22 November 2006

What would Homer do?

A PR buddy of mine, long since promoted to awesome heights of responsibility in public relations, used to keep a folder in his desk drawer he called the Homer Simpson File.

Every story he came across that illustrated a good teaching point went into the file for future use. As you might imagine, the stories were not examples of good practice; rather, each one had a moment in it when - like Homer Simpson - everyone would exclaim "D'oh!".

We've all been to lectures, workshops or other professional development sessions featuring tales of some manager or other or some corporation who led a team to victory or who single-handedly took a project to a stirring conclusions amid shouts of international adulation.

Homer Simpson File stories were illustrations of what happened when you forget the simple stuff. And the Homer stories were never examples of perfect hindsight or cases where you wondered why people never saw the train coming until it was too late.


These were stories that sometimes amounted to PIBOs: penetrating insights into the bloody obvious.

These were cases where the people involved saw the train barreling toward them. They marvelled at the exciting noise, bright shiny lights and even the rumbling under their feet sometimes right up to the moment where the headlight on the engine was a couple of inches from their forehead.

So if it was, in fact, so bloody obvious, why did it happen?

And that's a clue to the value of a Homer Simpson moment.

Do a search for "pr blogs" or "pr measurement" and you'll come across a wealth of insightful discussion on ways of telling if this or that public relations tactic or campaign is effective. The former train spotters will tabulate all sorts of things, assign scores, create equations and emerge with what they believe is the definitive answer.

Sometimes, the most convincing measurement for a course of action is to figure what happens if you don't follow a recommended or - bleeding obvious - path.

The current kerfuffle over fibreoptic cables has a bunch of Homer Simpson moments in it. The one that stands out is the whole business of the Ken Marshall-Dean Macdonald-Danny Williams, political contributions, political appointments and The Deal.

Every single one of the Big Guys in this deal saw this one issue coming.

They went ahead anyway, convinced there was value in the project.

Fair enough.

But, as innovation minister Trevor Taylor stated several times, the whole deal was rejected by cabinet because of the Dean-Ken-Danny relationship.

Someone suggested putting out a call for proposals.

That idea got shot down supposedly because $1.0 million for the RFP process was too much to spend on to check that the price tag of $15 million was good. Bear in mind the provincial government hired an outside, out-of-province - and likely expensive - consultant to review the original proposal.

Deal gets approved. Deal gets announced.

Headlines scream across the country about allegations of deals among buddies and public money for private sector companies that didn't need it. And Danny Williams? After weeks of pounding largely over the complete public relations cock-up involved, the Premier is reduced to accusing people of smearing reputations.

Like he didn't see that one coming.

By his own admission, he saw it.