The Conversation is F*cked


You know, I’m beginning to think we’re due for a big shakeout – and untested social media tactics will be the first things to be thrown off the boat.

The economic indicators are there. Credit crunch. Everyone running to the security of gold. Drops in same store sales. The convergence of climate change worries with $100 oil.

When consumers decide to moderate their spending, where will companies cut their expenses? Bodies.

Bodies that do not have a quantifiable impact on sales.

Have any of your pitches included “starting a conversation” as a goal lately?

Are you REALLY looking for input from your consumers and stakeholders? Or does your idea of consumer generated content really just mean getting internet geeks to design edgy YouTube videos for you?

In a recession, co-creation can be another way to hose your ad, marketing and public relations agencies.

I’m arguing that companies under the gun, facing the knife, don’t really give a f*ck about what the public has to say.

They just want you to buy jars of tomato sauce, BeDazzlers and environmentally friendly printer paper.*

Sure, they’ll play along – but only to avoid product safety claims, grief about shift firings and to avoid repaying tax concessions granted when they built the local plant.

Consumer contact will revert to market-testing, sampling and insincere gladhandling on the shop floor.

Oh – and if you’re a new hire in a PR firm, I hope you’ve been developing a diverse skill set. It would suck to be the new “social media star” that gets thrown out with the bathwater.

*if you believe that there’s any such thing as enivronmentally friendly printer paper, you’re an idiot and a sucker.

[tags] conversation, cluetrain, customer service, recession, economic downturn [/tags]

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Old school book – blogging and marketing


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

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

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

Bloggers’ll turn on you like a hungry ‘gator

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

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Economic contraction equals brand failure?


This will be a first. Faced with economic contraction and consumer apprehension, how will companies increasingly focused on service, brand differentiation, environmental qualities and aspirational marketing react?

How will consumers react? Unlike the last two economic slowdowns, consumers are feeling the credit crunch in their pocket book. Will they change their spending habits? Will they lower their expectations from products, brands or companies?

Or would they expect companies to eat the economic difficulties (including the downstream costs resulting from soaring prices for staples like grains and oil) and spare them the pain while continuing to deliver the quality?

Starbucks has sent a signal: it is slowing the opening of new stores in the United States. Frankly, Starbucks has overpopulated so many neighbourhoods with outlets it could probably close hundreds of stores and maintain its volume.

(Well, maybe. My assumption only works if people are going to Starbucks for its aspirational qualities, not simply convenience. If they think McDonalds or a local coffee house has an equally good morning coffee, Starbucks sales could fall)

Last night, John Moore asked “if Walgreens went out of business tomorrow, would any of us care?

No. Not really. Just like we didn’t care that Pier 1 and Bombay Co. stores closed. Did YOU notice that Restoration Hardware was in the toilet?
Difference is, I don’t look for aspirational values in my drugstore. I look for cheap children’s Tylenol and brand name toothpaste. And maybe a wide selection of Mother’s Day cards late at night.

Forward-thinking companies like Target have been trying to find a price-sensitive but fashion-forward niche in the general merchandise market. Kohl’s is trying the same trick by hiring Dana Buchman. Ralph Lauren is creating a line of goods for mass merchandisers, with a separate identity from his bread and butter lines.
If the credit crunch continues, and the US dollar continues to be battered in comparison to international currencies, consumers may face a difficult choice between affordable products and all the wonderful product qualities they have come to appreciate and flaunt: environmental sensitivity, design, flavour variation, international influences, and individual portion sizes.

In the end, which comes first: value-added attributes, the pocketbook, or government cheese?

[tags] recession, aspirational marketing, consumer choice [/tags]

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Secret Guide to Social Media in Large Organizations


The Secret Underground to Social Media in Large Organizations

Well, I’ve finished work on it. A handy little guide for exploring the world of social media and building support for social media in a large organization.

I think the advice in this 23 page guide to secretly implementing social media in organizations could be equally useful for any government employee looking to try out new technologies – I’m pretty certain on that point, since I’m a government employee in real life.

You can find the guide at this link, and please feel free to share it with your friends, colleagues and bosses.

Here’s an excerpt, from the introduction:

How do you do it? How do you bring a spirit of innovation and experimentation to the communications shop of a large organization?

I’ve worked in a large organization – the government – for the last ten years. You can find bright, creative and resourceful people around every corner, in every department.

During the course of their careers, many of these people have thought of a move that could improve their work or their environment.

From experience, we all know that small changes in process or presentation are easily won. After all, it’s just another line on an approval sheet, or a tweak on the website.

Large organizations can also be convinced to launch a large-scale overhaul of their systems – whether it’s a supply chain, assembly process or online order system.

But it’s a real pain to get them to rethink their relationship with humans outside the security fence. After all, our customer service reps seem to be doing a good job, right? That sales force really does have a handle on the needs of the community, doesn’t it?

In speaking to hundreds of workers and managers for large organizations (government and private sector), I’ve been asked the same questions, over and over:

• How do you convince your boss to even experiment with social media?
• Doesn’t it mean a lot of extra work?
• Isn’t this sort of stuff blocked by our organizational policies?

This Secret Underground Guide to Social Media for Organizations is meant to help you answer some of those questions.

[tags] guide to social media, instruction, dummies guide, introduction, organizations, government [/tags]

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Light at the end of the tunnel


You can just smell it in the air.

What? Virtually anything, but mostly febreeze and scented candles.

Why? Because the 53 centimetres of snow we got on the weekend have wiped out any trace of naturally occuring scent – decaying leaves, tepid water, roadkill …

“Can Al Gore come clear my driveway?” – Facebook status update

Along with the early arrival of Daylight Savings Time, it feels like we’re turning a page into Spring.

Next up is the fundamental soul searching: just as nature breaks out anew, showering us with crocuses, buds, tiny twittering birds and a plague of rabbits, we begin to question our own existence.

