Knitting: the intersection of Emotional Intelligence and Retail Strategy


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Regimented creativity


How to be interesting. How to be creative. How to avoid a rut. How to break out of the mould. How to find inspiration around you. How to make a regimen out of identifying and valuing novelty.

Russell Davies has some advice for you.

My wife has always accused me of “going ’round the houses” – finding a circuitous and seemingly inconvenient way of getting from “a” to “b”. To tell the truth, I just like driving down new roads. Since we don’t live near any large cliffs, that’s a pretty safe habit.

I have plenty of other habits that have developed organically to encourage my creativity. Why else would I read Progressive Grocer? Or the NBER Digest?
At least twenty years ago, my dad started buying books by Roger von Oech. Von Oech is a creativity expert with a long history of selling people new ideas.

First chance I got, I stole my dad’s Creative Whack Pack – a deck of thought provoking cards with unusual illustrations. Well, he’s got a CreativeThink blog now. And the whack pack is online (just hit refresh). And it’s still in my desk at work.

[tags] creative, creativity, imagination [/tags]

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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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Government communications is interesting, dammit!


Following up on my previous post – Government communications doesn’t suck, I mean it – I’d like to discuss the wide range of subjects and topics that could draw your attention as a government communicator. After all, government work doesn’t mean professional or personal stagnation.

Implied in the debate between employment at an agency (seizing the brass ring) or a corporate (seizing the brass retirement watch) office is the promise of greater opportunities for creative expression on a much larger variety of files.

Agency acolytes will swear up and down that their day is a virtuous cycle of inspiration, creation and implementation – with some client meetings thrown in. Corporate types will argue that continuous exposure to one portfolio of products, services or brands is an opportunity to learn the corporate experience in and out, from product inception to integrated marketing planning to yearly bonus payouts.

Unfortunately, there are no yearly bonuses for the average public relations, marketing or communications type working in government.

Argument 2: Intellectual stimulation doesn’t require a cool office space.

Money aside, opportunity abounds in the government to work on files that interest you, files that will challenge your skills as a communicator while stimulating your mind. The key is to remember that the government is not a monolithic organization, it’s more like General Electric: plenty of little subsidiaries that do weird experiments and have offices in strange places – but are still market dominant. Here are some examples:

Risk communications: transportation departments, accident investigation boards, food inspection agencies, nuclear regulatory agencies, defense organizations.

Social marketing: health departments, social services agencies, public health organizations, overseas development departments.

Public opinion research: statistical agencies, every communications and marketing shop in the government, what we call “central agencies” (PCO, White House, OMB, Whitehall).

Rural outreach: agricultural departments, commodity marketing boards, fisheries departments.

International marketing: industry or commerce departments, departments of external or foreign affairs, export financing organizations

Science communications: research organizations, space agencies, departments responsible for natural resources (Department of the Interior), forestry agencies, fisheries departments.

Crisis communications: accident investigation boards, public safety departments, defense organizations, defense organizations, airport authorities.

Investor relations/financial communications: budget offices, departments of finance, management boards, banking regulators, national banks, financial monitoring agencies.

Notice how I didn’t cover any of the communications or marketing jobs that could be expected of politically-appointed staff? That’s a whole other world to be considered!

Next argument to be covered: government communications can be a multi-stage career, not a life sentence.

Shoutout to InsidePr for discussing government communications this week.

[tags] government communicator, agency, communicator [/tags]

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Design FINALLY makes museums more fun


I’ve always been conditioned to think art museums should be fun – certainly more stimulating than expected from regular stuffed shirt art patrons. My perception was reinforced by the museum scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – and fuelled by thoughts of roller skating the inclines of the Guggenheim.

Finally, my dreams are realized. THIS is how to spend some time at an art museum. Carsten Höller’s installation at the Tate (sponsored by Unilever) includes four stainless steel slides – one dropping four stories!

Höller speaks to the Guardian about his work at the Tate.

He’s worked on slides before, but on a smaller scale. The example I just linked seems to come from a period where he had a problem with children:

“… He came to fame in 1990-93 with an exhibition of devices for catching and killing children; one, for instance, was a swing fixed to the roof edge of a high-rise building. Was he really such a paedophobe? ‘Well, now I have a daughter I’ve changed my mind! I never hated children, but I hated the idea of making children, the whole reproductive process. There’s no freedom if you cannot get rid of the biological machinery that makes us decide to do this thing and not that thing. I thought very much about how you could break that chain. I was determined and convinced that I would not have children.’

So what happened: did he fall in love? ‘I fell in love all the time! Very much so, even more, because I would not have children. But I think once you have really explored a certain conviction, it is time to give it up. I don’t think you should go on holding it for the rest of your life. So I thought it was time to have a child, to see if I was right or wrong. And I found I was both right and wrong.'” (Guardian)

There’s a flash tour of the installation also available at the Guardian.

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Government blogging’s still chugging along


While I’m building speed on my government communications argument, I’ll also point you to Shel’s discussion of government blogging.

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Government communications doesn’t suck. I mean it.


Agency vs. Corporate. One is more flexible. One is better paying. One offers a greater variety of projects for new associates. The other likely has a better health plan. I’m here, folks, to argue for another employer for young public relations and marketing types: the government.

Yes, it can be tradition-bound. Yes, your friends likely do not think it’s cool. Chances are, one of your managers will be wearing a short-sleeved shirt – in winter. Your business cards are certainly boring. There will be no fancy lunches …

Still, there are very good reasons to give some thought to working in government communications.

(This is the first of an irregular series meant to argue for a career as a government communicator – written by a government communicator.)

Argument 1: Variety is the spice of life.

I often hear the agency vs. corporate argument framed as a choice between creative opportunity and stifled imagination. My impression is that government communications is subject to an even more cocked eye.

Truth is, the apparently generic job of government communicator can touch upon all of the following tasks during a career. Or in one month:

  • Media analyst
  • Public opinion research analyst
  • Communications strategist
  • Speechwriter
  • Spokesperson
  • Policy analyst
  • Consultations expert
  • Publications project manager
  • Risk communicator
  • Internal communications
  • Senior counsel
  • Brand manager
  • E-communications specialist
  • Events manager
  • And many more …

These roles are available to the new graduate as well as the experienced communicator: while government demands hierarchy, it also produces learning plans, training funds and opportunities for growth.

Next argument to be covered: government work doesn’t mean professional or personal stagnation.

