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Archive for November, 2007

Overheard today on Buzznet:

“You’re not really free when all you can do is stay in one place and look.”


I know a lot of people who choose to live like this.

Life’s way too short to waste so much of it waiting for something to happen. Go start something.

Wisdom and image by clo

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Sybil Stershic – of Quality Service Marketing sent me this killer little book, and I dig it. (She wrote it, by the way, which is probably why it is so good.)

Taking Care of the People Who Matter Most is a 130-page pocket guide for managers that basically covers the WHAT, WHY and HOW of building a strong internal marketing practice geared towards engaging not only your employees, but your customers as well. (It’s an ad hoc thing.)

Remember my wheel of customer service and brand identity doom? This is the same thing, but told from the positive side of the fence.

The book easily connects the dots when it comes to the positive cycle that links good employee morale to great customer experiences (and back again) and serves as a HOW TO guide to get things moving in that direction. It is brilliant in its simplicity and clarity. I am going to fish some cash out of my budget and look into scoring a dozen or so copies for manager peers who have an impact on my organization.

I read the book cover to cover in just a few hours and recommend it to anyone currently in a management role or studying to get there. This is one of those pocket management books everyone should own.

Have a great Thursday, everyone. :)

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The super cool graphics you guys missed yesterday are back up.

Blogspot ate them. I revived them. That’s how I roll.

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I am always amazed when well-funded and intelligently managed militant organizations on either side of the political, religious, corporate or socioeconomic aisle attempt to thwart the success of a movie, song, book or work of art by giving it more free publicity than it could have ever hoped for… and by doing so, end up ensuring its success.

Where would Madonna be without the legion of pro-family boycotters banding against her? How many of us would have ever heard of the Chocolate Jesus without the noise made by the folks who were so offended by that otherwise insignificant piece of art that they had to tell all the world about it? It goes on and on and on.

The latest installment in the boycott-to-fame saga: The Catholic League vs. New Line’s The Golden Compass. Here is the CL’s official stance on the matter (from their website):

“New Line Cinema and Scholastic Entertainment have paired to produce ‘The Golden Compass,’ a children’s fantasy that is based on the first book of a trilogy by militant English atheist Philip Pullman. The trilogy, His Dark Materials, was written to promote atheism and denigrate Christianity, especially Roman Catholicism. The target audience is children and adolescents. Each book becomes progressively more aggressive in its denigration of Christianity and promotion of atheism: The Subtle Knife is more provocative than The Golden Compass and The Amber Spyglass is the most in-your-face assault on Christian sensibilities of the three volumes.

“Atheism for kids. That is what Philip Pullman sells. It is his hope that ‘The Golden Compass,’ which stars Nicole Kidman and opens December 7, will entice parents to buy his trilogy as a Christmas gift. It is our hope that the film fails to meet box office expectations and that his books attract few buyers. We are doing much more than hoping—we are conducting a nationwide two-month protest of Pullman’s work and the film. To that end, we have prepared a booklet, ‘The Golden Compass: Agenda Unmasked,’ that tears the mask off the movie.

“It is not our position that the movie will strike Christian parents as troubling. Then why the protest? Even though the film is based on the least offensive of the three books, and even though it is clear that the producers are watering down the most despicable elements—so as to make money and not anger Christians—the fact remains that the movie is bait for the books. To be specific, if unsuspecting Christian parents take their children to see the movie, they may very well find it engaging and then buy Pullman’s books for Christmas. That’s the problem.

“We are fighting a deceitful stealth campaign on the part of the film’s producers. Our goal is to educate Christians so that they know exactly what the film’s pernicious agenda really is.”
Oh please.

Being that I am Catholic myself (hey, nobody’s perfect) I am being bombarded by some of my peers and local Catholic organizations with pro-Catholic/anti-Golden Compass propaganda every single day. That is all these people are talking about. I am getting emails, newsletters, petitions… Seriously. It’s getting old.

As if there weren’t enough other things that the Catholic League could be focusing its attention on – like war, famine, child abuse, corporate fraud, violence against women, poverty, out-of-control Sith lords, whatever the hell is going on with Michael Jackson’s nose… or the Devil, even. He’s still around, right? Causing all sorts of mischief and whatnot? Wouldn’t any of these things be worthier of the Catholic League’s energy and focus than New Line’s release of The Golden Compass?


You would think.

But I digress.

If the Catholic League is really bent on thwarting the success of The Golden Compass‘ release in the US, they are going about it in the worst possible way. Let me explain:

Before Bill Donohue and his army of politically charged minions (none of whom have seen the movie, by the way) decided to start this gi-normous publicity campaign for… err… against The Golden Compass, I wasn’t all that interested in the movie or the books. I figured “oh, this must be another C.S. Lewis Chronicles of Narnia/Harry Potter/Eragon/Lord of the Rings derivative dealio. Whatever.”

I might have been convinced by the family unit to go spend $10 to see it on the big screen, but that would have been it.

Maybe.

