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 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 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.


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.


(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.