Monday, January 31, 2011

Punch up the copy, '11

Instructors have all been guilty of giving students "thoughtful" feedback that later turns out to have confused things more than if we'd have kept that feedback to ourselves.

At least part of this has to do with the very nature of "marking" and "giving feedback." Generally, you give more and better feedback when you start to mark than by the time you're finished, which is why I mark no more than five papers of any one assignment in one sitting; I'm all too aware of the temptation to say, "These all look great to me," give everyone an A+, and resume watching "my stories." How I love my stories!

This, in fact, is what "the lazy instructor" does, knowing that he or she will get few complaints from students after granting a high mark, but spending virtually no time actually "marking" their assignments. Ironically, it's the instructor who often takes the most amount of time to mark and give "real" feedback, who later needs to account for something he or she has said.

Advertising feedback

As an advertising instructor, I'm conscious of walking a very fine line between saying too much and saying too little when I give feedback. On one hand, it's really easy to pick apart an ad and offer ways to make it better. On the other, you can really crush someone's creativity by giving advice, or any mark, good or bad.

Further complicating the issue is that, in advertising, there are a million slangy ways to say, "Write better." Some of my favorites include: "Punch up the copy," "Not on strategy," and "Needs a rethink." There are a million more!

So today, a very hard-working and good-natured student asked me by e-mail, "What does "punch up the copy" mean, anyway?" and I had to think about it for a few minutes, before writing her back this essay, which she didn't ask for, but got anyway. If there's any justice, she'll return it to me with a grade!

Upon reflection, "punch up the copy" can mean a lot of things. And whether it has meaning to the person getting the feedback probably depends on a lot more than anything that I might have to say about it.

That said, here's what I wrote:

What does "punch up the copy" mean?

Just like the director who tells his or her actors to "act better," "punch up the copy" means "write better."

The instruction can be broad and sweeping at times, and more specific at others, depending on the assignment.

In the general sense, it could mean, "Oh, boy. We need to start from scratch here." In the specific sense, it might refer to something like having a great idea for an ad, but writing it so that some of the lines don't ring true, sound contrived, or aren't "on strategy."

So, even if the big idea is great, maybe there's room to "punch it up" so that the execution is more true to that idea.

When I use it to give feedback on assignments, it almost always means one - or more - of the following things. These, by the way, are really common things that pop up regularly in assignments in first-year CreComm:

1. "Make it active, not passive."

For instance: "Breakfast will be served" is passive, because it doesn't assign responsibility. "I will serve breakfast" is active, because it does. Active sentences are more interesting to read than passive. Passive sentences aren't grammatically incorrect, just boring and not as accurate.

2. "Get rid of typos." 

3. "Don't be boring. And don't write copy that wouldn't work on you yourself."

Write something that you yourself would find interesting to read. If it sounds like dull ad copy that repeats things you see in every ad ("We strive to be the best department store in the tri-state area...blah blah blah"), then it won't work in yours.

Also see: "win-win scenario," "refreshments will be served," and "ample parking." Sigh. (note: I add to that, "From shoes to insoles...our store has it all!!")

4. "Aim for an economy of words"

If you can say it in three words, don't use 25 words to do it. In copy, it just means "make sure every word counts" and "cut out the fat."

5. "Make sure every piece of what you write is on strategy."

All parts of your ad (or whatever it is you're writing) should point in the same direction, or be "on strategy."

6. "Be consistent"

Use CP Style, so that your writing is always consistent, which is what makes you a professional writer over someone who, though he or she "speaks English," doesn't write professionally because he or she isn't familiar with "the rules" - like you.

7. "Have a distinct tone or point of view."

Your copy should always sound like you wrote it, not a machine. Inject "your humanity" into your writing, so that you have your own "style," and people relate to your words, just like they would to you as a person.

To see some great examples of this, visit the Washington Post website, and see how Tom Shales writes TV reviews. Or how Roger Ebert writes movie reviews at the Chicago Sun-Times. Or how Maureen Dowd writes columns at the New York Times. Or how Sarah Vowell, David Rakoff, Stephen King, or insert your favorite writer here, write books.

8. "Know your audience, and write in its language."

9. "Spell check, edit, proofread, edit, proofread, edit, proofread, spell check. Repeat."

- Reprinted from a blog post I first posted two years ago.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

14 new words of wisdom - let them be

"I don't swear just for the hell of it. Language is a poor enough means of communication. I think we should all the words we've got. Besides, there are damn few words that anybody understands."
- Henry Drummond, Inherit the Wind
Hell, yeah!

Here are 14, new words I've invented or inadvertently stolen from other people (please tell me if I have, and I promise to delete and forget your comment as soon as humanly possible).

Start using them today - until loved ones get angry and threaten to leave you:

1. Appvertiser - Me!

2. Dementiattention - Feigning madness to get attention.

3. Exposer - One who specializes in getting exposure.

4. Faux-worker - A co-worker who relies on you to do all the work.

5. Fourpas (four-pah) - Signing in on Foursquare repeatedly at one sitting in order to become the mayor of a location. 

6. FreeFreep - Finding a paper version of the Winnipeg Free Press and reading it for nothing. 

7. Groupoffer - One who refuses to sign up, use, or say the word "Groupon."

8. Lapp - Santa's app.

9. Napp - Boring app.

10. Newsless - "News" that only exists to give a website more clicks. See: Yahoo News or Entertainment Weekly.

11. Screw U-nuchs - School employees who go on vacation between September and April - when students are in school - even though they already get vacation at Christmas, Spring Break, and two months in summer.

