Thursday, December 31, 2009

My list for top stories of 2009

Marketing is psychology with a purpose. Our job is to understand the ebbs and flow of human behaviour. That's why I have a Facebook and Twitter account, scan BBC and New York Times and CTV news, browse WIRED, Fast Company, Stanford Philanthropy, Media Post, and meander through Google....
So, on the eve of 2009, I wandered through a few sites to understand the past from the perspective of the masses....
1. Michael Jackson died. (although Twitter beat MJ in top searches for 2009)
2. The economy collapsed, teased us into thinking it was reviving and slumped back into recession.
3. Social networking has marketers in a flurry. Facebook overtakes My Space (officially) and Twitter captures the imagination if not the dollars.
4. Obama won the Nobel Prize (for not being President Bush, according to the CBC)
5. A British teenager painted a 60 foot penis on the roof of his parent's million pound mansion (they didn't notice for a year).... one of the most searched stories on BBC for 2009
6. Warren Buffet gave each of his children $1 billion in shares for their charitable foundations. (Great story, by the way)
7. The Swine Flu changed the way we greet one another (a kiss instead of a handshake), cough (into the elbow) and wash (stocks in Purell soared: Imagine a Touchable World)
8. Dan Brown struck again convincing millions of North Americans to search for the Lost Symbol (either in hard cover or as an e-book format in one the many new e-reader formats... I read Coupland's Generation A on my Blackberry... it seemed fitting.)
9. The auto industry in North America sat up and took note of the competition -- seeing as most of the cars on North American roads were foreign.
10. Susan Boyle dreamed a dream and transformed Simon Cowell into the fairy godmother.
What I was most intrigued at is that when I visited CBC, BBC, AP, Google and a whole host of other news outlets, none of them included the natural disasters that traumatized thousands of families: floods, earthquakes, tsunami, food insecurity, hurricanes. Nor did they mention major conflicts: wars in Afghanistan, Congo, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen...
As a marketing professional, I am a student of human behaviour -- I take my lead from my audience, not my personal opinion....
Here's to 2009: Celebrate well.....

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Content, Content, Content

Search Engine Marketing is one of the ways you can profile your web site. Basically, it is like an outer envelope in a direct mail piece (forgive me, web guru's, I know that sounds reductive, but it's a pretty perfect analogy). The fun of it is that the outer envelope can have many different shapes, sizes and tag lines.
But the success of SEM is dependent on some pretty simple principles.
First of all, you need to clearly define your campaign goal. Are you looking for sheer number of clicks, length of time spent on the site, reduced bounce rates, number of page views?
Secondly, you need to have a good idea of what people are searching for. It's smart to start an SEM campaign with multiple threads, because that helps you unravel patterns. Then you're able to use real world knowledge to set your campaign. Because the web is real time, the first few weeks of the campaign should be well monitored, giving you the opportunity to change things on the fly.
Thirdly, brand recognition boosts results. Coinciding campaigns, media presence and buzz all increase web activity. SEM is a part of the mix -- not the foundation of a marketing plan.
Finally, and I think the most impacting, the content on your site determines ultimate success.
Some SEM specialists trick people to the site. So they use ad words that can be loosely attributed to web content and are highly searched. Which means the ad comes up frequently, has a high click rate -- but, unfortunately, often has a very high bounce rate. When the viewer clicks on the ad and goes to the site and sees that the content is not really what they were looking for -- its takes about 1 second before they click away.
This Christmas we launched a number of SEM tests.
Two profiled new Christmas symbolic gift product lines. Both were versions of the "goat, chicken" offers from international development agencies. Both were really new in the space -- so they were unfamiliar to the mass market. While both had simple offers, they also were more complicated than the buying 5 chickens. Neither were well supported by media, communications or additional marketing activity. Both were evaluated by the number of sales generated. While the final numbers have not been completely evaluated, neither received stellar results.
There were a couple of reasons. Very few people were searching for these specific products. They didn't know to search for them. Secondly, they were not hot products for Christmas. They did not have mass appeal. Both sites had sufficient content, but people were not that interested in buying the product.
We also launched a campaign for a custom home builder. The site was already performing well -- with an average viewer staying on the site for 6 minutes and viewing 10 - 16 pages. We thought that the rate would plummet with the SEM campaign -- simply because the site would draw more visitors.
But no.... the length of each visit remained high. The number of unique visitors increased dramatically and the number of page visits continued to be high.
The site is fat with content. The ads profiled that content. When the visitors arrived at the site, they were not disappointed. So they stayed.
We set the initial campaign fairly low -- wanting to assess the strength of the various campaigns. It looks like we will have to up the spend a bit, because the click rate is so healthy.
SEM that is not supported by a site that has great content is like sending people a direct mail with a great teaser and when they open the envelope it's empty.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Reach an audience of 1 million....

