A brand new PR energi…

Are you ready? I’ve got some really exciting Palette news.

On July 1 Palette PR, the agency I co-founded with Louise Armstrong, is merging with Communications MECA to form a brand new agency – energi PR – we’re calling it Canada’s PR and digital/social media powerhouse.

And we are jumping up and down thrilled!

Today we told staff and clients. We’re posting a news release on our respective sites and on our new site – which really is ‘under construction’ till early July.  And tomorrow morning, we’re live on the wire.

So what does this mean?  All Palette and MECA staff is coming to the new company and everyone will have more opportunities to work on new projects and take on fresh challenges.  We’ll be an independent, national and bilingual agency with offices in Toronto and Montreal.  Palette will be move into MECA’s Toronto office. And I’m really looking forward to getting to know and working with all my new colleagues.

We’re specializing in PR, social media/digital and corporate communications and building traditional and new PR/social media into our agency right from the start so we’ll be able to seamlessly integrate the two.  I’m going to be the Toronto managing partner and will lead the firm’s digital practice.

I’ve known my other two managing partners, Esther Buchsbaum and Carol Levine, a long time through Counselors Academy, CCPRF and from working together on projects.  I have long admired Communications MECA, the firm they created, their approach and industry leadership. They’re smart, talented and have a lot of business savvy and most important, the fit is right!

I have one other piece of news and that is Louise is stepping away from the business to spend more time with her kids and on her writing. This is something Louise has been thinking about for a long time. We built Palette together and I want to wish her all the best. I’m going to miss working with her! And, if she wants, there will always be a place for Louise at energi.

To everyone who helped and supported Palette over the years, including staff, all our wonderful clients, our industry partners and friends I want to thank you! I hope you’ll all come along for our energi-filled ride (OK, I’ll try to keep the puns to a minimum).  We’ve got lots of amazing plans!

Watch for more news leading up to July 1 and beyond.

I’d love to hear from you, but may be a bit difficult to reach on Wed and Thu – I’m teaching a two-day social media for business course at McMaster from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

And please bear with me as I update all my social network profiles. That may take a little time…

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Do you complify instead of simplify?

At Palette we have a promise (to our clients and ourselves) that our relationships and work will be based on three pillars: simplicity, energy and integrity.

It’s at the heart of everything we do.

But lately I’ve noticed that for some people and organizations simplicity has (simply) gone awry.

And instead of making life easier, we make things more complex: we complify.

Here’s what I mean. In the course of a workday, you notice something you’re doing is cumbersome and has too many pointless steps. You think, we should come up with a way to fix this.

But instead of cutting through the crap, egos get involved. And then an old process is replaced by a newer process, a few extra levels are added (in the spirit of collaboration, of course) and all of a sudden something that wasn’t working very well to begin with (the devil you know) has been transformed into something that doesn’t work at all.

Congratulations. You’ve just been complifed.

So how can we avoid getting into this trap?

Here are three (simple) steps:
1. Ask yourself if an improvement is truly needed and if so, will people buy in.
2. Strip down the activity to its base elements, assume nothing is sacred and cut, cut, cut. (Pretend CTL-V does not exist.)
3. If your solution involves more than a couple of moving parts…abort! Remember what you’re goal is.

Sounds simple? Sure. But I can tell you in no time, it wouldn’t be hard to add a few more steps to this plan and complify.

The RfP speed-date

If you work in PR or communications (or any agency, for that matter), you’ve probably done lots of RfPs. In the current economy, it seems like there are more of these every day.

Now, I’m happy to jump through all the hoops necessary to win a good piece of business, especially if it’s a brand I admire.

However, think how much time we spend creating standout strategies and creative ideas that never see the light of day. Because when you get right down to it, there’s a lot of agency talent out there and the final decision is usually based on chemistry or fit.

And that’s OK. It’s a big part of what relationships are all about.

Which is why I’d like to propose a new 10-step agency selection model:

The PR RfP speed-date

Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Client does online research to determine which agencies look the most promising.

Step 2: Client rents a neutral venue, buys a bell, selects a date and invites said agencies (no more than six) to an hour-long event. Client provides agency with a one-pager on the organization listing business challenge, goals, objectives, culture and budget.

Step 3: Agencies arrive and the venue and are each seated at a table. Client welcomes everyone and makes introductions (we probably all know each other anyway).

