Wave Babies, lyin’ on the sand

05/24/06

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.

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Internal Comms and a merger: applying a reality filter

04/26/05

Now, in the past I’ve written some internal communications materials related to restructuring, and the “Translation From PR-Speak to English of Selected Portions of Adobes FAQ Regarding Their Acquisition of Macromedia” from Daring Fireball is accurate – and funny.

    Q: What happens to the Macromedia brand?

    Adobe A: Adobe recognizes the strong equity of the Macromedia brand. That said, it makes great business sense for a company the size of the combined company to align behind a single corporate brand. Over time, Macromedia products will transition to the Adobe brand. Adobe expects to keep and continue investing in key Macromedia product brands.

    Translated A: The Macromedia brand is dead.

    Thanks to Doc for the pointer.

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Cutting edge portable music design

09/04/10

New music format. Breakthroughs in portable music technology. A consumer products company effectively integrates technlogical innovation, industrial design and a novel user interface to break open a whole new market segment.

Of course, I’m talking about 1974 and a portable 8-track player.

Panasonic’s “Dynamite 8″ 8-Track player was a choice piece of consumer electronics with unprecendented music portability and a clean and bright modern design. It’s still sought after, the focus of bidding wars every time one appears on eBay.

Even better, the dealer prospectus promised a wide range of marketing support for this great new product: a big magazine buy (Seventeen, Hot Rod and other demographically appropriate pubs), four months’ worth of TV buys in the fall schedule, a full package of TV, radio and print templates for dealers, and an EARTH SHATTERING COUNTER DISPLAY.

And it wasn’t just 8-tracks – just look at the range of electronics Panasonic released as part of the same line: portable radios, phone handsets and alarm clocks.

But good design will only carry your product – and your company – so far. Especially if the underlying music format is inflexible. While the 8-Track format offered improved music portability, indexing and easy song selection, it still had its ass kicked by the cassette and the relatively messy but creatively inspired home mix tape.

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Cheetos in motion

05/24/10

In the June edition of Wired, we discover how Cheetos are made.

” … the craggy bits are then spit out of the extruder, flying 3 feet at high velocity before hitting a safety cage and dropping onto a conveyor belt …”

And THEN it’s fried!

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Wonder Woman Debra Winger Remix

06/24/09

Wonder Woman. Bill Maxwell. Wonder Girl. Who even remembers that Debra Winger was Wonder Girl?

What was that about Bill Maxwell? That’s right. This is a remix with “Greatest American Hero.”

The moment when Wonder Woman deflects bullets with her wrist bands? Almost as priceless as Linda and Debra flying around in a plastic jet plane.

Oh – and doesn’t Queen Hippolyte look like Lindsay Lohan – in about 15 years?

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Two Tone design you can wear

05/02/09

Fred Perry Special Edition shirts

Twenty-six years ago, there were some fairly clear-cut fashion choices to be made by the average high school student. Preppie, rocker, punk, townie, slob, nerd, idiosyncratic yet creative soul, mod, skinhead, loner, doper, music obsessive, new romantic, dealer, kid from the backwoods of Northern Ontario, artist and normal tormented teenager. You could find some Euro douches. There were even a few vegans, but our classmates tended to suspect they were actually witches.

In many ways, we were actually living Pretty in Pink – the Molly Ringwald/Jon Cryer Fred Perry paean to awkward relationships and extreme economic differences.  Among the mods, we went to tremendous lengths to dress like our fathers did – in 1968. Among our cultural touchstones were a number of English brand names including Fred Perry, the venerable English tennis supplier, sportswear manufacturer Lonsdale, and several smaller designers.

This from mod/ska stalwarts the Specials’ own anniversary site:

” …First, they looked fucking great. If you weren’t there, Britain was transformed into a mail order version of The Wailin Wailers album cover almost overnight, though it probably didn’t know it at the time. Before the birth of the woeful sports casual, the working class dressed up for the weekend and the easily attainable and striking evocation of mid 60’s Jamaica was too irresistible for those who found punk’s sartorial alienation just that bit too alienating ..”

How did a bunch of teenagers from Ottawa pick up on the music varieties, cultural signals and fashion markers that helped to define the second wave of mod? Bootlegged concert tapes (still have some in my basement), copies of British magazines like The Face, gigs by local mod, ska, Northern Soul and 60s R&B bands, the rare video of old Ready, Steady, Go! or Top of the Pops appearances, and an s*load of  British and Canadian ‘zines.

In June, Fred Perry will be releasing three new styles in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the arrival of two tone band The Specials (if you’re under the age of 30, you probably know them from their collaboration with Lilly Allen). That’s the bespoke logo over there – the longstanding crown of laurel leaves, but rendered in both white and black, as well as a underlying two tone patter.

Fred Perry has set up a site to take advance orders for the shirts – and its design mimics the clear sans serif text, open layout and tonal clarity of late 70s and early 80s two tone records. It even looks like it was ripped from a zine!

(Don’t tell anyone, but the same design firm that drew up the Fred Perry ecommerce site designed this and The Specials’ anniversary site. The Specials even have a blog!)

For more on the two tone design that characterized releases from the Specials and the Beat, Marco on the Bass has tracked down some interviews with two who brought together the look: Jerry Dammers and David Storey.

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When adequate apparently is enough

03/26/09

Spotted these two restaurants in Leslieville, a neighbourhood in Toronto. I have no idea whether they deliver on their admittedly cautious brand promise. Has Leslieville been stung by high flying and high promising food options in the past, or are they simply looking for a predictable dinner time option?

signsthatspeakthetruth

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I Am A Capable Strategist and Thoughtful Person

09/09/08

Let me begin by drawing an analogy: this will prove you and I have a common cultural frame of reference that allows me to effectively explain a contemporary but minor development in the evolution of social media in a manner that you will understand and find appealing.

This cultural frame usually revolves around one of three axes:

  • 80s movies or music (of which John Hughes and New Wave are subsets)
  • A citation from one of: Office Space, Glengarry Glen Ross, or the Judd Apatow oeuvre
  • A reference to a similarly obscure yet momentarily popular applications from either 2005 or 2000.

Now that we have a shared understanding, I will support my argument by making a tenuous link to social theory, literary criticism, existential philosophers or post-modern artists. This will reassure you that I can move beyond simple analogy and am capable of applying cognitive frameworks to the issue under consideration.

If I’m unsure of my interpretation, I will link to a Wikipedia article or mention that I last studied the point in university.

At this point, I will need to tie my budding argument into a contemporary narrative. After all, you the reader needs right here, right now to keep on reading. This means one of two things: a link to a more prominent blog that has already staked out ground and an opinion on the issue, or a direct citation from a report in a mass media publication.

Unless I’m an economist, you will never see me link to a more considered examination of the issue in an academic journal. This is largely because academic journals are long and hard to read, but can also be explained by the firewalls that keep me from reaching subscription-only material.

Anyway – back to the contemporary narrative. If I have bounced onto this issue from an MSM report, I will take issue with the reporting. There is no value to me, my reputation as a capable strategist and thoughtful person or my employer in reaffirming the work of a more informed and professional reporter.

