Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Cannes Eye blog?

posted by Brendan Hodgson

I can indeed. But not here. And not for a the next few weeks.

Having been fortunate enough to be invited to join the H&K team in Cannes for this year’s Lions, you’ll likely find less of me here and more of me over at H&K’s Cannes Eye blog (at least until June 27th). In fact, I can guarantee it.

So while I won’t be far (at least not from a digital perspective)… I encourage you to join the discussion and share your thoughts. PR will be making its debut, and there are some pretty heavy sessions on tap. So expect me to be blogging and tweeting (and Yammering for any H&Kers reading) from sessions and panels, (and I hope) bars and beaches. In particular, I’ll be looking forward to hearing from Twitter’s own Biz Stone whose session is sponsored by H&K.

Regular programming will resume in July.

Expertise is over-rated. No matter. The “Experts” still have influence.

posted by Brendan Hodgson

So it would appear that the so-called “experts” don’t always live up to their name. In his recent New York Times column, Nicholas Kristof ponders the growing evidence that expertise is, in his words, over-rated. His proof: a study by University of California Professor Philip Tetlock which found that the predictions of experts were “on average, only a tiny bit better than random guesses – the equivalent of a chimpanzee throwing darts at a board.” Worse, as Kristof notes, the least accurate experts were often the most famous (he blames the media).

From a communications perspective, however, the more interesting finding presented by Kristof was one which found that when a president takes to the airwaves to pitch his case the public opinion meter barely registers. But when the “experts” make the same case, they are able to move public opinion by more than three percentage points, because (says Kristof) “they seem to be reliable or impartial authorities“.

Indeed, this point only reinforces one of the key tenets of public relations – that being the importance of securing respected, third-party endorsement of your product, position, or policy – meaning, it’s better to have others speak well about you than you speaking well about you.

So who cares if they get it right or not? Certainly, in the past, it was much more difficult to track the records of the pundits and prognosticators. In this world of digital permanence, however, the “market for ideas” as Kristof calls it, is far more transparent. Pundits can no longer simply hold up their successes and bury their failures. Kristof calls for a system to evaluate the experts. I would suggest that to some extent it already exists. Let’s call it Google. More importantly, it speaks directly to the importance of trust. If the so-called pundits can no longer be trusted, who else is there?

Ultimately, however, organizations need to be far more careful with respect to the subject matter experts they trot out to the media. Fancy titles are no longer sufficient if their scorecard shows a record of fewer wins than losses no matter how sensational their sound bites.

Who cares about the future of media? We should

posted by Brendan Hodgson

There is a real and serious debate taking place among media-types about the future of “professional” journalism in this 2.0 world. Declining readerships, the 24-second (vs 24-hour) news cycle, the rise of Twitter are – among others - challenging media to re-define their role in an increasingly inter-networked world. And this is only being further exacerbated by the current economic brouhaha. The debate is often visceral and it is not all about trying to save what once was. As Mathew argues in his recent (and certainly daring) post for the Nieman Journalism Lab, the bloodletting overwhelming many in the mainstream media may even, in fact, be a good thing.

As a PR practitioner, it’s an issue that we need to pay very close attention to, and yet I fear we’re not (too often our strategies remain fixated on traditional media at the expense of all else). From a brutally simplistic standpoint, and if the current maelstrom continues, it will certainly diminish the impact of our “media relations” efforts. Fewer publications or news broadcasts. Fewer journalists. Fewer stories. Lower quality stories. Fewer eyeballs. Minimal impact on public perception or behaviour. Simple. Or is it?

At the same time, and in addition to considering how a calorie-reduced mainstream media will impact what we do from a pure “media relations” perspective, it forces us to pay attention to what will emerge in place of these media, regardless of whether we define it as ‘mainstream journalism’, ‘citizen journalism’ or ‘personal media’.

It begs some interesting questions: Once released, where will these journalists end up, and in what capacity? Will they join the ranks of the millions of ‘amateur’ bloggers and simply blend into the noise?  Will there be concerted efforts to create a totally different model of reporting?  Or will this re-structuring simply result in an engorged army of ‘professional’ freelancers feeding into massively scaled-down versions of what were once mighty media behemoths? Will the concept of a hyper-local media finally get off the ground in a meaningful capacity?