That's the Face Book promise.

But will you.

I have been thinking a lot about new media these days. Everyday I receive "news" (hard to discern between news and advertising some times) that if I am not actively exploring "new" media, I will be compromising my company. Well, my business plan is not designed to meet millions -- that would do us in. But I am always open to learn and explore new ideas.

But as I track results for clients on Face Book, Twitter and blogs. And as we watch the direct results from SEO and SEM I discover one critical truth: it's all about strategy.

My observation (for what it's worth), is that a lot of people are playing with social medial. After all, it doesn't cost anything. Except time. Every day more people start following me on Twitter. I'm pretty sure no one actually reads or follows my random tweets, but they are following me. And, yes, there are millions of people on social network, but how many are actually “reached” (still hard to track and ascertain an engaged audience). Of all of the results that we see, very few are actually coming from social media (interestingly). There are some challenges with using Face Book as an organizational marketing tactic. First of all, it's incredibly crowded, so getting attention is difficult. Secondly, it's a personal social networking space, so people are sharing pictures of babies and vacations. Products that intersect with that space should be playing in it. Thirdly, there are a lot of accounts that are duplicate. If you call up World Vision, it's hard to tell which pages are valid. Finally, maintaining social media sites are incredibly time consuming.


One should not discount the value straight away. I think our job is getting harder and harder. Strategic thinking is the most important factor in marketing well. Every organization, no matter what the size, should be investing time and money into their marketing strategies. There are many things that are very important to consider. This past few weeks I have been giving about an hour a day to linked in, my blog, twitter – I ignore facebook because it irritates me and is full of junk (although I peruse it occasionally to see what my hundreds of friends are doing.)

I am neither prophetic or exceptionally visionary, but I think the future of social media is a diversified group of social media sites that have specific uses – liked linked in for business. Compassion for sponsorship... there are a lot of reasons that we use social media – but the pilfering through the information to get what we want (need) is just so hard. I have twitter set up on my desktop with Tweet Deck. I have to say that the plethora of information is daunting (although I did receive that very nice little guitar utube link on it this morning that made me laugh).

The digital world is shifting and changing every day.

Google slips in and out the news. They are creating an i-phone competitor that will not be linked to a cell phone provider – hmmm – that is really interesting. They also just launched the direct payment that can be used by anyone to collect payment through the cell phone (hmmm, no bank? No little pay machine – all you need is your cell phone. You neighbourhood young teen can use it as payment for shovelling snow.) Google has already launched real time data (so when we drive, we can now use google maps to check for accidents when we drive and the traffic updates on the maps is immediate!)

I am trying to foresee the world without TV and advertising as we know it. I know that it is changing, but it needs to financially viable. I quickly moved to e-books.... I think the kindle is dead in the water, but think about the applications for magazines (ads that you click on). Think about the development of content that is real time and clickable.... we have a great future in creative is we can continue to build and grow and develop and imagination beyond the printed page.

