Is analog trending?

If you work on multiple social media platforms every day, as many of us in public relations and marketing communications do, you know how quickly stories can break and trend — and how tempting it can be to jump into the conversation.

This busy-ness can be both addictive and exhausting. Which isn’t to say  social media isn’t a wonderful tool. It is. It gives a voice to people who may otherwise never have been heard which, as a small boutique PR firm, I fully appreciate.

What I find really interesting, lately, is the emergence of ‘analog’ marketing. Digital and analog are starting to hang out side-by-side — like musical points and counter-points.

Here’s what I mean. Today, I read that Glenfiddich, a brand of single malt whiskey introduced to the U.S. in the 1960′s, had launched an integrated marketing/PR campaign that highlights the brand’s heritage attributes. Budweiser recently announced a similar campaign, marketing its iconic brand in old-fashioned wooden crates.

And it’s not just beverages. The growing ‘authenticity’ trend seems to be driving everything from Etsy’s online market for artisanal goods to the slow food movement. In a digital world that moves quickly, decides quickly, reacts quickly and moves on quickly, there is an equally strong appetite for going slow. Knowing where products come from, who makes them, what makes them unique and what the back-story is — for many people, this knowledge is hugely important and drives consumption.

Louise Fili, whose work I greatly admire and is featured above, is another example of the synthesis between digital and analog. I agree with her view that social media — at least as it is used most often today — allows us access to a lot of information but necessarily a tactile experience. We still need time, and distance, to process the data and figure out what it means, personally and emotionally. Digital may allow us to appropriate and mediate information, analog, I think, allows us to make sense of it on a human level.

I’m sure digital technology will continue to evolve at a rapid pace. And as it does, our experience with using it will no doubt mature. At some point, the busy-ness of it all will settle into a less frenetic, more measured, rhythm.

In the meantime, as PR and marketing professionals, I find the co-existence of analog and digital a cool development. Our job is still about drilling into the data to unearth that nugget of insight that helps clients to communicate credibly and authentically. It’s still about — and always will be about –  helping to build relationships and discovering better ways to engage our audience and customers.

Culturally, this is a time of peaceful co-existence. Even though the pace is frenetic, it’s up to us as practitioners to find the right balance. And to remember that digital’s role is to give analog voice. Analog’s role is to give digital soul.




Trick or treats in the digital world

A recent article in Forbes about the current state of the client-agency relationship is a good reminder of just how disruptive digital media is for those of us working in the communications profession. And while there will be tricks to adapting, long-term, the treats will be worth it.

According to Avidan Strategies, digital is not only blurring the lines between advertising and PR. It’s forcing advertising and PR agencies to rethink themselves, in terms of who does what. And perhaps more importantly, it’s pushing agencies to take a good look at how they deliver — and what they deliver — to their clients.

The shift is seismic and it will continue. As it does, here are three related shifts that we see coming fast:

-Shift from information to news. Storytelling is an over-used word that’s been co-opted lately by everyone from presentation coaches to brand strategists. However, used it in the way professional journalists use it, a ‘story’ really comes down to an idea that has inherent newsworthiness.

Going forward, we believe it will be less about which agency does what, and more about working with practitioners who know how to research, find the nugget, shape a narrative and tell a story. Each step is important. And while today, there is a lot of emphasis on the ‘telling’ of the story, we see an increased need for people who can expertly sift through the data, analyze it, do the background checks, follow the money, understand the context and figure out the difference between a reliable source and public opinion.

In the digital world, we are all shaping content for each other, constantly. And so people who know how to unfold a story, inject it with purpose and curate it so it packs a punch will be highly sought-after, for both our news and our entertainment.

- Shift from generic to authentic. A new study out yesterday points to an upward trend in consumers’ desire for authenticity.

For some consumers, authenticity is about the alignment they see between a brand’s promise and the reputation of the company that produces and markets that brand. So if the stories that are circulating about a product contradict the brand promise — or the CEO’s conduct doesn’t jibe with the stated values of her company — an authenticity gap opens up, with the online world just waiting to fill the vacuum and undermine reputations. Chief Marketing Officers, Chief Reputation Officers, their in-house teams and their agencies will assume increasing accountability for authenticity and reputation/risk management going forward.

- Shift to greater efficiency. The silos between advertising and PR, and between marketing, corporate communications and public affairs are eroding. And hallelujah!

Digital is driving the change, and what’s coming is less of an emphasis on who does what, and more of a shift towards who does it efficiently.

