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Scrabulous and social media – Triple-word score!

Copyright infringement or golden opportunity?

I’d say the latter if you’re Hasbro and Mattel, the North American and worldwide distributors (respectively) of the Scrabble board game. They’ve been lawyer-rattling for several months with the developers of Scrabulous, the popular Facebook application that boasts more than three-million registered users. Last week, RealNetworks, which owns the e-rights to Scrabble, quietly launched its own version.

Marketing Magazine published an article for its Insight page, quoting yours truly, on the PR aspects of the issue. I’m no lawyer (and I haven’t played one on TV), but my take was that the marketing and PR opportunity to build on the Scrabulous success should not be dismissed simply because of the perceived copyright infringement. Organizations should protect their brand at every turn, but Hasbro and Mattel should also consider the power and influence of Facebook, social media and the Internet — and carpe diem. Hasbro has the chance to make either three-million friend or three-million enemies.


Top marketing bloggers get introspective

More debate over who owns social media and what role it plays in marketing. A panel of top marketing bloggers from Ad Age’s Power 150 network hashed out how blogging fits into the marketing mix. Lots of discussion on building loyalty through blogging and social media and the issue of its relative impact compared to traditional media buys. In other words, what’s more impactful to a brand or organization: five million clickthroughs of a banner ad, or 50 blogging sites creating conversations about your product/service? On the issue of the flood of marketing content, including blogs, I thought this was an interesting exchange:

AD AGE EDITOR JONAH BLOOM: You made a very good point: Do we need more content? Or do we need something that’s actually more useful for their consumers?

GEOFF LIVINGSTON (Livingstonbuzz): Think about Harley Davidson. I don’t want to see a Harley Davidson blog. But maybe I would like to get into a contest to take a photograph of my sweet, customized Harley, and win a contest to be February in a Harley Davidson calendar, and then buy the calendar. I don’t want to read some crap blog about how they are going to re-engineer their rubber. … It’s about engaging people, not just publishing.

It’s a reminder that blogging done poorly is simply a one-way monologue. Conversations and participation is what builds customer engagement and ultimate loyalty.

Back after a self-imposed hiatus…

Time to get back on the horse.

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.

Shifting IT media landscape in Canada

It’s a sad day when another publication bites the dust in Canada., 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 (, 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 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…”