Futuristic digital man, recovering PR guy, magic beansman, aspiring know-it-all. Chief Strategy Officer at Northern Army. More...

This site is best viewed with utter contempt

I’m not a designer by any means, though I have done both print and web design work over my career.  Though my CSS skillz don’t really get me any farther than changing a background colour or adding a border to a DIV, even I feel the absolute disdain that web designers have for Internet Explorer 6.

While browsing through some web design sites for inspiration, I came across what is possibly the best “Best viewed with” disclaimer I’ve ever seen on a site from Tyler Thompson of Squarespace:

Hi, if you are coming to this site via Internet Explorer 6, you might not be getting the best experience possible. Honestly, I can’t even begin to think about what your entire experience on the internet must be like? (…probably like riding a bike on the highway while cars blow by you on their way to Costco to get gallons of mayonnaise and 60-inch plasma TV’s). How will you ever be able to use this website?????? You wont. You’re an asshole and your browser is an asshole. So look, I’m going to be honest: I kind of hate you. BUT we c-a-n make this work. Here is what I am going to need you to do: fire up your Toshiba ShitBook© that weighs about 45 pounds, wipe the Cheeto dust off the screen, download Safari ( http://www.apple.com/safari/download/ ), delete Internet Explorer from your computer, punch yourself in the face, and get me a pulled pork sandwich.

I couldn’t have said it better.  If you’re still using IE6, you need to stop it.  Even my Dad uses Firefox.

The myth of big

John Farquhar, President & Creative Director of Wild Mouse Advertising, has written an excellent post on his blog today about surviving in a new economy.  When big companies are laying off employees in big numbers, there’s a huge opportunity for the small guys who work smarter to keep growing – even when the going is tough.

That’s a huge change in thinking for many organizations who got where they are today by virtue of being big.  But, the reality is that being big today is a liability – and an unnecessary one at that.  The New York Times is competing against 4-person blogs for ad revenue. Microsoft is competing against 2-person startups and open-source communities for software revenue.  In many cases, big does not equal better.

From John’s post:

How big do you need to be to create the best product possible? It’s probably smaller than you think.

Ford Motor used to hire shepherds to tend Ford sheep on Ford land to create Ford cotton to weave into Ford seats on Ford Cars. That, of course, seems insane today.

Technology is changing the way we interact with business, but it’s also changing how business is done.  We don’t necessarily have to be in the same building / city / country to do business anymore.  Virtual collaboration and communications technologies that were prohibitively expensive five years ago are now boiled down to a monthly subscription that’s less than you pay for your local newspaper.

It’s a brave new world out there… and a lot of the companies who come through this economy are going to be the ones who were brave enough to resist being big, and who kept thinking small.

Also, if you haven’t checked out John’s blog yet – you should.  He’s got some extremely intelligent takes on what’s going on in the creative and marketing world today.

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How to fix the newspaper industry

Though we’ve been talking about it for years, the fact that the newspaper industry is circling the bowl is something that has seemed to escape many journalists and media academics.  Economic groups are taking bets on the next major newspapers to close up shop or go online-only.  The fact of the matter is that it’s no longer economically viable to print newspapers, and most people don’t care.  That’s not a great equation for saving your business.

The problem is that while newspapers are more expensive than they are valuable, the information they contain is vitally important to the public.  Blogs and on-the-spot citizen journalists pick up some of the slack, but in order to realize the responsibilities of the fourth estate, journalism needs to be a profession that comes with training, depth of knowledge and codes of ethics.

So, while I’m not an expert on the print media industry, these are a few ways I can see to fix the local newspaper industry.

  1. Wean your customers off paper.  According to Business Insider, it costs twice as much to print the NYT than it would cost to send every subscriber a free Kindle.  Entice people to subscribe by offering each two-year subscription or renewal a Kindle, provided they take an digital-only subscription.
  2. Stay hyper-local. If everyone who reads your paper can easily get their information from another (probably better) source, don’t waste money trying to break national stories.  Instead, focus on things that matter locally, provide analysis of the big stories nationally.
  3. Send them somewhere else. People are still reading you for the news, so give it to them.  Provide a few lines of context to breaking stories, and link them to a number of other sources.  Sending them to another newspaper may seem counter-intuitive to advertising woes, but if the local paper can still be your subscribers’ windows to the world, they’ll keep coming back.
  4. Bet your last dollar on digital. Not enough companies invested enough in digital five years ago when it could have made a difference.  Now’s the time you need to double down and make the investment in digital by surrounding your subscribers with the news in all of their digital channels.  At the same time, forget about the news cycle – it no longer exists.  People are used to getting news on-demand, as it happens – getting a paper in the morning and staying uninformed for 24 hours is a thing of the past.
  5. Create community. The dawn of the hyperlocal community is here, and local newspapers are in a great position to build those communities.  They have the infrastructure, the advertisers, and the eyeballs necessary to make it work, but most have failed at creating something that people want to be a part of.  Combine that with the fact that community platforms are more accessible and affordable than ever, and the answer is simple.  Be part local guide and connector, and build up an engaged community, and it may just be possible to wrestle classified advertising revenue back from craigslist and kjiji.

