Posts Tagged ‘community relations’

When a landscape architect says: “Stop that racquet!”

Everybody makes mistakes. I certainly have. You have too. Even if you’re shaking your head.

The key to mistakes is getting past them. This is the story of what happens when you try not to.

Here in my city of Ottawa, there once was a man named Jack Purcell. Postal worker Jack Purcell lived in Ottawa’s Centretown neighbourhood and became famous for helping local youngsters to take part in hockey. For his contributions to the city, a park near his home was named after him, as well as an adjacent community and recreation centre, which opened in 1974.

That park was being revitalized, with a $525,000 budget, and it was decided to put some public art in there. Great idea. I’m a big fan of public art. But, according to the local city councillor, that’s where things went wrong. A quick Google of “Jack Purcell” led the landscape architects to a famous Canadian badminton player of the 1930s and 1940s who was the world badminton champion of his day. They then designed 10 sculptures.

CBC image of the new sculptures at Jack Purcell Park, which in NO WAY LOOK LIKE BADMINTON RACQUETS, OKAY?

Now here’s where it gets a little fuzzy. According to Councillor Diane Holmes, quoted in this Ottawa Citizen story: “The original design actually called for the racquet-shaped light fixtures — which each cost $4,595 — to be strung like real racquets, but that plan was nixed, Holmes added.”

The city staffer in charge of the project says the sculptures were never meant to commemorate Purcell, and that many people say they don’t look like badminton racquets anyway.

And — here, finally, is my point — the landscape architect says they’re stylized trees. In an interview with the local paper, architect Jerry Corush, a principal at CSM Landscape Architects, is quoted as saying ““We just didn’t stick our heads in the sands and say, ‘Well, we had a design and we’re going with it no matter what…In my eyes, it’s a stylized tree…We’ve been out there and some people will walk by and they’ll go, ‘It looks like a tennis racket, it looks like a tree, I don’t know what it looks like, and we just go, ‘Perfect, it’s a piece of art, it’s your own interpretation of what it is…This was the perfect example of why you go out to the community with design ideas ahead of finalizing anything…We knew that what we were doing. It sounds like we didn’t know what we were doing.”

This is one of those really embarrassing situations. There’s blame enough to spread around, that’s for sure. The Canadian Encyclopedia’s online entry states (incorrectly) that the centre is named for the badminton player (please note that Wikipedia does not duplicate that error). Worse, There’s not a word about who Jack Purcell is on the city’s website, or on the community centre site. And when media contacted Jack Purcell (Ottawa, not the badminton guy)’s son to talk about the sculptures, he mentioned that he hadn’t been contacted about the revitalization of the park or invited to the reopening ceremony. Awkward.

But worst of all, the landscape architect is trying to have his racquet and tree it too. While Corush might like to believe that they changed their idea, it appears the biggest change was to take the “strings” out of the “racquets” and add some LED lighting. Corush would be well advised to back down on his earlier remarks to the Ottawa Citizen and take a line like this: “We screwed up. We’ve tried to make the best of it, and eventually people will forget about all this. It’s a bit embarrassing for us, but the sculptures are attractive, and with their lighting, they’re also functional. We hope people will grow to love them.”

Public art is one of the easiest things in the world to criticize. And when something like this happens the criticism comes VERY easy. It would be better for all concerned if they owned up to their mistakes rather than trying to spin, obfuscate, or stretch the facts to try to cover up what is, in the end, a mistake.

 

When organizations walk racial tightropes

Nepean Redskins logo

The Nepean Redskins logo and team name are being challenged.

Here in my home town, there’s a bit of a kerfuffle going on about a youth league football team, the Nepean Redskins.

A local musician, Ian Campeau, has filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission over the name of the team, which he feels is offensive to him and to other First Nations. The complaint is likely no surprise to the team; Campeau has been lobbying for a change of name for some time.

And certainly in my dictionaries, the term “Redskin” is considered an offensive term. Here’s good ol’ Google’s definition:

Redskin

Given the history of controversies over  names for various First Nations sporting teams, this news story fit into a fairly convenient narrative: sports team  with a name offensive to a group comes under fire. And predictably, arguments of “political correctness run amok” and some racist commentary lit up comment streams and talk radio.

In fact, it happened just a little while ago right here in Ottawa, when the new basketball team currently known as the Ottawa Skyhawks was known as the Tomahawks for about a picosecond. And of course, there’s no shortage of examples of these controversies in US college and professional sports.

So what’s different here? Ian Campeau isn’t your average dad concerned that a racist team name may have negative effects on his young daughter — he’s a musician in a hot new group, A Tribe Called Red. The trio, as they describe themselves,

“is producing a truly unique sound that’s impacting the global electronic scene and urban club culture. Since 2010 the group – made up of two-time Canadian DMC Champion DJ Shub, DJ NDN and DJ Bear Witness – has been mixing traditional pow wow vocals and drumming with cutting-edge electronic music. Their self-titled album, released in March 2012, was long-listed for Canada’s prestigious Polaris Music Prize and included in the Washington Post’s top 10 albums of the year.”

As you can glean from the musicians’ handles, their music plays with traditional First Nations stereotypes in their music. So that makes this complaint an interesting one. And another thing that makes this dispute interesting: the team had consulted an Ottawa coalition of aboriginal groups last year to ask their opinion of the name, and came away with some positive results.

