Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mommy, why do those two students hate me?

I congratulate another student upon the successful completion of
the Creative Communications program.

In stand-up comedy, its common for comedians to make a room full of people fall off of their chairs with laughter, but still feel that the night was a horrible failure because "that one guy in the audience" never cracked a smile.

And so it is with teaching.

Every teacher wants to make the subject matter come to life for all of his or her students, to have a rich and safe learning environment, and to see that translate into success once they've graduated. If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: "My success is my students' success."

Like every teacher, when I started teaching, my first thought was, "How do you teach again?" Literally, I couldn't remember a single thing about teaching from any of my teachers in any of my classes ever. Let's call it "educational amnesia."

So, I tried to remember the teachers who I liked. What did they do? No matter how I tried, all I remembered about them were vague pictures, like: "Mr. Harrington was funny." Or "Mrs. McCartney was weird." Or "Mrs. Abbott hugged me before I left for summer vacation."

It's true: all that students tend to remember about their instructors is the overriding personality trait in the classroom; OK, and the one time the instructor "loses it" on someone, because it is so out of character.

That jerk at the front of the classroom

So, that's the good news: students don't remember what you teach, they remember you. The bad news is: what if students remember you as being a jerk?

It happens, and if you don't believe me, just visit Rate Your Professor and look up...anyone. Yes, it's true: every single instructor on planet Earth connects and doesn't connect with students in the classroom. And, yes, the students who don't like you are more vocal than the students who do. Damn humans and their "nature."

(By the way, the first rule of the Internet also holds for Rate Your Professor: never search your own name.)

A couple of years ago, a friend was drumming up business for our Fringe Festival play in the Exchange District. He came across a group of young men, and offered them a Playbill.

"Who's in the play?" they asked.

My friend named everyone.

"Naw, that Kenton Larsen is an asshole," said one of them, a former CreComm student, who - despite our shared taste in music - never much cared for my insistence that he come to class on time.

"Well, you tell him that he's tardy!" isn't much of a retort and unbecoming of a teacher. So I only thought it.

The "comedian's dilemma"

This is a problem that seems to happen every year: in each class, you love and are loved by a vast majority of students. You are not loved back by a couple.

Should teachers be satisfied with this ratio, or should we be like comedians, wondering why we didn't get through to everyone? Was it the material? Was it the delivery? Was it something else that I couldn't observe?

At the very least, I think instructors should look for patterns and make connections between these students whenever possible - the better to address the problem in future years.

For me, the characteristics of the students I lose along the way almost always include people who, on paper, look a lot like me (an interest in music and comedy, for instance), but who also want to "change the rules" of school rather than abide by them.

I used to think that these students were out to sabotage the class, but I've since learned that it's actually a common student typology: the people who would rather complain about the unfair rules than change their behavior.

To students with this typology, I must indeed seem like a jerk. I love all of the things they love, and yet I still give them a hard time about late assignments and attendance. What's my problem, anyway?

There's someone for everyone

A couple of years ago, I had a student who fit this typology to the T.

He once made faces at me throughout an entire class after I told him I expected him to come to every class on time. He ignored all of "the rules" for drawing a storyboard, skipping audio and visual cues altogether. He got angry and agitated when I gave him a six out of 10, which I thought was pretty generous.

It all came to a head toward the last week of school, when he accused me of not responding to an e-mail. He pulled out a piece of paper, and I noted that he'd spelled my name wrong, which would explain why I'd never received it. I thought I proved my point, and he thought that made me a bigger jerk.

Earlier this year, I was waiting in line at Tim Hortons, when the same student (now a grad) walked into the school. I thought, "Oh, no, here we go again." To my surprise, he walked up to another teacher and warmly greeted him and shook his hand.

I guess everybody has somebody, on Earth, in Heaven, and in the classroom.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Maureen Dowd bites the hand that feeds her

Spot the ad - or is it an article? - on the front page of the LA Times.

The death knell for newspapers continues:

NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd has done something that's not easy to do: publish an article bashing the newspaper business in a newspaper.

Her article, "Slouching towards oblivion" is here.

(Personal aside: I prefer "toward" to "towards," as does the Canadian Press. "Towards" sounds like my grandmother saying, "Safeways.")

Among the tidbits:

1. Dowd says she keeps thinking of newspapers as "Norma Desmond," the washed-up actor in Sunset Boulevard. "Papers are still big. It's the screens that got small."

2. Eric Schmidt, the Google CEO, tells her that "newspapers will last 500 years, but only for a boutique market." Among them: people who take subways on the East Coast.

3. Dowd talks about the recent front-page ad for NBC on the front page of the LA Times (see photo, above), which resulted in outrage among the LA Times staff; disguised as a real news feature on the front page, the article was actually nothing more than a promo for the TV show "Southland."

4. She interviews San Francisco Chronicle editor-at-large Phil Bronstein, who tells her "the most hopeful thing you can say about print journalism (is) that old people are living longer."

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

In Treatment brings PR to the therapist's couch

Crisis management, meet therapy.

One of this week's episodes of HBO's In Treatment tackles a disgraced CEO's sense of responsibility and public humiliation in the wake of "a professional perfect storm:" his company has produced a tainted product that's killed people, and he's forced to resign.

