Wal-Mart and NBER 

NBER and Wal-Mart over at the new blog, pt. 2 http://www.canuckflack.com/archives/001157.html


we're still over at Canuckflack.com 

New posts daily and an archive over at www.canuckflack.com


Canuckflack - with added protein! 

You may not have noticed, but www.canuckflack.com is even better, with faux FDA nutritional information table design! Go there now - www.canuckflack.com Seacrest out!


So now, you've got to move to www.canuckflack.com 

Act now! For an unlimited time offer, we're bringing you a new and updated Canuckflack!

Brighter! Happier! More attuned to your personal concerns and needs!

Just go to canuckflack to see the difference!

That's www.canuckflack.com! Act now!

What's going on with this blog? 

Sorry about the unsteady stream of info and insight (and for those of you who visit late at night, the uneven formatting). I'm trying out a new Movable Type layout on a proprietary domain, and will move most of this blog there today. Once I get some style and formatting issues settled, I'll link to the new site here.

Thanks for your patience.


Notes for Spokespeople 

I don't know if it was intentional, accidental or simply the product of little experience as an English-language spokesperson, but how can you properly prepare a spokesperson when they forget basic grammar? I certainly remember my lesson from Grade 10 English: double negatives are always confusing!

"We don't plan on any of the vehicles not to have incentives," Dieter Zetsche, president of Chrysler Group, the North American unit of Germany's DaimlerChrysler AG, said in Detroit yesterday.

Then again, maybe it was all a cunning plan, intended to leave the company wiggle room in case they decide to discontinue incentives on the new Chryslers.


You think you're tight with a penny? Ask a Scot for change! 

Money Mart, a Canadian cheque-cashing service, is running a new television ad featuring a crotchety and miserly Scottish Uncle. The premise? It's far better to borrow against your upcoming pay cheque than from your Uncle Angus. The point is driven home when, after an extended harangue about working hard for your money, Angus pours 400 coins from his sporran onto the coffee table, and shouts "And don't spend it all in one shop!"

Now, as an ostensible Scottish-Canadian, I could take great umbrage at this portrayal. But, as my kids would tell you, I'm cheap. If the shoe fits, wear it, I say.

In reaching into our collective subconscious for the prototypical Scottish stereotype, this article singles out Mike Myers as the flack, so to speak, responsible for its popularization: "Between Fat Bastard and the dad in So I Married an Axe Murderer, he laid the groundwork for all future Scots."

Sure, those were great characters. But we can't forget the damage done by McFiddish, the unintelligible groundskeeper in Caddyshack who somehow considered Carl Spacker "his best man".


Louisiana: Where politics is always spicy 

Mike Foster, the Governor of Louisiana, is calling upon a high-profile ally to raise public awareness and build support for his wetlands preservation campaign: Tabasco, the home state company, is distributing pamphlets describing the problem and how to help with over 3 million bottles of their signature hot sauce.

It should be expected, in a state that produced Huey Long and James Carville, that the Governor knows to hit voters and taxpayers where it counts: their stomachs.

Thanks to Today's Papers for the pointer.


WTO Protests Redux 

Interesting NYT article about the organizers and protesters preparing for the upcoming WTO conference in Miami.


Whoa! I faxed that draft release to who? 

A government agency operating in Newfoundland has been called out for faxing one version of a release to the local (and largest) paper, then posting a different version on their website the next day. While there were relatively minor differences between the two versions, the slip-up did result in a few days of critical coverage and required a follow-up letter to the editor from the Director of Public Affairs for the agency:

"It should be noted that the news release ... was an early draft, sent in error ... This error was actually realized while the release was being distributed by fax, and ... staff immediately called the respective media outlets to apologize and advise them of the error, and to advise a correct version would be sent shortly."

"Unfortunately, our printed fax report did not show The Telegram had received the first incorrect copy, so they were not called with an apology and explanation and, in fact, should have therefore received both versions of the release, the early draft and the final copy. We sincerely apologize ..."

Observations? Obviously a slow news day. This was not a ground-shaking mistake - in these technologically advanced times, there are many more embarassing ways for communications staff to loft the wrong draft upon the ill winds of the media - like a marked-up Word document emailed to a list of hundreds.

That said, they should have been able to identify the outlets who had received the wrong release. Especially since The Telegram is the predominant print outlet in the province. Especially since they sent it by fax - which meant either a preprogrammed list of addressees, or keying in each one individually. Or - try to visualize this, it's much funnier - they had to physically and violently unplug the fax machine once the document was scanned and they realized what had happened.



No! No! That Should Say Spinal Tap and Puppet Show! 

So. John Kerry, presidential candidate, was a guest on the Tonight Show. ABC's the Note has some hints for other booking assistants dealing with the show:

"... here is a list of acceptable people a man of John Kerry's stature may follow in the second-guest-slot on the Tonight Show: Oprah Winfrey, Tom Cruise, any non-celebrity who has performed a heroic deed."

"Unacceptable choices include: Andy Dick, Jenna Jameson, any reality show contestant. The quintessential guest not to follow: Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, particularly when said canine puppet brags about being the "lead guest. That's right: THE LEAD GUEST" on its Web site."

... While blunt political strategist Triumph assessed, "The poop I made in the dressing room had more heat than John Kerry," the Massachusetts Senator performed well under the constraints of short answer only television."

Rosie Court Case Not so Riveting 

Well. The Judge in the Gruner + Jahr vs. Rosie O'Donnell bunfight ruled today that no-one deserved damages. "It seems to me ... we're just dealing with bragging rights here, who wins and who loses,'' Gammerman said. With his ruling, neither side wins -- although O'Donnell could still ask for publisher Gruner+Jahr USA to cover her legal fees.

Meanwhile, plain old multi-millionairre businesswoman Martha Stewart has used her face time with Barbara Walters to move public opinion in the lead-up to her January trial. Martha's TV interview managed to personalize the effects her legal troubles are causing to her mental and, more importantly, financial, well-being. Her online unfettered voice to the masses has attracted favourable attention in the U.S. and the U.K. media, and she has (apparently) moved public opinion about her stock trading habits back into the positives.

Now, what will the Eliot Spitzer do?

And a last note: Scott Feschuk, from the National Post, characterized the face time this way:

The intermercial concluded with Barbara inelegantly coaxing Martha to edit her trademark catchphrase.

Barbara: "... and what's happening right now is not a good thing."

Martha: "It is not a good thing."

Just to clarify, Martha was referring to the whole maybe-going-to-prison thing, not the interview with Barbara. The interview with Barbara was most definitely a good thing.

Film flackery: an illusion in the service of an illusion 

This weekend's NYT magazine has a poetic - and wordy - look at generating buzz at the Venice Film Festival:

"The goal of all the activity is, of course, the elusive thing called buzz, the deceptively soothing term that has mostly replaced words like the vaguely clinical ''hype'' and the etymologically challenged ''ballyhoo.'' ''Buzz'' sounds so restful, so natural -- like something you become aware of only subliminally, at the sleepy end of a long day picnicking on the grass. As Lauren Greenfield's photographs demonstrate, however, the creation of buzz is no picnic."

"What buzz really is, it seems, is the wholly unnatural attempt to extend the artificial ecosystem of the film festival -- the symbiotic relationship of filmmakers, journalists and fans -- into the larger, greener world of the ticket-buying public, which must somehow be made to absorb the notion that this movie is as essential to its well-being as sunlight. Or oxygen."

