February 19, 2008 by Colin
Corporate communications specialists would recognize a lot in the tactics and strategies of old line Communist apparatchiks.
Fidel Castro, Ken Lay, Bernard Ebbers, Roger Smith, Yuri Andropov – who doesn’t remember the stonewalling, the suspicion and the sense of entitlement that seeped through their public words and actions?
When threatened, they would respond with indignation and counter-accusations.
Pity poor Fidel. He’s finally gotten so sick he can’t manipulate the tendrils of power and propaganda anymore. Even he (or his nurse) has recognized that the glorious facade has faded, and people were doubtful he would ever reappear in public.
Another Communist lion fades into the brush.
That leaves the Chinese, the Vietnamese and the North Koreans. And a gaggle of former Soviets.
Not a whole lot of effervescent personalities in that bunch.
What has happened to all the old Communist apparatchiks? Gray suits, gray hair, a posse of similarly gray doppelgangers, all piling out of four door sedans to appear at a Worker’s Rally or May Day parade.
A real cottage industry had developed around interpreting the symbolism of their spoken and written word: what did that headline in Pravda really mean? If the Second Assistant Prime Minister delivered a speech live on prime time television, did that mean his career was on the upswing?
These kremlinologists were our guides through the thicket of jargon, gestures and grimaces in search of political, economic and social insight.
I seem to remember watching former Soviet leader Yuri Andropov looking sickly and weak at a May Day parade – the resulting speculation about his tenure as leader was confirmed when he died within a year.
What’s the modern equivalent? A financial analyst? In many ways, their professional value is built from the implied ability to read the movements and twitches of the market.
There’s been discussion this week of a gentleman who’s built a habit of inflitrating quarterly earnings conference calls, simply to ask semi-literate questions about Six Sigma and process re-engineering.
Financial analysts are genuinely puzzled by his behaviour: it isn’t overly disruptive, and doesn’t appear to be prompted by malice.
If we lived in a more suspicious time – and if his interventions were more inventive – we might suspect this mystery caller of disinformation or economic espionage.
Instead, we’re simply wondering out loud why anyone would want to play in the dry world of financial communications.
Still, it’s notable that some analysts are disturbed that someone is toying with their conventions, processes and playground.
Difference is, this guy won’t get grabbed off the street, bundled in the trunk of a four door sedan, and get buried under the Louisiana Superdome.
[tags] kremlinologist, financial analyst, corporate communications [/tags]
February 14, 2008 by Colin
Cross-promotion in support of a cross-promotion campaign!
The gist of this lengthy post: take a negative, add some humour and ingenuity and make it a positive!
Canuckflack, Oh Canuckflack,
How we all love Colin McKay
So we’re writing him this romantic note
Because it’s Saint Valentine’s day!
His quirky take on the marketing world
Fills our lives with daily mirth
Which is why he is without dispute
The most gorgeous blogger on Earth…
You’ll always be our classic rock
As you guide us through what’s new
The communications industry has found itself
A poster boy in you.
Colin – a man like you, who knows his stuff
And can talk all things social media
Fills our minds with many naughty thoughts
About how we want to feed ‘ya…
So we’d like you to try new Lovers’ Marmite,
Which is laced with a bit of Champagne
You should have fellow citizens wondering
About that nice smell on the O-Train…
And so when you’re chomping on your morning toast
Before you head out to Uppertown
Don’t forget to reach for the Marmite jar
But you don’t have to put the butter down
Happy Valentine’s Day from Marmite
You’re our perfect date
Thanks for showing us some love
Instead of choosing to hate!
What cross-promotion, you may ask?
The fabulous Paddington Bear preferring Marmite over Marmalade ad:
But what’s the second level of cross-promotion?
Some little thing called “Lover’s Marmite” – a special blend of Marmite and Champagne only available for a limited time, with a special label on the back. A label where you can write the name of your special darling, as you hand them a jar of yeast extract that says “I Love You” on the front.
The only thing better would be used undergarments from your solo vacation to Thailand.
