Retail casualties of the Recession


Over the past fifteen years, I’ve had an offhand awareness of the seeming abundance of ketchup, relish, flavoured water, detergent, cleansing auto fuel and Moleskine notebooks. But I HAD NO IDEA of the true plague of brand extensions and varietals that had been conjured up by test labs, anonymized focus group meetings, data-fuelled marketing meetings and retail executives looking to populate their planogram.

According to the WSJ, the number of products in the average grocery store jumped 50% from 1996 to 2008.  Retailers and manufacturers have been trying to pare back those numbers over the past few years, but were wary of consumer backlash. The recession has provided a perfect opportunity to begin some gentle trimming.

Jimmy Dean, for instance, now ly offers 14 types of frozen breakfast sandwich – down from 25!

” … Pharmacy chain Walgreen Co. is cutting the types of superglues it carries to 11 from 25. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has decided that 24 different tape measures is 20 too many.

… A typical Target store has 88 kinds of Pantene shampoo, conditioner and styling products. A Target spokeswoman said the chain has “slightly reduced” its hair-care offerings this year … “

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The hope left when a retail icon disappears


Two positive takes on the demise of British retailing icon Woolworths:

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At least one bright light in retail


“While sales at most stores plummeted last month, the teenage retailer Hot Topic enjoyed a 6.5 percent gain, thanks mostly to brisk sales of gear inspired by “Twilight,” the teenage vampire movie.” (NY Times)

Enjoy MC Lars’ “Hot Topic is not punk rock

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Mods – the long tail finally snaps


The long tail finally snaps at something I’m interested in and have been looking for: music from the late 70s / early 80s mod revival.

The Lambrettas, The Creation, The Purple Hearts: a treasure trove can be found at The Songs That People Sing.


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Like Twitter but with details and stuff


You know how you’re sitting there, Blackberry, iPhone or smartphone in hand, when you live through a unique but compelling experience? The sort of funny, ironic, startling, refreshing or depressing moment that you just feel it necessary to share?

Or maybe you’re just bored – and you still feel like sharing?

Thanks to micro-blogging and the world of tiny little keyboards, this sort of event gets compressed into a curt, often ungainly 140 character shorthand.

And that means you have to drop adverbs, adjectives, descriptive phrases and ancillary thoughts, all the while hoping that your “followers” are sympatico, similarly culturally attuned, members of the same socio-economic tribe or equally ironic to understand the theory, the thought or the emotion behind your short transmission.

This is a very important point: speaking in very short fragments often forces you to refer to commonly known professional terms and cultural touchstones. That effectively blocks out people new to your community or those that hold a different point of view.

Even without these barriers, it’s really hard to build an effective (and coherent) counterargument in 140 characters.

What’s the happy medium? One Person Trend Stories. Three, four or even five paragraph posts that go beyond the obvious short descriptive sentence to build a proper (sarcastic or ironic) vignette.

  • Enough is Enough! One Woman Takes a Stand Against Coffee Shops That Play Really Loud Music
  • Testing her Patience: Aging Intellectual Defies Barnes & Noble Cashier
  • iDoNotWant! Young Man Says “No, Thanks” to Latest Tech Toy

Honestly, I worry about having a Twitter message being taken out of context. My Twitter stream is populating my Google vanity searches, and many of the messages make no sense.

What about Plurk, I hear some of you wondering?

Umm. No. I’ve tried to work my way through some of those Plurkshops – both live and after the fact. The stream of consciousness commentary and non-sequential contributions really disrupt the flow and make it very hard to identify the wheat from the chaff.

If Twitter is like overhearing conversations on the subway, Plurk is a lot like summer day camp – everyone’s there for the same purpose, following the same activities schedule – but some are keeners, some are dopes and a lot are just trying to fit in with the crowd.

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Feist on Perez Hilton and the long tail


Broken Social Scene and Feist are local, quirky, imaginative and “independent.” Of course you remember independent music? Long tail before it got a cool name?

Perez Hilton is grasping, global, an aggregator but derivative and highly dependent on the craziness of others. (But still highly popular and influential)

Chart Attack has an interview with Feist, who, of course, broke through into the mainstream after her infectious song 1-2-3-4 was featured in an iPod commercial.

If I base my comments on a scant 100-odd words, it seems that Feist is well aware of the influence of celebrity bloggers – and their fickle nature.

Perez Hilton has certainly been kind to you this year.

Yeah! When will that dime turn? You know Dragonette? I was having drinks with them in London, which is where they live now. And Dan Kurtz actually produced my very first record in ’98. So we’re old, old friends. So I went out for a drink with him and Martina [Sorbara] and they had some friend there and we’re all just hanging out. And after about an hour I said to the friend, “Hey, what do you do?” And he said, “Oh, well, I have this blog, this gossip blog.” And he asks me what I do and I say, “I’m a singer, I’ve got some records out.”

I didn’t know who he was from a hole in the ground. I’d never heard his name before and he had never heard mine. But the next day, I heard from about 70,000 people going “Oh my God!” and all of a sudden I understood the context of who this guy with green hair was. And that was Perez Hilton, of course.

The next day, he did a blast saying “Check out this girl’s video,” and that was six months ago. I’m bemused and grateful that stuff is on some people’s radar. It’s certainly not on mine. But I can understand it means something to someone.

If I’m reading that last line accurately, that’s the “long tail” telling us that the “wider tail” doesn’t really play a large part in her daily life.

Independent is as independent does … and her decisions aren’t confined by the frames defined by a larger and more “popular” voice.
h/t to Large Hearted Boy

[tags] Feist, gossip blogs, long tail [/tags]

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Some snippets about retail


As we approach Christmas, we can harken back to when towns had local or regional department stores, each decorated in a particular style for the holidays. As the comments on a photo retrospective at Labelscar note, the retail landscape has now been Macyated.

As Canadians do more and more shopping at outlet malls in U.S. border cities, we’re increasingly leaving all but our underpants behind as we head home.

As we all debate climate change and the United States faces $4 a gallon gas, the Canadian Centre for Architecture presents 1973: Sorry out of gas. (Exhibition site, News Release)

Metropolis on the philosophy behind Rudy’s Barber Shop and Ace Hotels:

“…When I tell them it’s the handiwork of a Rudy’s stylist, neither one asks if I like the cut. Instead, they want to know if I enjoyed the experience, if I talked to other customers, if the vibe was good.

It’s obvious that what led Calderwood and Weigel into the business wasn’t an interest in hair. Rather, it was the idea of injecting new life into ritualized social interactions that intrigued them. “Wade used to fly back and forth from London and would see these barbers in Camden Market and Notting Hill where they’d just set up in the middle of the market and cut hair for the day,” Calderwood says. “And I used to live near Sig’s Barbershop downtown, this tiny old shop that’s never changed. I’d walk by it and think, ‘God, how cool would it be to buy that and get younger hairstylists to work there.’”

