How big is the Rob Ford story? Let's ask Google Trends

Mayor Rob Ford is (once again) dominating news headlines after Toronto Police announced they have a copy of the infamous cellphone video from last May. But just how big is the Rob Ford story? 

To give you an idea, here's a Google Trends comparison of worldwide news search volumes over the past 30 days. To put the media attention around the Rob Ford story in context, I wanted to compare search volumes around other big names in the news this month. Drawing from the Canadian Senate expense scandal, I used the names of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (blue line), Senator Mike Duffy (red line) and Senator Pamela Wallin (yellow line). 

The Senate expense scandal has been a huge story in Canada for the past several months. But as you can see, search volumes around three of the main players, Harper, Duffy and Wallin, were dwarfed by the volumes associated with the Rob Ford story this past week. 

 Image: Google Trends

Image: Google Trends

I also inserted the search term 'Barack Obama' for good measure (purple line). And as you can see, over the past five days or so, the leader of the free world simply can't compare with Toronto's mayor when it comes to attracting media attention and generating headlines. It's also worth repeating that this graph is based on worldwide searches, not just in Canada. 

A few thoughts from a crisis communications perspective:

  • To-date, virtually all of the news coverage about Mayor Ford on this issue has been negative. This reflects badly not only on the mayor himself, but also on the City of Toronto by association.
  • This is the second time in less than six months that extensive, negative worldwide media attention and late-night comedy ridicule has resulted from the same issue (the mayor and the alleged videotape).
  • It's likely that the ongoing media circus is distracting the mayor, the councillors and staffers at the City of Toronto from doing their jobs in the most effective manner possible.
  • Mayor Ford has seriously tarnished his reputation. Go to Google and type in the words 'Rob Ford'. The next word Google suggests for you is 'crack'. Not an ideal political legacy.

Having said all of this, there was a news report yesterday saying the mayor's approval rating actually ticked upward after the police announcement last week. One explanation is that some members of the public feel as if the media is being unfair in its treatment of Mayor Ford.

In the meantime, Mayor Ford remains defiant, stating he has no intention of stepping aside. One way or another, it looks like this issue will need to be decided in the voting booth next fall.