The power of words

For people who spend most of their working day developing content, evaluating key messages and thinking about how to convey, through words and images, the essential elements of our clients’ brands, it’s fair to say that our job boils down to words.

We care, probably more than the average person, about how words sound, what they mean, and the emotions they convey. And what these same words could mean, and convey, in the hands of our clients’ competitors.

And so it’s fitting on this Friday, a few days after the passing of Maya Angelou, one of this generation’s great poets and storytellers, to honour a woman who had a visceral and quite political understanding of the power of words. May you rest in peace, Ms. Angelou.



New video work: Ryerson University

A few weeks ago, we wrapped up a six-part video series for Ryerson University’s Faculty of Science. There’s a lot of cool science going on downtown…like solar panels that are embedded directly into glass window panels. Imagine what that could mean for Toronto’s carbon footprint!

Check it out on YouTube.

New video work

We’re very pleased to support the College of Occupational Therapists of Ontario as it marks the mid-way point in a three-year strategic plan.

This is a new YouTube video we produced to introduce the College’s new Registrar to OTs across the province.



Communications tips for smart people

I’ve had the great fortune this week of interviewing several really smart people for some content development projects that I’m working on for clients.

Some are industry people who have invented a whole new way to use existing technology. Others are academics who are pushing the boundaries and figuring out how to make the world a better place for real people. They’re scientists who are working to develop brand new products and commercializing them in markets around the world. Or local community leaders who are trying to shift attitudes and create buy-in for a new way of thinking amongst their key stakeholders.

These are really smart people. And what I’ve noticed from talking with them is that, much to my surprise, they are also expert communicators.

These are people who have their key messages down pat. And who can explain them in layman’s terms for those of us who don’t share their expertise, or have their sense of the minutiae. Very often, they’ve told me a story — or shared an example — in order to drive home their points.

The most important things that I’ve learned from speaking with them are:

  • Know what you want to say and stick to it. Whether it’s an interview, a speech, or a pitch, know what you want your audience to remember about the encounter. Say it multiple times, in different ways, but always come back to your key message.
  • Back it up. It’s fine to make a claim. It’s even better to prove it. Use proof-points and examples to provide credibility for what you say.
  • Say it. Show it. Tell a story to help people visualize and internalize your message. And don’t be afraid to make it real by injecting personality and emotion.

As counter-intuitive as it may seem, my take-away from this week of interviews is: You don’t have to be a genius to be a good communicator. But you do have to be smart — and methodical — in order to get your message across.



New work: College of Occupational Therapists

We’re delighted to have helped the College of Occupational Therapists of Ontario kick off its 20th anniversary year with a celebratory shindig in downtown Toronto recently.

The special night was attended by over 200 guests and streamed live to OTs across the province. Internationally-acclaimed speaker, Dr. Brian Little, a pioneer in the field of personality psychology wowed the crowd with his insights into extraverts and introverts in the workplace.

Congratulations to the College on reaching this historic milestone…and to many more to come!

College Council President, Lesya Dyk, joins Dr. Brian Little, keynote speaker, to kick off the College of Occupational Therapists’ 20th anniversary year.

New work: Ryerson University

Really pleased to post the first in a new video series that we’re working on for the Faculty of Science at Ryerson University in Toronto.

The series runs the gamut, everything from game theory and biomedical physics, to biology and digital media.

It was a delight to work with such incredibly talented and dedicated people…and to help Ryerson tell its story about leading-edge science with real-world impact.

Why some photos don’t need cut-lines

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

I’ve just read President Obama’s address about the liberation of Auschwitz and his efforts to put into words what was an unthinkable and tragic chapter in global history.

“The noble acts of courage performed by liberators, rescuers, and the Righteous Among Nations remind us that we are never powerless,” Obama said. “In our lives, we always have choices. In our time, this means choosing to confront bigotry and hatred in all of its forms, especially anti-Semitism.”

But it’s the photos that are circulating online today that really tell the story — the emotions they stir up, as well as the shame and contempt they continue to provoke some 69 years later.

This is the power of great photos like the one shown here — a photo that invites us to reflect on the past and challenges us to not ever again be complacent in the face of evil. These are photos that need no cut-lines.

Two visitors walk inside the snow-covered Holocaust Memorial in Berlin.


Pros and cons of celebrity endorsement

Neil Young’s recent tour to raise awareness for the environmental issues surrounding the oil sands in Alberta should be of great interest to all strategic communications practitioners.