Need evidence that they’ve succeeded in creating an experience? Check out these Yelp comments about the original Rudy’s in Seattle.

James Surowiecki on how the web has affected how we shop:

“…the wealth of online product reviews and commentary has made the cues that stores use to shape shoppers’ perception of quality and value far less effective. This doesn’t mean that consumers are impervious to retailers’ tricks, and plenty of us shop the way Homer Simpson orders wine: buy the second-least-expensive thing on the list. …” (New Yorker)

[tags] mall, holiday decoration, Homer Simpson, Rudy’s Barber Shop, retail experience, outlet shopping [/tags]

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My first impressions of retail architecture


When I was a kid, I lived overseas. My exposure to the marketplace was at the street and store level: in Milan and Hong Kong, the majority of retail stores fronted on a street.

In Hong Kong, there were very few malls, aside from China Products, a fantastic bazaar for consumer goods made in the PRC, and the mall found alongside the Kowloon cruise ship terminal.

Which is why one particular scene from the Blues Brothers left an impression: the car chase through the mall.

As Elwood and Jake Blues careened through the suburban indoor mall, all that ran through my head was: “all those stores, and indoors as well?”

“Disco pants and haircuts!”

“New Oldsmobiles are in early this year!”

Twenty seven years after their adventure, the Dixie Square Mall in suburban Chicago remains empty. And for some reason, even in Canada, people prefer pedestrian malls with outdoor areas.

Well, except in February, when it’s cold.

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Stale retail help


“…And from the moment we opened the front door, we all agreed later, we knew we were in trouble. The very young woman at the desk had the anesthetized air of a Barneys salesgirl who had languished too long in Belts.” (NYTimes)

That’s from Alex Witchel’s column of September 26, about a visit to a New York restaurant. I can imagine the look, the attitude and the atmosphere around that young woman, can’t you?

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The subtle details of food porn


How does an editor and a writer become a cook? That’s the premise of Bill Buford’s “Heat” – a book published in mid-2006. While I really enjoyed the book, one passage shed some light on the growing popularity of food porn:

“…The new shows put a premium on presentation rather than knowledge and tended to have intimate-seeming camera close-ups of foods, as though objects of sexual satisfaction.

The skin-flick feel was reinforced by a range of heightened effects, especially amplified sounds of frying, snapping, crunching, chewing, swallowing. There seemed always to be a tongue, making small, wet, bubbly tongue sounds.

The “talent” (also known as a “crossover” personality, usually a woman with a big smile and no apron) was directed to be easy with her tongue and use it conspicuously – to taste food on a spoon, say, or work it around a batter-coated beater, or clean the lips with it.

The aim was spelled out for me by Eileen Opatut, a former programming executive. “We’re looking for the kind of show that makes people want to crawl up to their television set and lick the screen.”…”

The popular definition of food porn fetishizes food, either by preparing intricate and ingredient-rich recipes, accompanied by carefully composed photos (the Playboy of food porn) or the rough and sloppy presentation of clearly delicious but probably quite unhealthy entrees (something other than Playboy. I leave the choice to you).

Let’s be clear: there are two components to food porn.

One, the excessive attention paid to blemish-free and colourful ingredients. This is an ingredient list that demands the chemicals and horticultural shortcuts developed during the nineteenth and twentieth century. The luscious “money shot” of a basket of fruit, a smooth and supple tomato, a tropical fruit that seems freshly picked, even if it is a cold and heartless winter outside.

Two, the emphasis on friendly and attractive cooks, chefs and hosts. Not necessarily stunners – those pinnacles of breeding, genetics and cosmetic surgery are still left for the faux newsmagazine shows – but pleasant and entertaining folk. The kind of strangely familiar person you wouldn’t mind inviting over to help make dinner, maybe pick out some new dish sets, and even redecorate the bathroom.

As this excerpt from a 2005 On the Media broadcast further explains:

“FREDERICK KAUFMAN: It’s also shot very differently. It’s actually shot single-camera as opposed to a four-camera television format. And so it’s almost shot like a 35-millimeter film. You get an amazing angle on Giada, who is beautiful, and who always is wearing a very close-cut sleeveless top. And then you get the food, and then you get Giada, and then you get her fingers on the food. And oh, it’s so moist. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]”

I am sure you didn’t need my help to notice this. The second the Food Network became a favoured channel in dorm lounges, industry executives took note.

I’ve noticed a big difference in the food programming produced in Great Britain and the United States. (Let’s not talk about food programs in Canada) My memories of British food porn only include one scantily-clad chef: Jaimie Oliver. And there is NO WAY I ever wanted to see the bare forearm of either of the Two Fat Ladies.

Meanwhile, wholesome Western New York gal Rachael Ray has appeared in FHM. The restaurant critic at the New York Times – feared by some for his/her ability to cripple and crush new restaurants – has a blog.

All the while, some traditional food writers see this fetishization and popularization as a weakening their trade, limiting the scope and depth of food-related stories prepared for readers.
What would the apex of the food fetishization trend look like? How about Giada vs. Rachael Ray on Iron Chef? (YouTube)

[tags] food porn, food fetish, Food Network, Giada, Rachael, vegetables, popular culture [/tags]

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Sweet, sweet retail honey


Ahh. The joys of retail marketing and management. Customer flow through. Seasonal promotions. Retail merchandising. Customer service in a retail environment.

Andrew at Northern Planner has a wonderful post brimming with notes, observations and comments about the retail environment.

I’ve picked out on of the more boring observations, if only because it touched on my behaviour just yesterday:

“…People always pick up books and feel them in book shops…”

Reasons why I pick up books in bookshops:

  • to check the price.
  • to measure the heft-to-price ratio.
  • to check for promotional blurbs.
  • to check for promotional blurbs from people I actually respect.
  • to look for colour pictures in the middle pages.
  • to keep the clerk from asking “can I help you?”
  • to check for overspacing – who wants to buy a short story stretched into a longer book?
  • are there footnotes? I like footnotes.
  • to randomly sample the text. I’m not fond of too many “ten dollar words”.
  • to check the author’s name – and google the book for reviews on my blackberry.
  • what’s the paper weight? A thirty dollar book should have good paperstock.
  • what’s the table of contents look like? More than one idea?
  • because the book next to it was interesting, and it may have absorbed interestingness by osmosis
  • NOT because it’s on a clerk’s recommended list
  • shiny colourful cover is hypnotizing me!

