Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Say it with me: A-GEN-DA!

It seems that either someone at the Globe & Mail has an axe to grind with retired General Rick Hillier, or the G&M is letting itself be manipulated by someone with an axe to grind.

How else to explain this?

Taxpayers shelled out nearly $270,000 for a pomp-and-circumstance-charged farewell to Canada's top soldier last July, including $6,600 so that departing chief of the defence staff Rick Hillier could ride off into retirement aboard a tank.

Documents obtained under access-to-information legislation show that the military was determined to send off the charismatic retiring general in style after a three-year stint in which he re-energized the Canadian Forces and emerged as the highest-profile Canadian military leader in more than a quarter century.

Those are the first two paragraphs. Hillier's response is buried at the very end of the piece:

“This truly was not a retirement ceremony, because if it had been, I would not have attended,” he said in an e-mail.

Mr. Hillier said he considered the televised event a major recruiting tool for the Forces. It was “the connection-to-Canadians event of the year, with the hook being the change of command [ceremony]: two hours of network live coverage ... paratroopers, fighting vehicles and Snowbirds – this was our recruiters' dream.”

He also said it was essential to bring families, injured soldiers and decorated veterans to the event. “Each was there to re-affirm that commitment to support families in their toughest days, [to support] wounded soldiers and [to] recognize valour.” [Babbler's addition: a third of the total expense was bringing the families to the event]

As a correspondent in the news media business said to me privately:

Makes you wonder ... the byline belongs to a very junior reporter there. Which almost always means it's what we call "an agenda story", ie: one dictated by the editor ... the story's a pretty cheap shot.


But regardless of the frantic spinning being done in the article, the facts remain: the ceremony cost $268,718 of taxpayer money. Was that money well spent?

Let's disregard the fact that pomp serves an important purpose in the military: it reinforces in the minds of those dedicated to it that their service is honoured - not just paid for. Dress uniforms, parades of all sorts, mess dinners, regimental colours - these trappings have value beyond their pecuniary cost. Like the scraps of tin and ribbon that we pin to a soldier's chest, these symbols are essential because they resonate with military personnel, because our men and women in uniform are sure not putting their lives on the line purely for the money.

No, let's simply look at it from a dollars and cents ad buy, as the general said it was.

(What, you don't think putting on a show that attracts the TV cameras isn't a deliberate attempt to advertise? Believe me, every communications professional in Ottawa understands the concept of "earned media." Not for the military, mind you, but I've been involved in brainstorming sessions on how to generate earned media. It's a very real and serious aspect of professional marketing.)

The cost to put an ad on CTV during the Superbowl last year was over $110,000 for a 30-second commercial. Now unless I'm completely misinformed, that's the most pricey spot in the entire annual calendar. I've heard prices for a national commercial on an overnight time-slot - not primetime - are somewhere north of $1,500 for 30 seconds. On that basis alone, two hours of coverage are worth a good $360,000.

This was money well spent, folks. Any way you look at it.


Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

My thoughts exactly. A comment thread at "".

The Globe (i.e. Editor-in-Chief Eddie Greenspon) has had it in for the former CDS for some time: see here (more via links), here and here.


4:59 p.m., March 25, 2009  

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