Step 4: Client then moves to table one, spending up to 10 minutes meeting with agency, asking questions, listening to agency’s response.

Step 5: Bell rings. Client moves to next agency.

Step 6: Repeat step 5 until process is over.

Step 7: At the end of the hour, agencies leave and client selects the top two.

Step 8: Based on what my friend Julie Rusciolelli suggests with potential new hires, client invites two agencies out to dinner (separate nights) to get to know them better and talk strategy and ideas. No presentations, everything off the cuff.

Step 9: Client makes selection and informs both agencies.

Step 10: Client and agency begin working together – (i.e. formal engagement).

Done right, the entire process should take no more than two weeks, and, while I can’t offer guarantees, my gut tells me everyone will be happy with the results. (And, if not, it’s easy to start over or to try number two.)

OK, for those who don’t know my sense of humour, yes, I’m joking (but only half). It makes you wonder if there isn’t a better process for clients and agencies to successfully pair up.

And if any clients want to try an experiment, Palette is in. Meanwhile, bring on the next RfP.

What do you think?

The blogosphere just got a touch of class

Ever wondered how to make a good impression on clients at a formal dinner? What about knowing where to draw the line between appropriate (or inappropriate) professional communications?

My colleague, Louise Armstrong, combines her expertise in PR and etiquette in a new blog: A Call for Class.

A thoughtful writer, Louise is setting out to examine the places where manners and modern communications meet. And you can be sure her posts will offer a keen perspective and useful advice.

Have a read and let me (or Louise) know what you think.

PodCamp 2009

If you’re a PR person interested in social media, blogging, podcasting and the latest developments, tools and trends, I’d encourage you to sign up for PodCamp 2009 in Toronto, Feb 21 and 22. It’s a great opportunity to learn more and have a chance to trade stories and meet other practitioners.

This year, Palette is pleased to be one of the event sponsors.

Hope to see you there.

Something’s in the air

Last week, we sent out our Palette e-holiday card – a pretty timely idea, if do say so myslef. (You may need to double click on the image to get the gist.) Then a few days later, a cartoonist from the Toronto Star published an illustration using the same joke.

Now, since our card pre-dated their visual, one could assume they ripped us off. I mean, we distributed it first – it was out there for all and sundry to see and the next thing we knew, someone bigger was taking credit for it.

Did we call our lawyers? Threaten a lawsuit?

Hardly.

In my mind, it’s a clear example of a concept being in the air and having more than one ‘creator’ at the same time.

This seems to happen a lot. I think it’s due to a confluence of events (e.g. the economy and holidays) and the speed with which online communications spreads our shared imagery and metaphors. I mean, come up with virtually any idea, search it on Google, and there’s a chance someone else got there first. A virtual copyright infringement.

But who copied and who was right?

The truth is, if the Toronto Star had done it before us, we would probably have been seen as the also ran, because their distribution is much larger than ours. It’s a case of volume trumping voice, which is, in many ways, similar to Marshall McLuhan’s notion of the medium being the message.

And it is a question that we communicators grapple with all the time: How do we get our messages to resonate when there are often much more vocal sources than us?

I think this is where relationships, credibility and trust comes in. Sure they require more energy, work and time than pure amplification. But I believe that when you combine those attributes with a relevant story people want to hear, a quieter voice can be as effective as a shout.

Palette named Canada’s #1 beauty PR agency

In a survey of Canadian beauty editors, conducted by Cosmetics magazine and announced in the April/May issue, Palette PR was named the country’s top beauty public relations agency.

Tall poppies be damned. This is exciting news. You can imagine how thrilled we are.

It’s the culmination of four years of dedication, creativity, great projects and clients and commitment to the Palette promise:
– Simplicity – we’re here to make life easier, not more complicated
– Energy – we don’t give up until we get results
– Integrity – we’re always up-front and honest

That’s the same approach we use for all the sectors we work in.

Of course we’d like give a big thanks to Canada’s beauty editors, our talented Quebec partner, ZOI Agency, without whom… and of course, our wonderful P&G Beauty clients: Olay, Herbal Essences, Head & Shoulders, Aussie and Secret.

If this sounds a little like an acceptance speech, I guess it is.

You can read more about the honour here.