May 30, 2006 by Colin
Over at the Guardian, they’re doing their best to chip away at the public relations-driven perception that the Arctic Monkeys, Lily Allen and Sandi Thom are bootstrap successes who pooled together their credit card balances to record some demos before riding the popularity of MySpace and the internets to sucess, fame and fortune.
They ran a great big honking rebuttal of the MySpace trend pieces last Thursday.
We’ll leave the last word to Sandi Thom’s manager, Ian Brown:
” … As Mr. Brown said, clever PR is not unique to the internet age. The uneasy alliance between the press and music PRs dates back to Elvis Presley. As such, it is unlikely that either label or artist will balk at the latest round of publicity. “It’s all rock’n'roll PR,” he said. “But it starts off with a fact. Bill Grundy told the Pistols to swear on TV. Fact. Sandi Thom got 50,000 people on her website before the Sunday Times had anything to do with it. Fact. What happens after that, I’ve got no idea.” (Guardian)
May 30, 2006 by Colin
This is social media actually delivering on its promise – although some might argue that a corporate think-piece is not the highest of callings or most prime of placements.
Rather than pull a picture from a stock photo bank, Kevin Dugan (gadfly and PR man about the web) found the original on Flickr. An email to Hanny Breunese, the Dutch woman who took the picture, led to Kevin’s winning permission to use it in FRCH Design’s latest newsletter, focusing on colour trends.
May 29, 2006 by Colin
“…The more audiences move off trusted sources of information and into the hard-to-reach regions of the blog, the more media purveyors should return to core brand-values and seek to extol the virtues of truth and its sibling, accuracy …
… Content labelling can work on media websites just as food labelling works on cans and packs. People can decide if they want reconstituted fact, contested fact, or fact substantiated by one source instead of a more nutritious plethora of trusted sources.
Journalism should rate PR agencies for the truthfulness and not truthiness of their information, whilst recognising that a problem shared may be a problem halved. Truth can get back in the game. But the competition is stiff these days.” (Media Guardian)
Julia Hobsbawm, chief executive of Editorial Intelligence
May 29, 2006 by Colin
You’d like Lululemon. It’s a crunchy granola kind of high-end leisure wear chain based in Vancouver. The stores have a nice open design with plenty of piles of warm fuzzy workout clothes to touch, fondle and hold to your cheek. The clothing labels are clear and emphatic. The staff is well-trained and practices what it preaches. In materialistic terms, the chain emphasizes its links to yoga and holistic well-being, all the while charging you $59 for a t-shirt.
Their approach to public relations is refreshing – it’s been dubbed “community relations” inside the company and relies on individual stores managing and promoting local relationships through activities like sponsoring local yoga classes. Promotions are distinctly local – like window displays that make a political statement or encourage you to take up yoga.
“We’ve decentralized marketing,” says community relations manager Sara Gardiner. “The emphasis is on stores being active in their communities.” Every two weeks, community relations director Eric Petersen hosts an hour-long conference call with each store’s community relations representative on the line, in order to share best practices and ensure everyone is on the same page.” (Canadian Business)
Stores feature a rack of corkboard displays for local holistic practioners, fitness coaches, yoga instructors and others to post information – as well as personal collages prepared by each member of the store staff.
My only complaint? It’s hard to shop there if you’re not a fellow traveller or true believer. The pressure gets to you. Paco Underhill has discussed the effect of the “butt brush” factor on browsers in a store – if displays and merchandise are packed so closely that shoppers have to brush against each other to pass, shoppers will leave the store.
Well, I think the “butt brush” factor can also be applied to the feeling you get just milliseconds before an eager (and hot) Lululemon employee approaches you to preach the gospel according to Luon fabric, or the benefits of soy. The problem isn’t the first time you’re pitched the product benefits – it’s the second or third time. They’re that engaged in the product and the brand.
But I’m not. I just like the clothes.
May 26, 2006 by Colin
David Byrne may have begun by talking about album cover art, but his observation applies to any creative discipline struggling to deal with an interactive and interconnected online environment. While some may mock the pastel colours and rounded corners that characterize Web 2.0 apps (myself included), at least online conversations are finally moving beyond the linear chronology inherited from BBS discussion groups.
