Change agent: a sisyphean task


Stolen directly from Dave Gray’s blog, Communication Nation:

“…A blog is a way of getting support and affirmation from the outside, for the things you are trying to do on the inside.

A blog is a way to keep your faith alive.”

I know blogs, podcasts, general and specialist social networks and plain old Yahoo newsgroups have helped me explore new ideas as a:

  • public relations specialist
  • government communicator
  • blogger, and;
  • all around know-it-all

[tags] evangelism, xplane, Dave Gray [/tags]

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Facebook Update = Developing Murder Story


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[tags] Facebook, MySpace [/tags]

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the fourth wall comes tumbling down


As communicators, public relations types, flacks, marketers … do you remember the moment in your youth when you realized that the wonderful smörgåsbord of media did not just fall into your lap for your consumption and enjoyment?

I mean, when did the fourth wall fall down for you? When did you realize that vast armies of writers, composers, directors, producers and broadcasters were manipulating every moment of the music, film and cartoons you were sucking through your greedy little eyes and ears?

This was it for me:

Bob: “This is where the D.J. talks. Don’t say anything!”

Doug: “Okay, eh!”

That, of course, is the opening line to Bob and Doug MacKenzie’s “Take Off!

After that revelation, it was all downhill. You mean there’s a reason why most pop hits are less than two and a half minutes long? My favourite sitcom is only 22 minutes long? Radio tease? What’s that?


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Our topic today is pimping culture, eh?


You really can’t “extend the brand” on a cultural icon. But that hasn’t stopped the Brick Brewery from using Bob and Doug Mackenzie to pimp their Red Cap Ale stubbie bottle.

I’ve watched this video a dozen times, and I can’t quite put my finger on what I find so unsettling. Here are some thoughts:

  • Bob and Doug are essentially anti-commercial characters. Their down home persona was about stealing beers, not selling them
  • There is no subtlety at all to the pitch. The video is covered in beer labels, and Bob and Doug virtually shout the brand name.
  • The imagery from the original SCTV skits (Coleman stove, donuts, cases of beer) has been exaggerated in this remake. There’s a freaking layer cake of Boston Cremes there, for chrissakes!
  • It’s not funny. Not at all.
  • The original Bob and Doug clips were rambling and unstructured conversations about basic elements of the stereotypical Canadian experience. This new ad slams you over the head with the idea of B&D pushing stubbie bottles. It’s like Bob and Doug were possessed by slightly chubby middle-aged infomercial salesmen.
  • UNIMAGINATIVE! UNIMAGINATIVE! Why not explore new angles for characters every Canadian over the age of 30 knows intimately? Play off their “experimental video” from Strange Brew! Or this stop action video using old sound clips and the B&D character dolls from MacFarlane.

IStudio seems to be behind the new video. I don’t understand what is viral about it. Is it because the video’s available on YouTube? There certainly aren’t any hooks for social media at the video’s home on the Brick website. It’s just 6 seconds too long of passing for a boringly traditional 30 second spot, normally seen just after Coach’s Corner on Hockey Night in Canada.

The Great White North does not find this amusing. It’s almost as bad as the revivification of Colonel Sanders.

For your further enjoyment: Bob and Doug’s Take Off, featuring Geddy Lee.

From a business perspective, it’s interesting to note that the Brick Brewery, barely eight weeks after emphasizing its Canadian roots, is actively exploring offers to acquire the brewery.

A cynic (like, say, me) might say that the new emphasis on Canadian heritage is a false front.

UPDATE: It seems that iStudio seems to be responsible only for the “seeding” of the video, not its creation.

[tags] Brick Beer, Istudio, Bob and Doug Mackenzie, stubbies, beer, retro [/tags]

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Does your industry dynamic obscure your client focus?


Inside the fishbowl. Inside the beltway. Myopic. With blinkers on. Inside baseball. Sometimes pigheaded. Maybe a tad close-minded.

That’s slightly exaggerated, but Andrew Cracknell, formerly of Bates, makes the point that advertising agencies can sometimes lose track of the real people they’re trying to reach. The point stands for public relations types as well.

“… But I was always depressed at how, over the coffee and biscuits before a meeting, the agency and client people could chat together about their kids and holidays, Saturday’s match, their hopes and fears, and the instant the meeting started, revert to their rearranged postures that had so little to do with the real people they’d been just a few moments before.

Trying to stay slightly more on the edge of the cult, and getting more in touch with your real side, while being a little less dismissive of the man on the Clapham omnibus’ view of ads are all virtues I could have benefited from.” (Campaign, via TMCNet)

[tags] Clapham omnibus, fishbowl, beltway [/tags]

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How one political journalist uses Facebook


How should a national television reporter evaluate his participation in Facebook and its many affinity groups? David Akin of CTV pulls back the curtain and reveals how Facebook plays into his reporting on the activities of Canada’s national politicians:

“….So, for example, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has a Facebook account and, when I signed up, I sent him a note through the service asking to be his FF. It took a while but eventually he (or, most likely, the staff member at the PMO who monitors these things on behalf of the PM) agreed to be my FF. So what does that mean? Well, it certainly doesn’t mean that Stephen Harper and I are friends in the offline sense of the word. We don’t go to the mall together. We don’t phone each other up late at night to kvetch about our wives. We don’t borrow each other’s gardening implements.

What it does mean, though, is that I can “see” Stephen Harper’s Facebook profile and I will be notified on my own Facebook feed about activities he’s involved in. So, if Harper puts up a new photo of himself, I will see that he has done that back on my own Facebook page and, if I’m so inclined, it represents a cue for me to visit his page and check out his photo. Conversely when I do something on Facebook — I change my Facebook status several times a day, for example — Harper will be tipped to that fact back on his page.

Importantly, Harper and I know each other. We have an offline relationship. I’m a reporter; he’s the Prime Minister. You get the point.

Akin discusses several other important aspects of his participation on Facebook: how is his membership in any number of local or regional candidate support groups perceived, and how could his membership affect the actions of that Facebook group?

“…For me, a political reporter, this seems like a great place to connect with the so-called grassroots of any one political movement. And so I’ve joined the Liberal group and the Conservative group and so on. Again, I hope that most Facebook types will be sophisticated enough to figure out that I join these groups not to endorse them or to help them achive their political ends but to — and let’s be frank here — to spy on them! The more extra stuff I can learn about the activities of Liberals and Conservatives and NDPers, the better a reporter I can be.

