Can a warrior Canada win hearts and minds?

I was reading  Aaron Henninger’s (Director, Unted States Air Force Public Affairs Center of Excellence) JPC article “The argument against winning hearts and minds”. He makes the point that it is impossible for the United States to try and win the hearts and minds of an occupied place against a backdrop of humvees and fighter planes.

Let’s analyze Canada’s recent move away from peace keeping using Henninger’s premise.

Canada has a different brand challenge from the USA. Since Lester Pearson, we have been a nation whose national brand and whose public diplomacy have centred around our peace keeping efforts. During the last few years, we have been progressively moving toward a new brand – that of a warrior nation.

Let’s analyze this situation. There was great brand equity in our being a peace keeping nation, but we’ve seen the Canadian government move us away from peace keeping toward a new “warrior nation” brand. We have seen evidence of this in the serious focus  put on the anniversary of the war of 1812 – a war that wasn’t even really Canadian, it was a war between the British and the Americans.

We see a rationale for the move to change away from our brand as a peace keeping nation to a new brand as a warrior nation in this article in volume 6, issue 1 of the Canadian Military Journal claims the following:

“Looking ahead, it is vital that Canadians understand how Canada must respond if it wishes to continue to play a leadership role in promoting peace and security. In particular, it must be realized that conflict prevention in the foreseeable future will entail more than a passive activity fulfilled by the presence of UN peacekeepers wearing blue berets.”

This may reflect the core of what Canada’s real priorities are, but it seems that what the author concludes is a little unrealistic:

“Looking ahead, it is vital that Canadians understand how Canada must respond if it wishes to continue to play a leadership role in promoting peace and security.”

The author thinks that the long-standing tradition of Canadian peace keeping should be replaced with an understanding of realpolitik. The problem is that the idea Canada’s peace keeping tradition plays to the idealistic reputation of Canada as a place where immigrants can integrate into a peaceful, rational and welcoming society. Peace keeping fits with Canada’s peaceable, multicultural identity. Being a warrior nation does not fit – it has all sorts of brand implications, chiefly:

  • Warriors play on conformist teams, with a clear us vs them – there’s a coercive element to that.
  • Multiculturalism and peace keeping means a nation where groups of people maintain their identity and choose to federate together willingly and openly.

Those are mutually incompatible propositions, which means that they will create cognitive dissonance in the minds of people thinking about Canada. We know that public relations professional understand that the public finds the concept of cognitive dissonance extremely uncomfortable – they will choose one side or the other.

It is easier to choose the conformist, subtly coercive warrior nation model because that is what the majority of human history has provided in terms of nations, empires, etc. – aggression and domination. The Canadian experiment of toleration, multiculturalism and peace keeping is a history oddity and a beacon of hope for many who live in traditionally aggressive, warlike and war torn countries.

From a branding perspective, it is good to be unique and to stand out. It is also good to have high values and stick with them. I think Canada should stick to the original value proposition that we started with Lester Pearson and continued to build with Trudeau and then Mulroney. It seemed to be a winner then. Joining the herd and becoming a run of the mill warrior state reduces us to an ordinary middle power with a smallish, underfunded military. It fritters away Canada’s unique brand value proposition: peace and toleration.

Our peace keeping reputation made us stand out internationally. It positioned our brand positively, without taking away from the branding of the warrior nations we count among our friends. It won the world’s hearts and minds for most of the last century. It made us a beacon of hope and civility for many in war torn lands. Why trade a solid, hard-won reputation for one that reduces us to run of the mill middle power.

Advertisements

Happy news: ADFW Ted McMeekin Campaign Team wins advertising award

I was very pleased to learn that our Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale Ted McMeekin Campaign Team won the “Ontario Liberal Party Province-Wide Riding Advertising Award.” We nominated our entire communications committee (Alex Sévigny (chair), Peter Curtis and Peter Hargeave (campaign managers), Tom Aylward-Nally, Melonie Fullick, Nathan Shaw, Zac Spicer, Mark Ungar) which really worked wonderfully together.

We put together a communications plan that integrated traditional print, radio, TV, billboard, bus-stop and social media communication. It was a lot of fun. We worked together and everyone had something they were particularly good at doing. This was the best campaign communications team I have worked with yet – and I have worked with some excellent ones!

Honestly, our team wouldn’t have been as effective, if we didn’t have a superb candidate to work with, Mr. Ted McMeekin (Ontario Minister of Agriculture): a class act and a truly decent man.

