Monday, December 29, 2008

Why I hate asterisks*

I was on the subway yesterday looking at the sale ads and getting ready to score an amazing deal...on something.

But my hopes were dashed when I noticed that fateful symbol perched on BIG OFFER's shoulder. And though it's barely visible, it packs a wallop that slaps you back to your senses.

I'm talking about the asterisk.

I don't like asterisks because they represent exceptions. Exceptions, usually, to a screaming overpromise.

What I resent most are the enticements that purport to 'build me up buttercup, just to let me down'. Having an asterisk is like keeping people spellbound by a sprawling story, only to admit in the end that, well, maybe much of what you said, just didn't happen.

Granted, the promises seem too good to be true. And they're easy to spot. In fact, the front section of today's Toronto Star featured 24 ads; 17 of which had a disclaimer of sorts, 11 with the ubiquitous asterisk. That's nearly 50 per cent.

Now, although I'm singling them out, asterisks aren't the sole culprits. And to be fair, there's a group of other hench-symbols (they know who they are) often found lurking with expressions like 'up to 80 per cent', 'for a limited time', 'select merchandise only', 'dealers may vary', 'quantities limited', 'some items not exactly as shown', etc. And while they may be just as bad, asterisks are the ones you notice most often at the scene of the crime.

Perhaps as a new, more balanced economy emerges from the tatters of our old reckless one, we can ask for a straight exchange on the asterisk and the worst parts of the sales pitch. And if we're lucky, maybe we'll receive a credit toward credibility - all at no extra cost!



*Not to be confused by the French comic Asterix, of which I have yet to form a definitive opinion.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The pod before Christmas

Well, today's the day that Inside PR #143 is released. I think it's a lively episode that touches on Twitter etiquette (Twitterquette?), media and conflict of interest.

Not bad for a holiday show...

From my perspective, I find it hard to believe I've been doing this for close to a year. And I have to say, I've had a great time sharing my thoughts, learning from and being challenged by my fellow podcasters and hearing from listeners. (I hope you've found the same.)

It's been a blast sitting in my study on Sunday nights in front of a Gzowski-esque mic, feeling like a Talk Radio DJ. And, it's a lot less solitary than writing a blog.

It's also an honour to be part of a show that was nominated one of the 'best social media podcasts' of the year (voting encouraged).

So now, in the spirit of the season, I offer my special thanks to Terry Fallis and David Jones for asking me on the show and keeping me on my toes; and to Julie Rusciolelli for being my freshman buddy.

And thanks to everyone who tuned in. I'm looking forward to more...

Merry Christmas and happy holidays.

Something's in the air

Last week, we sent out our Palette e-holiday card - a pretty timely idea, if do say so myslef. (You may need to double click on the image to get the gist.) Then a few days later, a cartoonist from the Toronto Star published an illustration using the same joke.

Now, since our card pre-dated their visual, one could assume they ripped us off. I mean, we distributed it first - it was out there for all and sundry to see and the next thing we knew, someone bigger was taking credit for it.

Did we call our lawyers? Threaten a lawsuit?

Hardly.

In my mind, it's a clear example of a concept being in the air and having more than one 'creator' at the same time.

This seems to happen a lot. I think it's due to a confluence of events (e.g. the economy and holidays) and the speed with which online communications spreads our shared imagery and metaphors. I mean, come up with virtually any idea, search it on Google, and there's a chance someone else got there first. A virtual copyright infringement.

But who copied and who was right?

The truth is, if the Toronto Star had done it before us, we would probably have been seen as the also ran, because their distribution is much larger than ours. It's a case of volume trumping voice, which is, in many ways, similar to Marshall McLuhan's notion of the medium being the message.

And it is a question that we communicators grapple with all the time: How do we get our messages to resonate when there are often much more vocal sources than us?

I think this is where relationships, credibility and trust comes in. Sure they require more energy, work and time than pure amplification. But I believe that when you combine those attributes with a relevant story people want to hear, a quieter voice can be as effective as a shout.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A failure to communicate - and sell

My phone rang a few minutes ago. The gentleman on the other end said, I'm calling to renew your subscription to some magazine I had never heard of.

Now, like most agencies, we get lots of publications. But as I couldn't place this one, I told the rep that I didn't think we had a subscription.

Without missing a beat he said, OK, then will you be interested in a free trial?

I answered quickly, succinctly and in no uncertain terms.

Now, I love magazines and all media, for that matter. But I thought, this is yet another example of communication obfuscation from their industry - trying to sell by pulling the proverbial wool over my eyes.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Obfuscate injures communicate

I think we've all seen them - those subscription offers from various magazines that promise $1 million dollars (or more) - and perhaps even a visit from Ed McMahon...

I actually had an aunt and uncle, who received a 'you may already be a winner' envelope and called up their relatives to say that their ship had come in (not in those words, of course, they were prairie folk). I didn't have the heart to burst their bubble and they found out the truth soon enough.

I recently got a note from a publisher which thanked me for subscribing by sending three 'Treasurer's Entry Cheques'. The first one for $500,000 and the second for $60,000 both had a stamped note saying 'payment guaranteed to winner'. The third one for $31,000 was even more forceful: 'imminent payment', it proclaimed.

Now, I know better, but still I was enticed.

Even worse was the wording used in the oh so personal cover letter:
'The fact that you are now in possession of the enclosed documents is proof that your chance of becoming a prize winner is all but confirmed.'

Notice the words in bold: fact; now in possession; proof; becoming a prize winner; confirmed. They're working hard to persuade you that you've already won.

However, now look at the disclaimers in italic: your chance; all but. These words are almost hidden behind the screaming bolds, yet it's the strong, quieter ones that really tell the truth about the offer.
I have to admit that part of me enjoyed reading the sentence for its wordplay. But, the other part was angry at how language is being used to obfuscate, not communicate.
This type of spin was de rigeur in many PR circles and one of the things that gave our industry its bad reputation. I think we can all look back on our careers and pick out a few examples we're not so proud of.
Fortunately, the rules of social media have altered the playing field (writing field?). We now have to speak honestly, credibly and, yes creatively too. We can no longer hide behind a slick turn of the phrase.
The best PR people will let this filter into all aspects of the practice. And that will only be good for the profession (and gullible aunts and uncles everywhere).

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Communicating in

This past week I was in Ottawa, taking part in a Federated Press conference on internal communications. (I was inside mostly so I missed the political fireworks on the Hill.)

My talk featured a case study about a company that used a major transition as an opportunity to engage employees in a way it hadn't done before. And a number of the key points I discussed were also highlighted by other presenters, including:

  • Transparency - you've got to be upfront about both good and bad news
  • Credibility - if you're not honest or, even if you're perceived as not being honest, you'll never earn anyone's trust
  • Two-way communications - can build solid relationships between management and employees
  • Consistency - in your behaviour
  • Long-term commitment - none of this happens with one message blast; communicate early and often
These are similar to the strategies we use online. But more than that, I think they're fundamental to any effective (and ethical) communications program - regardless of the medium.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A disconnect can be a good thing

I recently came back from visiting my Mom in Winnipeg. She still lives in the same house I grew up in, and being there is a bit of a time warp.

What I mean is for five days I didn't have access to my regular online fix. No high speed. Not even dial-up. If I wanted to plug in, I had to brave a -25 windchill and drop by a wireless cafe.*

All this made me realize how Internet-dependent I've become. Addicted, really. When so many people could simply care less. For them, computers are a past-time, a way to share jokes, look up a movie time, buy something.

They haven't crossed over to the 'new media' promised lan. They still consume TV, read local papers, go to the mall and talk to the folks behind the tables at the community displays. They get most of their news the old fashioned way.

Perhaps it's our profession and its fascination (obsession?) with the latest and greatest communications tools. We're ravenous for information, 24/7.

But as admirable as I think this may be, it's important to remember there's a parallel, albeit slightly slower world right here beside us: let's call it the 'first life'.

It's a place with less MB and more MB. Where everyone's connected, just not like that.


*OK, a disclosure: I had my BB Bold so I wasn't completely out of touch. But, I wasn't glued to it the way I sometimes am to my laptop.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Survey sez

Lately, I've begun to feel like one of those anonymous but oft-referred to people 'behind the board' on Family Feud. You know ones responsible for answering the questions the panelists try to guess.

By that I mean I've been getting more and more requests to complete surveys. It could be from a hotel (on a scale of one to five, did I find the pillows comfortable...); a professional organization (I get these a lot); a conference I attended; a store I shopped at; an online destination… The list goes on and on.

