Here is a recent feature from The Lobby Monitor where our crisis lead Jane Shapiro weighs in on the latest surrounding the Rob Ford scandal, offering her advice on what Ford’s next steps should be. This was originally published in The Lobby Monitor on November 12, 2013. 

If you were Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s public relations strategist, what advice would you give him?

In the first edition of a regular feature, PR experts weighed in on “the quick fix” for Mayor Ford. Apologies, stepping down and explaining his actions were at the centre of their strategies, as were hints that Ford may have a shot at winning the next election.

Q. If you were on Mayor Ford’s PR team, what would you tell him to say to voters and the media in order to improve his public image?

Susan Smith, communications and public affairs consultant at Bluesky Strategy Group:

Ford should apologize, go to rehab and try to capitalize on his underdog status.

“Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s fumblings in the political arena have turned into the political equivalent of the quarterback sacking himself. Almost inconceivably, he retains a core of Ford Nation voters who will blindly vote for him regardless of his transgressions, but the latest crack-smoking and video revelations have siphoned off the softer ideological supporters who draw the line at illegal behaviour and bald-faced lies. However politics and voters love an underdog, especially an underdog who does penance and tries to change.

“For Rob Ford to have any chance of rendering himself re-electable in 2014 he needs to do five things; call them the 5 A’s:

  1. Admit and accept that he has a substance abuse problem and needs help.
  2. Apologize for misleading and embarrassing the city and his family.
  3. Announce an immediate six-month leave of absence to check himself into a long-term residential rehabilitation program. Two to three weeks aren’t going to make him better.
  4. Act on his commitment to lead a healthier lifestyle and demonstrate that he is walking the talk.
  5. Apologize again.

“Rob Ford is not an ordinary citizen who’s dubious behaviour can be overlooked. He’s the public face and quarterback of Canada’s largest economic engine, making decisions that impact the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. Sound, sober judgement is an imperative for the same numbers of voters to re-elect him again in 2014.”

Jane Shapiro, senior vice-president and crisis communications expert at Hill and Knowlton Strategies Canada:

Ford needs to step aside for the rest of his term if he wants to run, and win, again.

“The mayor has run out of options other than to say he is stepping aside. The limit on apologies has been exceeded. He cannot assert with any credibility, as he did a week ago, that ‘it will never happen again.’ And gestures like seeking counselling or taking a break are not sufficient responses to the situation. He is clearly not in a position to continue and his presence is a distraction.

“At this stage in the mandate, I think that stepping aside means for the duration of the term. This would allow the mayor to move out of the spotlight and take the time he needs to deal with his demons. Six or eight months away may limit further damage to his reputation and may improve his chances of winning if he intends to run again. It would also allow the city the certainty to be able to focus on important matters and go about its business.”

Will Stewart, communications and government-relations consultant at Navigator and Ensight Canada:

Ford doesn’t need the media, but he does need to explain his lies to the voters who want to support him.

“He got elected without the support of the media, so I am not sure he and his team need to worry about that now. The media simply have a more salacious story to tell, but their underlying position on the mayor is not new.

“His public image has always been that of the suburban outsider who is there for the little guy. Yes, an admission about smoking crack is different. To pretend otherwise is foolish.  But again, this is a different chapter in the same book, not a new story altogether.

“This brings us to the voter, which is where Ford Nation needs to be concerned. In my opinion, those who voted for Rob Ford need to hear from him that he is sorry and regrets his decisions—his decision to lie about the video, his decision to lie about his struggles with substances, and his decision to apparently lie about his relationship with his mysterious driver [Alessandro] Lisi.

“The people who voted for Rob Ford want to like him. They like seeing that ‘their guy’ can stand up to the downtown elites and media. What the average working family can’t stomach are the deliberate falsehoods.”