As any PR person knows, the most famous example of crisis communications is Johnson & Johnson's handling of the Tylenol crisis in 1982, where seven people died after taking Tylenol laced with cyanide. The perpetrators have never been caught.

After the crisis, Johnson & Johnson was praised for its handling of the incident - it pulled every bottle of Tylenol off the shelves, and introduced the tamper-proof version of the bottle that we still see today. And now, it's held up by PR practitioners everywhere as the "gold standard" for how to do crisis communications.

A contrary opinion

I've always maintained that Tylenol shouldn't be the model for crisis communications, as Johnson & Johnson did what any company would do when it's sabotaged.

Tylenol was "on the side of the angels," and how hard is it to get people to believe in you when you're the one who's been wronged? Not as tough as responding to something that your company has done - intentionally or not - that's hurt people. Think of this year's Maple Leaf Foods crisis.

I was happy to see that In Treatment episode 62 agrees with my thesis - or at least the CEO, Walter (played expertly by Frasier's John Mahoney) agrees.

In the episode, Walter says he did everything by the Tylenol gameplan by taking responsibility for the tainted product at the first sign of trouble. But, he points out, today's a different world - a more predatory world - than it was in 1982. Bloggers, the media, and class-action lawyers jump on the bandwagon, his company's stock plummets and he resigns.

He leaves Paul the Therapist's office, and there's some question about whether he'll be back next week - or at all. I'm eager to see where the storyline leads, but the corporate malfeasance storyline is certainly timely and ripe for the picking.

This episode included, season two of In Treatment has been stellar - as rich and deep as TV viewing gets. HBO Canada is showing five, new half-hour episodes every week. They run back to back on Mondays and at various other times throughout the week. Season one is now available on DVD - 43 episodes ("therapy sessions") for less than $40.

Now there's some great PR.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Right on, Bea!

Maude TV Opening Theme - More amazing video clips are a click away

It was a sad weekend for classic sitcom lovers. Bea Arthur, star of two classic sitcoms - Maude and the Golden Girls - and one helluva dame, died on Saturday at age 86.

She was supposed to come to Winnipeg with her one-woman show back in 2001, but never made it: the official reason was that she didn't want to travel after Sept. 11.

Maude was one of the classic 70s sitcoms, up there with Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, Rhoda, All in the Family, and the Jeffersons - and she had a classic sitcom theme to prove it (see above).

Today's Globe and Mail couldn't help but quote the theme song over and over and over in its (two) tributes to Arthur:
"Norman Lear's Maude, a 1972 spin-off of All in the Family and a tribute to his feminist wife, Frances Lear, was, as the theme song ran, "compromisin', enterprisin', anything but tranquilizin'." The song ended with the shout, "Right on, Maude!" — a cry that captures both Arthur's infectious, badass character and the actual excitement of the feminist era at this time."
They don't make shows, theme songs, or dames like this anymore. RIP Bea!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Red River College surpasses U of W as Manitoba's second-largest campus: Free Press

RRC President Jeff Zabudsky. Photographed by Phil Hossack, Winnipeg Free Press.

The Winnipeg Free Press has some journalistic love for Red River College in today's paper.

Nick Martin's article, "Core Values: RRC keeps growing downtown while expanding programs," has some new anecdotes about Red River College:
  • RRC has surpassed the U of W in terms of being Manitoba's second-largest post-secondary institution, with over 10,000 full-time students.
  • RRC President Jeff Zabudsky views RRC as a downtown campus in the spirit of U of T and McGill.
  • The takeover of the Union Bank Tower by RRC isn't, as yet, "done;" apparently the college is still waiting for federal funding that would turn the tower into residences and a Culinary Arts school. Uh - hello - can we get a move on, people? I'm craving some inexpensive and tasty veal tar-tar...
When I graduated from Red River College's Creative Communications program (the program in which I now teach) over 15 years ago, there was still a somewhat snooty attitude about "college versus university," so it's great to see how the downtown campus and the college's "core values" have changed that mindset in a relatively short time.

Based on my own experience, the college environment's practical, hands-on approach to learning, tight connections to the outside job world, and instructors who continue to talk with and support students after they graduate, is what sets RRC apart. A vibrant, downtown campus community is the icing on the cake.

This is my sixth year as an instructor at Red River College's downtown campus; as I like to say: "I came with the new campus." It's interesting to remember that the CreComm class that year didn't want to come downtown - it was too dangerous, parking was too expensive, and there was nowhere to eat lunch. Believe it or not, that year's students started a petition to finish their education at the old campus, so they could avoid these "insurmountable obstacles."

What a difference six years makes.

Friday, April 24, 2009

What's illegal in Manitoba is just fun everywhere else

Manitoba Liquor Control Commission guidelines:
"Advertisements shall not use or imitate children's fairy tales, nursery rhymes, songs, fictional characters or caricatures that may appeal to children."
Which explains this awesome new product, which I first saw on

Hello, alcoholism!

This reminds me of my all-time favorite toy: the Playmobil Golden Nugget Saloon, complete with booze, bartender, and - ahem - prostitute. Or is that a singer?

Where do you see the media in 10 years, part II

Here's another interesting answer to my PR exam question, "Where do you see the media - and PR's role within in - in 10 years?

"With the public growing more and more skeptical of advertising, I see very little controlled media in 10 years.

