All media relations pros know call-in shows are fraught with danger for spokespeople. You never know what questions or comments you’ll get from callers, and the chances of sticking to your key messages is dicey if the calls are off topic. And when your spokesperson has a reputation of having a quick temper, the danger of him getting upset with a caller who goes off topic or complains is even bigger. That’s why it’s so tempting to want to seed the call-in lines with friendlies — people who will ask questions you want your spokesperson to answer, who will lob softballs that lend themselves to being answered by your key messages just as you scripted them.
Now imagine the job of being Rob or Doug Ford’s media relations people. Wait, don’t do that. You might get a headache.
Anyhow, last summer Rob and Doug got caught. The mayor of Toronto and his brother, a city councillor, had been hosting a call-in show on talk radio in Toronto for a year, but CBC outed them for having a friendly plant call in about a half dozen times.
A male caller identified as “Dave” had been put on air on at least six occasions, calling from different parts of the city. CBC News learned that this guy was working as the mayor’s director of operations and logistics. Apparently staff in the mayor’s office put a stop to his calls once they found out about them, and the calls ended months before he was hired by the mayor.
It seems Dave is a long-time friend of the Ford family and was involved in Doug’s election campaign. When Doug Ford was asked about the story about Dave and his calls to the radio show, he said that he had “laughed it off” after learning that his friend had been calling.
Not what I would have recommended. You’ve been caught. Laughing it off is not appropriate. At a minimum, you must acknowledge that this, if true, is innapropriate. If you don’t want to fall on your sword and admit the mea culpa, at least note that this kind of thing is wrong and you’ll look into it to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
But hey, we’re talking about the Fords of Toronto, and admitting mistakes isn’t exactly their forte.
My favourite part of the story is the response from other city councillors.
Coun. Adam Vaughan suggested that council is paying little attention to what the Fords are saying on the radio, or doing at city hall. “Most of us have tuned the mayor out, and none of us really listen to the radio show.”