Community associations surprised, disappointed to find political advertising in community newsletters

Some Calgary community associations are “extremely disappointed” that a political ad appeared in the February edition of 38 community newsletter magazines across the city without their approval.

The Families for Choice ad states, “It’s time to repeal Alberta’s 12-17 year old vaccine passport,” and includes statistics on the impact of vaccination mandates on young people.

It was not included in the draft sent to community associations by Great News Media, which manufactures and distributes free community bulletins for Calgary community associations.

Instead, the draft included a blank placeholder listing the name of the marketing agency that represented Families for Choice in this campaign.

The latest issue surprised Peg Oneil, president of the community association Eau Claire.

“The fact that overt political advertising was added to the pages of our community newsletter after the final version we reviewed is particularly infuriating,” Oneil said.

She says the association has a long history of political neutrality – which she adds is important as they work with all levels of government at all ends of the political spectrum to address the concerns of their residents.

Publishing the announcement implies that the community endorses the message, Oneil says, despite a disclaimer in the bulletin that nothing is endorsed by community associations or mainstream media.

The 38 community newsletters were distributed to approximately 169,650 households, particularly in the southwest and southeast communities of Calgary. The announcement did not appear in the North City community bulletins.

Great News Media received about $10,286 to run the ad repealing youth vaccination passports, according to the company’s print media kit.

“I feel a little violated”, says a resident

Bibi Fischer, resident and former Coach Hill Patterson Heights Community Association board member, says she felt “a little violated” when she saw the ad in the community’s digital newsletter.

She hadn’t yet received a physical copy, so she contacted Great News directly to tell them she didn’t want this issue – or any future issues – delivered to her home.

Great News told Fischer there was no way to remove individual homes from their delivery routes, as the bulletin is sent en masse via Canada Post.

Bibi Fischer says she felt violated when she saw the ad, especially since the newsletter was not something she signed up for, but rather was delivered automatically to his home every month. (Submitted by Bibi Fischer)

“I feel like I should have the right to keep this kind of propaganda out of my house. It’s not like a subscription that I subscribe to,” Fischer said.

This situation reduces her confidence in the community bulletin, she says, and she would like to see the community association insist that she check the complete bulletin before it is published in the future.

Great News Media, Families for Choice Responds

According to Great News Media, the ad was booked at the last minute through a marketing agency that represents Families for Choice. Great News says they were unaware of the contents of the announcement until communities received their drafts on January 25 and 26.

But according to Families for Choice, marketing agency STING MKTG submitted the first draft of the ad on January 21 and was asked by Great News to make minor changes to their design before the final ad was accepted on January 21. January 26.

Mike Russell, president of Great News Media, says the process was extremely rushed in the end.

“I have not put sufficient time and effort into it and will accept responsibility for this advertisement, but I do not endorse this advertisement or its content,” Russell said.

He says the February newsletter was already in production in mid-January, but they took the ad on Jan. 13 because they’re “really, really struggling” as a business.

The Families for Choice ad ran in 38 community newsletter magazines without the approval of community associations. Ballots are automatically sent to all residents of their designated communities. (Submitted by Peg Oneil)

“The reality is that the situation was extremely difficult. We had pulled the magazine it was going in from production and kept this space because it was a substantial booking for us and we are barely hanging on here in the business. financially,” Russel said.

He says he wouldn’t have included it in newsletters if he thought the backlash would be as strong as it has been.

“It’s just a very contentious time right now and it’s not the easiest river to navigate and we were wrong on this one. No way,” Russell said. “It’s been a hard lesson for us, and it’s our truth.”

Russell says the teenage mental health part of the ad struck him because he has two teenage stepdaughters who are suffering due to the pandemic.

Cathryn Carruthers, co-founder of Families for Choice, says she’s not sure why the ad is being called politics, and the group stands by its mission to end pandemic measures for children across Canada.

“I suspect this is an internal issue at Great West. We are not aware of their internal approval process and can only assume that some do not like the fact that we are requesting the lifting of restrictions. measures on children,” Carruthers said in a statement.

Russell echoes the sentiment, saying the announcement is controversial, but he’s unsure if it should be considered political.

Similar issue with a political ad last March

Although the Bridgeland-Riverside Community Association did not include the Families for Choice ad in its newsletter this month, newsletter president and editor Alex MacWilliam said he had a similar issue with Great News last March. .

The main difference is that the paid ad, from Calgary’s Future, was included in the draft sent to the community association.

But when MacWilliam took his concerns to Great News and asked them to remove the ad, he said they refused.

A 2019 publishing agreement between Great News Media and the Bridgeland-Riverside Community Association stated that “Great News Media undertakes, at the request of the Bridgeland-Riverside Community Association…not to solicit or accept for publication in the newsletter political advertising (paid or unpaid).”

The Bridgeland-Riverside Community Association is the only community association with this specific provision in its contract, according to Great News.

“They responded and said, ‘We don’t think this is paid political advertising.’ I don’t know how they could say that, but they did. And it’s going to work,” MacWilliam said.

Despite his concerns about Great News breaching their contract, the ad remained in the March issue, but included a written objection statement by MacWilliam – which Russell says is generally not allowed.

Last March, the Bridgeland-Riverside Community Association included a disclaimer written by newsletter president and editor Alex MacWilliam objecting to the inclusion of an advertisement by Calgary’s Future. (Bridgeland-Riverside Community Association)

Russell says they couldn’t unbook the ad at the time MacWilliam reached out, especially since ad revenue was imperative to print their edition.

After the incident, he says they continued to deny advertising from Calgary’s Future for another seven months and denied advertising from political candidates.

“This was a one-time incident which was remedied immediately and has not been discussed between the two parties since. did not support an elected official or political party, no equivalence was discussed between the two reservations,” Russell said in a statement.

He says it was the only complaint he received from community associations at the time.

Stop posting political ads

Oneil, from the community association Eau Claire, says that if a similar situation happens again, their only option is to walk away and find another way to inform their residents.

“I’m very disappointed that they don’t have an apology,” Oneil said.

She says they are unhappy, but not ready to leave yet. She knows Great News has struggled throughout the pandemic.

“It may have made them a little desperate, but I don’t think that’s an excuse,” she said.

Russell says Great News sent very detailed emails to communities apologizing and telling them it won’t happen again.

“We’re not going to allow that kind of stuff in our posts,” Russell said. Great News will no longer accept advertisements from Families for Choice.

In March, community associations will have the option of including an advertisement that provides information on the benefits of vaccines. Great News will not run vaccine ads after April.

Harry L. Blanchard