Do you notice what’s missing? Any mention of stickers, promotional posters, “best of” lists and “as featured on Oprah” displays.

As for discounts – whose purchasing decision in a bookstore is influenced by a 20% off discount?
[tags] books, retail, book shop, book store, observation [/tags]

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How do you price tail?


We’re all used to talk about the “long tail” and that portion of the market that didn’t prove profitable until e-commerce tools helped “monetize” all those fans, hobbyists, obsessives, nit-pickers and contrarians.

The idea of “long tail,” as applied to the insurance industry, becomes known as “tail risk.” It’s the work of compensating for the risk of highly unlikely catastrophes – like Hurricane Katrina.

Michael Lewis discusses one expert’s work in assessing and monetizing “tail risk” in the latest New York Times Magazine (August 26).

It’s an interesting and informative piece, even if this quote wasn’t in it:

“If there’s been a theme to John’s life,” says his brother Nelson, “it’s pricing tail.”

John Seo works in the market for catastrophic bonds – or cat bonds. When Katrina hit, the market for cat bonds moved, just like it had after every catastrophe.

“A few investors would inevitably become jittery and sell their cat bonds at big discounts, what with the Weather Channel all hysteria all the time. (“The worst place to go if you’re taking risks,” says one cat-bond investor, “is the Weather Channel. They’re just screaming all the time.”)

And THAT is why I’m poor. Because I don’t have the nerve to bet on the Weather Channel.

[tags] economics, tail risk, long tail, quant, insurance risk, economics humour [/tags]

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Peter Cottontail makes a good appetizer


There are many decisions that contribute to the growth of a successful business. Faced with a limited marketing budget, many can benefit from a carefully chosen name that not only engages and possibly entertains, but also clearly communicates the benefit to the customer.

Like the rabbitry featured in today’s Wall Street Journal article about alternate food sources for cat owners.

Hare Today

As in: hare today, gone tomorrow.

A fairly macabre name for a rabbitry that’s selling 1,000 pounds of raw rabbit meat each week. But still awfully funny.

Slightly more exceptional is the feline diet followed by one online cat nutrition expert:

“Holisticat’s Ms. Arora is a vegetarian, but feeds her cats mice, rats, rabbits, Cornish game hen, quail, pheasant and chicken. For Thanksgiving she buys Missy, Pigpen, Trikki and Puma a small heritage-breed turkey from a nearby farmer.”

I wonder if that turkey is still alive when it’s turned over to the cats.


But seriously, that sounds like the cats are following a Colonial Williamsburg diet.

But then their names would by Moppet, Fluffy, Downy and *that damn wild cat that keeps impregnating my little princesses.”

[Tags] cat food, rabbits, feline diet [/tags]

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How to push weiners: true retail work


“You bring the drinks, and I got the buns …. I got a hot dog in each hand …” Detroit Cobras (Hot Dog)

Today, a little lesson in how to convince people to wedge a casing full of leftover animal parts into their mouth. Mmmmmmmmmm!

Maybe you could offer custom ketchup and relish packets, as part of your wedding catering package.

Every tasty snack can benefit from a little personalization – even a self moisturizing demon dog.

Mak Reitman, the lone instructor at Hot Dog University, makes some key points about targeted marketing for the lone food service cart in the Chicago Reader:

“…“I once tried selling chicken noodle soup. I couldn’t give it away,” Reitman tells Council. “Someone’s coming to you, they’re expecting to buy a hot dog. Doing one thing and doing it well—that’s the key.” He won’t even sell sides that traditionally go with hot dogs: “Potato chips—I’m not having anything to do with them.”

“…Once when Reitman knew he’d have to share a spot with another vendor during a multiday festival, he says, “I had Vienna Beef give me 1,000 paper hats. I gave one to every kid and every adult that would wear one. They did all the advertising for me. The other guy was seething.”…

“… little freebies make the customer happy. When four young women come up to the cart to place an order, he offers each a piece of gum. “Dubble Bubble! Yay!” he says. “Yaaaaay!” they repeat in unison and proceed to order a substantial amount of food.”

My sweet onion relish lord – the owner of Pittsburgh’s Franktuary walks around in a hot dog costume. That’s a lot more embarrassing than simple doorhangers.

But less entertaining than the sausage race at Milwaukee Brewers games.
Thanks to Photoshop, we can move millions of buns and dogs on the gigantic Oscar Meyer Boeing Large Cargo Freighter.

In the ultra competitive world of roadside food service, it might help to win something like NY’s Vendy Award.
More Detroit Cobras … on myspace.

[tags] hot dog carts, mustard, relish, oscar meyer, weiner, sausage [/tags]

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Festivus: its’ role in retail promotion


Tomorrow is the nominal date for Festivus, the holiday for the rest of us.

In one corner of the internets, we can get a look at the Festivus promotion in downtown St. Louis, seen through the work of designer Dan Zettwoch.

Dan walks us through his conceptual work developing the promotional poster for the December 1st and 2nd event.

Festivus as a retail promotion isn’t a new idea, however: craftspeople in New Orleans have been using Festivus as a seasonal theme for their craft market for several years.

Individual retailers have also seized the opportunity, usually by building Festivus into their regular seasonal offerings. Ben & Jerry’s got the jump on most of the market by launching their custom Festivus ice cream back in 2000 (news release & picture)

If you plan well enough ahead, you can order a Festivus centrepiece from Kremp florists. Only $99! (pictured)

Or pick up an actual custom Festivus pole, from Milwaukee’s Wagner Companies:

“Festivus poles in two sizes: a 6-ft. model for $38 or a 2-ft., 8-in. tabletop model for $30. Both come with a collapsible base designed specifically for use with the Festivus pole. …

In the [original] “Seinfeld” episode [youtube video], Costanza praises the aluminum Festivus pole for its “very high strength-to-weight ratio.” Leto, who is a native of New York and attended college with Jerry Seinfeld, says this reminded him of Brew City’s hearty spirit and inspired him to create the first Milwaukee-based Festivus pole depot.

“I was particularly taken with that since I look at Milwaukee as a city with a ‘very high strength-to-weight ratio,'” he says. “Milwaukee just seems to embody the concept of Festivus: a no-nonsense city that is what it is.” (OnMilwaukee)

Really Riding the Festivus Wagon is Festivus Wine. This 2003 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon is especially labelled for the season, and can be shipped with Festivus wine glasses and a custom poster. In keeping with the spirit of the holiday, the folks behind the wine offer some novel shipping options:

” Due to state-by-state shipping laws, we may not be able to ship to your address. Couple of solutions:

1. Ship to a friend in a shipping friendly state and have them ship it to you. Hassle-yes, well worth it-you bet.

2. Order a set of Festivus Glasses and we’ll send a couple of Festivus Labels along with it. Peel and stick to Two-Buck Chuck or Opus as needed.