The options on the table, once the last slushy puddle has evaporated:

  • have I fooled myself into liking this job?
  • have I fooled myself into believing this company has a future?
  • will a gradual training program really prepare me for the Terry Fox Run?
  • I want to frolick in the flowers. Is my significant other really a frolicker?
  • Is the Shamrock Shake the first step in a widening slide towards jammer shorts and oversized tshirts at the beach this summer?
  • why don’t I look for a nice quiet job in policy?
  • I think I’ll paint the shutters – after the Stanley Cup
  • I should shake things up – by taking an earlier bus
  • Wow. Interest rates are really low. Maybe I’ll jusy renew my ARM.
  • This is the year me and the band pile into the Prius and … Dammit, vans are carbon pigs!
  • Time to start training HARD CORE for ultimate!
  • in three months, I could be a word of mouth expert!
  • I will buy every album recommended by Pitchfork and Gorilla vs.Bear
  • Team Lohan returns!
  • Harold and Kumar Go To Where?
  • I will never leave a meeting without posing a rhetorical question
  • Ties are for situations requiring hand shakes
  • I will not eat in a food court this summer
  • Pink shirts are for real men
  • When in doubt, shout it out.

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Mike Holmes shows some skin


Meet Mike Holmes. He’s a contractor with a heart, who arrives to repair the mistakes and shoddy workmanship of other contractors. He’s also the host of a very popular show on Home and Garden Television here in Canada.

As you can see, Mike also had a clothing deal with Carhartt, the workwear company (I say had, because he now has his own branded clothing line. I said he was popular).

It’s the perfect alliance – the honest and forthright contractor, sporting rough and durable work clothes.

Trouble is, Mike likes showing off the guns, so to speak. Hammering nails. Cutting boards. Gesturing wildly at the blatant code violations and stunningly dangerous modifications made by the previous contractor.

No tats. No earrings. No leather wristbands or elaborate pendants.

As the picture shows, that means a startlingly genuine character is central to his program.

And no – THAT IS NOT A SPORTS BRO.[tags] Carhartt, Mike Holes, HGTV, sponsorship, clothing [/tags]

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Sweet whisperings of food


Finally. A tenuous reason to link to Russell’s splendid blog, eggbaconchipsandbeans – where he provides reviews and photos of the tasty grub prepared by local snack shops across the UK.

And the far less splendid, but somewhat entralling Grocery Eats. Deep fried White Castle Slider. That’s all I’ve got to say about that.

Euan Ferguson, writing in the Guardian, takes a light hearted look at the relationship between food and the senses, building off the ideas of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, in particular his loaded manifesto on “futurist cooking.”

[Marinetti, in a remarkable move for an Italian, suggested there were many more things better to eat than dried pasta]

Ferguson harkens back to his own memories – and the feeling of comfort brought on by otherwise boring and even unhealthy food:

“… A Ginsters sausage roll has to be accompanied by the sound of the M25, the feel of a crappy rental plastic gearstick, the gaze into rain, the smell of a cigarette to annoy the rubbish rental company and also because you cannot physically eat a Ginsters without smoking; the sound of the suburbs.

My favourite being-down meal, macaroni cheese with sweetcorn with an egg beaten into it, is best (trust me) accompanied by the feel of the remote, the opening bars of Armageddon, the smell of fresh-drying clothes, the sight of my kicked-off boots …” (Guardian Observer)

photo courtesy of DavidRLewis

[tags] Marinetti, futurist cooking, service centres, Ginsters [/tags]

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Grocery TV: This is your programming day


In-store television channels are not a new development, but I will grab an opportunity to riff on a tactic wherever possible. Kroger has just announced that they have built a television network (KTV) to serve the internal communications needs of their central division.

“… Each store has two servers with storage capacity and on-demand video, Kroger spokesman John Elliott said. Programs will include anything from quarterly financial messages from the company president to safety instructions for meat cutters …” (Rockford Register Star)

This may be some programming you could expect on similar channels:

  • The 5 Second Rule and the Safe Handling of Meat
  • Your 401(k) and Your Future: We’ll always have hours on the night shift
  • Wax on, Wax off: Entry Level Jobs
  • Channeling Bob Ross in Bathroom Decoration
  • Creative Accounting in Determining Expiry Dates
  • Our New CEO is Better Than Our Old One
  • Cashier and Stockboy: A Story of Forbidden Love
  • The Grocer’s Chiropractor: One Box Too Many
  • How To Spot A Mystery Shopper
  • My Barbie Oven is My CoPilot: a Food Sampler’s preparation guide
  • Bleach and Ammonia: A Shortcut to the Cemetery
  • How to Detail a Buick – your manager’s Buick
  • That Market Analyst Is A LIAR
  • One Lick Too Many: One night shift employee’s mastery of Guitar Hero 3 – and resulting unemployment

[tags] in-store tv, internal communications, grocery [/tags]

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Markets in tidbits of pork


“… it’s a bit like making sausages. You don’t want to see them made, but they sure taste good …”

I love charcuterie. Of all shapes and sizes. Of all flavours, from savoury to hot. Fatty to dry.

Problem is, really good charcuterie demands careful preparation, respect for the process, and skill honed over time. And paying trough the nose.

“… His meats earn above their weight class, too. Eve’s $16 charcuterie plate, which features 12 to 15 of [Dan] Fisher’s sausages and terrines, brings in $32,000 a month, Fisher says. Nowadays it seems like charcuterie is on every menu in town whether or not it’s made in-house …” (Washington City Paper)

Still, you have to admire an industry where a specialist like Salumi Artisan Cured Meats can plainly state that some products – even commonly available ones like pancetta – aren’t available. And others won’t be ready until the spring.

[tags] charcuterie, smoked meats [/tags]

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A news room dissected – the Washington Post


The Washington Post appears to have a strong online presence to complement its historic reputation as a news organization.

So why is the online news room across the river in Virginia? Washington City Paper takes a lengthy look at the conflict between the new kids and the kids with all badges.

Whose arts coverage gets precedence online? What about breaking coverage and on-the-scene photography? Can a newspaper reconcile a desire for consumer-generated recipes online with a strict “tested-in-house” policy in the paper?

What about online comments? Can racist and derogatory comments affect the reputation of a newspaper – even if they are from readers (leave alone the acknowledgment that they are WP readers)?

The WCP’s piece examines all these issues – dissecting them from both points of view – online and the newsroom.

“… Newsroom staffers frame the clash as a question of tastes and standards. As in, those people have none, and we do. The cry from the other side of the river is that the newsroom doesn’t get the Web. So long as the two organizations remain separate, those aspersions will continue crisscrossing the river, carrying more than just a nugget of truth with them.