Congratulations to the whole team for a job well done. Teams like this are what political volunteering so rewarding and so much fun.

Descriptions and times of courses I am teaching in the Autumn Term!

I just put the final touches on my courses for this year. I am pretty excited about what the year portends!

On Tuesdays and Fridays at 2:30pm, I will be teaching CMST 1a03: Intro to Communication. I absolutely love teaching this giant course. It is the first course that I ever taught at Mac, on the morning of September 11, 2001. What a start to a career. The way we teach communications at McMaster is a little different, with a strong focus on critical, cognitive and professional approaches. The students read a big selection of interpersonal and speech communication texts, as well as a lot of communication, linguistic and cultural theory. The assignments are a combination of professional writing, presentations and, this year, public speaking!

On Tuesday mornings, 11:30-2:30, I will be teaching CMST 4N03: News Analysis, Theory & Practice. This course is designed to highlight agenda setting, framing and cultivation theory. It is also meant to pull the veil back from how news is a produced and viewed. We spend a lot of time thinking about what the move to the Internet and social media means for the news. I also schedule a good number of visiting lectures from the worlds of journalism, public relations and political communication during this class. The students do a major empirical content analysis, working in groups.

On Friday evenings, 4:30-7:30, I will be leading a graduate seminar, CSMM 704: Media, Public Relations & Reality. This course will examine the concept of reality from a variety of perspectives: social, linguistics and cognitive. It is a very challenging course that takes students on a tour of the philosophy of reality, cognition and some public relations theory. Here’s what the syllabus looks like (remember, we are reading excerpts from the philosophical works!). I am very excited about this course, since it really is a “high theory” course – a change from the courses in communications management, measurement and analysis (which I love teaching too!).

CSMM 704: Syllabus

Week 1: What is knowledge? How does it support life?

  • Aristotle, Montaigne, Nietzsche

Week 2: Does knowledge define reality? How about perspectivalism?

  • Berkeley, Nozick, Descartes, Plato (Allegory of the Cave)
  • Fiction: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Week 3: What is reality for communications? The gnostic heresy.

  • Vogelin

Week 4: Causality?

  • Hume, Laplace

Week 5: How do language, mind & society impact reality?

  • Searle, Sperber, Eco, Quine,

Week 6: What is linguistic discourse? Does language shape reality?

  • Lakoff, Pinker, Fairclough

Week 7: What is social discourse? Is reality a social construction?

  • Foucault, Rosen, Wittgenstein

Week 8: What is the mind? Who are you? Is there a self?

  • Dennett, Freud, Aristotle (De Anima)
  • Media: The Century of the Self

Week 9: Media as simulacrum of life?

  • Minsky, Kurzweil, Hofstadter, Baudrillard

Week 10: What is reality from the perspective of public relations theory?

  • Bernays, Lipmann, Ellul, Chomsky
  • Media: Necessary Illusions
  • Fiction: The Man in the High Castle

Week 11: Do our senses and our emotions shape reality?

  • McLuhan, Damasio, Minsky (emotions), Turing
  • Media: The Persuaders, The Merchants of Cool

Week 12: Borges’ story of the map & Jean Vanier’s alternative view.

  • Borges, Vanier

5 tips to get your writing productivity up.

A lot of readers have asked me to explain further my writing process. I have decided to include five tips for writing productivity in this blog post. Hope they’re useful to you.

It is easy to fetishize writing, as though it is some sort of mystical or spiritual activity. That means considering it “special” or requiring “unique inspiration.” While this might be a romantic idea, and might boost our egos as people who write for a living, the fact is that taking on the attitude that “writing is special” means taking the high road to low and unpredictable productivity.

I find this in my own life. I have several hats that I often wear: university professor, academic and professional writer, academic planner and creator of programs, public relations/communications management consultant, and political consultant. These roles keep me very busy, and they are certainly extremely diverse. What is similar in all of them, however, is the fact that all of them demand a high level of writing productivity.

So what does writing productivity mean for me?