"Instead, companies will be moving to more innovative, attention-grabbing, event-style marketing tactics, where advertisers and PR work together to create campaigns aimed more at getting publicity than direct consumer attention.

"The lines between ad and PR will become blurred, and we will see many more viral campaigns and social media designed to entertain rather than persuade or motivate.

"New approaches to emerging media "screens" will see advertising become a vehicle for testing new media; people want to be entertained, and PR will have to come up with strategies to do so.

"Messages on TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines won't cut it anymore, and publicity campaigns will be seamlessly integrated into "untouched by media" vehicles, like holographic windows on buildings, food that changes color, etc?!

"Also, because entertainment and curiosity are the goals, I believe that we will see many more interactive campaigns, such as the Doritos and Big Rock campaigns, disguised (as contests) so that consumers feel that they are the advertisers."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Where do you see the media in 10 years?

Here's a question I asked on the PR final exam this year, and a great answer from an anonymous student. And...this needs to be turned into a screenplay!

Q: Where do you see the media - and PR's role within it - in 10 years?

A: "I think that PR will become the media in 10 years.

"The news will be fed from publicists and people who want their information heard. Most of the messages sent out through the media will be exactly what the PR people want them to be.

"Journalism is dying. People don't read or watch the news like they used to. But with the rise of PR, people will start receiving false messages.

"As much as people enjoy hearing the awful news stories from journalists, they also like to hear the sugar-coated, "Everything will be alright" version from PR.

"Not much will be real news, just PR getting its message across."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Local man mistaken for "desperate, hard up" Penguins fan by

Does Jason Beck look desperate to you?

My friend, Jason Beck, has been mistaken for a desperate, hard-up Penguins fan on While that may be true, he's not the man mentioned in the article.

Here's what happened:

Apparently, a Pittsburgh man - NOT Jason Beck - was on craigslist last week, looking for a date to go with him to the Penguin's playoff game against the Flyers; the guy's a real prize, dropping dating conditions, like:
"Education: Some higher education or specialized training. We do have to be able to carry on a somewhat intellingent conversation, after all."
Spelling mistake his.

Since there was no photo of this fine specimen, the writer, Rick Chandler, simply Googled "Penguins fan," and there was Jason Beck's picture with Pengi Penguin in Pittsburgh.

"Game on!"

So, the photo ran with the article. The rationale: even if it's not the real guy, it's the perfect picture to run with the article.

So far, the page has been viewed almost 10,000 times - making Jason the anti-Susan Boyle of the stuffed Penguins set. And the talkbackers, always quick with an insult, have unleashed a whole lotta whoop-ass on poor Jason, assuming wrongly that "the guy in the picture is the same guy who ran the ad."

A sampling of feedback:

Business_Socks says:
"Oh, if that stuffed penguin could talk. The sodomies it could tell!"
Athens_Grease says:
"You can see more pictures if you'd like to visit my website:"
And they just keep getting better.

Is this defamation?

According to RRC's Journalism instructor, Duncan McMonagle, it might be hard for Beck to prove defamation, as he's a standup comic, who already makes fun of himself - so it's harder for him to prove "loss of reputation."

However, I spoke with Beck this morning, and he's taking it like a pro: he says he has no plans to sue, and - unlike most people - is actually kind of enjoying the fame and abuse.

As for Deadspin:

At the very least, the site should consider rethinking its photos policy; or perhaps the headline should instead read, "Lazy writer uses wrong picture with article." Or, maybe we could just Google "Rick Chandler" and see what comes up: interesting.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Coping with Japanese rock and roll and the Beatles

An audience with the Cope.

I'm halfway through reading Julian Cope's Japrocksampler: "How the post-war Japanese blew their minds on rock and roll."

As with all of Cope's books, this one is a good, hard read - so detail-oriented that I've learned everything that I ever wanted to know about Japanese rock and roll and more. And more. And more. And more.

I met Julian Cope with my friend Jason Beck about six years ago in England (see above photo) on one of those "fly a million miles to see a concert" whims that are hard to brag about in mixed company, given the vast amounts of time, money, and all-around geekiness involved.

Make that "a handful" of concerts: we saw two Julian Cope shows, the Divine Comedy, Neil Finn (with Johnny Marr), Harry Hill (the comedian), and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

We ended up meeting most of these artists face to face; Neil Hannon of the Divine Comedy was notable, mostly because we told him we'd come all the way from Winnipeg to see him, and he responded with a droll, "I think you're mad."

But out of everyone we met, Julian Cope was clearly the man.

In North America, Cope is primarily known for his 80s hit, "World Shut Your Mouth." But in the UK, his work's had legs: he's released a handful of albums with the band, Teardrop Explodes, and over 20 albums as a solo artist; he's a celebrated author, antiquary, musicologist, poet, and stark raving mad lunatic - appearing on the cover of his album, Fried, in a tortoise shell.

At his first concert, which we saw in Leicester, he hit the stage in yellow greasepaint, an imposing figure in platform boots. He kicked off the show by staring down a particularly irritating man in the front row, who kept chanting "Copey! Copey!" Copey responded by telling him to fuck off. Nice!

After the show, we approached the backstage area with caution, and lightly tapped on his door. We were surprised when Mr. Cope himself answered. "Come on in," he said, as though he'd been expecting us.

