September 1, 2006 by Colin
What to think of the shadowy corporate presence lurking in your blog stats? I break my visitors into two categories: PR agencies conducting monitoring on behalf of clients, and coprorate employees swinging by for a look. The bots and filters deployed by the agencies make their appearance in the days after I post about national brands; the badge-wearing click-throughs are more intermittent.
Josh Hallet compares this activity to prank calls:
” … In some ways it’s the equivalent of calling somebody and then hanging up. Hello….we have CallerID (they’re called stats), we know it was you…how come you didn’t want to talk?
It’s a conundrum for many corporations, they’ll look but won’t touch. From my experience they just don’t know what to do. Who is authorized to comment on behalf of the company? We’re not allowed to visit blogs at work….Aren’t all bloggers out for corporate destruction? etc. …”
A useful discussion follows, but it overlooks one type of corporate visitor: the rubbernecker.Â While corporate lawers may be interested in your post for possible legal action, marketers to assess impact on brand values, the PR agency to plug some more data in the media monitoring report and the customer service department to actually respond, there are quite a few bodies in any corporate organization that will swing by just so they can hoover up the details.
After all, you need the juice to gossip effectively.
August 31, 2006 by Colin
It’s not much of a surprise, but Wal-Mart is testing new pricing and product models – including a test store with more upmarket products.
” … the addition of upscale products in key future growth areas is an important tool to attract new customers without alienating the company’s core shoppers in search of the lowest prices for basic goods. At a 203,000-square-foot test store in Plano, Texas, an upscale suburb of Dallas, Wal-Mart is showcasing expensive jewelry, $500 bottles of wine, plasma TV sets and other expensive items along with organic foods. Now, some of those items are trickling into other stores.” (Forbes)
Hmm. Reminds me of the classic David Wilcox tune “Downtown Came Uptown”:
” … I used to wear jeans
I’m in italian slacks
I had long shaggy hair
It’s cut short and slicked back
I drank three dollar wine
Now it’s cocktails at two
Because downtown came uptown for you …
So you took me uptown
You made your driver wait
Taught me how to eat snails
And caviar on a plate
No more sittin’ in the alley
With the boys drinkin’ blues
Because downtown came uptown for you”
Lacklustre cover of “Downtown Came Uptown” available on YouTube.
August 31, 2006 by Colin
The first day of September is just hours away, and that means we’re about three weeks from a new year’s worth of high school and college students realizing they’re desperately short of money. They will then hit the bricks looking for anything that will may cash money. As a tribute, I present 6 First Job Archetypes for Teens and Twenty-Somethings:
Fast food chatter – The bottom of the new-to-retail food chain, she works in a smaller franchise serving juices and wraps to mall shoppers. She took this job to satisfy her parents and be near her friends – who also work retail at the mall. She has absolutely no loyalty to the job or her boss, and will drop the job the second a trip to Vail opens up.
Ducking from Reality – not actually an employee, this guy hangs out where his friends (and imagined girlfriends) work. He’s a serious drain on productivity, a distraction when real customers come in, and a confirmed stalker. He can demonstrate passion for the product in the store, but will shy away from any formal role moving product.
Too Smart For Your Own Good – This guy spends every waking hour of his day learning about the stock on the shelves – whether it’s records, D&D, xtreme sports or yoga wear. He has more invested in his identity as an expert and connaisseur than as your latex salesman, and this will harm your balance sheet. He sort of slid into the job after coming into the store 197 days in a row, and will be hard to get rid of.
Halfway to Juvie – Bouncing from call centres, rental car outlets to cheque cashing places, this guy is honestly trying to find a niche for himself in society. He just has a problem with authority. Your authority. Will rise to the challenge and deliver in the crunch, but his tendency to question the larger social implications of his job may drive him (and you) nuts.
‘Stache Man – Likes to think he’s pulling off a Tom Selleck/David Carradine vibe, but really looks like the sofa dwelling stoner he is. Unspecified life experiences have prepared him to turn any conversation to the worst. No real job plans are in his future, but he certainly knows what he’d do if he won a million dollars.
Oh God No! – This is what happens to students if they don’t plan ahead. $19.95 photo packages, smoke breaks by the loading dock, and a vaguely suspicious feeling about the rent-a-Santa. And a job that may end by Boxing Day, but doesn’t pay enough to let you shop on December 26.
August 29, 2006 by Colin
Remember when Blockbuster was considered a surefire moneymaker? Investors in video rentals were business geniuses who could expect the company to throw off money for years to come? There have been some roadbumps in that industry lately, haven’t there?
