Trade-off: No Frills, No Thrills

On my recent vacation I had cause to use Ryanair for the first time ever. Here was an opportunity to be impressed. Now one may think that you pay for what you get with a low cost airline such as Ryanair, but really...has it come to this? I did not expect the frills and the pomp and ceremony, but I did not expect what I got either. The check-in process was terrifyingly bad, long and torturous, and then of course, how can we forget on the in-flight antics. For the entire 2 hour flight, Ryanair hawked Ryanair related products and specials and while I recognise they have to make a buck somewhere, should it really be to the detriment of passengers? It was unbearable. It was non-stop promotion and if you were on the brink of a meltdown, this would have sent you over the edge.

I think the opportunity is there to stand out not just for less expensive fares, but also for great service and great value for money. I also think that while Ryanair's profits may be soaring and they are doing well financially, the total lack of frills experience may not be able to sustain them forever. Customers loyalty is not born out of financial competitiveness, but it also comes from a deeper emotional place, where the individual can articulate his or her experience with a brand into loyalty and ultimately consumerism. I would probably use Ryanair again, for the cost benefits, in a peak period. But I don't foresee myself becoming a Ryanair groupie. How then will the Ryanair brand grow without that deep emotional, experiential connection between itself and its customers? My experiential connection is certainly not a good one.

And let's face facts, if and when the economic environment improves, would customers be willing to put up with no-frills service to save a couple dollars, if there were other options available? Would you? And would airlines such as Ryanair be in a position, where they have cemented their brand in the no-frills niche, to up the ante in terms of their customer service without a substantial economic impact on the company or on customers' pockets, which have grown accustomed to lower than normal fares?

Village to Village: Doing Right by Animals and Our Brand

My BFF is part of a great initiative in Tobago, which is aimed at reducing the stray animal population in the sister isle of Tobago, and promote animal welfare on the island.
It is always such a big thing for me more as a Trini, and not so much as a huge, gooey dog lover myself (I cannot see a dog and pass it straight), to travel and see animals treated well - I mean beyond the normal boundaries of animal wellness. lol. I love my cousin's neighbour's dog, a West Highland White Terrier named Womble, who is such a little star and is so loved and so spoilt by his owners. My own mongrels get the sort of love and care that Trinidad terriers aka pot hounds aka mongrels rarely get here because of their inferior status in the Trini dog world. Yet so many animals do not get to enjoy this type of love and comfort, but are forced to make it on their own on the streets, diseased, hungry and dying. Mongrel or not, I really cannot stand to see an animal mistreated or abandoned. They give such unconditional love and such joy to so many, that the ones who are left out on the street through owner abandonment, lack of proper spaying practices or just neglect really tug at heart strings (unless they try to bite me as I work out in the village).

So the Village-to-Village programme is really aimed at addressing some of these concerns, primarily the spaying and neutering of animals to reduce the large number of strays on the streets and highways, who become roadkill, or are abused by evil human beings. The aim is to neuter between 65%-75% of stray, and owned doggies and kitties in Tobago and increase awareness of such techniques among the local population. The great thing about the programme is that it addresses the problem in the rural communities, where one may not have access to veterinary care and where pet owners or concerned residents just cannot afford or will find it impractical to spay or neuter their animals. The programme makes such a service available, at no cost, and is managed by veterinarians and persons very much experienced and committed to the cause.

Stray and unrestrained dogs and cats especially in Tobago negatively impact the tourism industry. The status of a destination's stray animal population directly affects the image of the destination as a tourism product. While the local population is often accustomed to the sight of suffering or dead animals, international visitors often react negatively. (Furthermore) Tobago's stray dog population is evident on coastal recreational beaches and throughout the villages along the coast.
Not the best thing for the tourism product or the island's marketing potential is it? Additionally, I recognise that those visit our shores are coming from places where the dog, for example is King or Queen. Walk through Paris and you will see couture stores for pets, with couture outfits and accessories. I have sat on many a train in London with a big slobbering love of a dog taking a trip into the city with his owner. These are the people who come down to Tobago for rest and relaxation. Europeans especially really care for their animals in a way that many locals are not accustomed to. Pet friendly hotels, restuarants etc are just part of the larger picture of excellent animal care and treatment in many countries and are part of an animal friendly tourism product. It would certainly augur well for our brand to work towards improving our image where animal care and treatment are concerned, if even we just simply take better care of our pet population.
There will be two rural outreach clinics to spay and neuter approximately 150 animals in Charlotteville and Bacolet, Tobago from Sept 3-5, 2010.

Volunteers are welcome to be part of this awesome initiative for all aspects of the clinic, including clerical staff, vets, vet techs and assistants and anyone with experience in handling animals or a real passion for lending assistance. And if you want to donate items like paper towels, bleach, pet collars, blankets, disinfectant, garbage bags or buckets, please step up to the plate and do it! To volunteer, donate funds or items to the cause, please contact any of the following:

Dr Paul Crooks 1-868-688-8281
Dr Kevern Sawh 1-868-678-8023
Dr Adana Mahase 1-868-689-1586
TTSPCA - 1-868-639-2567

20 years later...

Though I am miles away from Trinidad and Tobago, and actually since I am on vacation, I have zero idea of dates and stuff like that but it was a Facebook status update that reminded me that 20 years ago, our lives were irrevocably changed forever to varying extents. The degree of where we have changed as a nation is still under examination but I wrote this last year on the anniversary of one of the most important dates in T&T history and in my own life as a then 11 year old child.

Posted on July 27, 2009 at 9:03 AM

On the night of July 27, 1990, I was eagerly awaiting sugar cake. My mother had promised my brother and I a batch of sugar cake and at around 6.30, sugar cake was on the stove. Excitement was growing.

Then my neighbor stopped Daddy outside and then the tv went on, and then the sugar cake went on the back burner literally. To an 11 year old, and her 7 year old brother, what could have possibly been more important than a batch of coconut sugar cake.

Both my parents sat to look at the news, but it was not Jones P Madeira reading on Panorama that night. Instead there were men with guns and in Muslim garb, asking if we knew where the Prime Minister was. At this point, I still don't think I fully grasped the gravity of what was happening. It did not seem real to me. Jones P Madeira looked nervous and scared and the man talking to the nation seemed angry. And the sugar cake was no longer a priority for my mother, though for us, it still was.

I did not know what a "coup" was, and did not understand why my mother had to go to work on a Saturday morning. And why suddenly the phones were ringing and why my parents looked so grave and why the tv stayed on all night. And why was the sugar cake being ignored and left to BURN. In the mind of an 11 year old, ignorant to the gravity of this whole situation, THIS was a crisis!

But when we saw images of the Red House under siege, Police Headquarters burning and POS in total chaos, it started to make sense. When I realized the PM was being held captive along with other members of Parliament, and that the police and army were out in full force, it started to make sense. This angry man on the tv had taken hold of the country and now I was really worried.

