Obay Buzz Goes Offish

It’s tricky (tricky, tricky, tricky) pulling off an “It’s Coming…” campaign. You know the ones. Some vague, non-sequitur ad that doesn’t mention a product or a brand but instead leaves you scratching your head and wondering “What was that all about?” “It’s coming…” campaigns double down on a bet that the audience will take notice, engage the message and anxiously await the payoff. But audiences tend to consider these campaigns as gimmicky, requiring too much investment and mildly insulting, which is why the bet rarely pays off.


Enter Obay!, a new series of spots now identified as being from Colleges Ontario, a marketing and advocacy association representing… well… Ontario colleges. I first became aware of Obay from a subway ad.. It was a mock pharmaceutical ad proclaiming: “My son started thinking for himself. OBAY put a stop to that” I usually dismiss “It’s Coming…” type messages but I was intrigued by the lack of any type of call to action from the ad. No mini-site. No 1-800 number. Just a message. Toronto culture blog, Torontoist, took up the cause in identifying the source. Soon the blogosphere was ablaze in chatter about Obay! which made the big reveal actually pay off.

The point of the campaign is to encourage dialogue about the stereotypes that cause parents to aggressively push their children to pursue entry into universities when they may be happier and more productive in a community college. While I won’t pull out my old sociology papers that examine why the university stereotype are false (maybe in a future post) the execution by Colleges Ontario and agencies Smith Roberts and Flex PR, has been flawless. Engaging “It’s coming…” teaser. Lack of call to action leading to buzz. Payoff in reveal with media relations leads to earned media where Colleges Ontario spokespeople deliver their advocacy message. A perfectly integrated campaign.

Maybe advocacy issues are better suited for “It’s Coming…” than product promotions. Advocacy often requires the most creative stractical (small “s”) planning but also have the most to gain from delivering messages through earned media.

Professional associations take notice. PR agencies too. It’s time to obay.


“The Big Game” Advertisers Win Big with Earned Media

If you remember, it’s called “The Big Game” of course, because the NFL cried trademark over the name “Super Bowl” and forced advertisers to dive into the land of vague associations. But that’s for another post.

 Marketing Magazine reports that the $2.8 million price tag for 30 seconds of commercial real estate during Pigskinapolooza also came with the hardwood floors and marble counters of almost seven thousand news articles with 750 million impressions. The data was compiled by Cision.

It’s difficult to say whether companies like Pepsi and Budweiser get their money’s worth out of a 30 second spot alone — I’d think the writers’ strike made court But the earned media is indisputably valuable as participating brands get to jump onto the one time a year when commercial advertising is reported as news. Reputable news stories describing in detail the products being advertised build hype around the products and the companies for being robust enough to play in the Gridiron Gala.

Six plus the extra Stractical point to Super Bowl advertisers for bringing their paid-media message to the editorial side and a two point conversion for Cision for compiling the data and reminding us all how important media monitoring services are.

Nice how I wrote a Super Bowl-themed post without using the word “touchdown” or “fumble” ain’t it?

Why promote the product when you can promote the business model?


Spanish apparel retailer Zara is changing their business model, incorporating more just-in-time merchandise in an effort to stave off the competition from discount retailers, says the Wall Street Journal. It’s a business story and a great one to tell. Zara admits to a previous failing and then promotes how they plan on improving. The story needs transparency from the company but in turn will spread Zara’s message: “Hey investors, we’re keeping up.” The corporate communications lesson here is to constantly monitor industry trends and try to publicize your brand as leading or innovating in that environment. Positioning Zara as a fashion leader = Good. Positioning Zara as a business operations leader = Stractical.

NBA Slam Dunks With Social Media

At summer camp we used to call the thrice-a-season dances, “socials.” As kids, we’d frantically search for a clean shirt as we poured mountains of gel in our hair while we mentally practiced the line dance for “Cotton Eyed Joe.”

The topic of social media, previously discussed in this space, is a lot like my socials of yesteryear. There’s a lot of hype, a lot of talk, a lot of posturing about how we can best capitalize on its potential, but when it comes to execution, we’re all still standing against the wall afraid to make eye contact with the objects of our desire.