And they’re all looking for …what?
A. Demographics
B. Knowledge
C. My POV
D. Some of the above
E. All of the above
F. None of the above
G. There is no above

I'm beginning to wonder what everyone is doing with the mountains of data being gathered. Is there a meaningful analysis going on? Learning? Is there a market trading used demographic nuggets?

There’s so much noise out there. And so much useless minutiae being collected - information pollution.

Now, I'm not saying we should stop doing research. Far from it. Comprehensive, well thought out research is one of the keys to successfully practicing our profession. I just feel there should be more to it than qualitative results.

Many of us in PR have used surveys to come up with potential news hooks. Perhaps, as a first step to reduce the info junk pile, this is something our industry should stop (or at least greatly curtail).

Maybe instead of all the multiple-choices, we should spend more time talking to the right people, thinking and listening.

And go back to creating meaningful - and sustainable - stories.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Are you ready for social media?

Joel Postman's new book, SocialCorp: Social Media Goes Corporate will be released in December. I'm looking forward to reading/reviewing it.

It promises to feature case studies, a critical approach and examples of how organizations can develop an intelligent and relevant online strategy - that works for them. I'm sure it will be written in Joel's crisp, witty style.

In the meantime, if you're interested in finding out if your company is ready to jump into the social media fray try Joel's 20 question quiz and see where you land.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Still praising APR

Last month, David Mullen posted a question about whether APR still had value for PR professionals. There was a lively debate and I posted a comment which put me in the APR 'die-hard' camp - a place I'm happy to be.

As I've said before, I'm a strong believer in professional accreditation, both personally and for the industry as a whole.

And, as CPRS Toronto accreditation committee co-chair, I wanted to remind you that if you are interested in pursuing the designation, the deadline for applications is December 1, 2008. Please visit, www.cprs.ca for more information, or feel free to contact me.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

So you wanna work in PR – in an economic downturn

This is the third installment in an unplanned series of posts about getting a job in PR. I'm writing it following a panel I was on at Talk is Cheap 2.0 with Joe Thornley and Trevor Campbell*.

So… here we are in the midst of an economic meltdown. It’s hard to read the papers without feeling jittery and depressed. And I think it's safe to say that the market for new PR hires is tighter than it was six months ago. Not only that there are fewer opportunities, hiring freezes and potential layoffs.

So what can a job-seeker do?

I still believe you should still follow the advice I offered here and here.

But I would like to add a few more thoughts to the mix:

1. Be curious. Find out about the world around you; experience it. In Toronto, the AGO has just reopened, so pay a visit; watch the latest films (indie and mass); wander along Bloor Street during Nuit Blanche; volunteer for a not-for-profit you believe in; read a book by Malcolm Gladwell (or anyone for that matter)… Becoming a business/pop culture/political/ economics/tech/entertainment/food/fashion/beauty/etc. expert is an essential when you're in PR. Make yourself stand out.

2. Add social media to your skill set. Get to know the latest developments and offerings. Learn how to use RSS in media searches. Participate in industry communities. Set up a profile on Linkedin. Sign up for Twitter. Blog. Read PR blogs, post smart comments and build relationships with people you respect and admire. Listen to podcasts. Watch videos. And be critical. Understand that social media isn't the cure-all to every PR challenge. And when you start working, maintain the self-study and share your findings with colleagues. Every office needs a few social media gurus – who also grasp the intricacies of traditional PR.

3. Above all, don't get discouraged. The soft economy is NOT your fault. It’s affecting all of us and is out of our control. There is a great job out there for you. Don’t beat yourself up if it takes a little longer than you'd planned to find it.


*BTW, Trevor is president of Porter Novelli Canada and has just started his blog; I’m looking forward to reading it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Introducing social media

In a few weeks I'm going to be giving a presentation introducing social media to neophytes.

And, in addition to offering practical how-to's and definitions, I'd like to include a couple of slides with tips or advice from practitioners (with full credit for any suggestions I use).

If you have any ideas, please let me know.

Thanks.

Socials

Where I come from (Winnipeg) and in other western cities, there's a party tradition we call 'socials'.

If you haven't heard of them, they're essentially a pre-nuptials bash and work like this: an engaged couple has the right to purchase a liquor license, rent a hall, and throw a huge blow-out shindig. They invite all and sundry, get to charge admission, sell drinks and hopefully make some cash to help them get started in their new life. (They can get pretty crazy at times.)

I thought of socials because of all the recent Toronto social media get-togethers - a chance for practitioners to leave our offices and computers and actually interact.

Here's a quick round-up:

Let me know if you have any more to add. I may see you there.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

My network or yours

It wasn't too long ago when networks meant television; purveyors of small-screen programming, ad spots and big shared experiences we could gab about the at work or with friends.

But social media - or maybe the late arrival of the thing called convergence - seems to have changed that. Networks have become more personal - the sum total of an individual's contacts and, to a large extent their contacts' contacts too.

Which is where Linkedin comes in. I've grown to appreciate this community.

But one thing that bugs me is getting a form letter to connect. You know, the default that pops up and says: 'I'd like to add you to my professional network on Linkedin'. I especially resent the mock personal signature at the end.

Yet I still oblige.

I think if you're going to reach out to someone, why not personalize the request? Even if you don't know me, send me something that piques my interest and makes me want to find out more.

And if you want to build your network (and mine), figure out a way to truly engage me. Offer me a fresh perspective. Keep in touch.

Maybe one day you'll provide your network with that big shared experience we've been missing since the demise of not-to-be-missed TV.


(Note: Linkedin is being upgraded as I write this, but will be back soon.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I'm starting to really appreciate Twitter

I checked my BB, as I always do when I get up in the morning, and was surprised to discover that I didn't have a single new email. When I got to work shortly thereafter and logged into my computer, I found the same thing.

Nothing new. I had that sinking feeling we've all experienced when you realize you're in the middle of a tech 'failure to communicate'.

We had recently made some changes to our server (and everything seemed to be going fine), but today we had a glitch that made inbound and outgoing emails come to an abrupt halt.

And while the situation is being repaired (though being in the middle of it, it sure feels endless), I do feel lost without the action of my email fix.

Fortunately, we still have Internet and I was able to Twitter the fact that 'we're experiencing technical difficulties - please stand by' to all and sundry who may be trying to contact us. And I felt somewhat empowered by that.

The challenge is to get the people you're trying to reach to tune in.

Of course, we do have another old school option: pick up the phone.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

What I meme to say - five gems of social media

Not too long ago, I was tagged by Parker Mason to add my picks to Collin Douma's five social media gems.

And rather than calling out specific cases, here are a few things that opened my eyes (and mind) as I enmeshed myself in the space:

1. Social media really is social (pen pals for the 21st century). I can't tell you how many great people I've connected with virtually and then later met in person. It's really broadened my network and approach to PR.

2. Blogger relations = good media relations. If you're an ethical PR practitioner, the principles are identical: read the publication/blog to get to know what it covers; if you have a story you think a journalist/blogger may like, send a note, politely identify yourself and ask if they want to receive information. If yes, send info. If no, move on. Repeat.

3. Twitter/micro-blogging has untapped potential - I think that very soon someone will figure out an amazing way to harness it. Right now it's still like the 'bubbling crude' Jed Clampett ended up hitting when he was looking for some food.

4. The online learning curve is endless, which is both exciting and daunting. Just when I think I'm up to speed, a new blog, app, device, technique, etc. comes along. And I want to find out about it, see how it fits and whether it's worth using. I do like the fact that my mind is constantly being opened to fresh, inspiring possibilities. Hey, there are some duds out here, too, but overall it feels like I'm on a quest.

5. Because of all the developments, the blogosphere is a bit of an entropic mess. It's important to make choices - you can't do/see/try everything - and to mix the passion you have for this world with a dose of reality. In other words, don't just do it because it's cool, ask yourself if and where it fits with your communications strategy.

I'd like to pass this along to any listeners of Inside PR to add their thoughts. But I'm also going to tag Joel Postman, David Mullen and Tamera Kremer. Over to you.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Talk is Cheap; parking, not so much

OK, maybe you won't have to pay for parking. You might be able to get a spot on the street or, you can always take the TTC... to Talk is Cheap, the second (annual?) 'social media unconference', Wednesday, November 12, 2008 at Centennial College in Toronto.