"It is an illusion in the service of an illusion. So we shouldn't be surprised that as the auteurs, the stars and the beady-eyed producers work to conjure that buzz, they can start to look a little ghostly, as if they were exhausted by the labor of insinuating themselves into the collective imagination -- as if the effort to be ''real'' had left them feeling unreal to themselves."


Letters to the Editor - an underappreciated tool 

The Buffalo News focuses on what seems to be a rarity: a letter to the editor from a top State Department official. While the paper paints this letter as part of the apparent "propaganda war" with the media over the Iraq war, its exchange highlights two continuing trends in how officials from federal governments work with the regional media: the continuing concentration of senior and elected officials on what is being written in three or four "national" media to the detriment of regional media, and a seeming reluctance to immediately respond to reporting through op/ed opportunities or by writing letters to the editor.

Why would a top-ranking State Department official write a letter to a regional paper?

"I'm intrigued you would ask, and we don't do it enough," said Boucher, who has served as a spokesman under five secretaries of state. "If you look at the numbers, it's like 85 percent of Americans read a local paper. If we spend our time looking at the New York Times, Washington Post and a few others, we're going to miss a lot of this country."

The first trend is easy to explain: your first focus is naturally on the paper you, your neighbours and your boss read. In Washington it's the WP, the NYT, maybe the LAT. In Ottawa, it's the Globe and Mail, La Presse and others. It is always a struggle to find the time, let alone the resources, to identify, track and correct storylines at regional papers across the country - especially when one communications strategist could be dealing with four or five issues of national scope.

As for the reluctance to respond, there are several impulses at play here: a conscious and strategic decision to let a storyline play out at a high level; the desire to leave detailed discussions, which could include technical or regulatory details unsuitable for the op/ed page, to a more personal meeting with a reporter or editorial board; and, maybe, a suspicion that, by responding, you are simply extending the play of a story.

Thanks to Editor and Publisher for the pointer. PS: if you're interested in the propaganda idea, Michael Wolff has an interesting look at the problem.

Sure, Paypal will cover the bills, but will it pay for an Audi? 

Chris Allbritton liked his short stint as a journalist in Afghanistan so much, he decided to move from a technology to a foreign affairs beat. Trouble was, no-one would give him a chance to work in Iraq. Through his blog, donors provided nearly $15,000 to fund an April trip to report from Iraq. Editor&Publisher has more details:

"I would have liked to go freelance with some backing of a major media organization," Allbritton said. "But as the money came in I realized I didn't need it. I had my readership. I had my outlet. I had my resources. It really took on a life of its own."

Although Allbritton does not actively pursue donations anymore, money still trickles in through his blog, which he continues to update. As for the future, Allbritton hopes to devote his time to writing books. "The money in blogging sucks," Allbritton said. "It's hard to make a career at it."

Searching for allegories for modern culture - Disney doesn't cut it 

A snippet in the NYT speaks to Richard Harris' search for an allegory for the culture and political environment surrounding us:

"Until he spied the couple wearing the ears for their wedding at Walt Disney World in Florida, Robert Harris, the best-selling British author, believed he could use the Disney culture as a satirical parable for modern America.

"But after 18 months of research and a growing sense that the book was not going to work, the sight of the outlandish ears in the Grand Floridian Hotel convinced him that his setting was beyond satire: fiction was no match for reality.

"I could do Hitler's Germany," Mr. Harris said, referring to the theme of his first successful novel, "Fatherland," published in 1992. "I couldn't do Walt Disney."

PR Opinions 

Tom Murphy notes that a British firm has won a contract to help sell India as a progressive and modern country.

In a related story, Promo has touched on how American firms have begun to sub-contract marketing jobs in India:

"AT&T Wireless uses an Indian-built Web site, AT&T Wireless Photo Zone, to display consumer photos taken by street teams demonstrating phones like Sony Ericsson's T68i Camera Phone ..." Why? In addition to extensive post-secondary education in IT and contact with both British and American culture, "... India is a sophisticated market in its own right. Online and cell-phone promos are hot, and text messaging outpaces even Europe, never mind the U.S. ... About 28 million Indians have Web access, and 20 million have cell phones."


Sure, you think your apartment is chock-a-block with post-modern irony.  

But what would your mother think? "Family Unsure What To Do With Dead Hipster's Possessions" hit too close to home, since I could imagine owning a lot of the items described in this too-accurate sendup from The Onion. How would your nerdy cousin react to your complete A-Team character t-shirt set?

"... I'd like to give his dishes to Goodwill or the local church, but I'm not sure they would want them," Lowery said. "None of his plates and cups match, and every single coffee mug is different. Here's a Zoloft mug, and here's one from White Castle hamburgers. This one says 'Hands Off Howard's Coffee.' I find it strange that he owned that, considering that he lived alone and never mentioned a friend named Howard."

"See these records?" said Panziel, pointing to a pile of Herb Alpert LPs. "I don't think Grandma even listens to this stuff anymore ... is this copy of 'The Super Bowl Shuffle' worth keeping? How about this Amazing Kreskin record? I don't know how to tell."

The Windsors? Well, I know about our Queen. 

Somehow, the really interesting stories don't seem to jump the Atlantic - like the C4 story last night about the Queen's bisexual, heroin-addicted uncle.

Here in Canada, our governing party is heading into a leadership convention in just over a week. Because we're a parliamentary democracy, that would normally mean the new party leader would become Prime Minister - unless the current Prime Minister is reluctant to leave. That means that we're about to enter an interregnum where preparing, evaluating and implementing a government communications plan becomes an exercise in literary deconstruction and semiotics. Can I plan this event for eight weeks from now? Which politician will be available to draw the press? Will this policy even fly with the new Prime Minister?

And this isn't just a natural fascination with the machinations of politics on my part. The recent announcement of $700 million for the national passenger railway system was almost immediately repudiated by a spokesperson for Paul Martin, the presumptive Prime Minister.

Why, hello there! 

Back from my quick trip to Halifax and ready to blog again. I also did some training and am now fully literate in HR issues. Now, if only my employees would comply with the HR framework I was given!


I'm gonna blog like it's 1979 

Well, between the scheduled power outage at the office this weekend, the unscheduled network failure today, and the three day training course I just began, the blog may suffer.

So please be patient as I post using my Blackberry - which is as nimble as a 960 baud Heathkit home computer.


Hollywood publicists are controlling? 

I know I saw footage on Entertainment Tonight, but The Smoking Gun details how those wonderful American Idol producers are controlling the image of their proteges: "... if press photographers want to record Ruben, Clay, and Kelly's staged holiday frolics, they'll have to sign [an] agreement drafted by 19 Entertainment, the show's London-based producers."

"In return for access and $1, shutterbugs must actually agree to let the 'Idol' bosses dictate when photos are published and must turn over all their images so that 19 Entertainment officials, if they choose, can use the material for promotional purposes for the singers (that's what the greenback must be for). And photojournalists must agree not to reveal any 'confidential information' they may learn through their proximity to the 'Idol' figures."


Advertorials - what are they good for? (with apologies to Frankie Goes To Hollywood) 

The November issue of Folio notes the increasing popularity of advertorial content and questions its effect upon the quality of design and editorial in magazines:

"These low-rent production values pose problems ... The intent ... is great, but in execution, we find that writers who wouldn't write for the magazine are producing editorials that the editors would not otherwise accept ... We find advertising that an ad agency wouldn't typically pass off as advertising. ... you find that most consumers look at them for what they are: crude attempts. They don't give them a lot of credit.