Still, Akin decided to leave a lot of these types of groups a week ago – out of concern that “because the group is so overtly political, the benefit[s] of remaining a group member are not greater than the risks of me being perceived as endorsing any one candidate.”

[tags] Facebook. political reporter [/tags]

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Can you really claim to be a “strategic communicator”?


Steve Postrel left some incisive comments on Grant McCracken’s This Blog Sits At, building on Leora Kornfeld’s question:

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]

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Action for Ads: Stop picking on the poor advertisers


While it’s true that advertising cultures change (sometimes drastically) from country to country, it’s important to note that the British advertising industry feels sufficiently slammed by consumer advocates to launch an online petition to battle back against accusations that advertising is the source of all evil.

Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration.

Still, we would do well as advertisers, marketers and public relations experts to pay attention to the backlash building in many markets in Europe and North America. Even as technology and careful planning allow us to target markets more effectively, consumers, watchdogs and governments are focusing on the community-wide impacts of consumer marketing. (think kid’s snacks = fat kids)

Campaign magazine has come out swinging, hosting an online campaign calling on British ad types to speak out against increasing restrictions imposed on the industry.Campaign's advertising petition

There is a manifesto associated with the campaign, and it attempts to take a punch at all sorts of perceived opponents:

‘We’ve become complacent about single-issue consumer activists,’ an industry lobbyist claims. ‘They get listened to sympathetically, and what they say is often taken as gospel, without any proper investigation of their claims.’ …

‘The Government’s attitude is schizophrenic,’ [Hamish Pringle, Director General of the IPA] declares. ‘It says it supports the creative industries, which it hails as the saviour of UK Plc, while it continues to bash us.’ …

‘Just listen to Caroline Flint, the public health minister,’ one industry leader says. ‘She already talks as if she thinks she can tell us what to do.’ …

[Peta Buscombe, chief executive of the Advertising Association] says the key challenge is for the industry to reclaim control of the agenda and to show not only how important it is to the economy, but also how self- restrained and responsible it is. The rigour applied to devising advertising codes would put many Parliamentary law-makers to shame, she declares. … (Campaign)


I have three comments about the petition campaign:

  • As I mentioned above, there is a lengthy manifesto/article associated with the campaign – but it is NOT linked to the actual petition site. There’s a risk that petition signers may not understand the breadth of ideas or positions that could be interpreted by their association with these two documents.
  • It works outside the electronic petition process established by the British Government, which can be found at Campaign has provided a separate comment stream for questions, and one questioner wonders aloud whether the government will even accept an electronic petition in an unconventional format.
  • For an online process, there’s a remarkable lack of promotional material to help practitioners drive traffic to the petition. Actually, there’s only that one image I’ve used.

I’ll leave the larger issue of, you know, blaming the messenger for another day. God forbid any parent assumes responsibility for the actions of their children, or any consumer make a conscious decision about their purchasing habits.

[tags] Campaign magazine, Haymarket, Action for Ads, IPA [/tags]

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When public affairs consultants go bad


How does an industry react to calls for change – like improved safety monitoring or increased regulatory oversight? More particular to public relations and public affairs types – are predictable rhetorical tactics rolled out in response to these sorts of challenges?

Chris Hoofnagle prepared a paper on these tactics as part of his work as a consumer protection lawyer.

If you can imagine the most nervous and change-averse organization, then the Denialists’ Deck of Cards will likely seem familiar.

“In this context, denialism is the use of rhetorical techniques and predictable tactics to erect barriers to debate and consideration of any type of reform, regardless of the facts. has identified five general tactics used by denialists: conspiracy, selectivity, the fake expert, impossible expectations, and metaphor.

The Denialists’ Deck of Cards builds upon this description by providing specific examples of advocacy techniques. The point of listing denialists’ arguments in this fashion is to show the rhetorical progression of groups that are not seeking a dialogue but rather an outcome. As such, this taxonomy is extremely cynical, but it is a reflection of and reaction to how poor the public policy debates in Washington have become. ” (Social Science Research Network)”

(Pointer from Center for Media and Democracy, original post by Chris Hoofnagle on his blog)

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Dunkin Donuts vs. Starbucks – a cultural battlefield


Dunkin vs. Starbucks. Coffee vs. Latte. Lee Dungarees vs. Seven for all Mankind. PC vs. Mac. HHG2G vs. Bill and Ted. Carhartt vs. Patagonia. NexTel vs. WiFi.

The Boston Phoenix rolls out a very rough sociological analysis to explain the fierce appeal of Dunkin’ Donuts in the NorthEast U.S., and supports it with insightful and amusing quotes. All in “Choosing Our Religion: how one little post-war doughnut shop became synonymous with Boston’s identity.”

There are some good comments from Bryant Simon, a Temple University prof who is researching a book on Starbucks – by visiting 300 stores over 6 continents.

“On the other hand, Dunkin’ sometimes seems to keep certain, perhaps more culturally loaded aspects of itself under wraps — or at least keep them understated. “All of Dunkin’ Donuts espresso drinks are fair-trade coffee,” Simon points out. “But all they do is put a little circle [fair trade symbol] on the door.” It’s as if they want to do the right thing, he says, but also know that “their customers don’t like all that value-added shit.”

In the end, after all, “this is about perception. McDonalds is trying to compete against Starbucks — going wireless, putting fireplaces in — but Dunkin’ is realizing they can position themselves differently,” says Simon. He asked one Dunkin’ higher-up if there were plans in place to add Wi-Fi. “No, he said, because the last thing he wants is guys in trucks, getting their coffee, to walk in and have no place to sit because there’s a bunch of people in ties banging away on their laptops.”

Meanwhile, Kevin at Strategic Public Relations is handing out a lot of link love while suggesting how the “Starbucks as Storyteller” brand attribute can be strengthened.

I’ve referred to Dunkin Donuts before:

And if you want to go old school, I commented on how Tim Hortons handled their media relations on my old Blogspot site.
[tags] Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Boston culture, other place, third place [/tags]

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WTF? CanWest and the New Republic?


Leading into an American election year, I’m just wondering if there are any plans afoot – now that CanWest has bought total control of longstanding progressive magazine The New Republic.

“… [CanWest executives] Foer and MacNeil cited an element of “passion” in [CanWest owner] Asper’s decision to purchase the magazine, though MacNeil said he also saw a business opportunity.