If it's anything like last year, it will be fun and interactive and there are bound to be some scintillating sessions and just plain good talk.

The only caveat is you have to sign up by wiki (and I didn't wreck the registration list this year).

I'll be doing a 'live recording' of Inside PR with Terry Fallis, Dave Jones and Julie Rusciolelli and taking part on a panel organized by Joe Thornley with Trevor Campbell on the impact of social media on a career in PR.

Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Social media how-to

Yesterday, thanks to a post by Parker Mason, I came across Dave Fleet's Practical 101s series that explains various social media tools in language that's easy to understand. And he provides clear instructions and useful examples, too. So far, he's covered using RSS with Google searches and social bookmarking. It's a fairly new endeavour, so I imagine there will be more to come.

I'd say it's required reading for anyone interested in social media and the blogosphere, from beginners to people who've been bumping around in it awhile, like me.

Thanks Dave.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Panic, not depression

And I mean that in the most positive sense of the word.

In today's Globe and Mail, there's an excellent opinion piece by Richard Ivey School of Business professor George Athanassakos, who uses a historical context to explain why we may be in the midst of an economic panic, but are nowhere near another 'great depression'. In his view and in light of what governments and financial leaders are doing to address the situation, we are not likely to get t0 that dire point, either.

Amid the turmoil, it's a comforting thought.

We're number four (and that's reason to be proud)

According to an article in the Toronto Star, our fair metropolis placed fourth in a global ranking of cities that offer people the best cultural experience, after London, Paris and New York. Pretty good company, I'd say.

And in the same piece, an A.T. Kearney study ranked us 10th in terms of what it calls 'global cities' (below Chicago and Seoul). Again, not too shabby.

Now, compare that with a recent Maclean's magazine cover story ranking 'smart' Canadian cities, (i.e. those 'rich in culture', among other things), and Toronto didn't do nearly as well - we only made it to the middle of the list. In fact, Barrie and Orillia placed higher.

Now, without meaning to impugn those communities, that's a ridiculous result. And so Canadian. Slagging the leader while trying to be politely inclusive towards the rest of the country. The tall poppy syndrome rears its ugly head once more.

Frankly, I'm tired of it. Toronto's the number one city in the country. Complain all you want, it's a fact. And, rather than trying to apologize for what we are, we should celebrate.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Meet the new boss...

Watching the Canadian election results last night was mildly frustrating (and a bit dull). And ending up with essentially the same House we had before the vote was called is a strong message from 'the people' to politicians of all stripes - no matter how they may try to 'spin' it.

From a communications perspective, it offers all parties a potential opportunity to win back the electorate, rebuild their reputations and credibility, and create a vision for our country. But they need to begin from the ground up.

Here's what I would suggest:

  • Define yourself and what you stand for; and please make it intelligent, meaningful and heartfelt
  • Show us you have integrity; start small and keep it up to demonstrate you're serious
  • Be honest, transparent and believable when you're delivering your messages
  • Not everyone is a leader; choose someone who can speak to and to inspire both individuals and large crowds
  • It's OK to answer questions directly, even if you say you don't have a response just yet
  • Start telling your story; not selling it
  • It's all about relationships; not opponent-bashing or trading favours
In the meantime, if you want to read about a reluctant, yet idealistic politician in a satire that may be a bit too prescient, try Terry Fallis's hilarious Leacock award winning novel, The Best Laid Plans.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Social media redefines PR borders

It doesn't usually happen with MSM. I'm talking about Canadian PR outreach to Canadian editors being picked up in publications beyond our borders.

But with social media and blogger outreach, traditional country mandates are starting to be blurred?

What's a PR agency to do?

If you're interested, have a look at an article I wrote for the International Public Relations Association's Frontline newsletter.

I'd welcome your comments or thoughts.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Vintage Google

In honour of its 10th anniversary, Google has treated us to a youthful version of itself; the web circa 2001. It's quite charming really and the searches yield no Wikipedia results - unless, of course, you type in 'Wikipedia'.

I found an early version of Blogger with its groovy slogan: 'push-button publishing for the people'. Right-on, I say.

I tried to sign in with my current info hoping to connect present with past. But, alas I was left on the platform.

Now, usually nostalgia goes back a little farther than seven years. Something like this. Or maybe our wired world is so sped up, that anything older than yesterday is vintage.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Flack by any other name

This past summer, I was driving through upstate New York and passed through a town called Flackville. And I wondered if this is where old PR people go to retire...(a news release on every corner...)

OK enough of that.

Yesterday, I received an email from a client who said the word 'flack' that refers to PR folks might not be pejorative at all. A couple of sources - Random House and Merriam-Webster - contend that it may have been coined as a tribute to 1930s entertainment publicist Gene Flack.

I did a search of Mr. Flack and didn't come up with much more than this. I'd be interested in learning about him. If anyone knows where to find additional biographical information, please pass it along.


Thanks to John S. for the idea.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Modern-day telegram...

Giovanni Rodriguez contends that many our social media tools are DIY versions of things we already have:
Blogs = publishing
Podcasts = radio
YouTube = TV broadcast
Social networks = community centres

I agree. And I'd like to add that I think Twitter is a souped up version of the old fashioned telegram. They're immediate, pithy (though not due to cost), include funny abbreviations we've come to accept and are written with limited punctuation.

One difference - there's no uniformed delivery boy.

STOP.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Putting off the Ritz

There's a Canadian federal election in full swing. Or should I say in full baby swing - as in fun if you're in it, but other than that quite dull.

It's the same old posturing, spinning and name calling we remember in the past - only this time the ties are off. I guess our political leaders want to appear 'political casual'. Me, I miss the formality.

One thing for certain, elections help take our generally full dose of political correctness to a higher level.

This past week there was a brouhaha over Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz's private remarks. Why? He did something no politician should ever do: he made a funny joke.

I'm not talking about a pre-written ice breaker, I mean two one-liners of relatively high comedic calibre, in my humble opinion.

Now, were the jokes in question tasteless and mean? Absolutely. But where I come from, some of the best humour is rarely in the best of taste. It's often crass and edgy. It says things that we may not want to admit or hear, but does so in such a way that enables us to laugh at them; and then, when the joke is over, shake our heads at the horror.

That's why so many people have walked out of Yuk Yuk's over the years. It's also why Yuk Yuk's is one of the funniest, most unpredictable and entertaining places in the country. (Disclosure: Yuk Yuk's is a client and Mark Breslin is a close friend).

Have a look at Christie Blatchford's Saturday column in the Globe and Mail. She's written what many of us have been thinking about one-liner-gate and she did it in her usual acerbic, honest and stylish way.

Did this slip of the tongue warrant all the news coverage? I don't think so. But I'm sure many of the country's comedians wish their jokes would get this kind of attention.

It's just another example of a country that's taken politeness to a sad, new extreme.

And, Christie, I happen to be one of those people who's allergic to nuts. But I want to tell you that I have no problem if airlines serve them. I just wish they'd provide an alternative to those of us who can't enjoy the good taste.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Becoming 'Bold'

Not too long ago, I mentioned I was going to upgrade to a Blackberry Bold and I did get one. (Hey, iPhones may be super cool, but that's just never been me.)

After a bit of back and forth trying to find one in a store, I asked to have it shipped. It arrived the next day in a premium black box, which served to heighten my excitement. Inside, I found a device that was sleeker and lighter than I expected, with a faux leather back that made it seem almost high end.

Unfortunately, it took a couple of calls to Rogers to get it up and running properly, but that's par for the course - like lining up for toilet paper in the old USSR.

Here's what I like about the Bold:

  • It looks and feels modern - like when Cadillac changes its design. I know that's superficial... but sue me.
  • It's faster - especially when surfing the internet. And the graphic interface is similar to a regular browser.
  • The resolution is sharper.
  • The sound is clearer - I don't need to keep my phone volume pumped up when I'm using it in a taxi or outside.
  • I also like the additional functions - camera, video record and playback capability, default alarm music (I know I can change it if I want) and the fact that there's an image of an analog watch when it's being charged. A touch of nostalgia, almost.
  • Though it took me a couple of days to get used to the functions, I'm enjoying the track ball in the middle better than the rotary side control.

Here's what I'm not crazy about:
  • The battery and phone heat up more quickly, say if I'm on it for more than five minutes.
  • It takes a long, long time to sync to my Outlook - I may be doing something wrong, but this is how tech support told me to set it up.
  • It's got an MP3 player, but I doubt I'll use it much. It feels like a business device, not something I'd find myself bopping away to as I work the treadmill at the gym.