It’s hard, after all, to expect to soak up the journalistic culture of the Washington Post. Newspapers don’t codify their standards and ethical sensibilities in a companywide memo. The process is far too sprawling and random: An editor kills a story over inadequate sourcing, a reporter makes a Jayson Blair joke on the elevator, a discussion breaks out in the cafeteria—can Woodward really reconstruct all those high-level conversations? Dot-com operatives, hunkered down in Virginia, miss out on all of it…”

[tags] Washington Post, online newsrooms, web editor [/tags]

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Can coporations manage the migration to social media?


Mitch has nailed it. A lot of companies being slammed by online controversies – like Hasbro – just aren’t used to dealing with emotional, irrational and impetuous humans.

Their relationship with the marketplace is framed by the work of their distributors, an import/export firm, or a licence holder.

The issues involved are often complex, with plenty of lawyers involved. Corporate positions frequently cannot be distilled into blogger-friendly language without affecting corporate interests in liability, finance or intellectual property.

Any corporate public relations pro will recognize their dilemma.

As Mitch points out, it’s hard for a company built to a fifty year-old model to adapt to a new business flow chock full of eddies, breakers and dangerous rapids.

Increasingly, though, they are trying. People like Petro Canada or Ford are dipping their toes into the social media swamp – and taking the punches and expanding their influence.

The transformation of the corporation demands participation and understanding at many levels – not just in the marketing and communications department.

As Doug Walker points out in a comment to Mitch’s post, the simplest point of contact may just be the customer service representative – if finance, facilities and human resources help you expand your CSR force to deal with the pressures that can be generated by social media.

And that means finance, facilities, human resources, and the call centre manager will all have to understand the needs and challenges of playing in social media.
Oh – and Mitch’s other point, about bloggers demonstrating the same qualities they demand from corporations? I agree as well.

Anyone can build a bully pulpit, whether they’re a fascinating storyteller or simply a demagogue.

It takes a level of dedication and transparency to actually maintain relationships and effect change in a community – small or large.

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I don’t know how I missed this


…but The City Desk, a blog about a fictional urban centre, is pure genius.

A piece from last year reeled me right in, with a mix of nearly believable retail history, technological confusion and urban conspiracy: The Permanence of Gillard’s Electric Typewriter Service

“…All large cities feature that staple of stand-up comedy, the retail storefront which seems to change hands every few weeks, and our own is no exception. The left-center unit of the Pioneer Square strip mall, currently S.E. Huang’s Kenpo-Karaterie, was a Spanish-language tax preparation service catering to the South Street area’s large Ecuadorian population as recently as last November- and, in the summer of 2006, it was a boutique specializing in salsa-related merchandise. Lot 47 in the Galleria at Woldman Heights is particularly infamous in this regard; in the last three years alone, it has been a Wittman’s, a Sunglass Hut, a Gap for Seniors, a Dobbins Farm Dairy outlet store, and a shop where one could commission tailor-made potato chip varieties….

Then the suggestion that actor William Atherton, who I remember most as the EPA inspector from Ghostbusters (“It’s true. This man has no dick”), was in the running for mayor.

The City Desk is magic. It is the paper of record for every neighbourhood you have ever lived in. It’s so familiar, so accurate, it makes you realize how foolish urban life and obsessions can be.

[tags] urban life, city paper, neighbourhood journalism [/tags]

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the Fred Sanford of CSR


As you know, I love a good quote. I admire an executive that can turn a good phrase. That’s why I was impressed by Seth Heine’s quotes in a recent feature on the recycling of cell phones in the New York Times magazine.

Heine runs Collective Good, one of several companies that recycle cell phones, phones discarded for a variety of reasons, from the barely out of fashion to the brick-sized.

Heine has obviously had some experience in describing his business, managing to wedge references to a 70s television show and popular Japanese game parlour games in the same interview:

“…A store in Beverly Hills had been sending boxes of gold-plated, limited-edition Dolce & Gabbana Motorola Razr phones, turned in when customers traded up for something even newer. “That phone can’t be more than six months old,” Heine said at one point. Later, he handed an employee a Nokia with a note rubber-banded around it. It was something a friend gave him at dinner; that happens all the time, he said, “when you’re the Fred Sanford of phones.

“…Heine’s business succeeds or fails based on how well it can assess and then realize the value of each phone. “I refer to that as the pachinko machine,” he told me. “You dump in a phone and it rattles around. It’s got to come out somewhere at the bottom.” The question is, where?

Phones beyond repair, or with little value, are dispatched … for their gold. …. The most valuable handsets find their way to a room across the hall from the storeroom, where two employees sell them on eBay. Most, however, are sold via private auction to a stable of about 20 different resellers.” (NY Times Magazine)

I think this reinforces one of the keys to building corporate value from a corporate social responsibility program: the ability to sell the intent and benefits of your business, and to do it in a familiar and evocative way. Much like what Yvon Chouinard has done at Patagonia.
[tags] Sanford & Son, CSR, corporate social responsibility, cell phones, mobiles [/tags]

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the social media aesthetic – the headshot


Last week, three separate publications asked me for a headshot (because I’m a spokeshead, not because I’m a popular blogger with an extremely photogenic mug). I have several options available, and I found myself flipping between the professional and the amateurish: a headshot prepared by a professional photographer, and a handful of profile pictures snapped with a number of camera phones.

You see, I’ve been in public relations long enough to remember when professional photo shoots were required for all your spokespeople. You always had to have a ready selection of half grinning/mildly worried looks on hand, just in case.

As I was sorting through my options, though, I realized that the bar had moved. The public no longer expects a formal upright, slightly angled shouldered look to their authority figures. In fact, I had to screw around with my headshot in Photoshop before sending it off to one publications.

A co-worker of Jason Oke has noticed that the younger generations do not have a problem finding a headshot – in fact, there seems to be

“… an age-related gap on social networking sites like Facebook in personal photo quality – anyone under 25 looks really good in all of their pictures, while the rest of us look pudgy and a bit stunned.

His theory is that it’s because those of us of a certain age grew up with pictures being taken mostly on special occasions like birthdays and holidays, and usually with some warning of “say cheese.”

