Archive for the 'Communications Strategy' Category

Is The Brochure Dead?

Who still writes brochures? I mean, I do on occasion. Grudgingly.

Surely this time-honoured communications medium still has its place in marketing and communications. But do they still work, when nearly everyone has ubiquitous web access from connected smartphones?

Sometimes an organization’s clients like to receive brochures, even request them. They’re easy to file, they’re portable, and can be passed between hands.

Not everyone is immersed in the world of the social web, where links are shared like words at the water cooler. For those who operate outside of this space a brochure might be the equivalent to these hyper-sharable links.

But if your brochure is going to be effective, it has to resonate with the reader in some way. Think about the things people share online. They elicit a reaction; they make the reader laugh, or cry, or they inform and teach something interesting or useful. They connect with us on some level.

Does your brochure do that? If not, it’s inert. Maybe even dead and likely to wind up in someone’s recycling bin. My title wasn’t really asking if THE brochure is dead, but whether YOURS is.

I’m not suggesting that brochures are websites, photos or videos. I’m suggesting that a brochure is like a short story. Maybe it could be the 4-pane comic adaptation of your company or organization’s novel. Those 4-pane comics get stuck to refrigerators and bulletin boards all the time.

Maybe your story needs to be told with some slick photos or graphics, and words you could fit into speech bubbles.

Chinese Consumers Use Social Media to Tackle Multinational Appliance Manufacturer

Have you heard of “Refrigeratorgate?”

Luo Yonghao, popular blogger and owner of  Laoluo English Training School, discovered a little over a month ago that he wasn’t the only one having difficulty with the door of his Siemens brand refrigerator. Using the extremely popular Weibo (aka “Chinese Twitter”), he’s found more and more people whose refrigerator doors won’t close properly.

Early on Sunday, November 20, Luo gathered outside the Siemens headquarters in Beijing with 3 of the faulty fridges and a small cluster of protestors and media. They proceeded to smash the fridges with sledgehammers. Now, Luo didn’t want to create a public scene, so he hired someone to clean up afterwards. He was going for media attention more than public disturbance, anyways.

Now, the story is just reaching English media. Luo’s quite a character, and he’s made it his personal mission to seek justice for fellow consumers. He’s demanding that Siemens acknowledge the design flaw, apologize and offer a recall for the affected fridges.

So far Siemens of China has denied that there is a flaw in the design or manufacturing of the fridges. In October, Siemens published an offer to send repair technicians to owner’s homes to fix the faulty doors.

This story is a lot like the antennagate issue that came up with the launch of the iPhone 4 in July 2010. Apple didn’t offer a recall, but gave early purchasers a free case or bumper.

According to communications shared by Luo and reported in English on a Chinese blog (wait for it, this link loads slowly), Siemens’ PR agency spoke with Luo and discussed the issue with him. He made some recommendations for an announcement, which was then heavily spun before being released. Then the agency posted astroturf-style messages online defending Siemens.

This is all entertaining as an outsider, but this is a missed opportunity for a multinational manufacturer with a good international reputation in a gigantic market with the fastest growing economy.

Apple’s uniqueness, excellent customer service and a fantastic product easily overcame antennagate, but can a common fridge do the same?

One thing is for sure, social media is showing its ability to influence consumer behaviour in China, just as it’s shown here.

 

 

Communicating Green

How green is your workplace?

For most of human history, our day-to-day survival was intimately linked to the world around us. Small changes in weather patterns, over hunting of herds, over-harvesting of wild plants, and poor maintenance of soils, directly impacted the success of nomadic people. To the point where a tribe considered their impact on their surroundings with everything they did.

As humans developed farming technology, keeping of animals, and stationary civilizations, we gained a greater level of control over our success.

To the point where, over generations, we forgot how important it is to consider the impact of our activities on the environment. Technology and the industrial revolution accelerated the damage to environments, and people noticed drastic changes within individual lifetimes and we remembered how intimately we are connection to the environments around us.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is one of the leading environmental organizations in the world today. WWF has launched their Living Planet @ Work community, with major partner Hewlett Packard, to bring workplaces on board with considering the impacts of the decisions made in their offices every day, and placing people and the planet above profits.

