Monday, December 24, 2007

The blog before Christmas

Twas the blog before Christmas when all through the 'sphere
Many creatures had posted the 'worst and best of' the year.

The rants were all TrackBacked, Delicious to share
in hopes that St. Googleus soon would be there.

When out in the geek-world a new app appeared
With a jolly old Scoble telling all who will hear...

Now Facebook! now YouTube! now MySpace and Flickr!
On Blogger! on Wordpress! on Jaiku and Twitter!

And me with my search engine going full tilt
Just couldn't keep up and was feeling some guilt.

So I checked Technorati to find out a ranking
And subscribed to a fresh feed (or is it just wanking?)

And added some new folks to network on Linkedin
And posted a comment (I wanted to join in).

I blogged out my own thoughts and tagged them so clever
And checked Analytics to see if they'd ever

Been read or been clicked on or even just pageviewed
And sometimes I'd find out a post had been linked to.

But it's tough to keep up in this virtual way
So I'll say Merry Christmas and will call it a day.

With apologies to Clement Moore.

Blogger's guilt

Yes, I’ve been feeling it all month, as day after day breezed by and I didn’t post a single entry (till now).

So I figured it’s time to come clean and say that I’m happily shedding that guilt (which, by the way, is a pretty self-serving emotion in the first place).

December has become my unplanned blog vacation. Maybe it’s the start of a tradition (check back with me next year).

The truth is I’ve been having too much fun enjoying the oft-hectic festivities of the season, spending time with family, friends and colleagues, decking the malls…

Last week, my wife and I had dinner with old friends who have been living in Toronto since they graduated from university some 30-odd years ago. They're packing it in (work, house, everything) to head back home, renovate a rustic barn and start to live a real ‘second life’.

They said it’s been a dream of theirs for quite a while and now they’re making it happen. I say, we should all be so fortunate.

So that’s what I want to wish you, this Christmas*, a peaceful world where we can all can live out our dreams**.

*It really bugs me that political correctness makes us replace Christmas with the blandly generic ‘Happy Holiday’. Religious or not, Christmas is its name. I may be Jewish but I still dream of a White Christmas… Besides it’s part of our cultural fabric and a day celebrated by the majority of Canadians. We wouldn’t drop the Canada from Canada Day, Victoria from Victoria Day or Jerry Lewis from Labour Day, would we? I say, Merry Christmas to all…

**Hopefully, those dreams don’t include blowing people to smithereens for the comment above (or any dissenting point of view).

Sunday, November 25, 2007

In praise of APR

First of all, I have a disclosure. I am an APR (accredited in public relation) and also the CPRS (Toronto) accreditation committee chair.

And, as December 3 is the deadline for applications to the Canadian APR process, I thought I’d write a few words on why I feel accreditation is more important than ever before.

I believe the designation demonstrates an understanding of and adherence to ethics, transparency and professionalism which, in an era of traditional and social media, are more important to our industry than ever before. Accreditation helps us gain a greater depth of knowledge about our profession’s history, luminaries and groundbreakers, theories of communications and best practices.

Yes, it requires time and energy (it takes about a year from start to finish) and includes a comprehensive work sample, a commitment to self-study and rigorous written and oral exams.

Now you certainly don’t need your APR or ABC to be an ethical PR practitioner. Far from it. But it’s something I urge all senior practitioners to consider.

Has it helped me? Yes, after surrendering to being a student again and accepting the process, earning my APR both opened my mind and provided me with additional insights that helped improve my practice.

I mean, isn’t social media an ideal platform for two-way symmetrical communications (James Grunig)?

So if you’re interested in more information, please visit: CPRS national and CPRS (Toronto) or send me a note.

From the outside looking in

Sometimes it feels like Canada is decidedly second tier. By that I mean there are often cool new products launched in the U.S. that aren’t readily available on our side of the border. We hear about them, read about them, see what they do. We covet them but just don’t have the access.

Today’s Toronto Star lists several of these technologies including: the iPhone, Kindle, Amazon’s book reader which I really want to try, and streamed TV series.

Intellectual property negotiations aside, this is somewhat of a nostalgic situation for me.

Growing up in pre-cable Winnipeg, there was a time when we were relegated to three television stations, CBC, CTV and KCND (really just a transmitter in Pembina, North Dakota that was loosely affiliated with ABC and later switched to CKND, our Global station).

So while we heard about lots of great shows, and especially ‘The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson’, we couldn’t actually watch them unless we ventured to the U.S. or to one of our larger metropolises (Montreal, Toronto) that had the actual stations in closer proximity.

We were even late getting some movies. The Exorcist, for example, opened in Winnipeg a couple of months after its Christmas release, but long after the infamous head-turning scene had been written about ‘ad nauseum’.

And really, it’s this second tierism that made me want to leave Winnipeg in the first place. I dreamed of living at the centre of all things new.

So here I am happily ensconced in the country’s largest city and I find I’m in a similar situation with regards to certain tech gadgets. Only this time, I have no great exit strategy.

And I wonder if waiting a little longer for things is simply part of our national heritage and makes us a little more patient, more cautions, more reflective…Makes us Canadian.

Go Bombers go...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Poppy Day

November 11.

When I was growing up in Winnipeg we called Remembrance Day: Poppy Day. And every year when it came around, my Dad would return from work with a poppy on his lapel. Often, he’d bring some home for us and I felt it was both a thrill and an honour to wear one. It connected me with my Dad and by extension with history. It made me feel proud.

Back then my dad, a veteran who saw action as part of Montreal’s Blackwatch regiment in WWII, would have bought the poppy from someone more senior than he was (by that I mean someone who’d fought in WWI).

Later, the ‘torch’ was passed to the WWII vets, and now they’re mostly gone too. Today, you never know who’s going to sell you a poppy (and sometimes it’s just the honour system and a contribution you make at Tim Horton’s). Time marches on.

Every year, I continue to wear a poppy over my heart and feel nostalgic. I love the symbol, the visual reminder of Flanders Fields, where ‘poppies blow between the crosses row on row. That mark our place…’

In Manitoba, Remembrance Day is a holiday, a reminder to pay tribute to the past as we look to the future. But here in Ontario, a few government workers get the day off but even our public schools are open. For most people it’s business as usual.

And that’s too bad.

Yet the Premier of our province announced with much fanfare during his campaign, the creation of a new Ontario holiday, a meaningless if blandly inoffensive ‘Family Day’.

Perhaps he should have looked to Remembrance Day and made it an official time to remember those who served our country, all their sacrifices and the meaningful values and beliefs they were fighting for. It would be a holiday where we reflected on the past and considered how fortunate we are to live in a country of tolerance and peace.

‘To you from failing hands we throw the torch…’

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Everything old is new again

As I mentioned, Giovanni Rodriguez, communications practitioner, social media thinker and one of the founders of The Conversation Group was in Toronto last week to talk to my agency's staff and clients and members of CPRS Toronto and have a chance to social-ize with Joseph Thornley and the folks at Third Tuesday Toronto.

Giovanni presented many thought-provoking ideas. He encouraged PR folks to take a leadership role in social media by going back to our roots and 'relating to the public'.

He suggested we consider social media (formerly 'new media') as an innovative way to reach out to influencers. He contends that this should more than just blogger relations, in the same way that PR is more than media relations (or should be).

And he pointed out that the new tools we're so excited about have been around for a long time: blogging = publishing; podcasting = broadcasting; tagging = indexing; rss = distribution. What's different is that they've become accessible to the masses, 'DIY'.

We live in a 'participatory' world. The question is: how are we, as communicators, going to take part?

Thanks for the conversation, Giovanni.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Toronto the Great

I have a confession: When I first moved to Toronto to attend York University, it wasn't my number one city of choice. In fact, I had never been here before and didn't even realize that York was far (very far) from downtown.

I had my sights set on the U.S. (Minneapolis, NYC). And while I got to know and enjoy 'Toronto the Good' (aka Hogtown), I always felt it would be a place I'd pass through and not settle in (or for).

I was so wrong about that.

Today, I am just plain excited to be living in Toronto. So, it seems, is author, academic and transplanted T.O.'er Richard Florida who sings the city's praises in the Globe and Mail (subscription required). Like Mr. Florida, I find the city to be vibrant, fast-paced and with an incredible energy all its own.

