Archive for the ‘crisis communications’ Category
Here in Ottawa, the most concentrated area for tourists is called the Byward Market. This historic market dates to when the city was called Bytown, after its founder, Colonel John By. And while you can still get your cheese, produce, or meat in the Byward Market, there are more than 100 bars and restaurants that compete for thirsty locals and peckish tourist, and occasionally for the Rolling Stones, who filmed a video in the legendary Zaphod Beeblebrox.
When President Barack Obama visited Ottawa few years ago, he made a side trip to a Byward Market bakery called Le Moulin de Provence to pick up some cookies for his kids:
But that bakery, a bunch of others, and the business improvement area which represents the neighbourhood’s businesses, are not too happy these days. Over the next few weeks, about 25 businesses in this area will be losing power overnight, as Hydro Ottawa, the city’s power authority, works on an underground hydro vault.
The utility provided the businesses with two weeks’ notice. Moulin owner Claude Bonnet told CBC that he looked into a generator, but that $20,000 for three weeks’ rental couldn’t be justified. At least one nightclub has coughed up for a generator; other restaurants have reduced their service hours, and the bakery is reducing hours and struggling to rework its baking schedule.
So what’s to learn here? I guess there are two lessons. First off, while Hydro Ottawa has told media it consulted with businesses, it apparently didn’t consult widely enough. And it’s hard to imagine why this work would be scheduled during the start of Ottawa’s tourist season when we have months of winter when the work could have been done, and why business owners could only be given two weeks’ notice. It’s one thing to cut off power to my house overnight; I may miss an alarm or have to set up a battery-powered alarm clock. But when you’re a food business in the premier Ottawa tourist destination, it’s not an inconvenience, it’s a disaster.
And for businesses like Le Moulin de Provence, interruption strategies are crucial. I’ve done tons of crisis communications sessions where the organization has said “but that would NEVER happen.” I’m sure that M. Bonnet would have said “Hydro Ottawa would never cut off our power three nights per week for three weeks! We’re paying customers!” Just because an event is unlikely doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
So… what we have here…
is a failure to communicate.
Back in the day, it was easy for unethical businesses to pop up and disappear quite quickly. A number of years ago, I was interviewed by the local TV news when I discovered that a kiosk in a shopping mall was selling Livestrong wrist bands at a gross profit ($4 for bands purchased from the Livestrong Foundation for $1) and in contravention of the Livestrong Foundation’s agreement.
When the kiosk owner was nowhere to be found in the mall, the staff claimed ignorance and referred the reporter to the owner, and … things just passed over. Flea markets or other public events were popular places for people to show up with fake merchandise, bootlegged music or video, and make a quick buck.
But with social media, things can’t stay submerged for long, as brands like Urban Outfitters and Forever 21 have learned to their chagrin. Bot those large companies were discovered (sometimes repeatedly) to have been copying the designs of small designers without permission and selling those designs.
Now, there appears to be a local example.
Two Ottawa men created and began selling promotional t-shirts with the message “Don’t F**K with the Walrus” during the NHL playoffs. The phrase refers to Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean, who sports a rather outrageous moustache, and was referred to as a “bug-eyed fat walrus” by Montreal Canadiens player Brandon Prust.
The men, Jamie McLennan and Eric Chamois, made two shirts to wear to a playoff game, and found the market for them rabid and enthusiastic. They began making the shirts, selling them, and then donating $1 for each shirt sold to the Ottawa Senators Foundation.
But then they discovered that Ottawa Sports Experts stores were selling a design that was essentially identical to theirs.
Here’s the two. On the left is the original design by J and L Ink; on the right, a photo of a Sports Experts store display from the Senstown blog.
Looks to me as if the design on the right has slight variation in the font used and has had the F**K removed (making it a bit nonsensical — don’t moustache with the walrus?!) but is otherwise identical.
The creators of the original shirt are adamant that no deal is in place; I’ve reached out to Sports Experts for comment, but have heard nothing as yet.