So what's the verdict? If I believed in thumbs up, I'd give it a couple.

I am glad I switched. And, if you have the time and are due for an upgrade. It's worth the call centre wait.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

More spaces (not space)

If you look at my last post, written using the Google Chrome browser, you'll notice there are bigger spaces between paragraphs than usual (similar to what happens when I save in edit mode).  I don't understand if this is a function of the browser or some other glitch.

Tagged (not it)

To me, that would usually mean one of those *&*?@#! Toronto parking tickets.  (I used to love it  when Li'l Abner comic strips used symbols to stand in for cussing, but I've never done it myself until now.)


But I digress.

Joel Postman tagged me with the Mitch Joel meme on 'social media best practices'.

So, in lieu of a full post, Dave, Terry, Julie and I discussed the subject on the most recent version of Inside PR (#127).  Have a listen and feel free to contribute any other ideas.

BTW, I do have one more thought (though it's more of a piece of advice): 
Find your blogging voice - and then stick to it.  That may take longer than you think but it's worth the wait. 


Note: This was my first post written using the Google Chrome browser. I figured Blogger and Google should get along like family and they do.  I like it for its speed, layout and tab options, but there are a few glitches.  One is I can't seem to figure out how to go from any one page straight to home.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Getting my head around Twitter

I've finally made the leap (into the void?) and have posted to Twitter - twice tonight.

I'm still trying to get my head around the notion of 140 characters. It's not a lot of words, that's for sure. For anyone who's interested, here's what it looks like:

The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. Th

Friday, August 22, 2008

On the sidewalks of New York

I recently returned from a short New York vacation, the opposite of a cottage getaway: you leave to energize and come home to unwind.

And walking the streets (not like that) it seems like the best shows really are on Broadway - just not inside.

For instance...

It feels like there's a version of everyone you know or could imagine wandering around NY. Just look around and you'll notice them. The similarities in faces, hair and mannerisms. Call it N-Yapparitions.

The City's sidewalks feature an entrepreneurial bizarre (sic). I saw a grizled old guy handily demonstrating the fine art of slicing and dicing vegetables with some sort of metallic gadget and he drew a crowd. If you're good at something you can do that in Manhattan.

There's an endless stream of people pouring out of every nook and cranny - day and night. And so many connections, however tenuous or fleeting. It's exciting and surprising and shocking and chaotic and funny and fast, fast, fast. This is a real social network in action. NYC is like the urban template for online.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A 'Bold' failure to communicate

I've been having a few email issues lately. Mostly related to my Blackberry.

Sometimes, when I forward an email, random words (and even whole sentences) get cut up, deleted and garbled (or as one email said, rbld). It's as if I'm writing in a bizarre IM-ish shorthand code.

So after checking with my office tech support, I finally called Rogers, knowing I'd have to commit a fair amount of time on the phone. But I was determined to weather the situation, accept my fate and not get riled up. And sure enough over the next couple of days, I had four calls and spent three hours attempting to upload, download, reload and resolve things.

And, I have to say the people at the other end were pleasant, funny and helpful. They concluded the issue was with my BB itself and not their network and they said I qualified for an upgrade - e.g. a new device at a discount. (A backhanded sales ploy or what?)

But a chatty rep from Sudbury rejigged my plan to save me money and offered me such a good deal that I couldn't pass up the idea of getting a new BB Bold. She gave me the option of having it couriered to me (3 to 5 days) or, if I didn't want to wait, I could pick it up directly from a Rogers store.

Being in Toronto and excited about a new toy, I opted for the latter. I went to a store near my office and discovered they hadn't received their stock yet. No worries. Another Rogers outlet was a few blocks away. They, too, didn't get their shipment and weren't sure when they were going to arrive. Try back later, was all they could muster by way of help.

I was starting to lose my state of zen, but I didn't give up...

An hour later, and completely un-Boldened, I returned to my office, frustrated and hot under the collar yet again.

I wondered if the bare shelves was a Rogers ploy to increase demand (a la iPhone). But there were no line-ups at the stores. Then I thought it's more likely a logistical screw-up (so what else is new).

Either way, Rogers missed yet another opportunity to truly connect with their customers (rather than holding us hostage). And all they had to do was provide a simple update; communicate with their retail front-line.

I'm still waiting for my Bold but I'll let you know what it's like when I get it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Too much space

Have you noticed that when you save a post in Blogger and come back to it an hour, a day, or some time later, there are extra spaces between the paragraphs? (For an example of what happens, please see below.)






I don't know how much time I spend backspacing in my attempt correct it (the blogging equivalent of backtracking, I suppose).






Has anyone else experienced this and if so, do you know how to fix it?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

My Air Canada mobile e-boarding pass

...was unscanable at security and the gate.

But they gave me the benefit of the doubt and let me through both times.

I kind of wish they hadn't.

(Posted from my BB post-flight.)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Spammers one, believers zero*

When people from my agency go on vacation, we try to give them an email holiday, too.

We stop cc'ing them and prepare an update that they receive just before they get back with a summary of what happened, the most recent drafts of documents and so on.

Of course, that doesn't mean emails shut down entirely. There are still times when you need to be copied or sent a note. But it sure cuts down on the clutter.

So when I returned from my time in NYC (nearly a week), I was pleased to find only about 250 emails in my inbox (very manageable and totally non-stress-inducing).

However, when I checked my spam filter, I noticed it also contained about 250 messages (many about debt control - is spam a barometer of the environment or are they trying to tell me something?).

This reinforced the fact that spam isn't something we can turn off or even control. We can redirect it, try to ignore it, but it bombards us; like cheap verbal junk food, clogging up our online arteries.

And it made me realize how careful we, as PR people, have to be when we're distributing a news release or other information on behalf of our clients. In the olden days (say three or four years ago), we used the bcc function and blasted emails out to an unspecified, but often long list of media.

Thinking back, I'm sure these lists contained a fair number of journalists who viewed PR missives in much the same way that I view spam. Unsolicited, untargeted and unwanted. This probably came to a public head with the Chris Anderson affair.

I say it's time to leave our subscription-based media databases behind and put an end to PRspam. Our industry needs to be smarter, learn more about the influencers we're trying to reach and offer them something of value. Let's get back and do what Giovanni Rodriguez describes as the essence of our profession's name.

Building relationships with our publics. You know, the kind where we talk to (as opposed to pitch) each other.



*Thanks to my friend Joey Ax for inspiring the title when he reminded me of the country hit: Liars 1 Believer's 0 (sorry I couldn't find the song).

I had some extra time at the airport...

I arrived a bit too early and the flight before mine was full so I couldn't get on. So, with nearly two hours to spare, an e-boarding pass on my BB (my first time and I miss the paper), I figured I'd blog.

I guess something like this is probably better suited to Twitter.

And, to all my 'followers', I will post soon.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Speed trap

Our 24/7 communications world sometimes seems a lot like the Autobahn: no limits to speed.

But I think we'd be a whole lot smarter if we if we took our foot off the accelerator and paid more attention to the road ahead. (Watch our for that pothole!) We could even enjoy some of the picturesque scenery along the way.

Now I'm not referring to a bucolic, Green Acres type of existence. Far from it: As they sing so eloquently in the show: 'New York is where I'd rather stay.'

However, I am talking about situations where we, as communicators, feel that high sense of urgency (anxiety?) and instantly react.

It happens most often in emails. We press send and there's a typo, a missed word, an undeveloped idea or - a mistake. We're all guilty of this. But it's an easy fix.

Instead of speeding through your to-do list, take an extra few moments - that all - to reflect, consider, think.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sponsorship training of Olympic proportions

Guest blog by ANTHONY WESTENBERG, account director, Palette PR

When I was working in Amsterdam as the global communications manager for Randstad, I had the honour to represent my company in the Public Affairs Task Group, established for sponsors of the Dutch Olympic team to share ideas and map out a common communications strategy for our participation in Beijing.

Our first meeting was a roundtable discussion about our motivation for supporting the Dutch athletes. We all had similar goals: associating with top performers, striving for perfection. However, during the coffee breaks, the sponsors quietly asked about the other companies’ business presence in China. Though unspoken, I think we all wanted to be reassured that none of us had any skeletons lurking in the closet.

Then we held a brainstorm session identifying issues and scenarios that could happen in China - from an athlete pulling out a Tibetan flag at the opening ceremonies, to corruption, censoring reporters and major human rights infractions. We categorized each as either ‘within’ or ‘outside’ our influence.

