Couriers launch their own PR blitz over handling of cyclist’s traffic death

Globe and Mail, September 25, 2009

By Anthony Reinhart

In a bid to counter “damning” media portrayals of the cyclist killed in a collision with ex-politician Michael Bryant’s car last month, a bicycle couriers’ group is launching its own public relations effort today.

The Toronto Bike Messenger Association, officially silent since Darcy Allan Sheppard’s death on Aug. 31, is to break that silence at a 2 p.m. news conference organized by a small communications company working pro bono on its behalf.

The couriers’ use of a public relations adviser, albeit one from a modest outfit, is a response to Mr. Bryant’s having turned to Navigator Ltd., a high-end crisis management firm, in the hours after he was charged in Mr. Sheppard’s death.

The former Ontario attorney-general, accused of criminal negligence causing death and dangerous driving causing death, is to make his first court appearance Oct. 19.

“It really is about just trying to grab the tiger by the tail, which is public opinion, and really get people to look,” Donald Wiedman of Wiedman Communications said yesterday. “If Navigator had not been engaged, then the public opinion would have remained on Darcy Allan Sheppard’s side.”

Mr. Bryant’s image managers appeared to go to work literally overnight after the fatal collision along Bloor Street in Yorkville, delivering a neatly pressed suit to his police holding cell and organizing a news conference where the 43-year-old offered condolences to Mr. Sheppard’s family.

A blog and a Twitter feed titled “bryantfacts” soon followed, through which Navigator disputed witness accounts and drew attention to “assertions already dismissed by police.”

Media outlets, for their part, dug into Mr. Sheppard’s criminal past and reported that he had been drinking in the hours before his death, while Mr. Bryant was said to have been on an alcohol-free dinner outing with his wife that evening.

Mr. Wiedman, an avid cyclist and biking advocate himself, said he was “so insulted as a PR professional” by the pro-Bryant Twitter feed that he created his own mirror feed, “bryanttruths,” to counter what he saw as unseemly spin.

More at the Globe and Mail

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