According to a CBC story, Marc Maracle of the Ottawa Aboriginal Coalition said:

“They didn’t choose the name with any malicious intent to insult or criticise the aboriginal community here in Ottawa or the aboriginal population in general. And in our discussions with them, it was clearly a recognition of strength and pride and character in aboriginal people collectively”… The coalition recommended that the team publish literature about how the name was chosen, “as well as using the issue as a positive education tool, not only within their own executive but with the players and participants in their athletic club as well as with the coaching staff and the parents,” he said.

“Our opinion was that Nepean was using the word Redskins in a positive way, not in a negative way, and that’s really where it starts and it ends from our perspective. It’s unfortunate that it’s been presented in obviously a more confrontational way … as opposed to building a relationship and working at it from that angle. … It just takes on a different connotation that’s not entirely consistent with an approach that the coalition is currently engaged in.”

Once I learned that the team had consulted with First Nations organizations and had gotten at least a tacit endorsement, the narrative started to get muddled. I began to think about the Florida Seminoles. They have explicit approval from the Seminole tribe to use the name. So what if someone were to make similar objections to their name?

Campeau isn’t “wrong.” If he feels the name is offensive, it is, at the very least to him. The team isn’t doing it to offend, and they consulted with representatives of the community to ask if they were being offensive, and they were told they were using the term in a positive way. So they’re not “wrong”, either. So if nobody’s wrong, then who’s “right?” Maybe nobody’s right either.

And what to do when your organization comes under criticism for some form of insensitivity or offense? First, are the complaints justified? Second, have you consulted with anyone appropriate concerning the offensive material? A knee-jerk reaction to appease the offended person or group may be an immediate solution, but you may be in a position where, even if you’re not in “the right”, you’re not necessarily wrong.

Sometimes it’s not as simple as saying “no more Chief Wahoo” or getting rid of a logo. Sometimes it’s more subtle, and if the complainant is reasonable and a person of good faith, it’s likely better in the end to try to build relationships and find some common ground or at least understanding than to either double down or knuckle under.

UPDATED: Just how bad a PR move is shutting down “World Nutella Day?”

Seeing lots of chatter online today about the pending shutdown of World Nutella Day. World what-what? Yeah, World Nutella Day.

Now, I’m not a user of the world’s favorite hazelnut spread. But plenty of people are. But many people are. Enough that back in 2007, an American woman named Sara Rosso who lives in Nutella’s homeland of Italy created (of her own volition) World Nutella Day.

Since then, their site has become a go-to destination for people who like the product (created by the same people who make Ferrero Rocher, Kinder candies, and Tic Tacs) for recipes and stories. Rosso and her Nutella-loving pal Michelle Fabio also have written the e-book The Unofficial Guide to Nutella (affiliate link).  

But apparently, no more. Rosso’s website says (I’ll paste the text here in case the site disappears):

“On May 25, 2013, I’ll be darkening the World Nutella Day site, nutelladay.com, and all social media presence (Facebook, Twitter), in compliance with a cease-and-desist I received from lawyers representing Ferrero, SpA (makers of Nutella).

Seven years after the first World Nutella Day in 2007, I never thought the idea of dedicating a day to come together for the love of a certain hazelnut spread would be embraced by so many people! I’ve seen the event grow from a few hundred food bloggers posting recipes to thousands of people Tweeting about it, pinning recipes on Pinterest, and posting their own contributions on Facebook! There have been songs sung about it, short films created for it, poems written for it, recipes tested for it, and photos taken for it.

The cease-and-desist letter was a bit of a surprise and a disappointment, as over the years I’ve had contact and positive experiences with several employees of Ferrero, SpA., and with their public relations and brand strategy consultants, and I’ve always tried to collaborate and work together in the spirit and goodwill of a fan-run celebration of a spread I (to this day) still eat.

I have hope that this is not a goodbye to World Nutella Day forever, for the fans’ sake, and hopefully it will live on in one form or another in the future.” 

So. From all appearances, this is a big corporation knuckling down on a humble blogger. Certainly, that’s the theme on the Nutella Facebook page, where several hundred comments are roundly criticizing the brand for its actions. Some are even posting video responses:

Doesn’t get much more emphatic than that.

But… what if there’s more to this? As a teacher, one of the case studies I have used for a long time in social media classes has been what’s become known as “The Ranger Station Fire.” This 2008 incident began when Ford sent out a cease and desist letter to someone operating a web site dedicated to the Ford Ranger.

Here’s Ron Ploof’s summary, an eminently useful document.

The Ranger Station Fire by Scott Monty

So at this point, all we have is the World Nutella Day website. We don’t know the contents of the C&D letter (which is more than likely in Italian). We haven’t seen any response from Ferrero. On page 8 of “The Ranger Station Fire”, Ploof describes the fact that the Ford fan site was selling unauthorized products with Ford’s logo on them. They then (VERY quickly) separated out the demands for the URL and compensation from the IP issue.

In the Ford case, they did not end up killing The Ranger Station. It’s still thriving, and they’re still selling products (now compliant with Ford’s IP).

What needs to happen now? Two things:

  1. Sara Rosso needs to make very clear exactly why Ferrero has asked her to cease & desist.
  2. Ferrero needs to do the same thing.

Right now, it’s impossible to know if Ferrero has done something really stupid, or has done something right & executed badly, or whether this is the best of their alternatives and they’re just communicating poorly.

If Ferrero has no compelling reason to have taken this action, they are likely going to be a case study for teachers like me to use in the future — in how to alienate the people who love you.

I have asked Ferrero for comment, and I’ve also sent questions to Sara Rosso. I’ll update this post whenever I have new information to share. 

UPDATE: around 4:00 pm EDT, I saw a statement from Ferrero on their Italian site. Get the update in this post.