BUT social media is only a small piece of that development!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tiger and Temptation

I started this blog a few minutes ago.... then I thought, get a life, that's so easy. Tiger Woods gossip even hit CBC!
Then I found this and I thought, wait a minute, celeb endorsement is a reality in much of our work.
Nancy puts a neat spin on choosing the B level celeb. She has great insight into making the endorsement work for the celebrity and the organization -- key to a successful win-win relationship.
We know that celebrities draw attention to products and non-profit causes. They also are hard to manage, quirky and moody. Choosing a celebrity that resonates with your cause or product is critical. Documenting that relationship in writing is equally important. For-profits have that down pat. Non-profits often come to the table with hat-in-hand hoping for the graciousness of the celebrity.
Non-profits have to remember that they are giving back to the celebrity.
First of all, they give them personality, integrity and compassion. The celebrity seen doing humane and compassionate acts increases their own humanity and their relationship with their fans.
Fans are intrigued when the glitter comes off and the celebrity travels into areas of need as a real person. For a moment the fan feels a strong emotional link to the celebrity.
The non-profit also introduces the celebrity to real people -- people they don't meet in their normal life. When working with the non-profit organization they have the opportunity to give back in ways they are unable to do in their "day job."
But, as we have seen in the media over the past few days, celebrity endorsement is risky.The risk to product endorsement is blatant as companies are dropping Tiger like he has H1N1.When your celebrity makes a very public mistake the clean up is costly.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Product offers

As I started this email, I was going to glibly say that companies with hard core products -- like RIM, COKE and NIKE -- have little trouble articulating their product offers.
But then I stopped.
That's a trap service companies, non-profits and government organizations easily fall into.
Defining your product is one of the most difficult tasks you have. Even when you have a distinct product, you are tempted to walk away from the benefit statements and lapse into your competitor's territory.
We just challenged Ashley, one of our team writers, to develop SEM campaigns for Barefoot. OK, she works for us. She has daily contact with clients. She sits through a project meeting overview weekly. She told me that it was difficult to define what Barefoot does.
So I need to take a quick look in the mirror.
What do we do?
Defining our product is a challenge we face every day. Successfully defining our product will lead us to greater success.
In 1947 Bob Pierce came face to face with the desperate need of orphan children. He thought, "If every American family would adopt one child their needs would be met -- for just pennies a day." Child sponsorship was born out of the need, spurred by an idea, developed into a product.
Our challenge is to understand our services, funding needs and to create a product that makes sense to the needs we are trying to fill and to our audience.
Last week one of my client's admin team spent the morning creating a personalized card because one donor wanted to send pigs overseas. The program of the organization did not include an agricultural or micorfinance program in that region. The staff team was simply meeting the needs of the specific donor. That's like a RIM sales member going to Telus and selling them a Palm. Yes, World Vision's sheep and goats and pigs are tremendously successful -- but that is the product they are selling. Simply copying the product does little for your own program. While the Palm Treo and BB Curve have overlapping purposes -- they are clearly different products. AND the marketing teams are always looking for differentiation to set their product apart.
While borrowing ideas is the strength of all communications and marketing -- borrowing without understanding your product or without clear differentiation empowers your competitors.
Every day I challenge myself to think about the product I am marketing.

Friday, December 4, 2009


Per Stenbeck, International Fundraising Director, UNICEF, Generva asks: "So what are the qualities that distinguish a star fundraiser from a mediocre one?"

He goes on to argue that the difference is passion.

He cites three world renown leaders:

‘Passionate people are the only advocates which always persuade.
The simplest man with passion will be more persuasive
than the most eloquent without’
François de La Rochefoucauld, French philosopher

‘Nothing great in the world has
ever been accomplished without passion.’
Hegel, German philosopher

‘Without passion you don’t have
energy, without energy you have nothing.’
Donald Trump

We are moved by emotion and inspired by passion. Passionate appeals to our donors may spark controversy. For where there is passion, there is the ability to love and hate. Many times our most successful appeals also are the ones that draw the most critical feedback from donors.

I think about that a lot when I receive client feedback. Often we are given notes, phone messages or letters clients have sent critiquing a communication piece. Before I respond to the client I ask two questions: How successful was this appeal in comparison to other appeals this year? How many negative responses did you get?