Sports Experts has no active Twitter account, but they’re receiving dozens of angry messages on their Facebook page (which is showing a last update a day before the angry messages started.) They haven’t responded to any of those messages either. I’m at least the third blogger to find this, after the Senstown blog and the League of Ordinary Gentlemen.
What’s the lesson here? At this point, it’s that sometimes, even people with great ideas and generosity can do things that small-minded people then rip off. Or… if you are selling retail and you get an idea to use someone else’s design… maybe you should think again. But let’s wait and see. Maybe Sports Experts will make this good. Hey, FGL Sports, owners of Sports Experts and other brands — it’s your move.
UPDATE: At about 10:50, Sports Experts posted a response on their Facebook page:
“Hello everyone, we are aware of your comments and concerns regarding the Walrus T-shirt. Details concerning the situation are presently being investigated and we will keep you updated as soon as we know more on what exactly has happened. Thank you very much for your understanding.”
Look forward to more information as it comes.
UPDATE, 2:45 pm: Sports Experts has an apology and explanation up on their Facebook page:
Dear concerned customers,
The sale of the Walrus t-shirt in the Ottawa Sports Experts stores was a local initiative and in no way was meant to harm the artist. The Sports Experts franchise owner sourced the T-shirts from an Ottawa supplier and asked to modify the design (removing the obscene language) not knowing that the supplier didn’t own the rights to the graphic. As soon as he became aware of the problem, the store owner decided to stop selling the t-shirts and removed the unsold t-shirts from all locations. After discussing the situation with the local artist, the owner of the stores will donate all the sales revenues to the Sens Foundation. It was a misunderstanding between the artist, the supplier and the Sports Experts stores owner.
We, as a national team, are truly sorry for this mishap and look forward to your continued business.
Thank you for your understanding.
The Sports Experts team
As the tragedy of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh unfolds, I’ve been thinking about something that happened more than 100 years ago.
In April 1911, a tragic fire in a clothing factory in New York killed 146 garment workers at the Triangle Waist Company and injured 71. Until 9/11, it was the second-deadliest disaster in that city’s history.
When I was a kid, I saw a TV movie based on this tragedy, and for some reason it stuck with me. Perhaps it was because at about 13, I was watching child actors portray workers in danger at the factory and dying from burns, or from jumping from the 10th storey or higher, as the flames became more intense.
And that fire’s come back to me now as rescuers give up hope in Dhaka and the body count rises past 400. The dead in New York in 1911 were the bottom of the barrel. They were recent immigrants, young women, desperately trying to gain a foothold in their new country. They worked making women’s blouses (known as shirtwaists) nine hours a day Monday to Friday, and seven hours on Saturday, for the princely sum of $12 per week.
When the fire broke out, apparently when someone dropped a match or cigarette in some cloth scraps, it raged through the factory, helped by the fact that far too much scrap cloth had been left in bins. And the doors to the factory were locked.
So the workers tried to escape. The fire escape, a compromise between the factory owners and the city, was shoddy, and 20 workers fell to their deaths when it collapsed and fell 100 feet to the ground.
Horrified onlookers watched dozens of people leap from the building, some described as “living torches.”
Now compare that to the thousands of garment workers in Bangladesh, making less than $40 per month as compensation for their contribution to the Bangladeshi export economy, which accounts for 80% of the nation’s exports.
The tragedy of this collapse is infuriating, given the fact that the building was constructed without the slightest apparent regard for building code regulations, and that the owner apparently tried to escape the country once the collapse occurred.
And when it was discovered that Canadian brand Joe Fresh was one of the brands being produced there, Canadians began to ask themselves whether they should be buying cloths. Talk of a boycott of Bangladeshi products began.
The issue was then complicated by people pointing out that a boycott of Bangladeshi goods might well result in hurting the very workers that it was intended to support and assist. As the Globe and Mail’s Doug Saunders wrote:
“The garment boom has reduced poverty sharply and raised the status of women. This has coincided with a five-year period of democratic stability. But the cities are corrupt and virtually ungoverned – almost certainly the root cause of the building collapse. Changes to building codes, safety standards and hygiene are unlikely to happen unless pressure comes from outside.