An ‘outside our influence’ example would be the chosen location of the games (an IOC decision); while our sponsor support focused on the athletes themselves. For this reason, we felt it would have been misguided for a group in the Netherlands to boycott the products and services of sponsors on an issue outside of our control; such as pollution in Beijing.

Our group drafted talking points and helped provide some athletes with another form of training: how to handle media interviews. We were careful not to tell them how they should comment about the various issues swirling around China, from pollution to child labour.

Perhaps the IOC chose China with the idea of encouraging change from within. The spotlight on China will hopefully encourage their government to become more open while also showcasing China to the rest of the world.

With Canada taking centre stage during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, I wonder what issues sponsors will discuss on the peripheral rings of the global soapbox. The field is open: from doping to Aboriginal engagement to the environment.

Regardless, I am assuming that there will be a platform for sponsors to meet and exchange ideas/experiences in preparation for a peaceful, transparent and sport-filled extravaganza.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

My stories

We all have stories we tell people. And it feels like they fall into several categories:
- memories
- gossip
- news or information
- recent personal experiences or observations

Well, lately I've been using my recent personal experiences/observations as fodder for my blog. And I've noticed that I retell these blog entry stories in much the same way I did before I posted them; revising, embellishing and repeating (ad infinitum).

So now, in addition to an oral history, there's a written/published/public version.

A virtual 'textbook' of my life.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Bang, bang, my baby shot me down...*

I was walking home today and happened to pass a Norman Rockwell-esque family moment: a hot and hazy mid-summer evening; a young boy (around five or six) is playfully chasing his slightly older sister; her mock screams, a sound like enjoyment.

What makes this scene a touch disturbing (to me, at least) is the fact that the boy is holding a cap gun and firing off rounds at his sister. Bang, bang.

It's something I almost never see anymore.

And so I was a bit surprised that it made me feel mildly anxious. As if the image I saw was no longer fun or safe. (And I have to admit, I gave the gun more than a sideways glance.)

Now, this scenario is something I should have recognized from my own youth - related to. I had lots of cap guns. And I used them. Everybody did. So why my reaction?

Times change. So do acceptable mores. My own kids weren't allowed to play with guns so overtly (so they made up games with weapons of their own invention). We thought that was OK.

The stories of my childhood are no longer the norm. We have a different approach; a different standard.

We look at life from another side now (with apologies to Joni Mitchell).

It's a sobering thought - especially for communicators - when you consider that what you deem acceptable one day can become an anathema the next.


*BTW, here's a link to the Nancy Sinatra song alluded to in the headline.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The next best thing

I remember an ad campaign from many years ago that used to proclaim long distance as 'the next best thing to being there' - pre-fibre optics.

I think the same epithet could be used to describe blogging and social media (except without the exhorbitant rates and busy signals).

For instance, you don't have to call someone, wait for them to get back, wonder if enough time has elapsed so you can try again. You just start writing/talking and see who jumps in.

You can discover interesting tidbits of gossip and news (especially who's feuding with whom).

You can add your two-cents and, by rewriting, make sure you're saying exactly what you want to.

And your ear doesn't get too hot (unless someone slags you in an unfavourable post).

I actually do think one of blogging's greatest benefits is being able to tune in and keep track of what friends and colleagues are thinking about whenever and where ever you are and take part in an entropic, provocative and entertaining long-distance dialogue.

I also like the element of surprise: and you never know who might find you... or when.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A tempest in a blogspot

For nearly a month now, there's been an uneasy truce with Israel. I'm talking Shel Israel and his feud with Loren Feldman over the sock puppet incident.

And now that the dust has settled, I think this is a good time to offer my (Canadian) two cents. To be transparent, I briefly met and corresponded with Shel Israel and quite like him, find him kind, smart and thoroughly enjoyed Naked Conversations. I have never met Loren Feldman, but I was entertained by him during one of the panel sessions at Mesh 2007 in Toronto.

First off I have a question: as with the current political situation, why is it always about Israel?

Second, a comment. It's just a joke, folks. A tempest in a blogspot. I've watched the videos and have read some of Shel's posts, as well as posts from people lining up on both sides and, quite frankly, I don't understand what the fuss is all about.

There are certainly a lot more pressing issues in the world (one would hope).

(Though not for me, I guess.)

The thing is, the puppet is funny, albeit in a sick, edgy way. But isn't that what satire is all about? Isn't lampooning one of comedy's great traditions? National Lampoon, Spy Magazine, Mad Magazine, Celebrity Roasts, Saturday Night Live and even Ed the Sock (a distant cousin to this joke perhaps?) are classic examples.

And isn't imitation a form of flattery?

It didn't take politicians long to learn that if they're able to laugh at themselves, people will gain a bit more respect (tolerance?) for them. Look back (waaay back) to Richard Nixon's Sockitome on Rowan and Martin's Laugh In or, more recently, Amy Poehler doing Hilary Clinton next to Hilary on SNL. (Sorry, I couldn't find the videos, but if someone can, please let me know.)

So, what would I have done if the sock were on another foot and this happened to me?

I would both laugh at and embrace the joke. I'd ask the puppet for an interview (publicly; on my blog). I'd have a bit of fun with the situation (maybe make my own sock and issue a challenge for a sock hop or something like that). Become part of the routine.

But there's certainly no point in getting all self-righteous about it. That only works to your detriment and portrays you as a sore loser. It also prolongs the agony. As communicators, we should know that.

Well, as the peace continues, I wonder if the sock may be looking for a new target.

If so, I'd like to say: I'm ready for my close-up, Loren.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Insult spam

For the past several weeks, my spam filter has been blocking emails I'm calling insult spam. The New York Times wrote about them in June, around the time I started receiving them.

(Oh, how wonderful it is to be an early adopter!)

Basically, these messages have a customized subject header that says things like: 'You look stupid mwaxman' or 'You look like a moron mwaxman'.

At first glance, I was taken aback. I mean who are these people to tell me I'm a moron?

But then I had to laugh at the the absurdity of the situation. I mean, here I was feeling bad about a silly comment from someone I don't know who's ostensibly trying to spread a virus or sell me something.

And I wondered, who in their right mind, would open an email like this?

On further reflection, I realized messages like these are aimed at our neuroses, in much the same way as so-called complimentary spam (notes that say things like, 'You look hot' or 'I noticed you across a crowded room').

Essentially, they're preying on our need to be liked.

And I think it's high time we started doing a better job of human-filtering; of seeing things for what they are and leaving our insecurities behind.

In a world where communications plays such an important part of our lives, we owe it to ourselves to develop and practice good critical judgement.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Dispatch from the front lines

Yesterday, I was trying to call a former business associate who had recently changed jobs. So I went to his new company's website, dialed the contact number and instead of the usual if-you-know-the-extension-press-it-now greeting, I reached the customer help line.

The woman was effusively polite and requested my name; and I was happy to oblige.

She then asked me what the problem was and I said I don't have a problem, I'm just trying to reach John Hancock (minor reference for anyone who's seen the movie), who works at the company. It was then I realized I'd made an error and asked if she could please connect me with the corporate office.

'Oh no', the perky woman replied. 'We can't do that.'

'You can't give me the number?'

'No, I'm afraid not.'

I felt myself getting a little hot under the collar, as my dad used to say. And I realized this was not worth an argument or even more of a challenge. I told her I would find the number another way, went to online directory assistance and had it in under two minutes.

My point is that here's a bit of public information and the customer help line folks aren't able/allowed/inclined to give it out.

That's not much help at all.

I've been to a number of business sessions lately where customer service has been identified as a company's best shot at making a positive first impression with customers. As a way of building strong relationships. But to do that you need to talk openly to people, offer useful suggestions, communicate.

Some businesses - certain cell phone companies that ask for your phone number after you've already entered it spring to mind - still have a long way to go.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A Winnipeg intersection

Portage and Main? River and Osborne? Vaughan and Graham?

In the past few days I've had a couple of close encounters of the Winnipeg kind with the city of my birth.

It started Thursday evening at the Bachman Cummings concert. What a trip - down memory lane, that is. It was an amazing show. The songs, every one of them a solid hit, were brought to life by two 60-something rockers, in great shape and sounding as good as ever.

