Tuesday 29 January 2008

Talking to empty seats. Sneaking out on a blind speaker. Disaster Czar's talk was just that

It is probably a myth, but, I believe there was an age when people had time to be polite. Snoozin' with eyes wide open through a bum numbing lecture in a hot sticky classroom. A neighbour with out-of-focus vacation pictures from Disney World. A door-to-door salesman pitching crap. When there is nothing better to do, and you believe that life is endless, then why not do the right thing and listen to the babble of people you don't know, talking about things you don't care about. In the old days politeness ruled. Not any more.

Take two breakfast events that I attended in the past two weeks. First there was inspirational talk given by a blind boat salesman (and award-winning yachtsman) at the Toronto International Boat Show. And then there was a very embarrassing breakfast lecture given by Ontario's Emergency Response Czar (Jay Hope, Ontario Deputy Minister of Emergency Planning & Management).

Vince Morvillo, is an unsighted entrepreneur who came to the Toronto International Boat Show in early January to speak to boating business leaders at an industry breakfast. In my opinion the Canadian boating industry is in serious decline. Rising fuel costs, shocking sticker prices for new motors and boats, a wonky currency market, environmental concerns about the sport, Canadian branch plants being downsized or closed and a growing public resentment towards personal watercraft, has the industry nervously looking over its shoulder.

The breakfast was staged, in part, to release a document optomistically titled "The Big Splash" -- The Economic Impact of Recreational Boating in Canada: 2006 Summary Report. Over 200 people (and that included the dreaded media) were there to hear the state of boating in Canada.

The report was commissioned by Sandy Currie, the former head of the Canadian Marine Manufacturing Association. Currie, it seemed to me, had been at the head of the association since before the advent of the outboard motor. He was dumped from his job in late October '07 by the industry heads who sit on the CMMA. It appears as though the CMMA is being wound down in favour of the NMMA -- the American parent association -- yet another Canadian institution lost to American financial interests.

The report was delivered by Rick Layzell the CMMA Chairman and a top official with Yamaha Motor Canada Ltd. It was a cut and dry power point reading of the high points of the highly edited slick 16-page financial summary. The news was almost all good. So positive was the news that it just wasn't believable. You can't fudge the facts, but, there was little comparsion with data from previous years and with other well known studies. What information that was released that morning was in stark contrast to very gloomy reports conducted by other private Canadian firms.

Layzell was loud and brief. Neither the industry leaders nor the press were given a chance to ask questions. After 10-minutes on stage, Layzell disappeared and a blind Vince Morvillo took to the podium. Morvillo is an accomplished motivational speaker. He is currently making the rounds at boatshows across North America. It is a positive message that he delivers .... if I can sell boats, so can you! If you are honest, know your product and are engaged with your customers, business can only get better.

Morvillo has obviously given his talk a lot of times to a lot of breakfasts across the continent. Trouble is, he has given them in communities where people have more time to listen to amusing stories about the tribulations of being a sightless salesman. In a 24-hour city like Toronto, the auidence was not prepared to sit through a 30-minute sales talk, no matter how amusing the speaker was. Given that the state of the union for the industry was delivered in 10-minutes, the inspirational lecture lost its oomph somewhere around the 3-minute mile marker.

I was taking pictures of the speaker when he told a story about how it was very important for a salesman to connect with a potential customer. " I kept talking and talking to a man and woman who were intertested in buying a boat. After a few minutes I noticed it was very quiet, I realized that the couple had snuck quietly away." he recalled. "I was pitching to thin air!" The story got a big laugh, but, suddenly a row of light bulb went off in a lot of peoples' brains. The picture above shows a woman shushing her daughter as they tip toed out of Morvillo's talk. He never heard them leave. Dozen followed. I should have done the same. By the time it was over, the CMMA spokespeople I wanted to quiz had magically vanished too. It was just me, the blind man and his long suffering wife. We clapped for 200.

Second breakfast? The Canadian News Wire Group held its first breakfast talk of the new year in late January. The CNW breakfasts are usually great events -- you learn a lot, its quick, interesting and if you feel like it, offords an opportunity to network, network, network. For the most part the events are attend by PR types - overpaid corporate communicators - people who use CNW to send out media releases to the media.