We know it can work. In 2010, Dhaka’s garment workers held huge protests: They won a historic minimum-wage increase of 80 per cent, to around $50 a month. And pressure from North American companies, chastened and embarrassed by events such as last year’s lethal fire, has increased safety and working standards in factories that sell to the West. Similar pressure can force companies to pay workers fairly and keep them safe from disaster and abuse.
The garment boom has helped reduce poverty in the West (by reducing clothing costs) and in the East (by providing wages far higher than subsistence farming or casual labour). The next step is to remain connected, and to demand the sort of workplace standards that should be universal. Bangladeshi workers should have the same protections that our own workers won, through tragedy and horror, a century ago.”
As you can see, I’m far from the only person thinking about this tragedy and relating it to the Triangle fire.
When over decades, living standards for workers in the West increased, and worker protections increased apace, we’ve seen that production go overseas, to places in which those protections and standards don’t exist. The Bangladeshi workers share many characteristics with their sisters who died 100 years ago.
But knee-jerk reactions don’t make for concerted change. It’s important for us to learn and to listen to those who know more about what’s happening on the ground, and then to figure out what the best thing to do is and to try to help our fellow man and woman by supporting in the BEST way possible, not simply the one that makes us feel good. And if we truly believe this is an important issue, we should be willing to act in a more substantive way than just clicking like on a Facebook page or signing an online petition.
Here’s a documentary about the Triangle fire that I found on Youtube.
I’ve written several times about group buying services and the problems they can pose for businesses and for consumers. Here in Ottawa, a Byward Market butcher shop nearly ran itself into the ground after trying to use group deals to dig itself out of business trouble.
Well, I have to revisit the topic based on two news stories that I saw today.
First was news that king of the group-buy services Groupon had missed already cautious revenue and earnings targets. This led to its stock price dropping as low as $3.21, from a giddy IPO price of $20.
And back in Ottawa again, consumers are VERY upset with ambitious group-buy company Your City Deals. Why? They offered a $100 gas card for $49. After nearly 10,000 were sold, they announced they couldn’t fulfil the deal — the SAME DAY they announced a $50-million deal to expand their service.They’re getting lots of negative feedback on Facebook and on Twitter, as you might guess.
So there are a few things to point out here. Number 1: Don’t go on TV when you’re trying to drum up business and support for your fledgling group-buy company and say you’re in the business of supporting small to medium business marketing efforts when you’re offering up gift cards to a national gasoline retailer. What business is that helping?
Number two: What chump threw $50 million into a market segment that seems to be falling apart?
Number three: if you’re a business with $50M in financing, shouldn’t you do something about an office beyond renting a post-office box at a photocopy shop? That’s what CBC found out.
I have no idea whether this fiasco is just one more in a series of roup-buy fiascos, whether the people behind this company are simply in over their heads or whether there’s something more nefarious at play.
But if you didn’t already think that group buys were a really bad idea for businesses and consumers, I don’t know what more evidence you’d need. Or am I wrong? Tell me if I’m off base in the comments.
There’s a big story today in Ontario, with the banner headline:
Here’s the story in a nutshell, from a timeline of events published by CBC online.
On June 23, 2012, a shopping mall parking deck collapses in the northern Ontario town of Elliott Lake. By early the next morning, a search and rescue team is on site and beginning to stabilize the rubble to search for survivors.
On June 25, the Ontario Ministry of Labour orders a stop to rescue work, saying it’s too dangerous and unstable to continue. In an intense series of events, the rescue efforts are restarted and crowds of angry bystanders are critical of
On June 27, 2012, two bodies are removed from the rubble.
The news today is that the government of Ontario had prepared a statement supporting the suspension of rescue efforts.
Sorry to say, I think this story is not a story at all. Why?
- This was a disaster, and a communications crisis. It is beyond naive to think that governments would not have statements prepared in the event of suspending the rescue operations.
- The government was relying on its search and rescue experts to inform the discussion and to prepare for action. Is that wrong?
- This sort of activity is a standard part of contingency planning. For example, when Apollo 11 went to the moon, there was a chance that the astronauts would be lost. The US government prepared a presidential speech in the event that Aldrin, Armstrong, and Collins were killed during the mission. Is this terrible? It may seem hardhearted. But for communicators in crisis mode, it’s necessary.