[tags] government communications, agency, communicator [/tags]

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Getting to Maybe: complexity, relationships and social innovation


If you’re in Toronto and interested in social change, an upcoming book launch at the MaRS Discovery Centre may interest you.

“… Many of us have a deep desire to make the world around us a better place. But we tend to think that great social change is the province of heroes — an intimidating view of reality that keeps ordinary people on the couch. The trick in any great social project — from the global fight against AIDS to working to eradicate poverty in a single Canadian city — is to stop looking at the discrete elements and start trying to understand the complex relationships between them.

GETTING TO MAYBE applies the insights of complexity theory and harvests the experiences of a wide range of people and organizations — including the ministers behind the Boston Miracle; the Grameen Bank; the efforts of a Canadian clothing designer to help transform the lives of aboriginal women and children; and many more. In short, it is a practical, inspirational, revolutionary guide to making positive change in the world.”

That’s Tuesday, October 17th, 2006, between 11am and 12 noon.

Johnnie Moore and Rob Paterson have mentioned the book recently – and Rob provides a good discussion of the concepts behind complexity.

For more information on complexity, there’s a discussion and a treasure trove of links on the Tamarack Institute’s site, including this definition:

Complexity science is not a single theory. It is the study of complex adaptive systems – the patterns of relationships within them, how they are sustained, how they self-organize and how outcomes emerge. Within the science there are many theories and concepts. The science encompasses more than one theoretical framework. Complexity science is highly interdisciplinary including biologists, anthropologists, economists, sociologists, management theorists and many others in a quest to answer some fundamental questions about living, adaptable, changeable systems.” – A Complexity Science Primer

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Second Life: the future of groceries?


Forget Peapod or Webvan: the real future of grocery shopping lies in the virtual experience available in Second Life. Or at least that’s the message from a reader responding to the NYT’s “What features would you like to see in the supermarket of the future?”:

” … Virtual Reality at home shopping … program would allow you to walk the isles just as if you were in the store … highlite things onsale … also would note items you have purchased in the past (soo you dont forget something) … Then my items would be placed in easy to carry boxes … I would recieve an email that my order needed to be picked up within 48 hrs … There should be a drive thru pickup window were I show my online reciept and my boxes are placed in the trunk of my car.” (NYT blog comment)

Or maybe something even more fantastic:

” … I’d like to see gallon jugs of designer gasolines, nested neatly between the orange juice and Perrier. I’d like to see genetically engineered talking cows like the ones in Douglas Adams’ _The Restaurant at the End of the Universe_ which walk up to you and point out their choices cuts, and wallow in despair if you forego the opportunity of lopping off an extremity today, thank you.

I’d like to see a whole separate supermarket section devoted to baby vegetables: baby carrots, baby corn, baby peas even more miniscule than regular peas. And you should have to trade you regular sized shopping cart for an itty bitty one when entering this section. I’d like to see a conveyor belt that ushers me through all sections and all aisles before shuttling me off toward the cashiers when I’ve gotten all my shopping done. Samples… I really love samples. I’d love for there to be little sample trays of everything in the supermarket… even the light-bulbs and cat litter.

I’d like for the e-coli infected vegetable of the day to be marked down 50% and clearly labelled as such. I’d like for dented cans to again be potential botulism sources… you know… to put a little sense of danger excitement back into buying the discounted stuff. I’d like the dying houseplants and wilted flowers to be a little more than 50 cents off the regular store price. I’d like there to be 42″ plasma screens inside specially maked boxes of Special K.

I’d like my shoppers card bonus points to pay off in the afterlife by affording me a better seating position vis. a vis. the Creator at the Heavenly banquet table. I’d like a shoppers bill of rights that recognizes and clarifies Common Article 3 of the Geneva conventions, because… well, it’s all ambiguous and stuff. …” (Dabid Flores, NYT Blog Comment)

Pointer from Marginal Revolution.

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Davies: blogging killed the lunchtime seminar star


From Russell Davies, a comment that touches upon the headlong and quickening rush to develop a rep as a “social media guru”:

” … Blogging is doing to planning what television did to variety/music-hall.

I’ve always thought that a planning career is very like a stand-up comedy career. You spend a couple of years getting a decent 40 minutes together (act/presentation). That means you can go on the circuit and do presentations, meetings, pitches. Then if you’re good/lucky you get a few more bits and stretch it out to an hour, maybe 90 minutes, and that means you can be a consultant, doing the same old schtick to a new audience every engagement.

Television killed variety because it quickly consumed everyone’s act and the jugglers and novelty seal-balancers couldn’t delight a new audience every night, because everyone had already seen it on TV. And blogging’s doing the same for planning. …” (Russell Davies)

I think there’s plenty of space on line for jugglers, balancers, and pitchmen as well as considered and thoughtful authors.

If anything, the blogosphere is short of authors who can synthesize thoughts and themes into a clear-headed and convincing argument. (Putting all conspiracy theorists and rabid political bloggers aside, of course)

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Clinton’s clippings include blog posts


Bill Clinton has blog posts included in his daily clippings package. Antony Mayfield points to a Guardian interview with the former President, and follows up with his own analysis about how social media might reach senior-level executives. From the Guardian:

” … Clinton told [a group of liberal bloggers] that over the past two years he had become an avid reader, and that he now included blog posts in his daily news cuttings service. For the bloggers, toiling away in their front rooms, it was heady stuff. “

The key to Antony’s analysis is three simple words: “strong, relevant blog content.” While Technorati may not be able to filter for those qualities, they are front of mind for the many gatekeepers employed to make sure senior executives make valuable use of their time.

You may not be able to win direct placements in their daily clippings: you may need a more sophisticated approach that reflects influence rather than column-inches. If your public relations campaign communicates sophisticated ideas, new approaches, practical improvements for customer groups and stakeholders, then your messaging might reach these senior executives through third party analysis and opinion.

Or, more simply, you could try to target the gatekeepers: how do you win placement, mention, influence in the exclusive industry newsletters read by many executives? That’s a much tougher (and more intellectually demanding) task, but ultimately more profitable.

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Big conferences – as much personal marketing as face to face


Are big conferences worth the effort, the expense, the time? That’s a question posed by Scoble and repeated by Trevor Cook – and well discussed by commenters on both blogs.

BTW- that’s a floor plan of the Jacob K. Javits center to the left. My first job in marketing was to help staff the Canada pavillion at PC Expo 93.