The answers matter. Because they could easily change (as social media already has in many respects) how we shape our strategies for reaching and influencing the people our clients care about. How does a business, government department, or not-for-profit communicate its message in a world where all media is becoming inherently personal, and where traditional filters are virtually nonexistant?

Terry Heaton speaks of the ‘personal media revolution’ in his recent post on Malia Obama filming the inauguration, and how our individual perspectives of the world are being re-shaped by the collision of personal and traditional media content.

“…it’s important to acknowledge that our view of such things is shaped by what we’re saying to each other in addition to what the people on TV are saying. This is the leading edge of the personal media revolution, and we’re increasingly seeing the mainstream press working with the people formerly known as the audience to help form the “official” record of the day. This is a good thing, and I think everybody agrees.”

It is a good thing. Now what the public relations industry needs to do is figure out what it means. Our business depends on it.

Global marketing opportunity for Canadian associations to take it digital

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Calling all Canadian associations with a need to communicate globally on behalf of their membership. The Canadian Government is offering up to $150,000 to help you make some noise and build relationships in the regions important to you. You need to move fast, however. The application deadline is Jan. 19, 2009.

The fine print: Global Opportunities for Associations (GOA), formerly the Program for Export Market Development – Associations (PEMD-A), provides contribution funding to support national associations undertaking new or expanded international business development activities, in strategic markets and sectors, for the benefit of an entire industry (member and non-member firms).

Annual non-repayable contributions range from a minimum of $20,000 to a maximum of $150,000 and agreements are made for a one-year period from April 1 to March 31. GOA provides matching funds of up to 50% of eligible expenses.

From an H&K digital perspective, this is a compelling proposition for national associations to exploit emerging high value / low cost opportunities in the area of online marketing – specifically, social media. In recent years, traditional websites have become increasingly ill-prepared to cope with the risks and opportunities that have emerged as a result of this transformation.

Today, however, new opportunities exist to reach beyond your existing online presence and amplify your messages directly to the growing ranks of influencers, advocates, legislators and partners that are now actively engaged in the online space. Equally important, the relevance of social media as a powerful AND cost-effective marketing platform will only increase as more influencers look to lever the web to cultivate relationships, debate issues, and engage advocates in two-way conversations. Listening and participating within these discussions will be vital, as will be the need for a clear strategy for knowing when and how to respond to supporters and detractors alike.

You can’t win if you don’t enter, so get your application in today (note that you’ll need to register for a Virtual Trade Commissioner account – if you don’t already have one). Not sure where to start? Just be sure that whomever you engage to help you formulate your strategy understands the business culture and sensibilities of the regions you’re reaching out to. As HSBC extols in its (always entertaining) advertising campaigns, “the more you look at the world, the more you recognize that people have different ideas about what’s important.”

And in this age of unprecedented transparency and connectivity, that’s more important than ever.

Social Media & Risk Management – Questions we should be asking

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Amid yesterday’s dumping of snow and threat of a transit union strike (now fully realized), I presented to a conference on government and social media. The topic of the conference was internal communications. The focus of my presentation was the changing role of employees as brand and reputation guardians.

Having done this presentation, or variations thereof, on several occasions, a few thoughts have begun to crystalize, including this one:

Too often at conferences where social media is discussed, the focus skews heavily towards the ‘opportunities’ – as rightly it should. They are signficant and, I believe, still underestimated. Where we let down our clients, however, is in helping them manage the risks – posed by getting it wrong (and the examples are legion, and growing every day), posed by lack of understanding of the dynamics of this emerging space, and the behaviors of those who should be, and generally are, an organization’s greatest asset.

Granted, many will say that by focusing on the risks, you’re viewing social media from a cup half-empty perspective. The real risk, you might say, is not participating at all, or ignoring social media in its entirety. And you’d be right, kind of.

But risk management is important. When you manage risk appropriately, you build confidence that when, or if, your reputation comes under scrutiny – for whatever reason – you can get through it and, more importantly, not walk away from it. And when you have the right processes in place that allow you to guide the behaviors of employees (without placing undue restriction), to listen and know when and how to react, and to understand the variables that drive an issue into the ground or into the stratosphere, you are better positioned to build a more realistic case for social media adoption versus simply focusing on the virtues of the space.