12. Sickocrite - One who often calls in sick, but insists that no one else does the same.

13. Snews - Boring news. See: Yahoo News.

14. Yikesickle - A big icicle that could fall on your head.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Your mission for '11, should you accept it

"My mission drive is to open up my eyes to the wicked lies and all the shite you say."
- Miles Hunt, the Wonder Stuff (enjoy the song, above) 
He stole my mission statement!

It's true that some people are overly serious about writing a personal mission statement, taking decades to craft it, only to find that when they're finally finished, they have no home, friends, money, or prospects.

Most corporate mission statements spoil it for the rest of us, reeking of corporate jargon, platitudes, and empty promises.

There are exceptions, like Disney's no-bullshit mission statement: "To make people happy, bitch." I added "bitch" after re-watching the Social Network and deciding that "if it's good enough for Mark, it's good enough for Mickey."

I'm sure the cease-and-desist order is in the mail, signed by the frozen head of Walt Disney.

PR class mission statement '11

It's with the spirit (of the lifeless head of a cartoonist) that my students write a mission statement for our PR class each year.

Each student composes one mission statement for themselves and their group's magazine (another big project this semester), then takes a shot at writing one for the PR class. I shortlist the candidates to five or six and the rest of the class votes on them.

Every year, we get some surprises, like a couple of years' ago when Jenette Martens - a quiet and kind person if there ever was one - came up with, "To overthrow Kenton Larsen." We all died laughing and made her say it three times. And it hurt me a little more each time. Ha!

So, I've added this year's selection by first-year student Jaremy Ediger to the Mission Statement Wall of Fame, which is located on my workspace bulletin board, on the corner the furthest away from where I sit.

You'll note that all of the selections are from male students (so far); I'm not sure why this is the case, but next year, I hope, is the year we finally smash through the mission statement glass ceiling. 

The PR class mission statement hall of fame

"To learn Kenton's ways so that we may one day take his place."
- Ray Brickwood (class of '08)

"You can't spell party without PR."
- Will Cooke (class of '09)

"Share some laughs, share some beers, share some work (just kidding, that's plagiarism!). Share some tears, shake some hands, walk away the better for it all."
- Thor Blondal (class of '10)

"To propagate, not contaminate."
- Eman the Wingman (class of '11)

"To systematically break down students' will and character, then rebuild them as indestructible PR robots (or PRobots)."
- Jaremy Ediger (class of '12)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My favorite 45 cover designs

Q: What's a 45?

A: Only a 45-year-old knows for sure.

Why, it can only be the seven-inch vinyl record: the iTunes single of its day.

From roughly 1950 to 1990, the 45 rpm (revolutions per minute!) record was the format of choice for anyone who only wanted "the hit song" without having to buy an entire album full of mostly bad songs.

Formats may change, but bad albums are forever.

I still remember the first handful of 45s I ever bought: "You Better, You Bet" by the Who, "The Waiting" by Tom Petty, and "The No No Song" by Ringo Starr. I don't recall having even an inkling that everyone's favorite, happy-go-lucky Beatle was singing about rehab.

I only partly bought these 45s for the music; equally important was the 45 cover - a sleeve, actually - which worked to differentiate and market a product that looked exactly the same without the packaging, and express the artistic intent of the musician/music as a visual.

So predominant was this format, just a few years before I entered the Creative Communications program as a student, a standard assignment in graphic-design class was to create a 45 rpm cover for the artist/song of your choice.

Later, the assignment changed to "a cassette tape design for Lloyd Cole and the Commotions," followed by "a CD design for Dire Straits," followed by an intangible, invisible, downloadable file design for...?! D'oh!

The 45 is dead. Long live the 45 sleeve!

1. Sex Pistols - God Save the Queen

2. Pete Townshend - Rough Boys

3. The Beatles - All You Need is Love

4. Elvis Presley - All Shook Up

5. Bob Dylan - I Want You

6. Rolling Stones - Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?

7. The Clash - Pressure Drop

8. Talking Heads - Take Me to the River

9. Sex Pistols - Holidays in the Sun

10. Donovan - Mellow Yellow

Saturday, January 22, 2011

14 reasons to hate the GRAMMY Awards

Best lip-syncers, 1989.

I love music, but man do I hate the GRAMMY Awards.

Maybe the reason is that the GRAMMY Awards has proven time and again to be the awards-show equivalent of the worst kind of music fan: the poseur who knows nothing about music, but is desperate to look "cool"in front of his friends.

Some of its most-notable crimes against humanity:

1. Elvis Presley takes home a Bing Crosby lifetime achievement award, 1971

A consolation award at best, since Elvis never won a GRAMMY for a single one of his pop recordings. The GRAMMYs did, however, see fit to award him three times for his gospel recordings - twice for "How Great Thou Art."

2. Jethro Tull beats Metallica for Best Hard Rock/Metal, 1989 

Hint: the word "Metallica" includes the word "metal" in its name.

3. A very liberal view of R&B, 1958

The very first year of the GRAMMY Awards, the Best R&B GRAMMY went to the Champs' instrumental, "Tequila" - the same year Chuck Berry recorded "Johnny B. Goode."

4. Celine Dion wins Album of the Year, 1997

Enough said.

