Crisis Communications, Rob Ford Style

For weeks, Toronto mayor Rob Ford has captured global headlines with scandalous revelations of alleged crack cocaine use, public drunkenness and lewd language. Let’s see how Rob Ford’s strategy measures up to crisis communications best practices.

Best practice: Be proactive, not reactive

Rob Ford: Once a crisis occurs, exercise the right to remain silent. Do not get ahead of the media. For five months, deny direct media questions concerning crack cocaine use. Deny the existence of a video showing crack use … until police recover the video file. Then deny suffering from alcoholism or drug abuse.

Best practice:
Consult stakeholders

Rob Ford: Unilaterally decide to admit using crack cocaine. Stun lawyers, top staff and even brother Doug Ford, a city councilor, with a surprise public admission.

Best practice:
Ask for help

Rob Ford: Deny there’s any need for help. Deny suffering from alcoholism. Infer a ‘come-to-Jesus moment’ cured any drinking issues. Shrug off drug use as an experiment that took place a year ago despite discrepancies with the police’s video date. Admit the need to lose a few pounds and seek help from a gym only.

Best practice:
Put a plan into place

Rob Ford: Distract the media and public: Have ‘80s wrestling personality The Iron Sheik pop by City Hall for a random arm-wrestling match. Pitch over-the-top image to U.S. media outlets who love reality TV featuring walking timebombs. Announce your plan to become Prime Minister. Prove to late-night comedy writers there is a God and He loves a good chuckle, too.

Best practice:
Defend actions you take

Rob Ford: Justify months of silence by telling reporters, “You didn’t ask the right question” when inquiring about drug use. Defend the use of crude language on live TV, as allegations threatened the illusion of a happy marriage. Confuse children who thought he eats kittens for dinner.

Best practice:
Contrition (take responsibility)

Rob Ford: After Toronto police recover the alleged crack smoking video, apologize (and sweat) profusely to uphold a positive image by acknowledging past failures. (Saying ‘sorry’ is incredibly Canadian, so taking responsibility also shows patriotism – win-win!) Fight city council after losing most mayoral powers. Experts say Ford’s contrition and combativeness are a toxic mix… much like alcohol and crack cocaine.

Best practice:
Prepare for the future

Rob Ford: Liken being stripped of power by city council to the invasion of Kuwait. Translation: It’s on like Donkey Kong. The media circus and Rob Ford’s crisis communication worst practices are far from over.

What do you think?

Did Rob Ford violate every crisis communication best practice or simply interpret them creatively? If his PR strategy was to boost his global brand profile – regardless of tone or consequence – I think he nailed it.

Lisa Goller
Lisa Goller helps businesses tell their story. As a Toronto-based Strategic Freelance Writer & Editor, she helps executives and entrepreneurs stand out, look good and save time. Learn more at


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