“We see it as something that is of great value short term and long term. The publication has a wonderful heritage and some very excellent young talent but it’s been operated more through passion than media discipline,” MacNeil said, adding that “this product doesn’t ever need to provide a 30 percent return on investment.”(Politico)

Is this what happens when the “Made in Canada” publishing subsidies are reduced? Canadian companies actually look outside the border?

This means the National Post and The New Republic are now under the same roof ….

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PR picks its’ fights – a lot of them


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.

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Saatchi Italia trips over the whole 2.0 thing


Did you know 2007 was the year of the attention economy? Saatchi & Saatchi seems to have decided that – its in their sig line. Our Italian colleagues have felt the magic touch of Saatchi’s attention – their Italian team reached out to marcomm writers to promote the launch of a client site. The release from Saatchi has drawn particular scorn from Gianluca and Italo because of its jargon-laden copy:

“…Il sito web,, è on line dal 10 gennaio con una prima release di quella che si preannuncia una web experience magmatica, adrenalinica e fortemente interattiva. Figlio dell’era del crowdsourcing, in cui il consumatore diviene al tempo stesso target ed elemento cardine per la ideazione, progettazione e comunicazione del prodotto, è il primo passo di una self-building platform che saranno gli utenti stessi a generare, uploadando i propri contenuti.”

That copy is buzz-heavy, transparently self-serving, and the pitch was not well thought out. The site in question is completely coded in flash – and of consequence completely useless to bloggers who like to link to areas of particular interest. It seems the pitch was also accompanied by a .pdf file (linked at Gianluca‘s post).

But the story gets better. Here in Canada, we’ve become used to buying up multiple URLs and top level domain names when working across languages. In the case of this site, it seems that an misspelt URL in a Reuters article let a small Italian marketing agency grab some attention (there’s that word again!) when it quickly snapped up the misspelt doman name.

Lessons learned from Saatchi’s pitch:

  • Don’t try to sell milk to the milkman: throwing buzzwords and 2.0 concepts around will backfire if your work doesn’t back up the concept.
  • Don’t misappropriate concepts: consumer as idea creator works – but not as well when you’re selling glasses at 1000 euros a crack. As one commenter points out on Gianluca’s blog, the average Italian metalworker makes 1000 euros a month.
  • Personalize your pitch: once again, don’t mass mail your news release, especially when it provides very little detail.
  • Follow-up with media, especially when they get your URL wrong.

[tags] Saatchi, italiaindependente, blogger outreach, blogger relations [/tags]

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I tell ya, we government communicators got it tough. How tough? …


It’s tough to be a communicator in the employ of the government nowadays. Accelerating news cycles. Dwindling public interest in economic issues. Continuing distrust of the government.

On top of that, Ira Basen continues his quest to prove the public relations industry is the spawn of the devil. In a well-researched series for CBC Radio, Basen speaks to Canadian, American and British media, communications and politics veterans about the influence of spinners, spinmasters, spin specialists, the spiiinnn maaaann.

I still can’t shake the feeling, though, that Basen will be standing beside St. Peter when it comes to my turn, flipping through a giant book of perceived misdeeds in an attempt to condemn me to purgatory.

Nevertheless, the CBC has made available mp3 files of the previous episodes, as well as transcripts of his interviews. Here are two excerpts that paint a portrait of the environment in Ottawa today:

Scott Reid, on the shift in relationship and operating styles between media covering national issues and the federal government:

“… in the past decade there’s been a pretty substantial cultural shift in the town in terms of how media and government inter-relate. I think basically there is or there ought to be a culture of “nothing is off the record now”. I think that stories get told when they’re not fully formed in terms of the conduct of your job from where I sat, it meant you had to very much plan from a perspective that – you had to assume that the median in terms of gallery behaviour was going to be pretty punishing, pretty insurgent, and you had to factor that in.

There is no culture of being able to work on a story for a period of time and say, “well, hang on. You actually don’t have all the facts straight. Why don’t we – you should really get briefed up and we’ll take a few days…” None of that. Speed became the imperative. Speed became the only imperative and that changed the way that other journalists and other news organizations worked and that changed the way the people who answered the phone and dealt with journalists, worked as well.”

Elly Alboim, on the increasing level of disengagement citizens feel towards government and public policy issues:

” … Well, you know, look, it’s not the second coming of the apocalypse, you know I – what is the effect? We ‘re going to know in 20 years. We don’t know today. But there are signposts, you know.

The signposts are: we have the highest level of alienation from government and authority that we’ve probably had in our lifetimes or probably stretching beyond, and it’s not just a Canadian phenomenon, it’s western; the lack of deference to authority is astonishing worldwide; the cacophony associated with fundamental decision-making is loud; and voting turnout is dropping except for the last election which had a slight twist-up but most important, the disengagement of most people from issues involving governance, politics, labour, finance is astonishingly high.

They profess no interest in it, their literacy on fundamental issues has been dropping, and the shared sense of institutions, country, has become subject to all these centrifugal forces – you know, go to British Columbia and read their daily menu of information and compare it to the one in Atlantic Canada and try to understand where the common threads are. What does all this mean? I don’t know what it means.”

h/t to Ian for reminding me.

[tags] Scott Reid, PR in Canada, spin [/tags]

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Paul Wells speaks the truth. But Macleans’ redesign may suck


Is your desire for knowledge about social media is only outweighed by a driving quest for political analysis? Is there no sweeter nectar to you than gossip about Parliament Hill? Then do we have an event for you!

Paul Wells Live! One Night Only! The next Third Monday, right here in the capital city!

Sign up at the Third Monday Meetup site so we can accurately count how many people are going to show up. (55 so far!)


Monday, Feb 19, 2007, 6:00 PM

 BTW –  I’m torn about the new Macleans website design. The links seem to be interminable, and I’m pretty sure I can’t read the blog on my BlackBerry anymore. Then again, it’s funny to see one mag writer comment on another’s work – in public. TOO BAD I CAN’T LINK TO THE COMMENT ITSELF! 

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A blogger questions his own self-worth …


Stuart Smalley loves you, you blogging fool

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

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

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

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

[turns to Live Writer window on his Lenovo laptop]

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Account planners can be your friend, PR


Lately, I’ve been on an account planning kick. There’s a lot public relations counsellors can learn from account planners – especially if you work in-house and have to balance satisfying the client but also speaking truth to authority.

