Sunday, May 8, 2011

I Don't Have Data, But Experience Tells Me This Woman Is Probably Stupid

Old stuff, but still makes you cry. The above links an article on some of Skate Canada's pre-Vancouver 2010 marketing wisdom about targeting men as a growth demo for Skate Canada's flagging ticket sales and television ratings. As that's what you do when interest falters. Don't try to re-engage your core demo. Instead, easily convince men that figure skating is as thrilling as hockey. Let me rephrase - as thrilling FOR THE SAME REASONS.*
One solution: Get more men to tune in. To do that, Skate Canada is encouraging skating officials and athletes to use words such as "strength," "power," "speed" and "risk" when describing the sport. Team members are being asked to play up the fact that they skate faster than most hockey players, jump higher than most basketball players and fall harder than most football players -- all without padding. (Debbie Wilkes, Skate Canada's marketing director and a former figure skater, says she doesn't have data to prove those assertions, but experience tells her they're probably true.)
Here, Debbi demonstrates a fantastic grasp of why hockey, basketball and football are popular.  Word association.

Damn, marketing is EASY.

You know what my experience tells me is probably true? Hockey-loving males, hypnotized by Debbi's savvy re-education campaign into forgetting they know what figure skating is, will show up at or tune into a figure skating competition anticipating manly men and determined women in  - uh, costumes -  'pounding out' feats of SPEED, RISK and POWER. Only to be hit in the face (without padding!) with EMOTING, SPRAY TAN, MUSIC, MAKE-UP, HAIR GEL, CHOREOGRAPHY AND SPINNING. SPINNING ON THE ICE. SPINNING IN THE AIR!!  SPINNING TO MUSIC! DO YOU KNOW WHAT IS SPINNING'S TWIN SISTER? TWIRLING!!

Then, just like hockey's Sidney Crosby, the guy who performed these feats will collect his stuffed animals and flowers and wait for his score in the KissNCry, making hand-hearts to folks at home.

No lie, in actual tests, professional ballet dancers routinely outperform professional football players in strength and endurance. Show the Sugar Plum Fairy taking down Hines Ward. Ballet companies will never need a fundraiser again. I have no data, but damn, it stands to (Debbi's) reason.

A few nits: based on what I've seen of a lot of very masculine figure skating costuming, Debbi's experience may not tell her that when half the males at the gala part of the competition (there's a word that needs changing for the men, Debbi - "gala") choose to costume themselves in tight plaid shirts tucked into butt squeezing jeans, or camouflage pants paired with a wife beater, the costumes leap over conventional masculinity by several time/space continiums and bulls-eye onto a 1980s Christopher Street bar. 

Debbi is a branding genius:
The idea of rebranding the sport's image first came up last September at a team dinner in Vancouver. At the event, Ms. Wilkes, Skate Canada's marketing director, told skaters they needed to give the public a better sense of how hard they worked. She said they should play up the injuries they've had and their rigorous practice schedules.
This will work.

"Woot woot! That's how to twizzle Charlie!!! Jesus, I think that guy split his pants last time he twizzled that fast. This sport takes a freaking BEAST!"

Soon, the men will be re-educating each OTHER:

"Ralph, did you know sometimes these guys fall down HARD, especially if they're going super fast and get cut on one of those really extra sharp blades on their feet?" "Yeah, I did." "Me too. Did you know it takes hours of tough daily training over years of commitment to skate like one of these guys?" "Yes. I'm not a fucking idiot."

Other SC initiatives included photographing figure skaters vis a vis Harley Davidsons, because Harley Davidsons aren't gay, and if the figure skaters are posing on them, the potential masculine audience will know they are not gay too. "It's not gay, Sam, I was looking in International Figure Skating magazine and one of these skaters was posing on a Harley. He even had stubble."

How come Debbi pitches her marketing strategies at people experience should tell her must be too dimwitted and devoid of life experience to earn the money for a ticket?
*and from William Thompson:
At the same time, Skate Canada is discouraging skaters from using too many sequins, feathers or anything else that dangles from their costumes. Adornments like that are "garish" and "distracting," says Skate Canada Chief Executive William Thompson, and belong "in an ice show, not a competition."
For sure. Fix the garish costume aspect, and before SC knows it, figure skating will be as popular with guys as gymnastics.