  • Being “quickly critical” about things I am asked to read or view. Whether it is a student’s essay, photo journal or videography – I need to be able to get through it quickly and efficiently, construct my opinion and then write my comments.
  • Being “an empathic reader”when it comes to reading and viewing work. As a consultant, I am often asked to comment on documents or PR literature that will be distributed to hundreds of thousands or even millions of readers/viewers. Often these projects come with a serious deadline. This means being able to put aside my personal perfectionism and understand what my readers/viewers will actually look for, hear and see when they look at the comms product we are putting in front of them. This can lead to faster choices and better choices. Follow your intuitions and your inner voice. They will rarely lead you astray.
  • Being “happy with good enough” when it comes to the quality of my own output. No one expects your writing to be perfect, especially not when you are putting in a first draft. I have learned, both as an academic and as a PR pro, that perfectionism is the sworn enemy of productivity.
  • Being able to “rely on your proof-reading circle.” It is much better to rely on a group of proofers with whom you go back and forth with a document, than to try and perfect the product yourself. People like Marcel Proust or Samuel Becker might have agonized about every word they put down, but that is death for the academic and professional writer. My philosophy: “When you have all your ideas down, and it is readable to another – get it out the door to a proof-reader.” Of course, never send half-baked writing out to the public! That would be crazy. But have a circle of proofers who will help you kick your writing into shape. Offer those people the same service back when they are writing.
  • Knowing that “writing is just a craft, it’s not a mystical experience.”  I learned early on that fetishizing writing as an art form will lead to paralysis and failure. If you are writing a speech, some advert copy, an academic article or a news release – you aren’t doing mystical. You are using the skills you learned through school and practice to give shape to ideas – whether they are your ideas or those of another. That’s it. You’re a craftsperson, not an artiste. Forget the artiste – you’ll only cause yourself useless drama and frustration.
Honestly, my best advice, apart from those five points is:
  • Set aside a space where you will write. Keep it clean and unencumbered by too much clutter. Set yourself a writing target and then achieve it. Do not stare a blank page, start filling it.

Focusing in on a writing project is hard enough without creating a psychological drama around the writing process.

Maybe Nike was write (haha) – “Just do it.”

 

A Newly Civil House of Commons

It has been a pleasure to watch the House of Commons Question Period the last couple of weeks. The members seem to have truly taken NDP Leader Mr Jack’s Layton’s challenge to heart. This has, just looking anecdotally, led to what feels like more questions being asked. It also feels as though women appear to be more prominently featured, which is an excellent thing too. Much of this is owed to Mr. Layton’s keeping his civility pledge. This seems to have really taken civility forward! Maybe now is the moment for civility to be brought to the fore in a structural way. Mr. Michael Chong has proposed such reforms in the past – might it be a good moment to bring them into a larger debate?

Whatever the case, it is impressive that MPs are opting for more civility.

Hats off to Mr. Layton for leading the change. He is doing something good for Canadians, for if this civil discourse continues, citizens may start tuning in to QP again!

Life-Love 97: Being bold

Fortune favours the bold, said the classical Roman poet, Virgil.

It is easy to live life meekly. In fact, our culture encourages meekness and self-effacement. We are told that we shouldn’t speak too much of our accomplishments, or the people we know. We are told that we should fit in and conform. What’s most surprising is that the individualistic culture of social media and the Internet, seems to have actually encouraged the opposite personality! Facebook and Twitter feel like they are having a levelling effect on many of us – presenting a normal way of thinking about politics, fashion, morals and even things like what we feel is right, or good or true. So while we feel in control as we surf the boundless ocean of information on the ‘net, we feel the weight of communal opinion, rather than the freedom to be ourselves.

This is logical, in a way. Social media has brought us into a more oral culture than before. We read less linearly, we jump from hyperlink to hyperlink. We focus less and make quicker judgements: “Is this page pleasing to me? Should I stick around?” The quick-change nature of the medium encourages us to graze information and to look at things that we might find objectionable or difficult to hold in our hands, if they were written in a magazine or a book. When we hold a magazine or a book, it feels like we take more responsibility for the contents of those communication products than when a flickering assembly of light and colour and sound dances in front of our eyes as the result of a click.

In a word, the culture of social media encourages conformism. That’s why it is so refreshing when we feel the drive to be bold. Being bold means stubbornly sticking to principle and values in a room full of people with whom we disagree. There is nothing more uncomfortable, but ultimately more satisfying than busting up a dinner or cocktail party by refusing to participate in spreading a rumour, or, stubbornly defending someone who is being gossiped about or even slandered. Sometimes being bold requires putting your neck out, and being considered a carmudgeon, black sheep or a stick in the mud.

It is reassuring when someone does this. It makes you feel more comfortable in the world, knowing that someone is standing on principle. It makes that person’s behaviours predictable and reliable. It means that you can count on that person to stand up for you if you are standing on truth or principle. Being bold means sometimes striking out on your own and walking a lonely path. Being bold about the truth means that you are shooting an arrow into the future, an arrow whose trailing filament will lead others to the bold vision that you have had. They will follow its shimmering arc, and find its landing spot. There, they will congregate around you or your idea, and you will have changed the world.