Jay Hope, Ontario's new Deputy Minister of Emergency Planning & Management was there to speak about "Crisis Communications Planning". Hope is the most senior black officer in the Ontario Provincial Police. In my Caribana world he is a God. His halo slipped a bit at the CNW breakfast.

Hope got up, told a few jokes about his wife and then started to criticize the media. You get things wrong, You slow down disaster response by getting in the way blah, blah, blah. This went on, with pictures of Katrina and SARS for 30-minutes.

For the 250 people in attendance, it became evident -- really quickly -- that Hope didn't know who he was talking to. He probably thought that since CNW stood for Canadian News Wire, we must all be journalists. It was deer-in-headlight embarassing. I felt sorry for the guy and I didn't want to be there when someone finally got around to telling him he had brought the wrong speech.
People soon took to checking their email on blackberries, firing off text messages and, at the table next to me, doing the Globe and Mail crossword.

A woman in the audience kicked off the question period. She politely told him she was a communications specialist, not a journalist, and then asked what advice he could give her about handling a disaster from the corporate side. Hope didn't listen. His answer was again, all about what a reporter should or shouldn't ask. She tried one final time, telling him he obviously didn't understand the question. He said he would try again to answer her question. For the second time he talked about her role as a journalist in covering a disaster. People had been trickling out before the dialogue between the two began. After that answer it became a pinstripe parade. At the door I was almost knee capped by a glazed eye communicator wielding an overactive briefcase and talking on his phone. All I heard was "I'm outta here" as he blew by me out the door.

I felt sorry for both speakers. At the boat show, the blind motivator was being used as cannon fodder for an industry that didn't want attendees to ask questions in a public forum. They were happy that he took time to same the same thing over and over and over again. It gave their executive time to disappear without having to answer questions. For Hope, it was probably a sloppy staffer who didn't take time to figure out who their boss was going to be talking to, or was looking for an opportunity to make him look bad in front of corporate Canada.

The biggest loser? Politeness. People tried ( well, a little bit), to be polite and listen. But, in both cases, given the time management pressures that all of us feel working here in the "Big Smoke, we all realised that time was better spent elsewhere even if it meant walking out on a sightless speaker and a clueless policeman.

Thursday 10 January 2008

Entry Update -- Cayman Islands, Death By Scuba - the 20 minutes of fame travel destinations don't want. Updated 2008

Wearing my Diver Magazine hat I attended a number of travel events this past month as warm weather destinations came to Toronto to roll out their winter campaigns to attract travellers. Typically a country will send its marketing team, its PR firm and its minister of tourism. There are steel drums, lotsa great food, drinks, good times and mountains of press kits.

It can be a difficult task to interview a tourism minister in his/her own country - 15 years ago - almost a lifetime it seems - in St Kitts I sat on a chair in their downtown government house waiting to meet the vice premier. After six hours his assistant acknowledged that in fact the minister was off-island. So, I find these events useful because you actually talk to the decision makers. Most tourism ministers walk to pump hands and pump sunshine, however,if you try real hard, they will answer the tough questions.

Last week I went to the Cayman Island tourism launch and talked to the Minister of Tourism about diver fatality stats from the most popular dive destination in the Caribbean. His answers were refreshingly frank. I will report on my brief interview in this Blog later today .... don't touch that dial.

Hey. Hey. I write these words on January 10th, 2008. I never did fill in the blanks did I? My excuse? I got busy after the post and didn't got around it doing it (until today). And, to be honest, I actually sent a job application into the Cayman Government. Didn't think it would help the cause if I waxed on about diver deaths and a cabinet on these pages while I was trying to sell my services as a pr type rather than a nosy journalist (I do both). As it was I never did hear back from the Government. Sigh - The Cayman Islands Government has learned Toronto rude.

As far as the interview went with the minister, he and his associates were very blunt. It was refreashing. They see the sport of diving as being in decline - which impacts negatively on their visitor numbers. Oh there are still people joining the sport each year but at most (and they quoted PADI figures) there are only 2 million active divers on the planet. On any given year two million divers will never go to one destination to dive - like Cayman - however, in a calender year over a million people will visit the Cayman Islands on cruise ships.

So, according to the minister, the three-island British colony will continue to court the cruise ship trade with vigor and passion (hence their arrival in YYZ). Diving will not be ignored, but, the future of the island's tourism industry no longer rests on a pair of flippers.