Bob, Doug, and Burton

Over the next couple of hours, we visited with Cope and his wife, drank his beer, and discovered that he's not only a fan of SCTV and Bob and Doug McKenzie, but also has an unhealthy fascination with Winnipeg's own Burton Cummings.

I later found this fact borne out in Cope's "Head on/Repossessed" autobiography and on his website here.

Says Cope:
"Burton Cummings is a godlike white blues singer in the same league as Janis Joplin and Robert Plant, only with a better vibrato than either of those cats (he's the Tom Jones of the hash-head set I tells ya!)"
When we told him that there's a "Burton Cummings Theatre" in Winnipeg, he seemed ready to hop on the plane and come back here with us. He never did, but the invitation is still open.

As well, he promised to play "Out of My Mind on Dope and Speed" at his next concert in London, but that we'd have to signal him with a "Coo loo coo coo coo coo coo coo!" Beck tried the signal at the next show, but all he got was Cope saying, "I remember you." Better than "fuck off," I suppose.

The Beatles influence

Reading Japrocksampler, I've already got a list of about 100 new bands to check out, and I will be putting an order through on's English-language site asap, speaking of vast wastes of money.

(For the record, his top two Japrockalbums of all time: Satori's "Flower Travellin' Band" and Eve's "Speed, Glue, and Shinki.")

However, one of the book's pleasant surprises is not about Japanese rock at all, but the Beatles; Cope credits their 1966 tour of Japan with changing Japanese music - and Japan itself - forever.

As a Beatles maniac myself, I found it interesting that Cope gives the Beatles much credit for transforming Japan, but describes them as "exhausted and irritable...alien lords."

The Beatles played a total of five concerts, 11 songs each, on the tour - the same 11 songs in the same order every time. Cope calls the concerts "more dutiful than inspired," and points out what a shock it is to consider that the Beatles were at the height of their artistic lives, having just released Revolver and Rubber Soul, but only played:

1. Chuck Berry's Rock N' Roll Music
2. She's a Woman
3. If I Needed Someone
4. Day Tripper
5. Baby's in Black
6. I Feel Fine
7. Yesterday
8. I Wanna Be Your Man
9. Nowhere Man
10. Paperback Writer
11. I'm Down

Cope says that when the Beatles left Japan after these perfunctory sets, it was "somewhat akin to watching four divinities leaving Earth."

Perhaps it's too much to ask for Cope to write an entire book on the Beatles - but if anyone could find something new and different to say about them, it would be him.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Beatles live in Japan, 1966, and the worst performance of Paperback Writer ever:

NY Times: "Digital defeats newsroom?"

"You mean... J is dead!?"

The Sunday New York Times has a great story in its "Education Life" supplement today about journalism schools and what they should teach, given the digital crisis facing newsrooms.

Written by Brian Stelter, the great article has a suitably great lead:
"In his second month as a professor at Arizona State University, Tim McGuire was standing in front of 13 students teaching “The Business of Journalism” when his inner voice interrupted. “You dummy,” he recalls thinking, “you are teaching a history course.”
The article then makes the case that J schools should "help students find sustainable business models" for journalism, and - somehow, at the same time - "position students for an uncertain future in the media."

Despite the questions circling around the future of journalism, the article says that enrollment in J schools is up. At Red River College, where I teach, we've never had less than a full load of Creative Communications students, and the number of this year's applications is up.

As the guy who marks the resume/essay combo for each and every applicant, I can say that I've never seen more qualified and experienced applicants competing to get in.

However, I believe that Red River College's Creative Communications program has a big advantage over traditional J schools: it offers students a more diverse education with majors in advertising, PR, and broadcast, in addition to journalism.

But could it be even more diversified?

As I've said before: I'm in favor of getting rid of "majors" or "streams" and having our students learn "everything." As I say in the linked article, I know from my freelance work that clients want and expect a full new-media approach: Facebook, Blogger, WordPress, Twitter, YouTube, craigslist, and more.

Why should we limit their knowledge when the new model for being a communications professional involves being "the king or queen of all content" and being able to manage and communicate that content to readers, viewers, or publics, as the case may be?

Just like a diversified portfolio is the best way to earn money over the long term, my argument goes, so too is a diversified education the best bet for career success over the long term. So, if paid journalism doesn't work anymore, do PR.

Says the Times piece:
"Public relations students take many of the same classes as broadcast and print journalists, which inspires some gallows humor in the hallways. (Student) Alyssa Aalmo recently printed out a poster and hung it in her apartment. It says: “Want stability in journalism? Get a job in P.R."
This quote alone seems to have got the blogosphere all aTwitter. As a PR instructor, however, I must say that I couldn't have put it better myself.

A video tribute to CreComm's trip to Chicago

This is a montage of our fabulous trip to Chicago, courtesy of Mark Reimer, Jason Krahn, and a cast of thousands.

I'll slap a "swearing warning" on this; truth be told: I'm just really, really happy that it's not a montage of my "most-creative curses" as I drove the college minivan into Minneapolis and Chicago through rush-hour traffic. Just thinking about it makes me crave a Sam Adams...

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Stop the presses: McCartney song results in mass singalong

"A mass singalong to Hey, Jude? This has never happened before!"

I normally really love the New Music Express; I bought it as long as it was stocked at Dominion News, and its "best of the year" issues are always totally awesome.