Even more importantly, every one of the planning blogs and resources I’ve stumbled upon over the past three or four years has emphasized breaking out of your comfort zone:

  • identify one habit at the office – and stop it. Go to another building to get your coffee. Something.
  • widen your area of research to include alternative media. Or even just media out of your neighbourhood.
  • test your existing strategic approach against new theories or methods.
  • stop filtering research to validate your assumptions (consciously or unconciously).
  • just go to the newstand and buy five magazines you’ve never read before.
  • stop reading your habitual feeds and bounce through the blogosphere, only using comments and blogrolls.
  • watch a foreign language community television program.
  • take two hours out of your day and go to the nearest museum. Any museum.
  • go to the newest person in the office. Give them your latest plan. Ask for their blunt comments.

From Brand Tarot:

“… Done well, planning is mediation. By talking with, getting to know, developing a feeling for (and perhaps a desire to help) all three parties [customers, clients, creatives], planning is the hunt for the highest common denominator, something which will make all three parties happy. And the fact that there are three is key; its much harder to compromise, you do need to make a bit of a leap, a reframe, a reformulation to get all three on board …

Russell Davies has whipped up a planner wiki, with a starter list of planner bloggers.

Take a look at the anatomy of a planning briefing.

For a more organized look at the specialty, visit the Account Planning Group, which has a very hand guide to planning.

[tags] planner, planning [/tags]

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Blog monitoring, astroturfing and keeping the young involved


  • The Blogtrotters: behind the scenes at Umbria, trend trackers and blog monitoring service. (Denver Westword)
  • Playing Dirty: the inside scoop on the role public relations industry in selling the “made in Canada” solution to global warming. It’s a full colonic, including a discussion of astroturfing and how the technique is used in policy lobbying by the big PR consultancies. (This Magazine)
  • Phoning it in on a lazy Sunday: the NYT runs the yearly story on how tshirts and caps – preprinted with the loser’s logo – end up in Sierra Leone.
  • How to keep the IM Generation involved – Paull Young’s notes on the AlwaysOn session.

[tags] astroturf, blog monitoring, blogger relations, climate change [/tags]

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Prepare for the risks of social media – and keep your job


social media sometimes has hidden costsIn the evolving world of social media, it’s the wild fliers you have to look for, you know. That solid homerun with the unintended consequences. Like a blogger relations strategy that goes hinky. Or a word of mouth campaign that slowly builds up some substantial and negative street-level karma.

It’s like going to a baseball game with the gang from work and witnessing a homerun derby – then discovering that one of the homeruns went through the windshield of the boss’ Escalade.

What’s the point of selling the management team on a new and innovative strategy if you don’t outline some of the risks that may accompany it? A capable counsellor always tempers their pie-in-the-sky projections with a dose of reality. For example: our blogger relations program could help influence online opinion of our new program – or it could really irritate one particularly influential commentator.

Preparing the groundwork before launching your new communications strategy will insulate it from unintended consequences.

Some ways a social media strategy can go hinky:

  • You target bloggers with an unrelated interest or specialty, and they write about it
  • Your new campaign comes with eau de toilette: the specialists you hired have screwed up so many campaigns in the past their work is automatically discounted
  • Over-hyping your innovative new outreach strategy to the traditional media alienates social media and online outlets
  • Hip to be square: trying to look edgy and innovative never sells as well as you’d imagined
  • The bloggers you target aren’t transparent about their relationship, but the blame blows back on your company
  • That new car smell: the executives get so excited about trying something new that they overlook the poor fit with actual business strategy. They later abandon the project without support
  • One of your executives tries to influence the company’s Wikipedia page
  • Your street team hires a: felon/female impersonator/ladie’s man

How to prepare for potential risks:

  • Make sure the pitch for the business includes a dose of reality
  • The social media evangelist should be accompanied by a strategist who can draw the whole media picture. A sober second voice, if you will. Maybe even a planner…
  • Follow up on that dose of reality: schedule a discussion of how past social media campaigns have rolled out – including the unmitigated disasters
  • The strategy should dentify how to respond to possible complications/crises. This will force everyone involved to work through responsibilities and roles before the crunch comes.
  • The customer relations team/call centre HAS to be briefed on the strategy: they’ll be the first to hear of any problems

Any other suggestions?

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Chronicle slaps around its most irritating readers


“Aren’t you there to make sure the English language isn’t pissed on by your sub-editors? … Is it sinking into your thick skull, you high school dropout?” (SF Chronicle

The San Francisco Chronicle has begun to make selected voice mails from readers available as a podcast. The series is called Correct Me If I’m Wrong. (h/t to Romenesko)

This is quite original. The Chronicle is now reinterpreting materials produced as part of its everyday relationship with Chronicle readers, drawing upon now-conventional podcasting methods to generate additional media for Chron properties.

I wonder if callers are warned their recorded voice could be distributed online (I tried to check, but couldn’t find the “letters to the editor” phone number. Maybe it’s the Chron’s general exchange number.)

I’d argue, though, that most podcasters exercise some discretion when picking which comment or voice mail to replay – often dropping the rude, unintelligible or pedantic.

The Chron, on the other hand, tagged this first podcast under “Correct Me If I’m Wrong …” and “Comedy.”

I like it.

[tags] Correct Me If I’m Wrong, SFGate, San Francisco Chronicle, letters to the editor [/tags]

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A question for Steve about compensation


From Steve Rubel’s post about his cheque from the Blogburst network:

“Clearly the way journalists and bloggers are being compensated is changing. However, everyone really should disclose the mechanics of how they are rewarded. Why should there be a double standard for the level of disclosure for journalists vs. bloggers when it comes to new models of compensation? We’re all part of the media fabric now. This should especially be revealed when anyone is being compensated based on traffic.

But the point I want to make here is that no blogger – full-time pro or part-time paid – is exempt from disclosing how (not necessarily how much) they are paid and who is paying them.”

So – let’s say you’re the evangelist for a social media practice at a largish public relations agency. Your pay is directly related to your ability to demonstrate thought leadership in the subject, and your workload is divided between blogging, client service, client pitches, and conference presentations.

What proportion of your salary should you disclose, Steve?

This is an important question for bloggers and social media consultants as the world of blogging makes the transition from idealism to practical (read monetized) application.

The idea of disclosing all side interests, compensation deals or product placements that support a blog is a goal. As more and more bloggers develop viable careers from their work, can this be put into place with any level of accuracy?

[tags] Steve Rubel, blogger compensation, pay per post, blogger ethics[/tags]

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Adliterate on the benefits and orthodoxies promoted by blogging


Dammit, I like Richard Huntington’s Adliterate post on the benefits of blogging for planners.

