Of Winnipeg and ice

The ‘Slurpee capital of the world’ has a frosty new title. According to a story in today’s Globe and Mail, Winnipeg’s River Trail outdoor skating rink, now sliding across both the Red and Assiniboine rivers, is longer (by distance) than the one on Ottawa’s Rideau Canal. While there’s the usual griping over details – in this case length vs area; or -30 temperatures vs warming huts – it looks like Winnipeg has skated to the finish line as the champ.

Congratulations, I say. In a city where frigidity is the norm, it’s better to embrace reality than consistently gripe about it or pretend it’s not there. Done right, I think the Slurpee and skating crowns could go a long way toward making the city cool.

Snow sculpture, anyone?


A disconnect can be a good thing

I recently came back from visiting my Mom in Winnipeg. She still lives in the same house I grew up in, and being there is a bit of a time warp.

What I mean is for five days I didn’t have access to my regular online fix. No high speed. Not even dial-up. If I wanted to plug in, I had to brave a -25 windchill and drop by a wireless cafe.*

All this made me realize how Internet-dependent I’ve become. Addicted, really. When so many people could simply care less. For them, computers are a past-time, a way to share jokes, look up a movie time, buy something.

They haven’t crossed over to the ‘new media’ promised lan. They still consume TV, read local papers, go to the mall and talk to the folks behind the tables at the community displays. They get most of their news the old fashioned way.

Perhaps it’s our profession and its fascination (obsession?) with the latest and greatest communications tools. We’re ravenous for information, 24/7.

But as admirable as I think this may be, it’s important to remember there’s a parallel, albeit slightly slower world right here beside us: let’s call it the ‘first life’.

It’s a place with less MB and more MB. Where everyone’s connected, just not like that.

*OK, a disclosure: I had my BB Bold so I wasn’t completely out of touch. But, I wasn’t glued to it the way I sometimes am to my laptop.


Where I come from (Winnipeg) and in other western cities, there’s a party tradition we call ‘socials’.

If you haven’t heard of them, they’re essentially a pre-nuptials bash and work like this: an engaged couple has the right to purchase a liquor license, rent a hall, and throw a huge blow-out shindig. They invite all and sundry, get to charge admission, sell drinks and hopefully make some cash to help them get started in their new life. (They can get pretty crazy at times.)

I thought of socials because of all the recent Toronto social media get-togethers – a chance for practitioners to leave our offices and computers and actually interact.

Here’s a quick round-up:

Let me know if you have any more to add. I may see you there.

A Winnipeg intersection

Portage and Main? River and Osborne? Vaughan and Graham?

In the past few days I’ve had a couple of close encounters of the Winnipeg kind with the city of my birth.

It started Thursday evening at the Bachman Cummings concert. What a trip – down memory lane, that is. It was an amazing show. The songs, every one of them a solid hit, were brought to life by two 60-something rockers, in great shape and sounding as good as ever.

They seemed to be having a lot of fun with each other, musically and otherwise. In one case Burton Cummings introduced a song that Randy Bachman had written about Cummings when he didn’t like him all that much (Hey You). And Cummings’ keyboard acrobatics were a perfect complement to Bachman’s intensity-on-guitar.

The duo talked about starting out in Winnipeg and wore their civic pride on their sleeve, which of course made me proud by association.

Then Saturday, I went to see Guy Maddin’s hallucinogenic documentary, My Winnipeg. (Can someone please pass the Forks?) And while it was definitely his warped vision, it was only a neighbourhood away from mine.

I was particularly thrilled he showed the garbage dump that thee city turned into a toboggan hill (no kidding). That he ventured into the hallowed sixth floor halls of The Bay’s Paddlewheel eatery and featured tales of the Crinoline Court (ladies only) and Gentleman’s Gangway (Men, ladies with escorts) in all their cafeteria glory. That he crisscrossed the city’s back lanes.

After the movie, someone heard me mention the Paddlewheel and asked me to explain the Crinoline Court. I told her what it was and then she turned to her friend and said, by way of explanation, ‘Those people are from Winnipeg’.

All of a sudden I was transported back to the prairie landscape I left so long ago and felt both alienated and special, which is what being from Winnipeg was all about. And for a moment I missed the city’s wide boulevards, its endless sun and sky, its Salisbury and Pancake Houses and snow so cold it creaked like ancient floorboards when you walked home from school.

And I realized my brief reverie could be encapsulated in two musical moments I’d had in the past few days: Burton Cummings singing These Eyes live at the Molson Ampitheatre and a recording of The Bells sullen rendition of Rick Neufeld’s Moody Manitoba Morning.

I guess that’s the thing about your hometown. You pretty much know all the words.

(Not) leavin’ on a jet plane

If you’ve been to New York recently and happened to be flying out via LaGuardia, you’ve probably experienced a delay.

Occasionally it’s short, often it can stretch in to a couple of hours or more.

And an advance call to your airline doesn’t always help diminish your terminal time.

Last summer, following a major rainstorm, a number of flights were cancelled and passengers on Air Canada were left to fend for themselves (mind you, if you have to be stranded overnight, Manhattan is the place to be).

One of the reasons for the delays is that there are more flights on smaller ‘regional’ jets than there used to be before 2001. Here’s an article that explains the situation.

So the next time you’re Leavin’ On a Jet Plane, instead of getting ‘hot under the collar’ as my Dad used to say, bring a book, a magazine, your ipod, some work, a DVD, then sit back, be patient and prepare to wait your turn.

Truly understanding your market

I didn’t realize Winnipeg had earned the dubious distinction of being the ‘car-theft capital of Canada’. (I did know that during especially cold spells, people left their cars running and other people ‘borrowed’ them to avoid freezing.)

But I guess if you were living there, the car-theft moniker is something you would have been all too familiar with. And, if I was planning any sort of car marketing program in Winnipeg, that little detail would have been easy to suss out.

However, in yesterday’s Globe and Mail (subscription required), there was a story about how Ford of Canada had to apologize to Winnipeg for an SUV print ad they ran with the slogan, ‘Drive it like you stole it’. The company has since pulled the campaign.

I suppose the marketing agency thought the concept was creative and edgy. What they didn’t realize was that in addition to calling out the City’s epithet, the ad ran on the same day as a front-page Winnipeg Free Press story about a youth who was being sentenced for killing a cyclist, while driving a stolen car.

So who’s to blame? Ford? The advertising agency? I’d say they’re both responsible.

This type of situation should be fairly easy to avoid if an organization takes the time to get to know its market, build relationships on a grassroots level and not simply apply a one-size-fits-all approach.

Sounds like PR doesn’t it?

We develop an understanding of a community by thoroughly researching and identifying local issues, idiosyncrasies and trends, and conducting in-depth environmental scans that help spot potential hot buttons.

Perhaps companies should look to their PR counsel to provide this type of strategic intelligence at the outset of a marketing program, so they can avoid backing up into a brick wall.