February 25, 2011

Bill C28 Discussed

We’ve been watching Bill C28 creep through parliament and for the most part I would encourage clients to consider it a good thing.  Not only will it bring clarity to the practice of newsletter and marketing communications, the hope is that in time, email as a channel will become more effective as less spam ends up in customers’ in boxes. Furthermore, clients adhering to email best practices ( PIPEDA or CAN-SPAM ) will already by in compliance with the new law.  As for the bill itself …

Bill C-28 targets the sending of what we would typically call spam, or unwanted commercial email, as well as spyware and phishing. It also gives a private right of action, which allows anyone to take civil action against violators. Finally, under FISA, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) and Competition Bureau would be able to impose monetary penalties of $750,000 to $1 million per violation for individuals, and $10 million to $15 million for businesses.  < http://www.lawsof.com/page/New-Anti-Spam-Bill-in-Canada.html >

For those not following the debate, the bill, tagged as the Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam Act, has been criticized as being overly broad in that the definition of what constitutes an unwanted commercial communication could be interpreted to encompass what might be otherwise considered as normal business practice (single emails for instance).

When passed into law, electronic messages, more narrowly defined as “a message sent by any means of telecommunication, including a text, sound, voice or image message” will be subject to explicit and demonstrable consent provisions, or clearly defined rules governing pre-existing relationships.

This has lead to fear that a business can face prosecution or civil action for what would otherwise seem an innocuous communique (an unsolicited letter of introduction by a sales agent for instance).  It`s  important to note that it`s a fear NOT shared by the industry, who have confidence that by final reading the ambiguities will be cleansed.

In the meantime, I`ve attached below the draft clauses governing to whom commercial emails can be sent safely.  Any questions or clarifications can be addressed to myself at the contact info below.

Existing Business Relationship

(10) In subsection (9), “existing business relationship” means a business relationship between the person to whom the message is sent and any of the other persons referred to in that subsection — that is, any person who sent or caused or permitted to be sent the message — arising from

(a) the purchase or lease of a product, goods, a service, land or an interest or right in land, within the two-year period immediately before the day on which the message was sent, by the person to whom the message is sent from any of those other persons;

(b) the acceptance by the person to whom the message is sent, within the period referred to in paragraph (a), of a business, investment or gaming opportunity offered by any of those other persons;

(c) the bartering of anything mentioned in paragraph (a) between the person to whom the message is sent and any of those other persons within the period referred to in that paragraph;

(d) a written contract entered into between the person to whom the message is sent and any of those other persons in respect of a matter not referred to in any of paragraphs (a) to (c), if the contract is currently in existence or expired within the period referred to in paragraph (a); or

(e) an inquiry or application, within the six-month period immediately before the day on which the message was sent, made by the person to whom the message is sent to any of those other persons, in respect of anything mentioned in any of paragraphs (a) to (c).

Existing Non-Business Relationship

13) In subsection (9), “existing non-business relationship” means a non-business relationship between the person to whom the message is sent and any of the other persons referred to in that subsection — that is, any person who sent or caused or permitted to be sent the message — arising from

(a) a donation or gift made by the person to whom the message is sent to any of those other persons within the two-year period immediately before the day on which the message was sent, where that other person is a registered charity as defined in subsection 248(1) of the Income Tax Act, a political party or organization, or a person who is a candidate — as defined in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature of a province — for publicly elected office;

(b) volunteer work performed by the person to whom the message is sent for any of those other persons, or attendance at a meeting organized by that other person, within the two-year period immediately before the day on which the message was sent, where that other person is a registered charity as defined in subsection 248(1) of the Income Tax Act, a political party or organization or a person who is a candidate — as defined in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature of a province — for publicly elected office; or

(c) membership, as defined in the regulations, by the person to whom the message is sent, in any of those other persons, within the two-year period immediately before the day on which the message was sent, where that other person is a club, association or voluntary organization, as defined in the regulations.

Trevor Paetkau
Direct of Client Services


February 18, 2011

Plumped Promises, The Hollowed Downtown

We’ve been arguing for years that brands are repositories of nothing.
A decade ago Naomi Klein articulated the idea that producing goods was only an incidental part of a brand’s operations …

… what these companies produced primarily were not things, but images of their brands.  Their real work lay not in manufacturing but in marketing.

In the decade since, this truth has become more starkly evident.  All one needs to do is look to the developing world’s rate of economic growth relatively to our own to see what’s happening.  Very little remains that isn’t outsourced by the companies that sell to western consumers.  Things are made elsewhere. Period. Our consumer brands are hollow; all skin wrapped around a story; they are nothing but narrative.