The value of big conferences lies in your approach to the event. A conference is both a learning and networking opportunity. Whether across town or across the continent, your attendance should be planned as thoroughly as an integrated marketing campaign.

Direct mail – learn from the professionals. Why shouldn’t a public relations consultant send out a mailer with contact information before a conference?

E-mail – For particularly high profile conferences, customize and target your email footers to highlight your upcoming presentations. Flying across the world to an event? Publicize it! Maximize your investment! (But discretely, of course. No HTML banners or embedded sound files, please)

PodcastsDonna Papacosta had the right idea. Build your online identity to maximize your on-site presence. In the weeks or months leading to the conference, interview fellow attendees or scheduled presenters on your blog or through a podcast.

Scheduling – before you step foot on the conference site, you should know how you’re going to spend every minute of your day. From meetings with your clients to scheduled press events, from the booths you want to visit for business development to the booths you want to visit for professional development. What other PR or marketing professionals do you want to meet up with? Where will they be? Can you arrange a meeting before the conference starts?

Panel discussions – Do your homework. Show up armed with information and lines of questioning to follow. Don’t just sit back and enjoy the show. Press panel members for follow-up comments. Create a conversation, even in a room of thirty or two hundred – there are bound to be fellow professionals that appreciate the effort and the result.

Share notes – I’m up in the air about live blogging conferences. If you’re the type that naturally takes notes at presentations, then go ahead. But if live blogging means you’re not really paying attention to the conversation around you – the side comments and witty asides from your fellow attendees – then you may be missing out.

Food, glorious food – The red dots on that floor plan largely indicate feeding stations at the Javits Center. Don’t unpack your wallet and start staring at the menus. As Trevor said, one thing conferences may be good for is face-to-face meetings. If you’ve been unable to nail down an appointment or a rendez-vous with an industry thought leader, you might want to cruise by the main watering stations. Happenstance meetings can lead to 10 minute conversations …. next thing you know, you’re both shopping at Ikea and wondering if it’s time to buy a little dog to make the pied-a-terre feel more homey.

Follow-up, Dammit! – Even a public relations consultant, webhead, marketer and 2.0 guru should remember to make some calls, send some letters after the conference is done. This isn’t a college kegger – they may very well remember your promise to “give them a call” at the end of the night.

To my mind, social networks (in the online sense) are good for one-to-one or one-to-many conversations, but they really can’t set the stage for precipitous but valuable chance encounters between professionals with similar interests. It’s like finding a new book or song: online aggregators or retailers can prod you along with “recommended” lists or “you might like” suggestions, but sometimes you just have to go for a stroll through the aisles to get a real feeling for the action.

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No link between fashion stereotypes and eating disorders: industry


You’ve likely noticed that overly skinny and “unhealthy” models have been banned by the sponsors of a Madrid fashion show. The reaction from one spokesperson from the modelling industry is a little stunning, however:

“…[Cathy] Gould [North America Director for modelling agency Elite] said fashion was not to blame for eating disorders that usually started at home due to poor eating habits and constant dieting by mothers. …” (Reuters)

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The average pressures on a PR counsellor


A riff on Kathy Sierra’s “Success” should not mean “Management”. Rather than focus on that element of a venn diagram that singles out the sweet spot between “what you WANT to do” and “what you ACTUALLY do,” I’ve diagrammed the PR skillz all practitioners posess, and then segmented that according to the demand for those skillz.Big version of picture found at this link.

[tags] accreditation, venn diagram, career planning [/tags]

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A note from the folks that read constituent mail


Given the new interest in astroturfing/public affairs/activist campaigns, I thought I’d refer you to some data from a survey of Congressional staffers, which I first discussed in April:

“I understand the value, from the pespective of sheer quantity and physical impact, of organizing a petition or letter campaign. But what is the real effect of all that work (or, in the case of an online email campaign, not that much work)? Research with members of Congress has shown that form letters, or letters that are evidently the product of an organized lobbying or petitioning campaign, are discounted by politicians. Communicating with Congress: How Capitol Hill is Coping with the Surge in Citizen Advocacy, prepared by the Congressional Management Foundation, provided quantitative and qualitative backing for this finding:

“I wish that outside groups would understand that overwhelming our office with form letters does more harm than good for their causes.”

– House Correspondence Staffer

“One hundred form letters have less direct value than a single thoughtful letter generated by a constituent of the Member’s district.”

– House Correspondence Staffer

“In cases where the Member/Senator has not reached a firm decision on an issue, 44% of staff surveyed said that individualized postal communications have “a lot” of influence, compared to 3% for identical form communications. As one House staff member noted, personal communications are more effective than form messages “because the recipient knows that the author was truly motivated by the issue.”

[tags] astroturfing, public affairs, activism [/tags]

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Corporate rubberneckers in your blog stats?


What to think of the shadowy corporate presence lurking in your blog stats? I break my visitors into two categories: PR agencies conducting monitoring on behalf of clients, and coprorate employees swinging by for a look. The bots and filters deployed by the agencies make their appearance in the days after I post about national brands; the badge-wearing click-throughs are more intermittent.
Josh Hallet compares this activity to prank calls:

” … In some ways it’s the equivalent of calling somebody and then hanging up. Hello….we have CallerID (they’re called stats), we know it was you…how come you didn’t want to talk?

It’s a conundrum for many corporations, they’ll look but won’t touch. From my experience they just don’t know what to do. Who is authorized to comment on behalf of the company? We’re not allowed to visit blogs at work….Aren’t all bloggers out for corporate destruction? etc. …”

A useful discussion follows, but it overlooks one type of corporate visitor: the rubbernecker. While corporate lawers may be interested in your post for possible legal action, marketers to assess impact on brand values, the PR agency to plug some more data in the media monitoring report and the customer service department to actually respond, there are quite a few bodies in any corporate organization that will swing by just so they can hoover up the details.

After all, you need the juice to gossip effectively.

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First Job Archetypes for Teens and Twenty-Somethings


The first day of September is just hours away, and that means we’re about three weeks from a new year’s worth of high school and college students realizing they’re desperately short of money. They will then hit the bricks looking for anything that will may cash money. As a tribute, I present 6 First Job Archetypes for Teens and Twenty-Somethings:

Fast food chatter – The bottom of the new-to-retail food chain, she works in a smaller franchise serving juices and wraps to mall shoppers. She took this job to satisfy her parents and be near her friends – who also work retail at the mall. She has absolutely no loyalty to the job or her boss, and will drop the job the second a trip to Vail opens up.