The crisis of the newspaper industry is one of change.  Journalists in many cases view new media as toys, and their most vocal customers romanticize the tactile experience of reading the news as ink smeared on dead trees – the rest of the people don’t care enough to complain – they’ll gravitate toward the path of least resistance and get their news through Google News, blogs, Twitter, or any number of other venues that better suit their lifestyle.

In the end, if the newspaper industry is to be saved – something that I think is highly important to the future of journalism in general, something’s got to give.  Like any other species on the verge of extinction, newspapers will adapt or die.  Those who believe that newspapers’ intrinsic value will keep it around for ever will find themseleves comiserating with the type-setters and other obsolete industries that never saw it coming.

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Social Media Breakfast Ottawa # 7

Spring is just around the corner, we’re about to get an exta hour of daylight, and young people’s fancy is turning to thoughts of social media and a light continental breakfast.

That’s right – Social Media Breakfast number 7 is coming up in less than two weeks.  On March 11, we have the pleasure of having Brady Gilchrist, digital strategist and entrepreneur to come and talk to us about the changing mediascape and how social media will fit in with big corporations.  Brady is the digital advisor to many large international brands, so he brings a distinctly unique perspective to the tools we use every day.

As always, you can sign up at the Eventbrite page – http://smbottawa7.eventbrite.com, and we will be hosted at Gowlings Law Firms on Elgin, by our wonderful sponsor, without which this breakfast would not be possible.

In the meantime, here’s the introduction to Brady’s talk:

I hope I’ll see you all there!

When

Wednesday, March 11, 2009 from 7:30 AM – 9:00 AM (ET)

Where

Gowlings
160 Elgin Street
Suite 2600
MAP

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Working the bottom rung

It’s a bad time to be in the industry.  People are losing their jobs left and right, and as a junior employee who’s probably not bringing in new business, how do you keep your job?  Regardless of the economic climate, there are a few tips that will not only help you keep your job, but make you indespensible as an employee and make it easier for you to work your way up the corporate ladder.

Be reliable.  When I started in the industry, one of my team leaders gave me a piece of advice I’ve given to every junior PR person I’ve worked with.  Senior people are juggling multiple projects and clients and are generally extremely busy.  When they delegate something to you, they need to be 100% secure in the fact that it will get done.  Be reliable, and you’ll become a go-to person with a reputation for getting the job done, and making life easier for those who have the power to promote you.

Have an eagle-eyed attention to detail.  It’s not enough to merely get the job done.  If you’re given a task that needs miles of corrections, you’re not adding value – in fact, you may be making life more difficult for those who are delegating to you.  Pay attention to the details of your contributions as well as others.  Proofread, fact check, follow proper formatting guidelines, and make it a rule to submit everything letter perfect.  It’s a supervisor’s job to maintain quality control, but the less that needs to be controlled, the better you look.  Assume whatever you provide to your superiors will be sent to the client unchecked, and work to acheive that level of polish.  It will not only help now, but even more when you’re directly interfacing with clients.

Figure it out.  Training is the backbone of any successful PR firm, but certiain things are expected to be part of general education.  While performing a media scan may require formal in-house training, there are many things that can be figured out simply through a quick Google search.  Ask for guidance, but only after you’ve made a bit of an effort to figure it out for yourself.  It will make you a better person.

Become a better writer.  Even if you think you’re the best writer in the world, get better.  If you’ve got awards for your pithy prose and penetrating poetry, get better.  No matter what you do in this industry, you’ll need to be a great writer.  If you’re not – get another job.  It’s not enough to be good at a certain type of writing – you need to be able to adapt to any style, any voice, any message.  It takes practice, but work at getting better at it.  It might be a while before you’re writing copy or messaging, but work at it.  There’s nothing worse than a PR person who can’t write.

Enjoy the grunt work.  Your main job is to make life easier for the people who bring in the clients and keep them happy.  This means photocopying, web research, data entry – all of the exceedingly boring crap that nobody wants to do.  Enjoy it.  Revel in it.  Ask for more.  The more you understand of the minutiae of the work, the better you’ll be at the bigger stuff – strategy, estimating, etc.  Nobody really likes the work, but if you can do it with a smile, you’ll be respected by the people who rely on you.

Be patient.  It’s really difficult to work with a junior PR person who thinks they should be managing partner.  Sure, you want to move up and make more money, have a better title, and do the more interesting work, but you need to prove yourself first.  Show you’re hungry, but don’t be pushy about it.