5. The lamest piano ditty ever recorded wins Best Rock and Roll Recording, 1963

That would be Bent Fabric's piano instrumental, "Alley Cat." Prepare to rock out:

6. The Beatles don't get what's coming to them, 1964

The big year of the four lads who shook the world, the Beatles won for Best New Artist and Best Performance by a Vocal Group, thank God.

However, the boys lost Record of the Year to "Girl From Ipanema," Best Rock and Roll Recording to "Downtown," and - the worst insult - their great score to A Hard Day's Night lost Best Motion Picture Score to...Mary Poppins.

7. Clapton beats Nirvana, 1992

The big year that Nirvana redefined rock with "Smells Like Teen Spirit," the GRAMMY Awards instead gave the Best Rock Song Award to Eric Clapton's acoustic version of "Layla" - a song he wrote and recorded decades earlier.

Ironically, Nirvana won in 1996 for Best Alternative Music Performance for its acoustic album, proving the rule that, to win a GRAMMY, it helps to be dead and/or record acoustic versions of your hits.

8. Christopher Cross beats Pink Floyd's The Wall for Album of the Year, 1981

Christopher Cross (who?) is the only solo artist to ever win all four big categories in one night. Other nominees that night: Barbra Streisand, Billy Joel, Frank Sinatra.

9. Springfield beats Springsteen, 1982

"Jesse's Girl" beats out "The River." Bruce Springsteen: still selling out arenas around the world. Rick Springfield: playing Club Regent next month.

10. Rock "dies" in 1966

Just as rock really explodes, the GRAMMY dropped it as a category all together - a situation that wasn't remedied until...1979, when Bob Dylan took the category with "Gotta Serve Somebody," a gospel song.

11. Fresh Prince Will Smith is the greatest rapper of all time

His song, "Summertime" beats Public Enemy's entire album (how does that work?) in 1992, he beats down the late Notorious B.I.G. with "Men in Black" in 1997, and don't even get me started on "Gettin' Jiggy wit it."

12. If you can't award crappy music, then award crappy writing:

Pete Hamill won a GRAMMY in 1976 for his essay on the back cover of Blood on the Tracks - his words were considered by Dylan himself to be so self-important and overblown, they were removed after the first pressing.

"In the end, the plague touched us all. It was not confined to the Oran of Camus. No. It turned up again in America, breeding in-a-compost of greed and uselessness and murder, in those places where statesmen and generals stash the bodies of the forever young. The plague ran in the blood of men in sharkskin suits, who ran for President promising life and delivering death. The infected young men machine-gunned babies in Asian ditches; they marshalled metal death through the mighty clouds, up above God's green earth, released it in silent streams, and moved on, while the hospitals exploded and green fields were churned to mud."
13. Milli Vanilli wins Best New Artist 1989 for lip syncing

14. The Who has never won a GRAMMY and is consistently awesome

Don't watch the 53rd-annual GRAMMY Awards on Feb. 13.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Music wants to be closer to free

People want access to the world's music for a song, but the music business isn't playing along.

Nielsen just released its report on 2010 music sales, and it looks pretty dismal for the industry that is still counting on people to pay for an intangible good that gets easier and easier to find, stream, and download online for free.

According to Nielsen, music sales in 2010 were down 9.5 per cent, album sales were down 12.7 per cent, physical album sales were down 19 per cent, and digital sales were up a lame one per cent over 2009.

I could see this coming some time ago, when my graphic design students - early adopters all - scoffed at the very idea of my CD collection and penchant for seeing films - get this - in a "theatre," for "money."

Music- and entertainment-lovers around the world have become a lot like a Winnipeggers at a garage sale: they want immediate access to quality, choice, and variety for the lowest-possible cost. Cheapskates!

This speaks to a prediction made by Mike Walsh in his excellent book, Futuretainment (he gives no time frame, other than to say, "the years ahead"):
"The world's entire library of recorded music is available for free on any device; music business models rely on a combination of advertising, merchandising, and events."
Seems like the writing is on the wall to me too. I still love records, CDs, and iTunes (and its ability to easily download songs for 99 cents), but then Grooveshark comes along and makes me feel like a chump for being willing to pay even that.

Futuretainment is right, I think: the future of music (and maybe all entertainment) is providing branded launch pads to access to all of the music across all of the media "in a cloud," propped up by the three-legged stool of advertising ("branded platforms"), merch ("official" concert bootlegs, autographs, T-shirts, etc.), and old-fashioned concerts.

The great promise of the Internet is the ability to really know your audience, track what they do, get their feedback, and have meaningful dialogue: dialogue that often leads to "goodwill," "brand awareness," and "purchase behavior."

Just imagine the marketing data you could collect for a relative pittance. And then imagine the concert and merch sales that will follow.

If you build it, music industry, they will come.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

When comics attack: in praise of Gervais @ the Golden Globes

"What? All I said was, "Angelina Jolie is a plastic freak with no talent!"

Go Ricky! Go Ricky!

"As a comic in all seriousness," it's bizarre to ponder the hostility directed at Ricky Gervais for his emceeing gig at Sunday's 68th Golden Globes Awards; the general agreement among critics and viewers seems to be that Gervais was "mean," "disrespectful," and "not funny."