Ducking from Reality – not actually an employee, this guy hangs out where his friends (and imagined girlfriends) work. He’s a serious drain on productivity, a distraction when real customers come in, and a confirmed stalker. He can demonstrate passion for the product in the store, but will shy away from any formal role moving product.

Too Smart For Your Own Good – This guy spends every waking hour of his day learning about the stock on the shelves – whether it’s records, D&D, xtreme sports or yoga wear. He has more invested in his identity as an expert and connaisseur than as your latex salesman, and this will harm your balance sheet. He sort of slid into the job after coming into the store 197 days in a row, and will be hard to get rid of.

Halfway to Juvie – Bouncing from call centres, rental car outlets to cheque cashing places, this guy is honestly trying to find a niche for himself in society. He just has a problem with authority. Your authority. Will rise to the challenge and deliver in the crunch, but his tendency to question the larger social implications of his job may drive him (and you) nuts.

‘Stache Man – Likes to think he’s pulling off a Tom Selleck/David Carradine vibe, but really looks like the sofa dwelling stoner he is. Unspecified life experiences have prepared him to turn any conversation to the worst. No real job plans are in his future, but he certainly knows what he’d do if he won a million dollars.

Oh God No! – This is what happens to students if they don’t plan ahead. $19.95 photo packages, smoke breaks by the loading dock, and a vaguely suspicious feeling about the rent-a-Santa. And a job that may end by Boxing Day, but doesn’t pay enough to let you shop on December 26.

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The 22 (somewhat) Immutable Laws of Buzz


Sean got the ball rolling with the 22 Immutable Laws of Word of Mouth, I threw in the 22 Immutable Laws of Blogging, and Tamera Kremer has followed up with the 22 Immutable Laws of Customer Engagement. Here’s my take on the 22 (somewhat) Immutable Laws of Buzz:

  1. Indie cred, commercial dead
  2. Feed your fans’ hunger for information
  3. Sponsor a “D” list celebrity event
  4. Promotions targeted to extreme niches
  5. Win their hearts: build credibility with new audiences
  6. Bright lights, big titties. Leverage celebrity connections. Or sex.
  7. A heavy ValPak buy. Just kidding.
  8. Hit the local social circuit – in outrageous clothing
  9. Lifestyle reporters: ten dollar words, ten cent facts
  10. Celebrity gifting: Local weathermen are surprisingly affordable
  11. Chase’s Calendar of Events: the art of piggybacking
  12. Car Accident or Sales Record: Just spell my name right
  13. Teen hits drive time > AOR hourly
  14. Community weeklies: filling news holes weekly
  15. When in doubt, let your publicist leak it out
  16. Post no bills: really, it’s just a suggestion
  17. Try local late night, the cpm is lower. (So is the return)
  18. Celebrity endorsements: there’s gold in the 1990 Fox television schedule
  19. Guerrilla marketing – at community soccer games
  20. Public Access Cable: the Dead Zone
  21. BOGO does not create buzz. Unless you’re a mortician
  22. All Hail Empress Oprah

Update: Bob at Flacklife has published his 22 somewhat immutable laws of evaluation.

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Third Monday: Social media meetups in Ottawa


I’m trailing Brendan and Joe on this (thankfully not Ian), but Ottawa is celebrating a conversations two-fer on September 25: a chance to speak with Shel Israel, and the first meeting of the Ottawa spin-off of the Bay-area Third Thursday get-togethers.

The first of what we plan to be a series, this Third Monday meeting will give social media afficionados in Eastern Ontario a chance to get together, put a face and voice to an email handle, and listen to some outstanding speakers.

The folks in Toronto are pulling together a similar shindig: Third Tuesday.

I’m certainly looking forward to the opportunity to mull over some social media issues and wrestle some ideas to the ground.

[tags]Third Monday[/tags]

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Interviewing techniques, the decline of modern media and TonyK


NPR profiles John Sawatsky, a former investigative journalist and university professor, now on staff at ESPN and charged with teaching sports reporters how to ask difficult questions and produce better interviews.

(But who’s going to teach ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser how to react to criticism?)

ESPN’s interest in Sawatsky was piqued by a piece in AJR, “The Question Man“:

“Savvy sources are on to all of us, spinning back, all heat and no light, precisely because “we’re asking the wrong questions,” he says. Under attack, journalists are conceding defeat to well-oiled propaganda machines without really understanding why they’re losing. In the last decade, media trainers have become such a growth industry, “you can even find them among businessmen in Newfoundland,” Sawatsky says, teaching politicians and executives “how to run circles around journalists.”

“It’s a sophisticated battle for control,” he says. … Sawatsky contends the “message trackers are winning,” thanks to journalists who too often rely on outdated, conventional approaches to interviewing. Sawatsky denounces standard interviewing techniques as “the old methodology,” often characterized as a power struggle between interviewer and subject, as a battle of wills, a game to be won or lost.” (AJR, October 2000)

More observations about the inherent lethargy and lack of imagination exhibited by most interviewers can be found in a 2004 piece from the Ryerson Review of Journalism:

” … The easy question is anathema to Nardwuar the Human Serviette, who interviews bands for MuchMusic’s Going Coastal and has his own radio show in Vancouver. He spends hours preparing for an interview, surfing the Internet, reading music magazines and listening to music. “I’m lucky enough that I have the time, whereas other people could probably create the time but they’re too lazy or too busy doing other things,” Nardwuar says. “I won’t take on an interview unless I think I can do enough research for it.” … “

For an example of Narduar’s outrageous technique, I point you to Narduar vs. Henry Rollins, originally shot in 1998.

Many more observations about interview techniques and outcomes can be found at The Media Interview blog.

For corporate types, Donna Papacosta’s Trafcom podcast covered interviewing secrets during two broadcasts (1, 2) back in July.

