Chinese propaganda a case study in branding

Research being done at Canadian business schools is not all dry-as-dust academic examinations of case studies, historical trends and economic theory, wrote The Globe and Mail March 26 in its Report on MBA Schools. Lessons for managers can be learned from the movies, from sports and from TV shows. Among recent examples:

China seems to have learned lessons about maintaining loyalty through effective corporate branding, according to research led by Stan Xiao Li, professor of policy & strategy at York’s Schulich School of Business.

He initiated a study of propaganda tactics used in China’s biggest single annual television show, a Spring Festival Eve gala staged every year since 1983 that reaches hundreds of millions of viewers. Under his direction, Liang Wang from Schulich, Royston Greenwood of the University of Alberta, and Christine Oliver and Yanfei Zhao of the University of Toronto looked at two forms of propaganda.

The first included ideological references in the songs, dances and comedy skits to revolutionary heroes, military victories and past and present leaders. The second type involved references to economic and social achievements and the success of Beijing in keeping the vast country united and on course towards a better future.

"The [television] program was used as a way for the government to legitimize itself," says Li. "In the West, governments can do that through elections; in China the process has to be through propaganda, such as shown in these broadcasts."

The study found that, over the years, there has been a marked swing away from ideological references – dances and songs celebrating heroes of the revolution – toward the more bread-and-butter issues of economic and social achievements.

Li sees similarities between the way the Chinese TV show has evolved and how corporations fine-tune branding messages to meet changing consumer attitudes. "The changes were quite significant and I think they do have that parallel."

York law student wins Jerome award

Growing up in one of the city’s toughest neighbourhoods inspired Vera Manu’s dream to become a lawyer, wrote the Toronto Star March 26. “I want to effect change in my community,” said Manu (BBA ’06), who is in second year at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School.

“I live in Jane and Finch and that inspired me to go to law school. With a law degree, I know I can make more changes.”

The 24-year-old was among 13 recipients of Harry Jerome Awards announced yesterday by the Black Business and Professional Association to celebrate excellence in the African-Canadian community. “It’s very important to me because it’s recognizing that my efforts have not been in vain,” said Manu, who will receive the honour at an April 26 gala dinner in Toronto.

  • In a different way, lawyer and Community Service Award winner Roger Rowe (BA ’82, LLB ’87) – which association vice-president Pauline Christian said is the toughest category to choose from – also teaches young people, wrote The Toronto Sun March 26 in its coverage of the Harry Jerome Awards.

Montreal-born and a York University graduate before studying law, he spent five years as a staff lawyer in the Jane and Finch Community Legal Clinic, in the neighbourhood where he lives. Now with his own law firm, he has been involved in community groups for over 20 years and helped start the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers – a career influenced by black lawyers who told him and other students they could also be successful.

Lessons from the slippery slope

You don’t need high-profile names like Conrad Black to grab the attention of students in a course on corporate social responsibility, teachers say. The subject alone is sufficient, wrote The Globe and Mail March 26.

If you wrote "corporate social responsibility" on the blackboard 10 years ago, it was apt to rouse a giggle or two, says Andrew Crane, George R. Gardiner Professor of Business Ethics at York’s Schulich School of Business. Now, he says, students all have an opinion and background knowledge before they set foot in the classroom. "You don’t need to sell the idea to students any more. The students come already interested, exposed to the issues, they read the newspapers."

Many outlets for debate

Before they filed a human rights complaint against Maclean’s magazine, the four students from York’s Osgoode Hall Law School appealed to the magazine’s editors to publish a rebuttal to Mark Steyn’s arguments, wrote Desmond Cole of Toronto in a letter to the Toronto Star March 26. Their request suggests that alleged "hate speech" in mainstream media is acceptable, as long as people have an opportunity to challenge it. Fortunately, Canadian society offers countless avenues of expression and debate.

At present, concluded Cole, human rights commissions represent the sword of Damocles dangling over the heads of editors who dare publish controversial ideas. Nearly all matters of free speech can be resolved in the public domain. We do not need commissions to judge the validity of personal opinions.

Derivatives star catches some rays

Former York student Sue Storey was a superstar in derivatives trading at CIBC World Markets and a 20-year-plus veteran when she abruptly departed the bank’s premises last month, wrote The Globe and Mail March 26. Officially, the bank reorganized the debt capital markets business – and reorganized Storey’s particular job, with its big title and relatively few direct reports, into oblivion. Word is, she heard the news while on vacation – and has since repaired to her sailboat in sunny South Beach (Miami, that is) while she negotiates her exit agreement.

Among the tiny corps of top women on Bay Street, her departure did not go unnoticed – nor was there any shortage of jaundiced discussion about how and why the former global head of trading and syndication for debt capital markets found herself out the door. Her exit occurred after the Jan. 8 announcement that Richard Nesbitt would be the bank’s new CEO as of Feb. 29. (Nesbitt’s ascension coincided with the departure of Brian Shaw, Storey’s boss, as CEO of CIBC World Markets.)

Storey is an Irish immigrant from a very modest background who once spent a vacation doing a course in naval history, was high-profile at CIBC and also was well accustomed to the machismo of the market. She was well liked and widely known for her charity efforts, including the mammoth CIBC Children’s Wish one-day event. She was studying at York University when she was hired at CIBC’s predecessor brokerage, Wood Gundy, in the early 1980s.

York alumnus runs for re-election as chief of local band council

If re-elected for another term Chief Kirby Whiteduck (BA ’82) will focus on economic development, reaching an agreement-in-principle for the ongoing land claim and preserving the Algonquin language and culture, wrote the Pembroke Daily Observer March 26 in an election profile. He has served as Pikwakanagan chief for the past five years and is looking forward to three more years in order to see some projects he has been working on brought to a conclusion.

About 1,2000 Algonquins are eligible to vote in the March 29 election. Whiteduck and Merv Sarazin are vying for the position of chief and about 18 members of the community are running for six council positions. Chief Whiteduck was acclaimed three years ago.

On air

  • A new study on bullying led by Distinguished Research Professor Debra Pepler, psychologist in York’s Faculty of Health, was featured on CTV News and numerous Canadian radio broadcasts March 25.
  • Ian Roberge, political science professo at York’s Glendon campus, spoke about the Ontario budget, on Radio Canada’s “Le monde selon Mathieu” March 25.