At this point, everyone knows what he said: Charlie Sheen hires hookers, Mel Gibson shouldn't drink so much, Tom Cruise (or is it John Travolta?) is lying about his sexual orientation, Tim Allen is washed up, the cast of Sex and the City is airbrushed on the movie posters, the Golden Globes hands out awards based on bribes, etc.

"The star-filled international ballroom at the Beverly Hilton Hotel" was not overly impressed, as evidenced by the (mostly) unsmiling stares, "Ooohs," and occasional angry retort - pretty much proving Gervais' point: actors are self-important jerks.

Critics, of course, get paid to criticize, but "the regular people" defending the celebrities remind me a lot of "the regular people" who were recently against "tax cuts for the wealthy" in the U.S. - let the millionaires defend themselves!

As my therapist friend once said to me, "Does a lion need anyone to defend it in the jungle?"

Some more thoughts on "the controversy:"

1. The Golden Globes are mostly irrelevant anyway, and the organizers should be grateful for whatever "post-awards talk" they can get. When's the last time the Globes had "buzz?

2. As Letterman - famous for never being invited back to host the Oscars - asked on the Late Show last night, "When did this all become so sacred?" In other words: where's the memo that says that celebrities are off limits?

3. Folks should get a sense of humor. I saw one person on TV speculate that Ricky Gervais was actually under the impression that Bruce Willis is Ashton Kutcher's dad. Uh, no: it was a joke!

4. Like with any comic who's supposedly "off color," people tend to embellish what the comedian has actually said. Remember Sarah Palin saying that Letterman told a joke about her child being raped? Oh, sure. Likewise, Gervais never said that Tom Cruise was gay: that's what people who saw it are saying.

5. We always hear that America is the most free and open country in the world. But a beer-guzzling Brit can show up, tell a few jokes, and shock it to the very core?

7. Sarcasm, and dark wit in general, is celebrated in England and rarely works in America. As a drunk guy in a British pub once said to me, "Enjoy England. I don't."

8. In North America, it's a great sin to insult someone. It should be "not having a comeback" or - even worse - "not being able to take the joke."

9. Why would you hire Gervais if you didn't want him to be like Gervais?

I saw Gervais tape his HBO stand-up special in New York a few years ago (I took the blurry photo, above, at the taping), in which he reiterated the Richard Gere/hamster urban legend, and told jokes about a British anti-rape ad campaign, God's existence, and the first guy who contracted AIDS (given the choice between admitting to having sex with a monkey or eating a monkey, both man and monkey agree: "I ate 'em.").

 When an alligator - or a comic - bites, no one should be surprised. It's what they do.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Ten more cases of dumbass song censorship

This will teach you for banning the original version.

I'm with the banned.

We recently found out that stale-dated Dire Straits is too racy for Canadian radio - but Mark Knopfler should take heart: his song is the latest in a long line that have been edited, bleeped, or banned altogether for being too political, violent, and dirty for our pristine, virgin ears.

If history teaches us one thing, it's that bans create an insatiable appetite for for the very thing that's being banned. Eat up!

1. Moxy Früvous - Stuck in the 90s (1994)

This goofy pop ditty was banned from Red River College's own CMOR (more a PA system than a radio station, to be honest) in 1994 for being "too political."

When told by a Projector reporter that the song had been removed from the station's playlist, band member Mike Ford reacted as expected: "You've got to be fucking kidding me!" A few weeks later, the band played the offending song at the Playhouse Theatre and dedicated it to Red River College. 

2. Lloyd Price - Stagger Lee (1959)

A song about Stagger Lee shooting fellow gambler Billy was deemed too violent for radio, so Price recorded a non-violent version in which no one was shot.

In 1996, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds made up for lost time, releasing an over-the-top, graphic and foul-mouthed version of the song - and released it as a single and video (above). The "motherfucker" count alone is off the charts.

3. Sex Pistols - God Save the Queen (1976)

Banned by the BBC for rhyming "queen" with "fascist regime" among other sins, the song rocketed to number two on the UK charts and forever gave the band and punk itself its aura of danger, credibility, and authenticity.

4. Van Morrison - Brown Eyed Girl (1967)

It doesn't get any filthier than "making love in the green grass, behind the stadium," so Van changed it to the one we now all know and love - "laughin' and a-runnin', behind the stadium." Either way: great cardio.

5. Pink Floyd - Money (1973)

Harvest Records accidentally sent out the wrong single to radio stations who played it "as is" and were shocked - shocked! - to discover the song included the line, "Don't give me that goody-good bullshit."

One re-release later, we were treated to David Gilmour singing, "goody-good bull (blank!)," and we could all once again believe in the sanctity of human life.

6. Charlie Daniels Band - The Devil Went Down to Georgia (1979)

Hello, Devil, welcome to Hell.

Apparently, you're not even allowed to call the Devil himself a son of a bitch on the radio, as the Charlie Daniels Band found out. So back to the studio they went. In the revised version, they call out the Prince of Darkness with a decidedly wimpy, "son of a gun."

7. The Kingston Trio - Greenback Dollar (1963)

When the "damn" in "I don't give a damn about a greenback dollar" was deemed to be too hot for the radio, the word was blanked out, allowing listeners to substitute it with an even-better four-letter word of their choice.

8. The Mauds - Hold On (1968)

Close, but no cigar. 

A cover of the Sam and Dave hit, the Mauds were banned from Chicago radio until they changed the lyrics, "Hold on, I'm coming" to "Hold on, don't you worry, hold on, please."