A large percentage of the cruise ship visitors want to take part in water activities when they arrive in Georgetown. Most want to lie on the Seven Mile Beach. Others want to snorkel and visit Sting Ray City. A small number want to scuba dive.

It is the people in the second and third categories who are dying. A very small percentage of visitors arrive on the island standing up and leave in a box.

Why, I asked the minister are people dying in the water? His take on the figures are that with such large numbers of visitors, stats wise people are going to die. Many of the deceased were overweight, old, out-of-shape and already suffering from severe medical problems -- the snorkeling or diving speeded up a process that was probably well underway before that person arrived on the island.

The island feels its dive and snorkel standards are stricter then any other Caribbean island. But, the problem facing operators is that cruise ship passengers have a tight time-line on the island, and there is little opportunity to evaluate people's diving skills, experience levels and health, before putting them in the water.

There have been deaths on Little Cayman island - where no cruise ship visitor ever treads. The minister noted that these deaths involved experience divers and the government was at a loss to figure out was caused those accidents. (Not all of the bodies have yet been recovered from the base of Bloody Bay Wall. One incident is being classed as dbs - death by scuba - the body of diver was never found but a sucide note was recovered.

The day after I met with the minister that was another scuba/snorkel fatality on the island. I plan to visit the island have a more detailed interview with the Minister.

One more Cayman Diving Death

Just after posting the above blog entry about dive accidents in Cayman, the following appeared in the Cayman Net News.

Woman dies while scuba diving
Published on Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service (RCIPS) have begun an investigation after the death of a 47-year-old female scuba diver on Saturday, 19 January.

At around 10:40 am, the 911 Emergency Communications Centre received a call from a member of the public reporting that a woman aboard a dive boat was unconscious and being brought back to shore at West Bay public beach.

Medics and police were deployed to the scene while CPR was administered aboard the boat. The woman was taken to hospital but unfortunately passed away. It would appear she had been diving with a group of others when she passed out returning to the surface.

The woman had been vacationing in Cayman and was from England.

A police investigation is underway and a post mortem will be carried out.

This the first diving death reported in 2008.

In 2007, five divers died during the first four months of the year.

The first fatality occurred on 24 January 2007 and involved a 54-year-old man scuba diving near Sunset House.

On 11 February, a 43-year-old woman disappeared while diving on Bloody Bay Wall during a trip from Little Cayman Beach Resort.

On 4 March 2007, a 71-year-old man died while scuba diving off East End and just a week later, on 11 March, a 57-year-old man from Texas died while on a dive off Smith’s Cove on South Church Street.

Then, on Sunday, 15 April, another visitor to Little Cayman, this time a 59-year-old man who was an experienced diver, failed to return from a dive on Bloody Bay Wall.

At the time, Hon Charles Clifford, Minister for Tourism, said the Cayman Islands had a much better safety record than other destinations in the region. His comments were backed up by the fact that there were no further serious incidents reported during the rest of 2007.

A source within the dive industry said they felt that it was unfair to single out specific activities. “We should be looking at the overall picture and the causes of these deaths,” they said, adding that the majority of the deaths seemed to be due to pre-existing conditions rather than the activity itself.

However, it may be some time before an official verdict is given on any of these incidents. All the deaths must be the subject of an inquest but, as there is no on-island Coroner, delays of up to two years can occur before the cause of death is finally decided.

In 2007, concern was expressed that this delay makes it very difficult to implement measures, which might prevent future fatal incidents involving divers.

Second Death for Cayman Islands. Shore diver gone missing.

hore Diver lost near Turtle Farm

My two sons learned to dive off Cracked Conch a few years. It is a safe, fun and enjoyable dive site. By my tally this is the second diver death on Cayman this year. This gentleman was 64, last week's was 49. Used to be that most fatalities were young newcomers to the sport, nowadays, it isn't that way at all.

Diver missing off Grand Cayman

Wednesday 30th January, 2008 Posted: 15:33 CIT (20:33 GMT) - Cayman Compass Newspaper

A search for a missing scuba diver continued Wednesday morning after he failed to make it back to shore on Tuesday afternoon.