3. Order a poster, buy a box of Franzia and fugetaboutit.


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Hooker and Tail: Something Good to Eat on the Rideau Canal


Mmmmm. The promise of winter and a sure-fire retail success. Right now, it’s only a hut dropped onto blocks in the recently drained Rideau Canal.

All we need is twenty straight days of sub-zero weather, not too much rain, a little snowplowing, dozens of teenage cooks and servers – and this hut and others along the Canal will be serving fresh and sweet BeaverTails. (a concept first developed by Grant Hooker)

Matt Mackenzie has a flickr photo of a BeaverTails hut in full swing.

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Knitting: the intersection of Emotional Intelligence and Retail Strategy


Knitting stores can feel very intense. Walls and shelves packed with wool, patterns and buttons. Magazine racks bursting with specialist magazines and pattern books. The staff can be quiet or loud, but are usually wearing something knitted. They have that focused but happy air found among people who have found a job they love (most of the time). Their skill is with needles and yarn, not the point-of-sale systems or planograms, which is why I was surprised to find Men in Knits: Sweaters to knit that he WILL wear on the book shelf.

Men in Knits presents a novel approach to the standard knitting book, which generally reads like this: short intro, glossy picture of fetchy model in bulky knits, then abbreviated and coded directions to knit said garment.

Instead, this book was was planned as a guide to help a woman knitter bridge the psychological and sartorial divide with her significant other.It’s a brief mix of pop psychology, basic retail strategy and a brief introduction to emotional intelligence for the knitter. For example, this basic advice for a knitter considering a project for her significant other:

“If he says he will not wear a sweater, he probably isn”t kidding.”

“The sweater represents hours and hours focused on him, and that freaks him out. He starts to think you are more into him than he is into you.”

This advice is aimed at avoiding the apparently “dreaded boyfriend curse“: a boyfriend unprepared for receiving a handknitted gift frequently becomes an ex-boyfriend.

Also included is a “personal style worksheet” to help the both of you work through what patterns and styles would best suit the BF. Some hints:

    • Let him diagnose himself
    • Go shopping with him
    • Show him images from catalogs evaluate his wardrobe

Speaking as a guy, all this would make me feel unsettled and testy.

[tags] emotional intelligence, EQ, knitting [/tags]

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Long tail: your underdog product may be a loser


New research from Harvard on the applicability of the Long Tail to the video market – and some potentially disturbing results. If your product suffers from poor quality, poor buzz or a relative lack of public awareness, then you may be in trouble.

From Superstars and Underdogs: An Examination of the Long Tail Phenomenon in Video Sales by Anita Elberse and Felix Oberholzer-Gee (abstract, .pdf):

” … Clearly, the long tail is populated by a larger number of products. However, even more strikingly, there was also a dramatic increase in the number of titles that did not sell at all. Compared to 2000, the number of titles with zero weekly sales in 2005 almost doubled, suggesting there are significant business challenges for companies that attempt to benefit from the long tail.

Many underdogs, we conclude, are in fact losers. At the superstar end of things, the lower sales are achieved by a significantly smaller number of titles. While best-selling titles do not reach previous sales levels, there is a significant concentration of success on ever fewer titles.

In sum, the changes in the distribution of video sales are remarkably similar to what McPhee (1963) called the double jeopardy of niche products in media markets. Increased variety not only fragments the market, with many titles reaching ever smaller audiences, these audiences are also less loyal. When a superstar comes along, they are happy to abandon the niche (Ehrenberg and Goodhardt 1990).

The lesson to be learned? The Long Tail is of no benefit to you if your product is still crap, unwanted by anyone.

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Working the biker angle in more detail


A little blego trip for me – Ben over at Church of the Consumer gave me a hat tip for a hit-and-run post I made back in May. I drew a connection between Ben’s observation that 1% of social communities drive growth and value for the larger community – and the 1% of hardcore bikers who, by association, impart exclusivity and a ragged personality to the other 99%.

Ben digs into the biker mythology in more detail, and debunks some of the myth.

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Yoga, retail and public relations; Vancouver style


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.


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Long tail marketing: it’s not about the money, it’s about the idea


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!”

From an interview conducted on the fringes of the Strategy06 Conference.

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867-5309: Jenny’s gaming your Retail CRM Solution


Yet another retailer has started asking for my phone number, “so we can serve you better, sir!” I like shopping there, but not enough to let them track and target my purchasing habits. The very dutiful image of a dedicated shopper, I hand over my cell phone number – with the digits transposed at random. A cell phone that has outward call display blocked, so that it doesn’t even show up in reverse directories.

There isn’t much dedication in the clerk’s request, a clear sign that they’re used to getting questions – and sometimes abuse – in response. I wonder if I could just feed them a 555 number? Would the cashier care? What about 867-5309? Would they even notice? “Geez. That’s a popular number?”

Somewhere, there has to be a data warehouse filled with purchasing, market and demographic information about consumers who feed 867-5309 into CRM solutions. What does all this data reveal about these conscientious objectors from the “customer personalization” trend? What sort of purchases ARE THEY making? Are they high income, low income? Devoted to fair trade products, or more likely to buy 99c hot dogs from late night convenience stores?

And how many of them owe late fees to their local Blockbuster? (“i just can’t seem to reach this guy!)

“Jenny, Jenny, who can I turn to?
You give me something I can hold on to.”

I’ll tell you who’s collecting information on Generation X consumers called Jenny: car manufacturers. Christopher Sawyer wrote about Honda and Ford’s attempts to profile the target consumer for their new Civic and Fusion models:

    “Six years ago “Jennifer”, a young woman now in her 30s, was Honda’s 20-something target for the 2000-2005 Civic. Now Jennifer is moving up to sporty mid-size cars, though sticking with four doors for practicality. And — even more amazing — she is abandoning Honda for Ford. Now Honda understood what had happen to their beloved Civic, and why so many formerly loyal customers had abandoned Honda for car makers with more exciting wares. One need look no further than the 2006 Honda Civic concept to realize that Honda learned its lessons from the “scientific” approach used to develop the present Civic to know it must trust its gut, and only look to the marketing studies for validation.”(Automotive Design and Production)

One-to-one marketing seems an appealling concept: personalized marketing messages tailored just to my liking! Discounts, personal mailings and special sales just for “members”! Yes – in the right hands.

In the wrong hands, you’ll end up drinking from a firehose of direct mail and telemarketing, all vapidly fed by an uninterested retail clerk.

