My blog is about exchanging ideas and best practices on all things marketing and communications related. I'm interested in your thoughts, feedback, additions, arguments and point of view.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Using up all your agency hours before the project is done. What a buzz kill.

Right now, you’re thinking back to that moment. It was 2 months ago and you were sitting in the agency’s boardroom, listening to the creative team present concepts for the new product launch this fall. The ideas were excellent –any one of them could deliver the results you need. Your boss is smiling… everyone is taking lots of notes. You can’t wait to tuck a sample copy into your portfolio.

Cut to this morning – you’ve been in the throes of production for the better part of summer. It’s consisted mostly of eating lunch at your desk and steering through endless conversations. You’re ready to sign off the boards when you get the call – the agency has logged way more production hours than anticipated – and the account director is asking for more money. How did this happen? How did we get here? What a buzz kill.

Project fees are an effective way to manage costs. From a client`s perspective, fees are a good way to manage project costs. Agencies provide an estimate that summarizes the number of hours by department (creative, account services, production studio, etc.) that it thinks is required to produce the concept and generate a measure of profit. However until you get into the project details, it`s just that – an estimate, subject to change.

So how do hours get out of control?

I`ve seen product managers stop at nothing to ensure their work is 100% tight and locked down. All the pieces must harmonize together. Every copy point spoken aloud to ensure key messages roll off the tongue. Layouts are scrutinized and colour choices re-evaluated. It has to be perfect. And this manic commitment usually results in a total disregard for the number of hours the agency estimated to get your job done.

Set the ground rules up front - what do I get for my money? In my experience, in order for the fee model to work, ground rules need to be clearly established about service levels up front – before the first boards are marched down to production. Here are some of my best practice points to ponder:

1. Establish how many rounds of revisions are included in the estimate. Make sure it’s spelled out in writing and communicated to everyone on the team. It’s also helpful to give a distinct name to each round. For example:

Round 1 – Copy Deck Approval
Round 2 – Initial Layout Stage
Round 3 – Working Art Design
Round 4 – Final Art / Lock

Knowing you have a finite number of chances to review the work has a way of ensuring close scrutiny at every round. And sign off the boards after each approval stage.

2. Make sure the copy deck is approved by all stakeholders before layouts begin. I guarantee revising copy after it’s been laid out is the fastest way to burn through agency hours.

3. Typos and mistakes a client finds, or layouts judged sloppy and requiring additional studio time should not be logged against the estimate.
A client who feels like the agency proof reader is a relationship irritant that can lead to a conversation about “value for money.”

4. Have a ‘did well / do better’ chat with the agency at the project’s completion. It’s a useful way to acknowledge exceptional work and identify process areas that can be improved next time round.

5. Deal with issues as they arise today.
Don't put off a conversation like project hours and profitability - it could damage the relationship long term. And nothing pulls oxygen out of a room faster than a discussion about the past. Always be current and future focused in discussions with the account team.

If you add a few of these techniques to your next project, I can`t guarantee you`ll never have one of those conversations with your agency. But when they do call, more likely than not it will be about making lunch plans.

Yahoo! take a bow!
Thomas Claburn from InformationWeek reported recently that Yahoo! has reason to smile: the company took the top spot in the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) report on e-business Web sites. Yahoo gained four points to reach 79 on the ACSI's 100 point scale. In a written analysis of the study, Larry Freed, President and CEO of online satisfaction management company ForeSee Results, observed that the report's results bode well for Yahoo's bid to improve its profitability. "Yahoo is emerging as the leading portal, fighting Google for the search business. Wahoo!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

F**CK OFF – The campaign made me look… but do I want to turn the lights off?

I thought I’d wait until the media coverage died down before I reflected on a recent advertising campaign that had tongues wagging.

The FLICK OFF program, announced April 27th was designed to ‘generate awareness of the devastating effects of global warming and reach out to young Ontarians of every age, every demographic and encourage them to turn off the lights and conserve energy.” The initiative is a coalition sponsored by the Province of Ontario Environmental Defence department, Virgin Mobile, Muchmusic and Roots Canada. Total cost - $500,000.

During the news conference, I watched Minister of the Environment Laurel Broten (M.P.P Etobicoke – Lakeshore) and media junkie Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin, take questions from reporters. I listened as the tone gradually shifted from celebratory excitement to defensive explainations on how a cheeky four letter word and logo (that uses capital letters “L” and “I” to look like a “U”) will encourage us to turn out the lights.

Clearly, the client and agency felt that they needed this approach in order to ‘break through’ media clutter and get people talking. However judging by reactions of Ontarians, the results have been polarizing. The discussion appears to have landed on the creative execution instead of the messages being communicated. You either love it or hate it. Peter Kormos, an NDP critic, called the campaign “silly, embarrassing and clearly it’s an ad agency that has a bunch of flickin' amateurs as employees." The campaign's website uses such phrases as "Go flick yourself," and "Are we flicked?" On the homepage, there’s a “Flicker of the Week” and a call to action that says: "We need you to FLICK OFF, and tell everyone you know to FLICK OFF. The more you do it, the cooler it gets. The planet, that is."