When there were rumours that the San Fernando Police station was the next to be fire-bombed, then it became real because that was where my own mother was to spend the next few days on non-stop active duty while the country tried to come to grips with this reality. When you saw that dude from CNN Headline News reading about your country, it was apparent that this was more than any 11 year old was ready for. I was supposed to be thinking about new school books and my new uniform, having just gotten my Common Entrance results, passing for my first choice. Not sitting at home waiting for news. Sitting at home under curfew. Sitting at home hoping your mother would be safe - happy to see her come home for a shower, a quick nap and boxes of fast food from Chicken Unlimited, who provided the South teams of police and army with meals for the duration of the insurrection. I did not want to see another French fry after that! (that did not last long though - long live the French fry!)

It was all rather surreal then, and thinking back on it now, 19 years later, it still seems a bit surreal. I remember crying when I heard how they had beaten ANR Robinson, and then reading that he demanded the army to attack with full force, foregoing his own safety. I remember seeing Abu Bakr's surrender and feeling this mixture of relief, dread and anger, that this man had put us all through the worst days of our personal and national histories.

At that point, July 27 1990 was not something I expected ever in my innocent life. Now in 2009, as I sit and look at what Trinidad and Tobago has become and how it has been hijacked yet again by politicians who are no better than the militants with guns holding a country to ransom, it begs us to think hard about the saying, "Those who forget about the past are doomed to repeat it.".

I fear this is so true for our present reality.

Out on Vacation

If there are any earth shattering developments in social media or PR or marketing or anything fun, leave me a comment. Take care. I'll be back with you in about a month's time.

This Time for Africa

One month, 64 games and 145 goals later, the world's biggest event is over. Dry those eyes and pack away those vuvuzelas because you have to wait another 4 years until the next one. But what a World Cup it has been. I think this tournament will be one that will be remembered for years, for a variety of reasons - footballing and non-footballing reasons.

But I think as the sun goes down on this World Cup, South Africa can be duly proud of what they have achieved as host and as a country. The hosting of this tournament for not just South Africa, but the entire continent of Africa has been a marketing and rebranding coup. Two years ago, FIFA President Sepp Blatter said
“People don’t want to trust Africa. That is wrong. Africa has given so much not only to football but to the whole world. Someday, something should come back. So let’s have this World Cup. Let’s celebrate Africa. Why not?”

And celebrate we all did. Even though popularised by a Colombian singer, the strains of "Waka Waka" and its tag line "This Time for Africa", continue to filter through the airwaves, leaving it as probably one of the most popular tournament anthems ever.The world has looked to South Africa over the past month for great football, but got more than they bargained for in the artistry, passion, energy and dare I say, unity of its people.
This game allowed Africa to showcase its beauty and the remnants of Apartheid regime, to the outside world, which seems to have no idea how bad things were and that there is a better side of Africa(beside tribal wars and starvation) which international media—for its own convenience ---tends not to focus on. - Ghanaweb

Whether the powers that be will leap on the momentum which this World Cup has generated and leverage all the positives into effecting socio-economic change is another story, but well done South Africa.

And without a doubt, this tournament's immense public appeal and attraction was heavily invested in the fact that we had greater means to communicate, participate and enjoy the tournament's various facets. World Cup 2010 was supposed to be the social media World Cup and boy was it ever. Information, debates, opinions, replays - all available at the click of a button, whether it be on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, the obsessed and the curious all found a way to be part of this global phenomenon via this global phenomenon. Sponsors and pundits alike milked it for all it was worth, tapping into the enormous audience primed to receive messages.

Twitter reported that the World Cup or #Worldcup resulted in a record 3,283 tweets per second as opposed to the regular average of 750 per second. The fail whale was almost as recognisable as Paul the Octopus, because of the barrage of tweets around the tournament. Social media has truly revolutionised the way we love the game, and the way the host country was marketed to the millions who could not make it there to see the games live.

At the end of it all, though Spain were crowned the best team in the world, the real winners were South Africa and social media, and all the people who joined the revolution to make this one of the best tournaments the world has ever seen.  Brazil 2014 has some rather big shoes to fill, but I think they can do it. In 4 years, this phenomenon may be bigger than any of us can ever have imagined.

Runners up: Paul and the vuvuzelas.

Bringing Pretty Plaques to Life

Effective leadership means connecting the dots for employees - David Grossman

This is the truth. Too often, strategies and plans fail because the executioners do not fully understand the direction. Yes, they may have a brief which outlines what is required. Yes, they may have the tools to complete the given task. But do they fully understand the importance, the impact, the background - the why, what, where, who, when, how?

If you were to ask an employee what their company's mission or vision was, chances are some of them could rattle it off by rote. But unless there is engagement around what those words on that plaque stand for, then they are just that - words on a plaque.

This week, we started a new ad campaign and yes, we sent a brief to the agency. The truth is though, I had to connect the dots especially since this was an internally produced strategy sent to an external provider to execute. Creative they are, I am sure, but it was only in fully talking through the brief with the account executive and giving her the back story - the 5Ws and the H, bringing some relevance to the document before her, that she had that "ahhh" moment.

Employees often are taken for granted when decisions are made from way up top. The days of handing judgements down from the throne are over. The days of open communication, active engagement, soliciting feedback and opinions are here, now. Successful tactical delivery, employee satisfaction and loyalty are just some of the end results of taking internal communications to a level that goes beyond "all users" emails and memos from faceless executives. More managers, for example, have to be empowered to have cottage meetings with their staff, and to share their feedback through the management chain. The tools available to internal communicators - intranets, social platforms, video, podcasts, video conferencing, to name a few, make engagement easy and creative.

The reality is, without communication, there can be no leadership. Leaders will ultimately fail if they are not communicating regularly and effectively and all the big MBA sounding words on far reaching plans and policies will remain inanimate if there is not real passion and engagement around them and employees. Getting employees to understand and have that "ahhhhh" moment is a huge part of why companies are successful.

Are companies really ready to take the necessary steps to breathe life into words on plaques and plans?

On Sale: Your Small Business

A couple weeks ago, my mum and I had a Mum/Daughter shopping day and I had not been to Grand Bazaar since the interchange was opened cause frankly, I did not know how to get in. lol. But in any event, we made and during our mummy/baby adventures, we checked out a new store - J&K Signature Styles, which had only opened at its second location that same week. Needless to say I got some very nice items in said store, but the real winner was the service and the marketing.

Many small business owners leave marketing of their business to chance. The photocopied flyers and word-of-mouth, though not dead, are simply not enough to push a new business into the mainstream. It takes some extra effort to make your business stand out and create that buzz and I loved how the owners of this store had gone about doing that. And it was nothing particularly earth shattering or innovative. Just a simple email and text message. After I laid out some serious cash, I was signed up for their customer loyalty programme, gave them my email address and my mobile number, and a gift card outlining the details of a promotion they would be having in a few weeks time. Of course, the little card went into my wallet never to be seen again, but a couple days ago, I got a text reminding me of said promotion and the dates. This morning I got an email. And that is how this small business will get me to come back and spend more money I should not be spending.

