Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The political attack ad as a model for digital discourse…

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Forget about public amateur slagging matches via blog posts… this should be the new model for reputation mud-slinging and other forms of intellectual (and not so) verbal ejaculate and self-indulgent puffery… A much more creative and civilized approach, don’t you think?

(courtesy of neatorama)


Understanding hearts and minds is at the heart of social media

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Not to flog a dead horse until it’s deader still (grammar cops, back off!), but I’m going to pick up on a topic that my fellow Ottawan and social media evangelist Joe Thornley touched on yesterday, and which has been circulating through the PR blogosphere for a while now.

I agree with Joe and Shel and others that “ownership” of social media is a nebulous concept at best and, to Joe’s eloquent point, will be ”owned” by the individuals who “who have the imagination and intelligence to explore and understand social media’s potential” regardless of their discipline (I have stated as much in recent heated debates). Likewise, I share Joe’s position that social media speaks to many of the skills that forward-thinking PR practitioners inherently understand or, at least, should understand – including deep knowledge of the audiences we need to reach and engage.

But it begs the question: simply because our segment of the communications industry has the terms “public” and “relations” as its moniker, does it automatically make us experts in understanding these communities, and how best to engage them? Have we as PR practitioners truly developed these skills and do we fully understand this changing dynamic?

Sure, we claim to understand the media environment. But as the noted historian and critic, Jacques Barzun, once put it: “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game — and do it by watching first some high school or small-town teams.”

It is that depth of understanding that is essential to the appropriate application of social media.

And that is the challenge that not only our industry, but any communications discipline, now faces as we seek to extend our offering into the social media space. Understanding the technology implications of social media is not enough. It also requires deep understanding of the communities we hope to engage through social media, and the “rules” and “realities” by which they play.

There are agencies out there that get this – PR and otherwise. It’s why we’ve hired experts in specific fields that understand (because they’ve been – and still are – active participants in these communities) the unique perspectives of specific communities – be they of “interest” or “geography, and why we rely so heavily on our knowledge management and research teams to shed ever more light on the perspectives that unite and drive these communities. It is a strategy that speaks to the increasing importance of direct-to-stakeholder engagement – which is at the heart of social media. And it’s why David, myself and the digital team work extremely closely with these experts to ensure our counsel reflects these unique perspectives.

As we look to engage directly with stakeholders using social media – particularly those communities that already exist online – we must, as Joe puts it, “escape the shackles of media relations”. However, we must do this by not only joining and contributing to communities of interest, but knowing the “hearts and minds” of those audiences we need to reach.

Privacy be damned… The Canuckflack bares all!

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Third Tuesday Ottawa is nearly upon us (next Monday, that is) and while I won’t be able to attend (as I’ll be back in Calgary), I think the rest of you should… because, well, it features Colin…arguably Canada’s most prolific blogger on issues related to communications, government and the afterlife of a high school preppie (if, of course, I’ve interpreted it right).

Perhaps most interesting, is how Colin continues to tweak the proverbial nipple of government (through his day job as well as his alter-blog), encouraging them to push forward on embracing digital and social media tools, and – best of all – making some good headway on the part of his current employer… including blogging and, more recently, in the use of video.

So, as per the usual, we encourage you to register early and often so that the venue can staff appropriately (and you won’t have to wait as long for your drink)… oh, and remember, it’s FREE.

Former Police Chief Joins H&K’s Crisis Team

posted by Brendan Hodgson

So let’s throw a few stakes into the ground for this post… the first being that the business of PR is no longer synonymous with media relations. The second being that the business of crisis communications is no longer synonymous with media relations.

Like I said just a few days ago, the media is still a critical part of our business - in terms of reach and influence – and must be viewed as such. But more and more, and particularly during times of crisis, an organization’s ability to directly communicate its messages to its most important audiences can no longer be viewed as a mere afterthought, nor distributed solely through a filtered media. And this includes – in addition to employees, customers, and communities – regulators, law enforcement and emergency services, and other government departments and agencies that will be looked to as both partner, and – in all likelihood – as the “higher authority” when a crisis hits.

Which means recognizing the vital role that these and other external agencies and government departments play in managing that crisis, and the importance of close partnership with these agencies as it relates to communications.