"Advertorials are Hamburger Helper for publishers. They stretch content and dollars to suit their needs and publishers are making hay of it ... "

But why buy advertorial, then?

"Conde Nast, for instance, which doesn't traditionally break rate card, will charge less money for the advertorial. It's a way for an advertiser to break in where they couldn't before. On a relative benchmark, if a run-of-the-book ad page costs X, the advertorial is X minus 50 to 60 percent." Conde Nast did not respond to requests for comment.

"The challenge for publishers is to create tantalizing, innovative packages for the advertiser with content that doesn't insult the reader's intelligence, but still manages to stay on the virtuous side of church and state issues."


More on influencers 

As a follow-up to the Ketchum announcement earlier this week PRWeek has run a more detailed story on the role of "influencers" in public opinion research. As you'd expect from the consulting professions, one British firm has a different name for the concept: 'Protagonists" Are you in this exclusive subset? How would you answer the following questions?

"Your boss stops you to discuss a PR fiasco at a rival company. You have absolutely no knowledge of this story. Do you:

  • Laugh at how rubbish they are while wondering how your boss has time to read the papers? (3)
  • Nod knowingly and pretend you know what he's talking about? (5)
  • Tell them about the alternative spin put on this story in another publication? (10)

    You have been invited to both a dinner party and a business event next Wednesday, and are working all hours at the moment. Do you:
  • Decline both invites because you know that you'll be extremely tired from work? (3)
  • Say yes to both, and then go to the business event to show your face, but bail on the dinner party? (5)
  • Work like the clappers and still make both events? (10)

    You'll have to look at the article to evaluate your results.

  • Hugh Hefner as your grandpa? 

    So, the creator of the Playboy empire is going to start hawking Carl's Jr. burgers. I can understand the psychological leap that made William Shatner popular, but Hugh Hefner selling meat? From the WSJ:

    "Although to some Mr. Hefner still conjures up cocktails and smoky nightclubs, bunny costumes and sexual freedom, some marketing consultants suggest time has worn down his racier edges. "He is sort of an American Austin Powers," notes Allen Adamson, a managing director at Landor, a WPP Group PLC branding concern. "As such, he has this irreverent retro appeal that -- for the right product -- can draw attention."

    "The bottom line: 20-something consumers just think Mr. Hefner is a fun dude. "He has become the gentle grandpa that has just a little bit of a wild side," says David Morrison of Twentysomething Inc., a Philadelphia youth-marketing consultancy. The public tends to see icons from earlier times as a means of escape from the harsh economic realities of the present, Mr. Morrison adds. Mr. Hefner "has none of the controversy of the past and none of the pressure of the present."


    Working on a 24 hour clock 

    "Researchers who study the effect of cellphones on society talk of a nation living in "soft time" - a bubble in which expectations of where and when to meet shift constantly because people expect others to be constantly reachable. Eight-thirty is still 8 o'clock as long as your voice arrives on time - or even a few minutes after - to advise that you will not be wherever you are supposed to be at the appointed hour."

    Funny. The NYT thinks that society has become softer because of cell phones. I'm sure PR folks would argue the opposite: reporters now expect you, and your spokespeople, to be immediately accessible at any point in the day. Who hasn't had that 5:45 call seeking a response for a piece going to bed at 6? The reporter leaves a voicemail on your cell, and closes out the story with "the company couldn't be reached."


    McKinsey asks: Do you know who your experts are? 

    Sure, it's full of business process-speak, but McKinsey has run an interesting examination of how to identify your internal experts. While it concentrates on the information management tools needed to identify areas of expertise and experts within your company, it does make some good points:

    "...What matters in seeking expertise is not what people say they have done but what their achievements say about them..."

    "... informal social networks have been reasonably effective at putting experts in touch with those who are in need of their services. "Around here, people know one another" is a common refrain. "If I need help, I know whom to call." ... but the days of knowing whom to call may be over. Mergers, growth, globalization, and employee turnover have diminished the ability of informal social networks to ferret out experts ..."

    "On a résumé .... "led a project team" raises questions: how big a project, for how long, with what success ? But a ... company record will be imbued with a higher level of contextual knowledge, since the details ... of the project, and even the role played by its team leader, are better understood."

    "Although this type of information seldom appears in expertise directories, it can often be found ... across a company in ... databases ... used in human resources, accounting, and patent registration. But trawling through that information can be time-consuming ... ; it involves getting access ... different databases, triangulating among them, and using a number of processes (intranet searches, phone calls to peers) to search for the right person, who even then may not be found."

    The solution? A customized. in-house "Google for Experts." Ah, to live a dream. Now, where's my dog-eared list of in-house experts?


    Dr. Phil - from Oprah to QVC? 

    So far, Dr. Phil has managed to play the marketing communications game fairly well. He's taken a small role on Oprah into orbit, in the process launching a formidable media personality, an attendant book and a parallel television program.

    His latest marketing move, to endorse a line of nutritional products, may cause a meteor shower (to take the analogy one step too far) of criticism. Dr. Phil, after all, has created an identity as a caring clinical psychologist - not a nutritionist - and this may create some doubt among his adherents. For example:

    "He came out and it seemed like it was all about he cared," said Kim Jensen, 45, a homemaker from Huntsville, Ala., who is trying to lose 40 pounds, "and all of a sudden, it's pills on the market and bars and stuff like that."

    She was so disappointed by his decision to endorse the supplements that she will not buy his book. "It was a big letdown," Ms. Jensen said."

    And while we're on the subject: the big Rosie O'Donnel/Gruner + Jahr court case opens up this week. There's an interesting juxtaposition between a celebrity who controls the use of their name - like Martha (see her new KMart ad where she seems to flash a Victory sign) - and Rosie's predicament.


    Case studies that miss the mark 

    PRWeek is running a case study this week on the launch this summer of a new DEET-free Off! mosquito repellent . As it so delicately puts it, "the 2002 arrival of West Nile Virus in Canada touched off a torrent of media interest and tipped off insect-repellent manufacturers that 2003 would be a strong sales season."

    Now, because of the sensitivity about - you know - people dying from this disease, the PR campaign was carefully targeted: " ... instead of market-building, the focus was on walking the fine line between educating and scaring the public."

    That certainly was a fine line. Unfortunately, the marketing and public information campaigns launched by Off! and others turned up the chatter about West Nile at the same time that Ontario was actually experiencing a mild summer for the disease.


    Branding for fried Twinkies? 

    Let's try to imagine the brand identity manual for Twinkies. Now, turn to the tab marked "stick or no stick?"

    "Frying a Twinkie outdoors is tougher than it might sound. Last year, Interstate Brands Inc., the maker of Hostess Twinkies, wanted to help spread the fried-Twinkie phenomenon ..."

    "Ms. Maher uses a stick to fry the treats but said Hostess didn't want its Twinkies served on a stick. "They wanted a nicer presentation," she explained. So she serves it in a paper boat with powdered sugar and chocolate sauce."

    Interstate spokesman Mike Redd says Hostess reps went around to some of the fairs around the country last year to check things out with people trying the frying. "The main thing we wanted to do was just to make sure our brands were treated as they should be." He says Twinkies on a stick are fine with Hostess."