But, this review of Paul McCartney's Coachella performance is about the worst thing I've ever read.

Quotes from the article, followed by my complaints:
"The former Beatle kicked things off with a Wings song, segueing into the Fab Four's 'Baby You Can Drive My Car'. "
What was the Wings' song?

McCartney has consistently started his shows with "Baby You Can Drive My Car," even starting his 1993 Winnipeg show with the song. So, he performed his standard set?
"Looking dapper in a casual black suit and white shirt, McCartney said, "We've come from many miles away to rock your roof tonight. "It's gonna be a good weekend here."
So, basically he gave the crowd some generic banter.
"We play this for Linda tonight," he said, dedicating the Wings song 'My Love' to his late wife. McCartney got choked up while singing the song he wrote for her, which they often performed together."
Finally, some news. But how did he choke up? Did he gag? Did he shed a tear? Did he stop the song?
"The audience, comprised of mostly young Coachella-goers and a handful of older people eager to catch a glimpse of the Beatles legend, paid close attention during McCartney's slower numbers and danced and sang along during upbeat songs including 'Live And Let Die', which was accompanied by an elaborate pyrotechnics display."
How big was the audience? A "handful" of older people? How many is that?

They paid attention to the former Beatle and danced during the upbeat songs? No way!

An elaborate pyrotechnics display during Live and Let Die? That's also been happening since 1990.
"It's Paul fucking McCartney!" shouted one man as fireworks shot up from the stage."
No f-ing way! That's so cool!
"McCartney later dedicated his song 'Here Today' to John Lennon, which he wrote for his late former bandmate, and the audience applauded long and loud for the legendary Beatle."
A big change from when all Beatle fans hated John Lennon. Wah, wah, wah.
"The crowd seemed especially thrilled during the second half of McCartney's more-than-two-hour set, when he rolled out several Beatles hits one after the other, including 'Let It Be', 'Hey Jude' and 'Yesterday', which resulted in a masse audience sing-along."
Wow - that's never happened before. And the crowd liked these songs best? What the hell?! This is, like, so crazy!

I feel better now. Just in time to read, "Franz Ferdinand frontman refuses to show his nipples at Coachella." Sigh.

Crisis Communications 2.0: Dominos responds to crisis on YouTube

"Men shouldn't know how their laws - or cheese - are made."
- A quote sometimes attributed to Winston Churchill, Charles DeGualle, and/or William Shakespeare
As everyone knows, you should never be friends with restaurant workers, because you'll never want to go out to eat again.

Three true stories from my days as a troubled teen:
  1. When I was about 16, I worked at a movie theatre, where a guy got fired for sucking on ice cubes, then spitting them back into trays of ice. This ice (wait for it) may have been used in YOUR beverage when you enjoyed a soda at the movies, because they didn't catch the guy for months. The good news: it was still probably better for you than that brick of lard that eventually becomes "popcorn butter."

  2. Another teenage friend, who worked at a local steak house no longer in operation, claimed to have peed on a steak before he served it to his boss at the end of one of his shifts.

  3. Another friend, who once worked at a fast-food chicken joint, remembers bugs flying into the deep fryer, but never did find out whether they died there or made it into your bucket of chicken.
Dominos Pizza scandal: a new kind of crisis

These memories came back to haunt me this week when the whole Dominos Pizza scandal broke online (see the video, below, if you dare). Of course, the good folks in the video claim that it's all a crazy hoax. Law enforcement disagrees: both workers have been arrested and face felony charges.

This is a new kind of "crisis" - corporate sabotage, whether true or not, born on YouTube and going viral to millions of "publics" in a matter of hours, giving even a harmless prank the power to seriously damage a brand.

Just today, I heard a woman talking on her cell phone in downtown Winnipeg say, "No, we're not getting Dominos for the birthday party, we're getting Chinese food. Don't worry. Ha, ha." No one - anywhere - wants to eat Dominos anymore, cents-off coupons be damned.

According to the New York Times:
"As Dominos learned about the video on Tuesday, (Company Spokesman) Tim McIntyre said, executives decided not to respond aggressively, hoping the controversy would quiet down. “What we missed was the perpetual mushroom effect of viral sensations.”
A classic crisis communications mistake: "If you ignore it, it will go away."

Since then, Dominos has tried to atone for its sins of non-communication, releasing the above statement from its CEO on YouTube, and even starting a Twitter account. I just wish someone could've coached the guy on where to look - at the "You" in "YouTube," not the cue card to his left.

A new model, or same old?

As any good PR knows, "Issues Management" (preparing for a crisis) beats "Crisis Communications" (responding to a crisis) any day. After all, would you rather practice fire prevention now or fight a fire later?

The traditional way to deal with a crisis has been to follow the three Fs of crisis communications: be "first," be "fast," and only talk about "the facts." But in the age of new media, the traditional means of issuing a news release, getting your company spokesperson on TV, and hoping for the best no longer cut it.

Is Dominos YouTube video and Twitter account a new model for crisis communications, or a new way to fail by doing too little too late?

I've included a bonus YouTube video showing rodents taking over a KFC in Manhattan. Gag!

Disgusting Dominos workers (gross-out warning):

Disgusting KFC rats (gross-out warning):

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Progressive Winnipeg looks for More at U

Graham at Progressive Winnipeg has written a very interesting article about "the university experience" at the University of Manitoba. Check it out here.