They seemed to be having a lot of fun with each other, musically and otherwise. In one case Burton Cummings introduced a song that Randy Bachman had written about Cummings when he didn't like him all that much (Hey You). And Cummings' keyboard acrobatics were a perfect complement to Bachman's intensity-on-guitar.

The duo talked about starting out in Winnipeg and wore their civic pride on their sleeve, which of course made me proud by association.

Then Saturday, I went to see Guy Maddin's hallucinogenic documentary, My Winnipeg. (Can someone please pass the Forks?) And while it was definitely his warped vision, it was only a neighbourhood away from mine.

I was particularly thrilled he showed the garbage dump that thee city turned into a toboggan hill (no kidding). That he ventured into the hallowed sixth floor halls of The Bay's Paddlewheel eatery and featured tales of the Crinoline Court (ladies only) and Gentleman's Gangway (Men, ladies with escorts) in all their cafeteria glory. That he crisscrossed the city's back lanes.

After the movie, someone heard me mention the Paddlewheel and asked me to explain the Crinoline Court. I told her what it was and then she turned to her friend and said, by way of explanation, 'Those people are from Winnipeg'.

All of a sudden I was transported back to the prairie landscape I left so long ago and felt both alienated and special, which is what being from Winnipeg was all about. And for a moment I missed the city's wide boulevards, its endless sun and sky, its Salisbury and Pancake Houses and snow so cold it creaked like ancient floorboards when you walked home from school.

And I realized my brief reverie could be encapsulated in two musical moments I'd had in the past few days: Burton Cummings singing These Eyes live at the Molson Ampitheatre and a recording of The Bells sullen rendition of Rick Neufeld's Moody Manitoba Morning.

I guess that's the thing about your hometown. You pretty much know all the words.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Something to gloss over

One thing I really like about the blogosphere is how much constant learning I need to do, just to keep up. The ever-evolving nature of social media is one of its best and most daunting characteristics. I can't begin to tell you how many times my head starts spinning and I feel like I'm in a fog trying to digest all the new tools and developments.

For example, do you know what a SERP* is? I use them all the time (and likely so do you).

I just learned the definition on Daily Blog Tips' The Bloggers Glossary. Check it out. It's a clearly written, comprehensive and all-round useful resource.

There, school's done for today.



*SERP - search engine results page, i.e. what you see when you do a Google search.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

You'll know blogs have gone mainstream...

...when you do a Microsoft spell-check and you aren't offered the following alternatives:
- bog for blog
- logger for blogger

Monday, June 16, 2008

Of Youtube and corporate blogs

In a couple of recent entries, Joel Postman offers communicators a strategic perspective on two social media fronts:

1. He analyses the types of posts you most often find on business/marketing blogs and then breaks them into useful categories. I was struck by the fact that so many of my own posts fit into his model and that he was able to group them so succinctly. This one falls into the 'TOH' or 'Tip-of the-Hat' type (and you'll notice I am trying to add a bit of value, as Joel suggests). I also realized I do my share of 'Trivial' posts, but hey, I like writing (and reading) quirky personal observations. To me, it humanizes a business.

2. How many times have you heard someone say, just upload a video on Youtube and people will flock to it? Sure, it's a great distribution channel, but before you blindly jump on the bandwagon, you need to ask some tough questions and especially: is this the best place to be to deliver my message? I think that's a good lesson for anything we do in social media or in PR for that matter. We need to stand back, consider all the options and make an informed choice. It's too easy to get dazzled by the cool gadgets tech toys.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

When a good word loses its shine

We've all seen this many times. A perfectly good word gets noticed by a group of people, who grab it and seemingly hold on for dear life.

The poor word. It has so many hangers-on that its coattails start to fray. It becomes overburdened. Overused. It keeps creeping up on you.

It becomes a vapid cliche.

We all have examples. But right now, the word I'm referring to is: conversation.

Thanks in part to the convergence (another example) of marketing and social media, conversation is as sought after as the latest tabloid teen star.

Everyone wants to have a piece of one. Are you having one? If not, you should be. I just started one. How many have you had lately? Was it good? You wouldn't believe how many of them I've had today. I just started another one. I don't know what I did without them.

Now, I'm not saying words shouldn't evolve. They should. Language is ever-changing and that's what makes it a beautifully flawed living organism.

I'm also not advocating a vow of silence (as opposed to the Cone of Silence which I always like).

However, when I hear a word used in business 10 times a day or more, it starts to lose its meaning and context; its sense of self.

So what's the solution (yet another word that lost its way when it became synonymous with products and services)?

I think we should embrace the concept, not the cliche. Keep the lines of communication open. That's one of the best aspects of social media. But maybe we should stop boasting about all the so-called conversations we claim we're having.

Or to borrow a page from Joan Rivers, I'd like to ask you, 'Can we talk?'.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

All maxed out

No, this is not a post about being overburdened at work. (Although it may be.)

It's just that lately, a bunch of people have been referring to me in emails as Max.

Now to be clear, my name is Martin (in case you hadn't noticed). So why is this happening? Why, in the last six months, has Max has become the alternate me?

It doesn't seem to matter that I append my name to the bottom of virtually every email; that my name is in the from line; that it's prominently featured in my signature. It's as if some people just aren't able to comprehend what they see.

Instead, they smush the first syllables of given and last names together in a bizarre form of familiarity: Max.

Perhaps they're too time-challenged to read my full name. Possibly they're being over-bombarded by communications, so they have no choice but to skim and gloss. Or maybe they're so used to reading text message-style abbreviations, that this is what comes naturally to them. I can imagine the etymology. It almost makes sense.

Yet I wonder what other details they may be missing.

Truth is, I like the name. It always reminds me of the scenes in Annie Hall when Woody Allen and Tony Roberts, kibitzing or kvetching as they walk down the street, address each other as Max. As if that were their collective identity. I guess can relate to that.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Twitter trouble

Not being a user, I understand from some blog-griping that there's been a bit of dissatisfaction with Twitter recently.

ReadWriteWeb offers some good online alternatives as well as some great offline suggestions.

On the offline front, I'd just like to add: shopping/malls, running into people on the street, knocking on someone's door and that old standard - snail-mail.

Unsubscriber blues

Guest blog by LOUISE ARMSTRONG, executive vice president, Palette PR


When I turned 40, I decided to draft some resolutions for the second half of my life. Each goal is designed to simplify my life by eliminating time wasters – things that are a part of my day but which I neither need nor want.

I had no trouble finding my first victim – email newsletters. A weekly scan turned up 25 distinct titles, seven of which arrived on a daily basis. It wouldn’t be so bad if I had requested them but most were uninvited guests to my inbox.

I made it my mission to unsubscribe myself from the lot and set to work with a single-minded zeal. First, I divided them into three categories: those I voluntarily subscribed to and actually read (only one fell into this category); those I subscribed to and didn’t read (six here) and, the vast majority, those I had not subscribed to and didn’t want.

In some cases, I had been systematically placed on the email distribution list of professional groups I belonged to. Others were from stores I visited, hotels I stayed at and restaurants I frequented, all of which assumed that I would be fascinated by their every move. Finally, there were the ones whose source eluded me – monthly real estate reports and investment trends – authored by people who must have received my business card at a networking event.

Removing myself from these lists varied from remarkably simple to downright impossible. The ones I had voluntarily signed up for took the news fairly well, although many asked me to log in, forcing me to recollect ancient passwords. Others acquiesced after some prodding but said they would need up to three months for it to take effect. A few gave up the fight only when I threw myself on their mercy with a tale of how out of control my life had become.

The best response I received was from a community newspaper whose tech person responded that I was now 'blacklisted' from their email distribution list. Imagine that.

At this writing, several weeks after the start of my quest, I have reduced my daily newsletter total by about two thirds but I’m ticking it off my resolution list as a ‘complete’.

Next task: deal with snail mail as it comes in.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A degree in blogging

I sat in on a graduate level social media session today led by Josh Hallett at the 2008 Counselors Academy conference in Naples. (I was hoping to come away with a master's degree in blogging - an MB, so to speak - but for now those letters will simply remain the province I am from.)

As I mentioned, Josh was one of my blogging mentors, though the last time I heard him talk, my head was swimming from all the new concepts I wanted to absorb.

Today's presentation was no less provocative.