Technorati: personalised marketing demographics CRM

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Politics is retail – and you may just take a puck in the mouth


Given a choice between a politician and a hockey player, most Canadians will make a move for the guy with less teeth. Politicians who try to weeze da juice of the national sport usually end up looking out of place and decidedly unathletic (unless they’re Ken Dryden).

One candidate in the current national election found a way to marry the two at last night’s Ottawa 67s game. Out in front of the arena, a young volunteer was handing out brief flyers explaining the Conservative Party’s proposal for a tax credit based upon the registration fees paid for youth sports activities like hockey, swimming, soccer and skating.

A message that should resonate, aimed at a potentially receptive audience. Sitting directly in front of us was a complete PeeWee hockey team and their parents. Families could be seen throughout the arena. The 67s are a minor hockey team that emphasizes entertainment and links to the community.

There aren’t any $2 million contracts for naming rights for the arena. The place is full of ads for sub shops, accountants and construction companies. Sure, minor hockey still comes up with the occasional embarassing promotion. On the whole, however, these teams survive by selling space for targeted messages by local companies.

This was a political message, but it was squarely aimed at the people who normally attend minor hockey games, and promised real benefits.

Oh yeah – of course the flyer included a picture of the smiling Conservative candidate as well.

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National Retail Foundation: Sun to come up tomorrow!


Earth shattering news from the National Retail Federation: “Men Continue to Procrastinate on Holiday Shopping, According to NRF.”

The tendency to delay holiday shopping reflects the wildly differing approaches to shopping taken by each of the sexes. A 2003 study, reported by the BBC, noted that:

    “Contrasting styles of bargain shopping demonstrate that for many couples a shopping trip is a recipe for disaster – men and women apply different levels of significance to the core bargain components.

    “Men tend to adopt a more ‘smash and grab’ approach to the High Street compared to women who display more sophisticated shopping behaviour.

    “This may work in getting the item required, but will almost certainly mean they pay more than their female counterparts.”

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Garden State: How retail analysts look into their crystal ball


Wonder how retail analysts keep track of their companies? Other than quarterly financials, calls from the friendly IR department, the occasional visit to CEO and reading the weekly circulars? They try to visit retail locations as inconspicuously as possible. The Garden State Plaza in Paramus, N.J. is a favourite for NY- based analysts looking for a quick dip in the market.

    “… Thomas D. Lennox, the head of investor relations at Abercrombie & Fitch, jokes that on any given Friday afternoon “you will find more retail analysts at Garden State Plaza than on Wall Street and Midtown Manhattan combined.”

    … Retailing analysts and fund managers say they never base judgments – particularly recommendations to buy or sell a stock – on observations from a single mall. In interviews, half a dozen analysts said they visited at least three malls a month. But nearly all conceded that they returned, again and again, to Garden State Plaza, about a 20-minute drive from Midtown, making it perhaps the single most influential mall in the country.”(NYT)

How do these analysts, seeking partial anonymity while strolling through the mall in “suburban dad” clothes, judge the success or failure of holiday marketing campaigns? How do they “develop” the qualitative data for their reports?

    “…In the world of retailing analysis, even the size of the sale sign has meaning, conveying what [Harris Nesbitt retail analyst John D. Morris] calls “levels of desperation.” A large, bright sign positioned prominently outside the store in the mall’s main corridor is “very desperate,” whereas a small, unobtrusive sign, visible through a display window, conveys confidence.”

Really, the analysts don’t wield any specialist knowledge on the shop floor. The impressions they form are based on pricing, inventory and customer care signals that any experienced shopper can recognize.

    “… the peculiar craft of retailing analysis, in which a store’s strength is measured through dozens of tiny, seemingly imperceptible signs, ranging from the size of a 50-percent-off sale poster (revealing how desperate a store is to clear out merchandise) to the number of unfolded shirts on the sales floor (indicating a store, perhaps fearing poor holiday sales, has cut back on employment and is understaffed).”(NYT)

There are weaknesses in relying on the Garden State Plaza, which Retail Traffic called “the patriarch of New Jersey’s shopping centers.” Thankfully, the NYT acknowledge’s the mall unusually high average family income and other factors.


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Christmas retail help gone bad


Top Ten Signs your Christmas retail help’s gone bad:

10. The coffee club’s losing $26 a day.
9. The latest shipment included 40 packs of smokes.
8. Those Santa end of aisle displays? He’s now touching himself – inappropriately.
7. Somehow, the store cat is pregnant.
6. The greeter, dressed as an elf, is saying “How’d you like to be my Ho Ho Ho?”
5. Weekly staff potluck lunch is now a key party.
4. Someone’s charging for parking in the store lot.
3. The muzak now plays Liz Phair.
2. 7pm? That’s 85% off hour!
1. You’re guaranteeing early January delivery.


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Wal-Mart is a job sucking retail machine


This just in from a new NEBR paper on the economic effects of Wal-Mart on the retail sector:

    “In the retail sector, on average, Wal-Mart stores reduce employment by two to four percent. There is some evidence that payrolls per worker also decline, by about 3.5 percent, but this conclusion is less robust. Either way, though, retail earnings fall. Overall, there is some evidence that Wal-Mart stores increase total employment on the order of two percent, although not all of the evidence supports this conclusion.

    There is stronger evidence that total payrolls per person decline, by about five percent in the aggregate, implying that residents of local labor markets earn less following the opening of Wal-Mart stores. And in the South, where Wal-Mart stores are most prevalent and have been open the longest, the evidence indicates that Wal-Mart reduces retail employment, total employment, and total payrolls per person.”

Try looking at the maps and charts after page 35 for an epidemiological examination of the spread of Wal-Mart across the U.S.

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Retail work and Christmas cheer – can they coexist?


There’s a shop in my building’s retail mall, they jumped on the Christmas bandwagon last week. Garlands, wreaths, Chicken Little advent calendars. You know – things that keep in the Christian spirit and encourage a lighter pocketbook.

There were probably two triggers for the store reno: the seasonal promo package arrived from head office, and the building’s landlord had already decorated the common areas of the mall by November 2nd.

Chatting to the manager, I pointed out one of the most irritating promotions in the store (other than the muzak): a four foot statue of Jolly Old Saint Nick, red suit and all. At his feet is a red button: you press it, and he starts to sing Tinpan Alley Christmas classics, all the while dancing some sort of demonic and robotic Chubby Checker twist.

The statue, I believe, was programmed and choreographed by Harold Wormser, the youngest of the Tri-Lams from “Revenge of the Nerds.”

“I bet you’ll take the batteries out of THAT in a week,” I said.

“Actually, we only turn it on during peak hours … To set the spirit, you know …” she replied.

And thus a compromise was struck, a compromise that allowed a velvet jacketed, left-footed crooner to work his seasonal magic … without fear of violent retribution from the store’s employees.