Bring a big brain.  Nobody expects you to come up with the next big idea – and that’s all the more reason that you should be dedicating your spare time to building that.  Read, research, interview, understand – be voracious in your quest for knowledge, and apply that big brain to problems that your firm needs to solve.  Whether it’s a best practice for something small, a new process for developing media lists that will save time and money, or another supplier that will give better results cheaper, keep bringing those ideas to the table.  There is nothing more appreciated in a junior employee than drive and ambition.  Keeep it below obnoxious level, though, and never expect more for your trouble than a “Good idea.  Thanks.”

Those are my tips for succeeding as a junior PR person.  Have any that you’d like to share?

Connecting the world in 140 characters

We call Twitter, Facebook, Myspace and the like “online communities,” but many people find that label hard to swallow.  After all, communities care for one another, support each other and are brought together by something deeper than shared interests or geography.

If nothing else was going to convince you that these services are more than just tools, and that your “friends” are more than just connections in a network, The success of Twestival would have to do it.  If you haven’t heard of it yet, Twestival is a world-wide charitable collaboration for charity:water, a charity that is dedicated to digging wells in developing parts of the world with no access to clean water.  There’s one in your city.  Seriously – go look.

Building one well can cost between $4,000 and $12,000, so it’s not an inexpensive endeavour.  So, rather than paying for expensive television ads, or paying people to stand on the street with binders, charity:water took to the web, and organized a global, one-day event in support of their cause that brought over 185 organizers together from every continent around the world to donate their time and money to raise funds for a single charity.

So far, they’ve raised $1,000,000, and the event isn’t until Thursday.

I’m involved with the Ottawa event, as is @bitpakkit and @sassymonkey from Overlay.TV (the event’s sponsor), and @kevinwaghorn – the producer of the Ottawa Fringe Festival, and a wicked event manager locally. What I’ve seen in the few short weeks we’ve been working on this is the dedication of both the local and global Twitter community to give of their time, their money and their influence, simply because it was a cause they could believe in.

Multiply that by 185 cities around the world, and you see the real power of social networking.  The building of connections that would be impossible through any medium we’ve ever seen – television, advertising, telephone – not even the internet in and of itself.  What it took to connect the world was 140 characters and a cause.  Next time someone asks you what the point of Twitter is, you’ve got an answer for them.

If you’re in Ottawa, the event is February 12 at Suite 34 in the Market. Details are at http://ottawa.twestival.com, and you can buy tickets at http://www.amiando.com/twestivalottawa.html.  If you can’t come, please spread the word, tell some friends, donate something to the silent auction – any little bit helps.  I don’t take the word community lightly, but I hope you will join ours in making the world a little better place.

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Croissants and Social Media – Together Again

It’s been a little while since last we met, but we’re kicking off the first Social Media Breakfast of the year in style with special guest speaker Stuart MacDonald; CEO of TripHarbour.ca, founder and former CMO of Expedia.ca, and co-founder of the MESH conference.  He’s going to talk about how social media has helped him build the community-driven travel site and the lessons he picked up over his career launching and building online businesses.

This is a must for anyone interested in social media and business.  Stuart is not just an experienced marketer, he’s a fantastic speaker who understands the role of social media in business.

The event takes place on February 20 at the offices of our wonderful sponsors Gowlings, located at 160 Elgin Street.  Tickets are available at http://smbottawa6.eventbrite.com/.

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Social Media Strategy begins with one question

The Venus flytrap, a well known carnivorous plant
Image via Wikipedia

I talk to a fair number of people who want to pick my brain about their social media strategy.  These conversations are often cut short, after I ask them one question: “What do you want to accomplish?”

I seems like a fairly obvious question, but it’s one that stumps a lot of people.  The answer seems obvious as well – nobody ever asks why you’re advertising, or why you have a storefront.  Obviously it’s to “increase awareness” or “build profile.”

Social media is a venus flytrap for marketers.  From a distance, it’s perfect and beautiful – so many people are using it and it’s the ideal channel for promotion.  Once you’ve been enticed inside, it’s a much different view.  People don’t like messages, and advertising in social media channels is about as welcome as door-to-door salesmen, for the most part.  Social media is not the place to “build profile.”

Does that mean that blogging, micromedia and social networking can’t be powerful business tools?  Of course not – and many are using these tools brilliantly to build their business – but I’d wager that every single one of them could have answered that question instantly before they started.

So, what are the business goals you want to accomplish?  Do you want to network with like-minded people?  Provide better service than your competitors in a way that scales much more easily than a call centre?  Do you want to build a network that you can use in times of crisis?  Do you want to get product insights from your most vocal users?  Do you want to extend your reach as a personality or knowledge leader?  Do you want to understand your reputation better?

All of these things are possible, and some with very little expense, through social media, but they all require radically different approaches.  Those who have indeed built profile in social media did not start out with just that in mind – just as the most successful networker at an event doesn’t walk around with business card extended.

