already. Radio, TV, subway ads, it’s just overwhelming.

So how do you make people care about your stuff? Three things. You have to be unique, relevant, and repetitive with your message.