Honouring and Paying Those On The Frontlines

Around the world each night, at the time of shift changes at local hospitals, residents are taking to their balconies and front porches to bang pots and pans or simply clap hands as a sign of thanks to all the healthcare workers who have survived another shift on the COVID-19 frontlines.

Personal support workers, healthcare aides, nurses, doctors and administrators (to name only one group of workers at this time) have rushed into this crisis in record numbers to help stem the spread of this extremely efficient transmission virus (Dr. Anthony Fauci stated last night on AC360 with Anderson Cooper, that it is one of the most efficient viruses he has ever scene — meaning that it spread is fast and easy — which makes it more dangerous). These women and men are risking their own health and well-being so that their patients’ needs are being taken care of during this crisis. As the husband of a Professor in the Personal Support Worker program at Conestoga College, I know full well the difficult jobs these front-line workers must endure in the best of times — so it’s hard for me to fully comprehend how much more difficult it is for these wonderful, caring PSWs in times like these.

Photo: Conestoga College PSW program.

Beyond the important work of our frontline healthcare workers, we need to recognize those who are also risking their own health and safety to ensure that our grocery stores are stocked, those in need of public transit get to their destinations on time, and the many customer service workers who have now turned their dining room tables into their “work-from-home” desks. All of these important people go to work each day to keep our limited economies running — they are deemed essential but they are much more than that, they are truly critical workers.

Yesterday I went on a grocery run in search of the much sought after toilet-paper (TP) and baking supplies (I was also on the lookout for flour to make Irish Soda bread with raisins. My local Sobey’s was almost as empty as the totally empty TP and flour shelves (I still don’t get the rush on TP and flour) so off I drove to our local Walmart to pick up the last two remaining packages of flour — no TP there as well.

In both cases I physically distanced myself from other shoppers and store personnel in order to protect all of us. I thanked each of the grocery store workers for being there, even if they couldn’t help me find TP — we laughed wondering what new crisis this could create as people started using other paper products.

As I drove home from my semi-successful venture I thought of these two groups: PSWs and grocery store clerks. Two critical groups of workers who are there, supporting our food and personal needs and taking care of our loved ones. Two groups that make among the lowest wages and salaries — minimum wage in most cases. While I was happy with the announcement by Loblaws and Sobeys to give a bonus to workers and increase their hourly pay by $2.00 — they still make less than a living wage. That’s a far-cry lower than Loblaws’ CEO Galen G. Weston who in 2018 had a salary of $1.18 million and a total compensation package of just under $8 million.

According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in annual CEO compensation report ‘Fail Safe’ published earlier this year, the average pay of the top 100 highest-paid CEOs in Canada was $11.8 million in 2018 which works out to an “ratio of average CEO pay to average worker compensation” in 2018 of 227:1 — for every dollar that the average worker makes, a CEO makes $227 (by the way, the average individual income in Canada in 2018 was $52,061).

In Ontario, the current minimum wage (for non-restaurant/bar employees) is $14.00. That is certainly much lower than the hourly rate of a CEO and it is lower than the calculated “living wage” required to make ends meet in the province. Just as an example, according to the Ontario Living Wage Network, the following are the calculated hourly living wages for these regions:

Hamilton — $16.45

Toronto — $22.08

Waterloo Region — $16.35

So here’s my recommendation — before the COVID-19 crisis fades away, we should petition our healthcare organizations and grocery stores to immediately commit to providing their workers with a minimum living wage that is adjusted to local economic conditions. This is the perfect time to have organizations commit to this type of policy change and wage increase — they already recognized this issue by preemptively increasing grocery store wages by $2.00 per hour. So let’s encourage them to make it permanent.

The first transformative step is always the riskiest.

I remember how nervous I was when I walked into the Newhouse School at Syracuse University on that August morning in 1999 — I was about to meet 20 other communications professionals who were also accepted into the prestigious Syracuse Communications Management graduate program. I’m not embarrassed to say that I felt like an impostor — a public relations consultant with no formal undergraduate training in the practice, just 13 years of experience on the frontlines of crises, risk controversies and community relations management. Surely my new colleagues were much smarter, more talented and had greater experiences and expertise then I did.