Jamario Moon

But, then again, sometimes we get it right. Take the NBA. Since the dawn of Youtube (what was that, three years ago now?) the highlight reel mixtape has been a staple of viral videos. A two minute slice reel of dunks and blocks for just about anyone who’s ever suited up exists because of tireless fan dedication and a little Final Cut Pro know how. Recognizing this, the NBA has now fully embraced Youtube, hosting their own channel with game highlights and semi-produced virals.

For this past weekend’s All Star game in New Orleans, the NBA produced virals for some of the Slam Dunk competitors to promote text message voting, including the Toronto Raptors’ Jamario Moon. That video, alluding to a behind the free throw line slamma jamma has all the essential ingredients for a great Youtube clip: it’s short, it looks homemade and it has that “I gotta see that again!” punch that turns a video into viral.

Augmenting the official NBA clips is an influx of player-produced videos like this one made by Chris Bosh. Bosh, in an effort to persuade fans to vote him onto the Eastern Conference All Star team, used Youtube to display his lighter side. And to his success, over 500,000 looked at his “Bubba” clip and Bosh ended up starting the All Star game in place of injured Kevin Garnett.

So, I’m awarding 10 Stractical points to the NBA for both developing a meaningful social media strategy and for creating an environment where players want to independently contribute to the online conversation. Stractical loves this game.

Loyalty: A two-way street. With speed bumps. And roadblocks. And detours… Loyalty: A lot like The Amazing Race

Daniel Tisch, writing for PR In Canada, discusses loyalty and journeyman-ism. His thesis is that young PRtists lack loyalty and are looking to job hop their way to the top. As the self-proclaimed mouthpiece for PR youth in this fair nation, Stractical responds:

Journeyman or star? In PR, it’s about talent, effort and loyalty
If you want to work for a great employer, be a great employee

In a recent interview with a job-seeker, I noticed that she had moved around a lot, with several firms on her CV within a few years. “Oh, you know PR,” she said. “A new job every two years.”

In that moment, I realized the difference between a journeyman and a star.

I don’t mean to knock journeyman practitioners; like the veteran NHL player who’s traded from team to team to team, you can build a solid, respectable career in this way.

But as I read recently in the Brendan Wood Journal, which ranked the most influential people in the global banking business, “job hoppers rarely have influence.” That’s a fundamental truth in any industry.

Well, Michael Sabia might want to disagree with Mr. Tisch on that point but that aside, he does touch on an important truth: Companies (including PR agencies) hate to see good people go. They have invested time and effort into training their staff and want to see outcomes from their investment. Makes perfect sense.

With the circumstances of his job seeker unknown, we’ll have to improvise some scenarios.  Maybe she’s been working under contracts (many young PRtists find themselves working under shorter and shorter contracts) or maybe her last position was not in the field she ultimately wants to end up in, maybe the scope of her job changed from the time she was hired or maybe her last boss was a jerk.

The fact is, PR is a fluid, shifting industry. The pink elephant standing in every room (and Jobbing Out post) is that there is an over-supply of smart and savvy young practitioners fighting for very few opportunities.  In the GTA alone, there will be over 2,000 people graduating from PR diploma and certificate students and related communications degrees this spring who will all be vying to break into the industry any way they can. This environment doesn’t bode well for 3o year career progression plans, let alone two years. I think we can all agree that the age of the lifelong company man in a grey flannel suit spending his whole life with one company until he retires with full pension has passed. That age is gone because a) workers have become more creative and independently-minded (see the work of Richard Florida) and b) the companies choose to work with an elastic workforce where wages are kept low.

Most people we hire at Argyle want to be stars. They aspire to be at the peak of their profession. This means working for marquee clients, leading teams of talented colleagues, learning continuously, helping the firm grow and sharing in the rewards.

Aspiring to a be star is great, but it only works while the interests of the organization and the interests of the employee continue to dovetail. Predicting such stability and symbiosis would be quite a skill, but in reality we are forced to deal with the possibility of turnover led by employees chasing new opportunities and companies letting staff go to pursue new directions themselves.

So, how do you become a star?

Three words: Talent. Effort. Loyalty.

