Tuesday, January 27, 2009

In the dark

Just under two weeks ago, there was a power outage in Toronto that left about 250,000 residents without heat or electricity on one of the coldest days of the year (-19C).

I was one of those folks in the dark.

When the incident occurred, just after 10 on a Thursday evening, we found the flashlights, lit a few candles and tried to find out what happened.

First we turned to our community – looked outside to see if anyone else had lights, called a couple friends… We put a battery in a clock radio and tuned to 680 News only to hear (after weather and sports), what we already knew: power was out in a large section of western Toronto. And crews were on the scene.

Thank you very much. That didn’t answer any of my immediate questions like: when is MY power coming back?

I don’t know why I defaulted to old habits (the reluctant adopter in me), but it wasn’t till Friday at work when I thought to check Twitter. I did a few searches and uncovered the hashtag #darkTO, and there, found what I was looking for: an enormous outpouring of comments, thoughts and news – in real time.

There were tweets from people who got their power back; others from folks nearby who hadn’t; offers of office space for those in need of Wifi; updates from the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC); requests from MSM media for interviews; and on and on.

It felt like I’d stumbled into the promised on-land. Yes, I had read how quickly Twitter spreads breaking news in real time, but it wasn’t till I experienced it first-hand that I truly grasped its scope.

However, something was missing. There was no local ‘authority’ to offer updates and tell us things were under control. And while Mayor Miller, the City and hydro held a traditional news conference, they seemed oblivious to the conversation taking place around them.

And that was a missed opportunity.

Of course, power was eventually restored (we got ours back nearly 24 hours later).

A little more than a week later, I noticed that Kevin Sacks, City of Toronto Director of Strategic Communications started posting on Twitter, @TorontoComms. Maybe the blackout triggered a lightbulb in City Hall. And that, I believe, is a very positive sign.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The other shoe

With more and more PR people wearing blogger's hats (a great addition to any winter wardrobe), the line between PR and journalism - citizen or otherwise - continues to blur.

I was thinking about this when I received my first over-the-transom pitch a while back. And though I was glad to be noticed, I wasn't sure how to react. Probably because I'm not usually on the receiving end.

Not long after, a personal blogger I know was approached by a word of mouth firm that wanted to send her products for review. When she told them she works in PR and may be conflicted, the WOM'er said, 'I'll just pretend I didn't hear that and we'll send them anyway.'

I think that's just plain wrong on so many levels and is yet another example of why our business has a bit of a bad name. (She didn't do the post.)

And it made me wonder: when is it OK for PR folks to blog about a pitch they've received? Or really, when is it not appropriate?

It's a grey area and, like so much else in our business, it all comes down to knowing where to place our self on that fine line we call reputation (ours, as well as our clients). In other words making an ethical judgement call.

As many have already said, be transparent, identify yourself and be open about who/what you represent. Some bloggers have gone further by listing their criteria for accepting pitches.

I think there's a positive outcome to PR people being pitched. With the shoe on the proverbial other foot, we get a chance to experience life from a journalist's POV. Interesting loafers, I say, though they don't quite fit and I'm not sure I'd want to wear them everyday.

Hopefully all of this will give our industry a greater understanding and empathy for media, which will help us do a better job.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The blogosphere just got a touch of class

Ever wondered how to make a good impression on clients at a formal dinner? What about knowing where to draw the line between appropriate (or inappropriate) professional communications?

My colleague, Louise Armstrong, combines her expertise in PR and etiquette in a new blog: A Call for Class.

A thoughtful writer, Louise is setting out to examine the places where manners and modern communications meet. And you can be sure her posts will offer a keen perspective and useful advice.

Have a read and let me (or Louise) know what you think.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

PodCamp 2009

If you're a PR person interested in social media, blogging, podcasting and the latest developments, tools and trends, I'd encourage you to sign up for PodCamp 2009 in Toronto, Feb 21 and 22. It's a great opportunity to learn more and have a chance to trade stories and meet other practitioners.

This year, Palette is pleased to be one of the event sponsors.

Hope to see you there.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Blogabout - a few good reads

Here's a quick list/links to some posts I've recently enjoyed:

Giovanni Rodriguez's insightful and well-researched series, Advertising with Character on the nature and use of characters that sell. There's a lot of superb material here, so sit back with a coffee or a drink and enjoy.

Michelle Kostya's review of her favourite Twitter tools - especially useful for the novice and intermediate user.

Bailey Gardiner CEO Jon Bailey's musings on his first 30 days on Twitter.

David Mullen's effective ways to build and manage your online interactions.

Happy reading.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

He likes us...

I was at the gym when I found out Obama's first official visit as President of the United States will be to Canada. And you can't believe how excited I was when I heard the news.

I mean, out of the whole entire globe, the leader of the free world has chosen us. (OK, it's a long-standing tradition that Bush ignored, but let's put that fact on hold.)

My reaction reminded me of Sally Field's acceptance speech at the Academy Awards. And it also made me think about how thrilled we Canadians get, when a person of celebrity south of the border 'recognizes' us (or even makes a paltry reference to our country in a movie or TV show). It's silly really, but that seems to be part of our collective psyche.

And while I am glad President Obama is coming here - if for no other reason than the hope that his vision may rubs off on our leaders - I feel that my response (and I'm sure that of my fellow Canucks) is a bit over the top.

