Media strategy

Two major communications gaffes were highlighted in the news media in Canada and the U.S. during the week of February 8, 2017. One was the reaction of Tim Horton’s executives to interview requests from the Globe and Mail; the other was the decision of the Trump Administration to bar leading media outlet reporters from a White House press briefing. Both decisions, according to reports in the Globe and Mail and various other media, seem dumb beyond belief.

In brief, according to the Globe and Mail, highly experienced reporter Marina Strauss asked for interviews with  the new president of Tim Horton’s, and the CEO of Restaurant Brands International (RBI), the public corporation that runs Tim Horton’s. Her subject would be changes made to Tim’s after its takeover by RBI. Over two months, the Globe says it got ‘brush-offs’ from corporate relations of Timmy’s and its head office;  interviews were cancelled at the last minute; demands were made that no personal information about the execs be included in articles and endless negotiations went nowhere.

The Globe and Mail went ahead with its story about Tim Horton’s evolution; the item began, “Since taking over the iconic chain in 2014, its new Brazilian owner has purged head office, slashed costs and squeezed suppliers. Shareholders are happy, but is (the new owner) tearing the heart out of Timmy’s?” Gee, what a surprise, a negative article about a one-time Canadian legend after Timmy’s new bosses did all they could to bury their donuts in the sand.

In the U.S., in a much more heinous act, White House flack Sean Spicer shut out media like CNN and the New York Times from a press briefing, doubtless because these outlets are the leaders in coverage of an alleged attempt by White House staffers to get backing from the FBI for denials that the Trump campaign and Russia colluded during the election campaign.

In both cases, the White House and Tim Horton’s PR people (and/or the execs) showed what we think is abysmal ignorance of the real news media. In the Horton’s case, the company apparently doesn’t know Marina Strauss and all other reporters are obligated to use quotes they get in interviews with key spokespersons. Reporters can, of course, express the other side of the story but cannot ignore the comments and ‘slant’ of the main character in the story.  To do so would likely get the reporter fired and his or her editors severely reprimanded by the outlet’s publishers, not to mention castigated by the public at large and competitors.  In speaking to the media, Tim Horton’s would have a golden chance to get its story across. In avoiding the media, Tim Horton’s had no chance of telling its own story and was at the complete mercy of its reviewers and detractors.

In the case of the White House’s ban against reporters it doesn’t like, the Trump Administration  apparently doesn’t understand at all the tenacity and expertise of the traditional news media. The ban will serve only to make reporters at CNN, NYT and the rest work harder and look more deeply at Spicer and the rest of the Trump team. While the media has an obligation to report all sides of an issue, it also has a duty to get to all sides of an issue. If Russia did work with Trump to influence the election, it will come out, in the real media, eventually. As will Trump’s tax returns and all the rest of the good and bad of the U.S. presidency.

There is one word that sums up the strategy of trying to avoid, evade or emasculate the news media. Stupid!