If that image wasn’t disturbing enough, take a look at the advert for “Lover’s Marmite”:
Honestly, I don’t know why I obsess over Marmite (the product), but Marmite (the marketer) has bowled me over twice in six months!
[tags] marmite, blogger relations, blogger outreach, Lover’s Marmite [/tags]
February 6, 2008 by Colin
What are the desirable qualities of an designer? How about a creative generalist? How about an unceasing appetite for information, for synergy, for identifying relationships?
Here are two takes: a short answer from Steve Portigal, and a long exposition by Steve Hardy, the Creative Generalist.
What is it that makes a great design strategist?
A great design strategist may not see themselves as a design strategist. They’re probably someone who has had a few different professional identities and gets excited by the spaces where disciplines, schools of thought, and methods overlap. They are curious and easily intrigued: they like to observe what’s going on around them and they’re good at listening to people.
And they know how to use all this data to synthesize new patterns and communicate them clearly to a range of audiences. Charlie Stross, in the sci-fi book Accelerando, describes the profession of a “meme broker” and the intense amount of content they have to assimilate every day in order to do this.
Bruce Sterling calls this activity “scanning“ looking at all the sources one can and constantly asking what does this mean for my clients. Being able to work through all those data sources and pull out the implications is crucial for design strategy.” (Influx interviews Steve Portigal)
And here is the nub of Steve Hardy’s long but fantastic post:
I’ve identified five core areas at which Creative Generalists excel. They are:
• Wander & Wonder – finding possibility
• Synthesize & Summarize – presenting information
• Link & Leap – generating ideas
• Mix & Match – connecting people
• Experience & Empathize – understanding worldview
February 2, 2008 by Colin
Instead of a hagiographic shout-out, or a far too quick reference to the great man, why not take a moment to consider Marshall McLuhan, the colleague, friend and neighbour?
In the Garden with the Guru, a short essay by Bob Rodgers in the Literary Review of Canada, serves up some personal anecdotes and a reference to the academic environment that surrounded McLuhan’s work in the 50s.
“…A published statement by a hugely influential classicist from Yale is not untypical: “There is afoot a mindless orgy of trend-catching anti-literacy, best typified by the appalling popularity of the jargon-laden, hyped-up, and profoundly ahistorical works of McLuhan, designed to flatter just about all the prejudices of a TV generation in which functional illiteracy is already well advanced.”
McLuhan can be many things to many people, simply because he was either so wide-ranging or enigmatic. It’s interesting to note how different bloggers have drawn quotes from Rodgers’ piece, from Hidden Persuader, to Chicken Scratch, to Sans Everything, to the Banana Peel Project. Was the man a futurologist, a floor dwelling aphorism machine or what?
[tags] McLuhan, U of T, medium is the message [/tags]
January 3, 2008 by Colin
Some of you may know, during the day I work with a great bunch of privacy advocates. So I’ve got some opinions about the Scroble scraping issue of the day.
Just ask yourself: let’s say large consumer product company X had created a fan group in Facebook. This morning, they decided to launch a new promotional campaign aimed at just these fans, but needed the contact information. Finding Plaxo’s cool new tool, they then simply scraped the name, addy and preferences of all their “fans.”
Would that be acceptable? No. Damien Mulley has it right. It could be considered data theft.
And we would all be justifiably outraged about it.
It’s the idea of scale. You move the information of your 20, 50, 100 or 200 close personal and business contacts, you’re only maintaining your records.
You move 1,000 or more – you’re maintaining a mailing list.
The idea of data portability is that users, consumers, geeks have control of their OWN data. In this case, users entered into a relationship with another user (Scoble) where they shared access to their mutual Facebook profiles.
Facebook, for all its weaknesses and commercial impulses, does have a limited level of privacy protection. The embedding of personal email addys in an image is one. If you want to send me an email from outside the walled garden, you have to take the time to copy the addy by hand.
It’s one protection FOR ME to avoid having my addy scraped and sold off.