But now, thanks to the Catholic League’s unavoidable barrage of warnings against the story’s allegedly venomous anti-Catholic message and pernicious atheist agenda, I have grown curious about not only the movie… but the books as well. I mean really. How dangerous can this fictional yarn be to stir militant Catholics so?

CL President Bill Donohue should feel pretty proud of himself: Thanks to the holy media blitzkrieg he has unleashed upon the United States population, I am now the proud owner of all three books in the trilogy, and have officially started reading The Golden Compass. (It’s actually pretty damn good, and not at all a children’s book – not in the sense that Harry Potter is a children’s book anyway.)

Apparently, I am not alone, as three other parents (accompanied by kids ages 6-15) were in my local B&N’s checkout line to buy at least one of the books this past Sunday when I was there.

I look forward to thumbing my nose at the picket lines protesting the movie at the local multiplex next week when I go see it.

(Please don’t excommunicate me! Pretty please?)

The result of the Catholic League’s brouhaha/boycott/bonehead campaign:

- More attention towards the movie’s release than a two-week volley of primetime TV ads and judiciously placed banner ads – all for free.
- More interest in the source material (the book) that the movie is based on.
- Most likely a significant boost in revenue for both the movie and books compared to a scenario in which the Catholic League had just kept its big clumsy mouth shut.
- And last but not least, a renewed personal interest in the very tasty Nicole Kidman.

(Yes Madam Kidman.)

For an organization so terrified of a series of books that (in its collective mind at least) criticizes the Catholic Church through a fictitious religious dictatorship that exists in an alternate dimension, I just can’t help but wonder if constantly pointing out to every human being within reach of a radio, TV or newspaper that the books’ depiction of that scheming, corrupt, evil theocracy is in fact a direct attack on the Vatican is a good idea. Seems to me that in terms of PR, this sort of strategy actually makes things worse. Not only does it establish a clear link between the fictitious Magisterium and the real Catholic Church, but also firmly cements this connection in western pop culture for the next century or two.

Doh!!!

I could be wrong, but a smarter course of action – if my goal were to try and distance the real Catholic Church’s image from the fictitious Magisterium’s evil ways – would have simply been to say something like: “The books are fiction. They are set in a fantasy world of alternate realities populated by magical creatures and talking bears. The Magisterium obviously has little in common with the Catholic Church or any Catholic institutions: We don’t torture children. Our priests don’t own pet monkeys. You aren’t likely to find Nicole Kidman lookalikes running any Catholic after-school programs. What else is there to say?”

Boycott fantasies aside, making a mountain out of a molehill does exactly that: It takes a tiny little molehill no one cared about and turns it into a mountain no one can miss.

If I were New Line Cinema, I would be writing Bill Donohue and his organization a big fat thank-you check for all the free publicity. (Well… not exactly free. The Catholic League’s 23-page anti-Gold Compass booklet is available for just $5. Hmmm…. The plot thickens.)

As for the rest of you, next time you find yourself wanting to boycott or protest a political speech, an art collection, the construction of a foreign-owned superstore in your backyard or the release of a controversial new product, give some serious thought to the effect that your protest is likely to have on the success of the thing you are speaking against.

Not always, but sometimes, quietly dismissing something works better than attracting a lot of undue attention to it.

… Unless of course, your real agenda has more to do with exploiting every possible media opportunity to raise money and recruit members than actually doing anything.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone. ;)

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Just when you start to think that the world has indeed become a global marketplace, something like this shakes you out of your pipe dream. From Reuters, via MSNBC World News:

KHARTOUM, Sudan – A British primary school teacher has been arrested in Sudan, accused of insulting Islam’s Prophet by letting her class of 7-year-olds name a teddy bear Muhammad, her school said on Monday.

Colleagues of Gillian Gibbons told Reuters they feared for her safety after receiving reports that young men had already started gathering outside the Khartoum police station where the Liverpool woman was being held.

Teachers at Unity High School in central Khartoum said Gibbons, 54, made an innocent mistake and simply let her pupils choose their favorite name for the toy as part of a school project.

Police arrested Gibbons on Sunday at her home inside the school premises, said Unity director Robert Boulos, after a number of parents made a complaint to Sudan’s Ministry of Education.

Boulos said she had since been charged with “blasphemy,” an offense he said was punishable with up to three months in prison and a fine.

Boulos said he had decided to close down the school until January for fear of reprisals in Sudan’s predominantly Muslim capital. “This is a very sensitive issue.”

“We are very worried about her safety,” he added. “This was a completely innocent mistake. Miss Gibbons would have never wanted to insult Islam.”

Boulos said Gibbons was following a British National Curriculum course designed to teach young pupils about animals and their habitats. This year’s animal was the bear.

Gibbons, who joined Unity in August, asked a girl to bring in her teddy bear to help the second grade class focus, said Boulos.

The teacher then asked the class to name the toy. “They came up with eight names including Abdullah, Hassan and Mohammed. Then she explained what it meant to vote and asked them to choose the name.” Twenty out of the 23 children chose Muhammad.

