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


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.


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.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Is blogging hazardous to your health?

The New York Times says it may be. Robert Scoble contends it's worth the risk.

I think this entire story is a little nuts; a hilarious example of the pedestal we, in the social media scene, are placing on communications 2.0.

I mean, we're not talking heroin here, or even addiction to cigarettes or alcohol.

Sure, on a personal level the fact that two prominent bloggers died from heart attacks is sad.

But c'mon people, this is hardly an epidemic worthy of front page coverage in the most venerable of dailies. I ask you what job is without stress and deadlines? And who could argue that numerous occupations aren't far more high-pressure than blogger (e.g. surgeon, police officer, firefighter, waiter, bartender, to name but a few).

The so-called 24/7 stress syndrome some bloggers experience is more likely caused by a manufactured sense of self-importance than anything else.

We may spend too much time here (hey, this is my third post of the day), but, quality of content aside, the blogosphere is hardly a physically toxic pursuit. It's mostly about reflecting, researching, reading and writing.

If this isn't proof of a slow news day, I don't know what is.

Twitter redux

It's no secret that I've been baffled by Twitter. I can't seem to grasp why it's so popular in the blogosphere and why so many people I know and respect continue to sing its praises.

Well, Ed Lee provides a wonderfully fun and creative analogy to explain the concept of micro-blogging that gave me a minor aha experience. I'm still not sure I'll be a Twitter evangelist, but at least I'm starting to understand.

And, at the risk of using the same joke twice in two consecutive posts, Live from Blogging Me, Blogging You...

Live from Third Tuesday...'s Inside PR.

OK, it wasn't a taping of David Letterman, SNL or the Yuk Yuk's Great Canadian Laugh Off*. But Inside PR listeners had a chance to get up close and personal with podcast at last week's Third Tuesday Toronto (yes, it was on a Wednesday).

While, I generally avoid bars with dart boards, I made a happy exception for this event. For one thing, it was a chance to do the podcast in the same room as the hosts, Terry Fallis and David Jones, and the new guest panelists, Julie Rusciolelli and Keith McArthur (up till then, we'd been calling in on Sunday nights). And though I was a bit nervous facing a 'live studio audience', I looked forward to the interplay from the crowd.

Have a listen to the discussion (to be posted on Tuesday, April 8) and let us know what you think. We talked about everything from who owns the social media space: advertising or PR, to whether social media is recession-proof. (I think it is.)

And if you don't mind a quick digression, I have to say the panel reminds me of the nearly prehistoric quiz show, To Tell the Truth. While there are absolutely no physical resemblances to the cast members, I'd say Dave is the Gary Moore-esque host; Terry is the erudite Bennett Cerf; Julie is the Kitty Carlisle of the group, witty, ebullient and classy; Keith is the thoughtful Bill Cullen. And though I don't want to admit it, I may be the Orson Bean of the crew. (But thanks for the Dick Cavett compliment, Julie.)

Thanks to Joe Thornley for organizing the event.

Hopefuly, we'll be back...

*Disclosure: Yuk Yuk's Great Canadian Laugh Off is a Palette PR client.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

All we are saying...

I read that the peace symbol turns 50 this year and was a bit taken aback by the news (it didn't look a day over 40 to me).

Actually, I always thought the icon was a U.S. anti-Vietnam war invention and was surprised to find out it was created in 1958 by Gerald Holtorn, a British textile designer. He developed it for an anti-nuclear rally in the U.K. and based it on a stylized version of the semaphore letters for 'N' and 'D' - representing nuclear disarmament.

I did a search and noticed a lot has been written on the anniversary recently. The items started in February but most of the coverage (MSM and social) happened in the last week or so. A little more digging revealed the widespread interest is the result of a PR effort for a new National Geogaphic book entitled, Peace: The Biography of a Symbol by Ken Kolsbun and Michael Sweeny.

Having done book publicity in the past, I have to admire how the PR folks took the publisher's story ('new book on peace symbol') and made it bigger and more relevant by tying it to an iconic anniversary. In the process they did what I always tried to do: get the coverage off the book pages.

They successfully generated much wider awareness for and interest in the title. Hopefully, this will translate into sales.