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.