Sometimes when starting that business, when negotiating funding and the like, the stuff like marketing, PR and promotion get forgotten. But this is the most important thing and should be planned for. Press ads are expensive and depending on the size of your business, you may not yet be able to afford full or even half page ads which have consumer pulling power, but there are other ways - email marketing, text marketing, customer loyalty programmes, open house days etc. You can have the best stock, the best staff but if noone knows about you or think you're a cut above the rest, then noone is going to care about what you're offering. The cost of that text message was minimal; the email free - but the ROI on both have to be worth something, including customer awareness and loyalty and sales.

The key point to remember that in order to get sales, you have to be on sale. Don't sell yourselves short.

White is apparently Right in China...or is it?

This morning a somewhat interesting story caught my attention on BBC (did I ever mention that I love BBC and that I dress with my tv on BBC, and then listen to it on the radio on my drive to work?). White guy in a tie. I am sure some of you already know about it but for those of you who don't, it's basically white men for hire in China - paid to wear a suit, go press palms with Chinese businessmen and create the impression that the Chinese firm that contracted them, has international or Western connections. Of course in a global market, international business is a big deal, and a firm's connections and global networks can be vital to its business and its image as a player in the global marketplace. But the question raised in the segment was Is this fraud or PR?

Some may argue and say "Hmmm...fraud. PR. Is there a difference?" You know who you are. But really, do you think this practice of creating a false impression to bolster public image and reputation is ethical? Wouldn't it be better to try to actually position your business via real networking and marketing? I would think that establishing real relationships with companies which are deemed as valuable to their position in China and beyond would be more practical, not to mention, ethical and would in fact bring REAL rewards. I have to wonder how this works, especially if this is a new trend in China. If everyone uses this as a viable marketing strategy, then how can you trust your suppliers, your competitors etc?

As I said, it was a pretty interesting segment.

Out of Touch with the Public's Reality

Though I have been caught up with the football, I am still in touch with the rest of the world. This is more than I can say for Tony Hayward, who thought it would be a good idea to go boating in an elite yachting event while barrels and barrels of oil gush into the ocean. It says a lot about not just Tony Hayward but about executives in general. There are many senior executives who somewhere along the way have completely lost touch with the "small people".

Their daily lives are somehow spent in a bubble where they fraternise among themselves and share the same belief systems, honed after years of living in said bubble. So when it comes down to dealing with life situations outside of that bubble - be it internally with employee issues or externally as in the BP case, they believe what they know to be right. It's when these issues manifest themselves in the public domain, that we recognise the growing chasm between those "up there" and the little people.

They spend much of their day at internal meetings, getting information from their managers. They get advice from their boards, who tend to be older men and a few women who are even further detached from the web. Board members have even less of a clue. So most CEOs are probably having the wrong conversations about the wrong things with the wrong people. - Business Week
Maybe if more leaders went "undercover" as in the CBS reality show Undercover Boss, or more realistically, spent more time interfacing with people other than their elite peers - employees, customers for example, they would better understand the way the real world works and how real people are affected by events that somehow don't seem to matter much to them.
"The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume." - Tony Hayward, May 14.
And it is these out of touch with reality statements and actions from BP and its executive which continue to exacerbate what is already an insurmountable scenario. It makes even the term "public relations" a misnomer because if he in fact had any type of real, honest to goodness relations outside of his myopic inner circle, then he would probably not be so regularly angering the public.

Licence to Kill. Licence to Tweet.

Even with the football fever gripping my senses, I am still aware that the world is not a giant football revolving around the sun.

The news headline on BBC news that morning was "Utah executes convicted murderer by Firing Squad". I have a host of other issues with this story but one of the most talked about aspects of it is definitely the tweet heard around the world.

Many people felt the tweeting of the death of a man, albeit a cold blooded, clearly sadistic murderer, to be grotesque at best and inappropriate. Mr Shurtleff says he believes in an informed public and he continues to "use social media to communicate directly with people".

I do agree with him there. Social media has changed the way we communicate and can really bring us closer to our various publics. But even though I am an advocate for social media, I always contend that sometimes we get so caught up in the hype that we forget the basics. I did not think Twitter was the best place to tweet about this and maybe that is my own moral perspective. But I also don't think Mr Shurtleff should be left to his own devices with Twitter. I really believe he needs a Twitter intervention because looking at this single tweet in a vacuum does not begin to demonstrate the fact that Twitter is a powerful PR tool, which in 140 characters can make or break one's image.

I was a bit taken aback by the lack of tact here. It's almost like he could not wait for the guy to be pronounced dead so he could have his 5 minutes of fame.

The AG would do well to think before he tweets, especially considering the very public office he holds, for while verbal comments may not always be picked up, tweets are forever. Yes, you may want to publicly defend your stance on "death by tweet" but berating your followers? Really?

And calling them whiners? Who is this dude's media adviser? Someone needs to hide his laptop and his smartphone!!!

I am after all this, slightly amused by his Twitteritis, and sincerely hope he gets help. And while we use social media for communicating news and important messages, as with everything else, some messages may require different vehicles for safe passage. There are also issues of what is and isn't appropriate for social media and these are questions that many of us may have to consider in the future. I mean, you never know what may be next!

PR Blues - The Fall of the French Football Team

Yesterday the problems for Les Bleus continued to escalate with the team refusing to participate in a public training session. The expulsion of one of their players, Nicholas Anelka seems to have been the last straw in an already tenuous situation.

The entire debacle does nothing for the image of the French and has attracted the scorn of global onlookers who have labelled the team as "recalcitrant, indignant whiners".

But it seems that this was a disaster waiting to happen, with a total lack of teamwork, communication and consultation off the field - the retention of an unpopular coach, the retention of players caught up in another, even more unsavoury PR disaster, the unwillingness to deal with contentious issues head on before they grew from mounds into mountains and ultimately into volcanoes which have now erupted. The subsequent fall out has now further undermined the once glorious image of French football, created by the 1998 World Cup champion team. Les Bleus are quickly becoming Les Ughs with their antics and fail to recognise that their selfish actions are not only impacting their World Cup performance but also their entire country. I would think that the honour of wearing the national colours would mean something and trump personal ambitions and feelings, but clearly this is not the case with this team.
Economy Minister Christine Lagarde, formerly a member of the national synchronised swimming team, slammed the boycott, telling a French TV channel: “I am appalled because I have worn the French national colours…and when you wear the French national colours, you have added responsibilities”. - France24.
Clearly noone spoke to them about their role as brand ambassadors for the tricolour and all it represents and how their actions could positively or negatively brand over 65 million people.Clearly noone mentioned to them that they were the role models for the little boys who aspire to be part of football history one day and be catalysts for the development of sporting programmes in communities across the country and the injection of corporate sponsorship to support this development.