Assuming the underlying goal is to communicate strategically with consumers, stakeholders, employees and investors, does it really matter if the great idea comes from the in-house team, from the advertising agency or the PR consultant, or a combination of the above? It shouldn’t. What’s more, if a strong strategic idea can be integrated across different platforms by fewer people, doesn’t that make work more efficient and life easier, in the end, for our clients?

This leveling of the playing field between big and small practitioners — and between practitioners themselves — will continue. In the end, it may not mean less money spent, but it will certainly result in a more efficient, rational and streamlined use of resources from strategic development, through approval, and all the way to final delivery.

These are just a few of the treats that await. We don’t see it as a scary time. Quite the opposite: It’s a thrilling time to be on the front lines of change.




Great PR depends on smart data

We’re big believers in the power of research to establish a sound foundation for PR campaigns, employee engagement strategies and brand building opportunities.

We loved Volkswagen’s recent awareness campaign about the dangers of texting and driving for that very reason.

The same goes for a Trillium Gift of Life campaign spot that in two short minutes makes the case for needing more people to register as organ donors.

It’s pretty clear the people behind these campaigns have done their homework. They’ve researched the facts. They know the numbers. And the results of their research are compelling. We think this is a smart way to use data.

But while oftentimes numbers can spin a good story, they can also be used to grossly over-simply things. Take the announcement last week about an employee engagement strategy in which Apple and Facebook committed to paying for their female employees’ fertility treatments, ostensibly giving them the opportunity to delay having children if they chose to focus on their careers.

Does this mean that Apple and Facebook actually polled their employees and found that a majority of childbearing-age women within their ranks wants children enough to deal with the roller coaster ride of IVF? Was this strategy the outcome of extensive research into work-life balance, or did they simply look at the average age of their female employees and make some assumptions about Millennials?

And speaking of the Millennial ‘demographic’, we note that today in Philadelphia, Forbes is hosting an Under 30 Summit, and that a new study released in AdWeek talks up the tremendous opportunities for financial institutions that target Millennials with content marketing campaigns.

Is this is what data mining comes down to? It sounds a bit like old-fashioned marketing segmentation. Are all people 18-25 really so similar that they can be grouped together under the Millennial moniker? And are all women so like-minded that they can be spoken to (‘targeted’) in the same way?

Has history taught us nothing? If you’re over 50, this kind of stereotyping is called age-ism. And if you’re out-of-touch enough to be making generalizations about women on the basis of their fertility and/or reproduction, it’s called paternalism or misogyny.

The point is, if we’re smart enough — and socially evolved enough — to be able to obtain big data in the first place, can we please be smart enough to use some discernment in the way we interpret and use that data? Let’s put it in a context that’s meaningful, thoughtful and respectful.

Numbers aren’t smart all by themselves. Our job as people, and as PR people, is to make the numbers make sense in an honest way.


Oh la la! We’re turning 17!

I remember seventeen as being a magic age. As memory serves, it was a time of discovery and pushing the limits. A time for making mistakes and learning things the hard way.

Well, we survived all that, and on October 1st, we’ll be celebrating 17 years in the communications consulting business. In many ways, it’s been a very similar experience to life at 17.

Thankfully, it was, and still is, a time of discovery and reaching beyond, because that’s exactly the opportunity that social media is offering us everyday as practitioners. At ML & CO, we’re still challenging the old ways and moving far beyond what we did yesterday thanks to all sorts of new toys, tools and platforms. And while the constant churn of ‘new-ness’ and ‘busy-ness’ can be frustrating at times, it’s been an amazing creative and intellectual adventure.

Fortunately, it’s also still a time of learning. My clients’ communications challenges are never the same. With every new assignment, they challenge me to come up with new ideas, new perspectives and new solutions to help them in their business. And I am most grateful for these opportunities.

The one thing I did more of when I was 17 was sit around and daydream. As we move into year #18, I plan to spend more time doing that. Taking time out from reactive mode — and shifting into daydreaming mode — is what we all need to do to stay productive, engaged and learning. And that’s especially true in the communications world.

So here’s to the hour on Friday afternoons when I disconnect from all my productivity tools…and reconnect to a place where all the best ideas come from. And from that place, with any luck, we will launch ML & CO into the next chapter of our story.

New work: September


Just wrapped the launch of Magnet — a new social enterprise that uses powerful networking technology to help youth find jobs, employers find talent and communities to connect with better labour market information.

So great to see so much enthusiasm from so many different sectors trying to deal with youth and immigrant unemployement.

We think this is going to be a game-changer for Ontario.