He says:
"The slogan for the University of Manitoba is "U of More." More what? More choice? Choice without direction or context? More choice when you don't know what you want to do, and have nobody to help you through it, is daunting, scary, and stressful.

"The slogan for the University of Winnipeg is "YOU of W." I don't go there, so I really can't offer my opinion on whether or not the experience is about YOU."
Hmmm - I wonder what he'd say about Red River College. It's not perfect, but the "engagement factor" in CreComm is much higher than most courses (if you're not engaged, you're probably not enrolled), and the retention and hiring rates are historically very high.

Partnerships between business and school is where it's at; when I attended the U of M, there was none of that. Pay your money, get your degree, get lost. Whenever I get hit up by the U of M to make a donation, I always say, "I donate to Red River College, because that's the one that got me jobs - careers - in the industry."

Yeah, they love that line at the U of M. Guess I won't be invited to the class reunion.

Chris Rock on "Jobs versus careers:"

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Classic news blunder shows how easy media relations can be

We looked at this in PR class today; it's a classic.

This video features Guy Goma, who was waiting in the reception area of the BBC to be interviewed for a position in IT, when he was mistaken for Guy Kewney, a British tech expert, who was waiting in another room, preparing for an on-air interview at the BBC.

Cue the switcheroo: a stagehand gets them confused and - presto - Guy Goma is on-air and, at first, visibly shocked that he's being asked to pontificate about about the Apple vs. Apple computer case.

He gamely plays along and, as he goes along, his confidence increases, and he actually does quite well. Proof that media relations is easy!

Unfortunately, Goma never got the job for which he applied. However, he did get his own website, so it wasn't a total loss.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Winnipeg Free Press targets one reader at a time

The Winnipeg Free Press has found a way to get Winnipeggers to read the paper in its entirety one reader at a time.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at Charlie O's Lounge (better known as "Tubby's"), where I like to read the Saturday edition of the Winnipeg Free Press. Yes, I'm the one.

I always start my ritual by yanking out the sections of the newspaper I never read - Sports, Travel, Marketplace, flyers - when I noticed a woman at across the lounge look over and appear amused at what I was doing. She got up, and walked over to my table.

"You missed the most important part of the newspaper," she said.

She pulled out the Travel section from the "discard" pile, and pointed to the article "Back in Barbados," which was written by Jill Wilson, who I instantly recognized as...her. We shared a laugh, and I read the article.

Today I sent her an e-mail to confess that I'm a Creative Communications instructor at Red River College, and to let her know that I'm going to tell my students that I was "busted" by a writer for not reading her work. How humiliating!

Jill got back to me with this advice:

"You never know when Gordon Sinclair will pop up from behind a curtain and chastise you for not reading his column."

Now there's a scary thought. As of tomorrow, I'm reading the Free Press cover to cover, so help me God and Internet.

Maclean's turns cover into advertising trap

Trapdoor ad on the cover of Maclean's. Pic from Marketing Magazine.

It wasn't too long ago that the front cover of a magazine or newspaper was "untouchable" real estate for advertisers.

However, I got this week's Maclean's in the mail today, and was surprised to find a little "open here" slot on the cover. I did what it told me to do, and inside was an ad for the Audi Q5.

The ad, called a "trapdoor," was developed by creative agency Lowe Roche, clearly taking advantage of a desperate medium for a high-impact placement.

Marketing Magazine raises the spectre of whether this ad might contravene the Canadian Magazine Industry Advertising-Editorial Guidelines, but apparently this treatment does not.
"The only specific reference to the cover in the guidelines says that “No advertisement may be promoted on the cover of the magazine or included in the editorial table of contents, unless it involves an editorially directed contest, promotion or sponsored one-off editorial.”
I'm of two minds of this approach: on one hand, this is a great way for an old medium to make money. On another, it smacks of desperation - kind of like last week's Winnipeg Sun cover gatefold, which mistakenly was printed directly on the cover, so the "news" part of the paper - essentially what it's selling - was buried underneath. Oops.

Vanity Fair profiles Sulzberger

Which reminds me: Vanity Fair has an excellent profile of Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of the NY Times, in the current issue of the magazine (check out the article here).

Key quote in the story: "Journalism costs, advertising sells."

Friday, April 10, 2009

Goodbye Chicago from the CreComm graduating class of '09

On our last night night in Chicago, we say goodbye to some of our fond memories of the city and its people, courtesy of Dave Shorr, CreComm grad '09 (well, in a few weeks).

Some may remember Barack Obama's face posted in storefront windows. Some may remember straight-razor shaves at the barber shop. Me, I'll remember the kids' smiling they froze their butts off on the coldest architectural boat tour in the history of civilization. Does anyone else have a fever now, or is it just me?

Dave, and all of his CreComm advertising-major partners in crime, will be posting articles and photos soon on their Ad Apocalypse blog. Thanks, guys, it's been a blast!

Barack Obama in the Barber Shop window.

Dan Vadeboncoeur, Dan Falloon, and Ezra Ginsburg make a new and entertaining friend (centre).

Where should we go next?

No, seriously, where should we go next?

That's why CreComm students are the best lookin' around: they know the value of a good, old-fashioned shave and a haircut: uh..two bits.

