October 30, 2006 by Colin
[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]
October 29, 2006 by gregb
Years before I really became interested in a career in public relations, I read books on politics and popular culture quite voraciously. P.J. O’Rourke was a favourite, not for his political leanings but for his rapier sharp wit and analysis.One of his assignments for Harper’s magazine was to accompany the “Volga Peace Cruise” – a boat full of Americans visiting a pre-Glasnost Soviet Union.
Here’s his assessment of one night on the Peace Cruise:
“That evening, seven or eight young Russians from the local¬ Soviet-American friendship club were ushered on board …. Their president was a stiff young fellow, a future first secretary of the Committee for Lies About Grain Production if ever there was one. ….”
October 28, 2006 by Colin
“… As I inch closer to actually producing garments, this presents an interesting dilemma. I could tell the truth, sell pants with the actual waist size labeled. But to do so would mean I’d be out there making people feel fat as they try on my clothes, not exactly the best sales tactic, no? More than that I’d be paddling upstream, pitching garments that just don’t fit the way people expect them too, despite being more honest about their size. … So as the American waistline slowly creeps up undercover of the garment industry, don’t blame me, I’m just following the crowd towards bigger and better things…”
October 28, 2006 by Colin
How in the world do you represent dozens of national and regional cultures in one graphical element? In anticipation of the 50th anniversary of The European Union next March, the EU asked young designers from across the continent to design a birthday logo to mark the festivities. This is the winner, designed by Szmon Skrzypczak:
William Denttrel had some critical comments to make about about the design and the process in Design Observer:
… “This is what I call Silk Road design: you let each letter represent a particular entity or aspect of an organization, not unlike the cumulative culture acquired along the Silk Road from China to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. This design model is instantly recognizable because it always looks like what it is ‚ÄĒ design by committee, design that addresses (too many) multiple interests.
… As a work of graphic design, it has a cheerful countenance. Yet it takes all that’s rich and complicated about this institution’s history and offers a quick fix: if logos were food, this would be tapas.”
More details on the E.U. competition on the Union’s site.
October 25, 2006 by Colin
Ian rightly points to the diplomatic imbroglio caused by United Nations envoy Jan Pronk’s criticism of the Sudanese government and his frank assessment of their military performance – on his personal blog. Pronk’s been called back to New York for “consultations”
In most diplomatic incidents, “consultations” are a way for one country to demonstrate its displeasure by withdrawing its most senior diplomatic representative without breaking off all official contract. In Pronk’s case, “consultations” really means “man, you sure managed to piss those guys off, didn’t you!”
Ian links to the most salient observation, from Mark Jones at Reuters:
“… Pronk is experimenting with the limits of diplomacy by blogging. He’s doing so within an apparent UN vacuum — the organisation has rules on what can be published in books by its employees but no guidelines on blogs.
The fate of Pronk’s blog will be of interest not only to those watching the unfolding disaster of Darfur, but also to organisations struggling to balance the benefits of blogs’ openness with their ability to damage reputations and constrain the room for manoeuvre.”
There are three takeaways from this incident:
- The Sudanese government seems to be the first government to take concrete political action based on blog postings;
- The United Nations will have to discuss how will it recruit and best utilize experienced but sometimes outspoken representatives. (This is more common in the “softer” areas of the U.N.: UNICEF and UNESCO); and
- The language and practice of diplomacy is going to change.
Pronk’s blog postings read like the backroom gossip and information that historians are used to finding in archives: the information that is regularly included in diplomatic reports sent home, and systematically hidden away in official files for safekeeping, to be revealed only at a politically and diplomatically neutral moment and only as elements of historical record.
That’s the key to diplomatic communication: politesse and deference at the official level, and frank and open discussion in the corridors. Pronk’s blogs, while welcome and refreshing, open those corridor conversations to a much wider audience.
In this context, the principles of transparency and honesty that underpin social media abruptly run into a well-established expectation that¬ diplomatic relations be conducted in a considered and somewhat deferential manner – especially when dealing with nations in turmoil.
October 24, 2006 by Colin
October 21, 2006 by Colin
“Goat meat leanest kid on the block”
Thanks to the (London) Times for that good laugh.
October 20, 2006 by Colin
We can imagine plenty of rational reasons why governments shouldn’t blog. There are far fewer good reasons. Especially if the bureaucracy serves a largely retail function:
- plenty of personal contact with citizens, customers or clients;
- a¬ relatively flexible and responsive organization;
- little if any policy-making authority;
- direct effect on people’s lives
In practical terms, this means the government organization:
- speaks to humans on a regular basis
- can turn around a question or a comment in hours, not days
- does not interpret information, only provides it
- works in fast-moving crisis,¬ health or consumer communications
We can all¬ recognize a personality type in these points:¬ attentive, responsive and committed.
This sort of organization is already used to receiving a number of different requests for information, filtering multiple streams of information, and clearly¬ defining how it is involved in the situation.
In most cases, it has already installed a case management system and has developed a database of frequently asked questions. When it comes to public enquiries, the organization has already fine-tuned its response process (and shortened the approval chain) and¬ can respond¬ quickly and confidently.
Ideally, the organization is also used to speaking openly about its function, the details of its work and the limitations of its authority. If you stop to think, you can identify several government organizations who work this way, in areas like public health, consumer products, financial oversight or accident investigation.