Instead, they have chosen to make themselves the laughing stock of what was supposed to be a great tournament. Their statement to the media does not reflect the reality of the situation at all and is incredible at best.
"Out of respect for the public who came to attend training, we decided to go to meet the fans who, by their presence, showed their full support. For our part, we are aware of our responsibilities as those wearing the colours of our country. Also for those we have towards our fans and countless children who keep Les Bleus as role models."
It is a total reputational disaster for not just the players on the field but the supporters and nation which they represent and for the sport of which they were king 12 years ago. Perhaps, one of the biggest losers in all of this is probably the Irish national team who was denied a place in the tournament by yet another French PR disaster - the infamous Thierry Henry hand ball. I would like to assume that had they qualified instead of the French, they would have been committed to representing their country and the sport in more honourable fashion. But we will never know and are instead left with the ongoing fallout from a poorly managed situation on the part of all the parties involved, not just the players, who though are the ones left smack dab in the public eye and the ones making a bad situation worse.

Don't Hog the Ball: Adopting the Football Model in Business

Football is a team game; it always has been and it always will be. Having good positional sense, communication skills, and an awareness of where your teammates are is far more important than being able to perform a step over or shoot effectively from 30 yards or more.Bleacher Report 

And like football, communications in an organisation requires teamwork and the ability to create synergies across teams. No longer can team execute their responsibilities as silos and PR/communications teams cannot hope to develop and implement internal and external communications strategies without the input of other teams and a healthy collaborative culture.

When communications within a team breaks down and disharmony manifests itself, or a resistance to be part of a collaborative efforts, bet your last dollar that the results would not be as outstanding had the team worked together as a unit. I have been part of organisations where programmes were rolled out without proper consultation and feedback from the rest of the company. You get to work and there in your inbox is an email about some new programme that noone broached as an idea, or which clearly was not thoroughly thought out from various angles and employee perspectives. Something that may seem like a great idea to one team, may have other implications for another, but how would you know if there does not exist a deeper consultative culture? And while not trying to promote bureaucracy and unnecessary corporate red tape, because God, we know how that can go, it is always better to have other teams on board to ensure universal buy-in and support, and ultimately a better final product. The French football team is currently showing signs of team wear and tear and it is showing in their performance thus far at the 2010 World Cup.
Many of the French players seemed to be under the impression that they were there to create their own personal highlight reel rather than to perform as a functional team. Nicolas Anelka and Frank Ribery are both outstanding players, but they did not perform to anything like the level they are capable of against Uruguay.
The main reason for this was their reluctance to play simple football, to simply receive the ball, protect it and lay it off. Virtually every time that either man received possession they embarked on an ambitious solo run and almost without fail they ended up surrendering possession... (Bleacher Report)
In an organisation, one has to be open to new ideas and suggestions and to be able to provide different perspectives on strategies, with the end result being a more effective team with a common goal. It's like having your own internal focus group to weed out the bad elements of an idea and improve the good elements. And whether it's a social media initiative, an advertising campaign or an internal rollout, the double C effect of consultation and collaboration in my opinion, is always a better bet than hogging the ball and trying to shine solo. It often just does not work - in football or in business.

The World Cup's PR superstar

The 2010 World Cup is in full swing and the matches so far, in my opinion have not been as exciting as hoped, but it's only the first round so I am not too worried. But the REAL buzz of the tournament so far has been the loud, unapologetic and fancy-free vuvu.

The vuvuzela has been creating quite a riot - literally and otherwise - in this year's World Cup. Many people are irritated by the noise which it creates,which mimics an elephant, saying it drowns out national anthems and patriotic chanting and songs and basically distracts from the game. But bet your vuvu, the buzz has made vuvu the unexpected star so far of the World Cup. No player or team has gotten as much coverage as the vuvu and I think it should get a publicist to manage its 15 minutes of fame.

Many games have come and gone without much to remember apart from the football moments. The energy so far from South Africa has been amazing and infectious and the moments are sure to be memorable. When the International Cricket Council (ICC) decided to restrict traditional WI cricket cultural traditions as the region hosted the ICC World Cup in 2007, it was no longer a West Indian World Cup. It was a cricket World Cup merely held in the West Indies. The elements which would have made the tournament unique and special were gone, leaving only the cricket and its international players. The calls to ban the vuvu are as loud as the vuvu itself, and there will be much debate about it during the Cup, but it is part of what makes the tournament uniquely South African - giving it a unique selling proposition; setting it apart from World Cup tournaments gone by.

The vuvu may not be the most loved instrument at the moment, but it surely the most sought after, with sales of the obnoxious plastic horn climbing daily. A friend of mine in South Africa at the moment confessed that it is a bit harsh on the ears, but he has bought them in many colours as souvenirs for friends and family - mementos of the first African World Cup. The instrument is also available for sale across the world, e.g. in the UK. and is quickly becoming a cash cow for wily businessmen, seeing the opportunity to capitalise on all the noise.

The vuvu is effortlessly creating greater buzz around the 2010 football showcase and at the moment is surely outplaying stars like Kaka, Rooney and Ronaldo. It says nothing, does nothing, but is still as popular as any star player. It has its own app, is a blog star and is the hot ticket for merchandisers around the world. Additionally, its PR star power has now been harnessed by the United Nations...yes...the UN, to heighten awareness around violence against women and children via its Blow Vuvuzela campaign.

It is doing a fantastic job, like it or not, of selling South Africa and selling its World Cup as distinctly African, and hopefully as one of the most memorable World Cups ever.

Vuvuzela basics:

USA vs England: Perception vs Reality

So the NY Post debuted this now infamous cover on Sunday after the USA drew 1-1 with England at the World Cup on Saturday.

Now, to say this cover annoyed me initially would be an understatement. I mean, a draw is not a win, not by any stretch of the imagination. That's just reality. A draw does not give you 3 points, but merely 1, and furthermore, the quality of the goal which brought the USA to this point was not one for the record books. At least not for the USA. Robert Green, the unfortunate and villified English goalie decided to give the other team a hand. So in my football circle and in many other circles, where the footballer right now is King, the reality was that the USA was delusional, desperate for glory and sad. lol.

But after a good night's sleep, I overcame my annoyance with the cover, remembering our own "win" in 2006, when though we did not win by a draw like the Americans, Trinidad and Tobago in our very first World Cup ever, bravely and skilfully withstood the roar of the Lions and did not totally embarass themselves with a 10-0 scoreline (good morning Socceroos). Though we did not plaster T&T wins against the English 2-0 on our newspaper, because that would have been a laugh and that sports editor would have been run out of town, it felt good nonetheless.

I guess for the USA, a country that calls the beautiful game soccer and as one tweeter complained on Saturday, is happier to have the tv in the bar on a rained out Nascar race as opposed to watching their national team play football in the greatest footballing show on earth, a 1-1 draw was indeed a victory. A 1-1 draw against a team from a country with one of the best football leagues in the world.

But more than that, it was a sale - a great PR push around a perception that this team had the chops to be a contender. A cover and a headline and an image like this one - happy and exuberant red, white and blue clad "soccer" players celebrating a goal, regardless of its merit, is bound to create some good buzz around the team, so there could be more World Cup on LCDs over the next week or so, and less Nascar. Good news for the sponsors, the advertisers, the MLS and of course the team. It's a good PR cover for a team that does not yet have the same rabid support as the NBA, NFL, or clearly Nascar.

The perception celebrated here is that the USA had "come good" when noone else thought they would, and had proven that "soccer" had a place in the American sporting fabric; that it was not just a thing a bunch of guys did for fun, but a real passion and one which they were getting more competitive at. I cannot fault them for that in the end. It's a win.

But taking off my PR hat and putting back on my boots, the reality however, still remains that a draw in its most technical sense is still not a win and there are more games to come.

In case you missed it the first, second or 50th time...Robert Green.

They are Ready!: Africa's PR Test

As we count down the mere hours to kickoff of the FIFA 2010 World Cup (in case you were unclear as to what was kicking off, in case you live under a rock in a deep, dark cave), it is clear that not only is it the largest and most spectacular showcase of global footballing talent, but it is also a HUGE public relations and marketing coup for South Africa and by extension, the entire African continent.

I am sitting here, thanks to the lovely Kim, taking in bits of the WC kickoff concert and the talent and pageantry is absolutely amazing. Here is a chance for for Africa to shine and put themselves out there in the most positive light; to harness the glare of the global media and turn it to their advantage by marketing all that is beautiful and powerful about the continent. For years, we have sat by and watched Africa's hunger, bloody civil wars, corrupt and vicious dictators, battles with epidemics like HIV/AIDS and that has been what we have come to associate Africa with more times than we should. The world had formed its own image of the region.

But now it's their turn to show us THEIR Africa under the full lights of our scrutiny and against the backdrop of stereotypes and prejudice and so far, it has been beautiful and thrilling and touching and powerful. It's the reason island nations fight for beauty pageants, regional and global conferences and sporting events - to put their PR machinery to work, to put their people and their culture and their very beings to work for their economies, for their productivity and for their pride. For the chance to show the world, "Here we are. This is who we are!"

Let the beautiful game begin in beautiful Africa. Bafana! Bafana! Nelson Mandela must be truly beaming. I am ready for the World Cup and so is Africa.

The Female Consumer: The almost-forgotten football fan

I have not spared much time to check out all of the campaigns for World Cup 2010 just yet, but I am sure the sponsors have gone all out in pimping out their brands and creating innovative campaigns which would maximise their advertising dollars (hopefully). But it would be interesting to see how many of these ads specifically target women. I am a football fan and I cannot say that in past tournaments, the advertiser has been speaking to me. He/she has been sending loads of messages to my father, my brother, my boyfriend etc, but the story ended there. There was no concern for the fact that I too sit down fixated by the movements of a black and white ball for at least 90 minutes; no real recognition of the fact that millions of women are also rabid fans of the beautiful game. Football is not a man's game by any stretch of the imagination, so I would expect that the marketing would no longer be tailored just for my male football viewing counterparts. Begone silly ads with scantily clad women in the background.

The great thing about social media is not only that it allows two way engagement, but it somehow also levels the playing field so to speak. The Coca Cola campaign is a good example. The campaign invites fans to share their videos, celebrating Roger Milla's infamous goal dance. It's great because now, with her camera or mobile phone, the football loving woman can get in on the action.

Campaigns now, because of the nature of the technology which has the ability to make them universal in a shorter time, have real community power and can no longer focus on the age old stereotype that men alone enjoy a football match with their mates. The nature of football in itself is that it is the centre of a huge global community, so it's time the marketing got on board that train. I watch more football than some of my male relatives and friends, and *gasp*...I'm a woman. Looking forward to the greatness!

Visa's 2010 spot, just one of the many ads that will be running during the beautiful month!

First Impressions are Lasting Impressions

I was invited to a meeting once and when I got there on time, the person who had called the meeting was not there. Twenty minutes later, she sauntered in with an apology and a sandwich, which she had already started eating, wrapped in foil. She sat down and continued eating her sandwich, in the foil, and with crumbs attached to her face. This was my first impression of this woman. It was not a very good one. Sadly for her, it is the one thing that sticks out in my mind when I think of her.

This morning, I went down to the ground floor and there was our VP, Customer Service at the door greeting customers, along with a couple of his team. As a customer, this would have been a great first impression - prompt 8am start with a senior executive member at the door meeting and greeting.

While it is indeed cliche, you really do only have one opportunity to make a first impression. There is generally no rewind button and what you give is what stays etched in the mind of the person or persons you interact with. First impressions are the last thing anyone forgets. And be it via your frontline staff, your telemarketing team, your website or your sales pitch - your first step is the one which will determine how successful you will be. First impressions are motivated by our need to influence others, have them act in a certain way and the ultimate onjective is to gain a reward of some kind. And first impressions usually are centred around really small things like a prompt response to a complaint, or the usability of a website. This morning I tried finding info on flights and the first website did not really inspire me to make a purchasing decision right then and there. However, the second site, which was clean and easy to navigate, and which also was complemented by a Twitter customer care channel grabbed my interest and more importantly pushed me closer to making a purchasing decision. All the scrolling ads, pop up windows and flash in the world on the other site did not resonate with me as a consumer, who wanted to be in and out of there without the hassle. And hassle it was.

So it is important to take the time to make that first impression count. Think about not only your presentation and how it can build your brand, but also how your presentation relates to your customer. Think of the criteria with which that person will judge your brand based on the first impression you create.
  • Do they trust the brand?
  • Does the brand inspire confidence?
  • Is it a professional image?
  • Is it a company that cares about people - both its customers and its staff?
  • Is the brand understood and well represented by all staff, across all levels?
And the list is endless. But these are just a few questions one can ask when evaluating how you present yourself and your brand to your audience, because first impressions last!

A PR girl's morning rant about Subway

Haven't we discussed the importance of customer service to a brand? Have we not said that it can be the unique selling point in the sea of marketing and PR "propoganda"?



I could not cook lunch last night and the rains usually come down in a gush just around lunchtime everyday, so I knew that getting lunch would be an ordeal. This being said, I went to the nearest Subway to get a salad. Let me just say right now, I hate Subway. Their service is atrocious. The sub is clearly for substandard and if anywhere else was open at 6.30, without me having to get back into my car and lose my parking spot. I would have been there.Their winning points are that they open early and they sell lunch items during the breakfast session, so I could get my salad, put it in the fridge and save myself from starvation at noon, when it is sure to be pouring and flooding. But oh, you annoy me. It's my own fault but I can still rant about it.

1. It never ceases to amaze me that the Subway lines are not only long, but slow moving. Busy people buy breakfast and I have never seen an empty Subway. So one would think that between 6.30 - 9.00, which is a heavy traffic time, one would load up on the staff behind the counter. One would think!

2. If your sandwich artist only started today, is it wise to put her on the assembly line during rush hour? I don't want her learning the ropes when I am trying to get back to my desk before 8am. Put her on the cash register or on the toaster. Girlfriend was clueless and painfully slow.

3. And this is where it directly affects me. If you're selling salads, shouldn't you have salad dressings? And worse yet, if you know you DON'T have salad dressing, shouldn't you tell the customers ordering the salads that you don't have any BEFORE they order, so they can then decide whether they will take the salad anyway? not eat salad without some kinda salad dressing!!! I am not a huge fan of salads but give me a little bit of dressing and I will eat it willingly. So imagine my vexation, after 20 mins of standing waiting for the salad, having her put the wrong stuff on it, and then when I ask for my dressing, she rolls her eyes at me and tells me there is none. I don't think I needed to be asking for my dressing. You should have been asking me or advising me that there was none. She looked at me. I looked at her.


I was not a pleased customer. But it was too early in the morning for me to do the "disgruntled customer thing", so I then asked the cashier whether they were getting any dressings later in the day. She tells me "Hopefully". So, trying to help them out now, because I am annoyed beyond, but really trying to hold it in, and I tell her, if the weather holds, I would just take the short walk back to get my dressing. I thought I was being generous!

This was the answer:

"Well...hmmm....ummmm...yeah.... you could try that, but that is if anyone remembers you"


The response should have been

"Miss, I am so so so sorry for the inconvenience and if you wish to collect a pack of dressing later, I will put it aside for you. Let me put a note on your receipt so even if I am not at the counter, someone would be able to assist you. Again, so sorry for the inconvenience. Is there any dressing you prefer?"

Oh no...I have to HOPE someone remembers me. Thanks Subway. Thanks. And you want me to come back right? The sad thing is, I honestly don't think they care if I come back or not. They don't look at it as a lost customer, a bad reputation. It's just another miserable customer they got rid of. Super job, Subway!

I will be back tomorrow with regular posting.

A Mascot Affair

It has now become almost customary in global events such as the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics, to launch event-related mascots aimed (supposedly) at children. With the recent launch of the London 2012 Olympics mascots, I thought it would be fun to take a look at some mascots, for better and for worse.

Willie was apparently the first mascot (waaaaaaaay before my time) and can be considered the Father of the Mascots, heralding the start of the 1966 World Cup in England.

Mexico did not bother to go with the animal theme in 1986 when they hosted the World Cup. Instead, they chose Pique, a friendly jalapeno pepper - easy on the eyes, friendly looking, approachable (as approachable as a spicy vegetable can be, that is).

The US had Sam the bald eagle for the 1984 Summer Olympics and let me tell you, I had a Sam lunchkit, thermos and lunchbowl, because Sam was hot. Apparently he was too hot cause some thieving child stole my Sam lunchbox just 2 weeks after I got it!

Then we have Footix. Yes, Footix. Odd name, but he was the feathered (anti-KFC) mascot during the 1998 World Cup in France.

I am a bit biased when it comes to the Fuwa of the 2008 Olympics, and I have everything Fuwa - mousepad, pencils, temporary tattoos. Beijing opted for 5 mascots as opposed to just one - a panda, a fish, a Tibetan antelope, a swallow and the Olympic Flame.

And the most recent football hottie is Zakumi, the footballing lion representing the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. I think Zakumi is hot and exudes strength and a great deal of self confidence and attitude. I so want a stuffed Zakumi. (Really!)

And then we have, the 2012 mascots from London - Wenlock and Mandeville. They actually don't look too bad in this version.

Do these guys not look less like plucky, friendly mascots, and more like aliens bent on enslaving all of humanity? - Runners' World

Now, I do applaud the fact that the designers sat with kids and vetted these characters with these intuitive thought leaders.
Olympic Organizing Committee chairman Sebastian Coe apparently said that children don't like cuddly animal mascots and instead prefer "something they can interact with and something with a good story behind it." - The Gazette
And what is the story?
In author Morpurgo's vision, the pair begin life as two drops of steel from a factory in Bolton, taken home by a retiring worker who fashions characters out of the metal for his grandchildren.They appear to have a single central eye, explained as a camera lens, through which they'll see the world, and respond to it. - BBC Sport

(Children don't like cuddly mascots? Really?)

But with the negative comments coming from the adults, it begs the question, are mascots only limited to children? Usually, especially if one has journeyed to the event city to take in this once-in-a-lifetime experience firsthand, one wants souvenirs to remember the occasion by. And usually the key chains, and mugs and tshirts and postcards etc are all branded with the official event mascot. Wenlock and Mandeville sadly don't seem to have found favour with the people with the cash and credit cards just yet. Maybe as time passes and as excitement builds, they will come across less hideous and more palatable to consumers.

Adults seem to love their team mascots enough that they often buy silly hats and replica costumes to celebrate their mascot. Athletes love their mascots.

I love my mascots. So are Wenlock and his one-eyed buddy just too out there for the rational minds of the adult mascot-loving public? Though the commercial partners were apparently consulted during the creative process, should there have been a focus group of over-13's to help put this concept together? Are designers over-estimating how kids will embrace a mascot and ultimately the event, and underestimating the influence of the adult consumer and sports fan, and his/her purchasing and marketing power? Not only that, but many feel the mascot should represent their nation, in a good way, and reflect its heritage and its history and its people. Sadly, our boys don't seem to be too loved by the British.

Time will tell how well these one-eyed creatures fare among adult fans, but in the interim, the global passion around them is amusing.
- I checked the calendar to make sure it wasn't April 1st, but I'm sorry, I just can't believe this isn't one MASSIVE, EXPENSIVE, JOKE!!!.....thanks to the creators of these hideous phallic symbols for making us the laughing stock for the rest of the world!!!

- Children (my son being one of them) have been aspiring to be Olympians for years without the lure of an Olympic mascot!! How mindless does the 2012 Olympic committee think our children are?
- For the sake of what remains of the dignity of our great nation, please remove these jokes and get back to the drawing board please, and this time...BEFORE you go to the pub!!!
- Totally ridiculous! Nearly as bad as the Olympic logo.There are so many things that could have been used to symbolise this country, things that people actually associate with the UK. But one eyed monsters? No way! What planet are they on?
- Nooooooo this is the OLYMPICS not a children's show...don't they understand!?!? Word-classs athletes, the best in the world or competing...this isn't a school's July sports day. Children aren't going to care about the history of the mascots...they don't watch the teletubbies and ask their mothers...'mummy, whose shape are the teletubbies based on...and what's their history?'. The just watch and absorb.

- Horrid! What on earth were they thinking? Britain has one thousand years of greatness and grandeur from which to choose the symbols with which it will represent itself to the world, and yet somehow the powers-that-be chose THESE? Nauseating, ugly, cyclops creatures so awful, so immediately stomach-turning, that their most likely effect will be to convince viewers to turn off the Olympic broadcast rather than risk inviting the nightmares that repeated exposure to these vile things is likely to provoke.    Readers comments from the Telegraph.
And luckily for London, they are not the first with a wacky mascot creation. Athens, are you out there?

Election 2010: Cyber Police

I have been observing what's been happening on the cybersphere for the past few hours. I posed this question to a colleague last week and I still do not have the answer, but the question relates to the excerpt below:
I am advising the public that they are to seek information on what they can and cannot do on election day and ensure that the law is adhered to,” (Ag. CoP) Philbert said, adding that absolutely no campaigning will be allowed next Monday and his officers will be out in full force to ensure breaches will be detected and met with the full brunt of the law. - Newsday

I consciously chose my shirt today based on what I have always known as a very serious legal issue - campaigning on election day. Be it on the streets, or via the media, it has been a no-no for as long as I can remember. Though I was not totally certain whether it is indeed a transgression, I did not want to somehow be barred from voting because I wore a party colour. However, is anyone policing social media, because from where I sit, I have seen some questionable things. And if the parties have used social media to campaign all throughout the campaign, then in my view, doing it today is just as illegal as doing it via traditional means. I saw one newspaper place a disclaimer saying it would delete any comment which went down this road, and that is indeed commendable. But while the TTPS are out in the 41 constituences to prevent this from happening today (in addition to cracking down on election bootleg alcoholic drinks) who is policing the web today? It may be new - this whole social media thing and how it impacts our elections and our laws - but it's worth clarifying.

Friday Fun: Must-Tweet TV

Like all social activities, television-watching demands compromise. People may have strong ideas about what they want to watch, but what they really want to do is watch together. - The Economist

I am a huge Grey's fan. So are my friends. We don't get to watch it together. But we watch it together. Chirping Blackberry phones, FB status updates and comments, tweets. The experience of watching tv with friends all across the country and around the world has the ability to create an almost cult-like experience, in real time and in post-time. You can collectively cheer, gnash teeth and cry because you're connected and it no longer is a solitary experience with you and your ice cream. It's that whole communal element that made tv so popular in the first place.

NBC recently revealed its new social initiative on its MyNBC platform. ABC, which is the network which created Grey's Anatomy needs to get us on board!!! Ah. No need to get off the couch and go anywhere. And though we don't get Hulu videos here, the idea of social tv is one which works for this generation of social networkers who love tv and who live for exciting season finales. I thoroughly enjoy sharing my fave shows with friends who feel the exact same way about the show, because it's not the same when your husband or boyfriend is forced to watch it with you because of blackmail. It's just not the same.

Does the lean-forward expe­ri­ence, inter­ac­tiv­ity and backchan­nel chat­ter of social net­works have a place in the tightly con­trolled, lean-back world of tele­vi­sion? - JD Lasica

The answer is a resounding yes!

Real Case: Perils of Small Business BEING Online

Now we all understand the importance of customer service and the importance of customer service training for staff. Customer service is usually one of the tenets of a strong brand and it has the power to set the brand apart from its competitors. I have had my fair share of excellent customer service and horrendous customer service here in Trinidad and Tobago. One bad example was when a waitress used the F-bomb to vent her frustration when SHE messed up my friend's order and she felt she needed to tell me I was F-ing confused. I did not bother to order anything after that. I did go to the manager and tell him about the encounter and his response, or lack thereof was alarming to say the least. In fact I think he was drunk.

Now yesterday I shared my opinion on why small businesses should be online. But while we do create a website or a Page or a Twitter channel, we cannot forget that how we interact with our online communities also constitues as customer service. Social media channels such as company Twitter pages and Facebook Pages allow brands to not only promote their brand, but they also use it as a conduit to deliver assistance to their customers.

In larger organisations, the communications and promotion either lies with a marketing or communications team or individual as the case may be, who usually have the skills to properly manage feedback and concerns. In the small business scenario, this is not always the case and it may be the owner or an employee. Here is an example of a social media admin gone wrong.

While service browsing recently, I came upon a Facebook Page for one fitness provider, where the customers were miffed about an unexpected and immediate price increase for membership. This was the first response from "management". I am posting it as I found it.
well we didnt even no until the day it was raised, but come on its only by $50.00 come on. its still a good rate and plus all d classes r for free, where else u gettin dat?...please, ok. where u gettin dat? yes we shld of let eveyone know in advance...but it has been done already
Shock does not begin to explain it. Of course subsequent customer responses were not conciliatory. The second response, from the second admin was:
I understand your dismay with the sudden change of membership rates. I apologise for this.  We take note of your suggestion for more notification and will bear this in mind for future operational/organizational changes that will affect our members. The rates for the first quarter were an introductory rate as is customary for all new goods and services in a developed and competitive market. However, you will notice that with the increase in rates, we have also increased the number and availabilty of classes, the increase in the floor space as well as the continuing increase of equipment and machinery. So while you may not benefit from class participation, there is and will be more and a wider variety of equiment available for your use. Again I do apologise for any issues that may have arose due the change of rates, but we do hope you continue to support (company name)
1. Customer service goes beyond frontline staff. It applies to everyone, in every department, across all functions and via all media, be it in a physical setting or virtually. Clearly the second response was a more measured and professional response, balancing the apology for the price increase with the benefits which the increase brought with it. I can appreciate that response more than the combative, not to mention, linguistically challenged reply up top. The danger they faced was that customers could have taken this poor customer service to the masses with the click of a mouse.

2. I am becoming more and more convinced that some organisations still view social media as "something else we can do" and not as a real, and powerful marketing tool. I swear, between this and some of the other local social media sites I have observed, it's almost as if they just asked the office boy if he had a Facebook acocunt and told him run with it. Social media just cannot be taken for granted and if you're going to be using it for your small business, then don't short change yourself.
  • Learn about the tools.
  • Invest in training your staff to use them effetcively and in a way that builds, not destroys your brand
  • Value the tools and what they can do for your business.
It is vital to hire, train, and monitor customer service employees. Each must understand what the brand is about, why their interactions with consumers are important, and what is expected of them - Augie Ray

And if your brand is now on the social media path, the same applies and is more important than ever!

The Perils of Keeping your Small Business Offline

Yesterday I tweeted this question:

So, is it?