Using clear calls to action, checklists, reference materials and whitepapers WWF aims to develop a community of Green Champions in companies around the world. These champions are asked to put green on their company’s agenda and support WWF programs through fundraising.

I’m involved in PWGSC’s “Green Team” in our Ontario Region office, to what extent I’m able. I’ve helped with editing and developing messaging for the team’s events or activities in the office. Most recently, for Waste Reduction Week, where the team aimed to increase awareness around unnecessary printing; asking people in the office to really think about what they print and whether it’s necessary to create paper copies of documents.

Clear goals and calls to action are absolutely key to bringing new people into these types of initiatives. I think WWF has done a great job with Living Planet @ Work.

The Cultural Firewall and Intrapreneurs

Today, GovCamp was good.

If I had to pick one session that really got me thinking…

Not even session… expression…

It would be the cultural firewall.

The elephant in the room when we discuss tools and technologies that enable communication and collaboration.

The barriers to collaborative technology are dropping and have little to do with technical know-how in  2011. Where there’s a will there’s a way, and most people are capable of learning.

It’s culture. The absence of willingness to collaborate on a broad scale. And no matter how much a majority of people in large organizations are rapped over the head with benefits to collaboration and open communication, they won’t do it. In some cases it’s perceived risk. In other cases it runs much deeper.

Grudges that co-workers have harbored for well over a decade can be a huge impediment to collaboration; grudges are very common in large organizations.

How can we begin to expect bottom-up collaboration within an organization under these conditions.

Senior managers need to force these changes in practices down to middle managers and to staff. Or, the only people who will leverage the tools that organizations offer are the “intrapreneurs” who gather with like minded colleagues to develop and implement innovative ideas.

Marj Akerley and Ryan Androsoff pointed out this elephant in the room during their Innovation, Culture and Risk session, but addressing it isn’t enough to affect growth.

In some cases the 90-9-1 rule (where 90% lurk, 9% contribute and 1% lead) is acceptable and to be expected. Like the case of the Mozilla browser. In other situations we need to expect better than 9% contribution in our organizations. We need to tear down the cultural firewall one worker at a time.

Intrapreneurs can achieve a lot by working together and sidestepping the non-innovators. But not as much as an entire organization of innovators.

Why the Hate On Sony?

Another attack on Sony. This time the Sony Ericsson Eshop online store in Canada.

There’s a lot of talk about word-of-mouth, and the internet giving customers a participating role in the lives of their favorite brands.

What about the internet giving ‘hackers’ a role in brands that offend them?

Are these the actions of a Bad World? Or the results of bad PR moves by Sony?

I have some issue with hardware manufacturers taking freedom from consumers to do as they wish with purchased products.

From where I’m sitting, it looks like Sony picked a fight with hacker communities when they went back on their word and told us that the PS3 couldn’t have Linux installed on it. Then Sony took legal action against people who cracked the hardware and software of PS3 systems.

I take issue with Apple’s control over iOS devices, and I take issue with Amazon’s control over Kindle devices. That’s one of the things I’ve always loved about the openness of PCs and PC gaming.

But, I also believe people should pay for games they enjoy, and developers should make reasonable efforts to protect their properties from theft. Reasonable, being the key word.

With some exception, piracy has been shown to do little damage to game and music sales. In some cases, piracy has benefited the bottom line of some games – like Minecraft.

There’s the old saying “let sleeping dogs lie.” Sony picked a fight with a sleeping dog, and now the brand is getting bitten hard. To make matters worse, they’re flip-flopping on their messaging. Their CEO is blaming the cruelness of the world, where some hostile people have taken offense to Sony’s hostility.

Now the biggest losers are Sony and their loyal customers, who’s account data are being stolen. It’s time for Howard Stringer to own up to Sony’s failures. They need to issue apologies to their loyal customers and developers. They have some relationships to rebuild. While they’re at it, maybe they should open the system up to Linux installs again.

I sure hope Sony does something right and the attacks stop, so I can enjoy my PS3 and the PSN without concern for my account information.

Newtonian Physics Applied to Social Media Metrics

Some of those who know me personally might know that I began my undergraduate studies in civil engineering. I transferred out of that after realizing that engineering wasn’t what I expected and that I wanted to try other things.

