A modern day book tour

12 October 2007

By: Mary Warner

I should probably begin this blog and come clean that I am a HUGE Douglas Coupland fan. I love everything he does. With that being said, it is no surprise that I really like how he has decided to promote his new book. But I swear that I would love this promotional strategy even if it wasn’t Coupland.

With that out of the way, a little background on the author. Douglas Coupland is Canadian. He rose to fame with Generation X and has been credited with coining the term. He has written many amazing novels including some from my personal must-read list such as Miss Wyoming, Microserfs and the non-fiction Souvenir of Canada. But Douglas has branched out into other art forms such as film, photography and art installations. His most recent novel JPod has been adapted for the small screen and will debut on CBC this January. Check your local listings! I think it’s going to be hilarious.

But Coupland hasn’t just expanded into traditional media, he has also become quite involved in the social media space. Coupland has a blog on the New York Times website but it’s his promotional campaign for his newest novel The Gum Thief that is the most interesting.

Traditionally authors go on book tours to promote their new books. This entails cross-continent trips with readings and autograph sessions. I have been to a few book readings in my time and I think it’s great to see an author read their own work. I love the simple, organic idea of the whole thing. But at the same time, it’s great to see something new.

A few years ago Margaret Atwood invented the autograph machine where she could sign books all over the world from the comfort of her home. It was a two-way video hookup with a robotic pen arm. She could make a personal inscription from wherever she happened to be and the robotic pen would re-create it in a fan’s book in real time.
Although Atwood was innovative, I like Coupland’s plan a lot better. He has launched a series of online videos on YouTube to promote The Gum Thief. According to Marketing Magazine:

The series includes nine short online videos, which are grouped into three segments. The first segment of three episodes introduces Roger, the main character, a 40-year-old man whose life has collapsed due to a divorce, social and financial problems. The second series introduces the other main character, Bethany, while the third features video excerpts from “The Glove Pond,” a novel-within-the-novel written by Roger’s character.

These films created huge buzz for the book before it was even released. It’s an inside scoop. It also allows Coupland to use his talent for different art forms and media and exposes his book reading audience to his other skills.

Books have so far avoided the onslaught of technological advancements. It seems that very few want to read a digital book or scroll through an entire novel on their computer screen. But Coupland has managed to put a modern twist on the novel but incorporating new media while not compromising the old fashion quality of snuggling up with a good read. Mixing the old with the new, the nostalgic with the innovative – a great strategy for communicating in the new media environment.

Mary Warner is an Assistant Consultant in the Technology Communications Practice at H&K Toronto.


Tune in: new radio listening behavioral data

26 September 2007

By: Ian Barr

With an abundance of advancements in radio technology to enhance a listener’s user experience, marketers everywhere are questioning who is listening via what medium, wondering how often they’re tuning in and speculating that traditional AM/FM radio listeners are moving online.

It’s amazing when you think about the vast reach that radio has achieved and the available listening options. There’s online (programming rebroadcast on the Internet or exclusive Web-only broadcasting), traditional AM/FM, satellite, podcasts (audio programming available for download) and HD (high definition radio programming).

How do the different formats compare to one another and is one winning the battle? Is there really a radio war taking place amongst the different formats or are they complimentary to one another, targeting different user groups?
Thankfully, Arbitron and Edison Media Research just released a U.S. survey that provides some interesting findings:

  • Weekly online radio audiences remained steady over the past year
  • Awareness of both satellite radio companies has remained flat at 60% in the U.S.; however, the average household income is typically $100,000.00 so it’s appealing to an affluent market.  (Interesting to note that radio shock jock Howard Stern had a huge impact on increasing awareness for Sirius. Where will the next ‘Stern-like’ announcement come from and will HD take that approach?)
  • Fewer than 1 in 10 portable music player owners report less over-the-air radio listening, so radio isn’t affected by all those iPODs
  • Awareness of audio podcasting is up, but usage only grew 2% year over year (rose from 11-13%). More than half of those who have listened to an audio podcast are under 35 years of age
  • HD radio awareness has increased from 14-26% but only 6% said they were ‘very interested’ in it. Interestingly, the CBC has been testing HD radio in Canada (report found here).
  • 94% of those surveyed who are 12 years of age and older report listening to AM/FM radio on a weekly basis


Ian Barr is an account director with H&K Toronto’s technology practice.