I thought it would be interesting to evaluate this creative idea against a checklist I use to evaluate new campaign ideas recommended by our agencies:

1. Does the advertising surprise and reward the viewer?
2. Is it clear what action the audience is intended to take?
3. Will the creative breakthrough?
4. Is the visual style and tone of voice appropriate for the target audience?
5. Is it single minded?
6. Is it campaignable – does it have legs?
7. Does the idea work in French?

I’ll let you decide the answers. As a marketer, I can see both points of view here. On the one hand, to reach consumers in today’s fragmented media world of gadgets, web spaces, cell phones, PVRs, iPods and X-boxes, we’re constantly re-evaluating our approaches on how to get attention, deliver a message, have it understood *instantly* and track the results. On the other hand, I also see how this work is seen as juvenille and vulgar. But I also couldn’t help but appreciate the irony in this - that our 'media' world is as polluted and noisy as the real one and we need these ‘hyper-sassy’ messages to cut through. However, I’ll stop short of saying if I think the campaign is working until I see my next hydro bill.

Creating an Advertising Customer Promise.

Creating the perfect advertising tag line is like cooking the perfect burger. To start out, you'll need the right ingredients to work with (product / research / creativity); then carefully blend them until you achieve just the right balance of taste and texture (not too much stirring, just the right amount of spice), and then cook to perfection (know when it’s done by knowing how your customer likes it). And like the perfectly BBQ’d burger, the advertising tag line is a tradition that’s here to stay.

Advertising tag lines help create message order in a chaotic media world. In seven words or less, they deliver an idea, belief or aspiration. They organize related marketing programs under one umbrella. And as consumers become more and more expensive to reach, companies will assign greater importance and resources to building a distinct voice that gets into multiple channels.

To stay relevant in today's changing media landscape, tag lines will evolve to stay relevant. Look for more examples that include sound textures, video or new creative combinations designed to work together, build a distinct voice and get our attention.

Whatever the format the line takes, any good tag line should meet the following acid test: i). be distinctive and unique, ii). connect emotionally with the reader or listener and iii). be believable. Examples of tag lines that I think meet these criteria are:

1. I am Canadian – (Molson): This became a rallying cry for college and university students everywhere. Unlike the usual beer advertising, this phrase zeroed in on our desire to be recognized as different an unique (from our American beer drinking buddies).

2. Your potential. Our Passion. (Microsoft): The focus isn’t on the software that Microsoft builds, but rather the promise of what customers can do with their products. Simple and empowering.

3.You Can Do it. We Can Help. (The Home Depot). In six words, this tag line eliminates the fear and frustration out of home renovation projects.

In their own way, each of these lines is distinctive, believable and connects the reader with the product or company. Like a perfectly cooked burger – you know a good tag line when you taste it.

Got Joost?

I read with interest about a new technology called Joost (pronounced ‘juiced’) and its co-founders Janus Friis (30) and Niklas Zennstrom (40) in the March 12th issue of Time magazine. These guys have some huge technology achievements under their young, snazzy belts. In 2001 they launched Skype, the first internet – powered telephony service which they recently sold to eBay for $2.6 billion. In 2001 they pioneered one of the first music file sharing network services, Kazaa, simultaneously breaking new ground and moving the discussion forward on existing copyright laws. Talk about brain power squared. I got excited when I figured out how to imbed video clips into my PowerPoint presentation this week.

The Joost beta program launches in the next few weeks and has industry observers buzzing. Why? For one thing, they’re calling it a notable milestone in broadcast convergence that succeeds where others failed – streaming broadcast quality content onto the desktop PC. The other reason is the raft of believers – top notch providers who’ve signed agreements to deliver content including Viacom (MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon), Paramount and JumpTV, the world’s largest distributor of international TV stations with more than 270 stations in 70 countries.

Lean Back and Watch.
With user generated content (UGC) spaces, the user is asked to sort and click through hours of video clips and features. The accompanying advertising is framed around the content or tucked inside (remember the bridezilla meltdown on YouTube?) By contrast, Joost tells its users simply to ‘lean back and watch’ – much like what us TV sofa jockeys do today.

If you liked that…
I downloaded and installed the beta software (it will be free when launched and requires no hardware) and had the service running in about five minutes. The interface is clean and the controls are easy to use. The up/down menu lets you change content channels and access other features in the "widget menu" like news, instant messaging (SK8TR turn to channel 127 NOW!!!) or content scoring. And Joost can monitor your viewing preferences over time and suggest content options – a popular feature that online sites like Amazon already do – “if you liked that, you’ll love this…, etc.”