At the entry or junior levels of PR, we’re evaluating talent and effort all the time. We look for a blend of aptitude and attitude. And we look for people with a clear long-term vision of what they want: to be part of the growth of a mid-sized, entrepreneurial Canadian public relations firm.

At the intermediate and senior levels, the CV becomes very important in creating the right impression. Here, past performance is often a predictor of future potential. We look for a track record of long-term performance. Five years is a good starting benchmark.

If I see that someone has jumped around from job to job, never staying in one place longer than two years, the candidate must be able to answer why.

There can be good reasons: the work environment is uninspiring; the employer is unreasonable; the pay is below the norm for a firm of that size, with few countervailing positives; the company is stalled or in decline.

These are good reasons, but there are many, many more. A candidate may defend their job jumps or they may not — professional courtesy dictates we don’t bash our former employers and so a simple “I was ready to move on to new opportunities” may be the best answer you’ll get.

But look at any industry’s stars. Almost invariably, you see people who figured out where they wanted to be, helped their organization grow and thrive, and built their reputation over time.

Or they might have figured out how to advance their career at a faster pace than any individual organization could offer them.

Here’s a tip: when you meet a potential employer or employee, start from the proposition that you want to work together for five to ten years. Naturally, a lot can change along the way – but surely that must be the goal.

This point of view surprises some people. After all, not long ago you often saw articles in the careers media about the death of loyalty. Don’t buy it. It’s the most short-sighted thinking imaginable.

Loyalty isn’t dead. It’s simply no longer enough. With opportunities at a premium, rising stars are going to pounce when a new one arises.  Instead of condemning the ambitious, the company should work with its talent to address the changes they are seeking in outside employment.

Loyalty must go two ways. A great employer will see you as a long-term asset to the organization. He or she will treat you with respect, create a positive work environment and help you learn and grow. Would you like to work for such a person or company? Who wouldn’t?

Career preservation and advancement are a matter of survival. A crowded talent pool means the livelihoods of young PRtists are in constant flux. Sure, some people just get bored easily — in fact, the multi-tasking, hyperactive environments of professional communicators attract those kinds of personalities.

The bottom line: If you want a great employer, be a great employee. And if you have the talent and are willing to make the effort, your loyalty should be rewarded.

Let’s remember that many employers are looking for direct experience in often very specific industries: “We work with clients in the x industry, do you have experience working in x?” The ability to answer those questions with the necessary latitude may require a breadth of experiences that can’t be attained without job movement. It may make you appear less loyal but it definitely makes you look more interesting.

Get Out Your Editorial Calendars: It’s Valentine’s Day

Here’s a story about the best places to snog in Canada. The article doesn’t really matter though. What matters is it’s Valentine’s Day which means love is in the air and love is in the ink.

Besides driving up the price of heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, Valentine’s Day, like Mother’s Day and Halloween, create opportunities to pitch themed ideas. Almost every mainstream publication will include stories about romantic getaways, that perfect piece of jewelery (it comes with a slice of ‘za) and even how to get a free divorce.

So, start writing up your strats and tacs on how your client or company can jump on the holiday bandwagon. No one delves as deep into Hallmark creations as deeply as the media: It helps parse human interest stories for the year and advertisers love holidays. You’re too late for V Day this year but I hear Flag Day is going to rock hard this year.

A Portrait of Online Job Searching as a Young PRtist

The overwhelming (okay, maybe it was merely whelming) response from my call for topic suggestions concerning job searching was to profile some online job listing services. While by no means an expert, I will humbly attempt to satisfy this request without assigning the now-ubiquitously arbitrary Stractical Points for merit.*

(*Fear not, Stractical Points will return shortly)

1) Charity Village

The 9-to-5 411:

If the corporate vs. agency dilemma is less interesting to you than advancing a great cause, check out Charity Village, the mecca for all things charity in Canada. C.V. is an excellent resource for volunteer opportunities and professional development tools but their job listings are where the site shines. With hundreds of listings posted daily in a variety of job categories including 61 current (as of this post) Marketing/Communications/PR jobs, you’re guaranteed to be piqued by at least a few. Listed organizations include registered charities, educational institutions and professional associations — all big users of PR talent.