“… I have often joked that it is only planners that blog in advertising because account people have nothing to say and creatives have better places to say it but maybe its more that blogging was built for us. … Blogging has given us planners a way to show we are good and create influence within our agencies, the broader community and potentally with our clients. “

I’ve long had an affinity for planning.  As a government communications strategist, I’m expected to maintain a wide-ranging interest in and knowledge of popular culture, public policy, media trends, new technology and strategic insight – but feel very little of the love regularly thrown the way of the “civilian” public relations community. (ha! right.)

Richard touches upon some of the scepticism still directed at blogging and social networks, particularly among “more established” planners and executives, but isn’t shy about recognizing that

” … the community, like all communities, has begun to coalesce around specific ‘new marketing’ ideas that are in danger of becoming of becoming an orthodoxy every bit as dangerous as the antiquated ideas about brands and communications that it is seeking to replace. Specifically it encourages a view that the marketing landscape has already reached a kind of utopian future without offering any clues about how brands and the clients that own them should get there. …”

[tags] adliterate, media planning [/tags]

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Just a thought about Strumpette


There’s a tempest in a teapot brewing over at Blog Herald, and commented upon by Joe at ProPr.

My only thought at the moment? A lot of Amanda Chapel’s comments* across the blogosphere have nothing to do with debating a finer point, and hell of a lot to do with promoting and protecting the Strumpette brand.

And sometimes, when in this defensive mode, her comments come across as written by Y&R’s Phyllis Summers Abbott or Dr. Kimberly Shaw Mancini from Melrose Place.

*by comments, I mean her appearance on others’ blogs. I frequently enjoy and appreciate her point of view on Strumpette itself. It’s like a buffet, folks: sometimes you have to pass over the particularly unappetizing dishes and give the chef a break.

 [tags] Strumpette, Amanda Chapel, ProPr, Chris Clarke [/tags]

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Edelman picks some restrictive places to make its point


For Edelman, it makes perfect sense to establish and communicate the limits of your dealings with the blogosphere – especially if the stumbles of your high profile client programs are forever being highlighted online.

Richard Edelman has posted the general guidelines Edelman employees will follow when a conversation about their practice and their client develops online. They make perfect sense and show a balanced approach to managing an emerging business practice. But this paragraph struck me as unusual:

If there are questions posed about a given program, particularly about our approach, we will do our best to ensure that those most closely involved with the effort are commenting. It is a far better option to have those truly informed about our work join the conversation as and when appropriate. This is what happened on Microsoft with both Rick Murray, head of Me2Revolution, and Pete Pedersen, our relationship manager on the client, commenting in PRWeek.

[Cartoon-like headshake] Whaa? Wait. The head of your online practice thought the best place to respond to criticism about a blogger outreach program was … IN PRINT? IN A TRADE MAGAZINE? Not all the critics of the VISTA program are public relations pros – and not all PRs subscribe to PRWeek.

Which you have to be to read Murray’s comments – because the PRWeek piece is behind a subscriber firewall. (Unless you know to read Keith’s blog. Then there is a free link)

As for you bloggers who didn’t get a free laptop preloaded with Vista, here’s Rick’s POV:

“…Murray said, in part, the furor could have something to do with the limited scope of the campaign.

He added, “I think the reality is, when you handpick a small group of people out of 55 million bloggers, [many will] be less than happy with the solution.”

Yeah. Shut up you whiners.

[tags] Vista, Edelman, blogger relations [/tags]

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Corporate personality: business can (heart) online communities


Corporations have no problem establishing an identity in the online world: where they have a problem is maintaining a believable “corporate personality” that helps moderate the ups and downs of public perception and criticism in such a responsive and rapid environment.

At the moment, corporations cheat in their outward communications. Their real world and online brand identity is well established through advertising, marketing and community outreach. If you believe you are dealing with a responsive and responsible organization, that’s likely the result of extensive planning – detailed call scripts, employee communications manuals, automated responses to online contact forms, and regular refresher meetings for salespeople and marketers.

Any perception of personality or individuality from a corporation usually flows from an oversized personality in the C-Suite. Traditionally, the arrival of a new voice in the executive offices has meant a breath of fresh air throughout the organization. Mandates are renewed, clear and action-oriented visions are developed, and employees are (hopefully) energized. If the new executive is also a strong communicator, their arrival can improve perception of the company’s products, performance and staff in financial markets and in the marketplace.

The work of that executive as a spokesperson and corporate representative doesn’t equal a corporate personality, however. When a strong communicator leaves (Jack Welch) or is forced out (Robert Nardelli), the corporation’s public identity is often weakened despite their work.

These are the corporations that receive a mixed reception from customers – both online and in the real world. Michael Dell may be a personable and well-spoken executive, but it’s obvious that his customer care staff have irritated some influential bloggers. Local consumer reporters can find no end of dissatisfied customers with a gripe against regional and national telephone, cable, utilitiy, airline or electronics firms.

The key to a consistent and reliable online identity – one that will weather trashings in online forums and sniping from bloggers, an identity that will instinctively know how to deal with negative comment threads and critical YouTube CGM – is a corporation that has worked hard to build a corporate personality to help guide every employee in the organization.

This means all the units in a corporation that touch the customer or the outside world have learned to listen, speak and act with a common personality.

This doesn’t mean homogeneous messaging, strict protocols or highly controlled communications. Instead, it means a workforce that has been trained to apply a common set of principles and behaviours when dealing with customers, suppliers, and stakeholders.

It’s not necessarily about the social media catchall (and trite) phrases: transparency, community, conversation. Instead, it’s about responsiveness in communications, open recognition of failings (and of successes) and the willingness to give employees free(er) rein in their area of responsibility.

Front desk managers at hotels have the ability to comp rooms or offer upgrades; phone reps can actually acknowledge that mistakes have been made with your order; managers know that they can speak about their area of expertise in public.

It’s the freedom to act in micro situations – a form of corporate behaviour that influences individuals, not organizations or communities.

It’s these individual actions that often trip up corporate attempts to play in the social media sandbox – planted comments on corporate blogs; anonymous postings on message groups; rewrites that provoke clashes with the wiki overlords; knee jerk reactions to leaked corporate videos appearing on YouTube.

It’s the sort of philosophy Herb Kelleher put in place at Southwest.