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“Office Space” Cross-Promotion at Retail



Newcastle Brown Ale is featuring the re-issued Office Space Special Edition With Flair – soundboard, movie clips and downloads – in an unfortunate Flash format.

The cross-promotion will be supported by “Milton” office cubes set up in Ralph’s, Albertson’s and Save-on grocery stores – where you can pick up the DVD and rebates on your purchase of Newcastle.

I recommend the movie, and the beer. But I do have to ask: WWLD? What Would Lawrence Drink?

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Retail: Shiny Happy People


“I’m a happy worker” – that’s what the button said. In an arc, around a yellow happy face. There were two people working the toy store yesterday. Only one was wearing the button. My first thought was: which one of you hates their job more?

Turns out the button is a promo piece for a line of Happy Worker dolls (or is that action figure?). I wouldn’t have known that, since the dolls themselves were buried on a shelf, not featured on an end cap or in the window. (Judging from the stale company website, the dolls lost their buzz about a year ago).

So- was the employee attempting to be ironic? Was he dissatisfied with his job? Or did he just have a thing for “flair“?

Oh – and this store was selling the Livestrong bracelet for $2.95 – and touting that $1 went to the Armstrong Foundation! Thanks for caring … about your bottom line.

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Detailed comms guide for the non-profit world


Cause Communications, in concert with a number of benefactors, has prepared Communications Toolkita guide to navigating communications for the nonprofit world. At 134 pages, it’s a hefty pdf file, or you can order one complimentary copy (although it’s so popular they have it on backorder).

It’s a trove of communications theory and essential information for beginners in the non-profit and activist community, including hints on pitching, a checklist for event-planning, photo release forms, media planning guides, and instructions on drafting a news release and drawing up a creative brief. Importantly, it also touches upon electronic communications and website usability and optimization -in an easy to understand manner.

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Kevin and Paco: Retail Smackdown!


Kevin Roberts has seen the future for Saatchi .. and it’s retail design?

    “Everyone you meet is talking about ‘doing retail,” Roberts writes in [a new chapter of his 2004 book] Diamonds in the Mine. “Some start with consumers,” he observes. “Very few are starting with shoppers.”(WWD)

Sure. Except for Paco Underhill. Maybe you’ve heard of him? He dabbles in the retail experience.

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How to ruin retail choice – over-regulation


It seems the All-Party Small Shops Group, a group of British MPs, suspects that further measures are needed to ensure all Britons have fair and competitive access to supermarket goods across the land.

Nothing like the scrutiny of an ombudsman and an MP’s group to keep the price of peas fair for all.

Says their Chair:

    We need an ombudsman so that people can refer complaints to them but also to take a broader view on supermarkets. The Department of Trade and Industry is adopting a hands-off approach with supermarkets, but we have regulators for all kinds of industries, so why not for this sector?

    While it need not be something heavy handed in the way that it has been with railways, people have got to have someone who can address their complaints if they are suffering as a result of unfair practices. (Times of London)

Would you like to be the poor customer service rep in that sort of organization? Taking calls about coupon cashing policies, the lack of shopping carts at urban locations, and “why don’t they carry Tilson cheese at that shop on High Street?”

Call me a free market fanatic, but if unbearably small profit margins and growing price pressure from new formats are forcing consolidation in the supermarket industry, I would bet that greater regulation and oversight would not lessen the price of cheese strings or Ryvita crackers.

It would, however, open up another line of business for British communications shops – all those customer feedback forms for supermarkets across the country, inevitable trade show booths offering government customer service training videos, and an inane PSA campaign about the new rating system: “We stack the groceries, so you don’t have to.”

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Retail politics and PR in London


The candidates for Mayor of London are building a head of steam as they approach poll day – June 10. PR Week UK took a look at the outreach and media tactics of the three leading candidates.

Of course, sometimes the incumbent can also be helped out: a last minute deal struck by PM Blair may have averted a London Underground strike called for poll day, and could help shore up support for Mayor “Red Ken” Livingstone.

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Working on the details of a speech


We all make mistakes. Unfortunately, sometimes they make it into the paper.

Last week, “an underling” from the Ontario Securities Commission called a reporter at the National Post:

“to know whether the reporter had noted the exact times when [OSC Chair David] Brown started and stopped reading his speech.

The caller was asked why the OSC needs such bizarre information. Does Brown need an alibi for something?

The caller said Commission staff are timing Brown’s speaking pace to determine whether it needs work.(sub. req.)

You’d think they would ask the event organizer first. Or even send one of their people to listen to the boss.

I suspect this is the speech. Quite an interesting opening, given that he was speaking to the national trade association for the Canadian mutual fund industry:

I stand here before you with a certain amount of trepidation. After all, I’m investigating you and the entire mutual fund industry, seeking to find out if you’ve been operating legally and with integrity.

I feel a bit like the skydiver who has just jumped from a plane at 10,000 feet only to discover that his parachute doesn’t work and the backup is also jammed. As he’s plummeting toward the ground, he sees a man rocketing upward toward him, looking a little singed. As the two men meet, heading in opposite directions, the skydiver shouts, Do you know anything about parachutes? No, comes the reply, do you know anything about gas barbecues?

Hopefully, by the time we have concluded our session this morning, we’ll know a little bit more about each other and both be able to leave the room, uninjured.

It’s a good joke, but I don’t know if the imagery completely works – for the regulator or for the industry attendees. It implies ignorance on one side, and victimization on the other.

Greg Brooks had a good pointer to a blog entry on confidence markers, those aural and visual cues so essential to effective public speaking.

Looking for more speechwriting help? Here’s a nice colourful .pdf on writing and delivering a persuasive speech.

Inc. ran a six-part series on raising your profile by preparing and delivering effective speeches in 2001.

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When retail renos ruin your brand


There’s one in every city – a big name retail or fast food outlet that’s undergone a quick and shoddy conversion. A letter’s been changed in the name, the ubiquitous “arches” are cut in half, the drive-thru sits unused – but the window still advertises $5 pizzas.

In Scarborough, people don’t seem to have a problem with Funeral Hut (really called the Scarborough Funeral Centre).

As Bill Walsh, who recently held a memorial service for his father at the building, told the National Post: ” … everyone knew where it was, so it wasn’t a hassle to give directions.” These, he admits, consisted of: “Where the Pizza Hut used to be.” (sub. req.)

Take a look at It’s a noticeable collection of renovated/reused/appropriated brand identities. The site’s well worth the visit, even if they use the term “economic gestalt” in their manifesto.