Who knew ten years ago that video rentals would be kneecapped by the popularity of online media, changing viewing habits and bloody pay-per-view?
DAMN YOU READILY AVAILABLE BROADBAND!
That’s the secret in successful business forecasting: amazing priescence and an awareness of changing customer preferences.
Mark Cuban, while arguing that online movie distribution is not an immediate threat to retail distribution, makes a point about the industry that will really be affected by downloaded video:
” … The biggest business impact of downloadable movies won’t be on the movie business, it will be on the paperback book business.”
A great soundbite, but it comes with plenty of caveats: movies are not a good summer beach read; iPods aren’t exactly welcome on flights lately; etc.
That’s why I noted that awareness of customer preferences are an important component of business forecasting: the paperback industry won’t be crippled any time soon. Downloaded movies, and their players, are still a (sizeable) niche industry.
August 21, 2006 by Colin
More than a decade ago, archivists and historians fretted about what would happen to the tell-tale details of everyday life – the scribblings in the margins of books, doodles in journals, folded and unfolded personal telegrams – that help social scientists reconstruct how our parents, grandparents and forebears led their lives.
It was already obvious that handwritten notes had been abandoned in favour of the temporary record produced by e-mail. Even worse, successive generations of software and computing technology meant that electronic records were being lost to planned mechanical obsolescence, notÂ good old mould, water rot or poor filing.
Today, the pendulum seems to be swinging the other way thanks to cheap plentiful memory. A gig of memory (and rising!) in Gmail means you don’t delete your messages as quickly. Online sharing sites, like Flickr and YouTube, mean more data is being added to the public library every day (whether that data is valuable or not is subjective).
Terence Dick, writing in This Magazine, notes that YouTube may have some historical value (providing they don’t figure out a way to monetize the site and get bought out) :
” … The siteâ€™s success lies in how easy it is to make the most minor of experiences and events available to all. That convenience, however, threatens to change You Tube from an idealistic adventure in media democracy (â€śBroadcast yourselfâ€ť is its current motto) to something much more utilitarian. … You Tube has become a message board for its users, home to in-jokes, personal letters and individual exchanges. Instead of minor masterpieces, videos are reduced to the level of Post-it notes.
… And while this might not make for compelling television, it makes for incredible anthropology. Nowhere else could you access such intimate moments in the everyday lives of strangers. Instead of their current catchphrase, the powers-that-be at You Tube might consider changing their motto to â€śExcavate yourselfâ€ť and encourage their users to share something more authentic (and original) than their lip-synching tributes to pop stars.”Â
Still – YouTube the anthropological reference should learn from the experience ofÂ the movie Galaxy Quest: if your culture indiscriminately beams out thousands of hours of programming into the ether, you better hope someone out there has a really good TV Guide.
August 18, 2006 by Colin
Hey folks! If the Federal Court of Appeals feels this strongly about members of the bar acting unethically in pursuit of billable hours from the tobacco companies, what in the world must they think of the behaviour of advertising, marketing and public relations firms?
” … Finally, a word must be said about the role of lawyers in this fifty-year history of deceiving smokers, potential smokers, and the American public about the hazards of smoking and second hand smoke, and the addictiveness of nicotine. At every stage, lawyers played an absolutely central role in the creation and perpetuation of the Enterprise and the implementation of its fraudulent schemes.
They devised and coordinated both national and international strategy; they directed scientists as to what research they should and should not undertake; they vetted scientific research papers and reports as well as public relations materials to ensure that the interests of the Enterprise would be protected; they identified â€śfriendlyâ€ť scientific witnesses, subsidized them with grants from the Center for Tobacco Research and the Center for Indoor Air Research, paid them enormous fees, and often hid the relationship between those witnesses and the industry; and they devised and carried out document destruction policies and took shelter behind baseless assertions of the attorney client privilege.
What a sad and disquieting chapter in the history of an honorable and often courageous profession. …” (Judgement, Page 4 (pg 34 of .pdf))
The judgement discusses initial efforts in 1953 and 1954 to launch a public relations campaign in support of tobacco (around pg. 51 of the .pdf) and just builds speed and volume as it approaches the closing pages.
There is a danger in quoting historical documents out of context: still, they serve to shed light on the environment, the culture and the perceptions of the time:
” … According to a Hill & Knowlton memo dated December 22, 1953, the public relations firm was asked to:
develop suggestions for dealing with the public relations problem confronting the industry as a result of widely publicized assertions by a few medical research men regarding the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer.