It doesn't matter what I'm doing or where I am: walking down Yonge, taking the subway (mostly), navigating the lunchtime hordes in PATH, observing an archeological dig at a condo construction site, marveling at the cultural architecture of the ROM, Four Seasons Centre, Royal Conservatory of Music, AGO, Gardner Museum, gazing at clubbers and tourists in the entertainment district, students and neighbours in the Annex (where I live), entrepreneurial street vendors at Yonge and Dundas, serious mall shoppers at Yorkdale... I get a thrill just stepping onto the street every day.

It feels like the world is in Toronto. It feels big and feels (dare I say it?) world class.

Sure it isn't perfect and there's still lots of work to be done (sustainable planning, expanding the subway). But it's come a long way from its humble beginnings as a place where you couldn't watch a movie on Sunday, where residents would head to Buffalo for fun.

Nowadays, I feel proud to call myself a Torontonian. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else*.

But isn't it so very much like us that we need an American to make the proclamation? I say, thank you Richard Florida, for pointing out the gem in our own backyard.

*OK, I'd certainly consider NYC, Miami or LA.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Less than perfect pitch

Thanks to BoingBoing, I read a cringe-worthy, yet thought-provoking post by Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson squarely aimed at PR people.

In it, he states that he gets too many irrelevant news releases from PR folks who have no idea about what he's looking for. He likens them (us) to unfilterable spam. His solution? Block the PR person's email address.

Then, in his blog, he goes so far as to publish a list of the most recent blocked emails.


Now, I don't believe in publicly humiliating people who are just trying to do their job (ever since WWII, I've been uncomfortable with the notion of a public list). But on reflection, I think he makes a valid point: Don't just blast out news releases willy nilly.

Instead we PR practitioners should try to become 'media junkies' (MSM and social). Avoid pre-packaged media lists (i.e. taking the easy way out). If we want to do our job well, we need to pour over newspapers, magazines, blogs, listen to radio, watch TV. Pay attention to bylines. Get to know a journalist by what he/she covers, what subjects pique their interest, what they're writing about. Read. Watch. Engage. Start building relationships.

Then, when we have a great story, there's a good chance the right person will consider our pitch.
'Sounds crazy, no? But in our little town of Anatevka...'*

If we don't love media, why are we in PR?

Please visit Joel Postman here and here for more on this subject.

*with apologies to Fiddler on the Roof.

Plug: Giovanni Rodriguez speaking at CPRS Toronto event

On November 7, Palette PR (my agency) and CPRS Toronto are pleased to present Giovanni Rodriguez, who will be at The Spoke Club in Toronto delivering a talk entitled, 'Why We Call it Public Relations' - PR and its role in social media.

If you're interested in more information or to registerfor the event, please visit CPRS Toronto.

But there are a limited number of spaces, so as they used to say in K-Tel ads, 'don't delay'.

Hope to see you there.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Wiki watch-out

I recently read about the Talk is Cheap social media 'unconference' for PR/communications practitioners, planned by Gary Schlee. It's sounds like a great event, with the potential for lots of engaging face-to-face conversations. I'm looking forward to it.

The only thing is you need to sign up by Wiki.

Now in theory, I'm a fan of this application. I like the interactivity. I frequently refer to Wikipedia when I'm doing research. I wanted to learn more so I attended a Wiki session at the last Mesh conference. Unfortunately, as someone who has a limited knowledge of HTML, I found the presentation virtually incomprehensible.

I'm also a little perturbed that virtually anyone can rewrite a Wiki, sometimes making it better, though often making it worse.

Then there's the matter of the way a Wiki records any changes that are made. So, for example, if you (or I) do go in there to add your (or my) deep thoughts to an entry and say, make a typo (or worse, a fairly substantial error) well, anyone who visits can find out it's you.

That seems like an undue amount of pressure to be placed on an individual who just wants to sign up for an event. Who with no harm intended happens to screw up the registration list, realizes what he's done, goes back to fix it, puts his name on the list, doesn't realize it's been removed, gets a couple of emails highlighting his innocent shenanigans for all and sundry who happened to sign up for updates, calls the organizer to apologize for the mess, explains that he did not intentionally take his name off the list and finally manages to get himself registered without disturbing the delicate balance.

OK, I admit it: that was me!

My point is, I think Wikis should have an administrator/editor (this can be a team) who vets any changes to said Wiki before making them public. To minimize dumb mistakes but keep the ideas flowing. I realize this will slow down the process. But hey, a little reflection never hurt anyone.

Anyway, I'm planning to attend Talk is Cheap. And if you see me there, I'd be happy to continue this conversation.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The puck stops here

I wanted to congratulate and thank MasterCard Canada, for their generous donation to the City of Toronto, helping ease a municipal budget shortfall and ensuring our outdoor public skating rinks can open in early December, in time for the holiday season.

It's a great example of leadership trumping politics; a case study in corporate social responsibility matching community interest. And it's such a simple, yet utterly compelling story.

Kevin Stanton, president of MasterCard Canada, moves to Toronto with his family in 2003. One of his first 'priceless' moments is watching kids playing shinny at a local rink. Fast forward to 2007, the outdoor rinks in danger of a late opening (despite the fact that the City still has to cover the workers' pay). Stanton comes to the rescue by offering to donate the full amount ($160,000) with no strings attached. And he gives credit to his team for the idea.

Yes, MasterCard got a lot of ink for the announcement. But I think they deserved it. And at least two media outlets referenced the ad tagline.

From a PR perspective, I can only sit on the sidelines, slightly green with envy, and admire the way it played out. MasterCard scored an overtime goal and credibly brought their corporate tagline to life.

It almost makes me more sympathetic to high interest rates.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Four more years...

First off let me say that I'm not a political animal. I usually follow election campaigns from the sidelines, reading and watching whatever I can stomach and disbelieving much of what I hear.

So it's with a generally bemused and frustrated interest that I present my Ontario post-election observations:

- With low voter turnout, a non-issue issue and a referendum on cronyism, Ontario voted for complacency (and got what they voted for).

- In every campaign it seems that one form of arrogance wins over another (unless it's a minority). We often refer to this as 'leadership'.

- In his victory speech our incumbent premier stated, 'we deplore negativity'. That sounds pretty negative to me.

- It's not his fault, but as leader of the Conservatives, John Tory's name is practically a literary cliche. Mr. Tory, imagine your positioning if you were a bit more rebellious in your choice of party (as in 'this Tory votes Liberal'). Don't ignore the subtext.

- I hate being referred to as 'the people'.

OK, that's done. Now, it's on to four more years...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

In-box to overcapacity

It’s happening everywhere. That seemingly never-ending deluge of emails, filling up your in-box, often to overflowing. It’s like gridlock every time you look at your computer screen. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to inch two cars ahead.

And it doesn’t rest. I have days when I get 40+ messages between 7 pm and 7 am (and yes, I know some of you get 100). And they're all clamoring for my attention when I get to the office in the morning (or sneak a peak at my BB at night).

So what’s a poor blogger to do?

Here are four things I’ve tried that help ease the congestion (a bit):

1. Stop being so anal about ‘covering your ass’. File or delete. Make that your mantra. Be more strategic and make decisions about what you need to keep. Don’t leave your in-box with a deluge (as I occasionally do). So much email is little more than a recorded instant message exchange.

2. Prioritize your messages and deal with them in bunches. I have to admit, I’m not great at this, but I am getting better. And I’m never more productive than when I’m at a two hour meeting, come back and then take 30 minutes to respond to the onslaught. Selectively using a BB on a long subway is also good (just remember to press send before Rosedale and Davisville).

3. Take an email vacation. When you’re away for a week or more, ask people you work with to stop cc’ing you on anything but the most important documents. See if they’ll be kind enough to prepare one email summarizing the key points about what’s happened. Offer to do the same for them.

4. And talk to people. (How quaint!) The conversation isn’t only online. Not everything has to (or should) be in writing.

Any other thoughts to add?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Not a pretty picture

A lot has been said/written about the benefits of working at home. And having spent many years both on my own and in a more traditional environment, I have to say I prefer the comfort of an office, with the flexibility to work offsite sometimes when I need a break in the routine.

Mostly, I like the social aspect of work, running into people, exchanging pleasantries and ideas and feeling part of something bigger.

But if companies start to shed their offices and opt for a remote workforce, I’m not sure the pros outweigh the cons (except maybe from a cost of real estate point of view).