Want the old-style Kentucky Fried Chicken, with a little more bite? Try Monte Vista Liquors. How about an Oreck Floor Care Centre? How about a Gilstrap Chropractic? Bet that isn’t covered in the brand identity manual. And what does it say about the longevity of your franchisees?

Of course, other brands suffer retail reno ruin as well. Dairy Queen musn’t be too happy about Big Bites – where they still sell ice cream and other treats. What do you bet they use the same machines?

There are two observations to be made about these sorts of buildings – they usually relate to a long-disappeared version of the brand identity, one that is ten, twenty or thirty years old, and they are stand-alone buildings constructed specifically for the franchise.

Their age means they came along before the popularity of the “pad” installation of box-style fast food outlets at retail “power centres.” Have you noticed how easily YUM Brands converted their pad Wendy’s into combination Wendy’s/Taco Bell/Pizza Hut locations? It’s much easier if all you have to do is change a sign and drive-thru awning.

There’s a flip-side to the replaceable identity. If your marketing campaigns rely upon static appliques and pop-up Disney tie-ins, your customers don’t really need to invest any effort in developing an allegiance to your actual products. After all, doesn’t everyone have white meat chicken nuggets?

Consumers are now used to finding a “chain” restaurant available in every new power retail development. It doesn’t matter what chain, as long as it’s quick, cheap and reliable. Take a look at the exacting requirements revealed when a Virginia paper surveyed local residents about a new development:

… informally surveyed about three dozen Lake of the Woods residents about new businesses they would like to see in the area, a majority of the responses centered on food. Most wanted more sit-down restaurants with a pleasant ambiance, offering lunch and dinner and a variety of cuisines. Other suggestions included ice-cream and pizza parlors.

Many also mentioned a more upscale supermarket … Some suggested a hotel and a boutique. A fitness center was also a popular request, with some specifying one with an indoor pool exclusively for fitness.

Fitness centre? What, was their Mom listening in on the other line? “Yeah! I’m looking for a Chinese buffet, a pizza place, maybe somewhere with a Tuesday shrimp special. Oh, and a pool. Gotta watch the weight!”

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Instigator, not an insurgent


Last week, David Eaves asked whether young public servants are having  to turn to insurgent tactics to build the workplace of the 21st century, largely because the bureaucracy is stultifyingly slow to make collaborative tools and work processes available to them.

Can a large organization – at least one headquartered outside Silicon Valley – accomodate cultural change and an ongoing challenge to the organizational status-quo?

It appears that General Electric is taking steps in the right direction. In an article in this month’s Harvard Business Review, and accompanying podcast, chief marketing officer Beth Comstock explains how the global conglomerate has identified four specific roles that marketers must assume if the organization is to continue to grow: instigator, innovator, integrator, and implementer.

“Marketing leaders need to think strategically and challenge the status quo, using their unique external vantage point to see what may not be apparent to others in the business. Sometimes this entails moving beyond preaching about marketing’s merits to imagining scenarios that business heads might face—perhaps marketing’s most important role. Leaders must be willing to push change.”

An instigator is just that: a member of the team that pushes for strategic change, often to the discomfort of others.

Or, more simply:

Instigator: Incites a “better way” using a unique vantage point to see around corners (a GE Director, speaking at BMA Chicago)

In a comment to David’s original post, Geordie Adams notes that

“I see them inside the public service regularly, wish I could say everyday. I just call them progressive though, not insurgents.”

Let’s remember that GE has identified FOUR roles as essential to the success of its unit, industry and global marketing efforts: instigator, innovator, integrator, and implementer .

I argue that we can identify colleagues in the public service (whether you self-identify as #w2p, #goc, #gov20 or whatever) whose behaviour echoes one or more of these roles. Some are good at selling ideas, others are good at developing new strategies, and others are very good at the not-so-simple job of execution.

Working as a team, public servants from a range of backgrounds and equipped with a variety of skillsets can get great work done.

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Let government screw up


*addendum: This post, while it references one particular example published in the blogosphere today, was prompted by a number of examples – on blogs, in person and on twitter – where people inside and outside government have rushed to comment and judgement on social media work implemented by government agencies. It’s a product of the rush to #fail – something of a new generation of “first!” in the comment field. I didn’t try to write it as a critique of that one particular post – which had a lot of spot-on observations.

A more transparent government. A more responsive bureaucracy. A more accessible public service. Those are the hopes and goals of Canadians no matter where they fall among a particular demographic or geographic segment. Whether they’re open data advocates, engagement gurus, social media consultants or simply public servants pushing for change as quickly as possible.

I would argue that governments across Canada are committing the time, money and staff to make these changes. We’re seeing new tools, new data streams, expanded outreach activities, even contests as government organizations assess which tools and strategies would work best for them.

I have the opportunity to speak to groups across government about the benefits, challenges and potential costs of social media. In the face of institutional anxiety, I’ve argued that social media is a positive environment that encourages experimentation. In fact, online users are willing to accept mis-steps and stumbles from government organizati0ns simply because it demonstrates initiative and ambition, if not expertise.

This seems to calm nerves among more traditional bureaucrats, who have been trained through repetition and repercussion to mitigate risk – especially the possibility of public embarrassment.

Which is why I find it upsetting – yes, upsetting – to watch when people in the “social media community” decide that there’s no better way to greet a new social media initiative than a detailed critique of its failings, distributed as quickly and widely as possible in the name of “creating a conversation.”

Senior civil servants, you see, are not comfortable with the rough and tumble dialectic that frames the development of most innovative projects in the online world. While they’re trying to adapt as quickly as possible, they still rely on the advice of their functional experts to plan and launch new projects.

Blunt criticism of a project, when published or re-tweeted widely, then has to be interpreted/deciphered for these senior civil servants by the very same  technical and “social media” experts. This can become  a Sisyphean challenge: spend months building internal agreement for a project, then days defending it from criticism leveled by your erstwhile allies.

For the individual or team who spent a lot of time convincing a senior public servant to launch a groundbreaking personal web site incorporating relatively new communications channels (the public service still has fax machines), it must be frustrating to be criticized for:

  • using brown in your design;
  • poor photo montage skills*
  • a lack of “engagement”

Let’s keep this in perspective: the Clerk of the Privy Council is the head of the public service of Canada. It is a job that requires the greatest networking, engagement and communication skills of any in the public service, but these skills are largely targeted at ensuring the dozens of Deputy Ministers are implementing the government’s agenda, on an hour-by-hour, day-by-day, basis.

If you want to argue that we need a central online gathering point for public service renewal efforts, I would agree with you. That responsibility, though, has been delegated to a committee of Deputy Ministers and the Chief Human Resources Officer. There have been cross-Government experiments and pilot projects, like GCPedia and GCConnex. Dozens of departments are lurking behind the firewall with blogs, wikis, podcasts and videos. Some are even resorting to relatively sophisticated Sharepoint installs.