But what rich narratives they are. So rich in fact, that as consumers we revel in them. Brand ascendancy is assumed (please argue this, prove otherwise). Brand theory has been applied wholesale to corporate, government and social initiatives alike. As marketers we’ve evolved to the point where we now proclaim that even the smallest mom and pop law firm, the most modest start-up, every social entrepreneur, each municipal agency, each and every person in fact, NEEDS a brand.

Which is bullshit.
And which leads to the point of this article and to a quandary.

If the highest expression of brand is the narrative and not the service or product attached to it, what do our hollowing-out rural cities do?

Yes, it’s a leading question in that it assumes that our rural towns and cities ARE hollowing out.  That said, I don’t know how much disagreement there is.  Here in Stratford, our market square is comprised of one shuttered storefront after another.  Far from new businesses moving downtown; the norm is the opposite.  Far from resources being dedicated to the re-generation of the city centre, fights continue against the erection of the inevitable Walmart on the road into town. And the same is true up and down our highways.

City councils, BIAs and Chambers of Commerce are as cognizant as anybody about what’s happening. The truth is well evident in the strategic reports and RFPs that cross our desk every week; our cities’ guardians are looking for ways to package and promote (in other words brand ) themselves and services.

And down the road they go …
The ground is littered thick with brand agents, consultants and content packagers, all of whom share the common conviction that brand is not only necessary but good; all of whom will properly talk to city councils about authenticity, their brand promise and consumer experience as the cornerstones of a successful narrative.

“If you tell a story about your t0wn, that is authentic (truthful) and resonates with your audience (market), success will follow.”

Fine and dandy, but more bullshit.

Instead, take the rising number of rural cities across south western Ontario where the retail strip has been abandoned to the box stores 30 miles down the road, where manufacturing interests have absconded to Mexico and South East Asia, where health care facilities have been centralized in a town 15 minutes away and no new families have moved into town for a decade. What pray tell is the brand promise? Where is the authentic narrative?

Eighteen months ago, the BIA in a town just down the highway from us released an RFP for a marketing strategy that would address their hollowing out retail district.  The bid was won by a local marketing consultant who know doubt did a smash-job recommending a set of key messages, channel and resource planning, along with sophisticated audience audits. Today the town is as hollow as ever.

In the last six months we’ve seen the strategic reports commissioned by towns across the region come back with curious similarities; one of which is that they engage in a process of attracting Richard Florida’s creative class.  As recent arrival in one of these small cities, I’m all in favour of the initiative.  As  a long time resident of the nation’s biggest city, I know damn well that crafting an authentic message that will attract the creative class is a pipe dream.

The question therefore becomes how you market something that, in its current state, is probably unmarketable. One answer is to emulate successful brands entirely and make your entire community 100% subservient to your brand.  Resort communities do this all the time; Whistler for instance, is as much an idea adopted by audiences (internal and external), and played out accordingly, in every decision made by the city itself … it MADE itself from nothing (well, a garbage dump actually).

Another idea is to ditch the idea of brand altogether.  Forget about creating a narrative about something that demonstrably nobody wants to buy. Save your money. Celebrate yourselves; your artisans and the industry that is intact. Play cards at the kitchen tables and in the pubs. Be who you are internally. Don’t look for outside validation. Be your own skin because if there’s one thing we know, those that live comfortably in themselves are those that we’re drawn to.

Or, pony up.
Put your money where your mouth is.
Stratford is instructive that way.  Already $90,000,000 in debt (gulp, for a town of 35,000) the city builders have invested $10s of millions more into a University Campus, focused on Digital Technologies, a communications infrastructure, and the consequential spinoffs. The result is international attention from foundations and academic institutions worldwide.

The thing is, it didn’t start with a branding project.  Only after the investment was made is the story being told.  And only because the investment was made is the story authentic. And probably most to the point, the initiative was not about brand at all …

Which is perhaps most to the point.

Far from taking the experience of brand success as instructive, our city builders should remain wary of  the processes and promises.  The truth is, if there is a compelling reason for people to choose our towns as a place to live, work and be entertained, they will.  On the other hand, no amount of market research, no big number of ads, billboards or social media pages will convince somebody otherwise if there isn’t something REAL on the ground; a reason …


February 18, 2011

No Logo, Revisited

The concept has been batted around for decades and seems to be settling finally into ubiquity. It’s interesting to re-read Klein’s No Logo and her certainty of brand lash back.

Ten years ago it was obvious;  culture jamming was on the lips of the cultural cognoscenti, Adbusters was in its ascendency, and the anti-globalism movement was in full swing.

Today, I don’t see it. Not in the same way.  What was purported at the time was that the anti-brand movements would result in an alternative anti-brand option. If we take the implied assertion that the opposite of brand was a pure unpackaged product; rice for instance in a barrel meted out by a store keeper into plain burlap bags; or in today’s context, a social network more akin to Craigs List than Facebook; then we can see the failure in the movement; the alternative option is dead, there is very little “non-brand” left.

