Archive for April, 2007

Finally, a Ford that’s #1 in Canada

Yes, good guys do finish first. Some over and over again. Ray Ford’s journalism career has been a bit unorthodox, not only by its route, but by his level of success.

Most locals just south of North Bay know Ray as a sheep farmer and volunteer firefighter. But as today’s Globe and Mail refers to him, he’s “veteran Powassan, ON freelancer Ray Ford” who earned the most nominations of any single nominee for country’s prestigious National Magazine Awards. That’s more than any writer for Macleans, more than any writer for Canadian Business, or Walrus, or Toronto Life, or…

Ray scored four nominations in three magazines (Small Farm Canada, On Nature and Cottage Life), continuing a long string of annual nominations in these and other publications such as Harrowsmith and Canadian Geographic.

Ray has a prose and unassuming style that makes you feel like you’re having an interesting conversation with a friend. Who would have guessed a nice Burlington farmboy, who cut his teeth working at the Windsor Star in Canada’s tomato capital (Leamington), would go on to be a successful farmer and journalist, and was recently granted his own listing in Who’s Who in Canada directory?

Unfortunately, it’s all for nought: he’s still a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. Such talent wasted…

Congrats Ray.

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Shifting IT media landscape in Canada

It’s a sad day when another publication bites the dust in Canada. ITBusiness.ca, formerly Plesman Publications and one of two longstanding IT publishing houses, was purchased earlier this year by rival ITWorld Canada. As part of the consolidation, several publications from IT Business have been folded in or simply folded, including one of the patriarchs of Canadian technology trade papers, Computing Canada.

The two competing IT publishing groups had apparently discussed merging at various points for the past several years, after the tech bubble burst, but a takeover/merger never materialized. Transcontinental, owners of ITBusiness, finally said yes to the last proposal, as part of its divestiture of several properties.

I’ve never been a fan of media consolidation, but I’m heartened by the editorial leadership at ITWorld Canada. Dan Mclean, publisher of all the pubs offline(ComputerWorld Canada, NetworkWorld Canada, CIO Canada) and online (ITWorldCanada.com), is one of the most respected IT journalists and former analysts in the country, and is increasingly wrapping his head around the business of running trade pubs. He has good instincts, good judgement and is building a mixed roster of green and experienced staff.

At a meeting with Cohn & Wolfe consultants in Toronto last week, Dan provided some insights to the changes, including ITBusiness.ca continuing to operate, at least for the foreseeable future.

Will a single IT trade house have too much influence in Canada, both from an editorial and advertising perspective? Dan promises not to act like the monopoly his publications largely enjoy (though inside ad sales reps must be licking their chops…).

We’ll hold him to that… 🙂

As the tech industry continues to emerge from its post-bubble hangover, more mainstream Canadian business pubs may see tech as an opportunity (i.e. ad dollars), which is good for tech journalism. Specialty pubs like the the Globe and Mail’s TQ (Tech Quarterly) is just one example.

Same ol’ same ol’: PR has a PR problem

Whatever your political view on the war in Iraq, no one can dispute the critical role that public relations has played in the initial justification and ongoing need for military presence in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, the reputation of PR is being dragged down with the Bush administration’s struggles in the Iraqi war. The latest involves high-profile stories of combat heroism that have been debunked, not by an inquisitive media, but by those involved or their families. Jessica Lynch’s story of a brave female soldier unloading her last bullets in a firefight before being dramatically rescued by U.S. forces has turned out be nothing more than Hollywood-like storytelling by the U.S. military (and suspicions of higher White House involvement). The second is former NFL star Pat Tillman, who was killed accidentally by his fellow soldiers, and not by Iraqis, as the military reported publicly and to the family for months. Panel Hears About Falsehoods in 2 Wartime Incidents – New York Times

If PR was a brand, its tagline would be “spin” instead of “communication” in today’s environment. Worse, governments and military have taken to outright lying in the name of public relations. Truthiness would be funnier if it wasn’t so true and damaging. PR is increasingly having the bell hung around its neck, and it emboldens critics who characterize PR professionals and their efforts as sleazy and dishonorable.

On the flipside, this also gives credence to those calling for the PR industry to formally raise its level of professionalism through a certification process — not unlike accountants or engineers, — with organizational penalties and standards that go beyond the accreditation process currently available through national/international organizations like CPRS and IABC.

ISO 9000 anyone?

Scrap the Internet? Heresy or enlightened vision?

Alarmist headlines greeted many people over the weekend, describing a research-based movement that would see the existing Internet turfed. In fact, major U.S. universities, as well as research think tanks in the U.S. (the National Science Foundation’s GENI project) and Europe (FIRE initiative), are already moving down the path of creating a “new” Internet.

