PR Filter: What went wrong with ‘Fair For Canada?’
September 03, 2013 | Rebecca Harris | Comments
Verizon announced Monday it won’t be coming to Canada after all. But for the past month, Bell, Rogers and Telus waged a PR war against the U.S. telecom giant, which was expected to buy its way into the Canadian market in the upcoming wireless spectrum auction. The “Fair for Canada” campaign failed to rally the public, who had little reason to stand up for companies they felt had been gouging them for years. PR Filter asked two top PR professionals to weigh in on how the Big Three got it wrong.
Partner/managing director, Ketchum Public Relations Canada
The problems with the million-dollar-plus preemptive strike by the Bell/Rogers/Telus triumvirate are so numerous, one can only assume the idea was born internally, in corporate cultures blinded by hubris and entitlement. No external advisor with any sand would counsel in this direction. Without weighing in on the issue itself, look at the coordinated communication offensive of the Big Three. Here are a few things wrong with it:
• It assumes Canadians are neonatal imbeciles. “If Verizon enters the Canadian marketplace,” say the Big Three, “we will immediately be visited by locusts, drought, floods, the zombie apocalypse and chicken pox.” The claims and comparisons are so ridiculous as to be laughable. “It’s like Ottawa gave away half our fresh water to the Americans.” No. Actually, it’s nothing like that at all. Scare mongering when you lack credibility is a counterproductive strategy.
• The Big Three lack credibility. It’s hard to imagine an industry more reviled by its own consumers than the Canadian telecom sector. “It’s undeserved,” quoth they. Well actually, it’s probably deserved. But in any case, in matters of perception, the customer is always right even when the customer is wrong. You are not going to change perception by hectoring your audience from a lofty position that demonstrates how out of touch with it you are. And in this case, being seen as out of touch is your better option. More likely they assume you know exactly how they feel about you and you just don’t care. As Lily Tomlin said nearly 50 years ago: “We don’t care. We don’t have to. We’re the phone company.”
• They’re acting like big, rich bullies with deep pockets who are scared of competition. Where’d they get those deep pockets from? What’s wrong with competition? Cherry picking the data to tell us we’ve got it good when we don’t feel we have it good, or that we have any choice, is not a way to engage me emotionally. How about a little real communication, in the trenches, with real people who might say some things you don’t want to hear? How about acknowledging reality?
• Above all else, in human relations people want to feel they have been heard. Anything less makes them angry and frustrated. Just call into any of the integrated voice response systems at any of the Big Three to see how well they do at making their customers feel heard. How many times will you have to repeat your phone number? What’s the first thing a live agent will ask you? What’s the likelihood you will feel you mean anything to your provider after that call?
• Another new competitor may not be the answer, but in the face of the Big Three’s unwillingness to acknowledge their customer relationship issues, it’s no wonder Canadians are interested in alternatives.
Now that Verizon has said it is not coming to Canada, Rogers, Telus and Bell have time to rethink the way they communicate with Canadians so next time they want something from us, they have a little goodwill to draw on.
Senior vice-president, Apex Public Relations
The fundamentals of persuasion are three-fold: reputation, a passionate argument, and logic (usually buttressed by facts). The telcos, in this case, are relying on the latter two and ignoring the first and most powerful tool of persuasion – reputation – likely because, as a group, they are among the most least-liked industries in Canada, right up there with the oil companies. Moreover, the Harper government is masterfully playing the politics of “open-competition” precisely because the industry has made itself such a popular target. One can be certain that the telcos, individually, care about their reputations. But as a collective, that same regard has never been evident. Unfortunately, reputation is to persuasion what salt is to food. You never notice it until it’s gone.
At Apex, we’d address the current issue as a long-game. Even if they lose today (which seems less likely now that Verizon has redirected its interest), a longer view will better immunize the industry when and if foreign providers enter the market. Canada has a great tradition in telephony, not only from its invention and the investment in infrastructure, but more persuasively, the people who built these networks over the past hundred years. Tell us those stories and demonstrate the good that the telco industry has created for Canada.
The message “Fair for Canada” may have survived the focus groups, but telcos are not perceived as “fair for consumers,” so it rings hollow. What Canada does cheer for is itself. By entrenching its message as at the heart of Canada’s past, present, and future, the telcos will begin to get Canadians to cheer for them. They’ll need a proof point beyond messaging for the strategy to resonate – such as buying a U.S. telco and competing in that market. Canadians love people and organizations that achieve success outside of our own borders.
Disclosure: Rogers owns Marketing and MarketingMag.ca