Years later, the English Beat took the controversy and ran with it on their hit, Save it For Later, and the best pause in rock history, "Hold my hand while I a decision on it!"

9. Jethro Tull - Locomotive Breath (1971)

One of the most famous censorship examples of all time. Chrysalis Records, upset with Jethro Tull for including the line, "Got him by the balls" in what was supposed to be a single, took matters into its own hands and spliced in the word "fun" from another of the band's songs - without the band's permission.

Ain't that a kick in the fun?  

10. The Swinging Medallions - Double Shot (of My Baby's Love) (1966)

When are swinging medallions just swinging medallions? Never, but no one noticed, thanks to this line in one of the band's songs: "She loved me so long and she loved me so hard, I finally passed out in her front yard."

So "loved" became "kissed," and the medallions were free to swing again.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Some more classic songs to ban in Canada

Some filthy smut from the perverted mind Knopfler.

Watch out, Moxy Früvous.

We finally found out this week that Dire Straits' Money For Nothing is too racy for Canadian radio - Dire Straits?! From 1985?! The duet with Sting?! That they played at Live Aid? Uh, OK. 

I must also point out something that's pretty obvious but that no one else has pointed out: the "narrators" in Money For Nothing are uneducated boneheads - as illustrated in the video - who are passing commentary on millionaire rock stars, who get their "money for nothing, and their chicks for free" and the song is, in fact, passing commentary on them! Ugh.

Let's have a look at some more classic songs that should be banned instantaneously, for the good of the children, dammit! Darn it! Dagnabit!

1. Lou Reed - Walk on the Wild Side

Objectionable language: But she never lost her head, even when she was giving head.

    2. The Who - Pictures of Lily

    Objectionable story: Kid can't sleep. Dad buys kid a girlie poster. Boy masturbates and sleeps better.

    3. Jerry Lee Lewis - Great Balls of Fire

    Objectionable language: That would be the title of the song.

    4. Bruce Springsteen - Blinded by the Light

    Objectionable language:
    • And little Early-Pearly came by in her curly-wurly
    • Some all-hot half-shot was headin' for the hot spot, snappin' his fingers, clappin' his hands 
    • And some fleshpot mascot was tied into a lover's knot with a whatnot in her hand
    • And now young Scott with a slingshot finally found a tender spot and throws his lover in the sand
    • And some fresh-sown moonstone was messin' with his frozen zone to remind him of the feeling of romance
    • And some kidnapped handicap was complainin' that he caught the clap from some mousetrap he bought last night

    5. The Kinks - Lola

    Objectionable story: Guy meets girl who "walks like a man." He pushes her away. He falls to the floor. And...well...err...

    6. Them - Gloria

    Objectionable lyrics:

    Comes a-walkin' down my street
    When she comes to my house
    She knocks upon my door
    And then she comes in my room

    7.  Rough Trade - High School Confidential

    Objectionable lyrics: 
    • She's a cool, blonde, scheming, bitch
    • It make me cream my jeans when she come my way
    • Who's that guy - is he screwing with her?!

    8. Big Joe Turner - Shake, Rattle and Roll

    Objectionable lyrics:

    Way you wear those dresses, the sun comes shinin' through
    I can't believe my eyes, all that mess belongs to you

    9. Tommy James and the Shondells - Hanky Panky

    Objectionable story: I have it on good authority that his girl does the hanky panky. Smut!

    10. Little Richard - Good Golly Miss Molly

    Objectionable lyrics:
    • Good golly, Miss Molly, sure like to ball
    • Kiss me ting-a-ling-a-ling

    Wednesday, January 12, 2011

    Another day, another chance to shatter kids' dreams

    Johnny, I'm sorry. Won't you come on home?

    I've been yelling and screaming for years - on this blog, Twitter, and in class - about the complete rethinking and reorganization of the traditional media structure, so you can imagine the spit-out-my-coffee moment when I saw "Johnny's" comment on ChrisD's website yesterday.
    January 11, 2011 | 3:36 pm
    And the wide-eyed Creative Communications students at RRC want to work in this industry? They’re being set up to fail and the instructors are pushing them towards it.
    Word of advice to students: Work in the PR industry, not the broadcasting industry. It’s more secure.
    (later post) ...the fact that students are out in the field this week at such stations gaining experience is a bit deceiving to them. Their dreams will be crushed when they land their ‘dream job’ in the industry only to be let go in a few years, or months down the road.

    The comment was in response to yesterday's layoffs at Citytv, which is rotten news for people who work in local media, but not surprising, given the state of the local TV industry ("local" meaning local markets around the world, of course, not just Winnipeg). 

    That might be why new, social, and mobile media have become the emphasis in Creative Communications across our four majors; on Monday, I had lunch with a former student who just made the leap from traditional journalism to social-media guru for a local organization focused on film and filmmakers, and his experience is becoming more common.

    His job is all about new media, but the bedrock skills are PR, ad, J, and media production, which might sound familiar, since they're the four CreComm majors (confession: I'm against "majors" and for a second-year education in "everything." We're talking about it.). 

    The entire focus of last semester's ad major was putting together a new-media ad campaign for Berns & Black salon - featuring Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare, and enhanced with old-fashioned publicity and posters.

    The ad majors are also writing and designing epubs for the iPad along with graphic designers. Next year, we're looking at app development and content in conjunction with another program at RRC.