Ask yourself, as a public relations pro or a marketer: when you heard that Southwest was going to let A&E film a reality television series AT THE GATE, did you think it was utter genius or outright stupidity?

That’s the sort of corporate personality that will have to develop as CGM and social media continue to merge with “traditional” media. It’s the corporate confidence that employees are trained well enough to let it all hang out, with a camera rolling.

BTW – I stole the term “corporate personality” from Kevin Dugan, who used it on an episode of the Dallas Marketing Zoo.

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Third Monday in Ottawa – new year, new location!


You’ve certainly already broken some of your New Year’s resolutions. Those new career goals are likely moving slowly. That commitment to learn more about social media is still holding strong, though. So come on down to the Clocktower Brew Pub on Monday the fifteenth for the next Third Monday social media meetup.

Flogs. Splogs. You, the Time Person of the Year. That’s SO yesterday, like fuschia leg warmers. What are the trends for the coming year? We’ll all get a chance to speak, but Ian, Joe, Brendan and I get to go first.
The deets are:

January 15

6:00 pm onward

Clocktower Brew Pub 

565 Bank Street, just south of the Queensway


Please RSVP on the meetup site, so we have an idea who’s going to show up.

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I’ll take PotPourri for $400, Alex


Survey bias, pimping to kids, GTD, music promo and local journalism – talk about a potpourri of topics!

“What it takes to be a [local] journalist” – from the Boston [Lincolnshire] Standard.

Fantastic Getting Things Done templates for the Moleskine notebook.

Cultural and spatial bias could be affecting your survey results – if you use a Likert scale (disagree to agree) – reports new research summarized by the BPS Research Digest.

“Selling to aspirational six year olds” – h/t to Trevor Cook

“Kids aspire to be older than they are at whatever age because, early in life, they recognize their position on the lower rungs of the social ladder. Hence retailers, like Borders, design spaces that encode both aspiration to older, more autonomous identities and distance from younger, undesirable selves.

Any savvy package designer knows that a child’s product, if it is to have any chance on the market, must appear to appeal to the age group just older than the intended end-user. Something intended for a six-year-old boy will probably not do well if a six-year-old is pictured on it—better an eight-year-old.

Making such appeals directly to a child is, historically speaking, new and revolutionary. The recognition and appeasement of the child’s point of view in commercial contexts began in the ’30s and marked a change not only in marketing and merchandising, but in parent-child relations as well. The child’s view now must be acknowledged, addressed and satisfied in many arenas of social life. For a parent to do otherwise is to set themselves up as morally suspect.” (In These Times)

How brand communicators can learn from the music industry – h/t and further discussion at Get Shouty.

[tags] Moleskine, GTD, mGTD, productivity, survey, Likert scale, youth marketing, public opinion research [/tags]

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What’s the appropriate government response to “misinformation”?


If you can work your way through the economics and mathematical proofs, “Regulating Misinformation,” a new NBER paper from Edward L Glaeser and Gergely Ujhelyi makes some blunt observations about the economic effects of public relations, advertising – particularly by monopolies and oligopolies – and government attempts to regulate or eliminate the “misinformation” they may produce.

“…In the nineteenth century, a variety of false claims were made about the health benefits of patent medicines that were just disguised alcohol. In the 1940s and 1950s, cigarette companies tried to convince consumers that their products were healthy

… Is the appropriate policy response to ban false claims or to tax the product or to produce government advertisements with an alternative viewpoint?
One laissez-faire view is that there is little cause for government intervention because these public relations efforts are ineffective. While there are many reasons to be suspicious about government intervention, it is implausible that firms would spend significantly on misinformation if that spending did nothing.

A second view is that despite the flaws of private decision-making, government decision-making is worse … Without disputing that view, we present a simple model to examine the potential benefits of different policy responses to misinformation.

[tags] misinformation, social policy, tobacco advertising [/tags]

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UPDATED: SPJ may NOT just have bloggers in their sights


Which is worse – that the Society of Professional Journalists is taking a good chunk of money from MarketWire – a for-profit service developed to influence reporters – to help set up a speakers bureau, or that the bureau seems to be targeting bloggers?

“… “I am pleased that Market Wire has decided to present SPJ’s Journalism Education Series to its customers, many of whom work in public and investor relations,” Tatum said. “It is vitally important for everyone who claims to be gathering information for the benefit of a well-informed public to know the difference between fact and fiction, between lies of omission and commission, between information that is genuinely helpful to the public and information that is solely self-serving” [said SPJ National President Christine Tatum, an assistant business editor at The Denver Post] (MarketWire Release)

Of course, I just made SPJ’s point for them by selectively quoting from the release. The bureau sounds like a worthwhile venture if it helps “professionals working in investor, media and public relations, [as well as] an array of community and civic groups” to improve their capacity to assess and analyze widely varying sources of information.

If it simply preaches “paper good, electronic bad” – then there’s not much point, is there? 

In another camp, the “Hot Type” columnist for the Chicago Reader noted that this was a deal that had to be structured carefully to pass the “smell test.”

A WELCOME RESPONSE. this is what I love about blogging. A direct response from the President of the SPJ:

“Hi — Thanks so much for drawing attention to what I consider an exciting initiative launched by the Society of Professional Journalists, one of the world’s oldest and largest journalism advocacy organizations. SPJ’s new Speakers Bureau and Journalism Education Series aren’t specifically targeted at bloggers. These projects are aimed at helping people of all backgrounds gather and deliver information accurately, ethically and with integrity — something we should all appreciate and support — and at helping people “improve their capacity to assess and analyze … varying sources of information.” Another noble cause.The Society’s instruction and instructors are outstanding and offer guidance of tremendous value. I want to ensure the Society and its speakers are compensated fairly for their time and effort. The revenue generated will help SPJ further champion its very important core missions, which include journalism ethics, the free flow of public information and professional development for journalists.