11. In an internal planning memoranda, Hill & Knowlton assessed their tobacco clients’ problems in the following manner:
There is only one problem — confidence, and how to establish it; public assurance, and how to create it — in a perhaps long interim when scientific doubts must remain. And, most important, how to free millions of Americans from the guilty fear that is going to arise deep in their biological depths — regardless of any pooh-poohing logic — every time they light a cigarette. No resort to mere logic ever cured panic yet, whether on Madison Avenue, Main Street, or in a psychologistâ€™s office. And no mere recitation of arguments pro, or ignoring of arguments con, or careful balancing of the two together, is going to deal with such fear now. That, gentlemen, is the nature of the unexampled challenge to this office.”
There are a further 192 mentions of the term “public relations” in the 1742 page judgement, and none of them are favourable. Our colleagues in marketing and advertising have their weaknesses and failures cited in greater detail.
Our colleagues at H&K, it is plainly documented, pushed their new clients about the legitimacy of their claims and encouraged independent research to support any health or benefit claims. Still, they took on the work. It was a different time, businessmen embodied different values and accepted different social behaviours.
The question for every public relations counsellor and practitioner today, it seems, falls to a fundamental and introspective examination of personal values. How will your work be interpreted through the lens of history?
No matter if you hide behind a fig leaf of a code of ethics or point to a package of professional standards, does your work feel uncomfortable?
(BTW – my apologies to the blogger who originally pointed to the judgement’s remarks about lawyers. I’ve lost my notes, and can’t link back)
August 18, 2006 by Colin
Ouch. Andrew Young’s comments aboutÂ his own experiences with ethnically-owned neighbourhood retail and grocery stores may end up hurting hisÂ erstwhile employers rather than helping them.
Yesterday, he resigned after comments made to the Los Angeles Sentinel provoked reaction from a range of community and ethnic representatives.
” … Explaining his comments about Koreans, Jews and Arabs, Mr. Young said he was referring to the history of retail ownership in the neighborhood where he lives in southwestern Atlanta.
â€śAlmost everyone who has come into my community has moved in, made money and moved out and moved up,â€ť he said. â€śThat process is still continuing.â€ť
… â€śThe only thing I can do,â€ť Mr. Young said last night before he resigned, â€śis to ask that people judge me about a life of working together with people who are different and bringing people together without violence and without rancor. I would hope that would count for something.â€ť …” (NYT)
Â (BTW – The Sentinel’s website sucks)
Â [tag]Wal-Mart, Astroturf[/tag]
August 13, 2006 by Colin
Hello hearty and faithful subscribers. This is the new format and home for Canuckflack, the blog about public relations, marketing, branding, promotion, retail and related topics. The most convenient feed continues to be at Feedburner : http://feeds.feedburner.com/Canuckflack
Thank you for your patience as I (and you) make the transition to a world with more user apps, boxes with rounded corners and much mellower pastel colours.
August 7, 2006 by Colin
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.
August 7, 2006 by Colin
Canuckflack is written by Colin McKay. I’m increasingly interested in the intersection between commerce and individual behaviour, and I’m paying more attention to sources that can turn multi-disciplinary observations into fundamental insight. You’ll still find thoughts, snippets and blurbs on PR, marketing, corporate communications, retail, promotion, crisis communications and media relations, but I’m really growing bored of the insular and repetitive “conversations” fuelled by most “social media experts.”
I remain supremely disappointed that I was neither raised by beavers nor moose, or that I never heard my name being called during the closing “mirror” segment of Romper Room. An owner of Generation “X” in first run hardcover, I really feel uncomfortable saying things like “for shizzle” and “peeps.” I’m old enough to remember when advertisers only wanted your cold hard cash, and had no aspirations to move in, become friends with your cat and get invited to Thanksgiving dinner.
I work in public policy for Google, from an office in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
As always, the material in my blog in no way represents the opinions, views, or policies of my employer.
Have any questions? Email me at email@example.com
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August 6, 2006 by Colin
I have my reservations about jumping on the Second Life bandwagon, just like Kevin and Darren. It’s still too early to bet the farm on a platform whose market size may equal that of U.S. Saab drivers. (no matter what the projections for 2008 may say)
Marketers and public relations pros thinking of exploring this environment can picky up some hints from the users already blogging their online experiences. Real world practioners will also notice that habits, preferences and human behaviour often translate seamlessly between the two evironments. In one, the names are just sillier.
