Thursday, 24 November 2011

Strategic Communications Make Tomorrow's Sale

It's not coincidence that social media has increased in use and popularity since the economy took a turn for the worse.  Social media is far more cost effective than print marketing materials.  It also provides invaluable two-way dialogue with customers that is crucial to market research and branding exercises.

When skeptics say that social media hasn't proven any return on investment, I'm perplexed.  Do they not realize how tightly people are holding on to their purse strings?  Do they not understand that engagement in the discussion is actually the best return on investment you can get?

All of us are working hard these days.  Reaching out to more poeple, arranging more meetings, putting in longer hours.  In an economy like today's, we need to hunker down and clarify strategy for the days ahead.  We also need to put pen to paper or finger to keyboard as the case may be so that when the time is right, we have the best materials possible to drive the sale.

Strategic engaging communications - whether it takes the shape of public relations, social media or traditional marketing materials - mightn't make a sale today.   But those organizations that make it a priority will build customer loyalty and one day, see the flood gates open. 

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

No Industry Needs New Leadership More Than Hockey

I'm not a sports fan, but even I watched last night's NHL game to witness Sidney Crosby's return. This caused me to reflect about how much this game is in desperate need of new leadership and an operational overhaul.

It's obvious at this point that the very nature of NHL Hockey is a threat to the best players in the game.  If there is a collective desire to continue to see the best hockey players perform on centre stage night after night, we need to make some changes to ensure the long term health of the game and players we love.

As well, any parent who scrutinizes their children's TV viewing habits knows that an NHL hockey game is dicey family viewing at best.  It's pretty tough to explain why everything we teach our kids on a daily basis  (i.e., non-violence, respect for authority, respect for others) can be thrown out the window when it comes to an NHL hockey game. Physical violence and fighting that causes concussions aside, hockey is one of very few professional sports where verbal abuse of a referee is "part of the game".   If you watch the NHL as a family, I guess you make your best pitch and then keep your fingers crossed that your child doesn't bully or swear at an adult just because they feel like it...

We are selling ourselves and this game short to maintain the status quo. This great game stands on its own merits. No one would argue the quality of The World Junior and Olympic tournaments that are void of the cultural issues outlined above. So what can be done to save this great Canadian game?

Hockey is in desperate need of new leadership.  I understand that the Don Cherry's of the world have earned their place in Hockey History.  But in any other industry, this man would have received his walking papers when he insulted Stu Grimson, Chris Nilan and Jim Thomson for linking the issue of fighting in hockey to possible addiction and/or emotional problems later in life. (Afterall, these men are heros in my mind for admitting their demons.)  It's time for a new Hockey Night in Canada spokesperson, and for the owners to realize that getting one would result in more people watching the game. 

I also believe that it's time for some NHL players to take a leadership role.  Think of how Sydney Crosby is idolized in the NHL.  I'm astounded at that this young man who is possibly at risk of losing his hockey career (aka his life).  Why is he not taking the opportunity to say loud and clear that something needs to change about the rules of the game?

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that true leaders - spokespeople, coaches and players alike - will step up to the plate.  The minute they do, I'll start watching the NHL and I think many others will do the same.  Then more money and fame (which ironically NHL players and owners feel are at risk if the game is changed) will follow.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Why Wikipedia is Invaluable

My job as a communications consultant is often the translation of  technical terminology into laymen's terms.  Unfortunately, I don't know something about everything.  I'm a fairly well-read person but my degree is in English and Political Science, as well as Public Relations - nothing math or science-oriented.

The best tip I ever got was from a good friend of mine who is a CIO.  I always thought that she knew something about everything, but she let me in on the secret that this is not the case.  Whenever she doesn't know what something is, she nods her head like she does know, writes down the term and later on looks it up on Wikipedia.  Since she gave me this tip, I use Wikipedia almost every day. 

Wikipedia is not-for-profit, but it's the fifth most used website in the world.  I made a donation today because I think it's amazing that they do so much with so little and quite honestly, I don't know what I would do without it.  I hope you'll consider doing the same. Visit <a href=""><img border="0" alt="Support Wikipedia" src="//" /></a>

Friday, 18 November 2011

Occupy Efforts Need to Say What They Want

For the past month, like everyone, I have been listening to the news in awe of what's happening with the Occupy Efforts across our country.  A year ago, when my husband told me that this economy was going to lead to civil unrest in Canada and the US, I told him he was overreacting.  Today, I turn on the news every day keeping my fingers crossed that the Occupy Efforts in Canada have not gone too far...

I'm actually quite astounded that the Occupy Efforts have not taken advantage of the ample opportunities they've been given to tell their story.  In an interview with eleven protesters the other day on CBC, not one of them said what they would need to be given in order to vacate St. James Park.  I'm not suggesting that they don't have a right to pitch a tent and protest.  But if you're going to go to the trouble, at least know what you're going to say when your efforts get noticed. 