Wanted: Posthumous PR Practitioner

25 September 2007

By: Lorraine Doherty

“Do not speak ill of the dead.”

It is one of the few universal warnings passed down through generations able to span geographies, cultures and religions. But in today’s celebrity obsessed, image conscious reality, this once strong taboo is shifting from unspeakable status to front page fodder.

Consider former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s attacks on deceased rival Pierre Elliott Trudeau (also a former PM). While Mulroney’s is entitled to his opinions, his comments smacked of tacky opportunism to drum up interest in his new book. Even though Mr. Trudeau probably had an equally low opinion of Mr. Mulroney, it still did little to dispel the feeling that Mulroney’s words were taboo. Rather than damage Trudeau’s image, Mulroney cast himself into the role of hypocrite by speaking ill of a man whose funeral Mulroney himself attended on October 3, 2000. 

Which raises the question, what are the rights of the dead? Granted there are volumes of legal tort devoted to deciding property and possessions. But there is still great debate in the area of posthumous right of publicity and defamation claims. Unlike Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley, few family survivors have the time or resources to vigorously defend or promote a public image posthumously. Even the media battle-capable Trudeau’s heirs decided silence was the appropriate defense to Mulroney’s attack.

At least Mulroney waited seven years after Trudeau’s death to speak.  But the window for taboo breaking is shortening.  Body Shop founder Anita Roddick died on September 10, 2007.  A mere eleven days later, the National Post ran a two-page attack on Roddick by Jon Entine, columnist and board member for Ethical Corporation magazine.

No longer can the dead rest in peace shrouded by the strong social prohibitions decreed by ancient Greek philosophers.  Instead, prudent estate planning in the 21st century may need to include a posthumous image campaign.

Lorraine Doherty is a Vice President with the Technology Communications Practice in H&K Toronto.

1 “Do not speak ill of the dead.” The Seven Sages, (Bias, Chilon, Cleobulus, Periander, Pittacus,Solon, Thales) c. 650 – c. 550 BC, From Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, bk. I, sec. 70 (650 BC – 550 BC)

Cute and cuddly 2.0

04 September 2007

By: Monta Johnson

I have been suddenly catapulted in to the world of Webkinz, and what a fascinating world it is.

Webkinz manufacturer Ganz has this social networking thing figured out and they’re doing a better job than most of the grown-up versions I’ve seen. Here’s how it works: you buy a fluffy little stuffed animal; I paid $12.95 to buy Sammy for my youngster. Then you go to www.webkinz.com where you register – first name only, which is reassuring for parents – and you get an adoption certificate for your little pet, along with a set amount of KinzCash.

You can use your KinzCash to buy all kinds of things for your pet in the W Shop – everything from furniture to room décor to food and even clothing and toys, all virtual of course. And when the money runs out, you can earn more by playing one of the games available on the site.

Detractors say that it’s not a good idea to suck kids in to such an addictive online world – and it definitely is addictive. I look at it another way: from what I’ve seen so far, Webkinz is concerned with safety first, and it also promotes reading, problem-solving, math skills, and independent decision-making (Would Sammy prefer a pirate bed or a comfy new chair? Should I feed him an apple or an ice-cream cone?), complete with consequences (hmmm… too many ice-cream cones and all of a sudden Sammy’s health rating is dropping like a stone). If the kids are going to spend some time starting at a screen every now and then, I’d much prefer an interactive learning experience than the one-way medium that is T.V.