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The 22 Immutable Laws of Blogging


Ripping off a starting point from Buzz Canuck, who gave us the 22 Immutable Laws of Word of Mouth Marketing, originally derived from Ries & Trout:

  1. First Impressions Always Stick
  2. Half Baked Ideas Are Better Than No Ideas
  3. Big Voices, Small Minds
  4. Good Ideas, Badly Presented
  5. Catch Phrases Imply Wisdom
  6. Intellectual Plagiarism Is Rarely Called Out
  7. The Ends Justify The Means
  8. Building An Audience: Political Theory Versus Fashion Commentary
  9. The SlipStreaming to Notoriety By Commenting Strategy
  10. Lost Alliances: Disappointment, Disillusionment, Betrayal and Retribution
  11. Google Juice Bests All Comers
  12. If I Blog, I Must Podcast
  13. Pig-Headed Contrarians Stand Out
  14. Setting Up An Intellectual Straw Man
  15. Sympathy Drives Traffic
  16. Go Big Or Go Home
  17. Flying By the Seat Of Your Pants
  18. The Sisyphus Corollary: Down Doesn’t Mean Out!
  19. Another Day, Another Lame-Ass Idea To Float
  20. Opposition By The MSM Validates Me
  21. One Comment Is A Fad; Three Trackbacks Is A Trend
  22. When In Doubt, Join A Blog Network

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Working the biker angle in more detail


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

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

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Users can comment. Users point to the pain. It’s up to producers to innovate


Kathy Sierra’s got it right.

” … In this Web 2.0-ish world we’re supposed to be all about the users being in control. Where the “community” drives the product. But the user community can’t create art. (And I use “art” with a lowercase “a” as in software, books, just about anything we might design and craft.) That’s up to us.

Our users will tell us where the pain is. Our users will drive incremental improvements. But the user community can’t do the revolutionary innovation for us. That’s up to us.”

Hat tip to Olivier Blanchard.

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Marketing to Avatards in Second Life


I have my reservations about jumping on the Second Life bandwagon, just like Kevin and Darren. It’s still too early to bet the farm on a platform whose market size may equal that of U.S. Saab drivers. (no matter what the projections for 2008 may say)

Marketers and public relations pros thinking of exploring this environment can picky up some hints from the users already blogging their online experiences. Real world practioners will also notice that habits, preferences and human behaviour often translate seamlessly between the two evironments. In one, the names are just sillier.

Cited below are practical examples drawn from SL projects:

The House on Swan Pond – which is a Second Life representation of a house being designed for a real life family.

Pimp your own ride: SL marketing 101: Advice for Second Life fashion designers and retailers, and equally applicable to the real world.

” … Shep Korvin at LapGirl may have pioneered this idea in SL, but wherever it came from, I’m a huge fan of this strategy. Once a month he creates a box, shoves some of his best new items into it – not boxes of items, just the items themselves. Then he includes a notecard detailing items names and prices, adds a landmark, and distributes it. The box is, smartly enough, called LapGirl – Reviewers’ Box – May 2006 or something like that. Like so many of the best things in life, this is simple and yet brilliant. …

For designers looking for exposure, I think that selecting a particular day of the month to create and distribute your Reviewer Packs is probably an excellent way to make sure you regularly devote a chunk of time to your own PR and marketing. Call it PR Day, call it Pimp Day, call it whatever you like, but be sure to devote one day a month to organising and distrubuting your wares to the fashionista press circuit. …”

Renting your first mall store in SL:

“…Just because you are in a mall with other vendors doesn’t mean the traffic will flock to you, you will have to do some work to get people to your store. Also, having an attractive, easy to navigate display is important. If you can, show your products around. Get them into reviewer/blogger hands, and make sure you’ve got a classified set for your stores ( or at least in your picks) on your profile.

Sponsoring events is also a good way to get some exposure, aside from just wandering around secondlife and talking to people. You can also buy advertising on places like SLxechange, SLboutique, the Metaverse Messanger, inworld, etc, etc. Posting your products in the forums and adding your store locations to your signature in the forums is also helpful. …”

Retail stores may just go out of business suddenly:

” … after receiving a very generous offer to purchase FORBIDDEN and all its products and with the hype of the past months we couldnt decline. FORBIDDEN has been bought out and will be ran under diffrent managament. Zahara has completley decided to leave SL, I however will be staying and see where it takes me. I hope to return to designing one day and hopefully will. …”

Resurrecting the careers of cultural touchstones that just don’t move big product anymore. Like Suzanne Vega and Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut, by the way, will be appearing on the SL version of The Infinite Mind.

Apparently, it’s hard to protect your innovations in fashion. From a superficial reading, it seems that SL may benefit in some instruction on the business of fashion from Allan B. Schwartz: it may seem like your designs are being copied and resold, but that’s really just an homage, baby! As Chicago once sang: “You’re the meaning in my life/
You’re the inspiration/You bring feeling to my life/You’re the inspiration.

– There’s even a touch of Caddyshack: freelance caddies working the Holly Kai Ocean Nine golf course for tips.

BTW – it was Rob Walker who compared his Second Life representation to an “avatard“. Walker’s going to be paying more attention to “in-world” business in the future.


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Possible signs you work for an astroturfing operation


1. Your business filing fees were charged to the credit card of a Vice President, Government Relations.
2. You’re in the same building as a public affairs agency.
3. You share a coffee room with a public affairs agency.
4. You share an executive director with a public affairs agency.
5. When you first arrived at your desk, there was a gift basket of corporate goodies and coupons.
6. All of the sudden, your utility bills come with a handwritten note: “it’s on us!”
7. Your last office retreat was held in Scottsdale.
8. A distinct lack of old ladies wearing cardigans.
9. The canvassing team has custom kicks, ironic yet branded t-shirts, GPS and Treos.
10. The scenario notes for your town hall sessions identify the first five members of the public to speak – by what they’ll be wearing.
11. The last newsletter had quotes from an executive in a property development firm – in three separate articles.
12. Your phone number leads to an IVR system and a call centre in Ireland.
13. You have business cards with three different names and four different logos.
14. Quorum at general meetings usually involves a trip to the Mission.
15. Another white paper? Let me give the essay mill a call!
16. The senior policy advisor to the campaign still drives a company car.
17. Every employee/vounteer has to fill out a time sheet in 15 minute increments.
18. The office has all the equipment to make several styles of laminated i.d. cards.
19. No blogging by employees/volunteers … at all!


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The Back of Napkin Diagram as Communications Tool


I carry around a Moleskine notebook for two reasons: because I’m pretentious, and because I like drawing pictures. At the very least, I like waving my hands around while speaking, trying to communicate the visual idea map that is plainly obvious to my eyes – but often unseen by my colleagues. Dave Gray of XPLANE fame spoke to Sean Wise about how to better communicate your fundamental business concepts – in this case focusing on the development of a back of napkin diagram (BoND) to help entrepreneurs sell their ideas to venture capitalists.