” … The role of graphic designers will change. Rather than being called upon to create one or two iconic images that are emblematic of an artist and a new product their job will be to imagine sets of links, connections and relationships…. and to make those visually enticing, fun and rewarding. I can’t imagine what exactly that might be, but it will be whole lot more than LP sleeves. …” (David Byrne’s journal)
Too bad all that Web 2.0 design was likely thought up by coders and marketers. Think what an actual designer could accomplish!
SpeakUp via Design Observer.
May 26, 2006 by Colin
Roger Martin, business professor and consultant, speaks to the intersection of design and strategic planning – with surprising insight for marketers and communicators grappling with the rigour and market targeting demanded by a “long tail” economy:
DL: They were hired to produce the marketing material?
RM: Right, but the company was bankrupt and could hardly afford to spend anything. The dilemma for Barb and Bob was that this property would only appeal to somebody rich, with a certain kind of sensibility. If they produced a cheap brochure to save money, it wouldn’t be effective, because the only kind of people who would consider buying a property like this would be put off by a cheap-looking brochure. So they had a dilemma, but instead of saying, “Oh My God, we can’t do it, give us triple the production budget”, they said, “Oh, this is kind of cool.”
After thinking about the challenge for awhile, they realized that this wasn’t a broad-based marketing campaign, as there weren’t many people interested in a property like this. So they didn’t think of the usual four-color press run of 10,000 brochures – instead only 50 or 75 would suffice. And that insight transported them into the handmade category. They came up with the concept of an old photo album that your parents might have had at their cottage, with covers made out of birch bark and laced together with a leather thong. They made high-quality color photocopies of actual photos, and used those old-fashioned black corner pieces to mount them. They even decorated the cover with a real wild bird feather. The thing looked fantastic. They ended up winning all sorts of awards for it, and it came in perfectly on budget. Bob was all excited about how he had found the right feather and all these things.
To me that was the incredible a-ha moment, which is that Bob and Barb wouldn’t have enjoyed it half as much if the clients had released the constraints. What made it so cool was the tough constraints and the need for coming up with some kind of creative resolution that was out-of-the box, something completely different that nobody else would have thought of.
DL: So it’s a completely different point of view [from business thinking] in terms of the approach to problem solving.
RM: Yes, but even one step before problem solving – the approach to the entire task, which is, “I’m not going to get bummed out by the constraints; I’m going to get invigorated!”
May 25, 2006 by Colin
Paul Harvey, master salesman. Ten years ago, I was working as a media analyst preparing the morning clippings package, summarizing media coverage of interest to my department, and downloading the abbreviated NYT from Pointcast. I had to be at work at 4:30, so that meant the early morning broadcast of Paul Harvey’s “the end of the story” was a regular part of my day.
The intonation. The pacing. The delivery. The man can sell BBQ sauce to Napoleon and Snowball.
Forbes magazine discusses Harvey’s capabilities as a salesman and endorser, and offers us a wonderful simile:
” … Harvey, 87, has been on the air since 1933. He has delivered more pregnant pauses than a rhetorical obstetrician. …” (Forbes)
Man, that could be a Beasties lyric!
May 24, 2006 by Colin
May 24. Victoria Day up here in Canada. The rule of thumb is usually “no white shoes before Memorial Day”, but we get a jump on the official start to summer. As Joey says, “commence the wearing of the white pants.”
My treat to you: a video that has always meant summer to me. Honeymoon Suite’s Wave Babies, filmed in beautiful Sandbanks Provincial Park. Keep an eye peeled for the parachute pants, oversized tshirts, teased hair, and keyboard axe.
May 24, 2006 by Colin
The biggest challenge for blog authors is creating a unique “voice”: what is the identity you wish to portray? The values you want to embody? The personality traits your writing will personify (albeit in shallow two-dimensional form)? As the blog format morphs from a personal and interactive medium to a corporate communications vehicle, it will prove increasingly difficult to maintain a common “voice” across a stable of authors contributing to a corporate blog.