The premise is that the Internet has evolved into a different animal than researchers originally conceived when trying to establish a secure communications network for the U.S. military. (I guess the Star Wars boy clip, relentless charitable appeals to help the Nigerian monarchy and the proliferation of kiddie-porn was not what they intended…).

So where do we go from here? It’s likely that multiple layers will emerge, including digital communications and content, commercial and academic, real and virtual. The notion of “the Internet” needs rethinking on a couple of levels, such as what it really describes. 

Do you consider VoIP, IPTV, etc. part of the Internet? Is it parallel or part of it? How, where and when you watch or listen or participate online (with traditional video and music, voting, gambling, etc.) is evolving, but will that be part of “the Internet?”

Web 2.0’s virtual worlds and social networks could conceivably operate outside a more resource-based (i.e. global e-library) network, no? And what about the pipes? Do you build a new network, with no commercial applications or access? Will governments, anxious to learn and capture more and more intelligence in a post-9/11 world, want more (unfettered?) access to the electronic highways and the people and information traveling across them?

Letting government and commerce take the lead on the next/new/parallel Internet seems a little risky. The web has flourished because its arguably been a grassroots movement. This project is the ultimate “stay tuned…”

Balsillie’s private guide to good business

RIM’s Jim Balsillie wasn’t the most polished of speaker I’ve seen. He’s a bit stream of consciousness, a tad distracted. But when Canada’s most successful co-CEO takes the stage, people listen.

So it was at the Tech Exec ’07 dinner in Waterloo, billed as “an exclusive event for CEOs and tech leaders from across Canada,” since the executive committee of ITAC was also in attendance, including the most senior poobahs of powerhouses like Intel, Cisco, HP, Nortel, SAP, Softchoice and others. (The event was organized by Communitech, Waterloo’s hyper-active and hyperactive regional technology association. Check out their list of events.)

Balsillie took the stage and, including a Q&A session, pontificated on everything from RIM’s opportunities in China to his business philosophy on competition to why he won’t backcheck in charity hockey games. The high points:

Distractions are the bane of business. Businesses, and individuals, get too caught up on the what ifs and “scenario-izing” about what could happen, instead of focusing on and executing the plan and strategy at hand. Live and work in the moment and the future will take care of itself.

95 per cent of good business boils down to having the best information, and making decisions based on that information. Information is also key to selling. Customers are more receptive when you provide them all the information necessary to make their decision.

On that note, Balsillie is flabbergasted at the lack of diligence or even “smarts” that major companies and executives employ. He noted one major global carrier that is excited about mobile VoIP, yet began scratching their heads when he probed them on their business model. Balsillie said the data requirements for VoIP are so high, that while carriers believe they can charge more for VoIP service, it wouldn’t make up for the bandwidth performance slowdowns or network upgrades the carriers would be required to undertake. In his simplified form, he likened it to the carriers traditionally charging $1 per car for the Highway 407 toll road, but then realizing they could charge some cars $2. Only problem is that those new cars are six lanes wide and essentially eliminate five other cars that would have collectively paid $5.  “No one bothers to do the math. It’s unbelievable.”

China is a greenfield with tons of opportunities and RIM is actively engaged in the market. The lack of a true free market and Chinese government involvement is a manageable nuance he said. RIM’s advantage is its early foothold in China through its existing North American customer base. North America companies are deploying Blackberries in their China operations, so the demand is already there. That install base also provides a working beta test before RIM starts pushing outward.

And yes, he’s still got his eye on a couple of NHL teams. And no, he won’t say who they are. (RIM releases its latest financial results later today.)

All told, very entertaining. Many thanks to Lynda Leonard, senior VP of communications at ITAC, for the invite to the dinner.

Bold ad agency admission: “We scammed our clients”

In so many words, Element 79, a US ad agency, admits to scamming its clients to get their business. But the clients admit they were aware and are happy with the agency’s service.

The story, in today’s online Ad Age, describes how Element 79 announced a new sports marketing division and won highly prized accounts such as the NHL and U.S. Soccer Federation, yet had only added three new staff members and little new experience to their agency.

Less surprise about this agency’s tactic — it leveraged its experience with existing client Gatorade — than with the admission of the new clients who knew about the agency’s relative window-dressing approach to marketing a new sports division.

 PR agencies have frequently tried the same, some with success but most without. When the rubber meets the road, smart clients (hopefully) can gauge whether an agency’s expertise and experience lives up to the hype of its own marketing.

And so it begins…

Every journey starts with a first step. Let’s see where this one goes.