Here are a few highlights:

  • On the benefits of blogging: You may not have a lot of readers but blogging provides you with 'long-term search relevance'. People find you. As an example, try googling 'beauty PR agencies in Toronto'; my blog post is the first entry.
  • Wordpress is Josh's platform of choice. It provides users with the ability to insert replies right under a comment (so it's easier to follow conversational threads) and can differentiate between commenters and the author. He likened Blogger to having an @aol.com email address. With all the little glitches I've been encountering on Blogger, I wonder if I could move my blog over to there (and if it will be worth the effort).
  • Publish as many times a week as you want people to visit your blog.
  • Blogging is a great way to seed a story by reaching the mavens, asking for feedback and starting to generate WOM. (Of course, you have to identify and get to know them first.)
  • When you're developing communications strategies, don't forget the forums and message boards. That's where you can find some of the most passionate and influential people on a subject.
To discover more about the conference, visit Matt Kucharski, Jeff Davis, Indra Gardiner or the CA blog. BTW, the conference posts were written by a group of students from College of Charleston.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Don't take it out so much in public

By it, I'm referring to cell phones, Blackberries and other personal communication devices (yes, walkie talkies count).

I realize I'm not the first to say this, and yes, I am guilty of the habit, but I noticed a scenario yesterday that helped me see things under a new LCD light.

A '40-something daughter was eating dinner with her elderly parents. It appeared as if she hadn't seen them in a while; they were snapping photos, having the waiter take a few shots, chatting, etc. Then, mid-conversation, the daughter took out her BB and began reading it and sending messages. It was as if her parents were no longer there.

Yes, I was eavesdropping - or should I say observing - but this struck me as just plain rude behaviour (and also struck an embarrassing chord). And I had to restrain myself from taking my own BB out and looking at it (knowing full-well that it was a Saturday evening and there was nothing of import).

Which made me wonder: do we have to be that connected every moment of the day? Have we all become like on-call doctors, waiting to be summoned to ER? Our public device-scanning obsession is a lot like talking to someone at a party but constantly looking over their shoulder to see if someone better is coming by.

And I know smoking is no longer acceptable, but picture this: after a nice dinner and some great conversation, two people have a coffee and light up a cigarette. Yes, it's bad for you (disclaimer inserted to avoid politically correct comments). But what a way to share a moment (and in old movies it sure looked great).

Now, imagine the situation except replace cigarette with Blackberry. It just isn't the same.

Since the beginning of the year, I've been trying not to read emails when I walk on the street and I think I'm successful almost 70 per cent of the time. Occasionally, I'll pull it out (habit) and pretend I'm just looking at the time, but all the while scanning to see how many new messages I received in the last 10 minutes.

I guess what I'm trying to say, is I'm going to attempt to be more discreet about my BB use and urge you to do the same (and by discreet, I don't mean holding it under a table at a meeting and thumbing away).

My goal is to not look at it so incessantly; to shut it off more at home; to pay more attention to the people actually around me.

Sure, there will always be reasonable exceptions; times when you need to send an email or take the call. But maybe, like being more eco-friendly, we should all conserve a little bit.




Filed from the 2008 Counselors Academy conference.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

My PR industry highlight of the year

...is Counselors Academy's annual conference.

I'm here now, in Naples, Florida, anticipating tomorrow's official start.

And I have to say that if you're running an agency, this is one of the top resources around. It's an annual gathering of agency principals who come together for three days of professional development, honest and open dialogue, camaraderie and fun.

This is my fourth conference and so far I've had the good fortune to learn about ethical persuasion from Robert Cialdini and hear about the world according to Robert Scoble. I've also taken part in informative and provocative sessions on topics ranging from PR industry trends and running a successful business to creating and nurturing an agency culture, developing leaders, managing for profitability, building client relationships, hiring (and firing) staff. The list could go on and on.

Not only that, I was introduced to social media first-hand by several Blogi-masters, including Giovanni Rodriguez, Josh Hallett and Joel Postman. They planted the seeds (the blog is strong in this one) and really helped me develop a strategic approach to and understanding of the new online landscape.

Plus I met PR agency consultant Darryl Salerno, who, with his seminar on English language usage and grammar helped me accept that I may not be 'smarter than a fifth grader'. He is also working with us to position our agency for new opportunities and growth.

And best of all, Counselors is a chance to connect with and get to know some of the most talented people who work in PR, have similar challenges and issues and are willing to share their experience and expertise.

I always come away from these meetings with energy to spare. Pat McNamara introduced me to the organization and I'd like pass along the favour. If you're running an agency (of one, five or 50) I urge you to check out CA. You can probably get some 'as it happens' info on the blog.

In any event, if you run into me in the next couple of weeks, and notice my unabashed enthusiasm for PR, my excitement and ideas for the future...well, now you'll know the source.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Toronto vs. Montreal

Montreal is cinq à sept.

Toronto is more like... Sanka.

(Groan.)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Future not yet perfect on Blogger

In my attempt to schedule a post on Blogger, I accidentally set the date as 12/05/2008 instead of 05/12/2008, so it was slated to appear in December and not May.

Oops. Realizing my error when the entry didn't appear as expected, I tried to correct things in post options and was able to successfully change the date. However, Blogger wouldn't recognize this and kept the post scheduled for December, even though, in edit mode, it was listed as May.

I deleted the date and replaced it a few times. I tried re-saving as a draft. But nothing seemed to work. S0 finally, I copied and pasted the entry into a whole new post, published it and deleted the original. A bit tedious, if you ask me.

Hopefully, they'll get this glitch corrected. Has anyone else had issues with scheduling on Blogger?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Palette named Canada's #1 beauty PR agency

In a survey of Canadian beauty editors, conducted by Cosmetics magazine and announced in the April/May issue, Palette PR was named the country's top beauty public relations agency.

Tall poppies be damned. This is exciting news. You can imagine how thrilled we are.

It's the culmination of four years of dedication, creativity, great projects and clients and commitment to the Palette promise:
- Simplicity - we’re here to make life easier, not more complicated
- Energy - we don’t give up until we get results
- Integrity - we’re always up-front and honest

That's the same approach we use for all the sectors we work in.

Of course we'd like give a big thanks to Canada's beauty editors, our talented Quebec partner, ZOI Agency, without whom... and of course, our wonderful P&G Beauty clients: Olay, Herbal Essences, Head & Shoulders, Aussie and Secret.

If this sounds a little like an acceptance speech, I guess it is.

You can read more about the honour here.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Guest blogs

From time to time, I will be inviting various people I know to submit a guest blog to my(PR)palette.

The opinions expressed in these posts are solely those of the author and not necessarily the opinions of this blog or Palette PR.

I hope you enjoy them.

Biting the Bullet

The Magic Bullet, that is; the 'personal, versatile countertop magician'.

I finally succumbed to temptation and ordered one.

I picked it up from the post office earlier in the week. I was expecting my new Visa card and was more than a bit surprised to see the two oversize white boxes, bound together like the machine and I soon will be.

The outside was emblazoned with the product name and the bold promise: It does ANY job in 10 seconds... or less.

ANY job! No wonder it's magic.

I mean this is no ordinary blender. It's a solution to all of life's problems. Hell, it does pretty much anything. Short of money? The magic bullet sends two machines, so if times are tight, you can sell one. Out of quick meal ideas, there's a mouthwatering booklet full of them. I've yet to try them on a news release or PR plan, but I'm sure the results would be just as good.

I've been a fan of the Bullet show for a couple of years now. What an extravaganza! It tells the story of a couple whose motley array of party guests stay the night and turn up in the kitchen the next morning, hungover yet ravenous. And the hosts proceed to do their culinary prestidigitation and satisfy everyone's rather selfish tastes (though I wonder how many heads are aching from that incessant magic buzz).

I have a confession (if you haven't already guessed): I watch infomercials. Usually in the middle of the night when I have the flu and am unable to sleep. And in my achy feverish state, nothing seems so hopeful as the life they portray. Whether it's for a thorough cleansing by Dr. Ho, some one-size-fits-all fitness system, the songs of the name-your-decade hosted by a grizzled former icon of that same decade, it doesn't matter. They soothe me. Offer me hope and dreams of a more perfect existence. And more than once, I've lifted the phone to place a call that I am convinced will not only cure my virus, it will lead me to salvation.

From a communications perspective, I think infomercials do a really good job. Each has its own memorable and entertaining story. They stick to their key messages which are polished till they gleam. And they're always delivered by a knowledgeable (about one subject anyway) spokesperson; smoothly and, if you're in the right frame of mind, believably.

And yes, they keep it simple - sometimes too simple. (They're also repetitive and generally lack artistic merit.)