On my path out of high school and in university, I had a lot of exposure to physics – particularly mechanics of the static and dynamic variety. Fancy words for figuring out the forces responsible for making things stable and stationary, or making them move.

So I said to myself, “Self, these ideas, information, memes, trends, and things we communicators work with – they all move.” Or they stay stationary. But in the fields of communications and marketing we want them to move.

I began thinking about how Sir Isaac Newton’s theories, laws and formulae for describing physical motion can be adapted to describe, measure and maybe even predict the spread of ideas through social media with some level of accuracy. I’m not sure if any of the numerous companies and individuals involved in measuring the web have explored this path. I’d love to have a conversation about it with people involved in measurement and developing tools to do it.

I’m not even sure this is a feasible concept. Particle physics and projectile motion are very different from human communication. I began from the thought that messages and ideas could be described as having paths with direction, speed, acceleration, force… but mass is my stumbling block.

If you’re interested in discussing this harebrained idea of mine, it could be a fun conversation. Or maybe there’s something to it.

What do you think? Have you ever tossed around ideas like this?

Photo credit – Claire Sutton (Flickr CC Search)

Engagement on GCpedia

While adoption is still growing, and varies widely between departments and regions, GCpedia is an amazing tool for information sharing and knowledge transfer in the Federal Government.

What is GCpedia? – GCpedia is the Government of Canada interdepartmental wiki. It is only accessible within the GoC firewall, but can be used and accessed by employees of nearly every department and agency; but not accessible by crown corporations. David Eaves argued when it launched that GCpedia would save the public service.

I had the opportunity to create a GCpedia page for an event taking place in the coming week. The event is a mini-conference titled “Third Pillar” in support of employee engagement; the third pillar of the Clerk’s 2010-2011 public service renewal action plan. It will feature a number of panels and keynote speakers on the subject of leadership.

The GCpedia page not only promotes the event, but aims to engage people in ideas surrounding leadership before and after the event.

Leading up to the event, there have been several contributions from staff across a few departments discussing their views on leadership and leadership development. We’ve also had one comment from a senior leader within the Canadian Forces.

Discussion includes views on the necessary skills of leaders, the paths people can take towards leadership and how existing leaders identify talent in up-and-coming staff.

The page has been successful, but this is just the beginning of the “Third Pillar” GCpedia presence. After the event, we plan on posting transcripts or summaries (TBD) of the panel discussions, and maybe some video clips. During the event we will take questions via Twitter or e-mail for those who are more comfortable posting than putting up their hand. The Qs and As can be added to the GCpedia page too.

I’m excited to see what will come of this event and its online component. I think we can grow it into a great resource for public servants at all levels and all stages in their careers.

If you’re a federal public servant, and want to check out the page, go to GCpedia.gc.ca and search Third Pillar, or Troisieme pillier for the French page. (I’d link, but it’s not accessible outside the firewall, and not everyone can access WordPress.com blogs in all departments.)

Want people to talk about you?

Give them some tools to do it with.

That’s what Obama’s government did with the new Organizing for America app for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch.

And talking is just the first step. It can become a powerful informative tool and serve as a platform to bring people together around current and future issues.

Some of the best lessons are what not to do…

When I first read David Pugaliese’s article Public Works and How Not to Handle Media Relations on Defense Issues, I wasn’t sure I should comment on it here.

But to not comment, I think, is passing up an opportunity for an important conversation. There’s really two parts to this discussion, the bite of criticism but more importantly, how to deal with these sorts of media relations issues.

My job is communications for Public Works and Government Services Canada, in Ontario Region, and my initial reaction was to take this article somewhat personally. If he’s trying to make my colleagues look bad, he’s also trying to make me look bad.

After a few days of reflection on how I could address this on my blog, I decided the best thing to do is spark a discussion around how we, as PR or communications professionals should respond to these sorts of call-outs directed at our organizations and ourselves.

I think the article takes a little too much of a personal edge. Mr. Pugaliese was clearly offended by the alleged claim made by Ms. Langlois that his article was inaccurate, as he calls her out personally. Much like the trend a couple of years ago with bloggers and journalists alike blacklisting PR professionals and calling them out on their sites.