The advertising I’ve seen so far is similar to the sponsored content model on today's TV. But moving forward the service will be a laboratory where advertisers and agencies develop, monitor and measure in real time, the effectiveness of their new message formats and approaches. If Joost is a hit, look for ways to measure the medium not even contemplated yet.

Interactive, targeted TV is a promise we’ve already heard. But this time Joost might have the right mix of technology, content and usability working for both marketer and consumer. Plus, everyone is always eager to see innovation in the current 50 year old broadcast model. I for one will be watching, of course from the comfort of my channel surfing sofa.

To learn more visit their website,

Thank you for calling...

As a marketer, one of the daily to do’s on the priority list is listening for customer reactions to our company, products and marketing initiatives. And we're spoiled with the choice of tools that do it – sales results, research, website profiles, meetings with sales reps, etc. However one way and some would say the best way to hear feedback in all its unfettered pointedness is listening to the customer service team and regularly listening in on inbound customer calls. You hear it all - frustrations, product complaints, disappointing in store experiences – it's where virtually all pain points come to life (I’ll save the positive ones for another article). Welcome to the world of the 1-800 customer service number.

It can’t be all good news.
Collecting and acting on feedback in a timely way is critical if an organization is perceived as one that truly listens. I’m reminded of a meeting I had at Microsoft that helped me understand the importance of always listening for bad news. It was a monthly product unit meeting with senior Microsoft business unit managers (BUMs for short). The goal – deliver a comprehensive update after which the go/no go forward decisions would be made. At this particular one there were no major issues to report - no significant bug fixes, the content deals were signed on time and manufacturing and packaging dates were on target.

To the BUMs, it sounded a little too rosy. Even though we were doing our best to make appropriate decisions and keep the product launch on track, to their trained ears it was all… too good. Once we finished our presentation one BUM piped up, “I’m glad your team is hitting all the launch milestones, but what I’m most interested in are the problems that I haven’t heard about - give me the bad news, not just the good.”

Over the years I’ve taken this insight to always listen for bad news and to troubleshoot problems regardless of what type of marketing program I’m doing – before they have a chance to fester and grow into major issues.

The Customer Service team – your eyes and ears
The insight helped me always be aware of the importance of a well briefed and prepared customer service team. After all these company ambassadors are your front line eyes and ears and truly do have their pulse on what's happening at any given moment. How they interact with customers is a reflection on the entire organization, so the more prepared they are, the better chance we have to create a positive customer interaction.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned (some gladly, some painfully) over the years:

1. Consider the Customer Service Team (CST) a key stakeholder with any project you take to market – they’ll anticipate issues you hadn’t thought of and highlight lessons learned from the past.

2. Keep the team updated on changes
to launch timing – they may be staffing up based on your program and need to adjust levels accordingly.

3. Always give the CST the ‘macro’ view
of the project and not just the components relating to them – it’s amazing how motivated people become when they understand the bigger picture and relate how their work contributes to the overall success of an initiative.

4.Act upon customer feedback as quickly as possible – don’t delay when responding to an irate customer. And circulate the resolution to all teams as history can repeat itself pretty quickly.

5. Give the CST a copy of every marketing piece
– even something as innocuous as a letter sent to a few hundred customers - having it handy to review helps reps prepare and be responsive

6. Use customer feedback to build “Frequently asked Questions” or “Rude Q&As” which can also be used on your website – especially if a flaw has been uncovered in the program and there is a need to blanket message

7. If you’re running a contest, make sure the team is familiar with the rules and regulations
– the less they have to put a customer on hold to clarify a point reduces your overall cost per call

8.Spend at least one hour a month (more if you’re launching a new product) listening in on calls – I guarantee you’ll be amazed what you hear. In one example we moved the location of an 800 number in a direct mail piece for the next wave of activity because customers had difficulty finding it on the layout.

Spending time with your Customer Service Team and listening in on customer calls helps ensure the feedback loop to your programs is complete. And you’ll begin to feel very connected to how your program is impacting your customers and the market. For any marketer, that feeling is very cool.

Are you going to Search Engine Strategies 2007?

If you are, you’ll be surrounded by new search technologies, hear ways to make your online marketing dollars work harder, meet smart techies – even find out how to build your ‘purple cow quotient.’

It’s a global conference that stops in Toronto June 12th and 13th at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. This year sounds like a smart time investment judging by the conference lineup and list of exhibitors. In years past, SES attracted between 1,500 and 2,000 marketing types and business owners interested in brushing up their online marketing skills, networking with product managers and listening to technology innovations by industry leaders.

