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A Solution for Mr. Paulson’s “harassment crisis”

Nov 15

I recently viewed CBC’s Alison Crawford interview the RCMP’s, now not so newly minted, Commissioner.  Mr. Paulson’s message (and make no mistake these are carefully prepared PR attempts) was largely focused around his “frustration” with the “harassment crisis”.  He lamented being in a “reactive mode” regarding the issue during his first year in office; and then went on to try and kindle some influence by telling us that during his career he had been sidelined by the Force’s “penalty box culture”.

Were you impressed?  Did Mr. Paulson’s opportunity make you feel more optimistic about him as a “leader” or the RCMP’s chances to right itself?  For me, not so much.  I find myself constantly wondering about the Force’s public relations strategy.  I’m not sure they really have one; and if they do it has become as big a problem as their original problem.  Let me take another approach.

In the 21st Century public relations specialists craft their campaigns to fit the requirements of their target groups.  For today’s media savvy public this means admitting one’s mistakes (remember Michael McCain, Maple Leaf Foods, and Listeria?) and then taking charge of the story by leading the media in its quest for retribution (not by reacting to the media and painting Catherine Galliford as a drunken slut!).  At the heart of this strategy is a technique that PR specialists have been using for centuries:  1) you figure out what the target audience believes; 2) you look for gaps or inconsistencies in those beliefs; and then 3) you fill those gaps or leverage those inconsistencies into a new story.  For the PR specialist, the new story is always a more accurate depiction of the reality of the situation.  The new story corrects the target group’s misperception.  In the age of the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, and around the clock news this strategy is expensive and time consuming – but a must if you want to be successful

Here’s a little example of some pro’s pacing their audience in order to gain control of the narrative, and then re-writing the story to lead the audience to a new conclusion.  The missionaries that came to South America in the 15th and 16th centuries were sent by the Spanish monarchy to prepare the way for the conquering troops that would follow.  The missionaries used the same three techniques listed above to prepare the local natives for cultural domination.  They learned their target’s dominant myths, they identified the gaps in those myths, and then they replaced the superstitions with information that redirected the target’s perceptions and allegiances.  Watch this.  The missionaries observed local rituals to learn about the beliefs associated with each of the popular local gods.  Then they proceeded to convert the natives by associating local gods with the closest corresponding Catholic saint.  The native god for animals became no one else but Saint Frances of Assisi.  The drinking of chicken’s blood was nothing more than a variation on communion.  And so on, and so on, and so on until a local version of Christianity evolved.

Now take this age old, tried and true method (you’ve seen it applied to Kathy Lee Gifford, David Letterman, Tiger Woods, Michael Vick etc.) and apply it to Mr. Paulson’s “harassment crisis”.  What do the public and/or the membership believe about harassment in the RCMP?  Answer – it is rampant.  Is there an inconsistency or a gap here?  Answer – no one believes it will be solved, as people don’t trust those in charge and they are afraid to come forward.   Can we leverage this into a new story?

Yes we can and in conclusion, here is what a “transformational leader”, leading a progressive organization, with a 21st century PR strategy might do to get out of the “reactive mode” and get in front of this issue!  He would issue a nationwide public apology to all those victims of harassment (male and female, no questions asked), he would offer Cpl. Catherine Galliford a promotion to Assistant Commissioner, and put her in charge of the “harassment crisis”.

Now do you think harassed members would have more confidence to come forward with their complaints?   Now do you think this problem would be on its way to being managed successfully?

Dr. Mike Webster, R.Psych.

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From → Harassment

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