In todays world of social media and digital communications, communicators need to be extra careful about their dealings. And I don’t mean we need to be tight lipped, because that’s not true. We need to tell the truth, we need to treat people with respect, and we cannot hide.

One function of journalism is to keep corporations, governments and citizens honest, and sometimes that takes getting some hands dirty. So, I’m not fundamentally opposed to these sorts of call-outs, but I don’t consider them the pinnacle of professionalism. I’m not sure that was the case here, but as a regional communicator I’m not that close to the situation.

As a communicator working for a organization that’s been called out like this, I think there are some important steps to take, and some that shouldn’t be taken.

What you should do…

  1. Don’t make a public knee-jerk reaction. I consider myself a professional and I conduct myself as one. So why should I get my back up about an article like this? It’s only going to make things worse.

    Really, who is going to pay attention to this type of news apart from journalists, communications professionals and other media-savvy public servants? Condo buyers don’t care, headline skimmers don’t care, and it’s certainly not font-page news. It’s hardly likely to be printed in a newspaper.

  2. It’s possible that a personal phone call to the journalist or editor could be in order. Perhaps to apologize for the slight that resulted in the story in the first place. This is very situationally dependent and would have to do with past dealings and existing relationship with the writer. This cannot be fuel for the flamers. You don’t want a firestorm in a teacup becoming a full fledged inferno.
  3. Learn from the experience. Especially if there’s truth to the article. Sit down with the media relations team, discuss what you’ve been doing wrong and what you’ve been doing well. Work on ways to improve media relations practices.

    Speak to the senior executives you deal with, make sure they understand the challenges your media relations team has. Perhaps there’s confusion around roles in the top offices. Maybe approval processes can be streamlined or improved somehow.

    I’m not in a position to comment on the practices in my organization, and I don’t know if there are opportunities to do this. As a regional employee I’m too far removed from it.

What you should not do…

  1. You should not ignore a call-out like this. Media (and social media) relations are not to be taken lightly. This is one of the primary roles of a communications unit.
  2. No good can come from a public rebuttal. The response should be quiet and personal if responding to the writer. And it should be internal when dealing with any possible malpractice.

What do you think? I’ve never dealt with this sort of an issue before. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject.

Making governance simpler

Earlier this year, I signed on to a volunteer working group of young public servants to participate in HR policy renewal in Ottawa. We’re participating in consultation with HR to simplify HR policies (ultimately the goal is to simplify procedure, saving time and money).

I work in Toronto (Ontario Region) so there’s challenges involved in participating with a group based out of Ottawa. Thankfully we have technology and today I was able to use Skype to participate in a conference call, on a day I had booked off from work.

Which sort of brings me to part of my point. Things that are well designed should be simple to use. Well designed technology (Skype and a MacBook) made it simple and exciting to take part in this discussion.

Lets apply this to something else, like policy.

Everyone’s been in roped off queues that zig-zag in front of a service counter, forcing you to walk back and forth just to reach the front of an empty line, right? That’s what policy can feel like when it’s created as a protectionist measure. People get frustrated and they try to find shortcuts and loopholes. Or, people just let things slide, and nothing gets done because the system is too complex for them to grasp effectively. When this happens, the policy becomes defunct anyways. Much like the roped line that you just completely bypassed.

But how can we take something like HR Policy, and make it as easy and effective for the user as my MacBook and Skype are for me? That’s what we’re attempting to tackle with our working group. The really hard part, is not only does it need to be simple, but it also needs to be able to do everything that’s required of it.

The meeting today was spent beginning to define clear goals and objectives of the group. We’re young employees without the benefit of decades of experience with the subject, so this will probably be the most laborious part of the consultation process. That said, I think once we define the problem and set out real objectives, we’ll be able to propose some great solutions.

As a communicator, I’m excited to be part of a team working to simplify things. Simple is how we ensure more people will pay attention, comprehend, and act using the system and tools to do their job more effectively, and more efficiently.

Much like using my MacBook at home in my kitchen, on my day off, to work with colleagues hundreds of kilometres away. If technology hadn’t made it so simple to do, I probably would not have done it.

I’ll end this post with a video of something else that’s a brilliantly conceived, simple and fun solution to a problem.


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