So when Plaxo tells Jeremiah Owyang that their new tool is all about data portability – they’re full of crap. It’s all about data collection. Here is an excerpt from a quick interview Jeremiah conducted with Plaxo today:
“…What else should we know? In 2008, data portability thrust is where we want to head, we want to turn the model upside down, so instead of widgets going to the social graph, we would like to make the social graph very portable. This is an area where Plaxo as more depth than anyone else.” (Jeremiah)
In the comments that follow, there is a good discussion of the social contract between “friends” when exchanging access rights and personal information.
Part of this contract, in this case, involves the privacy protections and restrictions put in place by Facebook. Facebook is a wide-open app with a lot of publicly available information, but that doesn’t mean that informed users don’t expect a level of considered behaviour on the part of their “friends.”
When you decide Facebook isn’t the most appropriate tool for you, you can’t attempt to migrate your mass of friends by breaking those protections and restrictions.
Sorry that it’s inconvenient, but that’s the playground you chose to play in.
And if you’re a commercial company that develops a tool designed to rip personal information out of proprietary social networks, don’t tell me you’re doing it in the name of the freedom for information to flow freely. There’s a commercial application behind the motivation.
[tags] data portability, data protection, identity theft, Facebook, Plaxo [/tags]
December 26, 2007 by Colin
Well, with the oldest-living Queen launching a YouTube channel* in time for her Christmas Message, I’m feeling more than a little flummoxed. This sure isn’t the tradition I remember from my childhood – which was more along the lines of “What do you mean, she’s on all FOUR channels!!!”
Over at Crying All The Way to the Chip Shop, Lee spent some time earlier this month discussing why Britain doesn’t have the same great tradition of “road songs” as the United States. There are obvious geographic limitations – what with Britain being tiny and all – but he argues that there is also a cultural and spiritual chasm between the two countries as well:
“…The truth is, we (Brits, that is) don’t look at life and see endless bright horizons and dream big dreams, we’re a gloomy, glass-half-empty kind of people and who find idealistic American positivity a little embarrassing and phony. Americans, bless their hearts, do still say things like “you can be anything you want to be” and believe it (despite evidence to the contrary) because they’re happily unburdened by history while we’ve had way too much of it and frankly can’t work up the enthusiasm for anything anymore as a result. We built an empire and won a bunch of wars and now we just want to put our feet up and enjoy England’s plucky failures …
These days the stubborn refusal to “have a nice day” feels like a defiant poke in the eye of today’s noisy, amped-up consumer culture (created by America, of course) which bangs you over the head with its global franchises, useless gadgets, trashy television, and blinged-up celebrities. In the face of that, being miserable old bastards may be the last thing we have to hold on to that’s truly ours”.
Here in Canada, we have the worst of both worlds: a faint tie to British history and past glories, a tremendously long and expansive horizon, and very little history of our own.
That means we measure our voyages in hours (“How far?” “About four and a half hours.”) and our travelogues tend to be overladen with descriptions of the scenery (“Trees. Loads and loads of trees. Oh, and an iron mine.”).
Unless you’re driving through Saskatchewan, which is three hours of flat. And a uranium mine.
We’re really into that whole consumerism thing, though. And the franchises. A mall or a neighbourhood can’t really be considered to have “made it” until it’s overburdened with American franchises.
*or ,as The Register notes, “One would like to wish you a Happy 2.0 Christmas”
[tags] England, Half English, nostalgia, Empire, Queen, consumerism [/tags]
November 1, 2007 by Colin
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]
October 8, 2007 by Colin
Colin Clarke is a British sociologist who happens to have a personal blog, and he asked his university class:
“…‘What really gets on your tits?’ as I rather shockingly asked them (it was meant to come out as ‘what really gets on your nerves?’ but I think my own nerves got the better of me and I fell back into that horribly familiar Scottish uncouth street-talk I can be prone to…”
There are dozens of responses over at And Before the First Kiss, but here are a few:
- Global warming
- Drunk drivers
- Drugs / addiction / dealers / parents who are addicts
- Pretentious youth
- Reality TV / Big Brother
- Packed and expensive trains / late busses
- War in Iraq
- Selfish pricks
- Political correctness
- A fish and chip shop with no chips at lunch time!