If you choose to work at home, that’s one thing. But if you’re forced into it, it can be lonely and isolating. You need a lot of self-discipline and have to be ready to battle any of a number of distractions (laundry, lazing around and Oprah, to name just a few).

Then too there’s the impersonality of all that electronic contact save for an occasional encounter with the ‘barista’ at your local coffee shop.

So imagine the future: people stuck alone working at home, boundaries removed, bombarded by email that never stops, the sum total of your work/social life online.

That doesn’t sound so idyllic to me.

CP style

I’ve decided to convert my past blog headlines to CP style (i.e. sentence case). It’s a bit of an edit, so I’m going to do it a few entries at a time.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

There's got to be a 'better way'

I enjoy taking the subway most of the time. It's one of the things I like about Toronto and by the same 'token' one of the things that most disappoints me - as in how our politicians haven't seen fit to expand the system to fit our city in many years.

Recently the TTC made me feel like a passenger in the fourth streetcar behind a Queen Street fender bender - frustrated, powerless and most of all resigned.

It started Wednesday morning. I arrived at my local station with $2.50 in change (it's a $2.75 fare) and a $10 bill. It's one of those entrances with no attendant and I planned to buy tokens. However, when I tried to put my money in the slot it wouldn't take my bill.

I pushed the call button on the intercom and told my plight to the voice at the other end: machine not working, a quarter short of a ride, would he let me in? I promised to pay when I got off.

I had done this before when the token dispenser was broken so I was hopeful the resolution would be good.

He told me they were only selling single tokens (because of an upcoming price increase) and that I had to walk a (long) block to the main subway entrance and pay in person. I suggested I would also have to walk back. And while I enjoy a good perambulation as much as the next person, that didn't seem right.

He wouldn't relent. I was mad about what I perceived was poor customer service, not considering my point of view. I took a cab.

I vowed Thursday was going to be different. I armed myself with enough change for a couple of tokens and headed to the station. But the first machine was broken and ate $1.75. Frustrated, I went to the intercom and told the attendant (a different one) my plight. He gave me the same line as before: walk to the main station. Exasperated, I put some money in the second machine and lost another $2.25.

Token-less, I caught a cab again.

It seems to me that both attendants had two choices. They could have tried to help me (what I wanted) or sit back and do nothing (what they did). But helping requires work and a positive attitude and they just couldn't bother.

Will I use the subway again? Of course. Will my experience be diminished? Absolutely. Will they ever be able to get my trust again? Maybe, but it's going to take a long time.

So what's the point? I think Julie Rusciolelli said it well in her post on the City. Great service makes you feel first class. Thanks to the TTC, I feel neither.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Joel Postman has written a insightful piece, which takes the blogging community to task for being ‘elitist’ (a virtual restricted membership club, with its own qualifications, rules and jargon) while purporting to be inclusive (hey come on, everybody join in the conversation and while we’re at it let’s all sing, 'I think it’s so groovy now that people are finally gettin' together').

And it’s true, the PR/tech communications blog scene is a bit like an open-code-closed-culture with an underlying snob factor, where you’re either in or, as Joel says, too far out ‘in the hinterlands’ to get it. I remember when I first got started I felt overwhelmed by all the references till I learned the vocabulary and realized how small this world actually is.

I think that along with these in-crowd sentiments comes a mentality that combines equal doses of self-pity with self-aggrandizement. And this, in turn leads to in-fighting, petty feuds and hurt feelings.

Sometimes the blogosphere reminds me of country music…without the tune. It’s not a lot a lot of fun to listen to.

I say open the windows. Unlock the doors. Let some fresh air in. This is an amazing place to be. But we should try harder to speak in a language that anyone can understand.

Just imagine where (or how far) the conversation will take us.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

And the beat goes on

I noticed there’s no such thing as stale-dated news in the blogosphere. Probably because most writing is from an individual’s perspective and not from the me-first-deadline-driven pace of MSM newsrooms.

In traditional media, stories have a finite arc with a clear beginning, middle and end. Once they’ve passed through the news cycle, the audience and reporters generally move on.

Stories get old fast.

Or at least that’s how it used to be.

Things seem to be different in the realm of social media. Here, an old story can come back to life over and over again.

Take the blogger’s union (please). The idea caught people’s attention around August 6, just over a month ago. There was considerable buzz around it. I did a Google search back then and another one recently and noticed most of the posts were from early August. However, there was a September 2 entry on Webomatica devoted to the union and one on September 9 from Technosailor.

Interesting. Especially when you consider that each of these blogs has its own community which may or may not have heard about the union. Their audiences could easily be reading about it as fresh news. This in turn could spawn other entries, more conversations and before you can say collective agreement, the story’s hot again.

That’s quite a change from the status quo. And it’s going to ‘post’ a major challenge to all of us in PR. When we plan our communications strategies, we’ll need to venture beyond the traditional news cycle to a world of never-ending stories. We’ll have to accept that ‘old news’ can rear its head at any moment in time, spread like wildfire from one network to the next and before you know it, become top of mind again.

And we’ll have to figure out new ways to manage that.

Monday, September 03, 2007

'Everybody loves a clown...'

'...So why don't you?' So sang Gary Lewis, live from Vegas, introduced by a father who was beaming with pride.

Yes, it's that time of year again. The real end of summer (for as long as I can remember): the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon.

Where else can you see Norm Crosby deliver his malapropisms, Gary Lewis sell (this) diamond ring, a ventriloquist who uses Jerry as his dummy and of course, Ed MacMahon, a bit shaky though his voice is still booming, calling for a timp?

It's a very worthwhile cause and has raised so much money and even more awareness for the debilitating disease and Jerry's kids. They just hit $39,000,000 so far at 1:45 pm ET. And if you happen to be reading this, I hope you'll think about giving.

But as a piece of entertainment, the Telethon is unsurpassed. It spawned the genre. Seamlessley blends big business and showbiz (on the same stage).

And it's all we have left from the grand tradition of Vaudeville variety that was transformed to the early days of TV to Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson to good old fashioned showbiz where pretty much anything goes. It's my parent's world: classy tuxedoed performers in nighclubs, good natured joshing and lots of maudlin sentimentality. Hey, it works for me and always takes me back.

So thanks Jerry. For all the good work. For keeping up the tradition. For carrying on.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Ahh segues...

..the foundation of stand-up comedy. The link that takes you from one joke to another before you’ve even had a chance to notice the comic’s moved on.

I’ve always liked segues (no, not the motorized two-wheel scooters). And since I haven’t written anything since my last post in early August, I wanted to offer a segue from then to now.

OK. I haven’t had a formal bloggervention, but I did find I answered yes to one too many of the signs. So I took a few days off. Then a few more. And before I knew it, the month was gone. And I have to admit I enjoyed being away from my post.

But it’s Labour Day weekend, the end of summer/beginning of fall and a time for fresh starts, first day of school and all that. So as they used to say on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson stay tuned, there’s “more to come”.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Time for a bloggervention

And I don’t mean blog-convention. Because what came out of the most recent one – the idea of a blogger’s union – is first of all hilarious as a joke but sheer idiocy as a concept.

In case you hadn’t heard, it’s buzzing around the blogosphere and even MSM like AP and the Toronto Star wrote about it.

But would you (or I) have come up with this sort of ill-conceived and utterly ridiculous notion? Ask yourself these questions and see.

- Have you gone a bit too crazy in your quest for Google juice? Are you Googling (with) yourself a little too often? (Hint: you know a few too many nuggets about the people who bear the same moniker as you.)

- Are you involved in too much idle linking and not enough real-life connections?

- When someone says community centre, do you immediately think Facebook?

- Are you posting your thoughts left, right and centre (but mostly left)?

- Is your life online all high-speed with virtually no (or is it no virtual) speed bumps?

- Can you imagine yourself handing out leaflets on some seedy corner in Second Life, trying to bring down the man?

- Are you spending too many hours in front of a computer, with lots of open windows but no fresh air coming in?

If you’ve answered yes to more than two of the above, you may be a candidate for a bloggervention.

And hopefully you have a few close friends who can lure you in a room with no Wi-Fi and shake some sense into you...soon.

With thanks to my colleague MR.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Abort the pool feed - there's a new pool in town

Do you want to know what it's like to be at a press conference nowadays? Have a gander at Robert Scoble's point of view.

It's no longer about a company waiting for rapt attention or PR vying for control. It's a new scenario with multiple conversations, photo and video uploads, MSM, micro-blogging... and of course the message from the riser, all happening simultaneously, in real time.

