Tuesday, March 29, 2005

My blog is so last year

Just caught up on Neville Hobson's blog and found an interesting posting about the top 10 trends to watch in 2005. Of particular note was number eight: 2005 would be the year of the corporate blog. My first instinct was, "Sweet, blogging is moving up the ladder and will become a mainstream feature in corporate America." Then I realized this prediction could also be an ominous warning to those of us who monitor blogs and utilize blogs for our company, our clients, industry information and social networking.

Technology moves faster than society can keep up with. Likewise, our applications of technology must sprint just to be at the heels of the pack. The real-world problem? The blog will become outdated. Maybe replaced. And soon.

I know I'm overreacting (just a little), but this discussion births an important point: it isn't enough to join or even to lead - one must create to be seen in the blogosphere.

The blog isn't dead. Nowhere near deceased. However, a prediction such as "2005 will be the year of the corporate blog" should be a wake up call for anyone associated with online communication. Begin differentiating your blog, your client's blog, your dog's blog from other blogs. Find new ways to capitalize on blogging's popularity. Create new avenues of communications to intersect with blogs.

Technology has no finish line, just bountiful rewards for those who pass ahead of the pack.

Emotional Intelligence for the Skeptical

I'm skeptical. A more euphemistic word might be "curious." I like to dig and vet and deliberate inside my head before I buy into something. A good trait? At times. An inhibiting trait? Often. The latest example of my skepticism getting the best of a good opportunity came today, as I was brainstorming titles for a campaign. During this brainstorm, someone mentioned Jenné Beecher's name and I immediately stopped and realized that I missed countless opportunities to learn from her. Jenne started her own company, JennéInk. Hit the link and find out what she does, because I surely won't do her capabilities justice.

She brought emotional intelligence to our company. She's a pioneer in the way people communicate with themselves and with others. And she gave me ample chances to learn more about this important topic. I, however, didn't have time to dive into emotional intelligence. At least I thought I didn't have time. In fact, me thinking I didn't have time was probably a sign that my emotional intelligence was lacking.

My sister's sorority is reading Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. My SISTER and her SORORITY SISTERS are taking the time to read this and I have yet to buy the book. A pastor friend of mine is sharing the book with his staff. My colleagues across the company are in reading groups to discuss the application of E.I. in the workplace. It's time I face two hard truths:
1) I missed the boat.
2) I was skeptical of this concept not because it lacked validity but because I didn't want to find out what it might unearth inside me.

I was perfectly comfortable keeping my thoughts and emotions in check and not allowing them to play a role in my interactions with others.

After the brainstorm today, I checked out Jenné's blog and realized what I'd been missing. I also found the root of my skepticism: Her interpretation of emotional intelligence, interpersonal communication and self discovery are so on target that they make complete sense. I'd fallen into the trap of believing that the simple, sense-bearing answer could not be the right answer. Color me converted.

In my first bold step toward E.I, it's time to follow my own above link and order the book.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Connecting with the absent presence

Over pre-Easter drinks this weekend, my friend Sara told me about the theory of absent presence. Sara related this theory to the majority of people she sees in Chicago, her fair city, riding trains, walking through neighborhoods and sitting in Starbucks all while connected to their iPods and cell phones. She defined absent presence as: people that are physically there, next to you, but because of their technology, have no interaction with anyone else. They simply are there, not active. They are absent in their presence.

I had to dig deeper into this theory, as it has critical implications on delivering marketing messages to a growing majority of the population. A simple Google search shows that Sara's application of absent presence to her fellow "L" inhabitants is just one example of how absent presence is changing communities and communication.

I found a story Dennis K. Berman wrote that highlights the effects absent presence has on work, community and personal life.

Absent presence is caused by an overabundance of technology and an increasing accessibility to e-mail, entertainment, news and correspondence. At the surface, it seems enlightening – more information is better and more accessibility to communication will further one’s relationships. But as I (and anyone else who carries a BlackBerry, or more than one battery-operated device) can confirm, this accessibility can create less access to one's full attention.

What does this mean for marketers? Advertisements are passed without a glance, radio and television commercials are virtually eliminated and news is filtered and delivered in headline form. More importantly, people aren't talking to each other, eliminating another powerful opportunity for word of mouth and brand reputation building. As information moves faster and content is crunched to fit our summary-only society, marketers must also move faster and craft more concise messages.

Not convinced absent presence is an issue for the everyday brand to address? Next time you're on the train, walking to lunch or waiting in public, cue up your favorite MP3 mix, text message your friend and check your voicemail, and realize what you're not seeing, hearing and saying in your absent presence.

Friday, March 25, 2005

It's the simple things

I read the Japan Times online before I get going in the morning. It's a simple act that reminds me of my mornings in Nakajo with the English language newspaper and a cup of green tea. This morning, I read an article about the new technology sweeping Japan's massive vending machine industry, and how some of Japan's 2.6 million machines now are able to speak - with personality, even.

