Stop being used

There’s an interesting post by Josh Bernoff about the way tech companies refer to their customers as users.

And it dawned on me that if I’m a user then I’m probably being used.

I guess that’s somewhat implicit in the symbiotic producer/customer relationship. However, if we, the users, can fully understand the situation then presumably we can stop being so used (upsold) and make more informed choices.

On the other hand I also agree with the Elephant Man who so eloquently proclaimed, ‘I am not an animal! I am a human being! I am…a man!’


Read any good blooks lately?

I just stumbled on Jack Kapica’s witty Weblish post. In it he mentions the Lulu Blooker Prize (I hadn’t heard of it before), awarded annually to blogs that transform themselves into into books, er blooks, from a program you can get on the Lulu site. The business was created by Red Hat co-founder Bob Young.

I was curious, checked it out and it’s actually quite ingenious. You can publish text (fiction, non-fiction), comics, illustrated coffee table books, calendars. And they promote it on the site.

However, as someone who has written two books the old fashioned way, I wonder if there’s any merit in doing the reverse and trying to turn hard copies into a blog (or should I say blok)?

‘A bad image or no image’

Poor Manitoba. It isn’t enough that my birth province is beset by frigid winters and an overabundance of blood-sucking mosquitoes in the summer. Not to mention a hollowed-out downtown, glue sniffing and a 40+ year exodus to points East and West.

And now, to add insult to injury, it turns out that the reaction to ‘Spirited Energy’, the province’s attempt to rebrand and attract visitors and investment, was less than warmly received when it was tested in focus groups. According the Marketing magazine online (subscription required): consumers ‘were lukewarm and even confused’ about the campaign. (I guess that’s why the provincial government was reticent to release the results and only did so after an order from the ombudsman.)

Competitiveness Minister Jim Rondeau defended the government’s decision to go with the campaign by saying, ‘Before the whole exercise, Manitoba either had a bad image or no image.’’

Thanks Minister. It’s good to see the current government is upholding the status quo.

To be frank, I was completely underwhelmed by Manitoba’s new slogan, too. It reminded me of the wrong-headed, dull ‘Toronto’s Unlimited’ campaign. Both seem to miss the mark in that they fail to convey what it is about those places that make them stand out, that capture people’s hearts and minds. (Think ‘I Love New York’.)

There’s lots to celebrate about Manitoba. The wonderful heritage, endless prairie sky, long, sunny days, Salisbury House and Rae and Jerry’s and the Fabric Centre, of course*.

If you ask me (and nobody did). I think the province should return to ‘Friendly Manitoba’ and build on that. A good image starts with who you are, not who you think you should be.

*Disclosure: The Fabric Centre, Winnipeg’s first fabric retailer, was founded and operated by my father. I worked there after school and for many summers and it’s now owned and operated by my sister.

A failure to communicate

Two years ago, during my APR* oral exam, I was asked how I might counsel the Mayor of Toronto on a certain issue of the day. I replied that I did not practice public affairs, would probably suggest the Mayor call someone else, and then offered a few general principles that I thought might apply to the situation.

I’m going to do the same today.

First some background. Toronto City Council defeated (by one vote) two civic tax increases that Mayor David Miller believed would bring in some much needed revenue.

All of a sudden we’re in dire straits with the Mayor urging various departments to slash their budgets. Heck, he even said he’d have to put a hold on the $1 million+ reno to his office (tsk, tsk).

Suddenly there’s a looming crisis at the Toronto Transit Commission and the proclamation that the Sheppard subway, our new, underperforming line, might have to be shut down.

Now with everything we know about global warming, suggesting a subway line be shuttered (and by extension encouraging more cars on the road) seems like the exact wrong message to be sending out, regardless of our short-term financial situation.

Mr. Mayor, it sounds like you’re engaging in fear-mongering, with a touch of sour grapes thrown in for good measure.

I think what we have here is ‘a failure to communicate’.

So here’s a PR perspective that might help steer you back on track:
– Stop grumbling and start working toward a positive (re)solution.
– Initiate a dialogue with your opponents, share your point of view and listen to what they have to say. Bring them onside. This budget shortfall is not a partisan issue. It affects all of us.
– Engage your constituents, educate us, hear our voices, refine your ideas, win our support.
– Do the same with your other stakeholders (business, government agencies, unions, provincial and federal governments).
– Once you have this support and a viable plan, put it to a vote.
– Do it quickly (if indeed we are in a crisis).
– And please, curb the histrionics.

Pretty simple, really.

And if you want some cost-cutting ideas from this blogger, why don’t you start in your own backyard. Perhaps you could trim city workers (by attrition and retirement). Reduce the number of bureaucrats and, except for some union grumbling, I bet we wouldn’t even notice any change in the level of (civil) service.

*Accredited Public Relations designation. Disclosure: I’m the CPRS Toronto accreditation chair. If you’re interested in any information about the program, please contact me.

But seriously ladies and germs…

True confession: I used to be a comedy writer/performer a long time ago (I even collaborated on a political joke book). And since I now have this forum, I’m taking the liberty of posting a few jokes and puns.

Feel free to add a laugh track (comments) – good or bad, improve the punchlines or submit your own.

Here are three to start:

What do comedians use for writing really bad jokes?
A pun.

What do you call an unruly group of snobs?
A smob.

Where do you bury jazz musicians?
In a groove-yard.

Face the music

Robert Scoble has a good post on why he thinks Facebook is the place to be. Everybody’s there…

It’s sounding a bit like the Studio 54 of the social media scene, except there isn’t a bouncer (or beta version) to keep people at bay.

And all those apps… Or, as Groucho Marx might have said, ‘Vy an app?’ Or which app should I go for since there seem to be too many to choose from…

So (if I may borrow a reference from yet another decade), I guess the message is, be there or be square…

(So yeah, I did succumb to temptation and joined in.)

Just like Bob Dylan

When I was a camp counsellor in Webster, Wisconsin way back in the last millennium, I never would have believed that the first time I would see Bob Dylan live would be years later at a casino showroom north of Toronto.

And yes, it was him and not a traveling tribute show.

His performance was amazing. His voice, always like an old man’s, was even more so, filled with grit and gravel. He played his songs, old and new, with a country twang (which I loved).

To borrow from Shelley Duval’s rock critic character in Annie Hall, the experience was ‘transplendent’. What I mean is it was beyond words, Dylan’s words mostly. And that gave the concert its life. Sometimes it felt like he wasn’t singing in English. Maybe he was doing the entire show in scat. My friend Joey Ax said, ‘he’s singing in tongues’.

And his phrasing… The way the words flowed together gave a new meaning to the ones you could understand. He could give a course on hyphenation.

Dylan started off on electric guitar, switched to keyboard and played most of the show with his back to my side of the audience. (So did I really see him?)

The three songs that most stood out for me were:
– ‘Just Like a Woman’ – how did he make his harmonica speak English more clearly than he did?
– ‘When the Deal Goes Down’ – something new that is so powerful you almost remembered the words the first time you heard it.
– ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ – played in such a way that it was familiar though almost unrecognizable.

That was the encore. And you wonder, how many more times can Dylan sing this song?

When it’s this different… I guess we all know the answer to that.