The conference itself is divided into three information tracks. The first – ‘Get me up to speed’ is an introduction to search marketing, optimization, key players in Canada, and how to identify online scams and performance myths. The second, ‘Let’s make some money’ covers monetization – there’s a website clinic, speakers who cover how to make cost effective online development decisions, and what skills we need in our online marketing tool kit. The third, ‘On the cutting edge’, discusses trends, innovations and new approaches in local search, paid listings and marketing to women online.

Of note is Track C (On the Cutting Edge) on Day 1 - Local Search: A Growth Industry. Leaders in the local search space including, Google and ZipLocal offer their update on the state of the art, explore chicken-egg frustrations, and attempt to glimpse into the future direction of local search. The moderator is Anne Kennedy, Managing Partner from Beyond Ink with speakers from Yahoo! Canada, ZipLocal and Darby Sieben, Senior Manager of traffic and distribution from On Day 2, Microsoft showcases their much talked about new online advertising solution. The keynote address on Wednesday is entrepreneur and change agent Seth Godin, author of The Dip.

Make sure you spend time on the show floor too. Arguably this is where your investment really pays off. You’ll be able to meet with developers and product teams who work on search and optimization products everyday. These folks have an intimate knowledge of how the tools function and can showcase competitive differences between providers. Plus they offer unique and well thought perspectives on the online search industry as a whole. It’s a rare opportunity to get up close to the technology and the people who build it, have a personal demonstration and ask lots of questions relating to your specific business situation.

The Search Engine Strategies 2007 Conference & Expo is at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (Front Street) June 12th and 13th. To register, visit

Event Marketing - the B2B version of Show Biz

Trade Shows and Events are arguably the most exciting initiative a marketer can participate in. They’re fast paced, offer the chance to communicate directly to customers and have an unbeatable sense of immediacy. Receiving feedback to your work ‘real time’ is gold, which is why I find the experience, however intense, very gratifying. Good trade shows attract the most influential people in your market so it’s important you spend time crafting a solid approach and presence.

Like other marketing initiatives, when the big day finally arrives, it represents months of planning, decision making, countless agency meetings, telephone calls and contact reports. However, because most trade shows usually last just a few hours or days, when the doors open and customers wag their conference badges past security, it’s all systems go – and little margin for error. All your months of planning and decision making unfold in front of you.

Since most of us learn by producing, here’s what I’ve learned about producing trade shows and events:

1. Be clear about your goals before, during and after - is it to launch a new product (that requires pre hype and follow up?), to collect sales leads and establish a competitive presence? How are you measuring success? What’s your target cost per prospect? Is customer follow up messaging planned? The more up front thinking you do on your metrics and approach will help determine if the investment was worth it. As well, a good metrics plan helps make quick decisions when you’re in execution mode.

2. Start planning early
– at least 3 months from the big day. Because you’re deciding on many details and collaborating with internal and external teams, yes and no answers take longer to implement. As well, issues may not be under your direct control (like unionized venue staff), so it’s important to leave lots of trouble shooting time before the big day.

3. Check out the show website for competitors
– Most events host their own and it’s a great source of information on competitors, where they will be located, and their product focus.

4. Develop a solid customer demo
– nothing impresses prospects more than an enthusiastic manager who knows the product intimately and who shows key features in a relevant, real life way. Watching a smooth demo is not only very cool but one of your secret weapons to keep people engaged in your booth and listening to your story– and away from your competitors.

5. Have a *final* checklist meeting where equipment is preconfigured, checked and prepared as much as possible prior to shipment. Also make sure you know where materials are delivered to at the exhibition hall. Just in case one of your suppliers didn’t fill out the shipping label correctly and your pallet of computers ends up nameless in the back of a warehouse and you have to go hunting for it.

6. Be ready for customer questions – As ready as you can be. Spend time with the product and develop ‘what if’ scenarios. Know the competitive offering and how your product is different or better or wins, feature by feature. Most people are receptive to you not knowing the answer, but if you say you’ll find out and promise to get back to them – make sure you do. I find 'lunch and learn' sessions prior to a show an effective way to help booth staff get familiar with products and concepts in a supportive environment.

7. Look prospects in the eye – If you have junior or inexperienced staff, make sure they’re friendly (are you having a good show?) and to invite people in. It sounds obvious, but you’ll be amazed how many prospects respond to this small nudge. Look for groups of chatting booth people and give them tasks to do. Nothing looks worse or more uninviting to people walking by than uninterested booth staff.

8. It’s nice to give something away. Not because everyone does, but because it’s an opportunity to put a lasting reminder in prospect’s hands. Tote bags or branded desk accessories generate awareness longer; edibles and water bottles don’t. Cardinal rule – keep costs low. Unless it has a call to action built in, it’s one of the hardest things to measure the value of.