Career Cheers:

  • Best layout and search function of any job site
  • Abundance of posts for PR jobs, including coordinator-level positions
  • The best way to find a great non or not-for-profit who shares your values

Career Jeers:

  • For profit companies often sneak on the job board

The Verdict: Employee of the Century.

2) Workopolis

The 9-to-5 411:

Trying to be all things to all job seekers, Workopolis is Canada’s premiere online job bank. A plethora of options for creating personal searches, e-mail updaters and storing resumes make Workopolis a job force to be reckoned with. There are ample postings for communications-related jobs of every level including entry — try looking under the “Marketing” category. Some companies who list with Workopolis use their online application process which is cumbersome and destroys resume formatting.

Career Cheers:

  • Wins for sheer volume of posts
  • Great customizable search functions
  • Best place for postings for big, big corporations
  • Did I mention there are a lot of posts?

Career Jeers:

  • Online application process a nightmare — look for postings that lead back to a website or have an e-mail address
  • Bleeding of categories means “communications” searches will lead to “telecommunications technician” posts
  • Too popular: If you’re applying to a job you saw on Workopolis, chances are so are ten thousand others

The Verdict: Employee of the Year

3) Monster.ca

The 9-to-5 411: Monster, another pan-career job site metropolis, offers little of value for budding PRtists. The postings in the “Advertising/Marketing/PR” categories are dominated by staffing services and commission-based promotion companies. Occasionally a diamond in the rough will appear, but usually the good listings will be posted on other, better job sites as well (see: Workopolis).

Career Cheers:

  • Pretty, easy to read layout that will display listings with or without details for quick reviewing

Career Jeers:

  • Not many real PR jobs listed here and there’s too much filler to sift through

The Verdict: Employee of the Day

5) Media Job Search Canada

The 9-to-5 411: Considered by many to be the beautiful secret of communication job sites, Media Job Search features a simple to search and browse interface and postings from the corporate, non-profit and even the agency worlds. Updates come daily, usually in the afternoon.

Career Cheers:

  • Maybe the only place on the web to find agency listings though usually for more senior positions
  • The only place many other organizations advertise (see: the CBC)
  • Decent number of “coordinator” level positions posted

Career Jeers:

  • PR jobs lumped in a category with advertising jobs, which tend to dominate

The Verdict: Employee of the Decade

6) Jeff Gaulin’s Job Board

The 9-to-5 411: Jeff Gaulin (the smiling gentleman on the homepage) posts Canadian media jobs, primarily for print and broadcast journalism but there is a section for PR/GR/IR jobs. Unfortunately, the listings are scarce, rarely updated and never unique. But thanks for trying, Jeff.

Career Cheers:

  • Pleasant enough site that’s easy to read
  • Nice of Mr. Gaulin to acknowledge government and investor relations although I’ve yet to see a job posting for either field

Career Jeers:

  • Little of value in terms of job posts — no need to check this site more than once every few months
  • Inexplicably you can only search by province: no broader or narrower

The Verdict: Employee of Those First Ten Minutes at Work in the Morning when Your Eyes are Still Crusty


The 9-t0-5 411: I’ve lumped together the two major PR professional associations because they’re job listings are both available only to their respective members. The CPRS has a few listings that are rarely updated (is Jeff Gaulin running this job bank too?) The IABC does slightly better, with a bunch of listings for intermediate and senior level positions in corporate, government, non-profit and agency. There is a section for “Junior” positions which gets updated every couple of months or so. Senior PR advice-givers would point out that 90 – 110% of entry level PR jobs never get posted anywhere and that the next generation should be out networking somewhere, but both professional associations sell student memberships by promoting their career services so it’s reasonable to expect something better.

Career Cheers:

  • For IABC: A decent amount of intermediate postings that may consider junior PRtists in some cases
  • Member exclusivity ensures at least a few of the posts are not available to the general public
  • A good way to pump up your CPRS/IABC membership in your cover letter

Career Jeers:

  • Should do a better job of serving students/young practitioners if they hope to keep us as members

The Verdict: Employee of the Month

If, faithful readers, you believe I’ve missed an important site that demands a review, please leave a comment or e-mail at stractical(at)gmail.com. Also, I’m still interested in other topics we might want to see covered in the Jobbing Out category.