Which is why the addition of Dr. Gary Ellis, former Toronto Police Superintendent, to our crisis team is, from our perspective, a milestone event in the way PR firms work with clients in the area of crisis communications and crisis management. As outlined in H&K’s recent announcement, Dr. Ellis will help manage emergencies and prepare corporate clients and government agencies for a potential crisis, ensuring they are able to successfully respond to unforeseen events. 

Why does this matter? In the words of Jo-Anne Polak, H&K Canada’s National Crisis Practice Leader, “Looking at recent crises in North America – whether Hurricane Katrina, shootings at Virginia Tech, or the capture of possible terrorists in Toronto – the public response and communications during these events has been handled by law enforcement officials – and extends beyond media relations into true stakeholder outreach. Dr. Ellis brings to Hill & Knowlton a tactical knowledge of how to organize and coordinate a response during an emergency, as well as to incorporate the concerns of a broad range of stakeholder groups.” 

Combined with our aggressive focus on digital and crisis in a Web 2.0 world, the addition of Gary to the crisis team is something I’m pretty excited about. Welcome aboard, Gary!  

If October is an example of things to come… buckle up!

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Not that 2007 hasn’t been a pretty wild year overall… October is turning out to be particularly heavy and the thought of vacation in December is already looking exceedingly attractive.

This month, H&K’s election predictor worked it’s magic again and provided an (oddly, or not) accurate outcome of the Ontario election based on the final percentages of popular vote. You can find out more in our election predictor blog. Of course, no rest for the weary here as we consider the potential of a federal election in the near future which will require us to, once again, fire up the predictor engine on a national basis.

Likewise, we’ve been helping Labatt join the exclusive but growing ranks of corporate blogs with the launch of their “Labatt Life” blog. Highly targeted, the blog is intended to provided prospective recruits of their management trainee program with a behind-the-scenes look at life working with one of Canada’s most recognized brands. I’ll be blogging about this in greater depth later.

Lastly, H&K Canada’s digital team have been enjoying the sunshine in Scottsdale, Arizona over the past few days learning about what our global colleagues are doing elsewhere in the digital sphere. You can read about what the digital crew have been up to over at Niall’s blog here.

And while this might not be all the news that’s fit to print (and there’ll be more juicy gossip to follow soon), I’m pretty much ready for a holiday… oh, wait a minute, I think I just had one.

Views from the mothership: Mom-blogger gives her perspectives on PR & Marketing

posted by Brendan Hodgson

I’ve been debating whether or not the next Ottawa Third Tuesday social media meetup deserves promotion, given that the star attraction for October is the catalyst behind my first loss at Scrabulous, and that she somehow feels she can get away with misspelling words like “lable” (Challenge!!!!)… but I guess, as a co-organizor, I don’t have much choice (he says with tongue entrenched firmly in cheek)…

Kidding aside, this is an event that folks interested in understanding the blogger-side view of being pitched by marketers in ways good, bad and ugly should not miss.

Danielle Donders (or Danigirl, as she’s known) is the author of a very popular blog “Postcards from the Mothership“. Given that she’s a mom, and that she blogs about being one, she also falls (like it or not) into that category increasingly attractive to marketers - the mom bloggers – and as a result is the recipient of many pitches, some that she’s found interesting and others less so, even from H&K. (Disclosure: Dani was a recipient of a Motorola KRZR as part of the now-concluded KRZRbloggers program).

So if you want to know what works and what doesn’t (at least for Dani), and get a behind-the-scenes peek at life as a prominent blogger (and the baggage that comes with it)… here’s the deets:

When? Monday, Oct 15, 2007, 6:00 PM

Where? Patty Bolands Irish Carvery & Pub,
             101 Clarence Street, Ottawa 

RSVP limit: Only 80 members (including guests) can RSVP ‘Yes’ or ‘Maybe’ for this Meetup.  

What’s in store for 2008?

posted by Brendan Hodgson

It’s business planning time at H&K Canada (Wooo… spreadsheets!). Although, and all joking aside, 2008 looks like it’s shaping up to be a banner year for digital (he says slapping a big Jinx on his forehead).