If I’m deriving inspiration from another blogger’s insight, I will take one of two tacks: I will be 87% in agreement, or I will cockblock their argument. In either circumstance, I will be demonstrating that I am, in no way, a dogsbody or a yes man. I am a man of ideas, a man of thought, a man to be considered a thoughtful and capable strategist.

Having established that I am well informed, educated enough to draw historic comparisons and critical enough to avoid parrotting the work of others, I will present a thesis for why the issue under consideration has arrived at this point. This thesis will draw upon three things:

  • my experience, however limited, with a particular technology still in alpha
  • my conversations with other strategists and gurus
  • trends derived from online analytical apps

This thesis will present a forward-looking statement that is sufficiently vague that I will not get in trouble with the SEC nor anyone who decides to conduct a semi-annual retrospective evaluation of my predictions and assessments.

IT WILL, however, claim that the issue under consideration will have significant impact on the future prospects of a) the public relations industry b) publicly traded consumer goods companies c) the future of one politician in particular or d) the advertising industry.

Now, as a capable strategist, I will take a moment to point out that others have taken issue with the position I am currently arguing. I will reference a high profile blog, even if I have to dig deep into the comments to find a point contrary to my own.

I will then hurredly summarize my position, for a variety of reasons:

  • it’s a wobbly house of cards, truly understandable only when read on a smart phone in traffic
  • I cannnot extend the argument without revealing that it was lifted directly from Wired and the Economist
  • if I stretch the logic of my main thesis much farther, it will disintegrate like a stick of chewing gum from a pack of 1983 O-Pee-Chee’s
  • the Lavalife commercial just came on tv.

Having established my bona fides with my insightful and prescient thinkpiece, I will tend to the comment fields like a Chinese democracy activist who had the temerity to actually apply for a protest permit during the Olympics.

There, people of a similar mind will be in 87% agreement, or will cockblock me. Or, if they’re Amanda Chapel, they will actually make constructive comments that point out the holes in my argument and question my ability to wield a keyboard without significant instruction.

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Use of Space in the Olympics Bird’s Nest

08/08/08

SPOILER ALERT: for those of you watching the Olympics Opening Ceremonies on time delay (courtesy of NBC), you may want to skip this post.

I was truly impressed by the use of space during the Olympics Opening Ceremonies this morning/evening. The Bird’s Nest is already an impressive facility, but the three hour performance managed to maximize use of the stadium – and the neighbourhood around the facility.

We’ve come to expect Olympics Opening Ceremonies to include several stock scenes:

  • shots of the Jacques Rogge, master puppeteer and apologist for bullies
  • shots of the head of state waving
  • several nods to the cultural history of the host country
  • panoramic views of the happy audience
  • a tip of the hat to the previous host country
  • an endless parade of athletes, some breaking the fourth wall by filming the jumbotrons that are showing the broadcast of the athletes themselves
  • Prince Albert of Monaco

Today’s performance moved well beyond that setlist, and even made the aerial acrobatics from Athens seem like a second troupe Cirque de Soeil performance.

To begin with, the Bird’s Nest was treated as an essential component of the fireworks show – at one point, the outside overhead view made it look like a flaming volcano – rather than simply a reception stand for the show itself.

29 fireworks displays, shaped like bare footprints, ignited in sequence to draw a physical link between the Forbidden City and the stadium – an important consideration, given the standard flyby helicopter shot would not have worked at night.

I admit, the hundreds of traditional drummers, while impressive, were a tad imperialistic. The raising of the Chinese flag was definitely militaristic – although I think some of those soldiers keep in shape by speed walking (it’s got the same unnatural hip movement).

The use of dancers and an illuminated and moving scroll, however, took the action off the stadium floor, as did the flying Olympic Rings.

Similarly, the salute to the invention of movable type avoided the routine floor-level spectacle so common at Super Bowl halftimes.

Let’s not forget Liu Huan and Sarah Brightman performing the predictably saccharine Olympics theme atop a giant lantern – which was later the set of mid-air routines reminiscent of the opening sequence of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.

All in all, an engrossing performance that set some new and outrageously expensive standards for future Olympics.

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Not as much fun as the promise

07/24/08

I took this picture because I thought the sign was funny: then I noticed the extreme contrast between the marketing promise and the industrial waste lying around it. The adult toy store, obviously, is undergoing renovation.

But some of that industrial detritus isn’t related to the construction.

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For your next team building exercise

07/21/08

You’ve been there. You’ve got a small budget but you want big impact for your next team building exercise. You need a motivational speaker that will make a big impression and possibly knock their socks off.

Well, do I have a deal for you.

“… King Kong Bundy, the 400-pound behemoth known for once breaking a midget wrestler’s back. Flying Bundy in and putting him up at the La Quinta will cost $1,600 …” (Cleveland Scene)

Of course, that cost is just to fly the man in to make a celebrity appearance a minor league wrestling event in Ohio. The speech might be extra.

On a personal note, King Kong Bundy and Hulk Hogan were the two wrestlers I always chose when playing the stand-up arcade game Wrestlemania. And, for your viewing pleasure, the Bundy/Hogan cage match from Wrestlemania 2 (with the added pleasure of over-the-top colour from Jesse “the body” Ventura.

[tags] King Kong Bundy, team building, teambuilding, motivational speaker, speaker [/tags]

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My first lesson in media analysis – George Carlin

06/23/08

Never a lesson in media analysis – that’s me. Never a class in evaluating media sources, identifying themes or performing content analysis. My only teacher? George Carlin.

Seriously. For a period in the mid-Sixties, George Carlin disguised his growing irritation with mainstream culture with highly effective satire. Social commentary that was still palatable to the folks who tuned into Johnny Carson or Ed Sullivan.

This was before he grew a beard, started swearing during his act and began getting kicked out of his Vegas shows.

Instead, Carlin cut right into contemporary attitudes towards sensitive topics like the war in Vietnam, increasing recreational drug use, and the Cold War – with a hilarious fake radio newscasts.

“Now I imagine that some of you were surprised by the weather over the weekend … especially if you watched my show Friday night, man ….”

And that was how I learned to question the authenticity of news reports, evaluate their underlying assumptions, and infer their greater impact on society.

Thanks, George!

[tags] George Carlin, media analysis, Al Sleet [/tags]

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Stephen Fry can enlighten you

03/30/08

May I suggest a podcast Not one that arrives with any regularity, is informed by any editorial calendar or makes any effort to blather on about the benefits of social media?

No, I’m not talking about American Copywriter – but you should subscribe to that fantastic piece of work as well.

Instead, Stephen Fry seems to be applying his incredible range of interests and inspirations to a podcast – he’s up to episode 2 now. Here is his explanation why the podcast is only available on iTunes:

“… I am afraid that no host that we can find is capable of dealing with the 1 terabyte plus of traffic engendered without crashing. And so we turned to the might of Apple to help us out. The problem we always return to is bandwidth.