Although hampered by the usual inability to communicate in plain english, you can also count government scientists and researchers as possible contributors to a more specialized government blog. (They do all sorts of interesting things – like destroying cars on video (episode 58))¬
The trick, of course, is that most government organizations have a particular interpretation of retail service: help yourself, find the cash register, we don’t take credit and we’ll need to check your bag.
The bureaucracies ready to blog right now have already worked through their significant information bottlenecks, have instilled a sense of customer service in their workforce and know the benefits and limitations of their work thoroughly.
THAT’s the sweet spot for government blogging in the short term.
October 20, 2006 by Colin
In its latest financials, Google reveals it only spent $50M on advertising and¬ promotion in the last quarter. That’s 1.8% of sales, as Paul Kedrosky points out, and compares with Microsoft’s 2.7%, and the 20% OTC drug companies spend.
Now, Google doesn’t actually produce any physical products. It doesn’t have to ship out samples or run product launch junkets. It receives millions of impressions a day in free media.
$14M of that total was “related to certain distribution deals.” Fine, but let’s assume Google’s spending $36M on advertising and promotion. Considering they do little actual advertising, what is the company spending $144M a year on?
Do lobbying fees fall under “advertising and promotion”?
Or is that just the cost¬ to customize the Google logo for American and international days of significance?
October 19, 2006 by Colin
Either a collossal waste of time or a beautiful combination of punk rock, politics, and social media. Tony Blair at the Labour Party conference, mixed to the lyrics and beat of The Clash’s Should I Stay or Go?
October 19, 2006 by Colin
The best ¬£30,000 spent to promote Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat: an advertising package on the electronic hoardings ringing the England-Croatia footie game.
The electronic promo for the new Borat flick began running just as Gary Neville flicked the ball back to England keeper Paul Robinson – and kept running as the ball dribbled into England’s net.
As the BBC re-ran the play from every conceivable angle, you could see the Borat promo run again and again. Most prominent were Borat’s eyes and moustache.
As one YouTube commenter said:
“robinson saw BORAT on the elctro. boards, so he missed the ball BORAT rulzzz !!! ”
Andrew Culf of the Guardian’s SportsBlog has the details of the ad buy, as well as more details of how electronic advertising hoarding deals are negotiated.
October 18, 2006 by Colin
Could MP Garth Turner‘s blogging habit have led to his suspension from the Conservative Party caucus? That’s one of the claims being made today – but it doesn’t jibe with his long-standing practice of speaking his mind. The blog was likely just one contributing factor.
“… [Conservative Party] Caucus chair Rahim Jaffer said Wednesday that Turner was suspended on recommendation of the party’s Ontario caucus. Jaffer said there were concerns regarding Turner, who has maintained a blog on his website since the federal election last January, over breeching caucus confidentiality.
“Go and read [the blog] and make up your own mind,” Turner said about the issue of caucus confidentiality.
At odds with party
Jaffer said Turner was also ousted in part for critical comments made about the party on the blog.” (CBC.CA)
Turner blogged about his suspension today – and has tallied 163 comments so far.
A taste from his blog, posted yesterday:
“…On the Hill, dudes, lock-ups are reserved for big news. They are also designed so that media flakes (are there any other kinds these days?) are forced to sit in a locked room for several hours reading actual documents, instead of just trolling for three-second sound bites. If it‚Äôs really important news, there are even sandwiches in there.” (garth.ca)
October 18, 2006 by Colin
Rachel Ray: Branding Goddess, over at TBSAT:
“… Rachael Ray is not only peppy but peppery.¬ The “adorable” Rachael is frequently accompanied by a Rachael who lets fly with sexual innuendo, little digs, and frank observations.¬ “Sweetness and light” meets “nobody’s fool.”¬ (Ray builds her celebrity out of mixed signals, in this case, the sweet and the savory.)”
October 17, 2006 by Colin
October 15, 2006 by Colin
Some quick thoughts on the communications involved in campaigning for municipal office, from Vicky Smallman, candidate for Ottawa City Council.
In my ward, (a mushrooming exurb dominated by builders, road construction and big box stores) the roadside signs planted by candidates have to compete with realtor’s signs, mobile billboards, and giant hoardings directing drivers to new developments. Oh – and we seem to have twelve candidates for council in our area, each with their own sign in two or three sizes.
Anyway, here’s the candidate on signage and other vehicles:
“…They are also one of the few parts of “the message” that a campaign team can control.
- Web sites only reach the people that seek them out (as you, our dear reader can attest to);
- media coverage is solely at the discretion of the publishers and editors who also must (hopefully) carefully weigh the coverage amount;
- public debates are hosted and moderated by (sometimes self) interested third parties — in our case, the ward’s community associations;
- even pamphlets are just as likely to end up in a recycling bin unread as they are to end up in a voter’s hand.
Signs though, they’re right there in your face: Announcing who’s in the race. They can’t be avoided. They also cost a tonne of money.”
An afterthought about the effort being put out by the Ottawa Citizen to cover the municipal election: the paper itself is doing a great job, but its effort at blogging really suffers from poor design. It’s hard to distinguish between posts, the headlines for the posts are undescriptive, and the text and kerning is quite tight.