- Smug Scumbags (e.g. Gerry McNee)
- People who always feel sorry for themselves
- Really ignorant customers in supermarkets
- Tesco / Asda
- The greed of Russian billionaires in football
- That wee bam at the bus stop
- A bad pint
- Advertisements presented as art
- People who aren’t ‘down with the kids’ but think they are
- The Pope / The Queen (‘in equal measure’)
- Living on the 5th floor with no lift
- James *unt
Looking through the list, there are a lot of consumer, marketing and advertising activities or behaviours that apparently are “getting on their tits?”
September 18, 2007 by Colin
Another season of Third Tuesday Ottawa social media get-togethers opens with a sought-after star: Mitch Joel. You may know Mitch from such previous work as his Six Pixels of Separation podcast or his Twist Image blog.Mitch will kick off this year’s Third Tuesday Ottawa season on September 25. A kick you in the ass kind of speaker, Mitch will discuss marketing, social media and web 2.0.
Free registration can be found over on the Third Tuesday Ottawa Social Media Meetup group.
August 29, 2007 by Colin
“Op is a youth brand focused on the surf lifestyle,” said a Wal-Mart spokeswoman. “It will help expand the range of our apparel offering as we leverage the brand equity to address this growth lifestyle.” (Women’s Wear Daily)
That’s right. Wal-Mart has entered into a distribution contract with the holding company that now owns the Ocean Pacific brand. If you were holding out any hope that your rainbow-coloured board shorts and windbreakers, originally bought in 1982, were cool – forget about it. Unless you live in Japan. Don’t ask me to explain the Japanese retail market. Please.
In the rest of the world, Ocean Pacific’s old position as market leader in the “scruffy yet cool surf wear” market segment has been sucked out to sea by Hollister.
Still, some retail experts are holding out hope for Wal-Mart – if they handle the launch and the brand management right:
“It’s an incredible opportunity for Wal-Mart,” [former OP CEO Dick] Baker added. “To have a brand like this, a true American lifestyle surf brand, as part of their stable is great. … My only issue is if you look at the landscape of mid-tier and mass retailers, there’s been a lack of execution with these brand deals over the last 10 years. The good [deals] have been Mossimo and Target because there was a lot of product and brand strategy that went into it, and the Candie’s strategy with Kohl’s. Other than that, there’s a lot of roadkill of brands that attempted to fit into the retailer’s domain.”
Roadkill. Ouch. How about a rope-a-dope metaphor:
“… Harry Bernard [who] worked on research for Op’s repositioning by Baker … called the deal “a fascinating combination of totally different cultures. Wal-Mart has been hit across the bridge of the nose enough times to figure out they can’t do it on their own …
“They’re going to make it what they want to make it,” Baker said of Wal-Mart’s handling of Op. “If I were them, I would put a lot of time and effort into positioning and strategy. It’s an iconic American brand. If they do it incorrectly it will be an injustice.”
A final note: at Dick Baker’s house it seems that the easy and laid back nature of the surfer is not appreciated. This from an O.C. Register article about his wife’s otherwise very stylish redecoration of their house:
“…No eating on the couch: Key thing in my house: We only eat in the eating areas. If you are hungry in England or Italy in the middle of the day, you go to the kitchen, you have tea and you have a sweet, and look at a magazine. Or, if someone is there, you chat. You don’t zone out in front of a TV. Also from a cleanliness standpoint, you get kids and pizza and popcorn and a sofa, you’ve got a disaster.”
[tags] Wal-Mart, Ocean Pacific, OP, surf, Hollister [/tags]
August 15, 2007 by Colin
Two very different takes on the world inside an advertising agency, both with quite amusing passages.