It's stopped being a one-journalist-one-story type of show. Now, it's full-out, fulltime social media scrum.

An energy overload. Kind of exciting, when you start to think about it.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

No 'blue shirt group' for me

I like blue shirts. I like them a lot.

In fact, I have a closet full of them in many hues, tones and subsets. Some are plain, some are striped and the striped ones are further subdivided into vertical/horizontal and thin/medium/wide.

And so on.

Often, when I’m in a store and see a bunch of blue shirts on display I think I could be wearing one of them.

Sometimes I am.

Knowing this, you might easily conclude that I'm an ideal candidate for a ‘blue shirt group’. I’m involved, informed, passionate even.

Except I think a blue shirt group is a dumb idea and not something I’d ever want to join. (I did a search on Facebook and it doesn’t exist though a ‘black shirt blue jeans’ group does.) My affinity for blue shirts is personal (sartorial) and not part of a larger plan.

This brings me to the multitude of groups in so-called online communities that are sprouting up like broadleaf (broadband?) weeds.

Sure, sometimes they’re a funny idea, an in-joke among friends. I get that. But I wonder if we’ve become so insecure that we seek outside validation for even the most mundane details of our lives? Do we need an ersatz community for our every whim and fancy?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t share our ideas and points of view. On the contrary. Conversation, interacting with people you often don’t know, is one of the best things about social media. But before you add to the pollution, consider whether the world needs any more granfaloons.

As for me, it’s almost time fill in my fall/winter supply of blue shirts. But that’s between me and my appointed retailer, thank you very much.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

And we all shrine on...

Have you ever noticed how iPod docking stations make it look like a shrine?

Don't get me wrong, it's a breakthrough device. I just don't feel the calling to worship at the altar of the iCon.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Stop being used

There's an interesting post by Josh Bernoff about the way tech companies refer to their customers as users.

And it dawned on me that if I'm a user then I'm probably being used.

I guess that's somewhat implicit in the symbiotic producer/customer relationship. However, if we, the users, can fully understand the situation then presumably we can stop being so used (upsold) and make more informed choices.

On the other hand I also agree with the Elephant Man who so eloquently proclaimed, 'I am not an animal! I am a human being! I am...a man!'

Monday, July 23, 2007

Read any good blooks lately?

I just stumbled on Jack Kapica’s witty Weblish post. In it he mentions the Lulu Blooker Prize (I hadn't heard of it before), awarded annually to blogs that transform themselves into into books, er blooks, from a program you can get on the Lulu site. The business was created by Red Hat co-founder Bob Young.

I was curious, checked it out and it's actually quite ingenious. You can publish text (fiction, non-fiction), comics, illustrated coffee table books, calendars. And they promote it on the site.

However, as someone who has written two books the old fashioned way, I wonder if there's any merit in doing the reverse and trying to turn hard copies into a blog (or should I say blok)?

'A bad image or no image'

Poor Manitoba. It isn’t enough that my birth province is beset by frigid winters and an overabundance of blood-sucking mosquitoes in the summer. Not to mention a hollowed-out downtown, glue sniffing and a 40+ year exodus to points East and West.

And now, to add insult to injury, it turns out that the reaction to ‘Spirited Energy', the province’s attempt to rebrand and attract visitors and investment, was less than warmly received when it was tested in focus groups. According the Marketing magazine online (subscription required): consumers ‘were lukewarm and even confused’ about the campaign. (I guess that’s why the provincial government was reticent to release the results and only did so after an order from the ombudsman.)

Competitiveness Minister Jim Rondeau defended the government’s decision to go with the campaign by saying, 'Before the whole exercise, Manitoba either had a bad image or no image.’'

Thanks Minister. It’s good to see the current government is upholding the status quo.

To be frank, I was completely underwhelmed by Manitoba’s new slogan, too. It reminded me of the wrong-headed, dull ‘Toronto’s Unlimited’ campaign. Both seem to miss the mark in that they fail to convey what it is about those places that make them stand out, that capture people’s hearts and minds. (Think ‘I Love New York’.)

There’s lots to celebrate about Manitoba. The wonderful heritage, endless prairie sky, long, sunny days, Salisbury House and Rae and Jerry’s and the Fabric Centre, of course*.

If you ask me (and nobody did). I think the province should return to ‘Friendly Manitoba’ and build on that. A good image starts with who you are, not who you think you should be.

*Disclosure: The Fabric Centre, Winnipeg’s first fabric retailer, was founded and operated by my father. I worked there after school and for many summers and it’s now owned and operated by my sister.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

A failure to communicate

Two years ago, during my APR* oral exam, I was asked how I might counsel the Mayor of Toronto on a certain issue of the day. I replied that I did not practice public affairs, would probably suggest the Mayor call someone else, and then offered a few general principles that I thought might apply to the situation.

I’m going to do the same today.

First some background. Toronto City Council defeated (by one vote) two civic tax increases that Mayor David Miller believed would bring in some much needed revenue.

All of a sudden we’re in dire straits with the Mayor urging various departments to slash their budgets. Heck, he even said he’d have to put a hold on the $1 million+ reno to his office (tsk, tsk).

Suddenly there’s a looming crisis at the Toronto Transit Commission and the proclamation that the Sheppard subway, our new, underperforming line, might have to be shut down.

Now with everything we know about global warming, suggesting a subway line be shuttered (and by extension encouraging more cars on the road) seems like the exact wrong message to be sending out, regardless of our short-term financial situation.

Mr. Mayor, it sounds like you’re engaging in fear-mongering, with a touch of sour grapes thrown in for good measure.

I think what we have here is 'a failure to communicate'.

So here's a PR perspective that might help steer you back on track:
- Stop grumbling and start working toward a positive (re)solution.
- Initiate a dialogue with your opponents, share your point of view and listen to what they have to say. Bring them onside. This budget shortfall is not a partisan issue. It affects all of us.
- Engage your constituents, educate us, hear our voices, refine your ideas, win our support.
- Do the same with your other stakeholders (business, government agencies, unions, provincial and federal governments).
- Once you have this support and a viable plan, put it to a vote.
- Do it quickly (if indeed we are in a crisis).
- And please, curb the histrionics.

Pretty simple, really.

And if you want some cost-cutting ideas from this blogger, why don’t you start in your own backyard. Perhaps you could trim city workers (by attrition and retirement). Reduce the number of bureaucrats and, except for some union grumbling, I bet we wouldn’t even notice any change in the level of (civil) service.

*Accredited Public Relations designation. Disclosure: I’m the CPRS Toronto accreditation chair. If you’re interested in any information about the program, please contact me.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

But seriously ladies and germs...

True confession: I used to be a comedy writer/performer a long time ago (I even collaborated on a political joke book). And since I now have this forum, I’m taking the liberty of posting a few jokes and puns.

Feel free to add a laugh track (comments) – good or bad, improve the punchlines or submit your own.

Here are three to start:

What do comedians use for writing really bad jokes?
A pun.

What do you call an unruly group of snobs?
A smob.

Where do you bury jazz musicians?
In a groove-yard.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Face the music

Robert Scoble has a good post on why he thinks Facebook is the place to be. Everybody's there...

It's sounding a bit like the Studio 54 of the social media scene, except there isn't a bouncer (or beta version) to keep people at bay.

And all those apps... Or, as Groucho Marx might have said, 'Vy an app?' Or which app should I go for since there seem to be too many to choose from...

So (if I may borrow a reference from yet another decade), I guess the message is, be there or be square...

(So yeah, I did succumb to temptation and joined in.)

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Just like Bob Dylan

When I was a camp counsellor in Webster, Wisconsin way back in the last millennium, I never would have believed that the first time I would see Bob Dylan live would be years later at a casino showroom north of Toronto.

And yes, it was him and not a traveling tribute show.

His performance was amazing. His voice, always like an old man's, was even more so, filled with grit and gravel. He played his songs, old and new, with a country twang (which I loved).

To borrow from Shelley Duval's rock critic character in Annie Hall, the experience was 'transplendent'. What I mean is it was beyond words, Dylan's words mostly. And that gave the concert its life. Sometimes it felt like he wasn't singing in English. Maybe he was doing the entire show in scat. My friend Joey Ax said, 'he’s singing in tongues'.

And his phrasing… The way the words flowed together gave a new meaning to the ones you could understand. He could give a course on hyphenation.