We are quick to let 2 or 3 negative comments influence our communication strategies when 10% of our donors responded with a gift. The attempt to please all donors eliminates our passion. It also reduces our ability to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace. Finally, it decreases our brand effectiveness.

Lack of passion creates a bland and homogeneous organization.

Stenbeck encourages fundraisers to:

• Be ready. Make sure to take the opportunity when it arises.
• Be bold.In fundraising you must take risks and aim high.If you want the Pope to endorse your campaign then go for it.Coca Cola will never get that.You just
might.And I am just trying.
• Be passionate. Passionate fundraisers ignite passion also in donors.Passionate
donors give more,lapse less and they are ready to support you,not only with
money but also if you so wish with their voice and their actions.A passionate
donor is a loyal donor,a true friend for life.

I say "Amen" (!)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

2 billion emails sent today

I was meeting with a client about their marketing materials. It struck me as unusual that they didn't have a corporate web address -- as essential as stationary in my mind. The thinking behind the lack of a corporate web address was all about efficiency.
Then today, when I looked at a recent report from the Chief Marketing Officer Council, I read that the average individual receives 12 - 15 email messages each day.
Yes, my jaw fell into an open mouth slack position.
I've just now completed my morning jaunt through unanswered email. When I receive 10 - 12 emails at the start of the day I call the IT team to see if our email is down.
Tracking the effectiveness of mail -- digital and traditional -- is at the core of any marketing plan. We are still seeing higher overall results for traditional mail. Somehow it seems a bit easier to delete an email than toss a letter. Traditional mail has more opportunity to tempt me into opening it (I got a compass in the mail this morning!)
Here's are some stats that you might find interesting:
- Traditional junk mail accounts for over 100 billion pieces of mail each year, and 44% of this unsolicited, primarily promotional mail ends up in a landfill...unopened
- Email waste is also staggering. There is more than 200 billion email messages sent each day, yet 97% of all email sent is actually spam, according to an April, 2009 report released by Microsoft
- Cisco reports "customized" spam that is based on personal information stolen from the web has quadrupled over the last 12 months (2009)
- The average email open rate across 16 industries during Q2 of 2009 now stands at 22.2%, and has increased for the fourth quarter in a row
- About 3.3% of opt-in emails for subscribers in the US and Canada were sent to "junk" or "bulk" email bins, while 17.4% did not get delivered at all
- Forrester reports that by 2014, email marketing spend will rise to $2 billion - almost double the projected spend of $1.2 billion for 2009
- The average individual is expected to receive 25 messages a day in five years, double 10 or 12 emails received now
I have to write an e-blast....

Thursday, November 19, 2009

twit for tweet

Well, they name itself lends itself to endless playfulness.
The media and marketing blog, tweets and e-postings have been musing about the most recent reports of Forbes executives. It seems that over 70% have dormant twitter accounts with their name on it. Hard to believe?
I don't think so. Most Forbes CEO's are too busy building Fortune 500 companies and they don't have time to get on the narcissistic mini blogger. At risk of being blatantly antithesis to the emerging social netting leader, some of us have work to do and don't have the time or the will to listen to a thousand voices talking to themselves at the same time.
Just to set the records straight, I get the idea that the ideal behind Twitter is a dialogue, but my own experience is nothing at all like a dialogue. It is a bit like my father's side of the family where all 45 uncles, aunts,and cousins sat in a large room carrying 97 conversations. With that history, I consider myself fairly adept at chaotic communication. But imaging a focused, type A CEO caring - perhaps I'm not that imaginative.
While I read mega article that urge me to get on the Twitter train or my marketing will suffer - I haven't seen much evidence of the effectiveness. Now it is free. But at risk of being old and dated, I'll just say that you get what u
You pay for.
Cynicism aside. I truly believe Twitter has the potential to work. I love the challenge of creating meaningful messages in 140 characters. But most of what I see on Twitter is gibberish leads to http://. I also really like the idea of short blurbs of information. Kind of like watching the sports highlights so I can follow the conversation of my hockey obsessed colleagues (do you realize it takes several hours to watch a game -- and only a minute to score?). But Twitter seems to following the Facebook evaluator - the more followers (friends) I have the more likely I am to succeed. I can see that for Obama (but let's face it - none is going to let him give a tweet) but Gayle? Frankly my dear, I just don't give a damn.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thank you AFP