- I particularly enjoy the story’s subhed: “Emails sent by premier’s staff reveal shifting views.” My gosh, as a situation evolved at a rapid pace, the staff were assimilating input from experts, gauging public opinion, and working on a communications strategy that would serve the most people in the best way? Wow. Would ironclad unvarying views have been a better position for the Premier’s staff to choose?
When bad things happen, difficult choices have to be made, and worst-case scenarios must be addressed. I don’t see anything telling me that this news story is anything more than the portrayal of a fast-moving crisis and disaster management scenario playing out. Shame that it’s being played as it is by the CBC.
I have blogged in the past about the role of professional associations in a world where there are meetups and all sorts of similar professional development opportunities that can be had for free.
I argued, at the time, that the proliferation of low or no-cost PD opportunities was a threat to traditional groups such as IABC or CPRS.
But an event coming up next week is an example of how professional associations can counter that trend.
“Trends 2013” is a three-day conference organized by the eastern Canada division of IABC, the International Association of Business Communicators. Three days is a long time for anyone to devote to a conference, and even longer for someone in my self-employed position, where time is quite literally money. That’s why I was pleased to be approached to attend the event in exchange for some help in promoting it to… people like you, who read this blog.
But frankly, I would have considered attending this event even if I was paying for it. Why? Synergy.
I know some of the people presenting at Trends 2013. There’s my friend Danny Brown of Jugnoo and my friend Andrea Tomkins. There’s Michael Geist, who I got to know during my time at uOttawa. There’s Caroline Kealey of Ingenium Communications, creators of the Results Map. Donna Papacosta, who I have long admired from afar. Anick Losier, now of Canada Post and jack of all trades Gord McIntosh. And those are just the people that I really know. Even Industry Minister Tony Clement will be speaking at the conference, and while I think his government has done a poor job with social media, he’s a proficient user. So I want to hear from him about that.
There are a large number of people who have sterling resumes and reputations who I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting yet.
So for my money, what this Trends 2013 conference will offer attendees a chance to meet several dozen incredibly smart and engaging presenters. These people are difficult to get together, all in one place. Sometimes it takes the resources of an organization like this to bring them together and fund a conference like this.
So go. I look forward to bringing the things I learn at the conference back to my clients and to my students at Algonquin College and Eliquo. And to sweeten the deal, you have a chance to go as my guest. I want you to tell me in the comments what you think the most important trend facing communicators in 2013 is and why.
I will choose one of the responses on October 29, and that person will get a complimentary day pass to the conference for either November 2 or 3. Get writing, and I’ll see you there.
And if you’re writing about this conference, why not use the hashtag #Cdniabc12 ?
The world was abuzz this week with the story of Karen Klein, a woman from upstate New York who was taunted mercilessly while working as a school bus monitor. As is so often the case, the taunters were not only mean and vile, but stupid enough to record their actions. If you haven’t seen this, you may or may not want to expose yourself to the 10 minutes of evil vapidity.
The video, as is the cliché, went viral. Millions of views. Then a guy in Toronto named Max Sidorov was touched by the video. He set up a campaign on Indiegogo to give her a vacation. He set a goal of $5,000, saying “There’s even a point in the video where one of the kids touches Karen’s arm in an attempt to make fun of her. I’m not sure why these kids would want to bully a senior citizen to tears, but I feel we should do something, or at least try. She doesn’t earn nearly enough ($15,506) to deal with some of the trash she is surrounded by. Lets give her something she will never forget, a vacation of a lifetime!”
Then Sidorov’s campaign went viral too — in spades. In a matter of days, the campaign raised more than $545,000.
All of this is heartwarming. This is a 68-year-old woman who was treated more than shabbily, and it’s lovely to think that she’s going to be helped by this.
But let’s be honest here. Does Karen Klein need a half-million nest egg? Does the pain or embarrassment she suffered warrant a half-million payday?