Bandwidth, bandwidth, bandwidth. Who would not prefer to pootle along the country lanes in a flowered gypsy caravan, rather than blast down the motorway in a colossal juggernaut? Trouble is, when you’ve a certain number of deliveries to make a van just isn’t big enough. Bandwidth, bandwidth, bandwidth.

I sound like a 30s schoolgirl with a lisp. Bandwidth, bandwidth, bandwidth. What is she saying? Something to do with sandwiches perhaps? Or bandits. Bandits eating sandwiches and wearing bandages? We’ll never know. …”

Fry has always wielded a wonderful vocabulary. Here are some excerpts from this one podcast:

  • braying dukes and vomiting ladettes
  • being designated fifty types of watery twat
  • It’s lazy, easy and gives us a warm glow
  • a great maggot in my brain
  • this is not a Nick Hornby Man List
  • my ability to froth, frolic and gibber in time to music

It’s well worth a listen, people.

[tags] Stephen Fry, American Copywriter, ladettes, british culture [/tags]

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Old school book – blogging and marketing

03/18/08

While I’m on a publishing bent, I think I’ll resurrect something I first prepared in the fall of 2005: Incorporating Blogs into the Marketing Mix (.pdf)

The examples are a little stale, but the rationale underlying this 10 page booklet still makes sense.

“… Viewed single-mindedly, blogs are an entryway to an active conversation about your products, your pricing, your retail outlets, or your brand. Bloggers are dissecting your hiring policies, your new store placement, your holiday specials and the nutritional content of your new sandwich.

Bloggers’ll turn on you like a hungry ‘gator

Marketers, however, have to approach this group carefully. Following in the path lit by the Cluetrain Manifesto, bloggers and their readers value transparency, honesty, two-way conversation and above-board behaviour. Any attempt to illicitly manufacture buzz, if discovered, can provoke a maelstrom of negative chatter – which can eventually generate enough interest to be picked up by more mainstream outlets. They aren’t your usual consumer: they won’t be herded, and they won’t eat everything you feed them …”

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I wonder if he still has a career…

02/06/08

I’m working my way through Chuck Thompson’s Smile When You’re Lying, a wonderful and funny evisceration of the props and trickery of travel writing by a well-established travel writer. Here are two excerpts:

“… but I’d endured worse during all those Presidential Fitness Awards I’d narrowly missed in junior high. You want to kill a kid’s self-esteem, throw some fucking compulsory pull-ups at him and deny him a medal, three years running …”

“…Travel writers are a lot like recovering alcoholics. All they can talk about is their own trip, and it almost always boils down to the same story…”

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Style Council or the Jam?

12/21/07

Here’s an incredibly personal and limited comment, which will likely only be understood by a group of friends I hung out with in the mid-80s.

Chuck Thompson, the author of Smile When You’re Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer, was asked what music he would choose for a road mix to accompany specific chapters in his book. This is his note for one chapter:

“… “Headstart for Happiness” — The Style Council (video)

With a certain age group of British men, it’s possible to start a fight simply by walking into a London pub and declaring that The Style Council was in fact a better band than The Jam. (True, by the way.) [Author Thompson’s] life in Japan fired [his] suicidal imagination like no other place and there were dark weekends there when only [his] discovery of Paul Weller’s new and improved incarnation pulled me through.”

I think that our small group could still spend several hours debating the merits of post-punk Paul versus synth-pop Paul.

And part of that debate would centre around the proposition that Mick Talbot was Paul Weller’s Yoko Ono. Discuss.

h/t again to LHB

[tags] Style Council, Jam, Paul Weller, mod, Lisgar Collegiate Institute [/tags]

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Poll reveals marketers still clueless

11/27/07

Keith, the new honcho at com.motion*, was kind enough to send over the results of their exclusive survey of 444 senior managers and marketers. As Sean pointed out, it’s always helpful to have detailed public opinion research on any aspect of our little marketing and public relations world – especially social media.

Especially when the results seem to expose senior executives lying about their familiarity with social media. To be fair, they could be glaringly unaware how little they know about new technology. Or, they could be underestimating the extent of their clients’ knowledge.

Even worse – senior communications advisors revealing – rather embarassingly – that they are falling behind the curve. As specialists, they should be AHEAD of the curve.

Later on in the poll, it seems that the long tail only applies to online activities. Overall, an intention to increase spending on social media does mean an overall increase in budgets, but some managers and marketers responded that they would cut back on direct marketing costs. That makes sense – abandon the tried-and-true targeted marketing for the shiny and new.

* not this com.motion.

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Lululemon, CSR, and product attributes

11/18/07


This is a point about corporate social responsibility, using consumer marketing and Canadian company Lululemon as an example. While consumers are willing to invest a fair amount of faith and goodwill in a company without proof of a detailed CSR plan, at the first sign of a crisis, they tend to look for evidence, independent testing and videotape of manufacturing facilities with happy and well-educated workers.

Which brings us to the upscale active wear chain Lululemon.

Seaweed or no seaweed? Health benefits from the product or no benefits? That’s the question the New York Times asked this week about a fabric called VitaSea and the products made of the fabric sold by the company. The newspaper (after a tip from a shortseller of Lululemon stock) had tested two of their products for presence of seaweed, as claimed. There didn’t seem to be any.

The company’s first response?

When asked about Lululemon’s product tags and the claims about vitamins and minerals, [Chip Wilson, founder, product designer and board chair] said, “That’s coming from the manufacturer. If you feel the fabric, it feels a lot different.”

And the quotes got worse:

Director for products and design. She said the company would test the fabric in the future.“We will be diving in deeper, so that our educators on the floor can answer those tough questions,” Ms. Schweitzer said. “Right now, we are relying on the mill and SeaCell’s information.”

That’s not the best of answers. Just ask Nike or Mattel how “the manufacturer is responsible” works as a rebuttal to criticism of product quality. Which must be one reason why Canada’s Competition Bureau got involved.

The company responded quickly, noting that they regularly ask an independent lab to test their materials and products, and that they did contain fabric derived from seaweed.

Still, you have to wonder why that fact wasn’t communicated to a BSD like the New York Times when they first asked. (a point Eric also brought up)

By the end of the week, the Competition Bureau had struck an agreement with Lululemon to stop making claims of health benefits for the fabric.

“Those claims have to be scientific and they have to be provable,” said Andrea Rosen, acting deputy commissioner of the bureau. “The onus is on the advertiser, not the government, to prove that the tests are adequate prior to making the claims.” (NYT)

Bob Meers, Lululemon’s CEO, issued a statement after the Competition Bureau announcement, noting that:

“In order to ensure the integrity of our product labelling, we are conducting a review of the therapeutic attributes described on all product hang tags.”

That seems to mean the score is product quality = 1, product attributes = 0.

Overall, their products are better made and more stylish than other active wear products on the market. Which means this contretemps probably won’t affect the company in the long term, since they continue to expand into the United States and abroad, winning converts and customers at the same time.