    Research publicized a few years ago argued that Twinkies have a half-life of nearly 500 years. That's longer than it's plastic wrapper.


    Would "influentials" actually want to hear from Ketchum? 

    Ketchum has finally jumped on the "influentials" bandwagon - the conviction (at least in front of the clients) that a small number of culturally attuned and socially connected people can lead popular opinion or the purchasing habits of much larger groups. Adweek details their exciting new web-based system:

    "Two weeks ago, Omnicom's Ketchum introduced its Influencer Relationship Management database, a proprietary Web-based tool that, in a seven-step process, helps the PR agency identify key influencers (journalists, bloggers, etc.) who could turn companies' products into "must-haves" for certain sets consumers."

    "Once the influencers are identified and in the database, Ketchum and the diem contact them and send them information or products. A relationship gradually develops, and the influencers may eventually become members of company panels or be invited to speak at forms, etc."

    Of course! While the idea is logical, it ignores the fact that many influentials are not self-aware or are painfully conscious of efforts to manipulate them. I also wonder how this database will adjust to rapidly changing social and cultural networks, where trends flare up and subside as influentials seize and lose interest? And who will monitor this database? A cultural anthropologist, a demographer, or Joe/Joanna Intern?

    The NYT covered an extreme in the influentials trend a few weeks ago: a preschool skateboarding phenom who is sponsored by the local skate shop, a board maker and a soft drink company.

    And here's a picture of us in the hotel lobby 

    Know how, when you take your new digital camera to an event, how you take countless pictures and only one or two are actually useable? The WSJ points out that the ease of digital photography has resulted in the re-emergence of a horrific Saturday night pastime: the home slide show:

    "The slide show is back with a high-tech twist. Armed with thousands of shots stored in their new digital cameras, amateur shutterbugs are cooking up photo presentations to show on computer screens, televisions or even burn onto DVDs."

    Why? Why? Why, do you ask? "They're getting a big push from the digital-camera industry, which wants folks to feel there's something to do with all those snaps. ... Part of this is a weird side effect of how the cameras work. Because there's no film or processing to pay for, people are snapping away with abandon. So instead of shooting a roll of 36 at Junior's birthday party, Dad might walk away with 150 shots -- which are easier to present in a show than print out."

    There's even a great little jab in the piece: "The whole slide-show shtick is too complicated for Greg Stobbs. The Portland, Ore., architect has downloaded thousands of pictures, giving files names like "Kingston, July '03." But he's never bothered to put together a slide show. "I've seen some of my friends' shows," Mr. Stobbs says. "But they work from home, know what I mean?"


    Who said psycho publicists are dying out? 

    Meanwhile, at the premiere of Renee Zellweger's new Bridget Jones movie: "Centre stage is the red carpet, on which stalk scary PR people in kitten heels and security men with earpieces. .... If there are personal questions, her personal assistant will move her on.” .... “I have been told there are cakes! Have you got cakes?” he yelled at someone three spaces down. “No cakes,”whimpered the man. “Are there cakes?” he barked at the next person. ... Yes, she had cakes. Doughnuts, in fact. “You are not to offer them to Renée. If you offer her a single doughnut, you will be hearing from us.”

    He marched off. My friend tried to ring her office, but too late. The PR man had already spoken to her editor. Press freedom? Not where cakes are concerned; this is the choppy world of film PR where nothing happens out of line. And if you annoy the PRs, you pay for it with less square footage on tomorrow night’s red carpet."

    Managing and Communicating in a Crisis 

    The Government of Canada's management development centre has prepared a handy guide to managing in a crisis, with a special emphasis on communications (see page 35 onwards). They've also researched a number of case studies, looking at national and regional security and transportation crises.

    It's a good read for beginners, and a refresher for experienced communicators.


    To quote Mr. Hand: "Are you on dope?" 

    A senior foreign policy wonk suggests, in today's NYT, that self-serving leaks designed to serve a political purpose don't deserve protection by journalists:

    "Is there a cure for this problem? Yes: call it counterleaking. To protect against such manipulative behavior — and to discipline those who practice it — reporters could themselves assume the status of confidential sources and share those names with other journalists."

    But wouldn't this effectively shut down political reporting?

    Thanks to Today's Papers for the reference.


    You are feeling drowsy ... When I snap my fingers, you will awake! 

    Interesting. A psychologist at Harvard Business School suggests that advertisers should explore techniques to change your perception of a product by blanketing you with positive messages after the fact. One researcher " ... reported an experiment in which people were shown an advert suggesting that children who visited Disneyland had the opportunity to shake hands with Bugs Bunny. Later, many of those who had seen the advert "remembered" meeting Bugs on childhood visits to the theme park, a feat that would have been impossible, given that the cartoon is a Warner Brothers character."

    And what do you call a blog link? 

    A friend of mine has suggested the word "bloink" as a common term for a link, clumsily dropped into an online conversation, pointing to your own blog. As in: "Can you believe that? I asked where I could find that article and he bloinked me!"


    Risk Communication Redux 

    The BBC is about to provide guidance to editors and reporters on reporting risk "to help ... ensure that scare stories are kept in perspective." The same piece deals with a recent report issued in the U.K. on communicating health issues:

    "The report ... accepts that the disparity between journalistic values and actuarial values will inevitably lead to events being presented out of proportion, but it also raises the fear that politicians may sometimes be pressed into spending public money unwisely in response to dramatic but statistically insignificant issues running strongly in the news."

    "The King's Fund paper does not argue for any dramatic change in news values. But it does hold out hope that public health professionals might become a little more canny in their use of the media, and that the media might become more inventive in seeking out stories in areas of major health risk, and more determined to put new scares in context."

    Home and Garden Hotties? 

    The new edition of Maxim magazine (which I read at the doctor's office, honest!) has a poly-bagged insert: Maxim's Hometown Hotties. But the editors have covered the opaque bag with headlines from other, more respectable, publications: "25 Dazzling Kitchens and Baths!," "Telecom: What's Next for This Key Sector," "Savor the Flavor: The Incredible Edible Eggplant'' and "Maxim Editors Too Lazy to Write Their Own Cover Lines.''


    Trekkies and Trades: A Bad Mix 

    Whoa! A reference to Star Trek, an allusion to Ricardo Montalban and a mixed metaphor, all in the lede! The business mags have recently fallen in love with the "Wal-Mart is the Evil Empire" storyline, but someone obviously didn't screen this reporter at Progressive Grocer closely enough:

    "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan introduced the Genesis Device, a mechanism conceived to "terraform" lifeless planets. In the wrong hands, if used on those where life already existed, it posed world-shaking destructive power. Here on Earth, a certain Bentonville, Ark. retailer wields a similar transmutative power. Although the evil Khan doesn't have hold of it, many see it as just as dangerous a double-edged sword hanging over our economy."


    Remember: the media is your friend. Honestly! 

    A banner day for poor communications in the papers today. First off, spokespeople handled the opening of a contentious grocery store in a gentrified neighbourhood poorly, despite the attention of the local columnist:

    "We'd like to show you a photo spread of what the interior looks like, but Loblaw Cos. Ltd. has a policy against news photographs of the interiors of their premises. In fact, they have the most annoying media relations stance I've ever run into: they rarely return phone calls and when they do, it's to tell you nothing. Janice Woodley, a Loblaw marketing and advertising representative from Toronto, actually gave me this answer during a quick tour yesterday: "We wouldn't want you to talk to our customers. They're here to shop."