More fine out-of-home work from Boost Mobile

The good folks at Boost Mobile are at it again. Some more fine out-of-home treatments in Chicago:

This is really great: a paper shredder is contained within this window. Every so often, the contract above it runs through the shredder, depositing the shreds at the bottom of the window. Uncontract'd indeed!

This one is racier. On the side of the bus, Boost tells us how to get "Unscrew'd." For once!

What does Winnipeg need more than anything else?

Watch out, car!

These pedestrians feel safer already!

Traffic control workers!

These hardened veterans of the Chicago streets know how to make things happen and get things moving.

Day-glo jackets, glowing batons (weapons?), and thick books of traffic tickets are their modus operandi. Vocal, animated, and entertaining, nothing makes me enjoy walking around Chicago more than seeing a traffic control worker spot an illegally stopped cab:

1. A warning is shouted. The cab doesn't move.

2. A baton is waved. The cab doesn't move.

3. Tickets come out of a pocket. The cab moves!

Please, oh please, can we get them in Winnipeg?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Chicago sites: a potpourri of pix

The Buckingham Fountain at Millennium Park, or as everyone else calls it:
"the Married With Children fountain."

Find the window washer in this picture.
At least I hope he's a window washer.

Abe Lincoln overlooking his realm at Lincoln Park.
Contrary to popular belief, it wasn't named after that crappy band.

The Wrigley Building.
Honestly, how many packs of gum did they have to sell to build this?

The view up N. Michigan Ave.

The W. Schiller St. residence where Matthew Broderick - as Ferris Bueller - pretended to be Abe Froman: the Sausage King of Chicago.

And now: I must eat more deep-dish pizza.

Paging Dr. Hartley...Bob Newhart's Chicago

Everybody's favorite psychologist:
Bob Newhart in the park outside of Navy Pier.

Hi, Bob. Another view of Dr. Robert Hartley - you've gotta love the stone sofa to the left.
Hey, I get to be Elliot Carlin!

Bob's bridge on N. Michigan Ave - the banner is for Chicago's Olympic bid, which I didn't know anything about until now.
"Imagine..." Bob Newhart walking across it during the opening credits.

Bob slept here:
Bob's apartment on the Bob Newhart show, at 5901 N Sheridan Road.

Zoom up to the top, left window, where Suzanne Pleshette is fixin' dinner for Bob and their wacky neighbor Howard, the spiritual precursor to Kramer.

I don't know what it says about me that I would rather hunt down exterior shots from the Bob Newhart show than hang out at, say, the Chicago Field Museum.

Yet there I was.

There's no denying the excitement I felt as I got closer to Bob's - or is that Dr. Hartley's? - apartment building on the show. Only once have a felt that same excitement, and that was when I went to Wyoming to see Devil's Tower. Of course, my child had been abducted by aliens and I was about to go on a long journey on their mothership, but that's another story.

As I got to the building, a caretaker was sweeping the driveway. He looked at me for a second, but seemed to sense that I was a Bob Newhart freak - so he ran. In the back of my mind played the plaintive trumpet solo from the Bob Newhart theme, and I secretly hoped Bob would be there shooting an extra for a DVD or something.

He wasn't.

Yet I couldn't help but think that if I actually went up to apartment 523 that Bob and Emily would still be there.

"Hi, Bob."

More Chicago public art, anyone?

Attack of the American Gothic couple: located just around the corner from the Chicago Tribune. They'd kick King Kong's ass.

The dancing, steaming waters of the fountain at Navy Pier.

Every day in Chicago starts and ends the same way

Two truths about Chicago:

It's impossible to walk over the bridges in Chicago and NOT whistle this song:

Bob Newhart Show Opening Theme - Click here for another funny movie.

It's equally impossible to get chased by Tommy Lee Jones and lose him in a St. Patrick's Day parade in Chicago and NOT think of this scene (shouldn't Matthew Broderick be on that float?):

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Bean there done that: Chicago's public art

The Crown Fountain in Millennium Park.

CreComm student Dan Falloon questions his own mortality as an, ahem, human bean.

The bean reflects Chicago. Literally.

One of the highlights of Chicago is the public art on display virtually everywhere.

One of the most interesting pieces is the "Chicago Bean" in Millennium Park, which - I'm stunned to find out - is actually called "Cloud Gate." It was designed by British artist Anish Kapoor. According to the official site:
"The 110-ton elliptical sculpture is forged of a seamless series of highly polished stainless steel plates, which reflect the city's famous skyline and the clouds above. A 12-foot-high arch provides a "gate" to the concave chamber beneath the sculpture, inviting visitors to touch its mirror-like surface and see their image reflected back from a variety of perspectives.
"Inspired by liquid mercury, the sculpture is among the largest of its kind in the world, measuring 66-feet long by 33-feet high."
And it's really cool!

Equally cool is the Crown Fountain (YouTube video here), also in Millennium Park, and designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa.

Again, according to the official site:
"The fountain consists of two 50-foot glass block towers at each end of a shallow reflecting pool. The towers project video images from a broad social spectrum of Chicago citizens, a reference to the traditional use of gargoyles in fountains, where faces of mythological beings were sculpted with open mouths to allow water, a symbol of life, to flow out.