You won’t hear SPJ say, “Paper good, electronic bad.” Never. The Society has plenty of members who work in electronic media and maintain blogs (I’m among them). For more information about how to get involved in the Society’s tremendously good work, visit

And while you’re visiting the site, take a look at how SPJ has ardently defended California blogger and freelance videographer Josh Wolf by paying more than half of the legal bills he has incurred while trying to protect his unaired video footage of a 2005 G8 Summit protest from a federal grand jury’s review. Wolf is sitting in a federal prison right now, and our members continue to work valiently to support him.  SPJ has put its time and money where its mouth is. I welcome calls, comments — and offers of volunteer support.Christine Tatum

National President, Society of Professional Journalists

Assistant Business Editor/Online Business News Editor, The Denver Post

[tags] SPJ, MarketWire, Speaker’s Bureau, media ethics [/tags]

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The mall’s role in American culture


The blogging world is full of niches. Public relations blogs are one tiny niche. Another even smaller grouping is mall bloggers. The leading mall blogs are featured in Retail Traffic this month. Here’s my list:

  • Malls of America is a multimedia blast into the past, with a fond eye for the postcard views of 60’s design and the overhyped promise of technology.
  • DeadMalls popped up on my handheld during a shopping trip to Syracuse. It was of no help in finding hollister, though.
  • the BoxTank – a more considered examination of the role of malls and big box stores in the suburban environment, but seems to be dead
  • Roadside Architecture – an attempt to document all those “did you see that” locations along the highway. Dinosaurs, 50’s bus stops, diners …

That’s blogs about malls, written by fans. As opposed to blogs written for malls, by consultants – like the poor Oakland Mall Blog. A post every quarter that reads like promotional copy, and a contact address that has a different name to that listed under “author.”

Underserved niche: I’m surprised no-one has set up a blog for mall walkers. There’s a consumer market, property nuisance, neighbourhood watch, and liability lawsuit waiting to happen, all in one group.

I also like the “closed for business – abandoned shops/stores” group on flickr.

[tags] mall, retail, shopping [/tags]

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Wal-Mart’s advertising: a peek behind the curtain


While Wal-Mart retreats to a traditional advertising campaign featuring the Smiley Face and low pricing, Julie Roehm, the company’s short lived star marketer, plans for a future on the East Coast. What about the old guard – the marketers that helped drive Wal-Mart’s sales to such stratospheric heights?

In late October, the Kansas City Pitch interviewed Bob Bernstein, the founder of Wal-Mart’s longtime adveritsing agency, Bernstein-Rein. Covered are the initial years of the relationship (including some really rough old-school television ads) through to the August decision to drop Bernstein-Rein from the latest agency review.

Included are some in-house observations about how Wal-Mart dealt initial with growing community and consumer dissatisfaction.

“… Inside Bernstein-Rein, employees grumbled about representing Wal-Mart. Jeff Bremser, who has been Bernstein’s chief creative director for the past 30 years, says Wal-Mart lost its moral focus when Walton died. “Wal-Mart had changed,” Bremser says. “Wal-Mart used to be a very honest company. They were never involved in any trickery under Sam.”

In his defense, Bernstein says he didn’t know that racks with “Made in the U.S.A.” logos contained foreign-made goods.”

Bernstein is referring to the 1992 flap over Wal-Mart’s sourcing of products in Asia – while the company had been running an intensive and patriotic ad campaign at the same time.

“…After the “Buy American” debacle, Bernstein-Rein had to recast Wal-Mart’s image. The plan, according to several current and former Bernstein-Rein employees, was to ignore the negative press.

“The strategy was that there is really only one Wal-Mart, and that’s the closest one to your house,” says Carter Weitz, a former Bernstein-Rein art director who’s now with the Lincoln, Nebraska, ad firm Bailey Lauerman. In other words, the idea was that shoppers would continue to come no matter what was said about the company, as long as their neighborhood Wal-Mart had the cheapest merchandise.

Several current and former employees mentioned the closest-to-your-house strategy to the Pitch word-for-word. But when asked about it, Bernstein said he hadn’t heard of it. “If they were doing that down in the creative department, that wasn’t something I was a part of.”

[tags] Wal-Mart, Made in the U.S.A., Roehm, Bernstein [/tags]

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Outrageous PR Stunts – and the personality behind them


Can We Do That? Outrageous PR Stunts That Work – and Why Your Company Needs Them” is a pull yourself up by your bootstraps sort of book, willing and pushing businesspeople and public relations types alike to take their work more seriously – and have more fun doing it.

It’s a light hearted book with a serious message – to break through those personal barriers that keep you and your team from being truly original.

Peter Shankman is a good friend, and I ripped through his book quite quickly. His personal anecdotes illustrate basic but always relevant observations that help you shape a unique public relations campaign, and his personality shouts from every page.

And the fact that he gave me the book did not influence this review at all.

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Cutural awareness is key


Grant, over at TBSAT, drives home the point that marketers (and public relations types) are quite capable of neglecting the role of “culture” in shaping products, messaging, advertising and every aspect of branding.

“…Culture is a new “disruptive technology.” (I speak metaphorically. What I mean is that culture is now as disruptive as technology.) Culture contains a surface churn, a boiling innovation that helps refashion consumer taste and preference. It also contains deeper, structural changes, that are transforming the very grammars of innovation. …”

In dissecting the work of several popular marketers and academics, he makes the point that culture is a far more pervasive and multi-faceted influence than is often recognized by marketing models, theories and brandspeak.

“… Cool hunters are diminishing in another way. The only part of culture that interested them are the things that a trendy and brand new. Its all the froth of the churn, with nary a thought for the deep structures. I have seen the cool hunters at work, shaming big corporations for not being hip enough. But big corporations cannot set their cycles of innovation only to the trend of the moment. They must spot deeper cycles of change. Knowing about culture can’t be a pursuit of cool. …”

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Stupid IS as Stupid BLOGS


“Advising a CEO to start a blog without figuring out what it’s going to stand for is a bit like …”

  • booking the CEO on 60 Minutes, no questions asked
  • ignoring years building delicate labour/management relationships
  • condemning yourself to months of “Well, I’M a writer NOW, TOO”
  • making space for the SEC investigators in your building plans
  • handing half your government relations budget to Lionel Hutz
  • moving all the company’s advertising into print

Building on a theme started by Keith from PRWeek.

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How businesses and communities actually benefit from “conversations”


Hate to take a break from blowing smoke up our collective online asses, but the real “conversations” between businesses, consumers and communities are happening on the ground, in neighbourhoods where broadband, sparkling water and long-term financial planning are rarely considered.

Companies experimenting with social media online are really just testing the theories and developing extensive test data: the real work to develop links and relationships between businesses, consumers and their communities demands shoe leather, handshakes and company reps with operational responsibility.

In, “A grassroots approach to emerging-market consumers,” McKinsey’s Christoper Beshouri really digs into several practical and successful examples of how companies in the developing world are building sustainable businesses with the help of their customers.