We never really learned how to have our picture properly taken. But with ubiquitous casual digital photography, the young ‘uns grew up being used to taking and seeing many more photos of themselves, and have learned to quickly throw a pose in any situation. They are photo-literate.”

Me? I can’t quite pull of the casual concentration look. I don’t really like Starbucks, so I’m never at ease enough to pull off the “working in casual luxury while sitting on a loveseat” look. And every time I try the “you caught me in mid-action” pose, I look like an out-take from a Sears catalogue.

[tags] photography, headshot, publicity still, corporate look, spokesperson [/tags]

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You have to understand your GD community!


Just like Jackie and Ben tell us, just like Jake emphasizes and Connie practices, a business has to know its community and its market to succeed. Here are a few examples:

On the east end of Long Island, there’s a 1,000 watt radio station that’s extremely local:

“…Mr. Tria’s morning show, “The Dawn Patrol,” delivers a style of local radio that is nearly extinct on Long Island: a neighbor’s lost dog, a birth or death in the community, and news from the schools, the police and Town Hall. It is a slow-drip blend of slow-paced life that seems meant to waft into kitchens and mingle with the smell of bacon. (NYT)

A Ford dealership in a small California town has been bought out, a reaction from hq in Detroit to declining market share and a surplus of dealerships in the region. But not for a lack of trying:

“…All the while, Norwalk and southeast Los Angeles gradually became more Latino — 63% in the most recent Census data. Stutzke says he adapted, becoming among the first car dealers to advertise on Spanish-language television. Families poured into the dealership on Saturdays to watch the making of El Show de Keystone Ford. (USA Today)

Looking for some heartwarming stories of big box chains and international brands failing? Reason magazine tells us that the little guy CAN win – and has an eighty year history of beating the big guy. It’s a good read with a lot of historical context:

“…By understanding local tastes, Newbury Comics, Phoenix Coffee Co., La Flor De Broadway Café, and Kansas City’s Broadway Café demonstrated that localization, customer care, and authenticity are far more effective means of fighting larger rivals than agitating for anti-chain legislation.

Had Broadway Café owner Jon Cates initially looked at historical precedent, rather than petitioning city hall, he perhaps would have understood that David slays Goliath with encouraging frequency in the history of American business.”

[tags] community, audience, brand, retail, radio promotion [/tags]

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Miss America meets reality


And there I thought pageants had already taken a great leap into modernity with the hiring of Billy Bush.

Last night, Miss America:Reality Check hit the airwaves. I think it may be just the radical revamp this old dame needed. The formula is tired and familiar to us all: a disparate (and maybe desperate) group of girls settles into cramped quarters with too few bathrooms.

They form heartfelt but ultimately shallow and dishonest relationships where they claim friendship and are quick to criticize any demonstration of disloyalty or competitiveness. The show’s producers attempt to create artificial divisions among the pageant queens by separating the teams by age and physical characteristics (only on this show would a 24 year-old be considered a “senior”).

The appeal comes from the incredible contrast between the plastic and highly manufactured contests of the past, and the new hurdles facing the contestants today.

Like a reality check from the tag team of Stacy London and Clinton Kelly. Or the faux cinema verite segment where the contestants appear to discuss whether teens (and Miss American contestants) actually practice abstinence. Some of those young ladies actually appeared grief-stricken at the thought of deviating from their practiced stage patter.

“I favour harsher jail sentences for parole violators … and world peace.”

Finally, I could swear that the “challenges” between teams are held in a converted horse paddock behind the communal house.

All I could imagine was Miss Ellie from Dallas, cheering on Miss Texas.

[tags] Miss America, reality TV, beauty pageant [/tags]

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Chico Pee Tube?


It looks like a fun snow tubing park, with a webcam, but Chicopee Tube Park has one of those easy-to-misread URLs:

I think that’s an episode of Chico and the Man that I missed.

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A marketer with a heart


What happens when you misdial 1-800 Santa Claus? You get 1-800 Santa Barbara – a website promoting attractions in Santa Barbara. California. Which, for one week in December, becomes Accidental Santa.

John Dickson, the site owner, discovered this last year. Instead of hanging up on the kids calling for the fat guy, he spoke to them. This year, a hundred volunteers are helping out, answering questions and taking orders (and sometimes managing expectations, like the little boy who wanted a real Dinosaur).

“… A list of pointers has guided the novices: Be patient. Mention Rudolph. For safety’s sake, ask only the child’s first name. Steer any offered donations to charity. Be prepared for misdialed calls to a similar number for Enterprise car rentals. (Calls to the actual 1-800-SANTACLAUS keep ringing, unanswered.) (LA Times)

A simple dialling error which could be easily dismissed. Or provide an opportunity to spread some Christmas cheer among the innocents who, somehow, understand 1-800 taxonomy.

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It’s the eve of what?


(Wong) … Before, corporations commissioned work with parameters—they wanted specific things. It seems that they’re taking bigger chances now. That’s what I’m seeing.

(Walker) Yeah, that’s true. I just read about Thurston Moore doing some compilation CD for Starbucks. Frankly, these big companies doing stuff like that kind of bums me out.

(Wong) Well, they’re desperate. But there’s got to be a way to make it work for us.”

[tags] industrial design, consumerism, tasty sandwiches [/tags]

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Russell and Dan … and the Best Urban Places


There will be pretty pictures. There will be enigmatic pictures. There will be badly composed pictures. But the idea is fantastic. Two minds quite capable of making the leap between diverse subjects, disciplines and concepts have cooked up a competition to identify the World’s Best Urban Places and Spaces.

In typical fashion, Russell Davies and Dan Hill have taken a largely critical idea (the World’s Worst Urban Places and Spaces) and shined it up.

I like the idea because it is so loosely defined. Sifting through my memories of my favourite places, I can sort memories and images according to the effect of space, weather, feelings elicited by crowds, an absence of others, or my reaction to a conscious attempt by some smarty-pants architect or artist to define the place.

Here’s Russell’s description of the project:

“We’ll leave you to interpret ‘best’ ‘urban’ ‘space’ and ‘place’ as you like. Could be anywhere or anything; bus shelters, buildings, bombsites or benches. Rather than wait until we’ve got enough for a book (which, of course, may never happen) we’re planning instead on doing a series of pamphlets. We’re going to try and persuade some top designers to do them for us. There’ll be a free one as a pdf online and lovely specially printed ones for everyone who contributes and/or who’d like to buy them.