But for me their biggest triumph is that they play commercials for the commercial within the commercial; ad nauseum. And we accept it. Treat it like a play within a play, but with a 1-800 number instead of subtext.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A perfect sentence

Every once in a while, I'll come across one.

Like the opening to Garrison Keillor's hilarious novel Pontoon, which I'm currently reading:
"Evelyn was an insomniac, so when they say she died in her sleep, you had to question that."

It's an exquisite piece of writing; funny, smart, a little mind-bending and right to the point.

It's the latest in Keillor's 'Lake Wobegon' series of novels, which present life in Midwestern small-town America like no one else. Besides, where else can you read about goings-on in Bemidji, Fargo-Moorhead, St. Cloud and of course the longed-for mecca that is Minneapolis?

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Are we there yet? Are we there yet?

Anyone with kids, who remembers being a kid, or who watches the Simpsons will recognize that oft-grating phrase.

It's usually repeated ad infinitum until Homer relents.

But today I'm asking the question about social media.*

I've been a follower for nearly three years. I've been blogging for 16 months. I began as a reluctant blogger and have since moved closer to the centre (if such a thing exists).

It feels like blogging has gained some mainstream acceptance (the New York Times seems to write about it fairly regularly; Roots has two blogs on its website). As an agency owner, we now do targeted blogger outreach as part of media relations and we recommend social media strategies when appropriate to a project.

But the blogosphere still seems entropic; with an 'anything can happen, so why not hang out' type of attitude (and maybe that's part of its charm). It can also be clique-ish and at times like a high school popularity contest (e.g. who's linking who).

So all this got me wondering:
1) if we're there; and
2) where in blazes there might be?

And the truth is: I don't know.

DOES ANYONE HAVE AN IDEA?

(Sorry for the caps, but I'm trying to be emphatic.)

Sometimes it seems like a never-ending road movie; more episode than story. Other times, it's like being at a crossroads: which link do you choose, where will it lead you and will it take your breath away?

It does feel as if some of the novelty has worn off. People aren't quite so bright-eyed as they were say six months ago. I personally love it, because I enjoy writing and it's become a real outlet for me.

But if I look at the 'big world' of PR and communications, I'm not so sure if blogs and social media have truly arrived (in the way that websites arrived in the late '90s). They're here, make no mistake about it. And I think they're important. But in many circles they remain a curiosity, an outsider... a little like a Canadian traveling abroad.

And perhaps, if I can continue stretching the metaphor, some folks are just not ready to cross the border into Canada and (to quote the old punchline) 'get to the other side'.

Maybe they just need a bit more direction.


*For more on this topic, listen to Inside PR 110.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The future is here (on blogger)

A few months ago I lamented that blogger wouldn't allow you to schedule a pub date for your post in advance (and continued my griping here and here) . Well, that option is now available.

And to celebrate (and test the functionality), I'm going to set this post to automatically publish, Saturday at 11:59 p.m.

Here's looking at this at some point in the future (which will then be the past).

Introducing: beautygeeks!

Janine Falcon, a former Canadian Living beauty editor I know and have worked with, has just launched her blog: beautygeeks!

And whether or not you're interested in beauty opinion, news and tips, I think you'll enjoy Janine's writing which is playful, stylish, crisp, funny, sometimes cynical and always honest and entertaining.

Not only does she have a lot to say; she's got a great way of saying it.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Enter Philip Roth

I recently finished reading Philip Roth's superb novel, Exit Ghost, the latest (and final?) Zukerman story. Nathan Zukerman, by the way, is Roth's literary alter ego; a fictional author whose life has mirrored that of his creator's. Or has it?

And what can you say about a Roth book that Roth himself doesn't say better in his writing? How do you communicate his inimitable sense of style and the way in which his characters take on a life of their own? Should you paraphrase? Quote passages? What would you leave out? What essentials would you miss?

And the questions... Roth poses and answers so many questions that his fiction feels almost Talmudic in scope (including, in this case, some student acolytes).

Roth's writing is entertaining, funny, rigorous. and completely and unabashedly original. He's in a class unto himself (which, I would imagine might be a bit lonely at times).

If you haven't read anything by Roth, I urge you to do so; if you have, read more.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

To blog or not to blog...

That is the question... a client asked a couple of weeks ago. Here's what I suggested.

Before you get started

Figure out your objective. The blogosphere can be a good way to build awareness for you and your brand, but that doesn't happen overnight. It's a slow burn, like media relations, and requires your full attention. In addition, you have to be passionate about writing (hopefully good writing).

Entering the fray

OK, you've done your soul searching and decided that blogging is something you want to do. Here's what comes next:

  1. Select the topic. It should be something you love, intimately know about and where you're positioned to become a thought-leader.
  2. Linkability builds credibility. Identify the players, the high profile and oft-quoted bloggers in your sector and start reading their blogs. And when you have an insight to share, post a comment. That way the bloggers start to know and build a relationship with you. Again, a slow burn which generally takes three to six months (or more).
  3. Decide on your format, which software works best for your needs and how often you're going to post. Then stick to it. (Ideally this should be at least a couple of times per week in order to build a following.)
  4. It's a DIY culture and publishing is as important as writing. I spend about one to two hours per post, researching, checking facts and links, copy editing and proofing. This isn't something you can pass along to staff.
  5. The blog needs a voice - yours. There’s been negative backlash when people find out a site has been ‘ghost-blogged’. The most successful CEO bloggers write the posts themselves. This authenticity is what makes their blogs so powerful.
  6. You should be transparent, listen, admit any errors quickly and respond to comments in a timely manner.

Will this get you any business? In the long run, maybe. As I said, blogging can build your profile the same as marketing, PR, speaking engagements, etc.

Our advice? Unless you have the drive, energy and hours to spend, blogging may not be the most strategic thing for you to do.

Think of it as a part-time job with a full-time commitment.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The odds are in...

Since April 2nd, I've supped my share of rim-rolling Tim Hortons' coffees, in hopes of coming up with...anything.

According to the rules and regulations on the Rrroll Up the Rim website, my best chances were getting a food prize. Odds: 1 in 9.

Here are my results:
- 34 coffees consumed (from about six locations)
- Two free coffees won
- Odds that a coffee I bought would be a winner: 1 in 17
(considerably lower than the posted rate)

No wonder I was mildly disappointed, despite having consumed a more-than-adequate supply of caffeine.

Will that put a damper on my participation for next year? I doubt it. It's part of a Canadian rite of passage from winter to spring.

Besides, the pleasure is in the thrill and getting to the front of the line, I say.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Makeover

I'm pleased to present the new, sleeker look of my(PR)palette, thanks to Andrew Glenn, our in-house designer. I say blogger never looked so good.

Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The old joke I alluded to on Inside PR #106

Inside PR #106, taped before a live studio audience at Third Tuesday Toronto, is available for download. For anyone who listens and wonders about the old joke I alluded to, here it is:

What's the difference between advertising and PR? In advertising you pay; in PR you pray.

(...Groan...)

They started a joke...

With apologies to the Bee Gees, but this joke didn't start 'the whole world crying'. It was more like a frustrated sigh of bemusement.

It happened a week ago, on the stalwart CBC Radio interview show, 'As It Happens'*. I was in my car and caught the middle of an item which purported to feature a representative of Canada's mint. The gentleman was extolling the virtues of a new three-dollar coin - the threenie - that was going to replace the five dollar bill.

At first, I was incensed. How could they do this? What a typically bureaucratic, cost-saving move? (I admit I had forgotten it was April 1.)

I meant to blog about the situation that night but got busy. Later, when I did a search, I discovered it the whole thing was a lame joke.

Now first off, let me applaud CBC's efforts at jocularity.

But second, I'd like to charge them with the heinous crime of attempted humour (without a license).

The premise of the joke was good. But oh, the delivery... It was too earnest and low-key; in other words it had the standard CBC tonality we Canadians are supposed to appreciate after we turn 40. That's a right of passage, eh?

There was no signal of silly (i.e. a nearly hysterical bureaucrat), no frustration on the part of the interviewer, no absurd pronouncements, no delicious irony. In order to make people laugh, we need to sense a twinkle, a hint of mischief, a face full of pie. Otherwise, we miss the nuance.

Perhaps CBC needs to tune into itself and adjust its blandwidth. And maybe then, the next time it starts a joke, the world might catch on and start laughing (or at least crack a smile).

And by the way, can someone please tell them they don't need the cover of April Fool's Day to be witty.