Non-profit marketing is changing. We presented a brand seminar: Uniquely Me at a seminar sponsored by the Association of Professional Fundraisers. It was a great opportunity to share ideas with many different organizations.
In the past year, more than 10,000 new charities and non-profits have been registered in Canada! Today there are more than 150,000 organizations competing for the donor's attention.
To cut through the noise and have your message heard, it's critical that your brand is strong, consistent and different. Organizations who choose to strength and monitor their brand will experience a greater level of donor loyalty, acquisition and public attention. They will also be protecting themselves against adverse messaging and PR.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Uniquely Me

Is brand advertising dead?
Jonathan Baskin, in his book: Branding is for Cows thinks it is. Here's a snapshot of his thesis:
Most people don't know it yet, but branding is dead.Sure, we need to know about the stuff we want to buy, but the billions of dollars spent on logos, sponsorships, and jingles have little, if anything, to do with actual consumer behavior. For example:-Dinosaur-headed execs in Microsoft ads didn't help sell software. -Citibank's artsy "live richly" billboards didn't prompt a single new account. -United Airlines' animated TV commercials didn't fill more seats on airplanes. Modern consumers are harder to find, more difficult to convince, and near-impossible to retain. They make decisions based on experience - so what matters isn't how creative, cool, or memorable the advertising is, but how companies can directly target consumer behavior.Pretty pictures and funny taglines should be an after-thought: brands must target what consumers actually do.
Classic challenge between sales and marketing.
In tough economic times, people turn to trusted brands.... like Lego for kids and Campbell's soup for lunch. Even in the recession Cadbury has grown in the UK. Why? People have a limited dollar, they want to make the right choice. So they go back to the products they already trust.
For over 160 years consumers have trusted Proctor and Gamble for household products like Crest, Ivory, Pampers, Charmin and, oh yes, Tide.
A.G. Lafley (Former CEO of P&G, resigned June 2009)says:
We have 13 brands that do over one billion dollars a year in sales. That's extraordinary when you consider that most of our brands sell for $2-$5 per unit in the store. We are very attentive to brand creation and innovation. We also, generally, have enough sense not to change a brand identity when we think we've got it right. If you look at a Tide package from 1946, it was orange with a bull's eye graphic and the Tide name in block letters. While we have continuously improved and refreshed the package design, the primary elements are the same. When the consumer is responding in a very positive way, we try to identify the design elements that have equity and keep them.
In mass environments brand is critical.
When the the service or product lives up to the brand promise there is consumer magic.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I admit, I'm just playing with it (@bfootcreative if you want to follow my random 140 character tweets).
Marketing is all about getting messages to the right people at the right time. So those early adopter types who are engaged in Twitter are able to choose who they follow. They can also try to get me to follow them. That gives them a chance to get their marketing message to me.
So I get tweets like:
Free, Free, Free! These Simple Videos Will Show You How To Make Lots Of Money With Your Twitter Account.
A great read on the importance of Twitter and your company's use of it.
Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world.” #quotes
On Oct. 24, we're walking... and building. Join us, and help build a youth centre in northern Uganda. (via @guluwalk)
OK, enough already.
Now I realize that Twitter is a mini blog. As a writer, it's a fascinating environment. The challenge to put on a meaningful (or not so meaningful but digitally coherent) message is fun. The traditional blog (I can't believe I used "traditional" to define a blog) provides a longer format for me to spew wisdom in my over verbose writer way. People can talk back to me, if they want to.
I assume that they can also talk back to me on Twitter -- where reading some entries is like listening to another conversation with my ear to the door with a glass.
But more than anything, it seems very much like millions of singular conversations -- sort of like everyone on Twitter is talking aloud to ourselves and a few others just happen to be listening in.
It's a little too early to see what the impact of Twitter is on the marketing world. Without a question my little tweets are attracting a remarkably diverse segment of people. Comparatively, @bfootcreative is naive and teeny. My few followers are not interested in what I say, but they're interested in my reading what they say.
I would be very interested in hearing what you think about the impact of Twitter in various communication contexts....