Obviously we’ve not really worked out all the details on that yet, but will let you know when we have.

Does that sound interesting? I think it might be. Pile in, if you’d like to.”

You can find the Flickr pool they’ve set up, either to contribute or simply to gawk. Consider the submissions according to your own criteria, or to explode in Photoshop looking for naked ladies and other privacy violations.

[tags] World’s Best Urban Places, urbanism, place [/tags]

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No iced mint chip frapps in the SuperDuty


The new Ford “Built Ford Tough” videos manage to rip off two separate concepts, but do it well:

  • C.O.P.S
  • the Bud ManLaws campaign
  • There aren’t any crackheads trying to evade arrest, and there are no Burt Reynolds hairpieces. But still, it’s funny.

    The concept is that there are ten rules that Ford truck owners must follow – and these rules identify what could be best defined as “fancy” behaviour.

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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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    Fleeting Thoughts


    • Who would have thought there would be gangs of moped riders? (Is it riders, or is it drivers? After all, mopeds involve a whole lot of coasting and a fair amount of blind faith in the machine) (via SF Weekly)
    • What sort of employment career leads to life as a Tony Manero impersonator?

    “…a D.J. at Planet Hollywood; a guide on one of those seven-rider party bikes that used to swarm about Times Square; a multiple-time reality show contestant; a stand-in for Joaquin Phoenix on two movies; a telegram singer who shows up in everything from an Elvis costume to a chicken suit; and the head alien at Mars 2112, a theme restaurant in Midtown.” (NYTimes)

    • The Women’s Health program from the Department of Health and Human Services has a Twitter feed. An interesting use of technology to pump out (relatively canned) public health messages.

    [tags] mopeds, Tony Manero, Saturday Night Fever, impersonator [/tags]

    Comments (1)

    Chicken Little, public relations consultant


    For a long time, people told Chicken Little that he was too much of a downer, that he only saw the glass as half-full. He was always telling prospective clients that they had to get ready for the next big problem, that life was about to deal their shareholders a swift kick in the ‘nads.

    But then the plucky little communications professional found his niche: preparing unsuspecting businesses to battle the inevitable online assault on their reputation.

    His elevator pitch was very 2005:

    “Do you have ten minutes to discuss the unfortunate story of Kryptonite?”

    You know the rest of the story: open source solutions presented as proprietary, per diems, markups on technical suppliers, teleconferences, and a credenza full of lucite plaques, quills, pens, and awards of merit.

    Oh, and a rough carpet of astroturf everywhere.
    [tags] identity, social media consultancy, crisis, social media expert, astroturf [/tags]

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    Get out of that habit, stick in the mud


    You’ll never amount to anything if you don’t look under every rock, ask the follow-up question, get over your fear of embarrassment, try something new at your favourite diner, look at your old notes, speak to the stranger next to you, pick a book at random out of the library shelf, look up at the sky on a clear blue day, watch Univision for an afternoon, skip work to walk around a mall, leave a dollar on a busy sidewalk and watch from the other side of the street, give blood, volunteer at a shelter or an old age home, take a different bus home, request that they play Flock of Seagulls on the radio, pick a new vacation spot this Christmas, speak up at your next PTA meeting, help a tourist find their way, call your alderman or council member to make your point, listen to late night sports talk radio, chug Pepsi and PopRocks, sit in on a random course at the local university, listen to your grandparents, wish a telemarketer a nice day before hanging up on them, go for a long walk in the woods (with a topographic map), go to the kid’s museum with or without kids, buy a toy for a Christmas charity hamper, learn the scientific name for three plants found in your own garden, buy some indie music, try on some rose-coloured glasses, watch public-access television early in the morning and watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

    Did I miss anything?
    Be interesting, dammit!

    via Serendipity Book, Ace Jet 170 and fffound.

    [tags] creativity, imagination, spice of life, variety, stifling boredom [/tags]

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    Sausages, MLB and Senator Mitchell


    Senator George Mitchell’s months-long investigation into the use of steroids, additives, clear and other enhancers is nearing an end, with reporters, bloggers and baseball fans eagerly expecting his report – and a long list of names.

    Personally, I think baseball mascots are going to be the un-named co-conspirators in all this.

    Just think about it. Heavy and poorly balanced costumes. Highly choreographed dances and 7th inning stretches. All that running up and down bleacher steps. The effective aim and discharge of hot dog and t-shirt cannons?

    That’s a long list of ab, calf, hammy and tricep work. Mere hours on the Bowflex won’t prepare you for that sort of gruelling workday.

    And don’t even get me started on the Milwaukee Sausage Race. If there’s anything the Tour de France has taught us, it’s that the French, Germans and Spaniards will do nearly anything to win an arduous race – including blood doping!
    [tags] MLB, steroids, reputation management, crisis communications [/tags]

    Original photo by Chad Davis

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    A Blog Council Isn’t Wrong, But Could Be Spooky


    You know, a blog council is just like a big, fuzzy, comfortable blankie. In a moment of uncertainty and perhaps confusion, a blankie can be a touchstone, an easy gateway to a simpler and more secure time.

    Especially if that blankie smells like your mommie, or good times in the park with all your friends.

    Which explains the need for a blog council dedicated solely to the problems and achievements of large corporations entering the social media space. Some social media evangelists have jumped on the idea as too rigid or naiive, dismissing the idea that a large corporations could benefit from such an arrangement.

    What they don’t seem to understand is that a “council” is an easy concept for senior executives to buy into. These people already belong to industry councils, economic councils and foreign policy councils. They understand the framework, they understand the cost structure and they understand the potential benefits.

    And THIS is where our colleagues are right to question the impulse to create a council. Brian Solis moves around this idea in his post.

    Councils are not created to convene coffee klatches and an excuse to fly into a new resort once a month.

    THAT is called a seminar.

    Councils are not pulled together to discuss common process challenges and develop best practices.

    THAT is called a working group.

    A council of senior executives, united in a common goal, is created to share influence. To increase the authority of council members in what can seem to be a fractured environment with little real leadership.

    Even a Parent-Teacher Council dreams of expanded influence and increased authority, if only expressed through reams of volunteer lists and pizza orders.