[tags] Lululemon, Chip Wilson, VitaSea,corporate social responsibility [/tags]

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Furthermore – where the conversation starts to go really wrong

10/19/07

Strumpette is being replaced by Furthermore. Like Eric, I had mixed feelings about the persona called Strumpette.

There is a place in the world for effective and well-targeted satire. It’s usually most influential when focused on a particular issue or community – like Valleywag or Spy.

Satire tends to fall apart and draw criticism when it is used to further barely concealed personal vendettas, or where the level of humour and insight varies among the authors.

It has been announced that Strumpette will be replaced by a site called Furthermore. Brian Connolly, who some have argued was the puppet master behind Strumpette all along, provides this explanation for the new name:

“…”furthermore” was selected as it captures the point where a debate gets definitive. Connolly said, “It is the exact moment when the conversation concludes amicably or somebody gets punched in the nose.”…”

I completely disagree. “Furthermore” is a bridge in a conversation, the point where a boring pedant continues arguing their point long after anyone else is interested or even listening. Similar bridges include:

  • “let me finish”
  • “I’ll tell you”
  • “just one more point”

Every time someone has used “furthermore” in a conversation with me, they were well into a diatribe and not very interested in my point of view.

Actually, “furthermore” was usually flourished when I showed an interest in interrupting the speaker or making a point of my own.

It’s a rhetorical tool used to stifle conversation, not encourage it.

Revision: I just looked at Furthermore’s About page. I’m being unnecessarily polite. The concept is bullshit. Satire is fine, but when you add exaggerated masculine bravado and fight imagery, you get bullying.

[tags] Strumpette, Amanda Chapel, Furthermore, PR 2.0, PR is Dead [/tags]

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How wire rims bridged gaps in the market

10/06/07

Spinners or wire rims? It seems that spinners are winning the fashion wars, even in suburban Ottawa. Wire rims are back where they always belonged: on antique British roadsters and your grandfather’s Cadillac.

Over the past fifteen years, Dayton Wire Wheels, a premier manufacturer of wire rims, has profited from the growing popularity of their custom wheels among rappers and urban auto customizers.

This success built on an already sizable and reliable fan base among the custom lowriders popular on the west coast of the United States. Not to mention their century-old business with luxury customers.

Other brands have found themselves stranded and abandoned by their traditional clientèle after following urban fashions too closely (see Tommy Hilfiger): why not this company?

How did Dayton avoid the familiar cycle of boom and bust common to most fashionable accessories?

A recent feature in Cleveland Scene doesn’t offer many hints, other than noting a continuing loyalty from customers interested in bespoke wheels and custom rides:

“…Dayton’s factory wouldn’t soon join the other hollowed-out plants that dot the city. The company has managed to maintain its original high-end customers, Guilfoyle says. And it’s hoping to capitalize on the inner city’s new interest in Harley-Davidsons. Besides, they still have their loyal vatos in East L.A.

“Dayton is the wire wheel of status,” says Lowrider‘s Jeff Rick. “And it can’t be a lowrider without a wire wheel. I don’t see that going anywhere.”

Part of Dayton’s secret was diversifying their markets. Instead of relying on unprecedented success found through easy cross-promotion opportunities with rappers like Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, they sought out new markets for their custom rims.

Markets unlikely to rise and fall with the fortunes of urban music: playing upon the nostalgia of boomers picking up the “retro” Ford Thunderbird and P.T. Cruiser. Oh, and Harley Davidson buyers. And BMW lovers. And people obsessed with spending more time with their Jaguar mechanic than their spouse.

Dayton has always served niche markets, customers interested in customizing their individual automobiles and motorcycles – whether they were built in Detroit, England, Italy or Japan, or built by hand or by a robot.

It seems that the arrival of a new market segment – while exciting and flashy – did not distract the company from its overall long-term strategy.

They continued to serve clients interested in paying top dollar to personalize and customize their “ride.”

(They even have a blog for their street rod project)

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How brands changed my Toronto to Ottawa flight

08/10/07

Toronto to Ottawa. It’s a little hop of a flight. If you’re a big city, big plane kind of person, you fly from Ottawa to Toronto’s Pearson Airport. It’s a hub. It has hustle and bustle. Security guards with golf carts. $60 cab fare to make it from the airport to your meeting. A Cinnabon.

Me? I’m a small plane kind of person. I’ve always liked flying into Toronto City Centre Airport. It’s on an island in Toronto Harbour, only handles turboprop planes, and is only served by one airline. Yesterday, our 80 seat Bombardier regional plane had to wait to take off – behind a floatplane and a two seat Piper.

Up until a few years ago, City Centre (or just Island) Airport had a distinctively seedy feel. Under served by Air Canada, the terminal was a refit of a World War II era building. You got the feeling that the check-in staff were waiting out some sort of disciplinary action or probationary period – they had to graduate to a bigger airport. The waiting lounge had some untended plants, and when you went out to the airplane, you walked across the tarmac, even in winter.

To get to the airport, you had to cross a shipping canal by ferry – a dump of a ferry. Passengers walked onto the ferry, and stood out in the wind for the 5 minute crossing. I swear to god, one time it was me and a ride-on lawnmower making the crossing.

Once you made it to the “mainland” you were faced with not much of anything. In the 80s and 90s, the mouth end of the Harbour was dominated by industrial relics like the Canada Malting Silos and barely maintained old manufacturing buildings. The signs of gentrification and urban infill had begun, but there were giant voids in the urban skyline between high rise and condo development. The train yards dominated the landscape between the Harbour and downtown.

I used to enjoy walking from City Centre to downtown.

Well, Porter Airlines has changed all that. New terminal. New Uniforms. Happy and smily staff. A transit lounge with free Italian coffee machine and wifi.

The silos are still there – but make less impact thanks to a new air conditioned shuttle bus, a new two story ferry and a new ferry terminal (the terminal is nearly as long as the canal).

The walk out to the airplane? Covered and carpeted. Which somehow offends my Canadian sensibilities. After all, there’s a small community of post-war houses wedged onto one of these islands – people who managed to get out of their houses and commute to work by ferry every day without the help of covered walkways.

For years, Air Canada let City Centre survive on as little attention as possible, all the while running a schedule of regional flights to Ottawa and elsewhere. It was almost like arriving in Toronto by hitch-hiking: you were aware that others had arrived in far classier vehicles, and you were dumped off sort of near where you wanted to go.

And I liked it that way.

I may just have to go back to taking VIA Rail to get the same experience.

[tags] Toronto City Centre Airport, Toronto Island Airport, Porter Air [/tags]

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How to get a job

08/07/07

I’ve been spending more than a few hours lately interviewing candidates for two different jobs in my shop.

They’ve largely been reliable and competent folk.

But that’s not what I want.

I want you to knock my socks off. Bedazzle me. Demonstrate the staid and boring error of my ways.

I know the interview is a stressful experience, particularly an interview for a government job.

You’re forced to answer a blindingly obvious questions about priorities and respond to complicated scenarios.

You’re faced with two, three or four “interview board members” with blank stares on their faces. There’s no emotion in their eyes, no inflection in their voice. All the normal signs of emotional interaction are missing, all for fear of corrupting an impartial competition.