    As far as I know, we're the only school in Manitoba doing this stuff, which gives our students an expertise that no one else has. That's generally good for employability.

    My online response to Johnny:
    Kenton Larsen Reply: 
January 11th, 2011 at 6:03 pm
    Our students have a choice of four majors; our department and RRC track employment for all grads, including salary range; they’re available to anyone who wants to see them on the college website and at Student Services.

    Our emphasis (or maybe I should say mine: I’m not a spokesman for CreComm) has nothing to do with getting an “old-media” job like the kind people dreamed of getting in 1963.

    In fact, I go to great measures to argue and emphasize the exact opposite – most recently in yesterday’s Advertising class, where we talked about the entire idea of “scheduled TV shows” being an amusing chestnut of the past and “real reality” online being a far better sell than the “mediated reality” of supposed reality TV shows.

    I certainly wouldn’t characterize our students as being “wide-eyed” or easily deceived. I also wouldn’t say that a three-week work placement is setting them up to fail or succeed in the industry – just to give them a little experience to put on their resume when they graduate.
    There’s no bait and switch. We discuss “the media industry” with applicants before they enroll, including the new-media industry, so I’d be surprised if anyone felt they’d been deceived or tricked into having their dreams crushed.
    I would add to that that I believe in continued employability in communications and that we've only scratched the surface of the market for micro transactions, targeted ads, user-generated content, data-driven entertainment, and feedback consolidation.

    My general beliefs about where the communication industry is going: 
    • Sensorial, experiential, and authentic experiences will dominate the industry.
    • Advertising will underwrite the content of almost everything, including films, games, and music and will become more targeted and personal (a far cry from its "non-personal" roots). 
    • Branded platforms will become even more important. Apps are already simple, branded platforms for content - merchandise, ads, and transactions will follow.
    • Broadcast TV will drive people to the Web, the reverse of how it works now, and be available on multiple devices all at once, underwritten by ads or subscriptions or both.  
    • "Gaming" will become more important across the culture and will invade everything, including education. Movies will become 3D interactive games.
    • Media production will continue to exist and thrive online. 
    • TV, Web, radio, music, movies, social media - content and hardware - will compete with each other and we'll buy and use what suits us, depending on WHERE we are. 
    On Monday night, we're doing an info session for potential CreComm students and I'll tell them the same things. I hope Johnny is there!

    Tuesday, January 11, 2011

    I'm a stuck record - whatever that is

    According to Nietzsche, we are doomed to repeat the same life over and over.

    According to Woody Allen, that means we'll probably all have to sit through the Ice Capades again.


    For the past few weeks, I've been writing down the topic of every conversation I have in an attempt to:
    1. Find out what I talk about in what quantity.
    2. Expand my horizons.
    3. Become a more interesting person.
    4. Win friends and influence people!
    My suspicion is that I'm a stuck record and miserable bore, repeating the same topics, insights, jokes, and conversations again and again and again. My credo is the same one that NBC once used to sell us on the idea of watching reruns:
    "If you haven't seen it before - it's new to you!"
    Speaking of stuck records, "music" is something that I talk about a lot - with friends "of a certain age." Music collecting doesn't have the cache that it once did, but - among my friends - it's like the Psychedelic Furs' 12-inch single extended dance remix of "Heaven" just came out last week. 

    I also talk a lot about new media. No surprise there. I've always been someone who gets more excited about imagining the future than rehashing the past - though I'm sentimental enough to have lots of conversations about "the good, old days," like the time we collected all the garbage on Laxdal Road, placed it in the front yard of a friend's house, rang the doorbell, ran away, and yelled "Ghostbusters!" from the safety of the car, for no apparent reason.

    The problem with these kinds of stories is that we think they're awesome, so we keep telling them to our loved ones until our loved ones want to beat us to death. Classic Chris Rock stand-up:
    "Did I ever tell you about the time -"
    "Yeah, you told me about the time! Why don't you get kidnapped or something, so you have some new shit to talk about."
    Having very scientifically tracked my conversations over the last three weeks, here are the topics nearest and dearest to my heart: 
    • Stories about students and grads (mostly about amusing moments in class)
    • Complaints about work
    • iPad (gets its own category for being a constant source of surprises, delights, and amusements)
    • Letterman 
    • The Beatles
    • New media/mobile/apps ("the future" of media)
    • Music
    • Advertising/PR
    • TV shows/movies
    • Stories from the glory days of my youth
    • Education/teaching
    • Stand-up comedy
    Then again, these sound pretty damn fascinating! Hey, did I ever tell you about the time...wait - come back!

    Sunday, January 9, 2011

    Hit songs that started out as commercials

    1. The Undertones - Mars Bars

    A punk classic that recites the lines directly from the original ad, word for word: "It helps me - makes me! - work, rest, and play!"

    Mars first used the slogan, "A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play" in 1959 and recently brought it back to tap into the hunger for chocolate, nostalgia - and mosh pits?

    2. The New Seekers - I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (in Perfect Harmony)

    Originally a Coca-Cola jingle in 1971 - the one with the creepy people on the hilltop - the New Seekers' full-length song version dropped the words "Coca-Cola" and rocketed up the charts to #1 in the UK and #7 in the US. It became a hit all over again - the same year - for a group called the Hillside Singers.

    3. The Kingsmen - The Jolly Green Giant

    Everyone's favorite giant is reborn as a giant dude hungry for some ho, ho, hos.
    "Well, he ain't no prize/And there's no women his size/And that's why the cat's so mean."