Thanks to programming greetings, well wishes and questions into the machine, when a Japanese salaryman inserts his yen and chooses a Coke, he might hear a polite hello or even a compliment. The vending machine industry sees this as a simple nicety that can provide an emotional boost to complement the boost of caffeine. However, in a country where much of what can be considered societal interaction now is automated

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Are you proud of what you do?

My colleague Paul and I took over the Barkley Evergreen and Partners Public Relations internship program. Under new management, we've re-branded and refocused the program to reflect our firm and our philosophy. We renamed it the Mentorship Program both to distinguish its differences from the sea of internship opportunities available and to have it clearly state the program's purpose. We changed the collateral used to promote the program and reached out to the area colleges and universities to attract potential interviewees.

The entire process has been a great learning experience and I expect it to be rewarding as classes of participants move through the program. The biggest learning experience I've gained is due to a question I've asked of each candidate: What have you done in the past year that you are most proud of?

What I thought would be a nice ice-breaking inquiry (no wrong answers) ended up being one of the make-or-break questions I posed. In fact, there really is a wrong answer: "umm, hmmm, my proudest moment?" After a couple people scrambled to find something to cite, I decided this question should be a filter for everyone to use in relation to their personal and professional pursuits.

What have I done in the past year that makes me proud? What have I done at work this week that I am proud of? A seemingly easy question birthed a personal reflection of what I do at home and at work, and whether I'm proud of myself for doing it.

Pride breeds happiness. Pride breeds better work. Pride produces memories. On the flipside, lack of pride is an energy and talent suck.

I decided the first step is to look at moments of pride in the past and what caused them. My answer: challenging environment, unfamiliar territory and the opportunity to use my unique skills and experiences. Those have been the steadfast settings for moments of pride.

How can I create those settings again?
1) Place myself in an environment of opportunities that challenge my skills and promote aspects of my personality that I value.
2) Surround myself with smart, innovative people who have high demands of me.

The next step is actually doing something to promote moments of pride. That in itself will be something to be proud of.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Good work

I've caught the new Honda Accord Hybrid commercial a few evenings in a row now and it’s made me think. The commercial is titled "waste" and shows various ways we waste various resources during the course of a normal day. You can check out the commercial at the Rubin Postaer and Associates site.

The moral: the Accord Hybrid is an efficient vehicle in an inefficient world. In addition to the ad's pure production quality, it caused me to think and possibly contributed to my turning off the faucet while brushing my teeth this morning. One thing I know for sure: the spot is an example of work exceeding bottom-line expectations (sell Hybrids) and maybe doing some good (make sure the fridge door is closed). Truly good work.

I'd also place Kenneth Cole's "There's always room for change" campaign in the "good work" category.

"Change" not only sets a social agenda and places Kenneth Cole squarely in the "brand activism" category (think United Colors of Benetton), but the campaign takes a risk to (GASP) state that there are more important things in life than fashion. Uh oh. Who let that slip through board room? Someone who understands the power good work has on a brand.

A hybrid car and a clothing line, as products, do not have much in common. Comparing the two ads seems equally futile. I will freely admit that there'd be more options to create good work with the Accord Hybrid than a sweater. However, the Honda and Kenneth Cole advertisements produce similar outcomes and are catalysts for change among an audience that is conditioned to accept and enjoy bottom-line-satisfying ads.

Comparing the two campaigns proves that no matter what brand you are charged with growing, the only barrier that keeps that brand from embodying good work is the person in front of the computer screen.

That said, I haven't completely settled into my world of idealism and ignorance. The bottom line can be the toughest creative director, editor and client. Because of this reality, as professional communicators, it's our job to make a case for good work.

Spread your story or become irrelevant

I was just reminded of Seth Godin's blog (http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/), after Hugh Macleod mentioned Godin's new book, "All Marketers are Liars." I was further intrigued by the highlighting of one sentence on the book's first page: "Either you're going to tell stories that spread, or you'll become irrelevant."

As someone who pitches stories to the media, I heeded this warning. Moreover, I realized there is merit in applying a similar theory to the way I work with the media: Am I trying to spread a story or place a story?

Monday, March 21, 2005

Here we go

Well, it's done. The thinking, the debating, the drafting and the bet against myself that I won't start a blog. Should I write about the amount of trash my neighbor produces in a week? I can. I also can write about my dog, Monk, and many people would enjoy that. I may include both topics at a given time, but this blog is about communicating. Woolard Speak. It's about how I see the world and the way the world communicates. I know about a couple industries and I'll talk about those. I know about some topics and I'll address them.

Most importantly, I'll provide comments that I stand behind relating to public relations, trends, the way people talk to other people and how we can change our tones.

I promise to you, reader, that I will not lie, embellish (to harm - to humor is fair game), misrepresent (people I like), or post meaningless crap for the sake of posting. I will welcome your responses and encourage lively discussion.

My posts will be regular. If a long, post-free period develops, I simply don't have anything to say, or I've moved to Japan to plant rice (not ruling this out). I promise that I'll refer to greater minds than mine and provide thoughts that might strike a chord and maybe make a few people happier, more enlightened and better looking.

I invite you to be a part of this dialogue.