And they’re scribbling in detailed “evaluation grids” all the time.

Get over it people. It’s showtime. Your job interview is a combination of karaoke, high school science fair exhibit and that one exam you somehow passed in third year even though you may still have been drunk and definitely didn’t study for.

Why are you showing up? Do you want the job?

Mitch and Murray sent me. They want you to straighten up.

If you are applying for a job in communications in the government of Canada, it’s probably a good idea to have an acquaintance with the government’s communications policy.

If you’ve read the detailed job description, you should have an idea of the work involved. Try to imagine scenarios we might pose. Ask someone who’s done the job before. Pick up the phone – it’s not hard.

But more than that: do some creative thinking, people! How can this job be done better? How can this job be more fun? How can you ADD value to the job?

I don’t want to hire boring but competent people. I want to hire interesting people who will do the job well.

After all, we all have to work with you.

How are you going to bring energy to the interview? You don’t have to be a four star bullshitter. You just have to be engaged.

Ask questions. Not “what are your normal work hours?” Think about the job, the location, the organization. Surprise me.

Calm and quiet may be reassuring, but it is not energizing.

Laugh. Smile. Speak in more than a monotone. Bring a strange pen as a conversation starter.

When we ask “do you have any questions” … HAVE SOME!

Otherwise, you’re just going through the motions. You know it. And WE certainly know it.

But don’t be too strange, okay?

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Put this analogy machine in your pipe and smoke it

07/27/07

Once you find someone who gives good quote, you’ve got to hang onto them.

“He’s putting his money where is mouth is, and I like that,” Black said. “He’s got his own skin in the game, thinks out of the box, and seems to be one of those guys that takes the bull by the horns and just runs.” (AP)

That’s quite a handful of mixed analogies from retail analyst Jennifer Black, in response to the hiring of Canadian Glenn Murphy as Chairman and CEO of Gap. Murphy, you should know, has led a turn around in the fortunes of Shoppers Drug Mart, the largest drug chain in Canada. Here’s another fabulous quote:

“I think even their management is surprised with themselves and the home run they just hit,” said Jennifer Black … “You only see this once in a while where a company steps on the gas, hits all the cylinders and just flies. They are really flying.” (AP. 2004)

[tags] retail analyst, good quote, analogy [/tags]

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Facebook Update = Developing Murder Story

06/18/07

Well, the Ottawa Citizen is breaking new ground with its monitoring of Facebook profiles. Not only can social networks be helpful in drawing up an initial impression of a possible murder suspect, but a simple update on a Facebook profile can make for valuable additional column inches on a story that’s a little slow to develop. 

On Saturday, both the Citizen and the Ottawa Sun referred to a murder suspect’s online profiles while detailing his personal life. 

Today, the Citizen ran a story on the front of the City section detailing how someone had changed the young man’s Facebook profile early on Saturday morning. 

“…But Saturday morning, at 2:11 a.m., the online profile that Mr. Howard maintained on the social networking website, Facebook, changed. Under the category of “relationship status,” the profile was updated from “single” to “in a relationship.” He named an 18-year-old Ottawa woman as the person he was dating.

The woman, who says in her profile that she works at an Ottawa submarine sandwich shop, is more vague about her relationship status.

“In a relationship and it’s complicated,” her profile says…”

Monitoring Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites can often prove valuable for journalists (and identity theft specialists).

Still, I have to question whether a profile update is valuable enough to report – especially without more details.

In effect, the Citizen article was implying that the Facebook update may be related to the murder investigation. And maybe it is – if this case develops into something more complex, possibly involving the girlfriend.

At what point to disparate pieces of information become facts worthy of reporting in traditional media? Should a person’s online persona only be evaluated as a complete package with dozens, hundreds or thousands of online hints, notes, and facts?

Or can our online identities be broken down into individual actions and impressions?

I sure hope no-one is characterizing me by taking note of my Facebook status updates – they’re nonsense.

[tags] Facebook, MySpace [/tags]

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What’s in your Gartner Hype Cycle office?

05/30/07

Office vs. Gartner Hype Cycle

I’ve taken the Gartner Hype Cycle, and interpreted it by applying the typical objects you might find in a company office or cubicle during each phase of the cycle.

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Mashups, Expert Analysis and Keywords

04/28/07

Tag clouds. There’s your next content analysis tool. With Tagcrowd‘s “Alpha” service, you can easily analyze any text for recurring words and concepts. Obviously, tag clouds work best when applied to a large database: either a long speech or a quantity of smaller pieces.

For example, here’s a tag cloud of Canada’s 2006 Speech from the Throne:

It’s a useful tool to generate a first impression of a text or a presentation, but there are both advantages and drawbacks:

Drawbacks:

  • favours messaging over content
  • truly only measures repetition, not value, of words
  • overlooks key phrases and themes
  • doesn’t reflect logical or rhetorical progression of the text
  • doesn’t provide clues about context or how the text was received

Advantages:

  • shines a light on underlying tone (positive, negative, inspirational)
  • helps you understand the emotion being communicated (strong, responsive, dedicated, things like that)
  • provides a 50 word impression of the text and the intentions of its authors
  • much cheaper than contracted media analysis, with a similar level of accuracy

Tag clouds are also helpful in comparing texts. Over at pollster.com, you can see an analysis of the speeches delivered by the Democratic presidential candidates on Thursday night.

The breakthrough of TagCrowd is the easy capability to develop a tag cloud from any text – online or off line. This is a practical application of 2.0 technology to our everyday work as communicators and marketers.

As more web apps and mashups can be applied to offline tasks, these forms of technology will be integrated into the everyday work of all communicators and marketers – not just by early adopters and the technically saavy.

[tags] tag could, textual analysis, media analysis, word association [/tags]

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Quotes taken out of context

03/07/07

What are we talking about? Blogs? I present quotes taken out of context:

How do you think your work differs from traditional journalism? We’re taking the tools of journalism and applying them to people whom you wouldn’t normally apply them to — people who aren’t famous, people who aren’t powerful, people just like you and me.

What are you talking about? Journalism has always had human-interest stories. But a newspaper probably wouldn’t run an article where a cop remembers one weird incident with a squirrel when he was a rookie. That’s too far from any kind of normal news hook.

What’s so great about flashbacks to encounters with squirrels? We’re documenting things with no particularly uplifting social mission. The mission is that of an ambitious novel or movie: to point out universal feelings and moments.

Do you write fiction? I didn’t have any particular talent for fiction. I took a class in college.

Do you read fiction? No. No. No. No. I don’t know how to read. I get all my news from Jon Stewart everyday.

from: “Questions for Ira Glass, New York Times Magazine.” Talking about his NPR radio show, “This American Life.”

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A blogger questions his own self-worth …

02/14/07

Stuart Smalley loves you, you blogging fool

Stuart Smalley V/O: I deserve good things. I am entitled to my share of happiness. I refuse to beat myself up. I am an attractive person. I am fun to be with.