Why? Perhaps it's because we still view ourselves as second tier. But is that so bad? I think it's time we started accepting and even taking pride in who we are. We should become more comfortable wearing our national skin (though it may be covered in a parka for much of the year) and not look for our validation from external sources.

Maybe 2009 could be the year we stop being so internationally-insecure. (Now, what would the Americans think about that?)

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Of Winnipeg and ice

The 'Slurpee capital of the world' has a frosty new title. According to a story in today's Globe and Mail, Winnipeg's River Trail outdoor skating rink, now sliding across both the Red and Assiniboine rivers, is longer (by distance) than the one on Ottawa's Rideau Canal. While there's the usual griping over details - in this case length vs area; or -30 temperatures vs warming huts - it looks like Winnipeg has skated to the finish line as the champ.

Congratulations, I say. In a city where frigidity is the norm, it's better to embrace reality than consistently gripe about it or pretend it's not there. Done right, I think the Slurpee and skating crowns could go a long way toward making the city cool.

Snow sculpture, anyone?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

My blogging balance sheet - 2008

A year ago, after taking a financial management course (for non-financial managers), I decided to prepare a blogging balance sheet for 2007. And now, having completed the second year of my(PR)palette, I thought I'd revisit the concept and look back on the past 12 months. Please note, as in many balance sheets, some things change and some stay the same. It's no different here.

MY(pr)PALETTE BALANCE SHEET - DECEMBER 31, 2008
Unaudited - not unedited (need new joke for 2009)

ASSETS
105 posts
82 tags
4103 visitors
129 comments
26 member blogroll
17 Technorati authority rank
#1 rank of blog on Google (in a search of Martin Waxman)
Goodwill: sense of humour, voice, perspective, outlet for my writing and publishing, agency profile
___________

LIABILITIES
Posting something dumb, unfunny or downright dull (too many times)
One-way, column style of writing (I think I've improved and I'm trying harder to encourage a conversation)
A bit negative (at first ) about certain new tools (e.g. Twitter)
Less personal hours to devote to reading books, watching movies

___________

EQUITY
Blog voice
Posts I'm proud of
Regular contributor to Inside PR podcast
Posting on Twitter - @martinwaxman
Comments from people I don't know
Being included in PR blog lists
Technorati rank
Inbound and outbound links
Google juice

Retained ideas:
Four unpublished blog posts in various stages of writing that will likely be published in the next month or two

_________

My analysis?
It's been another good year blog-wise. Contrary to the economy, everything (from posts to readers to comments) are up. Finally some positive news!

And the outlook for 2009?
Target: 2 posts per week (I like that pace)
Continue to stick to what I know and really like (PR, media, social/cultural observations, books)
Lessen personal reluctance to new tools; try them earlier, but remain critical until I see demonstrated results
From time to time include a link post (gift blog) with items of interest I've stumbled across
Read and participate in more blogs

So what's the bottom line?
I'm still having a great time and I've met so many interesting people from all over the world (in person and virtually).

Thank you to everyone for listening to my 'voice' and tuning in. Ideas and your thoughts are always welcome.

Here's to 2009!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

'I read the news today (oh boy...)'

The past few months, I've had to gird my stomach before picking up a newspaper (something, just six short months ago, I loved to do). The news has been singularly bleak and negative; even spilling into the softest of stories (e.g. holiday gift guides for products under $20, the subtext being we can't afford more).

Now, I'm all for honesty and transparency; telling it like it is. But I also think part of media's job is to show some balance. So while the market spiraled downward and consumer confidence slid, too many outlets were painting a picture of complete doom and gloom and not leaving any room for hope.

The thing is, life goes on. We get up, eat, work, go to school, spend time with friends and loved ones, go out to movies and restaurants, shop, and have many other experiences too numerous or personal to mention. Unfortunately, some of us may lose jobs and other material things and that's really too bad for those concerned.

But look around you. Things have slowed down but they aren't going to stop. The economy may have gone south (like the snowbirds), but that's no reason to nail shutters to the windows.

As a PR person who craves and consumes more than my fair share of media, I have probably taken too many of these stories to heart. In fact, I wonder if we, in the communications business, don't have an extremely mild version of 'current-traumatic' stress disorder, due to the fact that we're ingesting far too many downers (and I don't mean of the pharmaceutical kind).

Couple this with the effects of the economic slowdown. I've felt a tightening in my business for months, but what's worse than the reality are the sleepless nights and anxiety spent anticipating. I'm pretty sure my stress levels have gone up in inverse proportion to the economy.

Now, it's a new year. And what can a person do to begin on a more positive note?

Here are a few suggestions (not resolutions) I'm going to try:

  • Become more emotionally detached about unemotional things - look at the facts and try not to take so much innuendo and speculation to heart.
  • Be more selective about the way I approach MSM; find a filter that enables me to view things objectively (e.g. get my news from sources like Jon Stewart so I can both cry and laugh).
  • Read more blogs. I've found the PR and tech blogs I follow have a much more balanced view. And I take solace in that.
  • See things from a fresh perspective. Don't crawl into a hole and ignore the world, experience it. Open my mind, keep learning and trying new things.
  • Enjoy the moment - a quiet dinner, a great novel, an entertaining Hollywood film, spending time with people I care about.
So, to end on a 'high' note, I'm going to turn things over to Jerry Lewis as he belts out his final song on the Telethon: 'When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high and don't be afraid of the dark...' (Come to think of it, watch a musical, too.)

Happy New Year. Here's to a lighter 2009.