The first is e, an older book about life in a London advertising agency. Full of backstabbing, deceit, clueless managers and fickle clients. Matthew Beaumont structured the narrative around the flow of emails among the copywriters, creatives, account managers, admin assistants and executives in the agency. And it’s hilarious.
The second, less hilarious, is Conflict and Confluence in Advertising Meetings by Robert J. Morais. Morais was trained as an anthropologist, but has been working in advertising for the last 26 years.
He’s written a far more clinical, logical and balanced account of how an advertising agency tries to work together to win an account.
You can find that article in the Summer 2007 edition of the journal Human Organization.
Here are some choice lines:
… When viewing an array of creative ideas, clients will rarely say “None of this works: go back to the drawing board.” Instead, they declare, “This is an interesting range of ideas,” which is code for, “I don’t like anything you have shown me.”
… Experienced account managers know the difference between what clients say and what they mean. When a client asks, “Why did you choose that particular graphic,” it is code for “I dislike the graphic.”
… When senior agency executives select flanker positions to the far left or right of the conference table they do so to stress their separateness from other agency staff and to occupy a perch from which to offer commentary during the creative meeting. Their distance from the fray carries other symbolism: it is a vantage point from which they can make the “big picture” statements that demonstrate a mastery of the full business context of the creative work.
… Clients also know when agency executives exclaim “I agree with everything you have said,” they are about to disagree and prolong a discussion.
… Agency executives understand that advertising may be at the intersection of commerce and art, but commerce is the main drag, and clients control the road.
And what is so appealing about fiction that simply recreates your everyday office life? The Guardian Arts discusses.
[tags] Matthew Beaumont, Robert J. Morais, advertising agency, inter-office politics, team [/tags]
July 22, 2007 by Colin
I’ve been doing some thinking about data collection and personal privacy lately, and it’s struck me that a lot of early adopters, online cognoscenti and bandwagoners are rushing headlong into a world framed by the overarching principles of transparency, honesty and personal interaction – without thinking of about how much of their personal information they are leaving exposed.
This isn’t a new development. Without understanding something of how customer relationship marketing, market segmentation and direct marketing works, the average person really doesn’t understand how their personal information swirls in currents and eddies of databases, mail lists, dodgy piles of index cards and thumb keys.
I’ll give you an example: at the right is a set of keys. Attached are the key tags for four loyalty programs: Albertson’s grocery, GNC vitamin shop, Ace Hardware and some Canadian chain. To the key’s owners, those tags are worth 5% off purchases.
To someone with access to one or all those databases, those tags represent a considerable amount of detail about the key owner’s shopping habits, product preferences, fondness for discounts or particular brand names, and even their travelling habits.
With that information, marketers and political strategists can micro-market to increasingly targeted segments of the population – and your neighbourhood. And your group of friends. And members of your family.
But we’re only discussing information consciously handed over to marketers and consumer companies in exchange for quantifiable benefits: I’ll let you track my shopping patterns in exchange for a discount on bulk purchases of panty liners; I’ll sign up for your program so I receive advance emails about Memorial Day sales.
What about the personal information you leave hanging, for all to see, in your online profiles?
- your birthday
- your home address
- your kid’s names
- your vacation schedule
Would you post a picture of your driver’s licence? Considered as individual data points, this information does not seem like much. In total, you are giving out far more information for free – and to everyone – than you would agree to let a marketer collect.
Instead, we all need to get into the habit of maintaining an inventory of our online identity. Nothing complicated, just a personal awareness of how much information you’ve revealed, and to who.
Even on social networks that are password protected and offer tools to restrict access to your profile information, you may end up “friending” people who you barely know. And that increases the risk.
After all, you need to be aware whether some hacker knows more about you than your best friend.
And you better not lose that keychain.
[tags] facebook, identity theft, online identity, personality [/tags]
April 10, 2007 by Colin
Why does everyone call themselves a strategist nowadays?