” … A good BoND can also assist with employee recruitment, team alignment, sales and technology build outs. [venture capitalist Rick] Segal comments, that “As the prospective client, employee, or VC engages, both parties can use the drawing as a central reference point. It’s a very useful tool that is often overlooked in favour of mountains of text laden painful power point slides.” …

“Visual diagrams can serve as a powerful ‘platform for conversations.’ They help people focus their attention and understand new ideas better and faster. Better understanding leads to better decisions, which leads to better business results,” said [Dave] Gray.” (Globe and Mail)

At the very least, any communicator with an inclination towards visual thinking should start off by diagramming their problem and possible solutions – I absolutely detest strategies that are clearly derived from a linear train of thought first detailed in a series of PowerPoint slides. If you frame your problem using a linear technology, usually, you’ll come up with a linear argument. That will mask the uncertainties and mixed priorities communicators often face – on their issues, from their management, from their clients and certainly from the public.

In speaking to Wise, Gray set out the steps for working through your first back of napkin diagram:

1. First, be sure you are solving the right problem. … The best way to define a communication problem is to find the question you want to answer with the communication. Define communications goals as a question that the diagram will answer. …
2. Don’t worry about your drawing skills. If you know the subject, just draw what you know. …
3. Think about your story. … Remember, the BoND’s first job is to support a story, and help you have meaningful conversations on a subject you care about. If any part of the picture doesn’t support your story, maybe it doesn’t belong.
4. Minimize the number of elements. Research shows that people construct mental models in very predictable ways. When asked to diagram a system, the average person uses around six or seven visual elements to support their story. …
5. Edit ruthlessly, using your goal as a filter. …
6. Once you have a visual diagram that you like, ask yourself, “Is it replicable?” The answer is yes if: You can draw it on a whiteboard and tell the story in 10 minutes or less; You can teach someone else to draw the picture and tell the story.
7. Once you have something you like, test it on everyone you can — friends, family, your spouse, etc. …
8. Revise and update the BoND often — like a good relationship or a good wine, it will only improve over time. …” (Globe and Mail)

Look to the whole article for more detail or take a look at the XPLANE website.

You could do worse than subscribe to the two aggregate blogs produced by XPLANE: Xblog, which deals with information design issues, and Bblog, which deals with business issues. Or even Dave Gray’s blog.


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How beer can contribute to your big keynote


How to deliver an effective and entertaining conference presentation – while following the style of the iconicI am Canadian” beer commercial. From Presentation Zen.

(To tell the truth, the advice covers some of the same ground as Guy Kawasaki and Presentation Zen’s own Gates vs. Jobs post.)

But those other posts did not appeal to Canadians in a very base way. Beer and understated patriotism. With a dash of hockey and Hinterland Who’s Who. And I can always jump on that bandwagon.

Hat tip to Michael Seaton’s Client Side.

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Your colleagues are, indeed, all lunatics


10 habits of highly annoying agency humans“, courtesy of Advergirl. A sample:

Eh, Why NOT Start at 2AM?

Who knows what he does during the actual work day. What with the towering workload that could keep three creatives busy 10 hours a day and all the meetings, the managing of people and expectations, the requisite long lunches, who has time to work at the OFFICE? Not he, not he.

Instead, he flips on the TV around 11, brushes the Doritos crumbs off a stack of coffee-stained briefs and digs in. Never mind the misspellings, the unanswered questions, the missing images that production can “drop in” at another time. He needs to send these PDFs out by 2AM to avoid missing the morning deadline.”

Pointer from HeeHaw.

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Targeted marketing, the Wieden + Kennedy way


Really, wouldn’t it be better to post a notice like this in a liquor store? Don’t know whether W+K London is, in fact, looking for a creative director. They’ve linked to the picture on their in-house blog, though.

And for those of you not in the U.K., Tesco is a tremendously large chain of grocery stores/hypermarts.

Photo originally posted by Mik3yb.

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Blogging academics and the universities who should love them


Brad DeLong, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, discusses the value blogging brings to his work and his university. On his blog and in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

” … every legitimate economist who has worked in government has left swearing to do everything possible to raise the level of debate and to communicate with a mass audience rather than merely an ivory-tower audience. That is true of those on the right as well as the left. Web logging is a promising way to do that.

… Plus — and this is the biggest plus — it is a play in the intellectual influence game. My blog got about 20,000 page-views a day last month. …

A great university has faculty members who do a great many things — teaching undergraduates, teaching graduate students, the many things that are “research,” public education, public service, and the turbocharging of the public sphere of information and debate that is a principal reason that governments finance and donors give to universities. Web logs may well be becoming an important part of that last university mission.”

Hat tip to Marginal Revolution.

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Bad government communications and an Indian blogger’s code of ethics


You may have heard about blogspot and other services being blocked by ISPs in India – purportedly at the behest of the Indian government in reaction to the bombing campaign in Mumbai earlier this month, or maybe in an effort to minimize online commentary that critcises some of the major religious groups in India.

The officials at the central Ministry of Communications don’t seem to be handling the situation very well. An excerpt from the NY Times:

“… Officials at the Ministry of Communications here did not return repeated calls. An official at the ministry’s department of information and technology, Gulshan Rai, said he was aware of “two pages” that had been blocked for spreading what he called “antinational sentiments,” but was unable to provide details.

The secretary for telecommunications, D. S. Mathur, that bureau’s highest-ranking civil servant, hung up the phone when reached at home. The minister of communications, Dayanidhi Maran, was traveling in San Francisco and unavailable for comment.

Perhaps even more seriously, the order to block some blog sites (.pdf) meant that Mumbaihelp, a blog set up for the citizens of Mumbai, was also blocked. It seems like this site wasn’t particularly targeted by the government, but was simply taken down with most blogspot sites as ISPs tried to follow the government’s directive.

In reaction, some Indian bloggers have begun discussing a possible code of ethics that could be incorporated into the country’s IT Act to help limit government crackdowns like this. One version has been proposed by Forrester Research’s Country Head, Sudin Apte.

I’m afraid I couldn’t find much more detail about this proposal. The idea that a specific blogger code of ethics be incorporated into federal legislation is novel, and also startling.