    And on the donut making front, a spokesperson really mishandles the question are Tim Horton's donuts really made fresh?

    "I'm not disclosing where we're doing anything," said Patti Jameson, vice-president of corporate communications. "I'm not sure where you're even getting your information that we're even doing anything in your area." ... Jameson explained the company is always testing new products and procedures. She cites competition concerns when politely declining to elaborate.

    "There's no secret," she said. "For competitive reasons, we don't talk about all of the number of things that we have on the go and what our assessments are of them."


    Mullet-toting newsman angry at White House tactics 

    Apparently, CBS' John Roberts feels that the White House's decision to work with media outside of Washington is an affront to the fine White House correspondents corps: "It was the public relations equivalent of a declaration of war aimed at the national media, President Bush claiming the American people aren't getting the truth about Iraq."

    But the real issue has to be: how can anyone take former Much Music vee jay J.D. Roberts seriously as a journalist?

    The Walmart Dictionary 

    Advertising Age has covered the impact the folks in Bentonville, Ark. have made on the marketing world, and it's pretty staggering: "Wal-Mart, because they're so efficient, will often have a new product in their stores before the other retail chains ..."

    "... Wal-Mart buyers have grown especially fond of shrink-wrapped buy-one-get-one-free offers. But the retailer has banned the word "free," deeming it misleading, since the whole package isn't free. For efficiency's sake, many marketers have stopped using the word on packaging everywhere. "They have enough clout to eliminate a word from the English vocabulary," the chief marketing officer said."

    Working in an aggressive media environment 

    PR Studies has taken a trans-Atlantic look at the issue of mudslinging [pdf]. On a slightly similar track, the Guardian has run an opinion piece on the relatively new (for the UK) practice of hiring PR counsel for high profile court cases:

    "Given the current power of the mass media in the UK it is no longer realistic to expect that a figurative blanket can be put over the heads of all involved in potentially high-profile cases. Inevitably the media will come calling well before any court appearance, and stories, comment and even poorly pixelated photographs will run.

    " ... Surely it's time for the legal system, through its practitioners, to embrace the modern world and welcome to the heart of its operations the skills of the professional media manager. The wider world of PR awaits the call from our learned friends."

    Thanks to Tom Murphy for the pointer.


    Lies, Damn Lies, and Focus Groups  

    Slate asks Why don't consumers tell the truth about what they want?

    Is your office creative? Depends on who you ask 

    This week, an interesting juxtaposition of opinions on whether truly creative ideas can prosper in advertising and PR agencies. RLM has written Creativity from Discipline, a piece on the success of creative ideas in an office: "For years, I have been struggling with the conventional perception of “creative” jobs being carefree and artistic. ... I have learned that true creativity only comes from discipline, from old-fashioned planning and organizing."

    "Our most successful campaigns start with a great client, a strategic plan, and a team that stays organized and focused. Can tactics be creative? Of course they can. Wacky, creative PR stunts often garner on-target media placements. But those creative tactics will never get coverage without flawless execution. And flawless execution is possible only when each member of a PR team and the team as a whole is disciplined."

    Meanwhile, in Brandweek, Nick Andrus had some comments about the very same process: "Next comes a communication plan that recommends specific materials to be developed. At this point they engage the creative team, often using a creative strategy document at the start of the meeting. Here's where process and procedure really begin to take over and the box that will actually inhibit creative thinking begins to take shape. A form is often used at this stage. It might include a background section, objectives, strategies, unique selling proposition (USP) and supporting rationale. You can now clearly see the box and, as the USP wording gets debated, the nails get pounded into it."

    " ... The creative team brainstorms until they are satisfied they have enough good ideas to get a few approved by their creative director. This is the person upon whom their future salary, bonuses and promotions will depend. After working with a particular creative director for a while, the team gets to know what appeals to them and what doesn't, which inhibits their thinking. So, we've not just nailed the box shut we've wrapped it in galvanized steel."

    "No work leaves the agency until the most senior creative person reviews it. They know what's creative, they've got "the gift," that's why they're the top honcho. And guess what, they don't like any of the ideas-so the team gets sent back to work. I call this step "bronzing the box." Finally, the head creative guru is satisfied and the work is ready to be presented to the client. So much for "out-of-the-box" thinking."


    The Dems look for a bumper sticker 

    The NYT's Sunday took an in-depth look at efforts to create the infrastructure for progressive political thought in the United States - "a think tank on steroids" - like those that have driven the Republican Party over the last twenty years. As a policy wonk, I'm interested in how a dedicated movement to develop conservative policies, organizations and voter support resulted in the messages we read today:

    "'The question I'm asked most often is, When are we getting our eight words?'' Podesta said. Conservatives, he went on, ''have their eight words in a bumper sticker: 'Less government. Lower taxes. Less welfare. And so on.'

    "Where's our eight-word bumper sticker? Well, it's harder for us, because we believe in a lot more things.'' The Center for American Progress, Podesta said, was concerned with articulating these principles carefully, over time, rather than rushing out an agenda to help win an election in 2004. ''We're trying to build an idea base for the longer term,'' he said, to bring about ''an enduring progressive majority.''

    Investor Relations 101 

    I have developed a new interest in Biovail, a Canadian pharma company - mostly because its' owner bought the Ottawa Senators NHL franchise over the summer. The company's stock has taken a beating over the last little while, and its executives have started to turn on the financial analysts covering the stock. One analyst has even launched a lawsuit against the company.

    But you, as a PR person, don't really care about that. I find two things interesting about Biovail: first, as the company is being is being questioned about its accounting practices and starts having some market trouble, it goes on the defensive and even begins attacking the analysts, who, we should remember, provide investors with valuable guidance. Second, they issued earnings guidance after ONE truck accident this month that apparently damaged $10-20 million dollars of Wellbutrin XL.

    Some analysts obviously questioned how a truck accident, which only damaged the rear end of a 50 foot trailer, could have such an impact on the company's finances. We've all seen journalists trip over similar questions of detail and roughly evaluate the impact of events with little precision. Well, one enterprising analyst figured it out:

    "In some entertaining math right out of the Scholastic Aptitude Test, he showed that the requisite amount of Biovail's product could have fit in 93 drums,. Given that an 18-wheeler can hold 790 drums, the $17 to $20 million in drugs would have taken up less than 15% of the hold ..."

    The columnist who praises Corey Davis, the analyst, makes an important point about this episode: "We have the most delicate and improbable of things going on: analysts doing research, not just parroting the company line in financially ornate prose. Far from litigating, more investors and companies should think about erecting some signs ..."

    More importantly to us PR people though: why didn't Biovail's IR staff provide this information at the beginning?

    Sure, it seems like a good book, but does it have a tear-out checklist? 

    I always put down a management book feeling slightly unsatisfied, and a book review in Management Today has finally identified the cause. How to Get the Perfect Promotion doesn't like the book very much, but makes some apt observations about management books today:

    "Like most business books today, this one mirrors the style of business communication. It is replete with checklists, examples and evidence drawn from expert witnesses, and it largely avoids narrative. It is a succession of memoranda that often feel like the options on a corporate telephone system.


    Headlines Rarely Seen: Suck it and See 

    Now, analogies are generally a good thing. Unless the writer is doing a bad job of harbouring a grudge. In discussing changes in senior management at Barclays Bank, the Financial Times writes that "regardless of what you think about the result, the process of choosing a new chief executive for Barclays has damaged the bank. It may not be jobs for the boys, but it certainly looks like lollipops for the losers."