Blogger Dan Blank raises some interesting points about what Webkinz means for the future of media consumption. He says:

“Will a younger generation, one who is raised on “interactive” toys, “interactive” communities (such as MySpace and Facebook), and interactive communications (cell phones, texting, instant messanger) have different expectations for their news and information sources when they get older?

“The interesting aspect of digitization is not just how people access and use the information – but how they network with others and create their own content. In the case of Webkinz, the manufacturer fully understands the value of buying a real-world object, and giving the child something that they can hug.

But it doesn’t just stop there. How much more profitable is a customer who doesn’t simply purchase a product – but one who logs onto a brand’s website everyday to interact with that product, and build relationships with other customers? Is the plush animal simply a gimmick to build an online community?

The online version of Sammy is getting lonely at my house this summer – while the plush version has traveled more than 2,000 km on a family vacation, been to the park countless times, hung out in the backyard tree fort, and played with other Webkinz at friends’ houses.

When fall comes, though, and the kids are spending more time indoors, the online version of Sammy will still be there, making it more likely that the Webkinz connection will quickly be rekindled. And that’s the truly brilliant part of the Webkinz concept. The toy keeps the link to the online community from fading and encourages kids to visit Webkinz World rather than any other child-centric site. The combination of the real-world toy, the virtual world environment they can decorate and change, and the need to keep spending time at Webkinz.com to get virtual cash to do that decorating creates a long-lasting online/offline experience. And it’s all tied together by a stuffed animal that costs the company little to manufacture, brings in its own revenue stream (I know of kids who have three or more, each with its own identity), and gives children something to play with when they aren’t surfing. Ganz has found a way to blend the online and offline social world and generate revenue, while making parents feel good about the privacy and educational aspects. True marketing smarts. I wish I’d thought of it.

Monta Johnson is a Vice President in the Technology Communications Practice at H&K Toronto.

If you call, will I answer?

13 July 2007

By: Terra Pobuda

How can you be reached? Communications preferences are at the heart of an article posted on NYTimes.com today. It is a fascinating piece and I encourage everyone to check it out. The article discusses the many ways in which people are choosing to communicate given the myriad devices we have at our disposal. The article also contends that these preferences are symptomatic of a “my way or the highway” trend that’s sweeping across society (the author’s Starbuck’s example is spot-on, and in my opinion, proof-positive).

So, are you a cell-phone fanatic? Does your PDA never leave your grasp and your replies lightning-fast? Do you prefer email and rarely answer your desk phone? Do you check your voice mail periodically and respond sporadically? Do you even have a cell phone?

Everyone has a preference on how to be reached, and as a communicator I definitely have my favourite mediums (and combinations thereof). However, many people that I deal with (and there are a vast number in this business, from clients to media, analysts to customers) each have complex relationships and rules when it comes to communicating – “I only check email three times a day,” “Your voice mail message will be returned within 24-hours,” “Try me on my cell.” Knowing how best to connect with these legions of people has become a monumental challenge, and success (a voice on the other line!) is achieved only by decoding their preferences.

When I get frustrated, I still recall the ‘simpler’ days when a journalist would chastise me for calling when their preference was to receive a fax. Yes, things certainly change. Given peoples’ increasing idiosyncrasies regarding their communications preferences and a dizzying number of options available, we as communicators should always follow these two golden rules: Always ask. Never forget.

To put a spin on McLuhan, perhaps it’s he who knows the medium, gets the message across.

What do you think? Write me ;) and let me know.

Terra Pobuda is a Senior Consultant in the Technology Communications Practice at H&K Toronto.

One size does not fit all

09 July 2007

By: Suzanne Hicks

Jeans are one of those things that are considered a staple in everyone’s wardrobe – kind of like that little black dress. Unfortunately the amount of options out there – skinny, boot cut, classic, loose fit,etc. – make it hard for some people to find a pair that fit properly.

