Navigator beefing up social media capabilities
Crisis public relations firm to acquire consulting company, start True agency
Toronto-based crisis public relations firm Navigator Ltd. is launching a team of social media “commandos” dubbed True, in an effort to keep up with the blazing-fast pace of the internet.
On Thursday, Navigator is expected to announce that it has acquired Haddon Strategy, a Toronto based consulting firm, and that founder Shayna Haddon will become president and creative director of True.
While Navigator executive chairman Jaime Watt would not address the specific tactics he expected True to employ, he said the move came about because the online sphere is becoming such a dominant part of crisis reputation management.
“I see it as us using these techniques in a high-pressure, very time-sensitive situation when we need to get messages out very quickly, and where conventional media aren’t fast enough for us,” he said.
Navigator has taken on almost mythical status in the crisis management world in recent years, operating under the high-stakes motto, “When you can’t afford to lose.” Despite the increased focus via True, they’re not exactly new to social media.
The firm famously represented former attorney general Michael Bryant after he killed a cyclist with his car, and was credited with launching a twitter account titled “Bryant Facts” to support his case shortly after the fatality.
Navigator also briefly represented disgraced CBC Radio broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi after multiple women levelled sexual assault allegations against him.
Before Navigator dropped Ghomeshi as a client, he published a lengthy Facebook post defending himself. In an October essay in the New York Review of Books, Ghomeshi didn’t mention Navigator by name, but he lamented, “The professional team that I had hired as experts to guide me through the explosion bolted, too — but not before they had cheered on some illadvised social media postings and threatened lawsuits.”
Speaking to the Financial Post this week, Navigator executive chairman Jaime Watt had a different take on the Ghomeshi episode.
“All I would say about that episode is that clients make their own decisions, and I’d be very careful concluding about what our advice was, or what our advice was not in that case. It would be a mistake to, on the face of it, conclude what advice might have been,” Watt said.
“When you retain us, we don’t talk about our clients ever and we don’t talk about the advice we give. But the analogy that I would use is this: When a patient has a disease and the patient can decide whether they want chemotherapy or whether they want radiation or if they want palliative care, or if they want prayer.”
In the past month, an episode involving the Ottawa Citizen shed light on some of the possible shady tactics that can be used for online reputation management — especially on social media.
Last week, the Ottawa Citizen published an investigation into at least 20 fake Twitter accounts that were attacking the newspaper and praising Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk in the wake of a controversial story about a group of Senators players surreptitiously filmed criticizing the team’s coaching staff while sharing an Uber ride.
Asked about the Ottawa Senators situation specifically, Watt said categorically that True won’t be using social media for that sort of thing. “I can tell you that in almost 20 years running this business ... we have never once, never mind done any of those kinds of tricks, we have never contemplated them. That is the quickest way to professional suicide that I know,” Watt said. “I mean, we act for major, major, major firms. They have no interest in us participating in that kind of activity, nor would we.”
The news release announcing the acquisition of Haddon Strategy and the launch of True said the new entity will be staffed by “a robust team of producers, strategists, designers and community managers.”
The same release described True as “a new full-service creative and digital agency.”
Watt said social media is particularly useful for delivering a message because it’s fast, and it’s a way to communicate with a self-selected group of followers who have expressed an interest in hearing about a specific individual or topic.
“The politicians are trying to disrupt the filter of conventional media,” Watt said. “That’s not what we’re trying to do.
“We’re trying to get messages out to stakeholders in a very fast, direct fashion, and we’re trying to identify stakeholders that care about our message from a universe of people who don’t.”
Navigator executive chairman Jaime Watt says the True creative and digital agency won’t be using shady tactics like the surreptitiously filmed video of Senators players criticizing their coaching staff while sharing an Uber ride, above. “That is the quickest way to professional suicide that I know,” he said.