A new Toronto poll is putting Rob Ford on the front page again, though it isn’t as though he needs the help. The poll, which essentially states that people are sick of Ford and his nonsense and don’t want to vote for him, is part of a continuing saga of negative stories that have made headlines every single day since Ford’s June 30th return from rehab. Looking at this from a media and electoral strategy point of view, what does this mean for the Ford More Years traveling circus?
We’ve all heard the common mantra, “all publicity is good publicity”. In politics, that’s often true. The hardest thing for a politician is to get their name remembered. Want proof? Name all the Montreal city councillors you know. List all the provincial MPPs who you would recognize on the street. How many federal MPs have you ever even heard of? While a minor scandal or two may be bad news for your short-term reputation, in the long-term, they can serve to make your political brand more recognizable, which is an electoral positive. I know, it’s unpopular to say that scandals can be good, but why do you think politicians still get caught?
Rob Ford’s scenario is a little different. The only problem Rob Ford doesn’t have is his recognisability. It would take me multiple days and several hard drives to list his problems, but being noticed would never come up. So what does the bad publicity do for him? It adds to the laundry list of reasons Torontonians want him gone.
If John Tory did some big name interviews and talked about some problems he had 10 years ago, a few people would scoff in the next few weeks, but many would remember his name come October. With Rob Ford, everybody knows his name, his face, and his story. Every day, another media headline trashes him, another handful of Torontonians move him from the maybe column to the no column in their electoral calculus, and another few people come to the realization that a rehab-ed Rob Ford is still the guy who stumbles his way into headlines, embarrassing his city in the process.
So what should Rob’s media team do? First, cry themselves to sleep. Second, ask why the hell they took the job in the first place. Third, desperately seek a way to stop the headlines. They very logically believed that coming back to Toronto with a message of change and renewal could give Mayor Ford a fighting chance. It sounded pretty reasonable at the time. Shedding 8 pant sizes and a substance abuse problem is impressive. I could consider voting for someone with that kind of conviction—that is, until I remember his racist comments, his drunken stupors, and his other manifold mistakes. Getting him placements on major news networks sounded good at the time, but, instead of focusing on his new forward-looking message, the media did what it does best: it capitalized on stories from the past that are really damn exciting. His problematic comments, his poor conduct, and his drug problem.
So, Ford Nation media team, once you’re finished with the existential crisis that comes with making such a kamikaze career move, get Rob Ford’s name off the airwaves, off the front page, and off the minds of Torontonians. You can’t stop the media from writing about our favorite crazy mayor, but you can give them less material.