I came across a site called zafu.com. It asks you a bunch of questions to figure out the perfect jean for you from how jeans typically fit at the waist, styles you like and what you’re body type is. And my personal favourite – your goal of a booty-licious butt that avoids the muffin top. It then provides a list of brands and jean styles that would fit you best and offers reasons why. I’m actually looking forward to going jean shopping and testing it out.

This type of tailored search engine is great and could be used by a number of companies that sell anything from cars and cameras to shoes or mobile phones. Like the 9.2 million Canadians mentioned in a 2006 Statistics Canada report, I enjoy doing my product research on the Internet. Search engines like this make me brand loyal because they treat me as an individual. 

Like jeans, one size does not fit all for communications planning. Mass mail outs and templates are a thing of the past. To get results, programs need to be designed to consider the target audience and they need to provide the personal touch. How often do you keep this in mind when pitching media?

Suzanne Hicks is a Senior Consultant for H&K Toronto’s Technology Communications Practice.

Screen Time

04 July 2007

By: Sharon Fernandes

A recent decision by the American Medical Association not to classify video game addiction as a disorder made waves all around cyberspace last week. This isn’t a new topic by any means, a few months ago, my colleague wrote about detox centers for gamers in Amsterdam. Under the AMA, video game addiction will not be officially declared a disorder until more research has been completed. The association also chose not to advise parents to limit their child’s gamming, television or Internet time to a couple hours a day.

Not to gloss over the problem of addiction, but there is another side to this story. The AMA is also looking into the effects of staring at any screen for long periods of time and how it is affecting our culture. Well, in that case I think most of us would be listed as digital junkies. I may not spend copious amounts of time playing Halo, but I have been known to lose hours to Tetris, Youtube, facebook, etc. There are those of you reading right now who’ve checked their PDA at least half a dozen times into this post.

So are we addicts? Do we need detox too? And how will all this screen time effect they way we interact with each other?

I believe the research will show that the next generation of the workforce will have a harder time expressing themselves in a face-to-face meeting. Communication (even to a colleague across the hall) will be through IM or email—and not because of laziness which is the case in some offices now, but more so because of comfort level.

So my question to you, in this ‘age of communication,’ are we limiting ourselves by putting up screens?

Sharon Fernandes is an Assistant Consultant in the Technology Communications Practice at H&K Toronto.


Women taking charge online

26 June 2007

By: Ian Barr
Solutions Research Group (SRG) just revealed a sneak peak at some statistics from its second quarter Fast Forward survey, and it appears that social media in Canada has doubled in the last six months with women leading the charge and video becoming a more important feature in our online lives.
Of particular interest:

  • 46% of online females reported having visited at least one social media site (up from 24% in September of last year) and a higher percentage of woman are using social media than men (50% vs. 42%)
  • Over 3-million Canadians (16% of the Internet population) report having uploaded a short video to a private or a public web page
  • 16% of online Canadians downloaded full-length movies in the past month (up from 11%)and 15% say they downloaded at least one episode of a TV show (up from 10%)

Among the survey findings was an increase in what SRG calls Family Castingfamilies using the Internet to keep in touch and share information with each other. Interestingly, Over 70% of those who post photos, stories or videos on the Internet, say the content is intended for family as well as friends.

In just six months, Canadian Internet users have been consuming and creating more content, sharing it with others and connecting in new ways. As a PR professional, how often are you thinking about that, and more importantly, are you thinking about how you can integrate these key insights into your planning on behalf of your clients?

Ian Barr is an account director with Hill & Knowlton Toronto.

Learning to Expect the Unexpected

25 June 2007

By: Leslie Whitelaw

I’m sure we’ve all heard the saying before that tells us to “always expect the unexpected”. Well, for many PR practitioners no truer words have been spoken, especially when hosting media on out-of-town press trips.

Whether it’s delays due to flights, restaurant fiascos or a myriad of other unplanned for blips in the road, it’s hard to truly anticipate every twist and turn event logistics can take.

Luckily for us in Canada, the members of our press are often accommodating and helpful in trying situations. I know of one journalist who even offered to pick up the phone and start calling hotels for a group when a return flight home from La Guardia Airport in New York City was cancelled.