Dylan started off on electric guitar, switched to keyboard and played most of the show with his back to my side of the audience. (So did I really see him?)

The three songs that most stood out for me were:
- ‘Just Like a Woman’ – how did he make his harmonica speak English more clearly than he did?
- ‘When the Deal Goes Down’ – something new that is so powerful you almost remembered the words the first time you heard it.
- ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ – played in such a way that it was familiar though almost unrecognizable.

That was the encore. And you wonder, how many more times can Dylan sing this song?

When it’s this different… I guess we all know the answer to that.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Facing up to Facebook

Quick confession: I'm not on Facebook (yet) because I think I would probably become addicted and spend way too much time on the site. I'm fascinated by it though.


From what I've seen and read about the service, it's an amazing way to find and connect with people, to keep in touch.

And I think I understand the site's appeal. Facebook links past with present: it brings nostalgia to life.

A little thing on Blogger that bugs me

I just published a new post that I started writing on Thursday and saved as a draft. But the publication date isn't listed as today (and I think it should be since that's the day it became 'public'), but July 5.

Hey blogger, what can I do to fix this?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Follow the leader...

...Or lead the follower. Which road will PR counselors take?

Giovanni Rodriguez and Paul Rand have written a thought-provoking, white paper for the Council of Public Relations Firms on the impact social media is having on our industry.

They challenge us to take up the gauntlet and become social media leaders by learning, understanding, and integrating this new media into our strategic thinking and practice. They contend public relations is well positioned to assume this role since we're all about relationships and are used to communicating across many platforms.

It won't be easy and it will require a mind shift away from our comfort zone toward a situation with even more transparency. Certainly, there are risks involved and there will be missteps along the way. But I believe this is an opportunity we must seize.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Private eyes

On one hand, it's really exciting that we're able to write and publish our thoughts, photos or even videos of the most mundane aspects of our lives - in real time.

It gives a whole new meaning to the concept of 'news'.

And certainly that's a good thing in a crisis situation where we can witness an event unfolding from the perspective of an individual who's in the thick of it.

However, with all our open communications there's a tradeoff in personal privacy.

It wasn't so long ago when you had to hire a private eye to do your spying for you. I think of a trenchcoat wearing Humphrey Bogart, incessantly puffing on unfiltered cigarettes in a seedy office with his name etched on the door. Oh yes, and there was lots of flirting and witty banter, too.

But these days anyone with a cell phone and a wireless connection has the potential to be a snoop. In a Toronto Star article about Facebook's popularity in Toronto, a person who lied to his girlfriend about his whereabouts got 'busted' when she spotted a photo of him having a drink in a trendy bar.

Sure that's a funny situation, a romantic-comedy cliche. (And I don't think that people should lie. )

But there's another part of this scenario that bothers me. The fact that whether we like it or not, we become the fodder for someone else's life 'documentary'. Unwitting stars in their show.

We're no longer observers. We're losing the capacity to simply enjoy our own lives.

I, for one, am just not ready for my close-up.

Not without my permission, that is.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Crazy glue

In April, when I was bumping around the blogosphere, I said I’d give myself till the end of June to decide if whether or not to continue this blog.

And lo and behold it’s June 30 and the verdict is:

I'm here to say (though still bumping around).

A few observations:
- I really enjoy having an outlet for writing/publishing

- This blog is (and will probably always be) more verbal than visual (but hey, so am I)

- When I started, my ranking was 2.5 million (or thereabouts). Now, according to Technorati, it’s around 1.1 million. If I can just get it to the low 500,000s…

- Google analytics are a somewhat addictive toy to find out who's been coming to visit

Whom do you trust

What does it take to go from competent PR person to trusted advisor?

Joel Postman offers some sage advice.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Look back, look waaay back...

I was walking through the CBC building, when I noticed, in the broadcaster’s ‘museum’, a Friendly Giant display. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, Friendly Giant was a Canadian kid’s TV icon, a winsome, recorder-playing giant who palled around with a giraffe and highly literate rooster.

The display featured his castle, tunic, the real Jerome the Giraffe, a slightly worn Rusty the Rooster still in his book bag and even the armchair where 'two more could curl up in'.

And it really took me back (and aback). How something so painfully naïve resonated with a generation of children. It's still very vivid to me. Like Nancy Sinatra's boots or the Beatles on Ed Sullivan.

Those were the days when you could catch an unknown performer on Sunday evening and on Monday, they were a star. The days when you turned on ‘the tee-vee’ and watched what was on. And you lived in the comfort that pretty much everyone you encountered had the same shared experience as you so there was this automatic common ground.

I know we have more choice these days. And really that’s quite exciting. I know there’s something fresh and new and ‘completely different’ around the corner. (But which corner is it? I want to know.)

Yes, social media certainly lives up to its name. But still I miss the Friendly Giant. And Ed Sullivan. And Johnny Carson.

I guess I'm pining for a simpler time.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

What does 40 years look like?

According to biblical myth, the ancient Israelites wandered the dessert for 40 years in their trek from Egypt to the Promised Land. (Shameless plug: not this 'Promised Land'.)

But if you want to see what 40 contemporary years (1967 to 2007) look (and sound) like, Giovanni Rogriguez spins two versions of the Foundations hit, 'Baby, Now That I've Found You' - from then and now.

Same words, same music. Yet each rendition evokes its time.

Friday, June 22, 2007

A matter of degrees

On an American Airlines flight from NYC, the pilot gave a quick update on the conditions in Toronto: 'Sunny skies,' he said. 'The current temperature is 61 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s about 16 degrees Canadian.'

Yes, the weather is so much colder in the land of ice and snow that we have to create an eponymous system to measure it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Stuck in NYC

I was heading back to Toronto from a day of meetings in Manhattan when my plane was cancelled at the airport (all Air Canada flights to Toronto, actually). And I found myself stranded overnight in NYC.

An adventure, to be sure, but not as exciting as I might have imagined. First there was the hubbub at the airport, the line-up to find out what flight we were now on, the taxi ride back to the city, the calls to (hopefully) get a hotel room, an alternate booking with another airline, emails/calls explaining what happened and then arranging an early wake-up to go to the airport again.

But back to the announcement. Folks at LaGuardia were flipping out and I could relate to their frustration (remembering an incident with the now defunct People Express airlines long ago). But this time I decided to accept my predicament and even laugh about it. Why get all hot under the collar (as we so often do) when you find yourself in a situation where you have absolutely no control?

Sometimes it’s better to just go with the flow...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Scobleized in Cabo

Yes, this is another ‘obligatory’ blog post following a keynote by BG (blogging guru) and Google search engine’s number one Robert (Scoble) at the 2007 Counselors Academy Spring Conference.

He was, in many ways, an anti-motivational speaker. No power point. No empowering epithets. He talked with a little boy’s excitement that was contagious and was personable, passionate and mischievously smart. It was refreshing.

Here are a few of Robert’s thoughts that stood out for me:

- He can now shoot and broadcast video live from his cell phone. And the quality looks pretty good. Talk about reality TV… It’s quite amazing when you stop to think that not that long ago families were huddled around Ed Sullivan on Sunday nights.

- He feels the question: ‘How do we get to important bloggers?’ is the wrong approach. Stories that interest people can start from anyone, anywhere and spread really fast. It’s like the tipping point on warp speed.

- PR lesson #1: If a story breaks that’s not true, advise your client to refute it immediately – on video, online. And you need a credible C-suite rep as spokesperson.

- It’s a Google world. So if you want someone to find you, you need to figure out ways to boost your proverbial ‘Google juice’.

- When he reads about a new story, his initial reaction is that it’s untrue. Then, as more posts come in from credible sources and the story takes shape, it begins to become ‘more true’. But Robert Scoble’s an informed reader and mass consumer of blogs. I just don’t know if the general public reads things with the same critical eye. I think it’s difficult for many people to differentiate between opinion and documented fact.

- Watching Twittervision made me realize how much stuff out here is based on pure chance encounters – entropic, really – which is one of the things that makes it so appealing.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Post post haste

We live in a world with so much writing, it's getting harder to come up with an original thought.

Case in point (albeit a small one): Tonight's title, 'Post Haste'... was going to be about what happens when your blog entry is written so fast it contains bad grammar, half-baked ideas, typos, etc.

But I decided to do a a quick search and sure enough someone beat me to it.

I guess I didn't post hastily enough.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

More Mesh

In today's morning session at Mesh, Richard Edelman, of the eponymous agency, was intelligent, articulate and insightful.