Without question, there’s clear momentum and things going on – billable or on the new business front – across virtually every office. What’s more, it’s become abundantly clear that when armed with the right ideas and the means to think creatively, we’re getting business that we might not have identified, or even pitched for, a year ago. To me, that speaks to a couple of things, the most important being that evangelism to the point of risking bodily harm does work, and that sustained support from the top is critical.

And while the PR straight-jacket has definitely been loosened, there’s probably a lot more we can do. Which is why the senior mucky-mucks this year surprised even me with their enthusiasm behind the notion of creating a business-planning wiki through which to solicit ideas and input from across all regions and ranks of the company. To badly paraphrase “We are the World”, the younger generation are our – meaning, the PR business’ - future, and their thoughts on how communications is changing, and will change, is vital.

Notwithstanding the few who felt a tad nervous being so open in sharing their thoughts, particularly if those thoughts were contrary to those who signed their paychecks, it’s been an interesting and, I’d suggest, relatively successful first foray into the wiki-space. We can certainly do better, and I’m looking forward to next year when perhaps we’ll all be more comfortable getting more than just our feet wet or watching from the sidelines.

Several things that have me excited for 2008:

  1. The prospect of making a “big” hire that’ll clearly establish H&K Canada front and centre on the digital/social media map (finger’s crossed).
  2. A bunch of minority governments going to the polls so that we can get down and dirty with H&K’s highly successful election predictor franchise.
  3. Finding clients who want to partner on bringing to life cool ideas like Barrick Gold’s recently announced “Unlock the Value” campaign (and, in case I’m not being clear, Barrick is not currently a client)… a campaign that could transform both the nature of their business, and the nature of their relationships with key stakeholders.
  4. Continued success in helping organizations understand the changing communications landscape… Case in point, I’m in Montreal today providing a half-day training session to a group of companies that are looking for new and innovative ways to connect with customers.
  5. Engaging with more clients who recognize the importance of tightly integrating digital into their crisis preparedness programs
  6. Continuing to find and encourage internal champions to see that their future success is going to be tied ever closer to their understanding of the digital environment…
  7. And, as Mike Manuel, so eloquently (yet directly) put it: “If you think you’re the social media master of the universe. High five, stop blogging about it and go show the world how it’s done.”

H&K launches Ontario Election Predictor… traditional and Facebook flavoured

posted by Brendan Hodgson

I asked the question a few weeks ago: What’s an election without an election predictor?

And with the Ontario election campaign officially getting underway today, so too have we launched the Ontario Election Predictor (with some new and exciting special sauce. So read on).

As with previous versions, we continue to add some bits and pieces to give it more of a social flavour. This includes:

  • The ability to blog your prediction
  • A blog hosted by my colleague and fellow blogger, Meghan, who will provide regular updates on the campaign trail and how digital and social media is being used (or abused).
  • A Google Mapping function so that you can showcase your predicting skills and see those of others (simply register and save a prediction)
  • Finally, and perhaps most interesting from this practitioners perspective, we’re giving users the choice of platform to save and share their predictions: from the site itself or from a rather novel mash-up with Facebook (click here to access the Predictor App). 

We hope that we have the right ingredients and, as always, the right formula, to build on past successes. Granted the re-distribution of ridings did add a degree of complexity, so we can only hope the algorithm can withstand all the messiness that created (here’s how we dealt with it). Don’t hesitate to send us any thoughts and recommendations.

So, once again, into the breach! Now we just need to figure out what we can do to up our game for the next Federal election – Fantasy Politics anyone? Bueller?


Petro-Canada, Pump Talk and Corporate Blogging in Canada

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Last Friday, fellow Canadian blogger Kate Trgovac posted on Petro-Canada’s latest foray into the social media space with “Pump Talk“, a corporate blog dedicated to issues around gas pricing and fuel efficiency. (Disclosure: Petro-Canada is an H&K Canada client on this and other initiatives… meaning, I may sound a tad biased, though I’ll do my best to curb it).