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A pleasant landscape plan – for an Astroturf campaign


Big campaign against astroturf brewing, propelled by the energy of Paull Young. I’ve commented on astroturf before, and don’t think very highly of the perceptual sleight-of-hand that many astroturf campaigns rely upon. Like planting subject matter experts at public consultation sessions.

Much more cogitation about falsely fuelled public information campaigns at Trevor’s blog and Paull’s page on the NewPR Wiki.


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Podcasts: another way for the paper to preach to you


Voice. It’s a concept we normally associate with identity, opinion, the differentiation of personalities. Charlton Heston is the voice of authority. Dr. Ruth represents compassion. Will Rogers was your wise old uncle. Morton Downey Jr. was your crazy old uncle. David Leisure is your insincere cousin, ready to sell you a lemon and an extended warranty.

Today, it may be voice that keeps podcasting from being overtaken by the corporate training and outreach department. Is podcasting an opportunity to distribute repurposed content? Is it another vehicle for one-way communication? Is the podcast destined to become the medium of choice for, in effect, bootlegged academic presentations and the mutterings of beat columnists? There’s a battle developing between ideas and flair, between content and presentation, between spit and polish.

Obviously, voice is an essential part of podcasting. Rough, hesitant, noisy, easily distracted voice – as listeners we will tolerate ambiguity, trains of thought that miss the station and poor audio quality in the pursuit of original and incisive analysis. In some ways, we imply authenticity and authority from the unprofessional tics found in podcasts today.

Podcasters who came from the world of blogging understand this. They’re struggling with format issues: do they need intros and outros? Are professionally voiced interstitials necessary to keep the listener engaged? How do they handle audio comments to the podcast? What is the relationship between their podcast, their blog, and do the two actually align? Why must I sell my soul to the machine that is iTunes?

A column from Poynter made me pause, however. Chip Scanlon interviewed Tom Opdyke, the morning metro editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the narrator of the paper’s “Through Hell and High Water” series on the aftermath of Katrina.

Opdyke is both a journalist, a professional narrator/voiceover specialist and a dramatist. He discussed how he prepared for a dramatic spoken presentation of the AJC’s original printed word – not what I would consider an original podcast.

Scanlon characterized podcasts more bluntly, and more commercially. In the end, he also seems to have overlooked the value that podcasts can bring to a developing story: first, the capacity to deliver real voices from the scene, to share true emotion from an event’s actual participants. Second, the ability to reflect reader’s reaction. Third, and most importantly, an opportunity for a print medium to break out of its constrained frame of reference.

“For news consumers who like nothing better than a good listen, and for newspapers who desperately want to hold onto their business, podcasts offer a note of hope. Combining the power of audio with the freedom to choose when to tune in, podcasting — think of it as TiVo for the ears — they offer an alternative way for consumers to get their news and information on a schedule, through a medium of their choice.

In print newsrooms, where audio is limited to the quiet mumbles of reporters reading their stories, a new skill set is becoming increasingly necessary: The ability to voice a story with the same competence of a skilled broadcast journalist. ” (Poynter)

A skilled broadcast journalist, as well all know, does not hold much currency with the digerati anymore. Scripted news is as scripted news does.

I’d like to see news outlets make a dedicated effort to developing a real dialogue with the readers – and not just the eight guys who write to the op/ed section three times a week. A “community advisory board” doesn’t cut it either.

I’m probably not giving Scanlon enough benefit of the doubt. He’s a blogger, and he has discussed the reader reaction that can be generated by effective spoken presentation of articles.

But where’s the connection for other readers? How can we tell that a story has resonated with others? In some ways, I feel like this sort of podcast should be delivered in RealPlayer: they represent the same sort of thinking about control, presentation and risk avoidance that we first saw in 1997 and 1998.

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Is Martin Sorrell the Mark Cuban of the media world?


Martin Sorrell has a few words for you, no matter what profession you work in. Develop web apps that undermine the existing media infrastructure? You may very well be a socialistic anarchist (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). This nugget emerged during a speech to the Newspaper Society earlier this week.

Work in an advertising agency? Work with an advertising agency? Hired an advertising agency? He’s got some words for you as well (video from AdAge) To be honest, this videotaped speech was supposedly written around a random collection of slides provided to Sorrell (at a WPP-organized event during Cannes).

Sorrell’s Newspaper Society speech, from the limited published accounts, also touched upon motivating young creative-types and chastised print media for giving their content away for free. More analysis of the Society speech from Open and Media Influencer.

Brand Republic, however, seems to have singled out the single biggest threat to Sorrell’s agglomeration of media companies:

“He also referred to the threat of global online giants such as Google, which he said seem set on setting up their own electronic media planning and buying exchange, to effectively erode the importance of agencies in the media planning and buying transaction.”

Dammit! Those socialistic anarchists are going to suck out our easy media buying fees!

(In comparing Sorrell to Cuban, I just mean contrarian and iconoclastic, since Sorrell clearly isn’t as strong a web evangelist. They both, however, share an interest in making serious cash off new media)

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Using Flickr the right way



Here’s a story, of a lovely lady, who let a humble design company from Cincinnati use one of her pictures in the latest issue of their newsletter.

This is social media actually delivering on its promise – although some might argue that a corporate think-piece is not the highest of callings or most prime of placements.

Rather than pull a picture from a stock photo bank, Kevin Dugan (gadfly and PR man about the web) found the original on Flickr. An email to Hanny Breunese, the Dutch woman who took the picture, led to Kevin’s winning permission to use it in FRCH Design’s latest newsletter, focusing on colour trends.

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Yoga, retail and public relations; Vancouver style


You’d like Lululemon. It’s a crunchy granola kind of high-end leisure wear chain based in Vancouver. The stores have a nice open design with plenty of piles of warm fuzzy workout clothes to touch, fondle and hold to your cheek. The clothing labels are clear and emphatic. The staff is well-trained and practices what it preaches. In materialistic terms, the chain emphasizes its links to yoga and holistic well-being, all the while charging you $59 for a t-shirt.

Their approach to public relations is refreshing – it’s been dubbed “community relations” inside the company and relies on individual stores managing and promoting local relationships through activities like sponsoring local yoga classes. Promotions are distinctly local – like window displays that make a political statement or encourage you to take up yoga.

“We’ve decentralized marketing,” says community relations manager Sara Gardiner. “The emphasis is on stores being active in their communities.” Every two weeks, community relations director Eric Petersen hosts an hour-long conference call with each store’s community relations representative on the line, in order to share best practices and ensure everyone is on the same page.” (Canadian Business)

Stores feature a rack of corkboard displays for local holistic practioners, fitness coaches, yoga instructors and others to post information – as well as personal collages prepared by each member of the store staff.