Announcer: “Daily Affirmation with Stuart Smalley”. Stuart Smalley is a caring nurturer, a member of several 12-step programs, but not a licensed therapist.

[open on Stuart giving himself a pep talk in his full-length mirror ]

Stuart Smalley: I’m going to write a terrific blog post today! And I’m gonna help people! Because I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and, doggonit, my 12 readers on Feedburner like me!

[turns to Live Writer window on his Lenovo laptop]

Hello, I’m Stuart Smalley! I’m still receiving some negative reaction from my post about Strumpette titled “There But For The Grace Of God Go I” and, I have to admit, it wasn’t my best writing … but that’s o-kay. I have to give myself permission to write a bad post every now and then. Especially if I spent the day sleeping until noon, then trolled gossip blogs and ate a box of Ding-Dongs.

There’s a lot of pressure in the blogosphere to write very well, especially among us self-help coaches. Before sitting down at my laptop, I lie on my parent’s sofa thinking, “What am I going to write about? The cat’s still asleep. I have nothing but good experiences at the mall. I haven’t eaten out in months. I haven’t even hurt myself accidentally. Everybody’s better than me. I’m not going to score any links or win any authority.”

All you other D-listers are not alone. Believe me, I know what it’s like, lying there, hard drive vibrating, thinking: “I’m a fraud. All I write are linkposts. Tomorrow, I’m going to be exposed for what I am, a big imposter. I just want to curl up and lay in bed all day and eat Fig Newtons.”

I am just a fool. I … I … don’t know what I’m doing. They’re gonna cancel the Adwords contract. My blog’s going to whither on the vine, my words are gonna go homeless. I’m gonna be penniless and twenty pounds overweight and no one will ever love me.

……

[majority of post simply adapted from the script for the Stuart Smalley interview with Michael Jordan. Stuart Smalley character originated by Al Franken on Saturday Night Live]

[tags] SNL, Stuart Smalley, blog criticism, blogger relations [/tags]

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Hedonic groceries … shopping carts and cucumbers

12/06/06

New in the world of market research and evaluation: testing the efficiency of shopping patterns in grocery stores. Still unexplored: the intended and unintended impacts of in-store media and marketing on the same shopping patterns.

Relatively novel research by a group of Wharton marketing academics attempts to gauge the efficiency of routes taken by grocery store patrons. The economists’ approach begins by applying the travelling salesman problem: what is the shortest route necessary to reach a list of destinations? This problem is evaluated using a multi-node database collected with the help of RFID-equipped shopping carts and register receipt analysis.

“We see that the produce and tobacco categories are over-represented in the [efficient] group. On the other hand, canned, ready-to-eat, and frozen food, among other products, tend to be over-represented in the [inefficient] group.This indicates that on average, shoppers who purchase prepared food products are generally less forward-looking than other shoppers when they construct their shopping paths.

At the surface, inferences like these may seem only tangentially relevant to managerial interest; however, if retailers can influence [shopper route efficiency] through advertising, in-store signage, etc., and hence affect the profits associated with various look-ahead patterns, this can become a useful managerial tool.”

Despite all their economic models, these researchers have yet to win any insight into how I navigate a grocery store. Driven by a basic list of essentials, I am also influenced by end cap displays, on-shelf couponing, private label discounting, a sketchy memory for shopping lists and a dangerous sense of adventure when it comes to sauces and bastes. Or maybe they do know me:

“Some shoppers may be hedonic browsers … who like to wander around the grocery store and derive utility in ‘window shopping,'” …

“Other shoppers may not have enough knowledge of the store to remember where the products they wish to purchase are located.”

The researchers acknowledge that more nuanced data could significantly affect their findings:

“…An important dimension that we did not address in this paper is the
amount of time that shoppers spend deliberating about their purchases, or aimlessly loitering, within a given zone. We can not address this issue with our cart-based RFID data because we do not observe the shopper’s behavior directly. But as data collection technology further matures (e.g., using video recordings instead of – or in addition to – RFID tracking), this time dimension can fruitfully be explored.”

Sounds like they need to speak to some anthropologists … or Envirosell.

The Travelling Salesman Goes Shopping: The Systematic Inefficiences of Grocery Paths,” excerpted in Knowlege@Wharton.

For you operations research junkies: the Travelling Salesman Problem Generator.

A heavily edited sworn statement on the marketing of salty snacks at a grocery store.

….

in the supermarket vegetable section]
Eric ‘Otter’ Stratton: Mine’s bigger.
Marion Wormer: looks questioningly at him
Eric ‘Otter’ Stratton: My cucumber. It’s bigger.
Eric ‘Otter’ Stratton: I think vegetables can be very sensuous, don’t you?
Marion Wormer: No, vegetables are sensual. People are sensuous.
Eric ‘Otter’ Stratton: Right. Sensual. That’s what I meant. My name’s Eric Stratton. People call me Otter.
Marion Wormer: My name’s Marion. People call me Mrs. Wormer.
Eric ‘Otter’ Stratton: Oh, we have a Dean Wormer at Faber.
Marion Wormer: How interesting. I have a husband named Dean Wormer at Faber. Still want to show me your cucumber?

[tags] operations research, grocery, trip chaining [/tags]

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The nuts and bolts work of a social media practice

09/17/06

Do you want to know what a social media practice can do for a client – even a high flying blogger like Mark Evans? David Jones discusses some of the work F-H is doing for Mark’s podcast. Over at the client site, Mark asks his listeners/readers for advice on picking a logo on his own blog.

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Big conferences – as much personal marketing as face to face

09/15/06

Are big conferences worth the effort, the expense, the time? That’s a question posed by Scoble and repeated by Trevor Cook – and well discussed by commenters on both blogs.

BTW- that’s a floor plan of the Jacob K. Javits center to the left. My first job in marketing was to help staff the Canada pavillion at PC Expo 93.

The value of big conferences lies in your approach to the event. A conference is both a learning and networking opportunity. Whether across town or across the continent, your attendance should be planned as thoroughly as an integrated marketing campaign.

Direct mail – learn from the professionals. Why shouldn’t a public relations consultant send out a mailer with contact information before a conference?

E-mail – For particularly high profile conferences, customize and target your email footers to highlight your upcoming presentations. Flying across the world to an event? Publicize it! Maximize your investment! (But discretely, of course. No HTML banners or embedded sound files, please)

PodcastsDonna Papacosta had the right idea. Build your online identity to maximize your on-site presence. In the weeks or months leading to the conference, interview fellow attendees or scheduled presenters on your blog or through a podcast.

Scheduling – before you step foot on the conference site, you should know how you’re going to spend every minute of your day. From meetings with your clients to scheduled press events, from the booths you want to visit for business development to the booths you want to visit for professional development. What other PR or marketing professionals do you want to meet up with? Where will they be? Can you arrange a meeting before the conference starts?

Panel discussions – Do your homework. Show up armed with information and lines of questioning to follow. Don’t just sit back and enjoy the show. Press panel members for follow-up comments. Create a conversation, even in a room of thirty or two hundred – there are bound to be fellow professionals that appreciate the effort and the result.