  1. LOL. So basically, because Skate Canada was struggling with ticket sales, they decided to try and bring in more male fans by emphasizing the fact that figure skaters train very hard and get injured? Uh huh, because no one ever knew that. At the same time, they also decided to appeal to other potential fans by highlighting the personal stories of their skaters rather than their skating itself? Not because, as their director of marketing so plainly said, they looked at any market research on this (because if they'd done so, they would have quickly come to the realization that both strategies are terribly ill-conceived), but because "experience tells her they're probably true." WOW. This is the person the official figure skating federation of Canada has in charge of its PR and marketing? What a trainwreck of a marketing initiative. No wonder they still can't fill up an arena, even for their biggest (non-Olympic) competitions.

  2. Debbie Wilkes seems like a very nice woman and in the interviews I've seen with her, she comes across as personable, engaging and knowledgeable about figure skating. However, I agree that these are not the qualifications of a marketing director. If SC is run mostly by ex-figure-skaters, no wonder their PR stinks, especially their grand vision for their biggest stars, Virtue and Moir.

    People actually go to school and get degrees that specialize in marketing, sports' marketing being a specific specialty that takes specific training. How did these guys ever think they could do this job without bringing in qualified individuals? It's a shame that the ones who pay for their misguided PR attempts are the skaters.

    Wasn't it SC's idea that David Pelletier act "as a sort of agent" for V/M? Another ex-skater without the proper training. The absurdity of this showed itself in that Roots promotional video for V/M, featuring... David Pelletier! Since when does the "agent" take front and center stage when promoting the clients?
    The incompetence boggles the mind.

    IF your blog's premise is true, that SC has aided and abbetted a relationship cover-up, my money would be on Mr. Pelletier being the genius who came up with this. Given his own history, I could see him thinking this would be a good way to deal with the media intrusion into their private lives. Lacking any insight into the big picture of public perception could he, and SC, have thought they were "protecting" their new stars from becoming the personal train wreck of S/P? SC also completely missed how it would look to the public to have this guy hanging out with young figure-skating girls. Even apart from any possible realationship-cover-up shenanigans, the whole business of David Pelletier involved with V/M, courtesy of SC, is asinine!

    Scott and Tessa need to get qualified representation (emphasis being on the word "qualified") as soon as yesterday!

  3. Bang on, last anon.

    Skate Canada has often implied that experience itself is a qualification. David Pelletier was once in the same position as Scott and Tessa - forget whether Scott and Tessa actually want to emulate Pelletier or if Pelletier has demonstrated any advisory competence in either marketing or image management(look at the genius job he did with Dube/Davison). He may be useful for input such as "you want to do this (be public/not be public)" but how is he qualified as to the HOW and the methodology? I'll tell you - he was a figure skater too! On the podium!

    Debbie Wilkes is a former figure skater, coach, author (on figure skating) and figure skating commentator. She got a graduate degree in communications from the University of Michigan in the 1970s, then proceeded to work in figure skating as figure skating "analyst" for Canadian television.

    All of which makes her supremely qualified to hold onto sponsors like Homesense as well as develop social media marketing and fan management strategies for Skate Canada figure skaters.

    In 2007, Skate Canada's B.C./Yukon's Ted Barton said
    "In Canada, we had two issues," said Barton. "One was the perception of the sport. The other was ... if the wrong person is in the wrong job, either because they don't have the expertise or the knowledge or vision, then even though they're trying hard, it's not going to work."
    Well thank God they fixed that last part.

    Debbi Wilkes may perhaps be a very nice lady, I don't know. I know she speaks to both the public and skaters as if we're all a bunch of teletubbies, and I don't like the implications.

  4. Haha, I'm such a fan of this blog. I particularly love your image of straight men discussing the manliness of spray tan and twirling. And LOL at Thompson saying you can be openly gay and successful in figure skating. Talk about ironic. But not to worry, because Elvis Stokjo agrees! Pshhhhh.

  5. Not only was "sort of agent" David Pelletier front and center in the Roots video telling us that Roots swag was the best part of any Olympics, but the two founders made sure they had the camera on them constantly to record their riveting commentary about themselves.

    Scott and Tessa were props in terrible, terrible make-up, babbling inanely about how being associated with Roots was their childhood dream. The owners pretended to shoot a hockey puck with Scott while Tessa was unseen - maybe in the back baking cookies or watching her stories.

    The whole thing was the opposite of what a celebrity partnership is supposed to accomplish. To finish up Pelletier and one of the owners shared a chuckle over giving the lowly zamboni driver an actual Roots jacket like the important people wore. That was classy.