“…People in local communities—not only the mayors and barangay (village) captains but also school principals, teachers, religious leaders, and residents themselves—are in the best position to help companies deal with the challenges of doing business in low-income areas. These community agents have the information and ability to monitor and influence what happens on the ground. If a company can show that its own interests are aligned with their interest in employment and commerce, it can then enlist community support for security, collection, and system monitoring. Community-based approaches help companies address principal-agent issues head on while creating a positive dynamic that reinforces key business model adaptations.

… [there are several business models that could be followed, but each involves] deep, long-term community relationships and investments, whose value is illustrated by the extraordinary support Manila Water received when it asked regulators for a rate increase in 2002. Ninety barangay captains and community leaders showed up at the hearing and expressed their appreciation for the powerful positive impact Manila Water had on their communities.

These people told stories about the way residents formerly began their trek at midnight to get water back to their households by dawn, about new jobs and entrepreneurial activity, and about Manila Water’s support for the community’s special needs and projects. To these local leaders, Manila Water had become an essential partner in their livelihood and quality of life; they were prepared to stand by the company.”

Yes – the emphasis is on building a business relationship with the community. In the end, money is being exchanged. But communities are being changed – and not because of a vague sense of debt or social obligation.

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To mis-quote Billy Joel … I’m selling out!


Okay folks. Here’s that ad I was hinting about. For Canadian public relations practitioners/readers, it’s a service you’ve already heard about if not already using.

For my international readers, you should take a look at the clickthrough – there’s an interesting approach to tying value-added services with time-wasting games.

It’s right over there in the sidebar.

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Playing the straight man – surviving client meetings


That lull in the conversation. The new client’s just finished their brief: the facts as they know it have been laid in full on the table, and they are now looking to you for insight and direction.

Your team has already read the brief. They’ve picked it apart, examined each fact, claim, assurance and outright lie from every angle. Your environmental scan has revealed the fundamental weaknesses in their analysis, the stakeholder groups and consumer activists just waiting in the wings …

In the second or so that hangs between the client’s last word and your first, you can make or break a relationship.

You can try to extend the lull with the strategic use of hands – a pensive finger to the temple, or maybe a worshipful tapping of the fingertips – but there is still an expectation hanging thick in the air: agree with me and tell me how to fix it, the client seems to be silently whispering. Or boring into your head with unblinking eyes.

At this moment, don’t shuffly your papers. Don’t review your notes. Those two moves imply indecision and uncertainty.

And you know that isn’t true. Everyone on your side of the table knows your team spent a hilarious 15 to 30 minutes brainstorming over the worst possible outcomes for this client. Headlines you wouldn’t want to see in the Globe and Mail. How proposed promo events could go horribly, horribly wrong. Personal observations about members of the client’s staff that you’ve worked with before. The weaknesses of the product line.

The key at this moment is preparation. Working through the responsibilities of each member of your team ahead of the meeting. Working through your own agenda for the meeting. Establishing a lead for the discussion. Having a really good poker face.

Learn from the example of Luke Wilson:

“… I think I’ve been playing the straight man ever since I first realized I was in over my head academically. Math in particular. And science, come to think of it. Not to overlook foreign languages. Not really knowing what was going on in class — and not really caring to understand or actually taking the time to study — I put a great deal of effort into my expression. Earnest yet vacant. Yearning yet lost. I had one simple goal for the teachers. I wanted them to think: This Wilson kid might not be that bright, but damn it, he’s trying. The poor bastard.” (NyTimes Mag)

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Come take a swipe at this social media brouhaha


Next Monday, the 20th of November, Ottawa’s Third Monday Meetup will feature social media experts Darren Barefoot from Vancouver and Marc Snyder from Montreal in a debate about the state of social media in Canada:

  • What’s hype?
  • What’s reality?
  • Are social media changing our world?
  • Or, is this just another bubble that will soon pass?

All that, and a cash bar too!

A treat for you: a remix of the Beasties’ Brouhaha (mp3).

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Selling out to the man – the possibility of advertising


Hey folks. There’s an idea floating around in Canadian public relations circles to try a specific advertising campaign, and I’ve given it some thought. Don’t be surprised to see an ad or two appear in the next little while, but I hope the advertiser is targeted enough not to upset your regularly scheduled reading pleasure.

And, as always feel free to comment or to send me an email;

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Government communications: a multi-stage career


[fade to studio] Hello. My name is Colin McKay. I’m an evangelist for government communications. You may remember me from such popular posts as Government Communications is interesting, dammit! and Government Communications doesn’t suck: I mean it. Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to spend a few minutes with us.

We’ll return to this afternoon’s movie, Office Space, in a moment.

There’s a lesson to be learned from the tale of Peter, Samir and Michael: wasting countless hours in a cubicle punching keys can be a mind-numbing and soul-destroying exercise. Unless you have an inspiring vision, that is.

Just like Brian, the waiter at Chotchkie’s. His personal vision was excellence: being the best damn lunchtime waiter at an industrial park franchise quick serve restaurant.

You have a vision. You have an interest in learning and personal enrichment. Either that, or you secretly harbour a dream that marketing and public relations blogs have hidden links to illegal mp3s and other naughty things.

The hidden advantage to a career as a communicator or marketer in the government is the opportunity for progression and growth. Think of the government as a network of agencies and consultancies, separated by areas of practice.

Each department, agency or commission is a stand-alone unit, but can draw upon the same shared pool of qualified employees. In effect, winning a competition (or job search) as a government communicator or marketer demonstrates that you’re equally qualified for similar jobs in other government organizations.

It’s like Omnicom or WPP, but with much more transparent hiring processes and far less reliance on personal relationships for career advancement.

Sure, there are obstacles like any large organization. Your career can grind to a halt because you jumped on the wrong coat-tails or found yourself at the wrong end of a re-organization. The financial rewards aren’t as great: they likely plateau earlier than most high achievers’ salaries in the private sector.

Most other organziations, though, won’t let you jump from a multi-year career specializing in speechwriting to a position in social marketing; from intensive stakeholder relations to social marketing on health causes.

The key to such a flexible and rewarding career is curiousity: only with an active interest in professional growth and a willingness to experiment can you mold a career that’s challenging and rewarding.

That’s true for a career in any organization, but I happen to think the job market in government communications is fluid (or cannibalistic) enough to encourage movement and experimentation.

Now, back to the show. [Fade to Lawrence explaining the difference between Federal and Minimum Security Prison]

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