Often we’re asked by our clients to find a celebrity whose notoriety will help to bring public attention to a worthy cause, in hopes the celebrity’s fame will add credibility to that cause and the people who champion it. The same goes for celebrity endorsements of products and services. The thinking is that if Neil Young is for it, and you like Neil Young, then you’ll also be in favour of what he’s supporting.

I like Neil Young and I admire what he is doing in trying to get Canadians focused on the environmental challenges associated with oil extraction and delivery out West. But more than what he’s saying about the oil sands, I like that he’s taking a stand. I like that he’s ruffling feathers. And more importantly, I’m glad that no matter what you think of his position, he’s getting people to talk about sustainability.

Some people are outraged by what he said on tour, but no matter. The point of this celebrity endorsement was to kick-start a conversation. Mission accomplished.

It’s interesting that another musician, Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy, also let his opinion be known on CBC over the weekend. It’s more balanced, but as emphatic about the need to engage in a national conversation about environmental and social issues.

Two different national icons.Two different approaches. But the outcome is the same. Now, let’s see if this celebrity endorsement thing really works, and by that I mean, is anyone in the political realm listening?




Good stories pack an emotional punch

Yesterday, I was in a meeting with one of my clients and we were talking about what makes a good story. We both agreed on the need for a compelling beginning, middle and end. And more importantly, that the very best stories have an emotional draw — something that pulls you in, makes you care, leads to some telling insight, and changes you in some small, or big, way.

As luck would have it, today I was following one of my favourite websites called StoryCorps. It’s a project that was developed by PBS, and the purpose is to encourage real people from across America to tell their stories, and to archive those stories so that they can be shared with their loved ones.

As I listened to one story in particular, I was reminded that a lot of corporate storytelling is not necessarily about real people, and their very real, and human challenges. They’re about the brand, which can be something quite different from a ‘real’ story.

As a PR person, I’m convinced that there’s room for more of the ‘real people telling real stories’ approach to corporate storytelling. With so much visual clutter around us these days, it’s an incredibly strategic way to cut through and make an impression.

In my opinion, the story that follows is the real deal.

Take a minute and you’ll see what I mean.


Announcing a new spin on teamwork

Teamwork is one of those things that everyone says but not everyone does.

I’ve noticed that very often people think teamwork is just about what happens inside an organization. For example, cross-departmental or cross-functional teams are often assembled to develop a new product or to strategize about a new business opportunity. And they’re rewarded when they achieve certain objectives.

But teamwork is also about the relationships an organization builds with its external suppliers.

I’ve worked on both the client side (as part of the in-house communications team) and externally, on the services side (the agency), and here’s what I see: There’s nothing more frustrating and inefficient — for clients — as when suppliers don’t work together in common cause. Sometimes it’s about turf. Sometimes it’s about ego. Sometimes it’s just a matter of being so used to working in silos, why change?

But none of that makes sense, really. Clients pay good money not just for delivering what you say you’ll deliver. They also reward us with their loyalty when we deliver more than they expect. I’ve learned that when you think like a business — and act like one — it’s good for everyone. So when I see an opportunity to make the delivery of our work more streamlined, I let my clients know.

Recently, ML & CO. established a professional collaboration with designer Rex Eng at Public Good Social Marketing Communications ( We did it because it makes business sense for our clients. Now, when our clients come to ML & CO. looking for strategic, branded content like annual/CSR reports or websites, I team up with Rex to deliver a killer design strategy, while ML & CO. provides the overarching communications strategy, key messaging and content development work, like we’ve always done.

We’ve been experimenting with this concept since last February, and we’re finding that it’s way more productive to work together than at cross-purposes. ML & CO. also uses the same approach for branded video content, enlisting the talents of Steve Watts Media, to bring our communications strategies to life on social media.

So far, the clients we’ve tried this approach with seem to really appreciate our ‘think-like-a-client’ approach. It’s a one-stop-shop way of doing things, for sure, and it helps to tighten the revisions and approvals process.

But it’s also about looking at content and design as two sides of the same strategic coin, from the moment the creative brief is developed to the time the final product is delivered. It’s about keeping our eye on the brand at all times, whether it’s in words, in images, in fonts or in colours.

From my perspective, teamwork really should be the tide that lifts all boats. I think we’ve found a practical way to deliver on this.