    "... Disturbingly, Mr Diamond, and every other disappointed candidate, has been given something to suck on. Mr Diamond sees his investment banking and fund management empire expanded. Roger Davis, Gary Hoffman, David Roberts and Naguib Kheraj, the new finance director, all get sweeteners in one form or another. Mr Diamond and Mr Hoffman are both "mandated" by the board to invest in and expand their businesses - which smacks of handing out the family cheque-book to make up for the pain of defeat."

    We have both kinds of music: country AND western 

    What a refreshing rumour to report! FOX news is going to new lengths to make sure their coverage of Iraq is fair and balanced - by hiring former Hussein stooges! Senior bureaucrats from the Iraqi Information Ministry, "who spent their days reporting to the intelligence services on foreign reporters or doing their best to obstruct their work have gone on to well-paid jobs - for the same foreign news organisations they once hounded."

    "The second-in-command at the information ministry, who spent his days reading the reports the minders wrote about visiting foreign journalists, has been employed by Fox News."


    Yankees online? 

    Have you ever wondered about the Yankees' search engine optimisation strategy? Try searching for the best baseball site ever. And the first hit at best baseball owner? Gorgeous George is at the top of the list.

    USA Today - reliably vanilla 

    I remember how, back when USA Today was initially conceived and published, Doonesbury skewered the paper for being full of "factoids" much like McDonald's McNuggets - a consistent product that isn't very filling or very tasteful. It doesn't seem to have changed much. Al Neuharth's column today asks if your newspaper will survive the digital age.

    And he doesn't give much thought to the question or a possible solution. "Actually, most newspapers have improved in overall content and appearance during the past two decades. They just haven't figured out how to pry preteens or teens away from their screens."

    For deeper thoughts, we have to turn to a Poynter article that discusses how to make newspapers easier to read. It cites a recent redesign of the the Miami Herald, including "a feature called "The Five-Minute Herald," two pages written and designed to offer highlights of the larger paper."

    The Miami Herald exercise also identified three different types of reader. I think we can all recognize our reading habits in these descriptions: Option A is for Sunday morning, Option B is for our daily skimming of a deskfull of papers, and Option C is for warming up before breakfast with the CEO.

    A) The serious, traditional reader who wants to read the newspaper more leisurely.
    B) The scanner who first reads headlines, looks at photos and reads cut lines, along with summaries.
    C) The supersonic-speed reader who has barely five minutes in the morning to get a glimpse of the news. The 5-minute Herald will satisfy the needs of this reader.

    New Governor causes sleepless nights for editors 

    The new Governor of California promises to cause a lot of anxiety for headline writers and editors. His 14-letter name was given space during the run-up to the recall election, but won't fit into the tiny news holes given to local news in most newspapers.

    "There were copy editors across the state who were dreading the prospect of Schwarzenegger becoming governor, not because of politics but because of the fit," said John Armstrong, editor of the Contra Costa Times in Walnut Creek.

    Editors at the newspaper briefly discussed using Schwarzenegger's three initials, like JFK and LBJ, Armstrong said. "But we looked up his middle name, Alois, and AAS -- not so good," he said. "Editors like me across the state would have a sleepless night worrying about the possible typo."

    These aren't your parent's activists 

    We're all aware of the impact made by anti-globalization protesters over the past five years. In South Florida, a group is now preparing to protest the Free Trade Area of the Americas meeting in Miami next month, and they are very aware of the importance of messaging and presentation in their work:

    "I think it's important that the revolution is aesthetically pleasing," said Martina Mafalda, a 20-year-old puppeteer from Argentina who is spending the next month in Lake Worth. "If it's very solemn or morose, I don't think people are likely to listen to us."

    Mafalda is part of a loose network of political puppeteers, who call themselves puppetistas. They build 10- and 20-foot-tall papier-mache effigies that have been popular since the 1999 protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organization. ... "Puppets aren't new at protests," [another, older, protester] said. "But they are new to this generation."


    Harvard on marketing AND public relations? 

    It's a two-fer in the Harvard Business Review this month: the case study deals with product placement as a marketing strategy, and another story discusses former AT&T Chairman Michael Armstrong's increasing PR difficulties as a high profile executive and spokesperson.

    It was recently revealed that pharmaceutical manufacturers have hired celebrities to discuss their ailments and, coincidentally, the manufacturer's products, on daytime news and lifestyle shows. HBR's case study works through one marketing executive's decision to hire a '40s movie star to pimp her anti-arthritis drug. While the piece effectively examines the financial and marketing concerns behind her decision, it also plays up longstanding stereotypes about marketing folks: the marketing executive has a Rolex, a Coach bag, drives a Mercedes, drinks Poland Spring, and has a Sub Zero fridge at home.

    In the other piece, Dick Martin, the former EVP of AT&T, works through the strategy, execution and complications of Armstrong's relationship with the business media as he steered AT&T through a number of crises. Here's a synopsis of the article.

    Tired of being called at dinner? 

    Among many suggestions from a British customer service consultancy to deal with unwanted callers:

    Customers are wising up to the fact that if they keep the operative talking for more than three minutes this will mean they miss their productivity target.


    And what's your password? 

    Apparently, the most popular password for online banking is bananas.

    Will messaging put Kozlowski behind bars? 

    Any reference to Enron-era frauds has usually been couched in technical financial terms, and scandals have largely been featured in the business pages. Well, the prosecution seems to be taking a more popular approach in its opening arguments to the trial of Dennis Kozlowski, the former chairman of Tyco: the prosecutor is arguing that Tyco executives "engaged in a sweeping scheme of 'lying, cheating and stealing.' ... 'These two didn't win the jackpot,' said Kenneth Chalifoux, an assistant Manhattan district attorney. 'They stole it.'"

    Will this change in messaging work? As we all know, the message is only as effective as the spokesperson: during part of his presentation "... some jurors and spectators appeared to nod off or look in other directions ..."


    ABC takes a shot at fairweather friends 

    ABCNews' The Note sort of misses the exit polls in the run-up to the California recall election: "But as Mr. Murphy and Tim Russert know, having access to the exit polls on election day is still significantly better than, say, hearing from your cousin's husband that there were long lines at his polling place in Encino, or from your affiliate that it is drizzling in Mendocino. Note to our 'sources' who normally don't return our calls and/or to whom we speak fewer than three times a year: If you are looking for network exit poll numbers today, we suggest you call Tucker Carlson or Roger Ailes at home."

    Interested in some folk/punk/pop? 

    The new Billy Bragg compilation album is out today. Here's more information about Must I Paint You a Picture, and here's a free mp3 from Billy.

    Call on Line One: 40% off dinner! 

    Sony has come out with a Playstation console that includes a DVD recorder! That's news enough in my house, but the Nikkei Weekly also details how Japanese businesses are trying to build markets through cell phone advertising:

    "An estimated 60% of Japanese households now own at least one cell phone, and people tote them just about everywhere they go. At the same time spam ... is a huge problem ... many companies reaching out to the public via cell phone messaging now limit their efforts to people who have expressly subscribed to their services."

    One system ... "can send the same message to different subscribers at various times of the day, taking into account their occupations and daily schedules. One ... operator of pachinko parlor chains ... sends messages to housewives in the daytime and to office workers in the evening that describe which pachinko machines are likely to be especially lucky on a given day. "We have nearly 10% more visitors than usual on the days when we send e-mail," said a pachinko rep.