“Just for laughs, when someone claims to be a strategist, you could ask them which tradition of strategy they represent. Economic? Then ask them to define a Nash equilibrium and see how they feel about Cournot vs. Bertrand models. Military? Then ask them about Clausewitz or John Boyd or Edward Luttwak. You can do the same thing with sports, chess, marketing, or any other domain they claim that has a tradition of strategic analysis. …
As a rule, I am opposed to credentialism, especially in ill-defined areas such as strategy. In fact, there really is no body of knowledge whose possesiion truly entitles one to claim “I am a strategist” or whose lack bars that claim. But it sounds like people are pretending that such a credential exists and then further pretending that they possess it. For a modest fee I’d happily prick that double-bubble.”
Ouch, I have two degrees in International Relations and consider myself well-educated in the areas of military and economic strategy – and I don’t think I could meet Steve’s standard.
Grant, naturally, digs into the question in a separate post. He rightly points out that many marketers, communicators and other of our ilk claim strategic skill and strategic insight – despite having no education in the field or demonstrable experience as a strategist.
“And then the question is, why should this rhetorical misbehavior be necessary? I am quite sure that other professionals do not suffer the temptation. Lawyers, doctors, civil servants…they don’t use the term. (“What kind of medicine do I practice? Oh, I do strategic medicine, you see. I don’t just identify symptoms. I think about them.”)No, the buzz word abuse that Leora spotted is a symptom. The field of marketing and the fact that it is not in fact a profession at all …
Without sorting, we are reduced to making boosterish, self aggrandizing claims, dressing ourselves up in the dignity of someone else’s language.
It’s not clear how we solve this problem. I agree with Steve that certification (or credentialism, as he calls it) is probably impractical. Reputation helps of course. It would help even more if those of us in branding circles had the depths of knowledge that distinguish the McKinsey consultant.”
Of course, the trend towards ostentatious titles may be a lingering backlash against the more outrageous job descriptions adopted during the late 90′s tech boom. After all, once you’ve lost hundreds of millions of dollars, you’re less likely to place your faith in:
- the Chief Dog Walker
- Founder without Title
- the Head Dreamer
- Spiritual Co-Creator
- Creative Imaginatist
[tags] Strategic , Strategic Communciations, Strategic thinker, credentialism [/tags]
February 23, 2007 by Colin
- Where the hell are all the new political protest songs? So asks Duncan Campell at commentisfree. (Billy Bragg’s got one!)
- Brief profile of Laura Bush’s press secretary, Susan Dryden Whitson. Interesting fact about her life? She was American Idol winner Taylor Hick’s Grade 9 english teacher. (she’s had her rough patches – and I’m not counting the twin’s old partying habits)
- Jimmy Camp, Republican campaign activist, ne’er do well, punk rocker and accomplished singer/songwriter. Can you believe he opened for Willie Nelson, David Crosby and Huey Lewis & the News? Part I and Part II
- Confessions of an Ex-Pollster – the Op/Ed editor of the LA Times. A touch of self-immolation, but it balances out at the end. First lesson as a new pollster: “What I failed to grasp was that the primary purpose of our business was not to learn what voters think — but to determine how they could best be persuaded.”
February 22, 2007 by Colin
Have you noticed that public relations and marketing specialists tend to let criticism run off their backs like water off a duck? One psychologist, Karl Weick, has an explanation:
“…Generalists, people with moderately strong attachments to many ideas, should be hard to interrupt, and once interrupted, should have weaker, shorter negative negative reactions since they have alternative paths to realize their plans. Specialists, people with stronger attachments to fewer ideas, should be easier to interrupt, and once interrupted, should have stronger,more sustained negative reactions because they have fewer alternative pathways to realize their plans. Generalists should be the upbeat, positive people in the profession while specialists should be their grouchy, negative counterparts.
Wow. That pretty much describes almost every interaction I’ve had with an engineer, economist or regulatory specialist. Haven’t you found it hard to prepare comms materials that are both understandable to the general public and acceptable to a technical specialist?
Quote singled out by Bob Sutton.