A “voice” is especially difficult for an amalgam blog to maintain. By amalgam I mean a blog fed by multiple authors, all trying to work through one common identity. Like Strumpette.* In one particularly testy exchange over the last thirty six hours, Strumpette’s “Amanda Chapel” character has posted comments ranging in tone from vitriolic to apologetic to dismissive.
Strumpette is a unique character, created in part to shake, rattle and roil the insular “PR blogging” community.
Corporate blogs, on the other hand, need to be better managed. Not in great detail, and not to the point of censorship. Rather, an effective corporate blog needs to identify its vision at the outset, and explain how the community of authors assigned to the blog will be working towards that vision.
Acknowledge that different voices will be expressing themselves, and identify how those voices will contribute to the discussion. What is their individual background? What are their professional and personal preoccupations? (To a point – who needs to know about the VP’s fondness for vacations in Thailand?) Why should we listen to them? Believe them? Trust them?
With careful blog design, category identification and tag selection, a conversation can be maintained across a number of authors – to the benefit of the reader as well as the mother ship paying the bills.
* – “Also, for the record, as has been written variously, “Amanda” is comprised of a group of people, friends and colleagues, the majority of which are women. ” Strumpette
May 23, 2006 by Colin
Is a public relations counsellor’s primary motivation to “make their client look good?” That was the point offered during a favoured podcast this week, and I found myself disagreeing quite animatedly with my car dashboard.
On a superficial level, PR counsellors are responsible for making sure their clients look good. A sustained and positive corporate, brand or personal image is always the desired result.
Nonetheless, an effective agency or in-house communicator should prepare their clients for any circumstance. That can include glowing puff pieces in the trades, a smooth quarterly call, and a glamorous product launch. It can also cover vital logistics delays, product recalls and labour unrest – not to mention marital discord.
The real test of the relationship formed between client and counsellor comes in those moments of pressure. Will a kowtowing desire for approbation (or a simplistic sense of politesse) prompt a communicator to minimize the challenges that will have to be faced before digging out of a negative public image? Or has the client been prepared, conditioned, warned that effective public relations sometimes means taking a couple of punches and living to see another day?
May 18, 2006 by Colin
A fulsome and detailed discussion of integrating marketing, public relations, not-for-profit management and membership relations can be found in “Coordinating Communications: Media Consistency strengthens co-op branding,” from the latest issue of Cooperative Grocer magazine. I’ll tease you with only a snippet (really, there’s quite a bit more good advice in the article itself):
“… An archival approach can be helpful. Each time you work on generating content, consider it part of a flexible archive in which brand elements are constantly being added and updated.
For example, a relationship with a local farmer may result in an invitation to her land, where photos can be taken for ads, articles, and your website. Your conversation will generate quotes that she can approve or correct, and these will help you write a grower profile. An in-depth article in your print newsletter (which can be posted to your website as a PDF file) can be reshaped into a web teaser, with links to both the newsletter and the farmers own website.
Its important to reinforce these efforts with store staff. A version of the grower profile can be directed to your staff newsletter, with a reminder to check out the longer piece. Additional notes from your produce manager might communicate operational details about the growers wares and when they are delivered.
A link in your e-newsletter might call attention to the grower again, with an announcement that her sunflowers are now available in the store. Maybe there is an interview on radio, or a short television ad emphasizing local. Visual merchandising elements result in a display near the product, and a poster or handout is available for outreach. Over time, a meaningful relationship is forged that enriches both your and the vendors brand. …”
May 18, 2006 by Colin
A refreshing couple of days, that MESH conference in Toronto. There’s a danger in designing a conference around the obsessions of a large number of fanatics, afficionados, enthusiasts, devotees, and hangers-on. In most cases, the result is a packed agenda of seminars and “break-out” sessions where ideas and themes work in tight concentric circles, with little air for real introspection or iconoclasm. Group think at its most dynamic.
Down in the bowels of the MaRs building, however, MESH pulled together an amazing group of optimists, visionaries, fat bulging wallets and the men that carry them, hard chargers and philosophical fellow travellers. Community, communication, transparency were the topics discussed by all – only a few really, desperately, wanted to know how to monetize it.