    I’m probably unnecessarily aggrandizing the influence that could be wielded by the Blog Council.

    Still, the “benefits” a generic membership often include:

  • customized public opinion research,
  • specialized academic and industry research to support council positions,
  • a centralized secretariat to coordinate joint positions on breaking issues,
  • custom white papers designed to influence and sway regulators, and
  • formal representation at legislative hearings and regulatory town halls.
  • As I look at the children’s playground of competing cliques in social media, a council of Fortune 500 companies that happen to blog seems to be a good idea.

    An idea that, if managed effectively, could influence how fundamental decisions are made about the role of blogs, podcasts, vidcasts and ephemeral communications like Twitter in regulated environments like:

  • financial communications,
  • investor relations,
  • federally mandated sustainability reporting,
  • corporate PAC support for candidates and their increasingly 2.0 campaigns, and
  • integrated behavioural marketing campaigns, which are increasingly under scrutiny from authorities like the FTC.
  • Which might be of some concern to a social media universe currently obsessed with nodes rather than the network as a whole.

    Or I might have taken too many poli.sci. courses in university.

    [tags] Blog Council, corporate blogging [/tags]

    Comments (9)

    Ideas of community: Lonely Girl vs. Blair Witch Project


    A surprise appearance over at Todd Defren’s blog from one of the co-producers of the viral marketing masterpiece of 1999 – the Blair Witch Project. Todd’s post and the comment have spun out of continuing discussion of the tactics behind building a “viral buzz” and magnifying community interest in an initiative or idea.

    “…But probably the biggest difference is that Blair Witch was constructed in a way that you didn’t identify or invest in Heather, Mike and Josh as people — they were already dead and the audience was piecing together a mystery that already took place. The fans of LonelyGirl felt they had a relationship with the character, they communicated to her and she responded back to them. They were all part of a community, so when it was revealed that she was a fiction, people felt betrayed because they were emotionally invested in her….” (comment on Pr Squared)

    As Todd sums up in a post the following day: “Community investment is key to understanding community reaction.”

    And it seems like a lot of people (normal people, not people who follow esoteric debates about SEO, viral marketing and social news releases) think that marketers, SEO agencies and online public relations specialists are on a par with car salesmen.

    You have to walk on to a lot, because most of us need a car. But you just know the salesman is there to screw you. Screw you on the MSRP, screw you on the extended warranty, slap on the “admin fee,” add up the “prep fee.”

    While the entire transaction makes sense, is necessary, and eventually meets your aesthetic and practical needs, you as the consumer know that a half dozen people put their hands in your pocket before you walked off the lot.

    No wonder that a whole segment of specialists are building a separate identity as community managers, community liaisons, or even community curators. There’s more of a hint of social work in their functions and goals, and less of an emphasis on moving product.

    [tags] Blair Witch, Lonely Girl, SEO, astroturfing, community manager [/tags]

    Comments (2)

    Poll reveals marketers still clueless


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

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

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

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

    * not this com.motion.

    Comments (1)

    Age of Conversation makes a great holiday gift


    Remember the Age of Conversation? 103 authors from across the marketing, public relations, interactive media and community manager disciplines? It’s still on sale at – but only for another week.

    Gavin and Drew’s little idea has pulled in over $11k for Variety Village, but the idea is to expand the possibility of people coming across the book.
    So, starting November 30, the book will be available on

    There’s a dirty little secret, though. The price will be going from $16.95 to $30. And you wondered how Jeff Bezos can pay for all those distribution centres and free holiday shipping!

    Still considering a purchase? StickyFigure can give you a quick taste of many of the authors. Or you can read their blogs:
    Gavin Heaton Drew McLellan CK Valeria Maltoni Emily Reed Katie Chatfield Greg Verdino Mack Collier Lewis Green Ann Handley Mike Sansone Paul McEnany Roger von Oech Anna Farmery David Armano Bob Glaza Mark Goren Matt Dickman Scott Monty Richard Huntington Cam Beck David Reich Luc Debaisieux Sean Howard Tim Jackson Patrick Schaber Roberta Rosenberg Uwe Hook Tony D. Clark Todd Andrlik Toby Bloomberg Steve Woodruff Steve Bannister Steve Roesler Stanley Johnson Spike Jones Nathan Snell Simon Payn Ryan Rasmussen Ron Shevlin Roger Anderson Robert Hruzek Rishi Desai Phil Gerbyshak Peter Corbett Pete Deutschman Nick Rice Nick Wright Michael Morton Mark Earls Mark Blair Mario Vellandi Lori Magno Kristin Gorski Kris Hoet G.Kofi Annan Kimberly Dawn Wells Karl Long Julie Fleischer Jordan Behan John La Grou Joe Raasch Jim Kukral Jessica Hagy Janet Green Jamey Shiels Dr. Graham Hill Gia Facchini Geert Desager Gaurav Mishra Gary Schoeniger Gareth Kay Faris Yakob Emily Clasper Ed Cotton Dustin Jacobsen Tom Clifford David Polinchock David Koopmans David Brazeal David Berkowitz Carolyn Manning Craig Wilson Cord Silverstein Connie Reece Colin McKay Chris Newlan Chris Corrigan Cedric Giorgi Brian Reich Becky Carroll Arun Rajagopal Andy Nulman Amy Jussel AJ James Kim Klaver Sandy Renshaw Susan Bird Ryan Barrett Troy Worman CB Whittemore S. Neil Vineberg

    [tags] Age of Conversation [/tags]

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    A generation of virals in 4:30


    h/t to Sean at BuzzCanuck

    [tags] viral, WOM, word of mouth [/tags]

    Comments (0)

    Wear your social identity on your … belly?


    After spending all that time building intricately detailed and personal profiles in closed-off social networks, how in the world do you bridge between identities?

    When you’re cruising so successfully in your tight slacks, how do you alert the world to the vast repository of flixster reviews, TV trivia team scores, thrown sheep and ironic 70s profile photos just a few keystrokes away?

    With Open Social?

    No – with the “are you social” t-shirt, designed by Aram Bartholl!

    Just scroll through the dozens of social networks displayed on the front of the shirt and check off each one you belong to.