The first question that I typically hear from executives is ’so what?’. The second is ‘what happens if it goes wrong?’. Both questions are important. And both deserve equal levels of consideration. They should spur additional questions, many that I’ve shared previously:

  • Are you, in fact, listening to the conversations you didn’t start yourselves?
  • Do you have the right tools and processes in place to effectively analyze and appropriately respond?
  • Are your employees equipped with the appropriate knowledge to guide their social media behavior?
  • Are other functional areas – IT, HR, and legal – aligned with the new dynamics of social media?
  • Do executives and senior managers understand how this will change the way communicators respond when things go bad?

We do our clients a disservice by avoiding conversations around risk.  But in the same way we often ‘hype’ the opportunity, to focus on it too heavily could be equally damaging. A balance exists.

Perception & reputation in a world without context

posted by Brendan Hodgson

It’s been a busy week in the reputation management space, what with Motrin Moms, the Big Three and their personal jets, and more recently, Sarah Palin down on the farm. The question that I, and others, have asked, however, is whether some or all of it has been much ado about nothing.

The Motrin debacle is a clear example of an organization knee-capped by an increasingly vocal and visible (and some might say, militant) constituency. No matter if you considered the ad offensive or not, it highlighted the challenges facing organizations in the era of social media, and the importance of both listening and having in place the mechanisms to support rapid response.

Given the current hubbub, one might imagine that Motrin’s reputation had been irreparably damaged. I would posit, however, that this is simply another example of the echo-chamber effect, and an issue blown out of reasonable proportion in a world increasingly bereft of context. Arguably, the ad was poorly-conceived and showed that the company had not fully considered its target audience. Did the company act responsibly by removing the ad and apologizing? Absolutely. It was the right thing to do. And yet, in reading a number of posts from various experts in the social media space, you would think the brand, despite all the steps taken to correct the issue, was now permanently tainted.

Add some perspective, however, and it would seem otherwise. Unlike the Kryptonite lock issue or “Dell Hell” or more recent product and food recalls, the product itself was not at issue (nor, as in the case of Dell, the ’services’ around it). Nor was the ad deceptive or unethical. People were not dying or falling ill because of it, or losing money or their jobs (other than perhaps at the ad firm), or being swindled or misled. It was an advertisement to which a group of individuals (albeit not everyone within that group, it should be added) took offense.

Which then begs the question: When perspective is added, what response is appropriate and reasonable? Does it make sense, as some have suggested, to try to respond to the hundreds, if not thousands of individuals, who blogged or tweeted their outrage?& On the other hand, by removing the ad, could it be said that the company perhaps over-reacted to what might be viewed as a vocal albeit highly inter-connected minority (personally, I don’t think so)? If not, what more might they reasonably do other than replace the ad with an apology and move on? Or did the act of removing the ad sufficiently demonstrate their acknowledgment of their mistake and their determination to correct it?

Could the same be said of the automakers and their corporate jets? With thousands of jobs at risk, the “ill-timed display of corporate excess” according to the Washington Post, could be viewed as a potentially greater threat to corporate reputation than that facing the makers of Motrin. Optically, the contradiction between right and wrong is that much more acute. It reinforced a growing media portrayal of an industry that only has itself to blame for its current woes. And, unlike Motrin, the consequences could be significant and long-lasting.

Ultimately, I don’t see the Motrin brand suffering permanent or long-term damage as a result of this brief firestorm. I do see the company realizing the importance of listening to the social media space and having mechanisms in place to respond in a timely manner. Most importantly, I hope that the company does not use this incident as an excuse to walk away from social media.

Monitoring, measurement and all manner of metric-y madness – Third Tuesday is back

posted by Brendan Hodgson

In the arena of social media, there are many who claim to do monitoring and measurement equally well. Much has been written, and various tools and methodologies have been flogged to the masses.  I would argue, however, that few have yet proven themselves to deliver the right blend of high-quality (read spam-free) data and relevant metrics that enable meaningful measurement based on a framework that is flexible to the needs of individual clients and their campaigns.

So let’s throw down the gauntlet, shall we? On November 26, two of Canada’s more high profile firms who specialize in social media monitoring (among other things) will be in Ottawa for the latest rev of Third Tuesday – all details to be found here.