The art of communication: Tip #3

Here’s what I tell clients about managing change: It’s usually more persuasive to tell people what they’ll gain by following your vision than what they’ll lose if they stick with the status quo.

The same goes for public speaking. Scare tactics and ultimatums  inevitably backfire. It’s smarter, more strategic, and for more empowering to engage people in a shared vision for change than to deny, or belittle, their longing for a different world view.

Given this, I was a bit surprised by the tack British PM David Cameron took in his address yesterday on the issue of the upcoming Scottish referendum.

Admittedly, his speech was impassioned. However, it would have been far more convincing, in my view, had the opening section focused on what would be gained, should Scotland decide to stay in the United Kingdom, rather than how short-sighted leaving would be.

Compare this to what Bob Geldof had to say to the ‘No’ crowd gathered in Trafalgar Square:

“Before there was a United States, before there was a United Nations, before there was a united this, that and the other there was a United Kingdom and it was an extraordinary meeting of very different minds of two extremely close cousins. And what a construct this thing is. Because Scotland is a feeling. England is a feeling. Wales is a feeling, Ireland a feeling. But the United Kingdom is one of the greatest ideas for the modern age. Between the native genius of the Scots and the pure pragmatic drive of the English we made a world beater. The pity of this is that we are the closest of cousins – when one of our blood spills then it all spills. There is such thing as a big glorious no. No is not always a negative. …

The UK is a phenomenal modern idea, invented by the Scots. They invented our age and the 21st century really needs to be reinvented, which I think is at the heart of the argument. We are all fed up with Westminster but they’ve got an option and we should be able to work out, together, a new constitution. But breaking up one of the most genius ideas of the modern political times is not the way to go. 82% of people in England want Scotland to stay, that should show that this is a union that works.”

If you’re trying to lead people through a time of change…trying to rally them to think differently…or simply trying to get your point across…take the high road. Tell your audience, your employees, your investors, or your key partners, what’s good about your vision of the future, and invite them to join you, rather than what’s wrong with what they believe in today.


The art of communication: Tip #2

In Toronto, just before Labour Day now, we’re a few weeks away from a municipal election.

Day in and day out, the news cycle revolves around announcements — and pronouncements — about transportation investments that promise to un-gridlock the city and put us out of our collective misery. Should it be underground, should it be light rail, should there be road tolls, should there be even more road work?

Don’t get me wrong. I think public transportation is a key issue, election or not.

But sadly, so far at least, I’m not seeing any real passion from the podium about it. Just the usual back-and-forth amongst politicians, and nothing yet to make voters really care enough to get out and vote for change.

How refreshing then to hear the inaugural speech from the new president of the Canadian Medical Association.

He wasted no time yesterday calling out the Canadian government for not having a seniors’ healthcare strategy, for ignoring the need for a palliative care strategy and for failing to demonstrate the leadership required to update/upgrade our healthcare system.

Dr. Simpson’s speech is persuasive. It’s colourful. It’s incredibly timely. And best of all, it’s a call to action of the kind that is sorely missing in Canadian discourse these days.

That’s why Tip #2 is about courage. Having the wisdom — and the chutzpah –  to use whatever platform you decide to use to build your brand to actually say something memorable that will define your brand and make it resonate with your audience.

For communications planners who want to re-invigorate brand awareness or simply add some momentum to their engagement strategies, it comes down to this: Instead of simply adding to the din, go for thought leadership. Instead of playing it safe, show some edge. Instead of grey, choose red. And, of course, never underestimate the power of a well-timed speech.

Everyone may not agree with you. But that’s not really the point, is it?



The art of communication: Tip #1

I love this quote by Winston Churchill. When I sit down to write a speech or a presentation, I often think of it. Here’s what he said:
“If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time — a tremendous whack.”
Say it three times. Not because your audience is playing with their smartphone while you’re talking. Or because they’re texting their friends. Or making dinner plans.
Say it because for some reason our brains seem wired to remember things — really remember them — when they’re grouped in three’s.
Read any of President Obama’s speeches and you’ll see how the power of three works. In one of them he says:
“…the greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another. The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down.” (from A World that Stands as One, July 24, 2008, Berlin)
It’s a simple little tip…simple as 1-2-3.

Stop and smell the roses

Thinking of taking time off to stop and smell the roses this summer?

Everyone needs a break at this time of year. If you need a hand with a time-sensitive communications project while you’re away — give us a call. We’re open all summer…then stopping to to smell the roses ourselves on Labour Day.