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Back to the real world

In June we presented a report on teen's use of social media. Our research group was statistically relevant and represented teens in a unique demography -- church. According to Reginald Bibby about 21% of teens attend church regularly. Interestingly our survey found the media habits of church teens very similar to generals surveys done by other organizations.
Recent research surveyed the teens and their parents to discover what the parental influence was on teen internet habits. The results are fascinating.
The Benenson Strategy Group examined how social networks affect kids and families. The results indicated a significant gap between parents' believes and kids' actions.49% of parents say their child was age 13 or older before starting unsupervised surfing, but just 14% of teens say they actually waited this long.
The survey of both teens and parents found that many teens use the internet as a forum for gossip, sharing and blowing off steam, but others are also engaging in bullying and risqué behaviour online.
Parents do not realize how much time teens spend on social networking sites. 4% say their children check social networking sites more than 10 times a day, but 22% of teens do. 23% of parents say their children log in more than once a day, but 51% do. 12% of teens with Facebook or MySpace pages admit their parents don't know about the account.
Kids hiding things from their parents is not new to this generation. The gap between parents and children has always existed. I'm not even sure that the delusion of parents thinking they know everything about their children is new.
What is new is the ease of access to information and world-wide influence -- both good and bad. It is much more difficult to control children and teens in an environment where access is so free.
As an advertiser, I have am excited about the potential. Through new media we have a lot of opportunity to send our message.
In my role as a communicator I have a responsibility to use wisdom and discretion in the forms of advertising I use and the way I communicate.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The final leg

We are crowded into a very large plane. First class stretches luxuriously in cabins and on beds. They arrive to TO looking refreshed, groomed and together. I am falling apart, My hair is sticking out in all kinds of directions and flattening to my head in others.... Two days on a plane isn't helpful. My clothes are stale - I feel sorry for Connie who has to pick us up. We can't smell that good -- even though we all showered and put on clean clothes when we left. I have no idea how many hours ago it was. We have been through so many time changes, that the hour is meaningless to me. I just remember getting up in Ghana, riding a canal boat in Amsterdam, and now I am back in a plane. My computer clock says 7:12 -- but I'm not even sure where that is! We have 2 1/2 hours left on this flight.... and then, through customs one more time.

We hardly have seen the breadth and depth of Africa in two weeks -- we did see a lot of airports. But we have had glimpses of an Africa that is struggling to get out. There are no easy answers. An African man chased after us the last morning of filming. He shouted angrily at us in his tribal language. The Assemblyman and Community Fishing Chief with us told us that he was asking why the white man no longer came with money, but just came with cameras. They needed money -- not pictures.

Throughout the trip we have worked very hard to build relationships with the village elders and leaders, asking them first before we take out our cameras. I looked back and I said, "We want to tell your story to people in Canada, so they can help. But we won't just send money -- you need clean water, toilets, jobs -- giving you a few pennies today won't help that. You need leaders like Mary and Comfort and John and Cromwell and Walter who walk alongside of you, helping you to build your future."

But I came with a $5000 dollar camera, clean clothes. I am fat and healthy. I have a safe home, a bed, a kitchen, enough food to eat. I have attended university. I have a job. I could have easily given him a few dollars. It is always a tension. Because I can give money -- but money alone won't solve the problem. There needs to changes in the balance of power. The white and the black working together. Attitudes changed. New hope given.