    Now, those unsuspecting young women at the campus bar won’t have to spend endless minutes wondering exactly when you’ll abandon the polite chit chat and start discussing one of five things:

    • the size of your “friend” network
    • your progress on World of Warcraft
    • the “open relationship” you have with your Bebo girlfriend
    • how you and Tom Byron use Orkut to pick up Brazilian chicks, and
    • Padma or Leia?

    Life could be a lot easier, though. You could just print up a tshirt with your Facebook profile on it.

    In all seriousness. Both of these tshirt ideas poses a tremendous risk to your personal information and the security of your identity.

    You might as well have a bumper sticker on your car that reads “I keep my driver’s licence in the glove compartment.”
    via Dino and Valleywag.

    [tags] Facebook, Bebo, Orkut, privacy, identity, social network [/tags]

    Comments (0)

    Ever been rope-a-doped by a media organization?


    The BBC is rolling with news that cutbacks and layoffs are imminent, and significant television and radio personalities are speaking out about the impact on the hallowed institution.

    The BBC is criticized for its split personality: a world class news gathering organization, and a melange of popular television and radio channels. Canada has a similar national network, albeit funded in part by commercial advertising.

    In a moment of intense media scrutiny, a spokesperson can find himself fielding questions and interview requests from three different media (radio, television and internet) and five or more provinces – but all from the same network, the CBC.

    Sort of like what the head of the BBC is experiencing:

    “…In a particularly convenient moment of irony, BBC director general Mark Thompson notes that, after announcing the restructuring, he received 37 separate interview requests from various BBC news outlets.” (Toronto Star)

    [tags] BBC, CBC, spokesperson, integrated newsroom, multi channel universe [/tags]
    h/t to Judy.

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    A small blunder colours FEMA crisis communications


    Remember the faux news conference put on by FEMA last month to brief about the response to the California wildfires?

    The Department of Homeland Security has completed an “internal investigation,” and some people have fallen under the bus.

    Apparently, some poor decisions were taken in deciding to hold a news conference at short notice, then, when reporters could not make it in time, have agency communications staff substitute for reporters by lobbing questions at the Deputy Administrator.

    “Much like in an airline crash or automobile accident that was reconstructed, there were several different points leading up to the press conference where, had a single decision been made differently, the event itself could have been averted,” [DHS spokesperson Russ] Knocke said Thursday (AP, via TPM)

    Wow. We get a pretty clear impression of what Knocke thinks of how the news conference rolled out. All it needs is a soundtrack. And Gil Grissom.

    There have been repurcussions. The man who was FEMA’s press secretary (read his Potomac Flacks profile) will be working for a public relations agency in Utah (For those of you keeping track at home, that’s Washington to Utah in three weeks). The Director of External Relations had been scheduled to take up a new job with Office of the Director of National Intelligence. That job fell through.

    There’s a couple of hints in the AP story that the FEMA staffers fell victim, in part, to a predetermined PR strategy and poor communications between the press shops at FEMA and DHS:

    • DHS had asked the agency to hold a press conference before the DHS Secretary and the FEMA Administrator landed in California that day; and
    • FEMA’s press secretary had sent an email to his boss and the DHS official responsible for communications, asking for more time – but only 43 minutes before the scheduled start of the news conference.

    In the end, the comms shop had about 75 minutes to put the news conference together. Which makes you wonder why they didn’t just allow callers on the teleconference call to ask questions.

    The Director of External Relations has begun to speak up in his own defense, particularly in PRWeek. PRWatch provides some other comments from him, which unfortunately don’t sound very convincing.

    And, to top it off, the FEMA Administrator seems to imply that the career civil servants could have prevented their bosses from pursuing this course of action:

    “Those are career people. They should have stepped up and said something, they really should have. But their bosses said ‘Do this,’ and they did it — some reluctantly, but there’s no excuses for that,” Paulison said. He called the impact on FEMA’s credibility “devastating.” (Washington Post)

    This is what happens when you try to throw a media briefing together very quickly – and execute your strategy rather strangely. Unfortunately, the execution has coloured our impression of FEMA’s attempts to get information about the California wildfires out quickly.

    And that hits to the heart of effective crisis communications.
    [tags] FEMA, puppet theatre, DHS [/tags]

    Comments (1)

    Temporary Flights of Fancy


    Yet another selection of snippets from my feed reader:

    [tags] rollergirl, rollerderby, Britney, Brit Brit, Gladwell, advertising, televangelism [/tags]

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    Media Snackers: they’re just not filling


    The premise, as posited by Jeremiah, Kami, Kevin and others: content generators need to develop materials and vehicles that communicate effectively with “media snackers,” those new economy animals who bounce from medium to medium picking up information and filtering it.

    That means short blog posts, interactive web tools, podcasts of varying lengths, videos, Twitter streams and anything else that two guys withs seed capital can think up.

    I see a strategic weakness in this premise, however: just because people want their media quick, easily digestible and interactive doesn’t mean we should abandon context and overlook longer term tactics.

    That’s because I’m an old school media snacker. Not as old enough to be a Reader’s Digest subscriber, let’s get that out of the way.* But old enough to know how to follow Usenet threads. Old enough to have thought PointCast was going to revolutionize our world.

    I think we run the risk of over-simplifying our tactics and under-estimating our readers/listeners/viewers: they don’t come to the dim sum buffet for the individual dish, they see ach piece as part of a larger meal.

    You see, I’m not a media snacker, I’m a media aggregator. I may bounce from source to source and from one format to another, but I have one (or several) topics that I’m tracking.

    I am picking up tidbits, thoughts and observations, and integrating them into internal narratives, or adding them to databases on issues I am following, or marking them as useful for work I am doing at the office.

    The danger with the “snacker” meme is that we may see our readers in too simplistic a manner: as someone dropping by for a visit, or someone not really engaged in the process.

    We have to make sure, as communicators, marketers, public relations hacks or community builders, that we integrate our “snack media” into a more comprehensive communications and marketing plan.

    And that doesn’t mean a cool splashpage made in flash.

    It means some sort of community hub, where all these snacks can be displayed on a big buffet table (or, given that most “media snacks” are ephemeral in time and place, a warming table). A touchstone for your “lifestream,” so to speak.

    And then our reader, community member, stakeholder – whatever – can pick and choose the tactic that most suits them.

    *You realise, of course, that Reader’s Digest was the original media snacker’s resource.