The 64–year–old man went out for a shore dive off Cracked Conch in West Bay.

At around 3pm, staff from Sun Divers notified police that the man had failed to return. The man, who is an American citizen, has been a regular visitor to Cayman over the past 15 years and was staying at Morritts Tortuga, where he owned a time share.

When he went out for the dive, he left the shoreline with five other people and, according to members of his group, he was experiencing buoyancy problems and indicated that he was returning to the shore. They told officers that they then saw the man surface and begin swimming back toward the coast, but when they returned he had not made it back.

A sea, air and land search was immediately launched by the Royal Cayman Islands Police and several other agencies joined the search, including the Department of Environment, Port Authority, and a number of local boats, including Cayman Aggressor. The helicopter was also brought in to assist, but the man was not located.

The search was called off after the sun went down and commenced again at first light on Wednesday, but as of 10am, he had still not been found.

Ronnie Dougal of the Department of Environment said “the water conditions were pretty good off Cracked Conch that day and there appeared to be very little current. The missing man was a farmer and he had been informed he was in good physical health.”

Editor's Note: Since posting this article, the body of the 64-year old diver was recovered by Cayman officials.

Monday 7 January 2008

Bruce Paton 1968 -- part two

Bruce Paton
Born in Renfrew, Ontario, 28 January 1950
Died in Ottawa, Ontario, 2002-08
This photograph was scanned from the 1969 Harpooner -- the Renfrew (Ontario) Collegiate Institute yearbook. Bruce was in Grade 11. The photograph was probably taken in early 1968.

The Biggest. The Smallest. The World First. Records can garner 20 minutes of fame ... for a little while

PR tactic – Juicing the Guinness Book of World’s Record for fame, profit and clippings

How to generate press for a non-event? Set a world’s record. Build the world’s first or the world’s biggest. You can even make the world’s smelliest (i.e. new stinky cheese) and attract cameras.

No matter how obscure your record is, announcing it generates publicity in print, on the airwaves and on the web. World records outdraw important medical announcements, scholarly reports, art gallery openings and just about anything else that really matters … but isn’t news. Never mind that that publicity is fleeting, when a PR firm is trying to generate clippings for a client, it is all about the here and now.

The Guinness Book of World’s Record is the Bible of firsts and records. The privately owned publisher put out its first volume in 1955 and the annually updated book is now available in over 100 countries, with over 3 million copies sold each year.

Although it seems as though the Guinness Book publishes every record set in the world (from Boo Boo, a 4 inch high Chihuahua -- the world's smallest dog, to the new Tallest Living Human Being; Leonid Stadnyk, a certified veterinarian from Podoliansky, Ukraine, -- 8ft 5.5 inches tall) there is in fact a weeding out of record entries that are either not properly substantiated or are just too arcane/obscure/distasteful for the reading public.

A few years ago, while assisting Crane Communications in the promotion of the Toronto International Boat Show, I was tasked with establishing a Guinness Record for the Boat Show’s indoor lake. Lake Wow, as it was first called, is a 4 foot deep lake that fills the rink surface of the Ricoh Coliseum (on the grounds of Toronto’s CNE) for ten days each January. The lake is used to create a feeling of summer at the cottage. Power boats, sailboats and even water toys float in the near freezing waters (pumped in from Lake Ontario) of Lake Wow. The client said that the temporary lake was the largest indoor water body in the world.

I contacted Guinness in the UK a month before the show and found out that it can take up to six months for the publishers to respond to a request to verify a record. Guinness will fast track an application … at a cost. After spending $600 of the client’s money I found out that there is actually another large temporary indoor lake out there. The London Boat Show fills a bigger/deeper space each year than the Toronto Boat Show – so no record announcement about Lake Wow. Guinness did suggest that there might be other categories that would earn Lake Wow world’s title … at a cost of another $600 dollars. By the time I received this email the Boat Show press kits were already printed and the $600 idea was not spoken of again.

A few years later, after Crane Communications gave up the PR contract, the show was billing the lake as the World’s Largest Indoor Marina. I don’t know if that was an official Guinness record, but, who really cares. There isn’t a Guinness World Record police force that travels the globe shutting down corporate braggers who don’t really have the biggest, the largest, the smallest or the loudest of anything.