My only complaint? It’s hard to shop there if you’re not a fellow traveller or true believer. The pressure gets to you. Paco Underhill has discussed the effect of the “butt brush” factor on browsers in a store – if displays and merchandise are packed so closely that shoppers have to brush against each other to pass, shoppers will leave the store.

Well, I think the “butt brush” factor can also be applied to the feeling you get just milliseconds before an eager (and hot) Lululemon employee approaches you to preach the gospel according to Luon fabric, or the benefits of soy. The problem isn’t the first time you’re pitched the product benefits – it’s the second or third time. They’re that engaged in the product and the brand.

But I’m not. I just like the clothes.


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Paul Harvey: got more hits than Sadaharu Oh!


Paul Harvey, master salesman. Ten years ago, I was working as a media analyst preparing the morning clippings package, summarizing media coverage of interest to my department, and downloading the abbreviated NYT from Pointcast. I had to be at work at 4:30, so that meant the early morning broadcast of Paul Harvey’s “the end of the story” was a regular part of my day.

The intonation. The pacing. The delivery. The man can sell BBQ sauce to Napoleon and Snowball.

Forbes magazine discusses Harvey’s capabilities as a salesman and endorser, and offers us a wonderful simile:

” … Harvey, 87, has been on the air since 1933. He has delivered more pregnant pauses than a rhetorical obstetrician. …” (Forbes)

Man, that could be a Beasties lyric!

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Hey client! Two minutes for looking so good, you handsome devil!



Is a public relations counsellor’s primary motivation to “make their client look good?” That was the point offered during a favoured podcast this week, and I found myself disagreeing quite animatedly with my car dashboard.

“Looking good” is certainly the goal for marketers, bzz agents, publicity agents, cosmetologists and Maurice Richard.

On a superficial level, PR counsellors are responsible for making sure their clients look good. A sustained and positive corporate, brand or personal image is always the desired result.

Nonetheless, an effective agency or in-house communicator should prepare their clients for any circumstance. That can include glowing puff pieces in the trades, a smooth quarterly call, and a glamorous product launch. It can also cover vital logistics delays, product recalls and labour unrest – not to mention marital discord.

The real test of the relationship formed between client and counsellor comes in those moments of pressure. Will a kowtowing desire for approbation (or a simplistic sense of politesse) prompt a communicator to minimize the challenges that will have to be faced before digging out of a negative public image? Or has the client been prepared, conditioned, warned that effective public relations sometimes means taking a couple of punches and living to see another day?

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How to avoid customer cooties


Retailers may just have a problem with cooties and/or lurgi, that imaginary childhood plague that infects by association. The perception that an item has been handled or – gasp – even tried on can significantly affect a costumer’s decision to buy. Customers may want to handle, sniff or feel while making their buying decision, but it better be a pristine and virgin piece of merchandise.

The proof? A study by a trio of Canadian and U.S. consumer researchers has produced:

” … a theory of consumer contagion, whereby consumers are thought to contaminate the products they touch, consequently lowering evaluations and purchase intentions of other consumers for the same products.”

Apparently, these perceptioon of cooties on a product is magnified by the customer’s proximity to the well-known habitat of other, smellier and less careful, consumers: “…when the product was located in the dressing room or on the return rack, consumers may have thought the product had been more recently contaminated compared to when it was located on the regular rack.”

Knowledge@A.P.Carey describes their experiment:

The team added three variables to the process in order to test customer reaction to different levels of contamination, based on the proximity to previous contact, time elapsed since contact, and the number of contact sources:

· In the “close” contamination scenario, the sales associate informed the customer that somebody else was trying the shirt on. The associate then took the customer to a dressing room, where they waited while the contaminating customer exited the dressing room, leaving the shirt behind.

· For “medium” contamination, the customer was told the shirt was “over here on the return rack,” and was guided by the sales associate to that location, where the shirt hung.

· For the “far” scenario, the customer was merely told the shirt “is just over here on the rack” and taken to a regular display rack located a few feet away from the return rack.

At no point did the customer see anyone else — either the sales associate or the other customer — actually touch the shirt.”

The result? A distinct perception of customer cooties by participants.

How can retailers react to these results? By: clearly separating their merchandising areas from the display shelves; keeping the changing rooms clean and free of “soiled” clothing; limiting the number of on-floor samples available for “touching”; and regular tidying of their on-floor displays.

An area I’d like to see explored in future research is the impact of perceptions of “customer contagion” in the context of discount or factory outlet shops. The merchandising at Filene’s or a J. Crew outlet is always a constant battle against touching, trying and discarding, yet the apparent disorder only seems to increase (my) perception that deals are to be had and that the items on display (on the rack or on the floor) are desirable.

Perhaps management at these types of stores, long accustomed to dealing with customer’s perceptions of use, abuse and disgust, have learnt to manipulate pricing models to move merchandise despite those perceptions. For example: an easily washable dirt mark means 10% discount. Wrinkles on returned prom dress means 60% discount. Evident sweat stain on returned prom dess means 90% discount. White stain on blue Gap dress means …

More details from the study itself: “Consumer Contamination: How Consumers React to Products Touched by Others“, by Jennifer J. Argo, Darren W. Dahl, and Andrea C. Morales in the April 2006 issue of the Journal of Marketing.

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This stale PR-driven survey just needs some BBQ sauce


The surefire forumula for winning some soft feature coverage: take a common activity (like BBQ’ing). Add a methodologically suspect but topically appeallling survey. Time the release of your results to anticipate interest by feature editors preparing seasonal stories.

That seems to be the strategy for Weber Grills, who surveyed Canadians about their grilling habits. Great. It works. We’ll likely see Weber and their survey profiled as lifestyle editors roll out their traditional summer BBQ stories over the next four to six weeks. To guarantee coverage in community papers, it looks like Weber’s commissioned a rack of stories and recipes to be distributed through News Canada.


I understand that outdoor grilling tends to drop off over the long, cold Canadian winter. I recognize that the survey’s results are so soft and qualitative that they remain valid seven months later.

Still, there has to be some sort of standard for how long a PR team let a survey baste in order to maximize media interest. Otherwise, public and media irritation with client-commissioned research will only simmer and, eventually, fall apart.


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