    [Tags] media snacker, twitter, meme, community, interstitial, lifestream [/tags]

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    World Bank Launches Report in Second Life


    Another international organization is hitting the beaches of Second Life. On October 26, the World Bank is releasing the latest report from the Doing Business group:

    “…“Second Life, as a global community with residents from more than 100 countries, is an ideal venue to host a virtual launch of a report that compares how easy it is for people to start and operate a business in 178 economies,” Dahlia Khalifa said.

    “Second Life is on the frontier of collaboration and technology. It brings people from around the world together by removing boundaries,” she added. …(news release)

    It’s a noble effort and an example that the World Bank and its’ partners are looking for new ways to communicate their ideas – but Second Life has not proven its worth as a communication tool.

    Earlier this year, Eric Kintz at HP argued why he still needed convincing about Second Life. Bandwidth and computing power were among the factors he identified for his reluctance to jump on the bandwagon, so to speak.

    Those are very big issues for most government departments. Even OECD members have to evaluate the capacity of their network to deliver content over a service like Second Life – but also their network’s capacity to deliver that content back to their own employees.

    I suspect that many organizations with outposts in Second Life (like Sweden) have set up separate networks and better equipment for their in-world representatives.

    More on the event:

    “…The event will be an open forum where policy makers and the public from around the world, including Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, can ask questions, challenge the findings, and contribute to a global business dialogue aimed at stimulating reforms that improve the business environment, and ultimately create more business startups, job opportunities, and economic growth.

    Digital copies of the report’s overview, as well as World Bank–IFC virtual apparel and products, will be available to Second Life residents who attend the event.”

    How are the clients of the World Bank – many of them living in remote corners of the internet – supposed to sign on for this report launch?

    [tags] Second Life, World Bank, Doing Business, third world, international organizations, multilateral [/tags]

    Comments (2)

    Comms, PR and Marketing: is there a difference?


    What's the difference between public relations, marketing and communications

    Depending upon the topic, it seems that people define the role of public relations practitioner, corporate communicator, and marketing fairly loosely. What exactly is the difference between the three distinct professions?

    This graphic tries to separate them by indicating specific “benefits” of working in marketing communications (like travelling on business, having access to Super Bowl tickets) and then presenting the proportional odds of that benefit being available to one or all of the professions.

    [tags] marketing, communicator, corporate communications, public relations, schwag [/tags]

    Comments (1)

    BBC adopts twitter for Rugby World Cup


    Here it is , folks. One of the first effective media applications of Twitter.

    Two BBC reporters covering the Rugby World Cup are using Twitter as part of their reporter’s tool kit.

    And the BBC has done a very smart job of integrating their Twitter messages into the overall reporting package.

    Tom Fordyce and Ben Dirs are “blogging their way around France in a camper van,” as the BBC tells us. In addition to blogging and twittering, they are posting pictures to flickr.

    Twitter seems a perfect application for sports reporting, especially in a high profile game like the Rugby World Cup final. It’s:

    • immediate
    • multi-platform
    • already part of the user’s media diet
    • already used to convey emotion and a sense of place by users
    • easily integrated into the larger reporting plan

    As Robin Hamman, a voice from inside the BBC points out:

    “…One of the most exciting things that the BBC Blogs seem to have done is to give programme and website producers the opportunity to innovate by adding additional services, from social bookmarking to social networking, to their pages – creating some compelling new content and new building audience communities in the process….” (Cybersoc)

    h/t to Matthew at Data Mining.

    [tags] twitter, rugby, bbc, integrated news rooms, social media [/tags]

    Comments (3)

    Why would a flack push a bad interview with Sigur Ros?


    A really meta-meta-meta moment: Luke Burbank, one of the hosts of NPR’s Bryant Park, really felt that an interview with Sigur Ros, the gifted but notoriously distant band from Iceland, went badly. Very badly.

    That’s because it did. It was painful. Why would Burbank have booked the band? Because a public relations hack called him up and suggested it. That’s right – this train wreck was recommended to him.

    Maybe Burbank just didn’t prep well enough. I’m a suburban dad from Canada, and I knew Sigur Ros were a hard interview. Just take a look at this excerpt from an interview in the Guardian – from 2005:

    “…On their astounding new album, Takk … , titles are back and most of the lyrics are in Icelandic. This spirit of glasnost also animates their interviews, which were once a barren tundra of single-word answers. In 2001, one journalist came away with just three usable quotes, one of which was “Yeah, yeah”. They’ll still admit that, given the choice, they would never talk to the press. “It would be nice, yes, if that was possible,” says guitarist and keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson. “That’s something I used to talk about, but I’m getting older and,” he laughs, “weaker. I used to be really sceptical about these things and not really trust anybody.”

    Or maybe the flack had recently seen them give good interviews. The evidence seems overwhelmingly negative. They are not an “up with people” band.

    As part of his process of repentance and healing, Burbank then brought in a music journalist to help him evaluate and dissect what went wrong with his earlier interview with the band.

    It’s clear that the original interview did not make good radio. Jancee, the journalist, is blunt in her assessment of the interview and offers some brief insight into the process of interviewing musicians (like the suggestion, late in the video, that a sock puppet could interview David Lee Roth). Still, some of her commentary is amusing:

    “I really do zero in on the drummer. Look at his yearning expression, it’s saying “ask me a question. I’ll answer it. I’m friendly. Over here!” … And really, the other band mates, they really will be puzzled, then they’ll be upset and then they’ll kind of jump in, usually, after a while.”

    Jake McKee pointed to this NPR piece and held it up as an example of “turning that frown upside down.” When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Take the critical energy being directed at you, and turn it into a learning experience.

    I agree that this is an interesting way to respond to criticism and defuse the situation. He was even-handed in his assessment of his own performance, as well as that of the band. Unfortunately, I found the technique just a little too coy: running a display-in-display critique of his own interview, with the help of a colour commentator.

    All that was missing was the Madden Telestrator.

    ****Added feature: one commenter on the NPR blog suggested Tom Sndyer’s 1980 interview with Johnny Rotten as far worse. I don’t know if I can agree: at least Rotten was engaged and animated.

    [tags] NPR, Bryant Park, Sigur Ros, interview techniques [/tags]

    Comments (2)

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