Instead, the anti-brand proponents have adopted the brand ideals hook line and sinker. Brand theory is wrapped around their own movements.  Think for instance how the “localization” movement is now packaged as a “100 Mile Diet” or “Transition Town.”  At the moment, roughly half the job postings at the Foundation for Rural Living are for communications related positions.  Think about the Black Spot campaign (an antibrand yes, but still a brand by all traditional measures).

Recently, I don’t recall the source (hmmm), a christmas charity was outed for creating fictional families that they’d post to their giving tree, the idea being that these fake families were more conducive to creating the types of empathy required for soliciting donations than the real families might have been. Locally (Stratford ON) we have thinkers working on the idea that corporations will profit from transparencies of provenance.  Transparency becomes a brand idea in and of itself. Brilliant. But still a “brand” idea.  Transparency becomes something an organization can package and promote (which leads in the best sense to accountability, or,in the more likely case to brands like American Apparel; transparent yes, an asset to the nation … hm?)

I’d argue that far from struggling against the brand “idea”, our reactionaries seems to be adopting it wholesale and using it for their own purposes.  Which might fine.  Might. Brand is a powerful form of narrative,  and if one there’s one thing we know from our evolutionary history, humans are susceptible to narrative and there’s absolutely no reason why our social movements, our social entrepreneurs, and our social agencies shouldn’t avail themselves of this tool.

That said, the questions that were once being asked by purists: “should we adopt the brand idea” and “at what cost” no longer seem current, something I’d argue, is to our their (and our) detriment.  The issue is not whether we can use brand narratives to influence behaviours; we clearly know that we can.  Rather, the issue is by accepting the ubiquity of brand narratives, do we turn citizens to wholesale consumers (shoot me now) of CSAs, Transition Towns and their ilk, and by turning citizens into consumers do we then make them susceptible to more powerful narratives?

The truth is, that even by selling good, we inculcate citizens with the capacity to be sold. Anything.

There will always be another more compelling story lurking around the corner and once we’ve allowed ourselves to be influenced by narrative in general, we can’t help but be influenced when a more powerful comes along.  A zeitgeist exists. The ghost of the times is. It’s there to be harnessed.  And, it’s being harnessed more and more effectively by social agencies and corporations alike.  The frightening thing (if you subscribe to the notion that it has power) is that the corporations mostly have more will and mostly have more resources.

As wonderful as it would be to believe that, as citizens, we have the autonomy to make decisions based on the answer to a simple “in the service of which master” question, our behaviours indicate otherwise. Far too often common good is subjected to corporate good or individual good.

As Director of Strategy for Sling, this leaves me incredibly ambivalent.  We know we have the power to influence behaviours.  We know that the only way not to be influenced by powerful narratives is to encourage independence from the influence they encourage. Yet, my job is to use narrative to influence behaviours.

It’s a paralyzing thought.


December 1, 2010

Sling Creative Delivers Transition Strategy

In early 2011, Town & Country Support Services, Midwestern Adult Day Services, and Stratford Meals On Wheels and Neighbourly Services are amalgamating as One Care Home and Community Support Services .

The three originating agencies have been a part of their communities for approximately 40 years. During that time, they’ve laid deep roots, built significant community value, and have earned substantial good will.  As such, it’s incumbent on One Care that that their narratives be respected and transferred to the new agency with as much care and sensitivity as possible.  A sudden disappearance of the originating agencies without the attendant transference of loyalty and goodwill would signify a real loss for many constituents, along with a loss of opportunity for One Care itself.

To that end, One Care retained Trevor Paetkau,  Sling Creative’s Director of Client Services to author a communication’s strategy that would ensure that:

a/ all constituent audiences emerge from the amalgamation with a clear understanding of the new agency;
b/ the good will attached to the originating partners be transferred to the new agency;
c/ the new agency is properly positioned to take advantage of the awareness gained by its audiences through the amalgamation process.

As a consequence of Trevor Paetkau’s report, One Care and its founding agencies are now in the exciting position of creating a brand new story.  From a communications perspective, the next 6 months will lay down a foundation upon which a future narrative will be written.  The messaging and visual identity chosen will inform how audiences perceive the organization not just in the moment, but a generation from now.


November 23, 2010

More to Offer, More to Give

On November 23rd, One Care’s board unanimously approved Sling Creative’s key messaging recommendations.

During our consultations we were presented with two primary messages.  The first, from volunteers, was the perception that through their volunteer efforts they belonged to something larger than themselves and the people they were helping.  Emotive words like “hugs, laughter, celebration, relationships, family and community” were at the core of their responses. Staff, on the other hand, were less likely to engage in emotive language and were more likely to speak of the services offered and efficiencies to be gained by the amalgamation.