I won’t re-hash what Kate so eloquently stated in her post, other than to reinforce her points about the importance of acknowledging the people behind the blog (each of whom I’ve met and – in Jon and Michael’s case – have worked with previously), and of not underestimating the challenges associated with making an initiative such as this a reality, particularly within the context of a large, publicly-traded company. And that speaks not only to the passion of Jon and his team to champion this approach, but also to the willingness of Petro-Canada’s senior executive team who elected to step beyond their traditional comfort zone and try something different. As it stands, and with the exception of Chevron’s “Will you join us” campaign, I’ve not yet seen a similar exercise here in Canada or elsewhere within the oil and gas space (though happy to be shown otherwise).

In my view, part of what makes this exercise truly fascinating is its commitment, compared to most other corporate blogs, to provide content in both of Canada’s official languages. As it did with its original Pump Talk video series (launched on its website and on Youtube in 2006), Petro-Canada has essentially created two blogs – Pump Talk and Pleins-gaz. For the most part, content will be shared across both. As always, however, the challenge is most acute as it relates to linking to third-party content. As their language policy states: “We will search for links to third-party content in both official languages, however, in cases where materials are only available in one language, we will err on the side of providing quality information to users of the blog and provide a link.”  Not the most perfect solution, perhaps, but the most practical by far.

Equally interesting, and contrary to its blog posts, Petro-Canada has elected not to translate comments to the site in order to “respect the original intent of comments made on the blogs”. Some might wonder how such a decision might impact the “flow” of the conversation. Likewise, it’ll be interesting to see if such a policy also impacts the “immediacy” of the blog – given the time required to translate posts – particularly during times when the issue is front-and-center in the mainstream media (usually when gas prices and emotions are both spiking).

Petro-Canada’s publication of an employee comment policy as it relates to the blog is also a fascinating (yet, I would suggest, essential) exercise, one that underscores the increasing “voice” of the employee – no matter who they are or what they’re role – in the social media space, and the need for organizations to set clear expectations as it relates to such participation.

What do you think? Are Petro-Canada’s policies too hot, too cold, or just right? Have they missed anything, or is it simply too early to tell?

As with other corporate blogs, the proof will, in large part, be driven by Petro-Canada’s ability to create and sustain a meaningful dialog around these topics, and in their ability to respond appropriately to those who will undoubtedly question the motives behind such an exercise.

In the meantime, congratulations to Kate and her team, and to Jon, Sneh, Mike and Corinn for stick-handling this truly innovative initiative. And while getting it to where it is today may have seemed like hard work, I’m thinking there’ll be even more interesting days ahead. 

New sophistication adds new layers to the social media onion

posted by Brendan Hodgson

If judged only by my travel and speaking schedule for the fall, I would suggest that the desire to learn more about the social web – the opportunities and the risks – is gathering speed across corporate Canada. Equally interesting, however, is the various contexts within which I will be speaking, and which highlights the increasing sophistication of how social media is (and should) be used, and the emerging niche applications and impacts of social media (and therefore communications) across different industries and organizational functions. Examples of the topics I’ll be speaking to over the next few months include:

  • On crisis and social media as it relates to disaster preparedness and recovery
  • On social media and corporate reputation management (specific to issues management and community relations)
  • On the risks and opportunities of social media on a key manufacturing sector
  • On strategies corporations can use to help employees navigate the good and bad of social media
  • On citizen engagement and social media
  • On labour relations / employee communications and social media

And while telling people what not to do is generally easy, the challenge is always coming up with “best practices” within these niche areas, particularly given that broadbased corporate adoption has yet to truly catch on (despite the efforts of a select few) and that this space is constantly in a state of flux. While some are obvious, others are less so. Luckily, the blogging community has been generous in sharing its own insights and case studies (e.g. Southwest Airlines, Vancity, Scotiabank, etc.). In addition, we’ve got a few programs now under our own belt that provide useful first-person insights into such areas as Facebook applications, blogger relations, and niche applications (such as our election predictors and other consumer-driven programs). 

And yet, much of what we base our assumptions upon is the shared wisdom of myriad social media experts who, smart as they are, are for the most part in the same boat as the rest of us – simply trying to keep up. And that’s what makes this area so exciting: the constant evolution that is taking place, what with new applications emerging almost daily, new models that are challenging the mainstream (Google’s latest deal with the wire services being yet the latest), and the changing perceptions and expectations of the general public as they become more comfortable with, and more reliant upon, these technologies. We can only hope to keep pace with it all.