"Plensa adapted this practice by having faces of Chicago citizens projected on LED screens and having water flow through a water outlet in the screen to give the illusion of water spouting from their mouths. The collection of faces, Plensa's tribute to Chicagoans, was taken from a cross-section of 1,000 residents."
More public art in more cities, please.

A visit to Chicago's Critical Mass ad agency

Critical Mass creative director Dwayne Wheatcroft (centre) and art director Jeremy Hilnak (far right) review Creative Communications' student portfolios.

The Critical Mass videogame room. Guitar Hero anyone?

CreComm students Jason Krahn and Vanessa Kunderman at the Critical Mass nerve centre.

The boardroom table covered in sweet, sweet candy. OK, can I apply for a job now?

Today we visited Critical Mass, one of Chicago's finest and - I'm sure "friendliest" - ad agencies.

Operations manager Ray Madrigal gave us the grand tour, and showered us with an embarrassment of hospitality and riches, including much candy and a Critical Mass water bottle full of Critical Mass paraphernalia. We're not worthy!

What happens in Vegas starts in Chicago

Creative director Dwayne Wheatcroft - originally from Calgary - walked us through his career, and he and art director Jeremy Hilnak took us through a multi-million-dollar campaign they conceived for Las Vegas.

What a campaign:

The Web-based promotion documents small-town Texans enjoying a vacation in Las Vegas. The agency painstakingly selected citizens from Cranfills Gap, Texas, then sent them on a free a Vegas vacation; they captured their experiences in web videos. An elaborate website ties it all together.

Sample campaign video:

You can see all of the videos on YouTube here.

Truth be told, I feel a little bit like the Texans who went to Vegas: I'm happy to have met the people at Critical Mass Chicago, overwhelmed by their hospitality and generosity, and I'm a better person for having had the experience.

Thanks, Critical Mass Chicago for a great afternoon.

The Chicago Tribune makes me believe in newspapers again, if only for a moment

One of the finest pieces of architecture in Chicago is the Chicago Tribune's Tribune Tower.

Walk into the lobby, and you see some classic gothic architecture come to life before your very eyes; and carved right into the walls are inspiring quotes about newspapers and journalists from virtually everyone who's ever been anyone.

It's all so inspiring, I walked to the Tribune Store next door and bought a newspaper and some souvenirs. It's enough to make a man fall in love with newspapers all over again.

Some great Chicago out-of-home ad treatments

Exhibit one: an ad for Boost Mobile. It's a bus shelter ad that features an actual hose under the glass. Of course, the creative means "unhosed." Or is that "unscrewed?" Or is that "untangled?" "Unwrapped?" "Unwound?" OK, I don't know what it means, but it's cool nonetheless. And maybe I'm just dense.

Exhibit two is a campaign you can't avoid in Chicago. Quaker Oats' "Go Humans Go" campaign is everywhere: billboards, transit wraps, taxi tops, bus benches... It's impactful and simple, and it made me actually visit the website to find out what it's about. And, oh yeah, now I'm hungry for Quaker Oats.

Exibit three is ingenious. You check out the peep show and it's a display of... Marshmallow Peeps for Easter! I saw person after person peep into the (glory?) holes and each one died laughing or had a bashful smile after "peeping." Great idea, perfectly matched to the brand.

Nothing like some great creative to remind ourselves that just because most ads are boring doesn't mean that they all have to be.

I am Cameron from Ferris Bueller

"Good times, for a change..."

It was another great day in Chicago.

We started it off at the Art Institute of Chicago, where I ran across the famous painting by Georges Seurat, "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte."

As I stared at it, I suddenly became fixated on the faceless girl in the centre of the picture and Morrissey's voice started singing "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want" in my head. I realized that my life had become and empty sham and that I'd have to borrow and trash my father's car in order to make things right.

Of course, the painting is from the pivotal scene in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, where Cameron does all of the stuff I talk about in the previous paragraph. I'm pretty sure that the kids in my picture are the same ones from the movie. Check it out:

But what made my visit to the Art Institute even more fitting is that I saw Morrissey live in concert on Monday in Minneapolis. It's official: I am Cameron from Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Tomorrow, I can only hope that there's a parade and a chance for me to lip sync to "Twist and Shout" (see YouTube video, below).

What scares me: the van is parked in "valet parking." And we all know how that turned out for poor Cameron...

(P.S. I should've said that Morrissey's song is performed by the Dream Academy in the film; but that waters down my thesis, so I didn't.)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Students survive instructor's driving, deep-dish pizza

Chicago day one: we ate some pizza.

Today was a great day, not only because I actually drove a van full of students into the heart of Chicago without killing anyone, but also because my reward was a giant deep-dish pizza at Giordano's.

Chicago makes a good first impression. It's like a cross between New York and Minneapolis. It's like a clean New York. It's like Boston without the pretentiousness. It's like Winnipeg, "the Chicago of the North," on steroids.

The people are friendly and straightforward. The lake air invigorates the senses. Advertising is everywhere, and it's really good. The service is efficient and professional. Food is everywhere, and it's really good. The shelves are fully stocked with all the Coke we can't buy in Canada anymore: cherry AND vanilla. Oprah Winfrey and Roger Ebert live here.

What's not to love?

Tomorrow: we visit the Art Institute of Chicago and advertising agency Critical Mass. Some of us also go to see Oprah Winfrey.

Tonight, I sleep: visions of Oprah - and deep-dish pizza - dancing in my head.