Let’s take another example — Caine’s Arcade. The release of a short film about Caine’s Arcade led to a college fund of more than $200,000 and a matching fund to help other kids as creative and deserving as Caine.
There’s no doubt that these stories are inspiring. But I have this feeling that even the desire to good using the tools of social media can go too far. In themselves, the 25,000 donors to the Klein campaign each did an undeniably good thing. But is the best use of the $545,000 and counting that has been raised to simply go to Ms. Klein?
The other side of this is the response by viewers to reach out to the school or the school district.
The school district website has a message which reads in part:
“The behaviors displayed on this video are not representative of all Greece Central students and this is certainly not what we would like our students to be known for. We have worked very hard to educate students on the damaging impact of bullying and will continue to do so.
We have received thousands of phone calls and emails from people across the country wanting to convey their thoughts. People are outraged by what has happened and they feel the students should be punished. While we agree that discipline is warranted, we cannot condone the kind of vigilante justice some people are calling for. This is just another form of bullying and cannot be tolerated.
We all need to take a step back and look at how we treat each other. It is our job as educators and parents to teach children and lead by example. We encourage parents to use this as a springboard to begin a dialogue with their children about bullying, respect and consequences. As a school community, we will continue to take the lead in bullying education and we encourage all students and employees subjected to bullying and harassment to report it as soon as it occurs and to take a stand if they are witness to bullying in their lives.”
I can only imagine the sheer volume of contacts. How could a small upstate New York school or district reasonably handle this level of outrage and demand for response? And what would my angry e-mail add to the situtation?
I don’t really have any answers here; I’m just trying to think through how a bad thing can, through social media, lead to a good thing and then, again through social media, perhaps the good thing becomes too much of a good thing.
What do you think?
I was watching my local newscast the other night when I watched a story about a local — and legendary — butcher shop.
Aubrey’s Meats is over 100 years old, and located in the Byward Market, one of Ottawa’s oldest areas. This may be one of its problems, actually. The Market, as it’s known to us Ottawans, is usually packed with a combination of tourists in search of the right tchotchke to take home to a coworker or maiden aunt and young revelers heading to The Heart and Crown or the Chateau Lafayette to get their drink on. If I’m gonna buy some steaks or a nice roast for the grill I’m not going to head to the Market.
But I digress. Aubrey’s Meats, according to its own “About” page, found itself in a serious bit of difficulty recently. The death of its owner and his declining health meant employees were running the shop. And not too well.
…in December 2010, Catherine Davis, the store’s bookkeeper, was made ad-hoc manager of Aubrey’s. When she took over, certain employees had run our store, between rent to the city and money owed to the suppliers, into a debt in excess of $300,000. Though it didn’t appear so, Aubrey’s was a sinking ship that some might not have tried to save. Out of a respect for Brian and his work, and an undying faith in this store’s potential, Catherine set about to keep Aubrey’s afloat.
So they were in trouble. Like some on a sinking ship, they grasped at anything that looked like it might help them float. And what they grabbed were Groupon and Kahoot.
They embarked on a number of different offers. One offered $200 in value for $89. They sold over 1000 of those. They offered others at $55 for $175 worth of meat. They sold thousands of those.
The hammer started to fall for the people running Aubrey’s when they realized that they couldn’t fulfil all the orders placed. So they limited it to redeeming $50 worth of meat at a time. Now they’ve suspended all redemptions until May 1.
What went wrong here? I think it should be obvious. The cash crunch they found themselves in made them decide to try this for an immediate cash infusion (even though they only get a portion of the revenue — according to the butcher who is the spokesperson for Aubrey’s right now, each $55 coupon resulted in $24 in revenue to Aubrey’s). But they didn’t look even one step down the road to figure out what to do if they SUCCEEDED with the offers. I feel for Aubrey’s employees. It sounds like they’re in a tight spot. But they’ve done themselves no favours by pursuing this strategy.
The companies which marketed their deals? I’d wager that they’re in no way suffering the way Aubrey’s is.