There is one consistent quality sought from every Clerk: the ability to delegate power. Depending upon our ambition and our inspiration, we all would like some piece of this delegated power. Members of the #W2P community would like to see a delegation (network access, software, smart phones, time for side of the table projects) that would allow them to launch and implement innovative new projects quickly and collaboratively.

Before these powers and resources can be delegated on more than a short-term basis, there must be awareness and engagement among senior leaders at the ADM and DM level. That will begin to build buzz-word worthy activities into the long-term business processes at the Branch and Department-level. We’re beginning to see that.

The fact that the Clerk is even experimenting with these tools is a tremendous step forward.

So get off his back and let the man (and the team behind the curtain) tweak their experiment.

*Don’t get me started on photos and graphic design. For the longest time, many departments had in-house photo, film, editing and production teams capable of producing clear, consistent and first rate multi-media materials. Through attrition and cost-cutting in the 1980s and 1990s, this capacity was slowly eliminated. (If you’re one of the few departments that still has this capacity, why don’t you share it with the rest of us??) Today, graphic design and pre-production layout is either contracted out, or given to someone with consumer editing software installed on their desktop. (Or someone with a Mac at home).

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Location – tell me my current obsession


Lately, I’ve been zoning in on books that discuss location – whether through wayfinding, past experience in urban and wild settings, the development of innate navigational skills, or novel treatements of life in particular locations. Here’s a sampling from my recent bookshelf:

Where am I?Colin Ellard

” … Two things seem to be universal in wayfaring cultures like the Inuit and the Australian Aborigines. One of them is that they’ve honed this exquisite eye for detail that we don’t have. The other thing that these cultures do is use narrative and story. The best example of all is these song lines in Aborigines – what they’re doing is they are making an explicit connection between their creation, the creation of everything, and the shape and size of the landscape. They’re using song lines as a kind of navigational aid, but at the same time there’s this spiritual connection to place …” (Globe and Mail)

Retrofitting SuburbiaEllen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson

” … But we found, over and over in interviews, people being really sad when their mall had died. “I had my prom in that mall,” they’d say. They attribute the mall with a lot of bonding, a lot of time growing up—they really loved their malls. When it died, the first reaction was: Let’s find a developer to fix our mall. Most people didn’t want a downtown-type structure, they just wanted their mall back. It takes a paradigm shift, like the example of Belmar (see pictures at right).

Belmar was built five miles outside of Denver, and originally had no desire to be urban at all. But by the time the mall died, the surrounding suburban community of Lakewood, Colo., had become the fourth-largest municipality in the state. They had put in a library and a city hall, but it was set up like a strip mall. They eventually found a developer for the property who said “I won’t redevelop the mall, but I’ll give you a town center.” It took a while, but they bought in, completel …” (Popular Mechanics)

StripmallingJon Paul Fiorentino

” … Jonny lives and works in a strip mall in Suburban Winnipeg. For some people, this would be exciting and fulfilling enough …”

Personal Space: the behavioral basis of designRobert Sommer

Before “getting up in your grill,” there was “personal space.” This is the original work, which drawn from initial insight found at a psychiatric hospital in Saskatchewan.

Hollywood in the Neighborhood – Kathryn H. Fuller-Seeley, ed

How Hollywood and the new breed of popular entertainment – movies – arrived in the heartland, and the effect this had on the community.

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Colin McKay: Gov Web 2.0 Communications Pioneer


Reposted from John Cass’ PR Communications, and one in a series of reminisces about Global PR Blog week, which was published five years ago this week.

Colin McKay was an early Canadian pioneer in blogging and social media, but also in the Government use of social media. In my continuing series of interviews with Alumni from the Global PR Blog week, I ask Colin questions about the conference.

John: What did you learn from the Global PR Blog Week?

Colin: Global PR Blog Week was my first real opportunity to work with like-minded people from around the world. Collaboration, community and crowd sourcing are words that are thrown around quite easily today: just five years ago, it was unusual to pull together virtual teams working to a common agenda. YoungPrPros and other listservs were the most similar beast.

John: What did you learn about blogging, if you learned anything about blogging, from the blog week?

Colin: By July 2004, I had been blogging for nearly a year. I had been posting short observations, longer analytical pieces, and even commentary. I didn’t, however, truly realize the breadth and depth of knowledge and experience that could be shared if bloggers pulled their resources together and focused on a common series of topics.

John: Did the conference give you any new insights into PR, and if so what were they?

Colin: I had been aware of the different fields of PR and communications, but hadn’t really spent much time really thinking outside my own day-to-day work. PR Blog Week really demonstrated that there were inspired and influential bloggers who could bring insight to issues common across all these fields.

John: What were the lasting effects of the Global PR Blog Week?

Colin: Personally, I am still in contact with many of the contributors. Participating encouraged me to write longer form posts and articles on my blog and elsewhere, and to consciously look to other bloggers and online sources for inspiration and ammunition.

John: How did the Global PR Blog week influence you and the industry?

Colin: I’m not sure how influential PR Blog Week was for the industry. We’ve certainly seen an explosion in the number and quality of PR pros expressing themselves online. I’d hope that PR Blog Weeks 1 and 2 demonstrated that sold, well-reasoned and influential work could come out of blogging, and that blogging was not just a distraction for disaffected employees.

Interestingly, I look back at the list of participants, and I notice many names that are still influential in the field – personalities that have remained consistent and have continued to contribute, often without a care for being identified as influential, or a guru or a thought leader.

Reviewing the post(s) you wrote for the Global PR Blog week what has changed? What has not changed, since you wrote your post?

Colin: In year 1, I covered crisis communications. I notice that I didn’t cover online tools in any detail. That would definitely change today, but my advice on the preparation, attitudes and approaches to a crisis would not.

In year 2, I focused on the intersection between online communications and the development of government policy. For the longest time, that article remained current – it seems that the ground has begun to shift over the past nine months or so. #Gov2.0 has taken a great leap forward with the arrival of the Obama administration and the experimentation of the Labour government in the UK.

John: Give an update on what you’ve been doing in the last five years, and what you are doing now?

Colin: Well, canuckflack is still well and alive, although it has received greater and less attention over the years. I continued as a communications manager at the Department of Industry until 2007, when I joined the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. At the moment, I’m the Director of Research, Education and Outreach, and have been able to launch some fairly novel outreach tools that draw from my experience blogging and fooling around with social media:, and Not to mention our fledgling Twitter account

John: Thank you Colin. Great insights into the virtual event, how PR has changed and not changed. Also I think your point about the faster pace of change in Government is very true.

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