December 14, 2006 by Colin
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]
December 14, 2006 by Colin
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]
December 12, 2006 by Colin
“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.
December 11, 2006 by Colin
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.”Â (I speak metaphorically.Â What I mean is that culture is now as disruptive as technology.)Â 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 recognizedÂ by marketingÂ models, theories and brandspeak.
“… Cool hunters are diminishing in another way.Â The only part of culture that interested them are the things that a trendy and brand new.Â Its all the froth of the churn, with nary a thought for the deep structures.Â I have seen the cool hunters at work, shaming big corporations for not being hip enough.Â But big corporations cannot set their cycles of innovation only to the trend of the moment.Â They must spot deeper cycles of change.Â Knowing about culture can’t be a pursuit of cool.Â …”
December 5, 2006 by Colin
“Advising a CEO to start a blog without figuring out what itâ€™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.
November 27, 2006 by Colin
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 communitiesâ€”not only the mayors and barangay (village) captains but also school principals, teachers, religious leaders, and residents themselvesâ€”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 notÂ becauseÂ ofÂ a vague sense of debt or social obligation.
November 16, 2006 by Colin
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.
November 16, 2006 by Colin
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, examinedÂ eachÂ fact, claim, assurance and outright lieÂ 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.
YouÂ can try to extend the lull with the strategic use ofÂ 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.Â Everyone on your side of the tableÂ 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:Â
“… I think Iâ€™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 â€” and not really caring to understand or actually taking the time to study â€” 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, heâ€™s trying. The poor bastard.” (NyTimes Mag)
November 15, 2006 by Colin
Next Monday, theÂ 20th of November, Ottawa’sÂ 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!
November 10, 2006 by Colin
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; email@example.com
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 localÂ 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 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 thatÂ diplomatic relations be conducted in a considered and somewhat deferential manner – especially when dealing with nations in turmoil.
October 12, 2006 by Colin
Following up on my previous post – Â Government communications doesn’t suck, I mean itÂ – 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 doesnâ€™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.
AgencyÂ 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]
October 7, 2006 by Colin
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
- 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]