This isn’t a new story. Others, including my buddy Anne Weiskopf, have written about some of the challenges of managing daily deal sites for small businesses. Don’t just dive in. Think about the risks AND the potential benefits. If you’re new to doing that sort of thing, get advice. And if you’re considering a daily coupon site, you need to not only ask what will happen if your offer goes nowhere, you need to think VERY carefully about what the implications of SUCCESS will be. Dying of popularity is not any better than dying of neglect.
UPDATE, January 23: Three of the four companies which issued coupons for Aubrey’s meats are refunding those coupons, according to CBC Ottawa. Those are: Team Buy, DealFind and Groupon. CBC is reporting that Ottawa-based company Kahoot told its customers:
“We have been made aware of these unfortunate circumstances regarding Aubrey’s. Unfortunately we are unable to refund vouchers outside of seven days after purchase. If interested in a refund, we suggest going directly to Aubrey’s as they are now liable for their commitment to honour all vouchers sold.”
I wonder if Kahoot has thought about the several thousand people who bought through them rather than another of the coupon sites, and how likely they are to return to Kahoot to purchase.
UPDATE, JANUARY 24: I’ve asked Kahoot a couple of questions:
1. Can you provide the statement sent to customers who purchased Kahoot deals for Aubrey’s?
2. Is Kahoot concerned that its decision to not refund coupons will cost it brand loyalty when compared to the decisions of Teambuy, DealFind and Groupon to refund the coupons?
I’m hoping for a reply more substantive than this one from them:
Someone once said “Everyone has a book in them. In most cases that’s where it should stay.” But like a lot of people, I dream of publishing a book. I’ve got a novel underway, and had a very cool creative coaching session this week with Alison Gresik to try to keep momentum there. I also would like to write a business book.
But enough about me. This is about a horrible error in the publishing business.
Ottawa writer Mark Bourrie had successfully placed his book on censorship in the Second World War The Fog of War with Key Porter Books, a major Canadian publisher with 30 years of publishing books by many prominent Canadian writers. And then in September 2010, the company announced a major round of layoffs, leaving only one person on the editorial team and six employees total.
Bourrie blogged at that point that he wasn’t sure about his book’s future. Then in mid-October, he received a letter saying the book was a go, and the final tasks of layout, cover, indexing and the like were being completed. By December, the book was, according to an e-mail Bourrie sent me, at the printer, and he thought he’d made it through.
It was communicated to me today that you had called our publicity department to query the status of your title, THE FOG of WAR, and to learn the anticipated release date of same.
It would seem that a significant breakdown in communication has occurred in that you were not notified of the hold status placed on this publication. It would seem that several members of our team were all thinking that the other had spoken with you, while in reality none of us had. This is regrettable. This is embarrassing and I suspect this is incredibly upsetting, frustrating, angering and disappointing for you.
I am available to speak with you today, or this week, at your convenience, to discuss this situation. Key Porter Books has recognized the necessity to restructure our business in light of the current market conditions and the challenges and considerable impact that this has had on our operations. The publishing industry is going through difficult times and we as a result have made drastic changes to our house in order to adjust and strengthen our position.
Again Mark, it is with sincere regret that we find ourselves in this position and even greater regret that this was not properly communicated to you.
I will look forward to speaking with you at your convenience.
I can’t imagine how shocked I would be to receive this e-mail. The sad part to me is that the publisher chose to communicate this shattering news to his author, who not only dedicated a number of years to the project but had gone through all of the hoops of the publishing process with an e-mail. It strikes me that having cut your workforce to only six, the “we all thought someone else did it” explanation seems a bit odd. It’s also a bit of salt in the wound to still see Bourrie’s book listed in their catalogue.
It appears that the book is in limbo for a number of months. There are contractual rights that publishers have in the books. What can be done for Bourrie? I don’t know. But there’s a lesson here. Don’t deliver bad news impersonally. Take the hit and call. And if you can’t bring yourself to do that, at least write like a human being. “It was communicated to me today… a significant breakdown in communication has occurred… This is regrettable… this is embarrassing.”
I’ve asked some questions of Key Porter by e-mail, and will report back if I get any response.