Cited below are practical examples drawn from SL projects:
- The House on Swan Pond – which is a Second Life representation of a house being designed for a real life family.
- Pimp your own ride: SL marketing 101: Advice for Second Life fashion designers and retailers, and equally applicable to the real world.
” … Shep Korvin at LapGirl may have pioneered this idea in SL, but wherever it came from, Iâ€™m a huge fan of this strategy. Once a month he creates a box, shoves some of his best new items into it – not boxes of items, just the items themselves. Then he includes a notecard detailing items names and prices, adds a landmark, and distributes it. The box is, smartly enough, called LapGirl – Reviewersâ€™ Box – May 2006 or something like that. Like so many of the best things in life, this is simple and yet brilliant. …
For designers looking for exposure, I think that selecting a particular day of the month to create and distribute your Reviewer Packs is probably an excellent way to make sure you regularly devote a chunk of time to your own PR and marketing. Call it PR Day, call it Pimp Day, call it whatever you like, but be sure to devote one day a month to organising and distrubuting your wares to the fashionista press circuit. …”
“…Just because you are in a mall with other vendors doesn’t mean the traffic will flock to you, you will have to do some work to get people to your store. Also, having an attractive, easy to navigate display is important. If you can, show your products around. Get them into reviewer/blogger hands, and make sure you’ve got a classified set for your stores ( or at least in your picks) on your profile.
Sponsoring events is also a good way to get some exposure, aside from just wandering around secondlife and talking to people. You can also buy advertising on places like SLxechange, SLboutique, the Metaverse Messanger, inworld, etc, etc. Posting your products in the forums and adding your store locations to your signature in the forums is also helpful. …”
” … after receiving a very generous offer to purchase FORBIDDEN and all its products and with the hype of the past months we couldnt decline. FORBIDDEN has been bought out and will be ran under diffrent managament. Zahara has completley decided to leave SL, I however will be staying and see where it takes me. I hope to return to designing one day and hopefully will. …”
- Resurrecting the careers of cultural touchstones that just don’t move big product anymore. Like Suzanne Vega and Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut, by the way, will be appearing on the SL version of The Infinite Mind.
- Apparently, it’s hard to protect your innovations in fashion. From a superficial reading, it seems that SL may benefit in some instruction on the business of fashion from Allan B. Schwartz: it may seem like your designs are being copied and resold, but that’s really just an homage, baby! As Chicago once sang: “You’re the meaning in my life/
You’re the inspiration/You bring feeling to my life/You’re the inspiration.”
- There’s even a touch of Caddyshack: freelance caddies working the Holly Kai Ocean Nine golf course for tips.
BTW – it was Rob Walker who compared his Second Life representation to an “avatard“. Walker’s going to be paying more attention to “in-world” business in the future.
August 5, 2006 by Colin
Mike Driehorst tagged me (quite a few days ago, I’m sorry to admit) with listing my five social media favourites.
Well, my first is Bloglines. No surprise there. I use different computers everywhere I go, as well as my BlackBerry, so Bloglines gives me a common reference point for my feeds.
My second is podcasts. Here are some of my regular destinations:
- American Copywriter
- Delta Park Project
- Inside PR
- Across the Sound
- KCRW’s The Business
- The Guardian’s Media talk
- Better Desirable Roasted Communications
- NPR Motley Fool Profiles
- The Sound of Young America
My third? Google Analytics. Thankfully, I jumped on the free offer last year.
Fourth? Technorati’ search, and combined with Blogpulse’s trend and conversation analysis.
Fifth is Movable Type. I’ve been using it since 2003 and, sure, other blogging engines may be surpassing MT in popularity but it’s still reliable and familiar.
Kind of like driving an AMC Eagle 4×4.
August 2, 2006 by Colin
I really think the WSJ’s piece on the new direction in BMW’s marketing campaign – “promoting a corporate culture of independence and innovation” – would have benefited from a discussion of BMW’s decision to sponsor the audio and video downloads of presentations at this spring’s TED conference.
After all, it’s not like several of the downloads have gone viral or anything.
Instead, they highlighted BMW’s involvement with a new PGA tournament. A good idea to target affluent boomers, but Buick, Cadillac or Toyota already have strong links with golf. What about focusing on the innovative aspects of their repositioning?
The WSJ article is subscription only, unfortunately.
If anything, David Kiley’s piece in BusinessWeek was more detailed.