Read the rest of the story here.

Note to self: Scratch Mohammad Joe’s from list of possible brand names for new East African coffee shop franchise.

(Darn it. It was catchy as hell.)

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Some practical notes on how to design an effective web page – from Seth Godin’s blog, via UX, via Orange Yeti:

  • Ads in the top and left portions of a page will receive the most eye fixation.
  • Ads placed next to the best content are seen more often.
  • Bigger images get more attention.
  • Clean, clear faces in images attract more eye fixation.
  • Fancy formatting and fonts are ignored.
  • Formatting can draw attention.
  • Headings draw the eye.
  • Initial eye movement focuses on the upper left corner of the page.
  • Large blocks of text are avoided.
  • Lists hold reader attention longer.
  • Navigation tools work better when placed at the top of the page.
  • One-column formats perform better in eye-fixation than multi-column formats.
  • People generally scan lower portions of the page.
  • Readers ignore banners.
  • Shorter paragraphs perform better than long ones.
  • Show numbers as numerals.
  • Text ads were viewed mostly intently of all types tested.
  • Text attracts attention before graphics.
  • Type size influences viewing behavior.
  • Users initially look at the top left and upper portion of the page before moving down and to the right.
  • Users only look at a sub headline if it interests them.
  • Users spend a lot of time looking at buttons and menus.
  • White space is good.

Good stuff.

It is easy for company execs to leave the design of their website to IT guys because they “get” all that “computer stuff”. Bad move. Sorry, IT peeps, but while IT guys can be web guys, let me point out that website design goes well beyond a person’s knowledge of code and “computer stuff.”

A good web designer is a designer first and foremost: Someone who understands how to create the right kind of website for a company, and uses his technical knowledge to make it happen. A good web designer can write beautiful code, sure, but great code is meaningless if the website looks horrible or doesn’t serve the needs and wants of its users (your customers). Designing a website is about creating a consistently engaging, pleasant and valuable user experience.

This goes well beyond the world of code and IT. Website design is both a science and an art. Because few people/firms can manage both elements exceedingly well, a very small proportion of web design firms is capable of doing exceptional work.

Look at most corporate websites today, and you will notice that the same templates are used over and over again: There’s a big box of “content” in the middle, a fat banner at the top of the page, a left column with some sort of navigation/menu, and maybe a column to the right with ads and other resources. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: There is value – especially for very small businesses – in spending very little money on a website that can launch inside of a week. Plug & play websites have their place. No question. But when it comes to creating or driving a brand, understand that having a website that essentially looks like everyone else’s, a website that looks like you took little more than a couple of hours to put together, a website that offers nothing interesting or compelling for your users and fans, you are falling short of expectations. You are sending the wrong message. At some point along the way, your company needs to differentiate itself. When that happens, your website needs to reflect the difference between your company and all of your other would-be competitors. If you are going to stand out as being different, don’t just talk about it: stand out and be different – especially on the web.

If your management team is old-school and branding is the last thing on its mind, look at it this way: You are the type of company that takes care of the way it presents itself – from the experience you create for your customers and visitors to the design of your catalogs, ads and other promotional materials. You don’t want to look like a bunch of amateurs who can’t adapt to change and have neither the funds nor the good sense to create a decent website. Right? Right. More and more, your customers’s first impression of you is made via the web. This isn’t 1997 anymore. Your website isn’t an aside. It isn’t something you can throw at your cousin’s neighbor’s kid because he needs a part-time job and “boy, you should see his MySpace!” Your website is your global storefront. Your global lobby. Your global showroom. You can’t afford to allow it to be boring, ineffective or outdated. (It can’t be too obnoxious either, so be use flash sparingly, if at all.)

Do yourself a favor: If you have a website now, put together a small team of branding, marketing and customer service experts in a room with a handful of customers, and get them to do a complete 360 review of your website. If that doesn’t work for you, hire a creative studio or a web design firm instead. However you decide to do it, the point of the exercise is to stop what you are doing, take a real look at your website, and identify all of the things that could be improved upon. Once you’ve done that, hire a real web designer (or web design firm) to either improve your website as needed or rebuild it completely.

If you don’t already have a website… I just have to ask what you are waiting for. (Tip: Most people I know haven’t cracked the Yellow Pages in years… and I know a lot of people.)

Spending money on creating an extraordinary web presence (or at least an adequate one) is probably one of the best marketing/communications investments you can make for your company. If your senior management team doesn’t understand that completely yet, it is your job to help them get there.

If you aren’t sure how to get started, print the above list, go to your company website, and use it as a checklist. How many of your website’s design features match the above recommendations? How many don’t? What could you change already – today?

Have a great Monday, everyone. :)

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Here are some of Roby’s thanksgiving week images:


Read all about his adventures here. (And now that his blog allows comments, feel free to drop him a little hello.)

Welcome to a brand new week. :)

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