    Another system "designed for cell phones equipped with Global Positioning System services ... sends messages when owners ... come close to the source of the advertisement. ... the service can send an advertisement from an area retailer telling people that they can receive a 10% discount on products if they visit the store in the next hour."

    "Soon after exiting through the ticket gates at 11 stations near central Tokyo, many commuters can be seen checking their phones for incoming e-mail. ... Those signed up ... can expect to find messages from the railway company's retail arm, Odakyu Department Store Co. One such message sent on Sept. 3 advertised a 200 yen ($1.80) discount on a gourmet bento boxed lunch containing crab from Hokkaido." Shoppers just had to "show store clerks a coupon visible on their phone screens after 6 p.m. in order to receive the special price. ... Some 30,000 people have signed up for its mobile service, which automatically delivers e-mail messages carrying information about nearby towns and advertisements when commuters insert their train passes."


    Who's the strategic advisor? 

    The Aluminum Association's decision to partner the work of McKinsey & Co. and H&K on its nascent branding effort has, predictably, prompted some clucking and scurrying about in PR circles. PR WEEK US has taken this opportunity to restate the need for PR counsellors to demonstrate solid results and connect with a client's strategic objectives in order to succeed in a tired economy.

    But its' piece rehashes a common (and to PR types, comforting) assumption about strategic consultancies: "Management consultancies of this ilk have typically refrained from getting involved in PR, limiting their work in communications to a part of the management restructuring they are famous for."

    This is a dangerous leap to make. Firms like McKinsey are getting into our business because they see it as a growth opportunity. While PR firms worry about demonstrating their usefulness to their longstanding clients on the marketing team, McKinsey is selling itself as a strategic partner on marketing and branding issues to the executive team. As the CEO of Delahaye Medialink notes, "even though Delahaye can work in a strategic fashion and use a research foundation to provide this concentration, a McKinsey can better represent what a CEO or what the C-suite is thinking,' he says.

    We may be strengthening our relationships with our clients' marketing and communications teams, but where are the final budget decisions made?

    As for McKinsey being limited to management restructuring and other brainy pursuits, take a look at this McKinsey primer on branding for quants.



    What Would Chris Lehane Do? TLC's While You Were Out is taking on an unusual project this week: renovating the office of Sean Feddeman, the Press Secretary to Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. Hmm. Haven't we all felt like "redecorating" the boss' office at one time or anoher?


    A jump into risk communications 

    I've always faced a dilemma when advising technical experts and spokespeople on how to deal with hypothetical questions from reporters. In the world of politics, hypothetical questions are used to draw someone out of their comfort zone. They push your spokesperson to reveal future courses of action and, by intuition, what reservations they may hold about a current policy.

    That article in Slate (yes, that one up there) deals with one candidate's reservations:"If I've learned one thing in my nine days in politics, it's you better be careful with hypothetical questions," declared Gen. Wesley Clark in a recent Democratic presidential candidates' debate. He might have learned it on television, where "Never answer a hypothetical question" is one of the rules a real-life political strategist offered to real-life presidential candidate Howard Dean in HBO's fictional Washington drama K Street."

    But in the world of science and technology, hypothetical questions (and answers) are a more valuable resource. They can help guide a reporter or an audience through the complexities or uncertainties of a scientific issue. This is especially important if the discussion revolves around public health or safety issues - like biotechnology.

    There are some basic steps you can take to encourage the effective communication of ideas within your organization. The first is to learn how to discuss your issues, their complexities and their challenges effectively. When dealing with a hypothetical question and hypothetical outcomes, maybe the best way to explain possible risks is with an analogy. The EPA has developed the 7 cardinal rules of Risk Communication:

    Rule 1. Accept and involve the public as a legitimate partner
    Rule 2. Listen to the audience.
    Rule 3. Be honest, frank, and open.
    Rule 4. Coordinate and collaborate with other credible sources.
    Rule 5. Meet the needs of the media.
    Rule 6. Speak clearly and with compassion.
    Rule 7. Plan carefully and evaluate performance.

    Binders? We don't need no stinkin' binders! 

    Making a pitch for new business can be difficult, especially when you're trying to sell a service like public relations. Some operations and marketing executives can't make a decision if the pitch isn't presented in a nice box with a celebrity endorsement, 100% of the daily requirement of Vitamin C and a Christmas tie-in promotion. That's what Alan Weiss, writing in Across the Board, remembers from pitching a leadership program to mid-level execs at Con Ed:

    "Things had been going well, I thought, until a woman asked what my binders would look like. "What binders?" I asked, confused. "The binders for all your program materials," she told me, "because we're very proud of the look of our materials." "I don't even know if there will be binders," I replied, now annoyed, "because leadership doesn't come out of binders; it comes from changed behaviour on the job. You'll know it because your labor relations improve and your public image is enhanced and safety violations decline, not because everyone has a binder." "Well, if you can't produce a decent binder, I don't see why we should hire you!"

    The sad thing is, this rings so true. There is always a binder. I don't know about you, but I can see four binders from my chair. And some of them aren't even pretty.

    Here's a question: I code the hyperlinks to open in a new window, mostly because I don't like hitting the "back" button. Is this disturbing, annoying, or simply unnoticed by anyone? Comments?


    Geez. The WSJ discusses the 'winning' formula for sitcoms, and it's really depressing: "Sitcom producers discovered long ago that living rooms offer a ready excuse for characters to gather, and the staircase lets characters enter and exit while talking. Writers are loath to monkey with what works: This fall, 67% of sitcoms on ABC, CBS, and NBC feature a living room with a sofa and staircase." But the most damning indictment comes when they discuss a supposed innovation - someone comments that "Ted Danson did that." Ewwww.
    A true-to-life school of crisis communications: this week's Sports Illustrated runs a short story on the NBA's Rookie Transition Program - "a six-day mandatory crash course in Reality 101. ... The time commitment was substantial for what commissioner David Stern describes as "a cocoon for the players," but the newcomers endured it and seemed to accept it. The rooks got schooled from players current (the Nets' Kenyon Martin and the Spurs' Bruce Bowen among them) and past (including legend Bill Russell, who told the group that they "are the new caretakers" of the game), as well as by security experts, referees, financial specialists, media trainers (who urged players to "find out specifically what the interview is about and try to keep it to that subject") and image polishers."


    It dwells too much on marshy subjects like Sarbanes-Oxley and audit procedures, but an article in the latest Fortune pinpoints a real weakness in the PR strategies of the large accounting firms:

    "True, only a year has passed since the passage of Sarbanes- Oxley--not much time for an industry to reinvent itself. And to be sure, some of the cases now making news are actually pre-Enron in origin. But neither of those excuses is enough to explain why the Big Four--which together audit a staggering 78% of the nation's 15,000 publicly traded companies--continue to careen from one humiliating headline to the next. The ultimate reason, say many observers, is quite simple: They haven't gotten the message. "Has the world totally changed in accounting? The short answer is no," says Ashish Nanda, a Harvard Business School professor who has written extensively about the accounting industry.

    "But ultimately the auditing firms have to step up and end these conflicts of interest on their own. "You've seen full-page ads taken about how we're going to do more quality work and be more independent," says [Charles] Bowsher [head of the Public Oversight Board]. "But you haven't seen any CEO of one of the Big Four firms come out and take a leadership position."