9. Appoint a key contact on the booth – the ‘go to guy/gal’ should be able to handle emergencies, customer questions, leads, VIP customers, etc. Make sure they know key event personnel and how to reach technical support in case you need urgent equipment assistance. This person should also manage the booth staffing, breaks, etc.

10. Communicate results in a timely manner. Because trade shows have such a short life, share results with your senior management fast. Everyone wants to know if the show met expectations on number of attendees, qualified prospects and customer reactions. In many cases, you’re being asked to commit to next year’s show now, so having clear goals at the outset will make this task relatively straightforward to decide.

Done well, trade shows are an effective, immediate way to reach influential target groups in your market with key messages, new products and offers. Just remember to write a good brief, give yourself lots of planning time and realize that not everything will go exactly and according to plan. But odds are it will still be a terrific opening.

What is the Marketing Cost of Doing Nothing?

I remember being asked that question by a manager more than 10 years ago. What if I didn't spend demand generation dollars to bring a product to market? What would happen? Could I remove promotion and be confident about the results? It's a question I believe is worth asking when you develop a marketing plan.

I had finally finished a software product launch plan I'd been working on for 3 months – an introduction that was strategically important – new technology and features our customers were asking for. The budgets were approved and allocated to various programs – primarily direct mail, PR, promotion. The metrics plans and forecasts completed – low, medium and high sales scenarios with corresponding costs and profitability.

Then after presenting the plan, answering the usual questions and getting through the internal approval process discussion, my manager suddenly asked, “So what if we did no promotion to launch this product and just got it on store shelves– what do you think our sales will look like?” Hmmm – that was the one question I hadn’t anticipated. After all I had an approved budget allocated and ready to spend. Doing nothing...I immediately thought of the night before - working till 1am preparing for this meeting.

For most of us, our nature as marketers is to do– develop a thought out approach we believe will be impactful, measurable and drive ROI. We assume we are going to spend money to launch a product into a category and watch the investment pay back. However what if we brought a product to market without pushing a launch button and spending promotion or advertising dollars? What would the market forces do without our inputs? What if corporate priorities changed overnight? Could we create customer awareness, interest and trial without spending demand generation dollars? How would the savings impact the P&L?

Before you answer the question, here are some business planning resources you may find useful:

1. Pragmatic Marketing - teaches a practical, market-driven approach to creating and delivering technology products to market.

2. Project Connections – A great resource of project management tools and templates.

3. –a research firm specializing in tracking for readers what works in all aspects of marketing (and what does not.)

4. – when the hour is late and you need a little creative distraction:

One of the reasons Canadian marketers are held in high regard is that we know how to create impact without spending enormous sums of money. Always looking at a glass half full and rising to a challenge is a natually Canadian trait it seems.

For any product or program launch you develop, include all the possible scenarios and trouble shooting – but add this last question to your list – “What if you spend nothing” - and see if it generates new, creative ideas as a result.

The Art of the Influencer

There’s been a lot of talk lately about “influencers” and how they drive product sales with their enthusiasm, large social networks and ability to generate word of mouth endorsements. We’ve all seen them in action – with their outgoing personalities they spend much of their time introducing us to other others as they make their way through a party, smart cocktail in their hand and wearing the latest style of shoes.

According to Ad Age, more than 80% of customers choose one company’s brand over another because of past experience, quality, price or personal recommendations by others. Influencer clout can’t be underestimated. And over the years marketers have tried many ways to cost effectively suck up to them.

In the US, where being an “influencer” has arguably gone berserk, you don’t look much further than award shows to watch the strategy in action. Celebuties are handed thousand dollar gift bags simply for walking down a carpet. Then the editors of People, US Weekly and E! watch closely to see what they’ll trash and what they’ll take home… What they’ll have on in the morning is splashed across websites and magazine covers around the world.

Now if being an “influencer” is something you’ve always aspired to – good news! In today’s digital media world of user generated spaces, you can be someone companies would love to get to know. All it takes is a passionate interest (in virtually anything) an online space to network in and enough of you to get noticed. Is nothing too good for pet and family member Rover? Are you a spiritual outdoor adventurer? Looking for gluten-free baking recipes? Join an online space, connect with other “passionistas” and you’ll become a highly coveted, quantifiable group of prospects.

And if reaching these “influencers” is number 1 on your launch plan, Yahoo! has interesting tools that can help. Last week I attended a breakfast meeting called ‘Marketing 2.0,” where company execs explained how they are able to identify groups of like minded consumers on their network using content, personalization tools, online communities and search products (they call it a "brand network").

Using the “long tail” marketing concept originally developed by Chris Anderson, authour of The Long Tail (Hyperion, $33.95), they presented US case studies on how they were able to sift through throngs of users on various areas on their site to reach super engaged people in virtually any target audience they were given – car buyers, dieters, outdoor enthusiasts.