And he offered a wonderful description of the PR practitioner's role: advisor, conscience, connector to influencers, source of creative ideas.

By contrast, I was somewhat taken aback by Mike Arrington's assertion yesterday (and I'm paraphrasing) that while he strives for credibility, sometimes he'll write outrageous things to drive traffic to his site.

Sounds less like a trusted source and more like supermarket-tabloid journalism to me (with apologies to publications that make no bones about what they are).

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Fresh from Mesh

This is my first mobile post (just to see if I can do it) from day one of the Mesh conference.

Random thoughts:

- Blogosphere seems to be divided into two camps: the wild west where pretty much anything goes and then the same thing, but with product placement.

- Biggest differences between social media and MSM is social media is much faster and often doesn't fact check.

- Biggest similarity is both are looking for a gem of a story.

- PR challenge is how to react quickly ('InstaPR') knowing we're pitching to infuencers who may be mis- un- or less informed than MSM, but who, within their networks, have a lot of clout.

- Overheard: 'I had a meeting at the World Trade Centre the morning of...but it was too early so I cancelled it.'

- Blogcognition - being recognized for something you wrote on your blog. (Someone actually said to me, 'Oh you're that blogger...' Hey, there's a first time for everything.)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Transparent talk

There’s so much talk about the importance of transparency in the communications business these days.

And that’s great. My approach as a PR person has always been to disclose who I am, who I represent and what I’m asking up front.

Then, it’s up to the person being pitched, whether MSM or social media, to say - and here I'll quote Meat Loaf from Paradise by the Dashboard Light - ‘...Yes or No’.

It seems pretty straightforward and simple to me.

Transparent, even.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Monitoring the monitor

I (and probably numerous other Canadian PR people) received a letter recently from the company-formerly-known-as-Bowdens*, informing me that they changed their name.

And while I appreciated the news, I wondered how this might affect my agency.

It didn’t take long to find out. There, in the third paragraph, was the promise that I would continue to receive the same ‘Bowdens experience’ I had come to ‘know and trust’.

I wanted to scream.

To me the ‘Bowdens experience’ has been synonymous with mediocre service, missed obvious clips and the phrase ‘if you can tell me what network it was on and the time it aired, we’ll try to find it for you’. I’ve heard similar comments from other Canadian PR practitioners and some Americans, too.

To add salt to the wound, I received this same letter no less than a dozen times (in various bills). Once would have been fine thank you very much. But that wasn’t good enough for the company-formerly-known-as-Bowdens. They had to reinforce their ‘experience’ again and again.

Which only made my frustration grow.

Then around that same time, the company told us that the only good rep we’d ever had in all our dealings with them had been ‘reassigned’. Was she shipped to the Gulag? Where do they come up with this stuff?

Consistently low quality service is something I have complained about to the company-formerly-known-as-Bowdens for many years, regularly calling the president with my gripes. The difference is that before I grudgingly accepted their limitations as someone might accept an inept bureaucrat in Eastern Europe circa 1974. I now think that they’re so out of touch with the industry that they’re marketing their incompetence as a plus.

Will they ever change? I’m not holding my breath.

But there’s one thing I'm pretty sure of: they won’t catch this clip.

*Please note: I’m not including a link because I don’t want to drive traffic to their site.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

In praise of news releases

Call me old fashioned but I really like news releases.

I’m talking about the one to two page documents, usually written by PR people, that have a headline, subhead, dateline, the words ‘for immediate release’ (they still thrill me), a story (information and quotes), boilerplate and contact information.

The relevance of news releases has been much debated in the blogosphere with comments suggesting they’re passé, written in indecipherable ‘corporate-speak’, need to be revved up with more links and so on.

My take is that even in the hyper-conversational world of blogs and social media, news releases still have an important place and value.

They’re a great leveler of the corporate playing field. They help define the scope of a business communication, contain useful information that sets the stage for more dialogue (including facts about the company, names of spokespersons) and tell you who to call if you want to follow up.

Think of them as conversation starters. We put them out there and you can decide to participate, dig deeper or ignore us. You can also read between the lines and I would encourage you to do that too.

For more information on this post or to continue the discussion, contact…me.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Cluetrain leaves me at the station

I finally finished The Cluetrain Manifesto. And about two-thirds of the way in, I just wanted to get off. As far as I was concerned, that train had run out of steam long before that. (OK Thomas, the rail puns have stopped.)

The book was repetitive and frustrating. The authors infused the prose with way too many cutesy metaphors (‘storm Fort Business’) which felt like a forced attempt to be edgy and cool.

Sure it had an interesting premise and it set the stage for the blogosphere. But there was just too much ‘I think it’s so groovy now that people are finally getting together…’ type of sentimentality. (Which, I might add, was wonderful in that song but not in this book.)

And OK, I get the thesis: markets are conversations.

This sounded quite reasonable the first few times I read it, but they kept ramming it down my (or any reader’s) throat. To the point where it became clichéd and stale really fast.

From where I blog, I don’t think markets are conversations at all.

In a very literal sense markets are places. Places we go to buy and sell things. (What a pastime!) It’s an exchange, yes, of goods and services in the broadest sense of the words. But let’s call it what it is and not get all pretentious about it.

People go to markets. People have conversations. Conversations are things people have at markets. (With apologies to Dick and Jane.)

Person, place, thing. Different concepts that work together, complement each other and give reading, writing and yes, conversations style, substance and pizzazz. But they’re not interchangeable, not the same at all.

Sounds like basic grammar to me.

Friday, May 11, 2007

How I know I'm Canadian...

...Because sometimes I arrive at my regular Tim Hortons at a normally busy time and there's only one person in the line-up ahead of me as opposed to the 30+ people that are usually there.

And that's all it takes to make my day.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

So you want to work in PR...

Every week I get resumes from students or young people who want to work in PR.

First off, let me thank you. As they used to say in showbiz, keep those cards and letters coming. For an agency owner, it’s good to know you’re out there.

But what can you do to make me take notice? Make me think you’re a person I want to recommend or hire?

Here are some things I look for:

Find out about my agency and me then come up with a creative way to show me what makes you unique and why we need you (without showing off).

Customize and carefully proofread your intro note and resume. I hate typos, form letters, long, boring paragraphs about your career objective. I know your objective: to work in PR.

Be a media junkie. Read the papers (all of them, even the tabloids). Watch TV, listen to radio, know the best websites, social media, blogs. Talk to me about reporters, who’s covering what. And when I ask you how you’d pull together a media list, don’t say you’d consult an online database. Instead, demonstrate that you understand, respect and enjoy media by starting at the source.

Be yourself and tell me your story. Make me want to listen but please don’t ramble on. And never lie or misrepresent yourself. I recently met with someone who listed a PR certificate she hadn’t completed. So much for her credibility.

Put away your ego and follow up. Pursue me. Use your wits and imagination. Landing a job is a lot like pitching media. Grab my attention, get me what I need and please be mindful of my time because I’m probably in the middle of about 10 deadlines. It may take a while, but I am reachable and I do return calls.

Come prepared. If we do meet, bring an extra copy of your resume, your best work samples (that you actually wrote) and a little something extra. So what do I mean by that? Maybe you’re an expert in social media. Maybe you have a good reason to be skeptical of it. I’m looking for a fresh perspective, a spark of intellect. I want to learn something new.

Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that. But this is a start.

Repman Steve Cody has more good suggestions here.

All the best with your search. It may feel like a long process but you just need one person to say yes. As for me, I don’t have a lot of jobs to offer, but I’m happy to take your call.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Air Canada redefines Canadian map

Air Canada sent an email promoting their Canada East-West flight passes that piqued my interest. So I checked out the Eastern and Western offers and was proud to see that Manitoba (my home province) was included in both.

However, my glee was short-lived. When I tried the East-West flight pass, Manitoba had mysteriously dropped off the map (leaving only a shadow of its former self). In a related note, the Maritimes were dropped from that offer, too.

So what gives? Is Air Canada trying to say something about which provinces are wanted on the voyage and which are not?

I’d say it’s yet another example of our national airline not thinking about the consumer and missing the mark.

Brace yourself, if you want to see this in action, you have to go through a typical AC maze-like experience. You need to click here, scroll down to the site map, scroll all the way down there to search, type in flight pass, click on the first hit, then click on North America Pass. Typical AC, you can't get there from here syndrome... (It was easier to click in the email link.)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Why it's so hard to write fiction

Because you can’t make this stuff up:

And oh by the way, I subscribed, to Blogger & Podcaster blog and online edition.