    If SC has a core competency, it's figure skating. But current international gold medalists - Scott and Tessa and Patrick Chan train in the United States. Virtue Moir's families made the decision to remove them from a Canadian skating "family" - Paul MacIntosh & Suzanne Killing's set-up in Kitchner-Waterloo - when they were still kids, because the best thing for their skating caeer was to train with a couple of Russian ex pats in Detroit. Patrick Chan trains with Kristy Krall in Colorado Springs.

    Skate Canada has no competence in public relations at all, but to manage that critical component of their kids' lives, the Moirs/Virtues kept it in-house and allowed Skate Canada's marketing team to make a revolting botch out of Scott's pretended personal life.

    They took the public relations both too seriously - in the constant micro-management and overkill - and not seriously enough by thinking they could get amateurs to run it. It says an awful lot about what Skate Canada actually thinks about the public if they believe half-baked, amateur public relations is enough for the job.

  6. Skate Canada has embarrassed Canada with this rebranding effort - no question. Finally their sponsors have had enough. Bank of Montreal said no more and terminated it's 15 year relationship with Skate Canada, last month, because of this. The minor sponsors (Artistry, Nabisco etc.) followed BMOs lead and left too. This PR disaster is going to linger on for many years to come. What a mess.

  7. Well - something happened. BMO had had a fifteen year investment yet takes a hike - not after the successful culmination of the recent Olympic cycle, but a season later. SC's re-branding attempt was typical SC - anti-gay while piously pretending it's not, figuring as always that the public is too thick to call out the obvious. SC is tone deaf to the tenor of the times. Johnny Weir is popular, you know. People are actually more comfortable with a guy like him than a scared-to-death closet case emanating conflict and overcompensation. And as North American figure skating organizations are rife with gay panic, they should be thrilled that Johnny Weir asserts in every interview that there are many many straight men in figure skating. Do the North American federations not understand how reassuring - as apparently reassurance on the gay thing is oh so important - that is coming from Johnny Weir as opposed to coming from a painfully obviously closeted male figure skater?

    The USFSA has an ambivalent relationship with Weir but Skate Canada outright condescends to him (see Kurt Browning whenever Weir comes up). I don't know - burning up my home because I tried to dry my Porsche with a leaf blower seems a lot more embarassing to me than a male figure skater being a bit adventurous with costume design, Kurt.

    And of course, BMO had a year to observe how brilliantly Skate Canada handled Virtue and Moir's success.

    Still - BMO/SC was an enduring association through several regimes of SC officialdom, curiously terminating just as SC hits what should be the jackpot with the youngest Olympic gold medalists in ice dance history. The first Canadian/North American ice dance Olympic gold medalists; fantastically talented, endearing, charismatic, sexy and telegenic - and still competing.

    By end of last season, SC also boasted the current men's figure skating World Champion. Notably though, Patrick Chan did spend much of the past year promoting his training base in Colorado while posing happily with his many figure skating friends in the USFSA, and who can blame him.

    SC wanted this Olympic success and anticipated leveraging it as an irresistable selling point to potential and existing corporate sponsors, thus improving its bottom line and enhancing its public profile. Instead BMO walks and minor sponsors follow suit. Truly an extraordinary snatching of defeat from victory's jaws.

    Maybe Debbi should have spent more time on the primary aspect of her job, which happened to be - no matter how she preferred her other responsibilities - nurturing corporate relationships. Maybe she should have done a little of whatever the pr equivalent is of CLE (cause she certainly needs it) and spent less time producing excruciatingly awful little event-promotion movies (the amateurish "Are You Ready" effort and other cinematic exercises in pitifully dated, self-important, unwitting camp), and less time putting her face on camera over at Skatebuzz, where she enunciated to skaters and fans alike as though we're all of us slow, while making exagerated mime-like facial expressions aimed at the camera lens, as she appears to have believed we needed the additional comprehension aid. SC's triumverate of Slipchuk, Thompson and Wilkes didn't only want to make stars of their eligible figure skaters, they wanted to make stars of themselves.

  8. When BMO walked, along with some other sponsors, I expected heads to roll at SC. I'm shocked that there has been no reshuffling or firing, or bringing in experts to figure out what happened and how this can be avoided in the future.

    SC loses it's biggest sponsor, and apparently they don't look in the mirror? No one in the Federation takes responsibility? No one wants to make things better? How does something like this happen and we don't see a single change? It's astounding.