While we can’t prevent something like a flight cancellation, careful planning can help reduce the stress of challenging moments. Here are just a few tips:

  • Be prepared: Bring flight booking references, hotel confirmation numbers and itinerary details for every member of your party.
  • Stay connected: Ensure you have cell phone numbers for everyone in case there are any last minute scheduling changes.
  • Leverage resources: Bring your travel agent’s contact details – you’ll never have a better friend then a first-class travel agent who can help navigate flight, hotel and other details under pressure and regardless of the time.
  • Be flexible: Especially when you’re in a city that’s unfamiliar, it’s a good idea to have back-up restaurant and entertainment choices already selected in order to help you quickly react to media preferences, scheduling changes or other situations.
  • Stay positive: A sense of humor and positive attitude can help in any situation – and will help you stay focused and find quick solutions even in the most trying of times.

For journalists and clients, logistical details should be little more than a soft background that helps ensure the “news of the day” is effectively delivered. But for those of us managing those logistics, we know the best way to do that is to plan for the unexpected – and be ready to act quickly in any given situation.

Be sure to share your experiences and tips!

Leslie Whitelaw is a Senior Consultant with H&K’s Technology Communications Practice. She has been with the company for over a year.



Employee Communication: Crucial Component For CSR Success

15 June 2007

By: Lorraine Doherty

More and more companies are embracing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as a way to do business.  Which is generally good news for public relations firms, as clients seek our expertise (along with other marketing disciplines) to communicate to external stakeholders about CSR programs.  Some examples of commonly used tools to communicate a CSR platform include executive speeches, packaging, media relations, labeling, issue-driven events, white papers, brochures, advertising and website.  Companies use these tools to provide information about company values, and about ‘responsible’ products and services being brought to market.  Firms with a strong CSR track record – that is shared broadly — set a positive example for other businesses to follow.

But in my experience, the most common communication mistakes around CSR are often directed internally at employees.  Especially in larger organizations with less face-to-face interaction, managers need guidance so that corporate policies and widespread communication encourage pride and foster participation.  Managers also need to realize that CSR is evolutionary – and it takes time for employees to incorporate the vision and values into their business practices.

The greatest disconnect between management and employees is primarily around the conventional CSR mantra ‘giving back to communities in which we do business’.  Management feels that this mandate can only be achieved through company organized philanthropic activities.  While employees resent the implication that they are uncharitable even though many of them passionately give time and money to local charities and causes.

Statistics seem to support the employee side of the argument since despite chronic levels of daily stress*, more than 7.5 million adult Canadians volunteer.  The federal government estimates “the contribution of volunteers across Canada has been estimated at $16 billion annually, or eight percent of Canada’s gross domestic product. Collectively, volunteers give 1.1 billion hours of their time yearly.”**

To increase levels of enthusiasm, more visionary companies are finding creative ways to recognize the personal charitable commitments of employees under the corporate CSR set.  For example, Hewlett-Packard offers employees lieu time of four hours per month for volunteer activities while McDonald’s provides a corporate matching program to support the charities valued by each employee.

Whether engaging internal or external stakeholders, CSR requires constant communication to avoid backlash.  Widespread CSR is still in its infancy and poor communication provides ammunition for the anti-CSR movement most widely popularized by influential Financial Time columnist, Martin Wolf who argued that “Corporate social responsibility distorts the market by deflecting business from its primary role of profit generation…The role of well run companies is to make profits, not save the planet.  Let them not make the error of confusing the two.”

* 2006. Three of four Canadians surveyed in the AP-Ipsos survey conducted in November reported they sometimes or frequently experience stress.
** 2001. Government of Canada.  National Volunteer Week release (April).
*** 2001. Sleepwalking with the Enemy by Martin Wolf in The Financial Times (May).

Lorraine Doherty is a Vice President with H&K Toronto’s Technology Communications Practice.