(I’m not sure I’m ready for print.)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Surf's down

Today in the Globe and Mail, Keith McArthur (subscription required) writes about how the Television Bureau of Canada (TVB), an organization that ‘markets the benefits, values and effectiveness of the TV medium to advertisers and agencies’, wants to ‘protect the public’ from a new Chanel TV ad because it’s been deemed too racy for Canadian viewers.

Thank goodness we have their protection

But OK, you can view it here.

Personally, I think the ad is quite French (read sexy), with images that may even entice people to stop clicking for a second and watch. Regardless, it’s certainly tamer than many things on TV.

And in this channel-changing world in which we live in, something with a hint of originality and style, that harkens back to Jean-Luc Godard no less, is more likely to make us sit up, take notice and maybe even remember the product it’s promoting.

Now there’s a concept.

So why censor it? Viewers can do that themselves with a flick of the clicker.

Or better yet, as Peter Finch said in the brilliantly satirical, Network, ‘Turn off your TV…’

But still, a group of small-minded Canadian bureaucrats wrong-headedly believe they are here to deliver us from evil.

Who’s going to deliver us from them?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Keep it short(y)

I saw a terrific noir-ish movie this weekend. The Lookout is written and directed by Scott Frank (who also wrote the script for Get Shorty and Out of Sight). The film is smart, dark, witty, fast-paced and generally surprising, with excellent acting from the entire cast. And at 99 minutes it sped by. I wish more movies ‘cut to the chase’.

The reason I went? Johanna Schneller (subscription required), one of the Toronto’s more original film columnists, gave it a strong recommendation, highlighting the acting and noting that the project was passed around Hollywood for a number of years as the best script that no one wanted to produce.

So I found out where it was playing and went to a 9:20 show. I expected the theatre to be crowded, assuming that a bunch of people would have read the Globe and Mail, but there were no more than 25 patrons there (out of a city of nearly five million).

And it occurred to me that it wasn't too long ago when a critic raved about or pointed you to an off-the-beaten-track movie, you rushed out to see it. And if you liked it, you talked about it and there was a real buzz (when that term was used ononmatopoetically - since 9th grade, I've loved that word).

And if you were doing PR for that indie film (like I used to do) and this happened, you knew you had done your job. You encouraged a reviewer to see a film, they liked it, wrote about it and the audience came. That’s what good publicity was all about.

But it looks like things have changed. Match me, Sidney.

From culture

It takes a lot longer for an idea to go from the fringes to mainstream acceptance than many people might think.

And because of that, once it’s reached widespread acceptance, the idea – any idea – can seem like old hat to anyone who embraced it early on.

Take global warming (…please). It’s only recently that the issue has ‘heated up’ in the media and general public’s minds. And that’s a good thing.

But go back some 40-odd years to when we were thinking about the effects of air pollution. You just need to replace one word in Tom Lehrer’s song ‘Pollution’, to make it as relevant today as it was back then: ‘So go to the cities, see the crazy people there. Like lambs to the slaughter, they’re drinking the water and heating* the air…’


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut has come unstuck in time

Novelist Kurt Vonnegut, the ‘son and grandson of architects’, was born in Indianapolis on November 11, 1922 (Veterans Day in the U.S., Poppy Day in Canada). I read that he died in New York City on April 11, 2007 – last night.

That made me sad.

I didn’t know Kurt Vonnegut personally, though I, (like millions of his readers, I suppose) felt like I did. His short fiction, novels, plays and collections of essays opened my mind to new worlds, new ideas, new ways of thinking, new forms of humanity. He made a turn of the phrase delicious to read. He was bitterly funny, ironic, honest, smart as a whip and a truly original voice. And what stories!

I started reading his books in high school and have read and re-read them (many more than once). I remember the sheer joy I experienced when I heard about or stumbled across a new (or new to me) Vonnegut book. Whenever this happened, I felt like a kid on a roller coaster, about to embark on the ride of my life.

And it always was.

It was Vonnegut’s novels that inspired me to write. That shaped my approach to life. That taught me I could start a sentence with ‘and’.

He was a remarkable human being who will live on through his work.

Let me remember Kurt Vonnegut by quoting one of Bokonon’s Calypsos (from Cat’s Cradle):

‘Oh a sleeping drunkard up in Central Park
And a lion hunter in the jungle dark
And a Chinese dentist and a British queen all fit together in the same machine
Nice, nice, very nice
Nice, nice, very nice
Nice, nice very nice
So many people in the same device…’

So we are. So it goes.

Thank you, Kurt Vonnegut. And rest in peace. To borrow from Slaughterhouse Five, 'Poo-tee-weet?'

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Five things that bug me about the blogosphere (today)

I’m starting to get frustrated with certain aspects of the blogging world. So here are five things that really bug me:

  1. There are too many middle aged guys (and I do mean guys) trying to be cool kids. Sure be open, that’s a wonderful attribute. But for goodness sake, be yourself. Accept who you are. As the song said, “You’re not a kid anymore…” Disclosure: I fall into this category.
  2. Sometimes it feels like it’s more socialist out here than social. What I mean is there’s too much ‘power to the people’ retro-hippie-esque empowerment. I have yet to read the words ‘right on’, but it feels like they’re lurking below so many entries (like, hey man, we have a voice). And in that same socialist vent, there’s way too much sharing of junky stuff. Or, to put it another way, your links may not be that delicious.
  3. Can we have a bit less talk and a bit more listening? And as I said before, throw in a bit of editing, too.
  4. The blogosphere is not only too clicky (as in self-referential links), it’s also too cliquey (as in self-referential links). Again, it goes back to my cool kids point, too much emphasis on the in-crowd (personally, I’d rather have in-jokes).
  5. Twitter seems dumb.
Anything to add?

Sunday, April 08, 2007

A crack in my blogosphere

I’ve looked back over my entries and have come to the realization that I’ve created the Blog I Think I’m Supposed to Write as opposed to the one I Just Plain Want to Write. The trouble is I’m not sure what the one I Just Plain Want to Write is or even if I want it to exist. So I’m going to give myself till the end of June to find out. After that, we’ll see. For any of you reading this, please be patient as I bump around in the dark.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The public in publishing, part 2

It appears that Kathy Sierra’s cyber-bullying story has had a positive resolution.

Check out Giovanni Rodriguez, who highlights a blogger code of ethics, written by Tim O’Reilly.

Then have a look at Shel Israel’s links to the open letters Kathy Sierra and Chris Locke, both discussing the issue and its ramifications on freedom of speech from their own sides of the fence.

I am certainly an advocate of free speech. And now as a blogging self-publisher (as well as a PR professional, writer and former standup comedy MC), I also believe that we must imbue that freedom with a sense of personal responsibility for all the things we write and say.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

The public in publishing

This past week, the blogosphere was abuzz with something disturbing. Death threats, sexual harassment and cyber-bullying of the lowest kind.

Visit blogger Kathy Sierra’s site and you can read about some of the things she’s been through. It’s not funny, not a dark sick joke. It’s just plain sick.

Personally, I think that if you commit a crime you have to accept the consequences. However, that’s difficult when the perpetrators hide under a veil of anonymity.

Something that’s all too common out here.

I’ve always believed that you have to stand behind what you write (or say, for that matter). How can the blogosphere purport to be an honest or ethical place if we don’t adhere to that principle?

Though it’s not at all the same situation, this made me think about the student from Birchmount Collegiate in Toronto, who was accused of suspended for posting a personal attack on a school administrator on Facebook.

Details of what he said are sketchy and hard to verify (the comments were taken down). A student protest supporting him turned violent (reminiscent of the ‘60s).

At first I thought the punishment was an overreaction. Students always bitched about their teachers or principals in private. And that’s to be expected.

The difference now? In the past his comments would have been part of a private conversation.

But as soon as a conversation becomes public (i.e. you publish and distribute your thoughts), it takes on a different tenor. And if slander or threats are involved, it becomes a lot more serious than blowing off steam.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Start spreading the news

The weekend papers covered the latest NADbank data on readership in Canada and naturally put their own spin on the results.