Share notes – I’m up in the air about live blogging conferences. If you’re the type that naturally takes notes at presentations, then go ahead. But if live blogging means you’re not really paying attention to the conversation around you – the side comments and witty asides from your fellow attendees – then you may be missing out.

Food, glorious food – The red dots on that floor plan largely indicate feeding stations at the Javits Center. Don’t unpack your wallet and start staring at the menus. As Trevor said, one thing conferences may be good for is face-to-face meetings. If you’ve been unable to nail down an appointment or a rendez-vous with an industry thought leader, you might want to cruise by the main watering stations. Happenstance meetings can lead to 10 minute conversations …. next thing you know, you’re both shopping at Ikea and wondering if it’s time to buy a little dog to make the pied-a-terre feel more homey.

Follow-up, Dammit! – Even a public relations consultant, webhead, marketer and 2.0 guru should remember to make some calls, send some letters after the conference is done. This isn’t a college kegger – they may very well remember your promise to “give them a call” at the end of the night.

To my mind, social networks (in the online sense) are good for one-to-one or one-to-many conversations, but they really can’t set the stage for precipitous but valuable chance encounters between professionals with similar interests. It’s like finding a new book or song: online aggregators or retailers can prod you along with “recommended” lists or “you might like” suggestions, but sometimes you just have to go for a stroll through the aisles to get a real feeling for the action.

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Pesticola: a good scandal name rolls off the tongue

09/05/06

Know what every scandal needs to ensure longevity? A good nickname. Something that rolls off the tongue, reminds the consumer of the underlying issue, and draws a direct link to the product in question. A nickname like PESTICOLA. That’s a term finding some traction as a quick reference to the allegations that some Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola products in India carry unacceptable levels of pesticides and other harmful residues.

“… Pepsi is putting almost all its ad eggs in the cricket basket, so to speak. The cola major is gung-ho on cricket, and besides regular advertising during matches, it will also be pushing it’s online cricket community, Blue Billion.

The company must surely be hoping that the collective consumer euphoria around the game will help dim the pesticola imagery that the CSE allegations have willy-nilly stuck to its soft-drink brands. …” (Economic Times)

In addition to the allegations of poisoning, there are a number of political, economic and cultural pressures that are influencing the progression of this scandal. Two weeks ago, remarkably, the central government felt it necessary to make the point that the rough ride being given to these two soft drink multinationals would not affect flows of foreign direct investment in the Indian economy.

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The 22 Immutable Laws of Blogging

08/17/06

Ripping off a starting point from Buzz Canuck, who gave us the 22 Immutable Laws of Word of Mouth Marketing, originally derived from Ries & Trout:

  1. First Impressions Always Stick
  2. Half Baked Ideas Are Better Than No Ideas
  3. Big Voices, Small Minds
  4. Good Ideas, Badly Presented
  5. Catch Phrases Imply Wisdom
  6. Intellectual Plagiarism Is Rarely Called Out
  7. The Ends Justify The Means
  8. Building An Audience: Political Theory Versus Fashion Commentary
  9. The SlipStreaming to Notoriety By Commenting Strategy
  10. Lost Alliances: Disappointment, Disillusionment, Betrayal and Retribution
  11. Google Juice Bests All Comers
  12. If I Blog, I Must Podcast
  13. Pig-Headed Contrarians Stand Out
  14. Setting Up An Intellectual Straw Man
  15. Sympathy Drives Traffic
  16. Go Big Or Go Home
  17. Flying By the Seat Of Your Pants
  18. The Sisyphus Corollary: Down Doesn’t Mean Out!
  19. Another Day, Another Lame-Ass Idea To Float
  20. Opposition By The MSM Validates Me
  21. One Comment Is A Fad; Three Trackbacks Is A Trend
  22. When In Doubt, Join A Blog Network

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How excess salt translates into corporate skulduggery.

08/04/06

In a story about the British government’s efforts to make manufacturers reduce the salt levels in their snacks and foods, I found this amusing snippet implying a Pappudum vs. Yorkshire Pudding rivalry. The Times (London) discussed the lobbying and negotiation tactics between manufacturers and the Food Standards Agency.

Over the course of the article, it was revealed that Patak’s had argued that they should be exempted from more stringent controls on the amount of salt in their pappadums and, instead, the much more traditional Yorkshire Pudding should bear the brunt of the cuts. I guess it’s a cultural shift, much like the difference between Coronation Street vs. Footballers’ Wives.

Patak’s wanted poppadums exempted because only 16 per cent of households ate them. It suggested that Yorkshire puddings should bear the strain, an argument the agency resisted.(Times Online)

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Podcasts: another way for the paper to preach to you

07/10/06

Voice. It’s a concept we normally associate with identity, opinion, the differentiation of personalities. Charlton Heston is the voice of authority. Dr. Ruth represents compassion. Will Rogers was your wise old uncle. Morton Downey Jr. was your crazy old uncle. David Leisure is your insincere cousin, ready to sell you a lemon and an extended warranty.

Today, it may be voice that keeps podcasting from being overtaken by the corporate training and outreach department. Is podcasting an opportunity to distribute repurposed content? Is it another vehicle for one-way communication? Is the podcast destined to become the medium of choice for, in effect, bootlegged academic presentations and the mutterings of beat columnists? There’s a battle developing between ideas and flair, between content and presentation, between spit and polish.

Obviously, voice is an essential part of podcasting. Rough, hesitant, noisy, easily distracted voice – as listeners we will tolerate ambiguity, trains of thought that miss the station and poor audio quality in the pursuit of original and incisive analysis. In some ways, we imply authenticity and authority from the unprofessional tics found in podcasts today.

Podcasters who came from the world of blogging understand this. They’re struggling with format issues: do they need intros and outros? Are professionally voiced interstitials necessary to keep the listener engaged? How do they handle audio comments to the podcast? What is the relationship between their podcast, their blog, and do the two actually align? Why must I sell my soul to the machine that is iTunes?

A column from Poynter made me pause, however. Chip Scanlon interviewed Tom Opdyke, the morning metro editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the narrator of the paper’s “Through Hell and High Water” series on the aftermath of Katrina.

Opdyke is both a journalist, a professional narrator/voiceover specialist and a dramatist. He discussed how he prepared for a dramatic spoken presentation of the AJC’s original printed word – not what I would consider an original podcast.

Scanlon characterized podcasts more bluntly, and more commercially. In the end, he also seems to have overlooked the value that podcasts can bring to a developing story: first, the capacity to deliver real voices from the scene, to share true emotion from an event’s actual participants. Second, the ability to reflect reader’s reaction. Third, and most importantly, an opportunity for a print medium to break out of its constrained frame of reference.

“For news consumers who like nothing better than a good listen, and for newspapers who desperately want to hold onto their business, podcasts offer a note of hope. Combining the power of audio with the freedom to choose when to tune in, podcasting — think of it as TiVo for the ears — they offer an alternative way for consumers to get their news and information on a schedule, through a medium of their choice.

