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Published January 11th, 2013 on Vancouver is Awesome

Beware tele-marketers. Consumer advocacy show Marketplace has its winter launch tonight at 8 p.m. on the CBC and — as usual — it’s kicking business butt by taking you on. Apparently no one is safe from the suppertime interruptions of a call centre half a world away, not even those on the Do Not Call list. Co-hosted by Vancouver’s Erica Johnson and Toronto’s Tom Harrington, Marketplace has embraced the age of Twitter with each Friday’s host tweeting for the four-plus hours of cross-Canada airings from Newfoundland to Pacific time. Johnson remembers being chastised during one of their Canada’s Worst Customer Service programs about her slow response time and replying  that she was doing her best but she didn’t have a team behind her — just “me and my thumbs”.  And of being up to 1 a.m. on the east coast answering tweets after the broadcast of  their Dirty Hotels program last November, featuring Vancouver’s own Sheraton Wall Centre.  All this interactivity promotes the show, encourages feedback and generates new story ideas from viewers. I had a chance to interview @CBCErica and @CBCTom at CBC’s Vancouver’s Open House and Food Bank Day late last year.

Marketplace doubled its episodes to 24 this season, a tribute to its audience skyrocketing to more than a million viewers last year. Not bad for a 40-year-old investigative series! Tom Harrington confesses to being constantly surprised to meet regular viewers like the young guy with a gym bag who stopped him on the street to say, “I love your show.” And it’s become appointment TV for families too,  popular with both parents and their kids.

You’d think this kind of popular success would make it easier for them to do their investigations. Not so. Today’s CEOs are media-trained. They want the questions by email and they often have their own camera crews.The smarter ones are proactive. Sheraton Wall Centre called in 45 extra cleaners ahead of the The Dirt on Hotels broadcast last November and bought certain key words on Google so that searches would link to their rebuttal. Still, the hotel chain did pledge to take specific action on the mouldy air vents and vow regular maintenance of ice machines.
It’s surprising that this kind of advocacy doesn’t cause problems between the CBC and its advertisers, often the very same companies that Marketplace investigates. The co-hosts say they’ve never been told, “Don’t go there.”  And that speaks to the public broadcaster’s “integrity and value system”.  I can ‘t wait to see some tele-marketers squirm.

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