August 2, 2006 by Colin
I carry around a Moleskine notebook for two reasons: because I’m pretentious, and because I like drawing pictures. At the very least, I like waving my hands around while speaking, trying to communicate the visual idea map that is plainly obvious to my eyes – but often unseen by my colleagues. Dave Gray of XPLANE fame spoke to Sean Wise about how to better communicate your fundamental business concepts – in this case focusing on the development of a back of napkin diagram (BoND) to help entrepreneurs sell their ideas to venture capitalists.
” … A good BoND can also assist with employee recruitment, team alignment, sales and technology build outs. [venture capitalist Rick] Segal comments, that “As the prospective client, employee, or VC engages, both parties can use the drawing as a central reference point. It’s a very useful tool that is often overlooked in favour of mountains of text laden painful power point slides.” …
“Visual diagrams can serve as a powerful ‘platform for conversations.’ They help people focus their attention and understand new ideas better and faster. Better understanding leads to better decisions, which leads to better business results,” said [Dave] Gray.” (Globe and Mail)
At the very least, any communicator with an inclination towards visual thinking should start off by diagramming their problem and possible solutions – I absolutely detest strategies that are clearly derived from a linear train of thought first detailed in a series of PowerPoint slides. If you frame your problem using a linear technology, usually, you’ll come up with a linear argument. That will mask the uncertainties and mixed priorities communicators often face – on their issues, from their management, from their clients and certainly from the public.
In speaking to Wise, Gray set out the steps for working through your first back of napkin diagram:
1. First, be sure you are solving the right problem. â€¦ The best way to define a communication problem is to find the question you want to answer with the communication. Define communications goals as a question that the diagram will answer. â€¦
2. Don’t worry about your drawing skills. If you know the subject, just draw what you know. â€¦
3. Think about your story. â€¦ Remember, the BoND’s first job is to support a story, and help you have meaningful conversations on a subject you care about. If any part of the picture doesn’t support your story, maybe it doesn’t belong.
4. Minimize the number of elements. Research shows that people construct mental models in very predictable ways. When asked to diagram a system, the average person uses around six or seven visual elements to support their story. â€¦
5. Edit ruthlessly, using your goal as a filter. â€¦
6. Once you have a visual diagram that you like, ask yourself, “Is it replicable?” The answer is yes if: You can draw it on a whiteboard and tell the story in 10 minutes or less; You can teach someone else to draw the picture and tell the story.
7. Once you have something you like, test it on everyone you can — friends, family, your spouse, etc. â€¦
8. Revise and update the BoND often â€” like a good relationship or a good wine, it will only improve over time. …” (Globe and Mail)
Look to the whole article for more detail or take a look at the XPLANE website.
You could do worse than subscribe to the two aggregate blogs produced by XPLANE: Xblog, which deals with information design issues, and Bblog, which deals with business issues. Or even Dave Gray’s blog.
August 1, 2006 by Colin
Petro-Canada, the ever present gas refiner and retailer here up north, has launched a series of online videos to help explain the fluctuations in the price of gas. mynameisKate had the scoop first. The “Pump Talk” videos feature pleasant young women who attempt to walk the viewer through the economics of oil drilling, refining and gas marketing, using analogies and personal asides – like a comparison of gas and coffee pricing. The innovation here? The videos are hosted on YouTube.
“… We wanted to do something different. Instead of adding more charts and graphs to the website, we asked Petro-Canada employees how they answer friendsâ€™ or relativesâ€™ questions about gas pricing. As you can imagine, most employees have had plenty of practice at barbecues and weddings. The result is Pump Talk â€” a series of short videos in English and French â€” that we hope will answer some of your questions.” (PetroCanada website)
As Kate points out, the videos do have a corporate feel to them. For that reason, I think there should be more of a corporate identifier embedded in the video – even if it’s only a logo in the lower right hand corner. At the very least, YouTube users expect to see some sort of attribution included in the video, even if its only to indicate where the video was ripped/stolen from.
Contact information would be nice as well. The “contact us” and “feedback” links on the Petro-Canada site lead you to one of those damnable contact submission forms. There’s nothing like the electronic equivalent of a suggestion box to encourage a frank discussion.
That said, it’s refreshing to see a large conglomerate try out new channels for communicating with their customers.
Wonder if we’ll see a remix of the videos popping up on YouTube.
BTW – a reminder, the opinions expressed on Canuckflack are my own, and do not reflect the views of my employer, the Government of Canada.