UPDATE, 5:00 pm January 6: Canadian publishing trade magazine Quill & Quire says that this is part of what is effectively a suspension of the company’s publishing program, and that the only editorial employee has been laid off. Jordan Fenn’s assistant responded earlier this afternoon to tell me he would be responding on January 7.
UPDATE, 7:20 am January 7: The Toronto Star and other media are reporting, based on quotes from Mark Bourrie, that Key Porter is shutting down.
UPDATE, 4:20 January 7: The Quill & Quire blog is running a statement it received from Key Porter, which reads:
As reported in several media outlets today, Key Porter Books has temporarily suspended publishing operations while it pursues a restructuring of its business. Key Porter Books is considering a number of restructuring options, including the sale of certain titles in its valuable catalogue of Canadian works, all with a view to continuing as a leader in the Canadian publishing industry. In the meantime, Key Porter Books is supporting its authors through the continued marketing and sale of previously published works and distribution through H.B. Fenn and Company Ltd.
“Key Porter Books has played a leading role in giving a voice to the Canadian story,” said Jordan Fenn, Publisher of Key Porter Books, “and we will do everything possible to ensure that voice continues to be heard.”
UDPATE: 2:40 January 14: I heard an interview on CBC Radio this morning, reinforced by an updated blog post from Bourrie, that made me very happy. It appears that his book has found a new home at Douglas & McIntyre, another Canadian publisher (the highly rare return Flacklife reader may remember that D&M are now distributing the Giller-winning Johanna Skibsrud novel The Sentimentalists.) This is great news for Mark. Of course, the dire situation of Canadian publishing doesn’t get fixed because one guy’s book gets saved.
The Bluenose II is a replica of the Bluenose, one of the world’s most famous sailing ships. Built in 1963 by Oland Breweries as a promotion for its Schooner Beer brand, it was a copy of the 1921 fishing schooner that won the greatest races of the day and was as formidable as a fishing vessel as a racing vessel. (Note to current Schooner Beer brand owner Labatt: your website gets the Schooner story wrong. The beer predates the ship, so couldn’t have been named for it.
However, Bluenose II was not made of the best materials, and apparently has been quite a maintenance challenge for years. So apparently, its current owner — the Nova Scotia government — has embarked on a $15-million restoration that will take two years. According to CBC, much of the hull, deck, and ribs will be replaced, and the old wood is being run through a wood chipper. When questioned by the media, the government minister responsible said he didn’t know about this, and that as minister he doesn’t micromanage.
I could rant at length about the stunning lack of respect shown this vessel, and the parallels that it brings to mind with the fate of the original Bluenose (after the “age of sail” ended, Bluenose was shorn of its masts and used as a coal carrier, ending its life on a reef in Haiti in 1946). But let’s look forward and be positive.
Last year, around this time, I was lucky enough to touch and to play “Voyageur”, the Six String Nation guitar, an instrument that is chock-a-block with pieces of Canadiana — including a piece of Bluenose II’s decking (and a piece of rail from the Sydney Steel Corporation where my dad spent 44 years of his life). It’s potent. It’s important. It’s meaningful. And I would argue that it’s impossible not to be exposed to Voyageur without being moved by it.
Symbols are important. They summarize, they exemplify, they embody and they signify. They are potent communication tools. In 1937, Bluenose was chosen to appear on the Canadian dime, and has done so for 73 years. It’s been commemorated in song, most notably by Stan Rogers.
And so far, the restoration of Bluenose II is communicating some nasty messages on behalf of the Nova Scotia government, and, I would argue, the province. This isn’t “just public relations.” It’s image-making at its most important.
But The Nova Scotia government has an opportunity here. They can admit that so far, they’ve not treated Bluenose II with respect. And they can offer people an opportunity to own a piece of the old Bluenose II. I’d buy one. And I’d cherish it. And they can open up the restoration process to public view both in person and online. I’d go see it. It’s not too late. Don’t let things get worse. (UPDATED: Apparently there will be a webcam of parts of the restoration, which is already operating but not showing anything of substance.)
Organizations don’t have to stay on the wrong track. It’s possible to change. But you have to recognize the problem and admit your errors. And to make this post truly worthwhile: