Sunday, March 29, 2009

I don't believe in We Believe in Winnipeg

Hey, it is nice here. Barkeep, I'll have a cordial.

We Believe in Winnipeg! And if you don't, you can move, traitor!

The Winnipeg Free Press and Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce are the latest to put together a lame ad campaign reminding us why we should love our city. The big idea: "We believe in Winnipeg!"

The exclamation mark is my own.

As the Free Press helpfully points out, this follows other successful campaigns; who can forget "Love me, Love my Winnipeg," "100 Reasons to Love Winnipeg," and "Nowhere - Like Winnipeg?" You've got to admit that the last one is pretty great.

And who can forget "Spirited Energy," the ad campaign for Manitoba that made us all join hands and sing, "Kum Bye Ah?"

I used to work with the guy who is often credited with "masterminding" the Spirited Energy themeline - a Winnipegger who (wait for it) doesn't live here. Hell, he didn't live here when I worked with him - in Winnipeg!

However, this guy did know how to market himself and make a good marketing dollar while he did it, so good for him for doing it with the most focus-grouped-to-death slogan to ever come down the pike, except for maybe "I'm Lovin' it."

I really, honestly do love Winnipeg, but it's stuff like this that makes me, as my favorite comedian Derek Edward says, want to pull over to the side of the road and stick my head through the windshield.

Taking the Winnipeg show on the road

First: it's true that we Winnipeggers knock our city too much - and that our 'tude doesn't play in other places like it does here. I remember telling a self-deprecating joke at my job in New York, and a co-worker responding, "Why don't you like yourself?"

"Because I'm a self-deprecating, sarcastic jerk, like everyone else back in my home city," I should have responded. Instead, I said something like, "Huh? I like myself." And slinked off into the shadows to lick my wounds - thank God they tasted like Slurpees.

I also recall vacationing in Halifax a couple of years ago, and having the time of my life - only to read the headline on the Gazette one morning: "Why would anyone vacation in Halifax?" No wonder I felt at home.

And, by the way, it is true that - even though we share the same sense of humor and values as our brethren on the East Coast - Winnipeggers can't name the capital of New Brunswick, and East Coasters don't know whether Winnipeg and Manitoba are provinces, cities, countries, or planets. You heard it here first!

Capital of New Brunswick: it's Moncton, right? Right? Right? I'm just too lazy to Google, is the problem.

No, the main problem with all of our Winnipeg advertising themelines is that they come from a place of inferiority and they're just bland enough to offend and inspire no one. They just sit there long enough to be made fun of, then slink into the shadows to lick their Slurpee-seeping wounds.

My themeline for Winnipeg

As an advertising copywriter, instructor, and a proud Winnipegger, I know what happens next: someone has to say, "If you're so smart, then come up with your own themeline, hater."

OK, I admit it: it's not an easy task. I've had my students do it in the past, but it always seems to go in the direction of "Keepin' it Riel," which I would like, were it not for the t-shirts everywhere that say, "Keepin' it Riel."

The other thing that happens is that people can't resist the urge to go "negative" on a themeline:
  • "Flat as a Pancake. Mmm, pancakes!" (Student example);
  • "Gateway to Headingley" (Derek Edwards again);
  • "If you can make it here, you can make it in Regina" (that one's mine - guaranteed laugh at Rumor's);
  • "Welcome to Katzville" (that's mine too - no guaranteed laugh at Rumor's);
And so on...

Is the best themeline for Winnipeg a parody? Read on...

So, having given this much thought, it occurred to me that the best themeline for Winnipeg would need to have the following traits:
1. It would need to be positive - no hidden negativity;

2. It would have to come from a feeling of superiority, for a change;

3. It should immediately capture the public's imagination - no focus groups;

4. It should be funny;

5. It should be written by a Winnipegger who lives in Winnipeg - as Dick Cheney once said, "No foreigners allowed;"

6. It should have some intrinsic news value.
Given this creative brief, I hereby nominate the following themeline, which - yes - is a parody of the Las Vegas themeline, but also says something about all the good stuff we produce in Winnipeg - like, um, comedians.

I also like this themeline because it throws it back in Vegas' face and, admit it, you know that Vegas has been asking for it:

"What happens in Winnipeg...goes everywhere."

Problem solved.

Now, I think I'll have a cordial while I solve the U.S. economic crisis. Blog to follow.

Citigroup cites 51st State of Denial, R.E.M.

I'm pretty sure this is the end of the world as we know it:

ABC News This Week reports this morning that Citigroup has issued an economic forecast memo called "the 51st State of the U.S.A. - The State of Denial," which clearly shows the bank using the cover of R.E.M.'s single, "It's the End of the World as we Know it (and I Feel Fine)" front and centre.

I can't find a copy of the memo anywhere online, but it's clearly visible in this link to the This Week interview with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, at 2:12 on the countdown clock.

What's this about? Have R.E.M. fans grown up and started working at Citigroup? Can the "Everybody Hurts" economic forecast be far behind?

The Week That Was rocks, questions the media

Here's another new brainy British pop band with catchy songs - this one's called The Week That Was, and this song's called "Learn to Learn."

Is it just me, or does this owe something to XTC? These guitar licks and rolling toms are right out of "Making Plans for Nigel," which I've included below for comparison and to point out that the best videos ever made are from the 80s.

It's never bothered me when a band "pays tribute" to another band. Where it gets dodgy is with the Rancids of the world - a band that I really like, but that gets a little bit too close to aping the Clash sometimes.

The cool thing about The Week That Was' debut album is that all of the songs are at least loosely about "the media."

As one description of the album accurately describes it:
"How do we deal with the fragments of information we receive through the television, radio, the Internet? How do we balance the distrust we feel for mass media with our dependence on it? How does this relationship influence our hopes and actions in our real lives? And finally, what would happen if we decided not to deal with it anymore and switched off the information flow by throwing away our TVs, radios and newspapers?"
And what more could a student enrolled in communications want than a band rocking out to the death of the media?

Now, here's that XTC I promised:

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Duff Roblin back in the news with a vengeance

Duff Roblin: ditch sold separately.

Duff Roblin called: he wants his ditch and building back.

In a strange confluence of stories - much like the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine at The Forks only, like, stranger - former Manitoba Premier Duff Roblin is all over the news today.

First: Not Quite the Flood of the Century is on its way, and the Red River Floodway is again being heralded as our savior (unless the ice doesn't melt and we're all screwed).

As any Winnipegger worth his or her Nip knows, the real name of the Red River Floodway is "Duff's Ditch," named for Mr. Roblin, whose government had the foresight, wherewithal, money, gumption, spunk, and alliteration to pull it off.

Second: the Duff Roblin Building at the University of Manitoba was on fire until about two hours ago, where the Psychology and Zoology departments are located. I think I know what happened: I saw 28 Days Later, damn those monkeys.

I'm not a superstitious person, but I wouldn't drive down Roblin Boulevard today.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Is a Happy-Go-Lucky worldview the best education?

Sally Hawkins (left) stars in Happy-Go-Lucky.

It's been so long, I'd forgotten that a film could be so powerful as to make you question your very outlook on life. That's what happens when the last three movies you rented were Zack and Miri, Transformers, and Step Brothers, I guess.

However, this weekend I had the good fortune to stumble across Mike Leigh's recent film, Happy-Go-Lucky, thereby absolving my previous movie-rental sins (I hope).

Frankly, this movie stunned me. Ostensibly a character study of a young school teacher, Poppy (played by Sally Hawkins), it's really about having a worldview, the role we play in our own - and each other's - lives, and how education helps us cultivate, embrace, or reject that view.

If it sounds dull, that's my fault, not the film's. Besides exploring the broad themes I've mentioned, it also happens to be really charming and funny.

Hawkins is a revelation in the role: it's a crime that she wasn't nominated for Best Actress at this year's Oscars. As Poppy, she's a compulsive comedian and observer of life, dressed in bright colors and high boots with big heels; she's never met a sexual innuendo she doesn't like, and can't sit still or stop giggling for a second. Yet, she's no clown: she's a fully formed person who's self-knowing and clever.

I've met people like Poppy in real life, and you have too. Whether you embrace her playful goofiness probably depends on your own, personal worldview; The odds are with her: according to Rotten Tomatoes, even sullen and jaded movie critics have given the film a 93 per cent approval rating, the old softies.

As with all of Mike Leigh's films, most notably Secrets and Lies, the actors have workshopped their characters over the course of many months and improvised their scenes on camera, which gives the film a very real, lived-in quality. I so bought Hawkins' portrayal of Poppy, I was disappointed to find out in the DVD features that the actress isn't exactly like her in real life.

The film's action kicks off when Poppy's bicycle is stolen - is it just me that sees this as a nod to Pee-wee's Big Adventure? - leading her to pursue driving instruction from her polar opposite, Scott (Eddie Marsan), a racist, paranoid, repressed jerk who - the film hints - may have once been a victim of his own "education" at the hands of bullies in the schoolyard.

As a grade-school teacher, Poppy is as great as the driving instructor is bad. She clearly loves what she does, and makes the lessons come alive for her students - at one point dressed in a homemade chicken costume. Later, she shows her serious side when she has an intervention with a student who she sees hitting other kids in the playground.

We wonder: might the driving instructor have turned out differently if he'd had Poppy as his teacher?

In some of the film's best scenes, Poppy takes flamenco lessons from an emotional Spanish dance instructor (Karina Fernandez), who openly weeps about the man who left her at the same time she teaches the class about empowerment. "My space!" yell the students. Is this dancing or self defense? Yet later in the film, we see where perhaps this lesson helps Poppy too.

The movie leaves Poppy's positive worldview an open question. We see that her two sisters aren't much like her: one's sarcastic and grouchy, and the other has browbeaten her husband into submission. Might it have been an intervening teacher who made Poppy the person she is?

Ultimately, the film works as a slice of life, comedy, and cautionary tale - but most of all, it makes you want to try to be just a little bit more like Poppy. I'm feeling happier already.

The media is all one thing: deal with it, education

The City University of New York (CUNY) is no longer getting its Journalism students to commit to a “medium” - broadcast, print, etc. because of convergence and the idea that “all media (have) become one.”

CUNY instructor and former TV Guide reporter Jeff Jarvis explains the decision here.

Agree or not, and I do, it’s an interesting discussion - and one that I would say is overdue at Red River College. Let's see if perhaps I can get the ball rolling...

Majorless doesn't mean directionless

At Red River College, the Creative Communications program has its students major in Journalism, Advertising, PR, or Broadcast in the second year. This strikes me as an outdated model. Aren't they all the same thing now?

Although CUNY's program is clearly not a direct comparison to “the majors” we offer in Creative Communications, I think that the larger points about the media becoming one thing, new media being the competitive edge in the industry, and the idea that students who choose a subject area in one track end up working in “any” track are very pertinent to what we teach, across the CreComm program.

The rapidly changing communications industry is something that communications instructors, like me, need to talk about all the time – and how it should impact what we offer students in terms of courses and majors, and even how we teach them.

For instance, I know from my freelance work that clients want and expect a full new-media approach: Facebook, Blogger, WordPress, Twitter, YouTube, craigslist, and - whatever the next thing happens to be. It's all or nothing now, baby.

Likewise, clients expect that students will know how to use new media when they graduate from our program. Based on the new-media campaign that PR instructor Melanie Lee Lockhart and I rolled out in PR class this semester: our students may use new media every day, but that doesn't mean that they necessarily know how to harness that power for a client. That, my friends, is where education comes in.

I'm going to start the discussion at Red River College, and we'll see where it leads. My experience with the college is very positive: the instructors are forward thinking and want what's best for students and their careers.

Clearly, a knowledge of new media, and how to use it will separate the communications professional of tomorrow from the communications professional of yesterday.

To be continued.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Does journalism need to give in to the dark side to survive?

If there's one thing that our first-year PR students have learned this year, it's "hyper-local."

Hyper-local, roughly defined, is targeting your publics in highly refined and segmented niches. In layman's terms, it means that there's no such thing as the general public to advertisers or PRs anymore. Instead, it means being concerned with influencing and selling to "Mary, a 45-year-old single mother with two kids who lives in the R3M postal code." Among others.

It's not just advertising and PR that are going hyper-local, it's also journalism - mainly because it has to in order to compete with the Internet. In fact, there's a model out there that could work, called "community journalism" - traditional reporting supported by online bloggers/reporters.

The idea is that big journalism can't send a journalist into every, little neighborhood to cover every, little story. So, how about paying a traditional journalist to not only cover the news, but also organize his or her little pod of community bloggers, who report on themselves and work for free?

One can imagine a seasoned reporter from the Winnipeg Free Press working with five or 10 student journalists from Red River College and interested bloggers, organized hyper-locally by neighborhood, like,, or, which is run by a former New York Times columnist and "combines original reporting with aggregated news."

Can journalists report, organize, and chew gum at the same time?

Could the professional journalist's new role be to not only report, but to help organize local blogs into "online neighborhoods?"

Much like Obama's stimulus package, I believe in this model, because no one has come up with a better one. One can see the value in this approach - a reliable hub for local news about and by the community. And where there's value there's not only hope, but hope in the form of advertising.

Here's the big problem: reporters have never been good at teamwork. Each year, for example, the Creative Communications advertising students raise upward of $5,000 in order to participate in the AAF competition in Minneapolis, or - this year - even more to go on an advertising tour of Chicago.

The journalism majors pay for the trip out of their own pockets. "I've never been any good at fundraising and neither are you!" says the journalism instructor to his charges, half in jest.

Indeed, the lone-wolf reporter who digs up the news and exposes the dirt in order to "scoop" other media outlets is so entrenched in our minds, it almost seems laughable that such a beast would care about "publics" and "community," but maybe he or she will have to learn to do it in order to survive in the new-media wilderness.

PR & J sandwich

Gone are the days when journalists can talk to their public; here are the days when they must converse with it.

Have you watched CTV's evening news lately? It's remarkably hard to make it through the entire hour without flipping, falling asleep, or giving up:
Sylvia Kuzyk: "Here's today's weather. Stay tuned after these commercial breaks for tomorrow's weather."

Me: "Uh, no thanks, Sylvia - why don't I just check Environment Canada online now?"
We're not content to just passively watch a talking head deliver the news anymore. We want news when we want it. Better yet, we want to participate in the process.

This notion of two-way communication was first considered by PR guru James Grunig. According to this model, you use communication to "negotiate, resolve conflict, and promote mutual understanding and respect between an organization and its publics."

PR, it should be noted, is often called "the dark side" by journalists. Memo to journalism: give in to the dark side.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Hey, Brainiac: how do you mark advertising creative?

One of the first things we do every year in the advertising major is a "right brain or left brain" dominance test like this one.

The lessons in advertising:

1. The reason you're not creative is because you've got the wrong brain-hemisphere dominance;

2. The reason you're not organized is because you've got the wrong brain-hemisphere dominance.

In other words: we're all losers; if you're creative, you're probably not organized, and if you're organized, you're probably not creative. This explains the copywriter who can only write on days approved by an astrologist, and the copywriter who can only write ads about product features.

The positive view is that both approaches work in advertising: you're allowed to wear your bathing suit to work as long as you regularly create ads that have emotional resonance. Conversely, you're allowed to lie in the fetal position under your desk for hours at a time, as long as you regularly create ads that have logical relevance.

How do you mark creative?

For ad instructors, however, the test raises this ugly spectre: what if you judge a student's creative work using your brain dominance, when that student has a different dominance than you? Could it be that the work is much better than you think, but you don't have the brain orientation to know it?

As every good instructor knows, "human error" plays a part in any evaluation. Why is this paper better than this other one? "Because I think so and have experience in the area," is usually the answer regardless of how many marking matrices you pull out of your arse. I mean, "hat."

It's about as honest an answer as you can give, but not very satisfying to the person hearing it - which explains all of those marking matrices, which are more designed to satisfy the student into believing that the marking was somehow "scientific." In fact, this is actually no more true than if you drop the papers from an airplane and give an A to the ones that land furthest from the school.

However, by understanding your brain dominance, and the brain dominance of your students, you may actually be able to negate at least some of the subjectivity that is part and parcel of any teacher's grading scheme.

Me and my left brain

Having done about a thousand of these brain-orientation tests, I know that I tend to favor the left brain by a fairly large margin. Intellectual, verbal, logical, planned, structured, and sequential are, in particular, my advertising and classroom favorites.

Nonetheless, most people have some brain orientation outside of their dominant hemisphere. Some of my non-dominant hallmarks: remembering faces better than names, asking open-ended questions, preferring “free” over “reserved,” interpreting body language, and using metaphors and analogies. Just like a snake eating its own tail; its own tail, I tell you!

These results mean that I think in a linear manner, and take pieces of information, line them up, make logic out of them, then draw conclusions; I think sequentially, not randomly (which is reflected in the fact that I write good. Har, har.); I can process symbols without the aid of something tangible (which isn't the case for everyone); and I favor logical, verbal, and reality-based processing.

Possible balance strategies

Having figured this out, what's an instructor to do?

The learning and thinking process is enhanced when both sides of the brain participate in a balanced manner. The first step, for everyone, is to be aware of your less-dominant style, so that you can improve on it and be aware of your biases.

In my case, I can:
  • Exercise my right brain by asking “why” I am teaching something in a certain way;
  • Create opportunities for more hands-on activities in the classroom, using something tangible whenever possible;
  • Favor intuition over logic by asking myself, what “feels” right?;
  • Think visually;
  • Encourage right-brain creative thinking when I’m writing advertising or grading “creative” work.
It's a truism in advertising that the best, most creative work might first strike you as "bad." It's only upon reflection that the brain sometimes makes that "a-ha!" connection and realizes genius for what it is, which is why the Beatles' Revolver is now widely considered to be the band's best album after everyone pretty much agreed for 30 years that it was Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

It's also a damn good excuse for putting off marking and handing back papers long after students don't remember them. Barkeep: one more Margarita! Ah, I'm feeling more creative already.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Winnipeg's oldest comic thinks back to a simpler time

Congratulations to Jason Beck, who turned 40 today, making him Winnipeg's Oldest Comic.

Why, he can remember a time when a McDonald's manager's picture hung proudly in each restaurant, Mcjobs were plentiful, hash browns cost just 60 cents, and Men Without Hats pins were considered cool. Actually, scratch that: they were never considered cool.

I have no idea who the two losers are behind him.

Second-year students pitch BT promo campaigns this Thursday

If you didn't get enough great CreComm work at this year's IPP Presentations, two groups of second-year Ad and PR students will be presenting their Breakfast Television campaigns this Thursday at Red River College, Princess Street Campus, in the Great-West Life Lecture Theatre at 11 a.m. (aka "the guest- speaker slot").

We're expecting a good turnout from Citytv to see the pitches, including:
  • Tom Scott, GM
  • Dwight Iwan, Managing Producer of Local Content
  • Laurie Jolicoeur, Marketing and Events Coordinator
  • Ally Forzley, Creative Writer/Producer
  • Jaclyn Obie, Creative Writer/Producer
  • Jennifer Ryan, Creative Writer/Producer
  • Mike Bahuaud, Graphic Designer
  • Mike Danais, Editor
  • Chris Brinkworth, EFP Shooter.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Second-year CreComm students put the "professional" in IPPs

It's often said that Americans get the president they deserve. In much the same way, CreComm students get the IPP presentations they deserve.

Every year, instructors and students dissect the Independent Professional Project presentations when they're over, much like TV critics take apart the Oscars the following day, analyzing them for hidden meanings, notable moments, and general trends.

As any good PR person knows, "evaluation" needs to happen at every level of a plan. CreComm lives that rule: from the moment you teach or study in the program, you undergo an immersion into "a culture of criticism" that sticks with you for the rest of your life as you pursue a career in the communications field.

Here's how it works: I'm tough when I mark my students' papers. My students are tough when they evaluate my teaching. Then, they graduate, we become friends, it becomes someone else's job to criticize their work, my criticism looks light in comparison, and all is right with the world. Rinse, wash, repeat.

IPP presentations tend to be more or less than the sum of their collective parts. Some years, they're "fun." Some years, they're "sombre." Some years they're "hit and miss." Some years they drag, and some years they race by.

Whatever they are or seem to be, IPP presentations tend to reflect the collective personality of that particular year's group, which doesn't necessarily account for every individual in the room - it's more like "a dominant vibe."

When I was a student in CreComm, IPPs were mostly "bad," my sitcom script and video included. No offense to anyone with whom I graduated, but let's just say: the technology's a lot better now than it used to be. My marketing plan consisted of selling my sitcom to my friend, Dean Pritchard, for a bite of his ham sandwich.

This year's presentations

This year, I'd say that the presentations were "professional" - among the most professional I've seen.
  • Maybe it was the great organization of the event by Nicole Trunzo and Crystal Klippenstein.
  • Maybe it was the great hosts: Kate Schellenberg, Mike Ambrose, and Brenlee Coates, and that they each were responsible for the entire day's hosting activities.
  • Maybe it was the sheer professionalism of our terrific students.
  • Maybe it was the strong projects.
  • Maybe it was the venue, the Park Theatre.
  • Maybe it was the fine restaurants in the area.
  • Maybe it was the magical Keebler elves.
OK, let's just settle on "all of the above."

Frankly, I was blown away by the presentations over the last three days. As one instructor said: "It's hard to evaluate the projects themselves on the basis of the presentations: everyone looks like they have a good one."

There's one way to shut down an instructor's marking matrix, and that's to have a presentation that is so compelling and well delivered that he or she forgets to fill it out. That happened a lot this year.

Or, a student can also do what student Will Cooke did in his hilarious presentation: ask for "a balance of justice and mercy," which sounds fair to me!

I won't highlight any standout presentations, because it was clearly a strong year, and I don't want to damn anyone by omission. Let me just say that the weak moments were fewer than I've seen, and the strong moments were so consistent as to be the benchmark.

Today, I would also say, were the most emotional presentations I've seen. The funny stuff was really, really funny, and the tender stuff was really, really moving.

After the most touching presentation I think I've seen, the crowd stood up in a spontaneous ovation, tears still running down their cheeks. It felt like we'd all been through something special together, and that we were all the better and closer for it. And that's probably how it should feel when school is over. OK: "almost" over.

I'm also pleased to note that attendance was good among first- and second-year students, and those who weren't there got the worst punishment of all: missing an inspiring and super-cool event for the ages.

Great job, everyone!

Special guests

It was great to see a lot of former grads and special guests make it out to this year's IPP event.

Among them:
  • Ken Webb, vice-president, academic, RRC. And he won the raffle too, lucky guy.
  • Croft Petersmeyer from Pollard Banknote.
  • Jani Sorensen from the MS Society.
  • Ryszard Hunka from CBC.
  • Mark Myrowich, entrepreneur.
  • Kristin Hancock from the Children's Wish Foundation.
  • Barbara Biggar, PR guru.
  • Matt Cohen, Direct Focus writer.
  • Casey Gibb, CreComm grad, whose current job title I don't have. I suck.
  • Sabrina Carnevale, CreComm grad, whose current job title I don't have. I suck.
  • My mom.
About the IPPs

The Independent Professional Project is a full-credit course at Red River College in Winnipeg. Creative Communications students propose and produce a major project of their own selection.

In the final semester of the two-year program, students make a formal presentation on the outcome of their work. Projects are promotional, creative, documentary, research-based and can be in the form of video, audio, print, performance – and more!

On the second day, the IPP presentations rocked

Burton Duncan puts the "graphic" in graphic novel with his IPP, The Firefighter.

Day two of the IPP presentations was more rock and less talk.

Another great job from today's IPP presenters - way to go, everyone! Mike Ambrose was a genial host with great shtick, and Nicole and Crystal continued to be the best event planners in the history of planet Earth.

Now, if only someone would post some of the great rock from the "musical part" of today's presentations on YouTube, I'd link it to this blog. TwoTails? Van Kunder? Blazing Saddles? Let's get that up for public consumption, I say.

Tomorrow's presentations, 9 a.m., Park Theatre

Friday, March 13

Cody Pierson & Chris Moskowec - Video Documentary
Will Cooke - Television Scripts
Candace Bowles - Event
Kim Kaschor - Book
Heather Bell - Research
Sula Johnson - Zine and Promo Party
Steve St. Louis - Photo Essay/Exhibit
Dustin Plett - Video Documentary
Tania Kohut - Video Documentary
Lena Franford - Promotional Videos
Dan Vadeboncoeur - Radio News Director
Melody Rogan - Novel
Meghan Duffy - Promo Videos

CreComm student Dave Shorr suggested to me today that he get half of the ad revenue from this site. I'm happy to oblige: tomorrow I will present him with a cheque for $0. Har, har.

See you at the last day of the IPP presentations!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Winnipeg's oldest-living comic turns 40 this week

Jason Beck in his natural habitat: Hardee's.

Happy birthday to Winnipeg's oldest-living comic and communications professional, Jason Beck.

Beck turns 40 this week, and you know what that means: only a few days until he gets his picture in the paper next to the headline, "Lordy, lordy." With all the other mutants.

A happiest of birthdays to Jason from me, Buffie Buffalo, Pengy Penguin, and all the citizens, forget it.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

What is a communications professional? Choose one.

Yesterday we had our annual meeting where we pitch our "majors" to first-year CreComm students, who have to decide on a specialty for second year. Their choices: journalism, broadcast, advertising, or PR.

"Choose one!"

Which would you choose, given the current economy and media climate?

Ad and PR: evil? Maybe. Adaptable? Yes!

If a job is your ultimate goal, I'd go with advertising or PR, (disclaimer) and not just because I teach them.

The late comedian Bill Hicks had a great shtick on advertising and marketing (see video above), in which he slams marketers for being so darn "adaptable" to every situation. I agree: marketers always win. Show them new media, and they'll find ways to get money out of it before anyone else.

As Hicks says, you'll sleep soundly at night knowing that your job manufacturing "arsenic childhood food" is safe and secure! Funny guy.

Journalism: excitement in lieu of pay

There will always be students who select journalism, job market be damned. I was a journalism major myself, so I know what that's about. Journalism always has the edge in the classroom setting: if you have a notepad and sources, congratulations: you're a working journalist!

The bigger problem today: after chasing and writing the story, how do you get paid for doing it?

I often use the example of my 18-year-old nieces in class. They go to the Franz Ferdinand concert, shoot video on their cell phone, post it on YouTube, and write a review on Facebook. They do it for free, and it's viewed by everyone at their school. Are they journalists? There are some who believe that what they've done is actually more valuable than the classic "newspaper sends a critic with a luxury-box view" scenario.

And, as long as my nieces - and all of their friends - are willing to do it for free, price is on their side. Yes it is.

Broadcast: is amateur the new professional?

For years, TV sustained the aura of being something very special, important, and glamorous. "Motion and emotion!" as we say in class. And we, the passive viewers, let it be so.

Everyone bought into the ideal of TV as a professional's medium, which made work easy for broadcast journalists and gatekeepers alike. "You're a reporter for the television? There will be no charge for that drycleaning, Ms. Kuzyk."

But now, TV is really only glamorous for people "of a certain age," who probably still remember when CBS was called "the Tiffany network." What could be less glamorous than working for CTV, CBC, and CanWest Global when they're all in various stages of "not existing?" I wrote about the broken broadcast model here.

Arguably, there is no such thing as broadcast anymore. It's all "narrowcast," baby: the idea is that traditional broadcast media's audience has fragmented so much, it's no longer possible for media outlets to be all things to all people. Now, it's easier to make money by targeting a narrow demographic and then sell space to advertisers who want to target that demographic.

Gone are the days when we all watched "the Wizard of Oz" on Sunday night because that was the only thing that was on for "that demographic."

But what if the 18 to 24 year-olds (the most desirable demographic to advertisers) don't watch TV anymore and are instead online, talking on cell phones, listening to iPods, and playing Xbox? And what if this demographic finds that the amateur videos on YouTube are more fun to watch than the latest episode of House on CBS?

Diner beats the Sophie's Choice model

For me, choosing one of the above majors is a Sophie's Choice-like scenario. Given that the current communications landscape is morphing into something altogether new, I think that it's more important than ever for students to be good at "everything;" indeed, they'll need to be a communications army of one - adaptable to wherever new media takes us.

As a result, educational institutions, instructors, and students will need to push aside the "choose one" model and move toward an "all-of-the-above" or perhaps even an "everything but the kitchen sink" approach.

In the great movie, Diner, Mickey Rourke is asked to choose: "Mathis or Sinatra?"

His answer: "Presley."

The correct answer to Ad, PR, J, or Broadcast? "Presley."

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Robinson reviews new Ogilvy book in the Free Press

Ron Robinson (who can do no wrong in my book after hosting CBC's groundbreaking Nightlines radio show) has a well-written review of a new book about David Ogilvy in the Winnipeg Free Press.

The book, "The King of Madison Avenue: David Ogilvy and the Making of Modern Advertising," is written by Kenneth Roman and available through Amazon here.

Ogilvy, of course, is the British advertising guru who espoused rigid rules about how copywriters should write ads. Though many of his rules are debatable ("Don't be a clown!"), there's a reason why people are still talking about him some 50 years after he did his best work.

Ogilvy wrote some classic ads, including Rolls-Royce's print ad with this very long, but effective, headline: "At 60 Miles an Hour, the Loudest Noise in This New Rolls-Royce Comes from the Electric Clock."

Robinson's review is noteworthy for bringing in some local connections to Ogilvy, including this one, which I haven't heard before:
"(Ogilvy's) new boss was the former Winnipegger, William Stephenson, aka Intrepid. Ogilvy rarely spoke of his work, honouring the Official Secrets Act, but Stephenson said of him, "literary skill, very keen analytical powers, initiative and special aptitude for handling problems of extreme delicacy ... David not only made a good intelligence officer, but he was a brilliant one."
Sounds like a great summer read. While you're at it, make sure you read Ogilvy's classic books, On Advertising, and Confessions of an Advertising Man, if you haven't already. Then remind yourself, "Rules are made to be broken."