Ripped directly from the Third Tuesday Meetup page: Chris Johnson, President of dna13, Craig Comeau from Radian6 and Parker Mason from CNW Group will lead a discussion on the convergence of new media with the old stuff, and the value of a proper measurement program in tough times. Using examples drawn from well known companies and organizations in multiple sectors, learn about the secret sauce when it comes to making the case for new social media and PR software tools so as to link your communications programs to the achievement of your organization’s objectives.

Sadly, I will be travelling back to Ottawa that evening. As such, I will be looking to my colleagues and others to provide a play-by-play of the night’s commentary. 

Predictors, Media Deceptions, and Facebook Firings… what a month!

posted by Brendan Hodgson

It’s a mad, mad world out there, what with the historic events that have recently transpired (U.S. elections) or continue to transpire even as I write (financial meltdowns). But a few things are deserving of mention, if only because they’ve raised my eyebrows, or because they’re something in which we’ve been involved, including:

  • No rest for the weary. Not even a month after one election is done, and the 2008 federal election predictor put to bed for another year at least, than we’re back with a fully-loaded, francophone-only version for the provincial election campaign now underway in Quebec. Packed with all the usual predictor-y goodness, you don’t need to speak french to give it a whirl – so have at, and congratulations to our HKDP brethren in Quebec for supporting the predictor for another round.
  • If the media can’t be trusted to root out the big deceptions, who can? Bloggers? But can you even trust them anymore? As Dan Mirvish, one of a pair of filmmakers behind an internet hoax that fooled even the most august media outlets, articulates so appropriately about the current state of the media during hot issues or crises: “With the 24-hour news cycle they rush into anything they can find.”

    The problem being that virtually anyone can set up a similar hoax during the heat of a crisis or campaign. Consider the ingredients, as set forth by the Times: “Martin Eisenstadt doesn’t exist. His blog does, but it’s a put-on. The think tank where he is a senior fellow — the Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy — is just a Web site. The TV clips of him on YouTube are fakes.”

    Not only did the hoax fool the folks at MSNBC, who were quick to acknowledge their mistake, the hoax also took in The New Republic, Fox and The Los Angeles Times. Of course, bloggers, who are meant to be the new media watchdogs, also did not emerge unscathed: “…most of Eisenstadt’s victims have been bloggers, a reflection of the sloppy speed at which any tidbit, no matter how specious, can bounce around the Internet. And they fell for the fake material despite ample warnings online about Eisenstadt, including the work of one blogger who spent months chasing the illusion around cyberspace, trying to debunk it.”

  • In the words of Pete Seeger, when will they ever learn… when will they ever learn? Hard to say who’s to blame here or here… Is it the employees for not considering the implications of their actions, or the airlines for not educating their staff (many who are of the digitally native vintage) or providing appropriate guidelines for social media usage.

    Andy Lark, who notes that it was “Virgin that sponsored the Delta Airlines blogger that was fired for inappropriate behavior”, makes an interesting point over at his blog, suggesting that with the right coaching, the issues raised by employees could still be raised but under circumstances that would be more beneficial to all involved – passengers included. What that requires, however, is a much clearer understanding across a variety of fronts – HR, legal, communications, and executive management – of the risks and opportunities posed by social media both inside and outside the enterprise.

Truth and Technology…

posted by Brendan Hodgson

I love it. And I’m going to steal it. 

Reading the Economist while sitting in a doctor’s office, I came across this quote which in my mind captures perfectly the impact of social media on traditional corporate (and government) bureaucracy — specifically their increasingly impotent and ineffective approaches to communications:

“Truth and technology will triumph over bullsh*t and bureaucracy.”

The quote is attributed to Rene Anselmo, founder of PanAmSat, an interesting individual in his own right. 

I am a Canadian…

posted by Brendan Hodgson

I was not around in 1960 when these words were first spoken. But as we head to the polls once again, they remain as relevant and synonymous to Canada (and our society) now as Molson’s more recent, lighthearted (and perhaps more famous) take on Canadian culture – video embedded below. 

I am a Canadian,
free to speak without fear,
free to worship in my own way,
free to stand for what I think right,
free to oppose what I believe wrong,
or free to choose those
who shall govern my country.
This heritage of freedom
I pledge to uphold
for myself and all mankind.”