Yahoo! also talked about another concept they’ve developed called user DNA, an approach to gather data on customer behaviour. It's aggregated (for anonymity) and analyzed to identify trends, behaviours and interests. And they say understanding user DNA enables them to serve up advertising that is highly targeted to only those people most likely to respond to it.

Listening to these guys made me realize two things – first how much we've evolved our thinking from counting page views and clicks in order to evaluate web traffic and online campaign effectiveness. And second, there’s some great minds spending time figuring out how to leverage the power of technology to help us deliver more impactful, more successful advertising campaigns.

Who knows - maybe 20 years from now, the celebutie gift bag will be a relic from the past.

Ad Persuasion

Sometimes I find myself watching an episode of Ad Persuasion on television. It’s an interesting look at the world of advertising, where notable creative folk discuss its various forms; rationalize award winning work and salute the wunderkinds who captivate us during the commercial breaks. During the show, I was enjoying listening to art directors and copy writers discuss what they think about the clients they develop work for. In last week’s episode, a creative director from a US advertising agency went so far as to say “if only they (clients) would get out of the way of the creative process and let us do our jobs, the calibre of creativity would increase and there wouldn’t be a need for TiVOs anymore.” Is that what they think? If only the answer was that simple.

Yes, look at the adoption rate of TiVOs (in the US) and PVRs in Canada – but for another answer. The super cool digital cable TV box allows the viewer to control their experience… right down to zapping out the commercials. It’s true, experts estimate upwards of 70% of us actively look for ways to block advertising. Is it because the creative is boring? No. It is because we want something more unique and personal than the advertiser – sponsored content model of today. Young viewers who have been raised on the Internet demand they control their media viewing experiences – and they’re showing us how they intend to do it. Welcome to the world of user generated content.

Recently, a colleague and I listened to a keynote address by Hunter Madsen, head of marketing for Yahoo! Canada. He talked about how media companies like Yahoo!, MSN, and AOL are trying to make money in the user generated content world or social networks - where traditional advertising is verboten. Madsen spoke about three ways to get invited:

1. Crash the party – place commercial messaging into video streams and other online content – the most basic and least liked form but still effective

2. Hold a party yourself – Develop an interactive area for users (blogs, Q&A, question submits, etc.) and introduce answers by “industry experts”

3. Be a party promoter – employ viral marketing, blogging – even pay cool bloggers to show up – and generate buzz and interest around your event

To be heard and remembered in these forums, advertising (I mean sponsored content) has to engage, compel and provoke. Opinions matter. Production values not as much. Take for example the Doritos commercials aired during last year’s Super Bowl – each created for less than $10K a piece - now highly circulated on You Tube. The Dove beauty spot is another. Admittedly more costly but an innovative and captivating piece of film. It became popular, I believe, because it delivered more comment than commerce.

As we watch user generated channels enter and evolve in the market at lightening speed, the creative team that figures out how to develop relevant, breakthrough creative I’m sure will be featured on a future episode of Ad Persuasion. And I plan to watch it.

A PR campaign eh Smithers...? Excellent....

Watching a PR entertainment story gather momentum in major news outlets and become a huge news item across North America in a matter of weeks is pure bliss to the average, hardworking PR person. Take for example the recent success of the Simpson’s movie launch.

The first element that generated media attention was turning average run of the mill 7-eleven stores into Kwik-E-Marts across the US and Canada - the local variety store in the fictional town called Springfield. A select group of stores had their yellow outdoor facade changed, already graffiti -ed by a character calling himself "El Barto" and store racks overstuffed with "Simpson’s" brand items — Buzz Cola, KrustyO's, Sprinklicious donuts, etc. There was even clerks decked out in Kwik-E-Mart uniforms and Apu name tags. 7-Eleven left no stone unturned for the ultimate in cross-promotion.

A brilliant example of merchandising movie content and giving consumers the opportunity to be “in Springfield” – to buy a Squishy and say ‘good morning Apu.’ This blog is typical of the media coverage generated by converting the stores.

The second was choosing a town named Springfield to host the movie premier. The attention this program generated was higher than average likely because the show had always been careful to never divulge the fictional Springfield town’s location – until now. USA Today got into the act, posting all 14 video entries on a web page devoted to the contest. You can see all the entries at

Getting a movie's key messages picked up by media outlets is no easy feat. It takes long lead planning, creativity and the ability to keep launch momentum building so as to peak at just the right time - opening night. Here's what I think the PR team did well.

1. Set clear goals for what they wanted to achieve - awareness, coverage, web hits, etc.

2. Spent time developing key messages - what they said was fun, believeable and relevant.

3. They targeted specific media considered influential - not every movie launch gets a web page on USA Today.

4. The campaign and promotion aligned perfectly to the brand's positioning - the product merchandising wouldn't have had the same fun factor if that rack of Sprinklicious donuts was placed in a Mac's Milk Store.