Toronto Star: “Toronto Star Remains Canada’s Most Read Daily Newspaper”

Globe and Mail: “Growth of free dailies dropping”

Toronto Sun (news release): “Toronto Sun: Fastest Growing Newspaper in GTA”

But what really struck me was that just over half of the adults in Canada (51 per cent) read a newspaper everyday and spent about 47 minutes doing it (Editor & Publisher). This isn’t surprising given the number of English-language dailies we have in Toronto alone (six - including the free subway papers).

However, I did notice that readership of Metro and 24 Hours was flatlining and I came up with an idea for them to increase readership and be a bit more sustainable at the same time.

Of course, this will require the help of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC).

First some background: Every morning on my way to work, I notice that the subway recycling bins are overflowing with copies of the free dailies, read once and put to rest.

Yet, if you happen to find yourself in the subway after say 11 am and are looking for something to read, you can’t find a free daily anywhere.

So why doesn’t the TTC encourage people to recycle the papers in special ‘spread the news’ containers that could be placed in subways, streetcars and buses?

Readership per issue would probably go up (though it might be hard to measure this), less copies could be printed (saving paper and other resources), and people could stay in the know morning, noon and night.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Back from vacation. Still cold (with snow) in Toronto even though tomorrow is technically spring.

I’ve been writing this blog since January and I wanna tell ya (as a Catskill’s comic might segue), there’s gonna be a few changes ‘round here.

First off, you’ll notice a slightly altered name (I’m adding ‘PR’) and a new subtitle. Why? I’m listening to advice from Robert Scoble and Shel Israel’s Naked Conversations Chapter 11, page 171 ‘Tip #1: Search engine results’.

I want ‘em.

I’m an optimist who’s hoping to become an optimizer.

Also (from reading the book), the blog is going to become a little more focused (hence the subtitle) but hopefully somewhat looser too: less columnistic and more just plain me.

If you haven’t read Naked Conversations and are interested in blogging, I’d suggest you pick up a copy. It’s an invaluable reference, both eye opening and slightly maddening. I loved reading about all the inter-connections and linky-ness (Tip #9), but wasn’t as crazy about the vigilante-esque aspects of citizens on a rampage. That reminded me of the group with the ice cream truck and flyers chasing after Griffin Dunne’s character in Martin Scorcese’s After Hours. Funny to watch. Not so funny if you’re the one being cornered and they won’t let you tell your side of the story.

I’m keeping to my 500 word maximum.

Adding more blogs.

The signature sign-off is gone.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Vacation cold rush

Today on my way to work, I noticed the large windows on the King Street entrance of Metro Centre were completely frosted over. It looked spectacular. But it did remind me of what happens to my glasses when I come indoors from extreme cold. (The temperature was -22C.)

I have a theory about this winter. I think somehow the calendar got pushed forward a month: so January should have been December, February-January, March-February and so on. I have absolutely no scientific data to prove this. It’s just a gut feeling. But the weather is backing me up.

That said, it’s nearly March break and I’m heading off on vacation tonight. So I won’t be blogging for a while.

See you later in the month.


Sunday, February 25, 2007

Born to broadcast

Everyone who has studied Canadian history has at least heard about the Family Compact, a ‘wealthy, conservative, [and] elite’ group that controlled the government of Upper Canada (Ontario) from just past the War of 1812 and up to approximately 1841 (though some historians contend their influence lasted into the 1880s).

I thought about the notion this weekend when I read about Astral Media’s proposed takeover of Standard Broadcasting (Greenbergs vs. Slaights).

And in fact, isn’t the Family Compact what this country’s broadcast media is all about?

It doesn’t take a William Lyon Mackenzie to see how our TV and cable conglomerates bear more than a striking resemblance to the well-placed Compact of yore:

  • CTVglobemedia – Thomson family which recently acquired holdings of the powerful though feuding Waters
  • Canwest Global – Asper family (relocated to UC) has gobbled up MacMillan and Co.
  • Rogers – of the eponymous cable dynasty
  • Corus – Western Canada’ Shaw clan – cable cousins to Rogers
  • Quebecor – M. Peladeau – much of the same but with a fancier suit
  • Astral – need I say more?

According to the Canadian Encyclopedia: ‘The compact, centred at York [Toronto], was linked by family, patronage and shared political and social beliefs to the professional and mercantile upper middle class.’

Not all of these scions are HQ'd in York, though many of them are (and virtually all are listed on the TSX). But collectively they have a huge impact (influence?) on the flow of news and information in this country. On how the public behaves and thinks.

As they say, the more things change…


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Of pocket protectors and other little things

This June I'm leading a roundtable discussion at an upcoming PR industry conference. The subject is client relationships. So I've been thinking about what I can talk about and something happened last week that felt like a good starting point.

A client gave me a plastic pocket protector.

You know the kind: they fit into your breast pocket with a flap that holds it in place. Very Revenge of the Nerds or '50s gas station chic.

And that one small act made my day, my week even. Now lest you think I am a total nerd (though I will admit to certain nerd-like tendencies), I’ll tell you why this had such a big impact on me.

A few weeks earlier, I was about to meet with this same client and noticed the pen in my jacket pocket leaked and left a huge blue stain on my shirt. Feeling a bit self-conscious I ran out to the mall across from my office, which, fortuitously was in sidewalk sale mode. And I actually picked up a decent cotton shirt for a good deal. I wore it to the presentation and mentioned my sartorial 911 to the client. He suggested I should wear a pocket protector and we all had a good laugh.

You can imagine my surprise the next time I saw him when he actually presented me with one. This got me thinking about the minutiae of life and how important they can be. They humanize a business relationship and imbue it with personality, wit and style. And we remember.

So that’s one point for my upcoming talk: Little things count big.

Now, I just need eight or nine more. Any suggestions?


Sunday, February 11, 2007

A passage of rites

When I was a kid in Winnipeg and my family went out for a drive, the radio was tuned to CBW, which I found a bit dry and dull (hey, there was no music, no Edison Lighthouse). But even at a young age I recognized that grown-ups liked CBC’s ‘content’. And I thought maybe CBC radio is a rite of passage, something you grow into and appreciate when you're an adult.

Which brings me to last week when I was lecturing on PR to a group of 3rd and 4th year students at the University of Windsor. I was curious how these young people found their news and information and did an informal poll in the class. Most said they didn’t read newspapers much, which is what we’ve been hearing. They used the Internet to find out what’s going on (and, surprising to me, was one of their favourite sites).

So what does this mean? At first it seemed like yet another example of the impending demise of print. Yes, and this time I’d seen it with my own eyes rather than reading about it in the paper.
But then it occurred to me, they’re tuning into CBC, at a much earlier age than I did. The method of delivery may be changing but the sources are staying the same.

And from what they said, they used social media for socializing (almost all of them blogged on MySpace or Facebook). For news they looked to MSM.

Maybe the newspaper industry has a chance after all. Sure it's evolving. But that's nothing new. When was the last time you heard, 'Extra, extra...' or read an afternoon edition? Maybe to these students reading the paper is like listening to CBC radio was for me: something you do when you’re older, a rite (or read) of passage.


Sunday, February 04, 2007

No more fake IDs

I tuned into episode two of the CBC Radio documentary, 'Spin Cycles', a six-part series focusing on the often uneasy relationship between journalism and PR. I wasn’t crazy about the show concept when I first heard about it. For one thing I had my doubts about whether public relations would be portrayed in a fair light. And something else: as a PR person I like to work quietly behind the scenes and all of a sudden my profession is being given centre stage. (OK, maybe a milk crate on a street corner is a more apt metaphor.)

But I was pleasantly surprised. In a segment that talked about video news releases (VNRs) and TV’s insatiable appetite to fill dead air, the producer said that both PR and media should come clean and identify the source material. I’m all for that. It’s time for both sides to stop hiding. It could be as simple as a super that says where a visual came from. Or maybe a reporter discloses that a quote is from a news release.

About five years ago I had an argument with a senior colleague over this very topic. When she contracted a third-party spokesperson to promote a brand, she believed the media pitch should be sent out on blank paper, rather than company letterhead. The spokesperson would then have to slip in a brand reference whenever they could. I disagreed. I’ve always felt that ethical PR people should say who we are and what we represent up front. Then, it’s up to us to tell the best story we can and either sell it or not.

I feel the same about anonymous blog postings. If you don’t have the guts to say who you are why should I be interested in reading or believing your snipe, swipe, gripe or tripe? Put away those fake (or nonexistent) IDs and expose yourself (…but maybe not like that).