The reality is that you can’t even begin thinking about the route you’re going to take until you decide where you’re going.  Sure, road trips can be fun – but they’re not business.

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Where does influence come from?

I started to really think about the value of social media versus plain old television ads recently when I made a major, high-involvment purchase – I bought a car.  I’m not a car expert, but I’m definitely someone who will do the research to make sure that what I’m getting is not only the best value, but is really right for me.  The experience was interesting, and I wanted to share it with you, not as a road map for whether or not social media influence is real, but as a holistic case study in product decision making from one person.

My search, like many others, I’m sure, started with Google, but I didn’t just search “cars.”  I had already narrowed down my search parameters to a certain type of car (5-door hatchback, because I’m just that badass) and a few brand options.  The interesting thing looking back is where those brand options came from.  Some came from friends (I have a few who swear by VW), some came from television ads (the Honda Fit commercial made it stick out) and some came from past experience (I’ve always been partial to Toyota).  One even came from product placement.  I can say with absolute assurance that the only reason we test-drove a Nissan Versa is because of its appearance on Heroes, and the fact that I wanted to yell “Blue Nissan Versa!” every time I got in.

After some preliminary research, my search moved into real life.  We visited dealerships, looked at cars, test drove a few, and further refined our search.  I called friends who were in the industry and asked their opinion, which I weighted much more heavily than that of my friends outisde the industry.

While I was narrowing down my choices, one of the most useful tools was one that I had come across on TechCrunch, called CarZen.  It allowed me to compare dozens of cars, side by side and rate them based on what criteria were most important to me.  It introduced me to a couple of new options, and helped to validate existing ones.

From there, I turned to Twitter, as I so often do, and asked the opinions of my social graph.  The opinions from this group ranged from “You should get an Aston Martin!” (that would be lovely, thank you) to very practical advice on which cars to avoid and endorsements based on personal experience.  All in all, I received about 40 responses, including one from Scott Monty of Ford, who told me about the Sync system, and predictibly, tried to convince me to buy a Ford.  When I pushed back and said that I had concerns about quality, he pointed me to a few sites showing the reliability of the Focus over the past few years.  In all honesty, it didn’t do much to convince me to buy a Ford, but it certainly improved my image of the quality of its vehicles.

In the end, I went with the Honda Fit.  Not exactly a stunning conclusion, I know, but the interesting thing for me, looking back on it is what the influencing factors were.  Social media informed me, but really did very little to influence me in the short term.  It was invaluable for answering specific questions, but it was better at steering me away from choices than toward them. In this respect, social media was more of a long-term influencing factor.  I would say that I’m now more open to Ford than I ever have been, which makes me think that every car company that wants to keep loyal customers should be doing exactly what Ford is in Scott Monty.

This exercise reminded me that influence comes from everywhere, but it surprised me to realize how much television influenced my purchase decision.  The Fit “Cavernous” spot stood out in my mind because of its simple proposition that happened to coincide with my main priority for the car, and the execution that set itself apart from every other car-driving-down-a-winding-highway ad.

Did I buy a car because of a TV spot?  No, but it was one of the many influencing factors on my road to purchase, and a good reminder that not all influence comes from the places we assume.  Any decision, especially complex ones, come from a variety of sources – some online and some off, some we control and some that we don’t.  As marketers, the important thing to remember is that rarely is influence a direct path, but rather a circuitous series of nodes, all making their way to an ultimate end.  All we can do is make sure we’re on those nodes, informing and building loyalty.

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Social Media and Advocacy

As you probably read in my last post, Ottawa City Council is proposing to cut 100% of funding for most arts organizations, which would decimate local culture at a tax savings of about $4 per person, per year.

Unsurprisingly, this has caused a fair share of outrage from the local arts community and the people who support it.  The community has united in a way that it doesn’t normally do to fight these cuts and to get people to take action by writing their councillors and telling them that their Ottawa includes culture.

The same thing happened in 2004 when the same cuts were proposed, and the arts community had to drop everything to fight a ridiculous budget plan.  The difference in 2008 is the way the community mobilized.

They created information pages with a mechanism to send a letter directly from the page, Facebook groups with thousands of members, videos and microsites for people to pass around and get their friends to express their concerns.  Social media gave the local cultural a much larger voice than they’ve ever had.  Beyond that, we organized through social media as well – collaborating on spreading the word and assembling at City Hall to make our voice heard.

The results won’t be seen until Friday, but most of the councillors I have spoken with have expressed that they have been inundated with hundreds of comments about the cuts.  If they listen to their constituents even a little, this proposal will be defeated.

So, to those who live in Ottawa and value culture, I say this:  “Pass it on.”

Thanks to Susan Murphy and Cheryl Gain for helping out with the editing on these videos.