5. They had fun - it's the campaign that any marketing person wishes they had on their CV - three months working in Springfield.

These two major components of the program generated incredible momentum, media coverage and more than 6.7 million hits on Google. Not bad all before Homer walks down the red carpen on opening night.

Read about a Marketing Investment with a Guaranteed ROI

One of the hallmarks of a great marketer is having a positive attitude and when asked, be ready to take on new challenges with enthusiasm. It’s part of our DNA to say yes and view the experience as an opportunity to learn, grow and become more accomplished.

For some, this “yes” is followed by anxiety, fear of failure or nerves until we know what the expectations are. This was my reaction when I signed up for “The Language of Leadership,” an intensive 3 day workshop designed to help improve interpersonal skills and use words and language more effectively.

After reading the outline, I was anxious. Why three days? Couldn’t we cover this off nicely in one afternoon? I'm really busy you know. Then, to make matters worse, I got a voice mail from organizers that all devices linking me to the outside world were verboten. There were to be no distractions, no messages delivered from people trying to get in touch with me. The expectation was clear – I needed to leave all my ‘stuff’ at the door and be 100% present with the facilitator. Oh boy. Hopefully this time investment would be worth going through hundreds of emails when I returned to the office.

Now I understand what it means to be "present" and I'm glad. It makes for a quality learning environment that has momentum and meaning. Over the three days, a subject we spent considerable time on was understanding the difference between intellectual IQ and emotional intelligence or “EI.” Let me explain.

When we come into this world we have basically the same set of smarts as when we leave it – IQ is what we were given to work with. However as the course showed, we can greatly improve our emotional intelligence, and in doing so relate more effectively to others and become powerful leaders.

What is effective leadership? What does it mean? A clear understanding eludes many people and organizations. One reason is that until recently, no research had been able to uncover which leadership traits yielded the most positive results for an organization. A consulting firm in the US, Hay McBer, completed a study that comprised a random sample of 3,871 executives. They found there are six distinct leadership styles, each one springing to life from different areas of our emotional intelligence. And most importantly, effective leaders in an organization can switch effortlessly between styles depending on team members and the situation at hand.

There are four components of Emotional Intelligence (EI):

Self Awareness
– the ability to read and understand our emotions and realize the impact our emotions have on others

Self Management – how to keep disruptive emotions and impulses under control

Social Awareness – Sensing other people’s emotions and taking an active interest in their concerns

Social Skill – Taking charge and leading with a compelling vision

Who knew the impact of using the word “our” instead of “your” when relating to someone? How about building more empathy with the team? Realizing that your emotions in a room are contageous and set the tone for discussions? I do now. Speaking from my personal experience the program was, in a word – transformational. There was plenty of tailored coaching, honest feedback and heightened personal awareness of where I am and where I want to be.

If you’re interested in delving more into the subject, I highly recommend Emotional Intelligence, Social Intelligence, and Working with Emotional Intelligence, all by Daniel Goleman. For information on the Language of Leadership 3 day workshop, contact Vezina & Associates (416) 466-9336.

I guarantee that the more you invest in understanding and developing your emotional intelligence, the more effective you will be as a person and a leader - no matter what your vocation is.

For any investment a marketer makes, that’s a pretty amazing return.

Writing Effectively for the Blackberry...

As BlackBerrys become the device of choice for the business user, consider this - their small utilitarian screen and moderate brightness means your beautifully crafted email is being read in busy, frenetic surroundings and evaluated in a milli-second. That's because more than 60% of senior executives carry one and use it primarily to view email.

So consider these techniques to help ensure your message has the best chance of being understood. But first, find a BlackBerry and see for yourself how small the screen is.

1. Use the right font size.
“Based on what we’ve seen, using 8-point fonts seems to work,” says mobileStorm CEO Jared Reitzin. “In the end, you want to make the body text a small but viewable size.”

2. Keep subject lines short, using only key words, such as “Action Item” and “Reminder,” and for time-sensitive events such as webinars, “Filling Fast.”

3. Put the *subject* first in the subject line. For example, if your email is for a Search Engine Optimization white paper, “SEO” should be the first thing they read in the subject line.

4. Use codes to communicate the desired response: 411 (for your information), 611 (response in 24 hours please) and 911 (Urgent request).

5. Make the message scanable.
Since the majority of senior executives in organizations have a mobile device of some sort, accept that busy people don’t read -- they scan. That's why it's so important to grab the reader's attention with a strong call to action, then bullet points of key content.

The old adage, ‘be brief, be brilliant and be gone,’ applies here in spades. Recent studies suggest that by following these guidelines, you'll communicate more effectively to an overworked director and get your point across every time.

Worst case scenario - they can always dial your number if they roll their eyes after reading your email.