I was actually trying to find a caterer for an event I am planning, preferably one closer to the event, and it has been an ordeal. Clearly a lot of small businesses are not online and this is worrying. I had to eventually resort to emailing friends for recommendations or suggestions and ended up calling a few of the options. Quite frankly, I find this tedious. I am online most of the time, so it is easier, not to mention more convenient to do a quick Google search, locate a website and then email the person. Or at least the website would have enough preliminary information that when and if I do call, I am not in a state of utter ignorance and I am a bit more informed and persuaded to make a positive consumer decision.
There are a lot of small businesses out there and I applaud this. I think it is great when people follow their passions and make their dreams of having their own business a reality. But really...gone are the days when you printed flyers on coloured paper and left them on office coffee tables and on lightposts. Why don't you have an email address for your business? This is not at all a winning move!
When I called the caterer that sounded the most promising, she asked me for my email "number" Then when I finally got the email, it was from her friend's email address because she did not have an email address, and the friend's address was sketchy at best (something along the lines of A total fail.

Funding agencies for entrepreneurs should be equipped to assist small business owners with the information on these basics and why they are so important. While a start-up may not be able to afford a snazzy website off the bat, Facebook Pages have now made it easier to get yourself an online presence. Too easy. Way too easy. So, why aren't you online, and why should you be?

The internet is like the Yellow Pages - I only use the physical yellow pages when I am on the road and cannot get through to the operator. For everything else, I turn to Google. Millions of people feel the same way, so if you're not online, you're almost non-existent.
Visibility, credibility and promotion - It's all well and good to have people know you via a friend, but you can really establish your new brand with an online presence, which can take you from the lightpost to the masses with a couple easy steps and great content. For my caterer friend, if your menus are online, I don't have to wait for your friend to email them to me, or worse...fax them and hope it's a good copy.

Online orders/online business - There are those who have not seen a physical cash register in years because they live by online shopping/ordering. Don't limit yourself and lose the opportunity to bring in some extra business.

Analytics/Feedback/customer suggestions - How many people are visiting your site? Who are they? Where are they? This kind of information can help you market your business and develop new ideas to meet the needs of the people who have shown an interest in what you're selling. Additionally, you can get a lot of great feedback from customers which can assist you in fine tuning your products/services.
Not because you're operating out of your kitchen, should it mean that your marketing efforts should fall by the wayside. It's more important in the start up phase to establish yourself and get your business name, your services, your contact info etc out there to prospective customers. Your online presence is part of your calling card - it gives you greater legitimacy and greater visibility. And please...

  • Have an email address that identifies your company - is not it. Use your company name to identify yourself electronically.
  • Ensure your site, your Page and your website, are professional and cover the areas that a prospective customer may be interested in.
I am left holding a copy of a menu that leaves me a bit cold, and will have to now call her back and make suggestions. That is, if she answers the phone, because on my first attempt she had forgotten her phone at her aunt's house and the aunt had to take a message and have her call me back a couple hours later. If there was an option, where the business was already online, with a more convenient communication channel, then she would surely miss out on my event and my business. Don't make the same mistake.

Photo credit:

Zeroing in, or out...on your brand

When Twitter zero'ed out last week, lots of faces crumpled in anguish, in sheer terror because the legions of followers they had built up over the past few weeks, past several months were suddenly gone, leaving them in an empty room, with no voices, no chatter, no hero worship. Among these were the brands who had painstakingly set up fancy Twitter pages, all nicely branded and boiler-plated. Luckily for all of was a temporary glitch and in no time at all, the world had righted itself and following and followers had been restored.

But what if it hadn't? What if Twitter had screwed up your online "popularity" forever? What if you had lost all your followers - all those people who reached out to you during the day asking questions, retweeting your links, #FF-ing you? Would you have survived?

And more importantly for brands, do you have any idea who these people are? Now chances of knowing them all, may be slim to none. But is the rapport with them strong enough to withstand a crash such as this, and make them come back on their own, without you having to sit at your desk, trying to remember their Twitter handles?

It's something to think about isn't it? One lesson brands can learn from this is to not put all their social media energies into one social media basket. Some folks love Twitter and that's the extent of the relationship, but as we saw last week, it can be doom for the one-way brand. It's not an excuse to now go out and populate the SM universe. Be practical and relevant and go where your audience is sure to be. Be practical if you're a one-man show and it's just you managing social media.

But the other question coming out of the Great Zero is...

Would you have been able to keep on going without them?

There are some who have relied so heavily on social media that perhaps the traditional forms of engagement and communication have taken a bit of a hit. So on a day when the technology hits the skids, are you prepared to keep it going without missing a beat? Have you managed to create a synergy with your online tools and your traditional strategies to build a loyal offline community?

I often wonder where I would be if one day I lost my old phone (not a smartphone, so I guess it's a dumbphone), chock full of email addresses, phone numbers and texts with important info - all of which, sadly, is saved nowhere else. I think about a life before advanced mobile technology and how my telephone book was just that - an actual book, and I could rattle off numbers without blinking because I did not have mobile phone books to depend on. Now, with maybe the exception of my mother's mobile number and those of a couple close friends, I am just terrible with remembering data like that now. At the same time however, I am not limited by emails and tweets when it comes to my real life relationships. It makes it more fun, more convenient, yes...but it does not beat going out in the real world.

So really the question is How else are you building your brand?

  • Is your website a hot mess because you have sold your soul to Facebook and Twitter?
  • Do your followers know how else to find you, i.e. via your website or other platform, or do they think your Twitter URL is your...well...your URL?
  • Is your non-virtual frontline customer service below par because you are a Twitter customer service superstar?
  • Have you done away with in-depth articles or blogs because you've got 140 characters?

It seems ludicrous but it's a serious question - one which we all should be asking ourselves because at the end of the day, these are merely tools and not the whole enchilada. If the basket of eggs should fall, would that be the end for your strategy?

Law and Order: End of an Era

When the news broke that NBC was going to actually cancel Law & Order, there was a gasp heard around the world. Yes, when the show lost Jerry Orbach, and to a lesser extent Benjamin Bratt and Jesse L Martin, it was disappointing, but it rallied. The great thing about the show is that its appeal was in large part to the compelling storylines and cases. The fabulous actors who brought the varied and complex characters to life were icing on the cake. I admit that I often missed episodes because of fatigue or life, but that's why we love online re-runs.

The show has not been given the opportunity to hit a 21st season, to beat Gunsmoke, with which it is currently tied for longest running drama series. Oh gosh, NBC...are you that grudgeful? The show is one of the best, and most intelligent shows on tv, but thanks to the power of the advertising dollar, it has fallen victim to the cancellation knife.

But loyal fans have turned to social media to make a last ditch attempt to save the long running police/legal drama. I don't know if they can rally enough support to convince NBC to give the cast and crew one more year at least, but it's worth a shot. It's one time where I really am rooting more than ever for the power of social networks and the booming voices of online communities.

Join the L&O movement.

Yes. I  was one of those who gasped. It's just one of my fave shows ever!
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