Of those eleven people, only one man said something worth listening to.  He said that St. James Park was a place where they felt comfortable having uncomfortable discussions that couldn't be had elsewhere.  Fair enough - but is that all you want?  Afterall, a good portion of Canadians listen to the CBC, and they might lend support if your requests were realistic and achievable. 

For example, would you be happy if one or several high income earners announced that they were making more donations to charities?  Or if certain corporations made it their mandate to build more affordable housing?  You're spending all of that time hanging out together and talking - can't you get your wishlist together? 

Seems like the Occupy Efforts need someone to help them with their key messaging.  They need to figure out what they want and need and just say it.  It has occurred to me that people with key messaging expertise mightn't be camping out in St. James Park.  I might take a walk down this weekend to satisfy my own curiosity. 

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Respect for Audio and Visual Learners

Yesterday I had two meetings back to back that I think were meant to send me a message.  At my first meeting, the radio was on in the background.  "I'll turn it down," my colleague says.  "I can't function without background noise. My radio is always on." 

The second meeting was with a friend of mine who is heading up a major healthcare initiative.  She developed all of her print marketing materials and then got together with a gentleman who was influential in the Punjabi community - one of her major stakeholder groups.  His eyes glazed over when he looked at the material.  After a bit of poking and prodding, she got to the crux of the matter.  His community is verbal, so her print material was wasted money.  Radio advertising is worth the bang for the buck.

This speaks to the age old importance of knowing your audience REALLY well before you spend money on marketing.  Canada is a beautiful multicultural country, and we need to recognize and respect how different cultures and different people learn.  This means finding out as much as you can about your customer before you do your marketing.  And redoing the research periodically, because as your business grows, your customer demographic will change.

Someone knows when they're being listened to and respected.  Even though you might have to spend more money to accommodate different learning styles (i.e., online videos and radio ads in addition to print advertising), respected customers means more respect for your brand.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

A Break From the Norm

Today, I'm departing from the communications topic to give you an enjoyable break from your day.  You MUST take a minute to listen to this band of grade ten kids. 
The Goodwood Road Band is playing the El Macombo for an all ages show on December 3rd. The drummer/backup singer is a grad of DAREarts that gives at risk youth the opportunity to gain life coping skills through the arts as authentic artists (singers, dancers, actors, sculptors) donate their time to teach and renowned arts institutions (AGO, ROM, National Ballet etc.) open their doors free of charge. Please consider giving to this very worthy cause - Visit
And grab your kids for the all ages show on the 3rd.  You will win the cool parent award.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Motivation to Create Jobs

We had the greatest dinner party conversation the other night - about the economy and what's preventing Canada from getting ahead.  Our friend is a very successful independent consultant who could likely grow his business twenty-fold (and create jobs in the process) but he's just not interested.  He is comfortable doing what he's doing.

This is the case for many independent business owners in Canada.  People are quite happy doing what they're doing while being able to maintain quality of life.  Fair enough - quality of life is important - and I'm not suggesting people work 24/7.  But we as individuals have so much more knowledge, power and ability to create jobs than we did in previous recessions...

It's time for a massive brainstorming and strategy session in Canada. What will motivate business owners to want more to the extent that they're willing to put a bit on the line in order to employ more people?  What options are available to uneducated people who are losing their jobs and are those options being communicated to them? (Perhaps network marketing with low overhead cost and minimal experience required.) What jobs can only PEOPLE and not computers do - and are we doing our best to grow those opportunities. (i.e., Our aging population needs care and they don't want it from a robot.)

For those who have the ear of people who can do something to create growth in the economy, I hope you're asking the questions. Many of us would love to know the answers - and be willing to lend a hand in promoting the cause.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Communications with Impact in Times of Change

I was saddened to read the story in Today's Globe and Mail about Zellers preparing for the Target takeover.

Zellers is the first store I remember going into as a kid, as it was in the mall I cut through on my way to school.  Today, I buy so many of my kids' clothes there as my daughters grow out of clothes or change their mind about them so quickly.  It's Canada's go-to store in most neighbourhood malls.

I have great admiration for Mark Foote, CEO, who realizes that especially in times of change, communications is so important. Granted, he's cutting back on his cost-prohibitive advertising budget.  Instead he's  spending more money on social media - which is sure to hit his target audience - moms looking for a great deal.  As well, he's providing sales incentive and employment transition programs to keep his employees vested.  This is so important for Zellers, especially right now while coming up to the Christmas season.   A happy and vested retail salesperson, combined with great value = a happy customer = repeat sales.

I'm willing to bet Mr. Foote is also focusing on PR since his story is being told so well.  PR is much cheaper than advertising and is the perfect communications vehicle when it's targeted in the right way to the right media at the right time.  If you're looking to build brand awareness and you don't have a topical story to sell (obviously this is not the case for Zellers), be patient.  It might take up to three months to entice the media and sell the story.  But eventually, if it's done properly, your story will be covered.

The point is this - change is reality.  It must be addressed and even embraced one day at a time - no matter how difficult.  And clear concise communications to the people who are being affected is absolutely crucial along the way.

Rachel Pardy
Cahoots Communications Inc.