    I don't want to seem like a McDonald's fetishist, but their marketing department has been busy (you would be too, with all those consecutive quarters of declining sales). Over the past four weeks, ads running in Canada have surreptitiously planted a reference to a website/chatbot meant to appeal to a younger online audience. Paul Hains, executive at the Toronto agency that created the site, .. "contends the ploy is "the opposite of an advertising campaign." What makes this gambit effective, he says, is that it upends consumers' expectations about McDonald's. "It's darker and there's an eeriness to it," he says. "One of the comments I read in a chat room the other day is, 'It really makes me rethink who McDonald's is,' and that's exactly what we want it to be." Uh, yeah. Right. Can I get the red matchbox car with that Happy Meal? And will you have a tie-in with the next Pixar movie?
    Way back in the distant reaches of time - when Margaret Thatcher was in power - people used to set newspaper type by hand and drink lots of tea on the company dime. Then Rupert Murdoch had a bright idea: why not computerize the whole process at a new plant outside London, and generate fantastic returns that would fund the creation of a global media empire? There was only one stumbling block: 5500 union typesetters and other printing types who would lose their jobs. There's an interesting excerpt from Roy Greenslade's new book on the Guardian web site.
    Well, I should thank Tom Murphy for the shout-out this morning, for one thing.


    Tom Murphy's PR Opinions takes a new look at the term "meta tagging" - in this case, news releases where the "quote is clearly mind-numbing. Rather than focus on a clear message it focuses on trying to get a firm in as many market segments as possible and ends up losing the point."
    You know, when the Auditor General of Canada says you've been a bad boy, you really shouldn't accuse her of a "vicious personal attack" and of overstepping her authority. In a case study for poor crisis communications, the former Privacy Commissioner for the Government of Canada is the target of a number of investigations, particularly for his ability to spend $500,000 on meals in a two year period. Still, he thinks "Anyone concerned with fairness and decency should ask some very tough questions about what is going on." I mean, think of the waiters who have lost their tips!


    Today, Howard Kurtz takes a look at the possibility that the traditional media's influence over voters way be waning, if behaviour by the Dean and Schwarzenegger camps is any measure. "The press corps has been giving him a hard time," says Schwarzenegger strategist Mike Murphy. "But he's not a traditional candidate -- that's his strength. We go on Larry King and talk to 2 million people instead of showing up at the L.A. Press Club to talk to 300 on C-SPAN."


    Apparently, Ronald McDonald is moving up in the world. A notice in today's National Post, topped by a vaguely unsettling picture of the smiling clown, announces his appointment as "Chief Happiness Officer." Sure, this is just another tactic in the rollout of the new "i'm lovin' it" tagline, but the notice has a glaring ommission: "Over the years, Mr. McDonald has ably supported his colleagues Birdy, Grimace and Hamburglar in their careers ..." What happened to the Fry Guys? Do you remember how - before the Berlin Wall fell - we'd carefully watch public appearances by Soviet leaders to gauge who was in favour and who had recently moved to Siberia? I guess the marketing team decided the Fry Guys didn't fit in with the corporation's new healthy image. I wonder if there's a big pile of Fry Guy costumes sitting in a self-storage unit out there?


    In the Wall Street Journal's Weekend Journal, Dave Shiflett rolls out his high horse and hops on for a ride, sniping at the UN's practice of appointing celebrity ambassadors for high profile issues: "Geri Halliwell, who gained international recognition as a Spice Girl and who now plumps for safe sex under U.N. auspices, explains that "fame is like a bright light." The sniffy piece, though, gets funny when he depends upon, of all places, MTV to support his case: "Not everyone is happy about celebrity advocacy, even some celebrities. Singer Damon Albarn told MTV's audience: "I've got a problem with Bono going to see the pope about Third World debt. I don't question his sincerity, but I think it's creating monsters. You see so-called stars in these situations and they seem irrelevant. They don't even dress for the part; they don't look like they're there. They look like computer-generated inserts." I wonder if that interview was on TRL.
    A recent issue of In-Store Marketing discussed how companies handling the installation of point-of-purchase displays in the U.K. are now reassuring brand managers by "using handheld digital technology to ensure installations go to plan. It usually takes the form of a digital camera type device with the option of web feedback ... to provide the client with photographic evidence of successfully completed operations. If the brief is to put a biscuit display next to coffee products, installers are expected to provide compliance reports and pictures." I haven't seen that level of service from companies setting up PR booths and pop-ups. Is it just me? Or is this because consumer products companies focus more strongly on wriging value from each dollar (or, in this case, pound)?


    I wanted to point out this column on copy editing from Poynter just because it contains the quote: "As someone once said to me: Editors are not word janitors."


    On the Red Carpet at the Emmys: "So, is that lovely 3.4 carat ring from Winston's?" "No - Eddie's of Flatbush!" Turns out the bling bling advisor to the stars was hocking millions of dollars in jewelry. (NYT : reg. req.)
    When I'm looking for a little visual stimulation and a twist of creativity, I turn to HOW Design magazine's annual guide on self promotion - on sale now.


    It's a little musty, but there's a simple guide to communicating political analysis to decisionmakers and politicians in the CIA's Studies in Intelligence. A lot of these arguments can help PR types as well: Senior officials are smart, talented, confident, comfortable in their judgment, and almost always better plugged in than analysts ... analysts must bring something to the party—in short, they need to be seen as credible sources of needed expertise. ... Senior officials more often than not know the answer they want and are looking for the intelligence to support it. The key is our ability to put the political behavior that policymakers see into a larger cultural and historical context—that they do not see—with enough sophistication to demonstrate that the context matters.
    I know Howard Dean's run for the nomination has developed momentum, largely because of his association with meetup.com, but Roll Call's cartoonist takes a really good shot at him.
    Well, between radio tags at grocery stores and the wireless keys for the new Lexus, I can imagine a world where mall doors swing open unprompted and cash registers charge me for Swiffer gift packs still on the shelf.


    from Management Today: "There's a new graduate recruit in marketing. We call him the Embryo because his head seems much larger than his body and he smells slightly of amniotic fluid (I've noticed the women in the office surreptitiously sniffing him). Smokehouse has a rigorous induction course for our graduates. It's in five phases - enthusiasm, confusion, disillusionment, bitterness and cynicism. Only graduates who get to stage five are allowed to start in marketing. We're having trouble getting the Embryo past mindless enthusiasm, which makes him almost impossible to work with. We've given him menial chores such as budgeting and strategy to keep him out of the way."


    I am, I confess, a functioning crackberry addict. I have almost worn off the finish of my Blackberry 957 from continuous use: during boring meetings, on the bus, in the backyard, at hockey games and while eating lunch at Indian buffets. What do I use this wonderful little crackberry for? Email, of course. Notes, beeps and flashing lights remind me that the calendar is trying keep me on track during the day. And Web access lets me check my Yahoo mail account - since the firewall at work blocks it off. Interestingly enough, I can use the Web access to check my fantasy baseball team and post blog entries as well. BTW - are you wondering where I'm sitting while I write this?


    As you would expect, I highly recommend my LaunchCast radio station for songs by the Specials, the Violent Femmes, the Jam, Prodigy, Erasure, Save Ferris and for Chris Rock, George Carlin and many more.


    I'd like to post something everyday - but only if I think it will be useful to me.


    A sound for you: http://tinyurl.com/nlem