In print newsrooms, where audio is limited to the quiet mumbles of reporters reading their stories, a new skill set is becoming increasingly necessary: The ability to voice a story with the same competence of a skilled broadcast journalist. ” (Poynter)

A skilled broadcast journalist, as well all know, does not hold much currency with the digerati anymore. Scripted news is as scripted news does.

I’d like to see news outlets make a dedicated effort to developing a real dialogue with the readers – and not just the eight guys who write to the op/ed section three times a week. A “community advisory board” doesn’t cut it either.

I’m probably not giving Scanlon enough benefit of the doubt. He’s a blogger, and he has discussed the reader reaction that can be generated by effective spoken presentation of articles.

But where’s the connection for other readers? How can we tell that a story has resonated with others? In some ways, I feel like this sort of podcast should be delivered in RealPlayer: they represent the same sort of thinking about control, presentation and risk avoidance that we first saw in 1997 and 1998.

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Yoga, retail and public relations; Vancouver style

05/29/06

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.

technorati:

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Information design and onboard navigation

04/22/06

You come to a fork in the road. You don’t know which way to follow. Which resource appeals the most: your car’s onboard navigational computer, with its limited portrait of the neighbourhood; your AAA TripTik; or your fearless certainty that “left is right”?

Each choice reflects your relative appetite for information, your interest in your immediate or distant surroundings. Do you only need intersection by intersection directions to the hockey arena, or are you more interested in visiting every sports facility in town?

If you’re fond of electronic maps – Google, MapQuest, Yahoo or onboard – you’re likely relying on information from two companies: NavTeq or Tele Atlas. The New Yorker explains how NavTeq updates its information, then mosies on down a garden path to discuss the development of previous generations of traveller’s guides and maps.

“A map is a piece of art. It is also a form of language—a rendering of information. A good map can occupy the eye and the mind longer than almost any other single page of data, including Scripture, poetry, sheet music, and baseball box scores. A map contains multitudes.” (New Yorker)

But your little 4 by 4 inch screen can’t show you all that information.

Also in the New Yorker: The Lonely Planet Guide to My Apartment:

LOCAL CUSTOMS

The population of My Apartment has a daily ritual of bitching, which occurs at the end of the workday and prior to ordering in food. Usually, meals are taken during reruns of “Stargate Atlantis.” Don’t be put off by impulsive sobbing or unprovoked rages. These traits have been passed down through generations and are part of the colorful heritage of My Apartment’s people. The annual Birthday Meltdown (see “Festivals”) is a tour de force of recrimination and self-loathing, highlighted by fanciful stilt-walkers and dancers wearing hand-sewn headdresses.

Technorati: maps wayfinding Lonely Planet

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Haikus in honour of Scott McLellan

04/19/06

Scotty.jpg

The White House press secretary has resigned, and the folks over at Democratic Underground have penned some very-not-so-flattering farewells … haiku style!

In the interests of fairness, let me point you to a previous post on the difficulties of acting as a government spokesperson.

Your fat flabby ass / disappearing through a door / don’t let it, hit you (link)

Miss Helen Thomas / outlasted the little shit / there is some justice (link)

Delighted you’re gone / Your lies no longer pollute / The peace of my home (link)

Lying’s not easy / Propaganda takes its toll / My soul has been lost

I do need a break / Spend more time with family / Who will lie for Bush? (link)

The BEST, in my opinion:

That’s an ongoing / investigation that I / will not comment on (link)

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Why does your client’s argument fall on deaf ears?

04/06/06

What logical structures guide public relations staff in building and deploying an argument in favour of their clients? When confronted with a demand for an explanation “why?”, there is always a “reason” underlying the logic in your media lines and storyline. In his book Why?, the sociologist Charles Tilly identifies four different types of reasons – or answers – that we all attempt to use at one time or another. Malcolm Gladwell wrote about Tilly this week:

” … In Tilly’s view, we rely on four general categories of reasons. The first is what he calls conventions — conventionally accepted explanations. … The second is stories, and what distinguishes a story … is a very specific account of cause and effect. Tilly cites the sociologist Francesca Polletta’s interviews with people who were active in the civil-rights sit-ins of the nineteen-sixties. Polletta repeatedly heard stories that stressed the spontaneity of the protests, leaving out the role of civil-rights organizations, teachers, and churches. That’s what stories do. As Tilly writes, they circumscribe time and space, limit the number of actors and actions, situate all causes “in the consciousness of the actors,” and elevate the personal over the institutional.

Then there are codes, which are high-level conventions, formulas that invoke sometimes recondite procedural rules and categories. … Finally, there are technical accounts: stories informed by specialized knowledge and authority. An academic history of civil-rights sit-ins wouldn’t leave out the role of institutions, and it probably wouldn’t focus on a few actors and actions; it would aim at giving patient and expert attention to every sort of nuance and detail.
Tilly argues that we make two common errors when it comes to understanding reasons. The first is to assume that some kinds of reasons are always better than others—that there is a hierarchy of reasons, with conventions (the least sophisticated) at the bottom and technical accounts at the top. That’s wrong, Tilly says: each type of reason has its own role.

Tilly’s second point flows from the first, and it’s that the reasons people give aren’t a function of their character—that is, there aren’t people who always favor technical accounts and people who always favor stories. Rather, reasons arise out of situations and roles. (New Yorker)

More detail can be found in a lecture by Tilly. I’ve included a sizeable excerpt after the jump, an excerpt that deals with how social scientists struggle to communicate their research and theory effectively to the general public.
(…)

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Coverage of executive compensation often mis-stated: academics

03/30/06

Just in time for spring proxy statements, the Wharton newsletter discusses a late 2005 academic paper on the media’s coverage of executive compensation: “The Power of the Pen and Executive Compensation.

“… What models, they ask, are used by the media “to select CEOs for negative articles about their compensation, and do firms and managers find this attention sufficiently costly that they respond by making changes to their compensation policies?”

Relying on 15,000 press articles about CEO compensation from 1994 to 2002, the researchers find “mixed evidence on the level of sophistication used by the press to select companies for negative press coverage. While such coverage is more strongly related to measures of excess total annual pay than to raw total annual pay, coverage is also related to CEO options exercises and total stock and option holdings.”

One sizeable weakness in their analysis: they apparently weren’t able to weight for the varying influence of different newspapers:

“…For example, the authors make no distinction between articles written by the business press, such as the Wall Street Journal and Barron’s, and national newspapers such as The New York Times and Washington Post, and regional newspapers such as the Atlanta Journal Constitution and Philadelphia Inquirer. Nor in this paper did they look at how local coverage in a company’s hometown newspaper may differ from national coverage. “We haven’t figured out how to digest local information when it applies to a global corporation,” says Guay.”

There’s further discussion of the article, and the work of a Times reporter, over at Ideoblog. The blogger, Larry Ribstein, makes the blunt observation that:

“… while we’re reexamining all levels of corporate governance, from inside executives to outside directors to securities analysts, we should do some hard thinking about the governance role of financial reporters in our major newspapers.”

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