Great Moments in Advertising 1982: Bill Gates and Gibbons

Jerry Gibbons, President of Doyle Bane Bernbach Advertising met with client Bill Gates of Microsoft in 1982. ‘Our feeling is that you’re not spending at a level that’s appropriate for your company right now’ Gibbons told Gates, whose advertising budget was $250,000. Gibbons took a bar napkin, drew a circle – ‘this is your industry today’ – marked out a pie section, saying ‘this is your current share, and as you know, the industry is going to be growing’.

Gibbons drew a larger circle to represent the difference between $1.5 billion and $5 billion. ‘This is how it’s going to be growing in the next few years, and good strategy for your company would be to capture as much share of the market as you can now while share points are cheap. Share points are cheap because the market size is small. As the market grows the cost of acquiring share points is going to increase greatly. If you can increase your share, then when it becomes more competitive, all you’ll have to do is protect your share.’

Gates grasped that concept pretty quickly and went back to Seattle – to double his advertising budget. (Source: Chuck Pettis, Technobrands, p145).

Whether marketing myth or truth, here’s one fact not in dispute - BusinessWeek and Interbrand recently released their annual list of the world's top brands. Coca-Cola retains the number one spot and Microsoft is in the number 2 position, with a brand value of more than $58.7 billion dollars.

After reviewing the list, there are some surprising omissions such as Procter & Gamble and Wal-Mart; however Interbrand explains it this way – they consider many factors when ranking a value of a brand and to qualify, each brand must derive at least a third of its earnings outside its home country, be recognizable outside of its base of customers and have publicly available marketing and financial data. Those criteria eliminate heavyweights like Visa, which is privately-held, and Wal-Mart (WMT ), which sometimes operates under different brand names internationally. Interbrand only ranks the strength of individual brand names, not portfolios of brands, which is why Procter & Gamble (PG ) doesn't show up.

A truly modern TV spot
The new US Sprint Ahead television advertising campaign is a great example of how a simple idea, uniquely executed in a compelling way, can cut through our crowded and over stimulated media world to reach us and make an impression.

Supporting the SprintSpeed™ service, we watch folks drag a light source around frame to create finger paintings made of light - of our home, our friends, our dreams. In the end, we’ve watched the spot with childlike wonder – and Sprint has succeeded in avoiding us fast forwarding through it on our PVR or TiVO in order to get back to the game. It’s mesmerizing in its simplicity. Watch the spots or get in on the action and send your own e-Card– it’s a hoot!

Are You Ready to Wiki?

Many organizations in Canada are starting to investigate if it makes sense to set up a WIKI for their employees. Nowadays, with so many people working remotely from different regions of the country, or different countries around the world, establishing a WIKI is a great way to facilitate collaboration and discussion, regardless of where people are located.

Take the Wiki Wiki?
“WikiWikiWeb” was the first site to be called a wiki by Ward Cunningham, a U.S. computer programmer who invented the concept in 1994. It began when a counter employee at the Hawaii International airport told him to take the "Wiki Wiki" shuttle that runs between the airport's terminals. A Hawaiian – language word meaning fast or quick, "wiki wiki" is useful to know at any airport come to think of it.

What is a WIKI?
Simply put, a wiki is a database used for creating, browsing and searching web pages. A wiki enables documents to be written collaboratively, in a simple language using your web browser. A defining characteristic of the technology is the ease with which pages can be created, updated and linked to other content areas in an organization. Today, Wikipedia, is arguably the most well known online wiki, used by millions of people around the world.

Doing it WIKI-style!

Any project that requires collaboration or input from more than one person in an organization is a WIKI candidate. For example, a national sales director based in Toronto wants to build a resource of winning selling techniques to share with the Chicago office.

He kicks off the project by creating a WIKI page on the company intranet site. Together with a his team, they write about proven tools, methods and techniques to close deals for a particular product or selling cycle. They also include a section on handling customer objections plus links to internal resources, competitive documents and sales visuals.

In short order, the sales director and his team have built a centralized resource of best practices that can be added to and updated easily and quickly. Plus it’s a great training resource for new employees.

What about Security?
With any collaborative tool, there are safeguards you can follow to ensure only high value information is included. To manage security or check for inappropriate content, companies assign folder managers who review incoming files before they go live. However a WIKI can be set up to include comments in real-time and appear almost instantaneously online.

The possibilities are impressive - a Vancouver based software company collaborates with their technology partner in India and builds a WIKI of product specifications and local market user testing feedback. Or a Toronto advertising agency sets up a wiki for the retail detail team to log store check reports and competitor activity by market.

Walk before you Wiki.
Setting up a wiki is surprisingly straightforward and doesn’t require large technology investments, expensive software or long lead times. For an excellent overview, read WIKINOMICS, by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams. You can download the software for FREE at