This set up a recognizable tension between the language spoken by the organization and that of the community it soughtto engage.  It became evident that the service providers and recipients of the service (clients and volunteers) were speaking different languages and if the messaging were to speak to both audiences we would need to develop a framework / brand statement that could be specific OR emotive as required, AND hopefully both at the same time.  Supported by Sling Creative’s Strategic Director, Trevor Paetkau, branding lead, David Hicks developed two solutions, one of which quickly became the favoured choice:


On the left hand, MORE TO OFFER, allows us to speak to WHAT the capacity of the new organization is.  On the right hand, MORE TO GIVE, speaks to HOW the organization delivers services.

In the transitional period, the MORE TO OFFER, MORE TO GIVE signals a change.  It acknowledges that there was a past and focuses on the idea that there is much to be gained.  At the same time, it’s a positive statement; we infer from it that those things we valued in the past will remain, while stating at the same time that there is more … on one hand a greater array of services, on the other hand, more heart, more caring  …

As ONE CARE emerges from the transition, MORE TO OFFER, MORE TO GIVE will reference the organization’s competitive differentiation.  Recruiting campaigns, fund-raising initiatives, and public awareness campaigns anchored in the message start from a position of strength.  While the following suggestions are somewhat clumsy and would benefit greatly from the services of a good copywriter, the inferences should be clear:

Work for ONE CARE, we have MORE TO OFFER
ONE CARE’s staff have MORE TO GIVE
Support ONE CARE with your donation, we have MORE TO OFFER, MORE TO GIVE
Trust us with your father’s care, we always have MORE TO GIVE
If you have MORE TO GIVE, volunteer with us; we have MORE TO OFFER
Refer your patients to ONE CARE, we have MORE TO OFFER

As well as having the flexibility to address a variety of messaging needs, the slogan works equally well across all media.  Branded radio spots, display booths, brochures, direct response mail campaigns, email signature etc … can all comfortably include the tag.


September 4, 2010

Learning Hub Goes Live

When retained to develop the online platform for Ontario’s adult literacy initiative, Sling Creative’s Director of Technical Services knew it was going to be a big job.  And it was. Countless hours of planning, design, coding, editing and client consultation came to fruition this weekend as Sling Creative turned on the lights to The Learning Hub and it went live.

“The LearningHUB delivers online Literacy & Basic Skills upgrading to the province of Ontario through flexible learning options. The platform is available to adult learners who prefer to learn using technology in a supported classroom environment and designed for those who are unable to attend face to face upgrading due to personal barriers such as scheduling, transportation, childcare or personal preference.”

The Learning Hub

Ultimately, Keith Waldron delivered a platform with a robust administrative backend complete with a sophisticated Sitefinity customization.  Scheduling, user management, and course management modules drive a sophisticated interface that allows students and practitioners alike a effective efficient, and thanks to Sling Creative Director Ron Bernard, an attractive user experience.


March 21, 2010

Ron Bernard Delivers Market Square Identity

Sling Creative Receives Approval from Stratford Market Square Steering Committee for New Identity

The Market Square initiative took another step forward last week with the steering committee’s approve for Sling Creative Director Ron Bernard’s visual identity.  The tree, signifying a meeting place, was derived from the community’s clear expression that the Square is a place for people to gather. During our consultations the two things we heard over and over again that what people wanted was a civic heart for Stratford’s downtown.  This logo is Ron Bernard’s representation of those hopes.

“The most interesting part of the design,” Bernard points out, “is the triangle in the middle of the tree.  It’s not obvious at first, but when you do  see it, you’ll notice it reflects the shape of the square itself.”

This was an exciting project,”  Bernard continues, ” of the type we like to be involved with. Not just because of the challenges it presents, but because it impacts our community directly.  I live two blocks from the redevelopment site. I WANT it to be successful. I want to be able to walk out my front door into a revitalized Stratford downtown.  The fact that I have a part in making it happen is icing on the cake.”


January 24, 2010

Sling Contributes to Mayor’s Gala Success

Working pro bono, Sling Creative’s Ron Bernard and Trevor Paetkau contributed respectively their design chops and media guidance to the Stratford Perth County Community Foundation’s inaugural fundraising event, The Mayor’s Gala.

The event supports the operating budget Stratford and Perth County Community Foundation. Given that most of the dollars the Community Foundation raises go directly into endowed funds. The income from these funds is returned to the community through grants to local charities. The Mayor’s Gala is an important source of operating dollars, crucial for the administration of existing endowments, the building of additional community investments, the management of our annual granting program and the services we provide to partners and charities.

We’re proud to say that results far exceeded expectations!  We’re chuffed to have been a part of it! Way to go SPCCF!