Late last summer I was approached by a small PR firm north of Toronto who were, on behalf of a stone quarrying company, looking for a publicist. The task? Get publicity for what they believed was the world’s biggest inukshuk.

The inukshuk is an Inuit concept. Part art, part land marker and part a Canadian pop cultural icon, the inukshuk is a pile of rocks stacked to look like a person from a distance. In the barren arctic, the Inuit use the inukshuk as a marker or guidepost. It is a beacon of peace and friendship. For a quarry in Shomberg, Ontario, there was hope that their towering Inukshuk would become a beacon of commerce.

I didn’t get the contract. The client was not only looking for press, but, also for fund raising – they needed money to pay for the public launch of their very tall stone inukshuk.

The statue was built and the press did come out to see the giant rock pile in early September 2007. But, like so many other world’s record, the brief wave of publicity has been followed by a long sea of indifference. The fact that I can’t remember the name of the quarry indicates how fleeting the power of Guiness publicity really is!

A note about the picture … I am fascinated by how North Americans have embraced the cult of Guinness. For the past two years I have been writing stories for Diver Magazine and www.divermag.com about world underwater records.

There are a group of deep water divers who have been setting records for the bizarre sport of ironing clothing underwater (yes the shirts are drip dry). These people compete to see who can go the deepest and iron the longest. This picture is a copyright free wallpaper image that appears on their website: www.extremeironing.com.

Other underwater records I have written about? What follows is the latest posting by me on Divermag.com.

* Apparently the world depth record for ironing under water has been reclaimed by Louise Trewavas, who has a nickname of Dive Girl. Earlier this year she dove with her iron and ironing board to a depth of 137m (452 feet) and worked on her laundry. She broke a record set by a competitor who had bested an earlier mark she had set. According to a Dive Girl press release, Ms. Trewayas "took an ironing board and iron to 137m in the Blue Hole, at the Red Sea resort of Dahab, to reclaim her extreme ironing world record. The event took place on 17 August and was captured on underwater video by dive buddy Steve Brown. Dive computers carried by both divers recorded the depth of the dive, and the divers had to spend over three hours in the water carrying out decompression stops in order to avoid the bends." There is a website dedicated to the sport of extreme ironing which includes photographs of divers ironing underwater. The site is www.extremeironing.com.

* Despite Ms. Trewaya's heroics, this month the top underwater record setter might just be a really expensive watch. Luxury watchmaker Jaeger-LeCoultre has come up with, what it describes as the most "technologically advanced diving watches so far - the Master Compressor Diving series". There are five watches in the series, the Pro Geographic, GMT, Chronograph, Ladies GMT and Ladies Chronograph. To prove their worth, in October the watchmaker took a Master Compressor Diving GMT and placed it onto an ROV off the coast of Hawaii. A camera was also on board to record the epic journey down to 1,080m (or 3,300 feet), a world record for a wristwatch of this size. In November GMT was once again placed on a ROV, this time off the coast of Manado, Indonesia. The watch survived a trip to a depth of 1,088m, ( the pressure was estimated at 1,600PSI). This depth broke the world record it had set in Hawaii by eight metres.

* Diving leads to crime - at least for a British bloke who holds the record as that country "most traveled diver". According to English press reports, Ivan Stanic, a project supervisor with the national rail company, has been charged with taking kickbacks from builders in return for work contracts. The Independent Commission Against Corruption claims that Mr. Stanic used the money to feed his obsession for scuba diving. In recent years he has booked so many trips with a scuba travel agency that he has been awarded the title "Most-traveled diver" for four consecutive years.

* A Kent, England scuba club set the indoor record for the longest Bond Dive. In November the club staged a 24-hour charity scuba dive inside Pinewood Studio's underwater film tank. The huge underwater stage has been used for many movies including a number of James Bond thrillers. The club raised money for a local children’s charity.

* A diving barber has set a new world record for cutting hair underwater. David Rae, was able to cut the hair of 33 people in one hour, breaking the old Guinness Book of World Records mark of 11 haircuts in 60 minutes. It was all done in at the bottom of a London, England, pool earlier this Fall as part of a charity fundraising event.

Editor’s note – did we miss a glug glug, underwater world’s record? If so, let us know. Drop a note to divermag.com’s Stephen Weir at stephen@stephenweir.com