    4. The Monotones - The Book of Love

    Who wrote the book of love? Pepsodent. In the 50s.

    The ad: "Wonder where the yellow went?" The song:

    5. The T-Bones - No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach's In)

    An instrumental hit that was originally a 60s jingle for - you guessed it - Alka-Seltzer.

    6. The Clash - Koka Kola

    "I get good advice from the advertising world!"

    Ever! The Clash's song - about the corporate world's reliance on cocaine - is notable for cribbing Coke's 70s themeline - "Coke adds life!" (TV commercial) - and harking back to the (mostly) urban legend that Coca-Cola is rife with cocainey goodness.

    New Garrity short features famous freshmen

    Palmer Fritschy (left) and some actor with a speaking role.

    Extras, extras, read all about it!

    I just watched a rough cut of Winnipeg filmmaker Sean Garrity's new short, Teeth, and was delighted to see a number of CreComm students in extra and supporting roles - most visibly, first-year student Palmer Fritschy.

    Teeth will be released later this year - watch for it at a theatre with a short-film festival (like Cinematheque) near you!

    Thursday, January 6, 2011

    I'm proud sponsor of the residential toilet credit!

    It's official: I'm an appvertiser.

    After a semi-successful run at Google AdWords, I've embarked on my next, big experiment with a trial banner ad on Len Goldenstein's newly renovated Winnipeg Headlines app - the app that aggregates RSS feeds from local news outlets, ChrisD, CJOB, the City of Winnipeg, and CBC among them.

    I join Granny's, Geek Cantina, The Proactive Circle, ChrisD, and Ridgeline Roofing in the big experiment. At the end of the run, we - and Len - will find out how the appvertising business model works and whether it's brought a whole, new audience to my lovely blog and the CreComm program at Red River College.

    In the meantime, please joing me in downloading the app (above link), rating it, and clicking on my banner until your fingers bleed.

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011

    I am Canadian, I am game-show host

    My Definition of being Canadian.

    Canadians make awesome game-show hosts.

    Look no further than Winnipeg's own Monty Hall, who has a Winnipeg street named after him for doing nothing more than hosting TV's Let's Make a Deal for 20-some years, making backroom deals with creepy contestants dressed as produce.

    And what about Sudbury's Alex Trebek? Here's a guy who has the nerve to pronounce Nicaragua the way Spanish people do (but not Japan the way Japanese people do!), and who reacts to contestants' wrong answers with mild disgust, even though - we must not forget - he has the answers right there in front of him.

    Brush with greatness

    I once met Alex Trebek in a Boston shopping mall and couldn't contain my enthusiasm. "I'm from Canada!" I shrieked at him. "Oh, yeah," he responded, containing his enthusiasm with no trouble whatsoever.

    His dry demeanor didn't stop me from asking him for an autograph.

    "Who is Kenton?" he wrote on a scrap piece of paper, as I'm sure he's done for every other living Canadian at one point or another. (By the way, if you're reading this post, ex-girlfriend, can I have my Alex Trebek autograph back?)

    Alex pretty much had to fork over the autograph; as Canadians, he and I had a bond. He knew that, as a guy of a certain age, I was likely familiar with his complete oeuvre, including his embarrassing stints on Stars on Ice and, even more shamefully, Reach For the Top and Pitfall:

    I've seen a grand prize, and that's no grand prize

    It makes sense that Canadians make great game show hosts. We're the international peace keepers, after all, whether it's our military helping out war-torn Bosnia or Monty Hall holding back a deranged man dressed as a wedge of cheddar from the '77 Chevy Nova "behind door number three."

    And it would have been a '77 Chevy Nova, because the prizes and production values on the classic Canadian game shows were surprisingly bad, even by the standards at the time.

    When I was in high school, it was customary to go home for lunch, watch the grand-prize winner on the Price is Right take home a Jeep, boat, and three vacations, then flip to Definition where the the grand-prize winner would be lucky to take home a pair of Hanes pantyhose and a $10 gift certificate to Loblaws.

    Hosted by Jim Perry, a transplanted American whose hair color changed with shocking regularity, Definition has had surprising traction in Canadian pop culture, its theme song showing up sampled in the Dream Warriors "My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style" and in Mike Meyers' theme to Austin Powers.

    Canadian writer Douglas Coupland pays tribute to our shitty game shows and prizes in his book, Souvenir of Canada. He writes:
    "A powerful memory of growing up for Canadians born before a certain year - say 1970 - is of our legacy of bad, bad game shows. Bad lighting, bad taped-to-video appearance, bad sound... the grand prize on these shows was often luggage or a radio - items that were consolation prizes on American game shows.

    "Even though they were bad, their badness generated an emotion, and the emotion became a form of cultural glue."
    Where's the show?

    And what to make of Headline Hunters, This is the Law, and Front Page Challenge? All were popular Canadian game shows where there may have been a "game," but there was precious little "show": contestants just sat their ass down on a bench and boringly guessed headlines, breaches of the law, and the names of hidden guests, respectively.

    And Canadians actually watched! According to Mondo Canuck, over 1.5 million Canadians tuned in to Headline Hunters every week in the 70s - the third most-watched TV show in the country, after Stars on Ice and The Bobby Vinton Show. Yes!