Virgil was right.

My thoughts on #elxn41 weeks 3 & 4: “No greatness here anywhere.”

This election feels like a non-event – quite boring perhaps – and that is exactly where the Prime Minister and his Conservative Party want it to stay. However the interesting story is really what is going on with the centre and centre-left, with the Liberal branding problem which has allowed Jack Layton to swagger in and pretend he owns the place.

In a sense, the campaigns really only have a couple of days left, this being the Easter weekend, and Thurs-Fri-Sat being taken up by discussion of the Royal Wedding.

The opposition Liberals have struggled to establish an identity and presence for their leader, Michael Ignatieff. The two years of consistent negative branding by the Conservatives and NDP through successful advertising and an Internet-based whisper campaign have proved to be very hard for Mr. Ignatieff to overcome in a short campaign time. The NDP has surged in the polls, trying to fill in this branding vacuum. The Greens just seem to have run out of steam.

The Prime Minister’s Campaign – Textbook.

The governing Conservatives have – by and large – been running a state-of-the-art, cautious and well-managed campaign. They have been able to stick to their core brand, and high-tone vision for Canada in an authentic-sounding fashion. This effectively counters the fear-based tactics that Mr. Ignatieff and Mr. Layton have been using: “A Harper majority will change Canada.”

Two examples. The Conservative answer to Auditor General’s G20 report was very simple: “the document isn’t valid yet.” Their answer to the allegation that they have been co-opted by pro-life groups to cut funding to Planned Parenthood was straightforward: “Prove it.” These sorts of factual and aggressively rational responses to emotional appeals work.

The Prime Minister is staying above the noise. He handily won the English-language debate, looking imperious while Mr. Ignatieff was halting and hesitating, and Mr. Layton was bobbing up and down and blurting out hipster clichés. Mr.  Harper certainly looked prime ministerial. When thinking about whether someone looks “prime ministerial” ask yourself how you would react to that person standing beside Barack Obama or Hu Jin Tao at an international podium – if that’s hard for you to imagine, then the person is not giving off a prime ministerial allure.

A side note. In fact, the hugely popular comparisons on Twitter between Mr. Harper and Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars actually serve to reinforce this message of “strong leadership” for the PM.

The Liberals – Searching for a Message and a Tradition

One of the biggest problems that I am seeing in the Liberal campaign is the type of political cultural strategy they are using. Politics is about people. It’s visceral – it’s blood and sweat. Politics is about the dreams and fears of the populace. The Liberal Family Pack addresses these visceral things quite well. But politics is also about a national dream, a national mythology, a national persona. The Liberals, starting with Sir Wilfrid Laurier have always been exceptionally good at tapping into the veins of our beloved country’s past and tying them eloquently into the stories of the present. The Liberals, from Laurier to Trudeau, were the party of Canada’s history and tradition.

Neither Mr. Harper nor Mr. Ignatieff is capturing the imagination of Canadians. Mr. Harper is offering a nice goodie bag (double TFSA, income splitting, etc.), but no dream, no vision. Mr. Ignatieff’s “Rise Up” speech sounded tinny and uninspiring. There was no greatness in that speech. Canadians are awaiting a great leader and have grown to expect this from the Liberals. The standard is high.

Look at Jean Chrétien. He was a superb politician, but his pandering to political correctness and his lack of high-minded rhetoric did violence to the Liberal brand. He was a fiscally competent Prime Minister, and kept the country unified through a referendum (something that it is hard to imagine Harper doing, with his polarizing ad hominem attack strategy). But Chrétien didn’t propose a grand narrative for Canada. And he made many cultural mistakes. One big one that resonates to this day, and is an appropriate example on this Holy Saturday, was Chrétien’s banning of Christian prayer at the Peggy’s Cove memorial service for those who died in the terrible Swissair accident. This would have been acceptable had Chrétien banned all religious prayer, but he didn’t: he allowed other religious groups to pray. Christians never forgave him for that episode.

That sort of error feels like a betrayal. It makes Christians feel as though Chrétien was out to get them, to marginalize them. It may have been politically expedient at the time, but it did not send an inclusive “Great Canada” message to Canadian Christians. While this couldn’t be further from the truth, that is how it resonates. This destroys trust and drives voters into the hands of the Conservatives.

