Opinion: Bell Media needs to show real action to recover from this PR nightmare

Aug 27 2022, 6:29 pm

Written for Daily Hive by Rachel Thexton, Principal at Thexton Public Relations, with two decades of PR and communications experience.

On August 15th, respected CTV National news anchor Lisa LaFlamme surprised Canadians with a Twitter video stating that after 35 years of working for the network, she  had been “blindsided” with a sudden firing from her high-profile anchor position.

The broadcaster’s official response described the move as a “business decision” to move CTV National News and the role of chief news anchor in a “different direction.”

Many Canadians were unhappy.

A petition to have the 58-year-old reinstated has passed the 150,000-signature mark, and her farewell video has surpassed 4.5 million views.

Lisa LaFlamme

Bell Media

In the days that followed, insiders from the news network shared details about a culture within the company that indicated ageism and sexism, leading us to believe that the veteran journalist may have been fired due to her post-pandemic grey hair and her age. Note that high profile Canadian male news anchors including Lloyd Robertson retired from CTV at age 77 and Peter Mansbridge retired from his CBC anchor position at age 69.

Although Bell Media has since said in a statement that they “regret” the way in which LaFlamme’s departure was handled, as it “may have left viewers with the wrong impression,” this was far from enough to comfort viewers.

Canadians voiced anger and disappointment that further tarnished an already vulnerable reputation. The company had been criticized due to its mental health campaign #BellLetsTalk and the fact that several employees voiced concern that their mental health was not being considered while working with the network.

This week, popular brand Dove joined the conversation with a campaign called “Keep the Grey,” calling out workplace ageism. Wendy’s and Sports Illustrated have also supported Laflamme with their own creative campaigns,

A pattern of poor behaviours and treatment of staff has now cast serious doubts about the leadership at Bell Media and the values it embodies as a company.

How does the company recover, and can they gain back the trust and respect of Canadians?

Actions and listening trump words every time

Although the broadcaster may have nicely crafted responses, they must make big moves to show that they are truly listening and changing the way in which they are running the business and treating their team.

With Lisa Laflamme’s newscast being one of the most watched newscasts in Canada — the latest ratings revealed that the 11 pm newscast was the eighth-most watched program with 886,000 people watching the program during any given minute. Because of this, re-instating Lisa Laflamme into her position, should she accept it, may be the best way to show both listening and action in one move.

Change corporate leadership

With consistent issues coming to light, and several employees describing a “culture of fear” at the network, there needs to be at least one or two senior corporate leaders let go. Ideally, these would be those involved in the decision to fire LaFlamme, and those who have received complaints from staff in the past. Again, action is required to show true commitment to change.

Be brutally honest when communicating with Canadians

The public tends to be forgiving when they feel that they are being told the truth and that authentic change is taking place. It will take time but admitting publicly to the problems that exist within the company, and how these are being addressed immediately, will make a positive difference for their reputation over time.

Hire more senior female leaders now

According to the BCE website, of the twelve senior leaders, four of these are women, approximately 33%. At least 50% of the company’s senior leaders should be female, especially after the company has demonstrated behaviours that indicate sexism and a clear lack of understanding as to how this decision to fire a leading female anchor would land with Canadians.

It will take persistence, and bold moves, to fix their reputation. It can be done, but must be led with a strong and authentic strategy and a team that is committed to changing not only the image but the experience that employees have daily at the Bell Media workplace.
The company’s team, from junior to senior levels, will be their biggest ambassadors in showing change moving forward.

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