Little did I know that all the other students were feeling the exact same — “do I really belong here” — “I’m not worthy” (ok, no one really said that but just an homage to Mike Myers and Wayne’s World). We all felt like impostors, not worthy of our acceptance into a top-tier communications school.

And then, our collective mentor, Professor Maria Russell, assured us that we were there not by luck but by choice (ours and Syracuse’s choice).

The anxiety began to immediately subside as our comfort and trust in one another grew over that first residency week. The fear of failure fell away as we met our legendary professors (Toth, Shukla, Kinsey, and Longstaff — to name a few) as we realized that they were more our coaches, facilitators and cheerleaders — they all wanted us to succeed.

Newhouse Communications Management Class of 1999.

Fast forward to October 2019 — as I greeted and welcomed our 13th cohort into the McMaster-Syracuse Communications Management degree program. I watched them all walk in and nervously introduce themselves to one another. The tension and anxiety in the classroom was noticeable — the same as each of the 12 cohorts before them.

These students, just like the 125 before them in the program, took a tremendous step forward in their own personal learning journey, to apply and be accepted into this program. It was the first step in a two-year transformation that will forever change their lives — in a very positive and meaningful way. As we gathered for our first orientation session, I recounted my own journey and my fear of being seen as an impostor. Almost on cue, their heads nodded in acknowledgement of their impostor syndrome feelings and their shoulders started to relax as the the tension in their necks began to disappear.

I gave them the same encouragement that I received from Professors Russell, Toth, Kinsey and Shukla on that first day 20 years ago. I am now their mentor, their coach and a facilitator in their own learning journey.

Please welcome our Class of 2019 — our 13th cohort.

Here’s to their success!

MCM Cohort #13 — Class of 2019

Reflections on 2019 Page Annual Conference — Transformative Change At The Speed of Now

I’ve just arrived home after spending three days listening, reflecting and engaging with a world-class list of speakers and presenters at the Page Society annual conference. From digital communications agency guru, Sir Martin Sorrell — now with S4 Capital and formerly with Saatchi & Saatchi and the WPP Group — to Amy Weisenbach, SVP Marketing of the New York Time, to Titus Kaphar — an artist who, as he says, seeks to dislodge history from its status as the “past” in order to unearth its contemporary relevance (one of his works that he displayed — ‘Behind the myth of benevolence, 2014′ literally, metaphorically and politically draws back the curtain on the myths that we have created and continue to believe — to the last presenter of the conference, Vikram Mansharamani, author, Yale and Harvard lecturer and futurist — who painted a picture of a rather challenging future ahead. His 2011 book Boombustology provides a framework for understanding the boom and bust economic cycles that our world has faced (and is now facing) and how we could do a better collective job of identifying and evaluating these trends on our personal and professional lives.

Here are a few of my takeaways:

Sorrell — the digital communications market place is now worth $1.7 trillion USD with a projected 20% growth rate. The big three digital companies account for about $225 billion (Google — 125; Facebook — 52; Amazon 12). Asked what troubled him most — “the lack of speed and agility of organizations”. S4’s philosophy is now: faster, better and cheaper — faster — responsiveness; better — technology; cheaper — efficiencies in buying and placing. He said that the biggest issue facing CEOs today — is “getting people inside their organizations to face the same way at the same time. How do you harness your people to work together”.

Weisenbach — Amy’s presentation focused on the NYT’s ‘The Truth Is Worth It’ campaign. Here’s one example based on their reporting on what happened in the Rohingya in Myanmar. This campaign launched in 2017 and it was the first brand campaign for the NYT since 2007. David Rubin, CMO and head of brand for the NYT, challenged the marketing communications team with one simple task: to create marketing communications that is as compelling as the NYT journalism.

The objective was to build an emotional connection to the NYT brand. When it launched two years ago, the theme was “what is the role of the truth in society”. Today the theme is “what does it take to deliver the truth”.

Amy said that NYT journalists are now pitching the marketing team for their work to be the subject of ‘The Truth Is Worth It’ campaign.

Kaphar “The political is personal.”