Trudeau got Canada – even those who hated him, admired him (and often wanted to be him). He got Canada’s greatness, and he got Canada’s beautiful and complicated history of compromise and consensus-building. The Liberals need to weave the Liberal story back into Canada’s story, Canada’s national history, national mythology, national dream. They need to show that they are for a Great Canada.

They need to do this via social media. But that will be the subject of another post.

Jack Layton and the Politics of Resentment

Jack Layton is an ambitious man. He is someone who has spent his political career pandering to special interest groups to move his party closer to electability. He has never given any indication that he cares about socialism. He seems to ready to say anything to exceed Ed Broadbent’s record-setting total seat count before ceding the leadership of the NDP to someone else.

In fact, the NDP platform is really just a more left-of-centre version of the Liberal one, and un-costed at that. Layton has proven himself good at being against things: against the Prime Minister’s perceived lack of concern for “working families” (which is, in itself, a slam on other silently suffering groups such as the unemployed, the infirm, etc.); against Michael Ignatieff; and the list goes on. The question no one has really asked him is what does Jack Layton’s NDP really stand for?

Jack Layton’s NDP have made inroads into Quebec following the French language debate, and are trying to lure the values voters who support the Bloc Québécois. Their support in the rest of Canada is fairly stable, with minor increases in Ontario and the Maritimes, and a larger increase in BC, as evidenced by Nik Nanos’s latest numbers. Most notable are Jack Layton’s leadership numbers, which seem to be climbing. As Chantal Hebert explains very cogently here, Mr. Layton’s climb has to do with the Liberal support of the extension of the Afghanistan mission.

Layton has always been good at playing the aggrieved party. He is a good at tapping into people’s resentment at being excluded from power – both economic and cultural. He isn’t good at providing workable solutions. But when you are in the position of being a third party in Parliament, you have a lot of room to play on the margins of credibility and get away with things. This isn’t the high-minded political strategy of someone who wants to be Prime Minister, but it may certainly raise the NDP seat count. The problem is that the politics of resentment aren’t good for Canada or for the progressive movement in Canada.

It will be interesting to see where the NDP end up in this election. They have been given a free pass from the media, their gappy platform remains un-examined. There is no greatness in Mr. Layton’s political communications. Just a lot of resentment, ambition and clever tricks.

So where is this going for the centre and centre-left?

So what’s going on? Why is the NDP making inroads on the Liberals? Mostly because the Liberals are not keying into their history as the progressive, nation-building alternative for Canadians. The “Great Canada” vision of Laurier and Trudeau versus the “Humble Canada” vision of the Conservatives.

They have not cultivated a grass-roots campaign for the last several years that builds a powerful and educated membership willing to be evangelists for the Liberal brand. They have not ‘friend-raised’ enough. In fact, they have been arrogant. Ever since Paul Martin took over the party, it has been a party that thinks is really ought to be in power. Martin ran a front-runner’s campaign and lost. Dion ran a weak campaign based on an intelligent, but complicated political-economic theory that the Liberal political communications machine couldn’t explain to Canadians – and lost. Mr. Ignatieff is running an oddly subdued campaign that lacks the fire and brimstone that an opposition campaign should have – he is not using the traditional Liberal “Great Canada” brand thus opening the progressive door to the NDP.

This election has in many ways been a referendum on the Liberal brand as it stands today. The answer has been that it is not a clear brand. Its connection to history is tenuous. Its resonance with Canadians is weak. The Liberals need to tell a better story – their story – a story of the most successful classic liberal party in the world.

As for the NDP replacing the Liberals, it is as bad a thing for the left as it was when Bob Rae’s NDP swept into power in Ontario in the 1990s. It was a tale of ambition, incompetence and shoddy governance. Why do I say this? Because the NDP hasn’t won the progressive vote with effective political communications. They have not created their version of a “Great Canada” narrative that they are proposing to Canadians. Jack Layton’s NDP is simply filling a vacuum.

So who won weeks 3 and 4? – Mr. Harper, hands-down.

While it is tempting to credit Jack Layton with wins for the NDP surge, I actually don’t think he’s the big winner. The big story is the incredibly effective and competent campaign being run by the Prime Minister and his team. They are winning the battle for Canada’s imagination. What do I mean? Conservatives are winning by making sure that Canadians don’t enrich their expectations with their imaginations. In this way, they win the war of imagination. They are also winning the battle for voter trust; the battle of perceived competence.

Weeks 3 and 4 go to Mr. Harper.