The environment encouraged multi-layered discussion and commentary (like the #irc discussion projected over the heads of the “How to Engage the Blogosphere” presenters), as well as outright challenge.
Here’s a synopsis of the conference, quoting IBM’s Todd Watson:
“… If you want to reach them as a marketer, give them straight talk, not platitudes. If you want to involve them in your brand, don’t lie about your product’s excellence. Instead, be honest about its faults, and demonstrate to them that you’re taking some of that money you used to spend on marketing and putting it back into making the product better.
What a concept!
Because if you don’t, and your product isn’t any good, they’re going to make sure the rest of the world knows about it — and I do mean the world — in about three seconds. And there won’t be much you can do about it except watch the Google queries exponentially multiply and the sales drop like a lead weight off the Empire State Building. [shurely you mean the CN Tower?]
I couldn’t agree more. All I need now is an Orwellian out-of-the-box enterprise solution to quickly bring my colleagues around to the new mythology.
In the meanwhile, I’m staring at a desk covered in GTD flowcharts, Covey checklists, coloured folders, varying sizes of Moleskine notebooks, and the latest DiYPlanner.
May 16, 2006 by Colin
Day two of the MESH conference. A roomful of serial entrepreneurs, marketing types, online advertising specialists, public relations hacks (agency, corporate and us government types) and venture capitalists (who, you should know, hog the microphone during the interactive sessions).
The recurring themes, often not stated explicitly:
- why are readers avoiding my treeware publications?
- news aggregators are the devil. Damn the readers they send to my site!
- how can I monetize my blog without mortgaging my first born to Larry and Sergei?
- I’ve got a Web 2.0 app with nice rounded corners and a pastel palette: how can I clear the $85k overdraft on my Visa card and look cool to my friends?
- please don’t mention intellectual property issues until I’ve found an angel investor or convinced Paul Kedrosky to buy in.
- We, meaning the conference attendees and 5% of internets users, “get” social media. When will the rest of the world realize how brilliant, energizing, innovative and effervescent these new tools can make US ALL feel?
Unfortunately, Steve‘s session was nearly hijacked by his side comment that character blogs are useless. Turns out a lot of people see value in character blogs. All I could visualize was a mascot smackdown, with Steve in the middle. Sort of like that Jackass episode.
The fundamental questions for many attendees: “Does my elevator pitch improve after five free drinks?” and “Now that I have their business card, can I add them to my “provocative thoughts newsletter” and business pitch listserv?”
May 13, 2006 by Colin
Before there was MySpace and other social media, there were fan clubs and fanzines. If you had a personalized desktop, it meant you had plastered your desk with stickers and magazine covers of your favourite star, then covered it with plastic sheeting. The only custom ringtone popularly available was fifteen seconds of hissing and static as you waited for your bootleg cassette to wind around to the first track.
Back in the day, the only two-way interaction between a celebrity and a fan involved a lot of mail. Physical mail. Waiting on the porch for the mailman after school kind of mail. Newsletters. Christmas postcards. Envelopes stamped “with love from Olivia” or “from Leif.” “Autographed” posters from Bo Derek.
Those of us “of a certain age” remember Leif Garrett. His chest was bared in almost every one of his appearances in early celebrity magazines like Teen Beat. It was an eerie contrast to the hirsuite images of Barry Gibb and Abba’s Benny and Bjorn.
His fan club included a membership card, a fanzine and a “welcome message” 45rpm record from Leif, as we can see over at as ShortTermMemoryLoss.
An excerpt from the 45:
“Before I leave you, on this recording, that is.
I want to thank you for being so wonderful.
It’s fans like you who make me smile from my heart.
I can take it, just about any place.
It’s one of my favourite things to do.
And I’ve had a few opportunities to take it out.“
End of recording
I have NO IDEA what the boy meant by that. Maybe it was the heroin talking.
May 11, 2006 by Colin
Despite all the initial carping, I think MESH is shaping up to be a very interesting event – May 15 and 16 in Toronto.
Maybe I’ll see you there!