    So popular were game shows in Canada that after the great U.S. game show scandal of the 50s (as chronicled in the Robert Redford film, Quiz Show), the shamed producers took refuge here, where they created game shows The Little People and Photo Finish to an adoring audience, scandal be damned.

    It must have been odd for them, having been caught fixing big, American game shows with $64,000 questions to overseeing the bargain-basement Photo Finish.

    According to
    "In (Photo Finish), a picture was covered by pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and contestants would answer questions in order to have jigsaw pieces removed from the picture. The goal was to identify the event or person depicted in the picture."
    The grand prize up for grabs: $256.

    Take it away, Monty!

    Tuesday, January 4, 2011

    When is it OK to get mad at the boss?

    Normally, I'd answer the question posed in my headline with, "All of the time!"

    However, I think I have the best example from my previous job, in advance of our future PR class discussion on corporate culture and communications:
    It's 8 p.m. You're sitting in your office on the 17th floor of a big building on Portage and Main. The lights are out, and you're the last person in the office working.

    The phone rings. It's your boss, who has called in sick for the past week, which is part of the reason you have to work late every night - to do his job in addition to your own.

    "Hello," he says, cheerfully. "Could you do me a favor? There are two tickets to tonight's Moose game on my desk. Could you courier them to me at home, and I might still be able to make the second period."
    And that's when it's OK to get mad at the boss. End of lesson. 

    Monday, January 3, 2011

    Politicians and the PR of snow removal

    How ya doin', New York?

    Great moment during the NBC Nightly News' blizzard coverage last week: a New Yorker tries to shovel his car out of a snow drift - using a tennis racquet. Advantage: snow!

    As a Winnipegger, it's easy to feel superior to everyone else on planet Earth when snow closes airports across Europe and North America, cancels an NFL game, closes the Eiffel Tower, and buries the reputations of the mayor of New York and the governor of New Jersey for being slow to respond and AWOL in Florida, respectively.  

    Winnipeg snow removal isn't perfect, but the thing that makes us unlucky - getting piles and piles of snow, guaranteed - is the very thing that makes us lucky - we have dedicated plows, workers, and a plan in place to take care of it, because there's always more snow on the way. Even in July.

    During most big Winnipeg snowfalls, my biggest complaint is that the the snow-removal equipment keeps me up at night, because that's when the magical elves get to work on making sure we can get to work the next day. Boo! I mean: Yay!

    I'm constantly surprised to find that even the little guy in the little buggy has cleared the sidewalk on my street - both sides! - which also usually happens within 24 hours of a big snowfall and once or twice a winter "just because."

    When I travel to Saskatchewan in winter, I'm appalled by the poor condition of the main roads, which are covered in surprise ice patches; the side streets are downright abysmal. My friends who live there tell me that the side roads NEVER get cleared.

    When I lived in Boston as a kid, I was surprised and delighted constantly when school - located one block away - would be canceled for what amounted to half a centimetre of slushy rain.

    Apparently, the city fathers of Beantown have to call a snow day the day BEFORE it snows, based on the expert predictions of Willard Scott and his ilk, which - as we know - are as bogus as Scott's sincere birthday wishes to Myrtle in Columbus, who today turns 110 years young!

    Read: A typical snow day in Boston.

    The PR of snow removal

    In big U.S. and European cities, there's a huge reliance on Mother Nature to take care of the problem. Politicians know that their money and PR issues will melt away along with the snow, which (in most places) usually happens pretty soon after it falls.

    But when a big city with millions of residents gets hit with 20 inches of the stuff, the plow drivers don't know what the hell they're doing (see my favorite viral video at the top of the post), and emergency workers can't respond to 911 calls, the snow - and shit - hits the fan.

    Read: (NY) Mayor Michael Bloomberg digging out his reputation after storm

    It's an old PR problem that gets worse when the politician in question doesn't get it. Take Marion Barry, former mayor of Washington D.C., who was at the Super Bowl in 1987 when his city was hit with a snow emergency.

    In his own defense, he said, "We're not a snow town." Smoke some more crack, Mr. Barry.

    Yesterday's This Week showed a report from World News Tonight in 1996, in which then-NY Mayor Rudy Giuliani (in his FDNY baseball cap - the "clarity" principle of persuasion!) helped push cars out of the snow - whether he just did it for the camera doesn't matter; since that's what most people saw, that was the perception.

    Watch: This Week: Politicians on Thin Ice

    The advice to politicians from ABC's round table panel of experts:
    • Be present and on the scene
    • Get outside (and help out)
    • Share the credit with clean-up crews
    • Get in a snow plow (maybe)
    Good advice. And I would add "communicate constantly" to the list.

    The king of snow-removal communication

    The gold standard of snow-removal communication has to be Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, and tweeter extraordinaire, with over a million followers.

    During the snow emergency, he regularly tweeted his progress, including these gems:
    • "Almost Midnight, stopped to help stuck driver and 4 guys came forward to also help. So grateful for all of today's kind heroes."
    • "I'm on scene here in N Ward. Bravo to our police just apprehended an attempted armed robber. Heading back now continue inspecting streets."
    • "Thanks to the Nwk heroes who helped us get this ambulance unstuck to get to the dialysis patient."
    Now that's one bad-ass mayor, and a social media lesson for our own Sam Katz. Why, I'd give my eyetooth to see ol' Sammy pushing an ambulance out of a drift, busting robbers, and, hell, just tweeting. 

    Will it ever happen? Snow way!