One of the most inspiring and passionate presentations that I have heard (15 September 2019)

The power of art, the visual and the movement to amend history. I couldn’t begin to do service to Titus’s presentation – so here is something similar from his Ted Talk. If you are near Tuskegee University in October — do yourself a favor and see his exhibit “Knockout”

Mansharamani — another engaging presentation. Vikram identified four major trends (or lenses that he suggest that we view future global pressures): China; technology; energy and demographics. He cautioned that we may be approaching a global economic crisis because of the following deflationary pressures: currency wars; inequality and populism; civil unrest; protectionism; and slobalization — the reversing of globalization. Here’s a short cut to his message — an interview with Brendan Coffey in Forbes Magazine from May 21, 2019.

I’ve been a member of the Page Society for more than 10 years and more recently a member of the Board of Trustees for four years. I’m inspired by the organization’s commitment to thought leadership and pushing CCOs to be more global, organizational thinkers, leaders and problem-solvers.

At the conference we launched our newest thought leadership report: The CCO as Pacesetter. Let me know what you think so that I can share it with our leadership team.


A Time For Reflection On The State of Public Relations in Canada

Late last year (2018) I was invited to speak with the students in the Royal Roads University Professional Communications program in Victoria BC, on the current state of the profession and what competencies, skills and knowledge entry level public relations practitioners need to have to be successful in the profession. Professor Tom Workman thought that the best approach was to have a conversation between the two of us about all things public relations. RRU’s School of Communication & Culture recorded the conversation for their students and made it available for CPRS members across the country.

I thought that you might like to listen to my thoughts on the profession, the competencies, skills and knowledge required to become a valuable public relations/communications professional, and my general thoughts on the state of the profession here in Canada and throughout the world.

Hope you find it interesting and of value. Please share your thoughts with me.


The times…are they really changing?

Source: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Pictures

In cities across North America today (24 March 2018) teenagers and adults are marching to protest the excessive availability and use of guns, especially high-powered, assault-style rifles. Recent school shootings, attacks on churches, music festivals, nightclubs and shopping malls have created a sense of urgency among citizens to use the power of peaceful protests to call for legislative action by local, state/provincial and federal politicians.

News commentators and political pundits have likened today’s protest to the civil rights and anti-Vietnam protests that took place in the 1960s, that led to significant policy and cultural changes within the United States.

In the 1970s, people took to the streets to protest environmental degradation, pollution, nuclear power, and the growing decay of our urban centers caused by the concentration of capitalism in suburban shopping malls. It was also a time when women began protesting for equality and the right to making their own health care decisions.

By the 1980s those causes turned to nuclear proliferation, missile defense systems, HIV/AIDS, and of course the greed and excesses of Wall Street.

Protest in the late 20th century was a way for students and communities to rise together to voice their concerns and demonstrate against inequality, injustice and the growing concentration of economic wealth and power in the hands of fewer and fewer people throughout the world.

Since the advent of the commercial internet, large physical protests have been replaced by online activism (also known as slacktivism) and petitions for change. Instead of our voices and hand-made signs we have used our fingers and laptops to protest. While larger numbers of people can sign online petitions and add their voices through “e-protesting” — politicians and lawmakers have generally benefited: online became out-of-sight.

That was until 2017, following the election of Donald Trump, when millions of women, children and people around the world reclaimed the streets as avenues of protest to demonstrate against the incoming administration. In 2017 alone, there were an estimated 8700 protests in the United States, with up to 9 million people physically protest issues such as women’s rights and the importance of science (March for Science).

In the first three months of 2018, demonstrators have once again taken to the streets in record numbers to protest: the now annual women’s march, today’s march for our lives and in a couple of week’s the annual march for science. There is growing dissent and concern about the policies of the Trump government that is spurring increased protest from nearly every corner of the United States and throughout the world.

Protest is good…but does it really enable change?

While these protests don’t seem to impact Trump’s golf games or trips to Florida, they should have an impact on the 2018 mid-term elections — if the momentum and passion continue on pace over the next eight months. When protest signs are turned into increased numbers of voters and ballots on election day, then politicians will see this sea of change and hear the voices of the protestors who are demanding a voice in our democracies around the world.

Thanks to those young high school students today for are literally marching for their lives.