The last village we visited was just outside Accra. We asked for the population -- but no one knows. The community is growing. There are at least a million people crowded together in a maze of shanties, drying clothes, smoking fish and young boys playing cards. The economic foundation of the community is fishing. The men go out to fish and the women smoke the fish and take them to market. The children work alongside their parents, young boys going with the fishing boats, their agile young bodies untangling the nets -- often getting tangled in it themselves. They have no toilets, so they defecate in the sand alongside the sea -- imagine -- 1,000,000 people and what that adds up to. They pee in the small ditches running throughout the community. The children wear unlikely t-shirts – purchased from used clothes markets. They are walking billboards for American sports teams, shoes and beer. Some wear almost nothing -- it's winter here, although the heat and humidity almost suffocate us. Some children and parents are wearing coats and hoodies.

Young girls are carrying babies -- Mary tells me that the child is their grandchild -- the girl is under thirty. Women are servants. They cook and clean; they sell in the market; they care for the children. A man looks for a woman with a strong back and a willingness to work -- he chooses three to five hardworking, child bearing women to do his work. Young girls, their bodies just beginning to become womanly are used for pleasure. That momentary pleasure multiplies the population quickly. Girls that are only 12 or 13 become mothers -- but they don't become wives. Few children go to school. Their parents need them at home to do the chores. The cycle of poverty is multiplied as the generations grow... yet resist change.

Sixty-four churches are scattered throughout the community. I asked how the churches impacted the community. The Assemblyman made a sound of disgust. He said they do nothing but keep the people ignorant and caught in their web of authority. The churches were big and looked nice. A stark contrast to the shanties the people lived in. They were walled. The people are not sophisticated. They accept religion easily. Christianity in many forms proliferates -- but the preachers get rich and fat. Their children go to America to go to school. There is no Mother Teresa loving these people -- or simply obeying the command of our Heavenly Father to care for the orphans and the widows; to share a cup of cold water with the thirsty, a crust of bread with the hungry. There are pastors who request offerings for the sins of the people -- money the people don't have, food they need to feed their children.

Change will not come quickly. Because it requires impact from many levels: first of all the people themselves must desire more than a dollar from a passing white woman. They must come to understand the need to learn to read and write. They need to work towards building and economic foundation -- so that their children and grandchildren will have jobs. They must petition the government for change. Corruption and self centred interests are ordinary. They themselves must learn to understand the difference between serving God and religion -- too many are trapped in religion. The pastor is powerful, persuasive and pressing. They are frightened of the curse of the gods. Even if they attend a Christian church, they still believe there are many gods. They don't fight for their rights because they are afraid. Women, especially resist change. They are afraid that change will strip away the insignificant autonomy and control they have. They have so very little power or choice, they don't want to lose their place, such as it is, in their social structure.

We spoke to a mother who gave her daughter to the fetish priest as a payment for the grandfather's sins. The gift of the daughter was to break the curse of the sin. The daughter was 7 or 8, she doesn't remember how old she is. She doesn't keep a journal because she can't read or write. She wakes up with the sun and goes to bed when the sun falls behind the horizon. She doesn't know the months of the year; she plants in the rains and harvests when the crop is right. So the little nine year old girl went to work for the fetish priest. She slaved in the fields all day and when his lust raged within him, she provided her malnourished body for him. He didn't feed her or provide clothes for her. Her mother had to leave the family and work in a nearby village so she could provide food for her enslaved daughter. Her mother looks away as she speaks. Those years were extremely hard.

The young woman was liberated when she was 18 -- after serving the priest for nine or ten years. She stumbled home carrying her youngest child with her, not knowing what the future held, how her parents would welcome her. They took her and her child in. Her other three children stayed with the priest. She doesn't see them. She is a farmer now, eking enough out of the dusty soil to feed her children and to sell in the central marketplace. She speaks little -- many of the questions we ask her are incomprehensible to her. We want to know how she felt -- she doesn't know that she could feel.

In my western penchant for speed, impact and measurable results, I want to build a school, put in a water well, install an irrigation system, plant healthy crops and fertilize them so they grow lush and sweet. Certainly the humid winds would feed the plants and help them to grow. But as I watch, I realize that my need to change the community does not reflect their desire to change.

Change will come.... I am convinced of it. Because there is a young man who grew up in a traditional village. His parents deserted him and he lived with his aging grandfather who was a peasant farmer. Because a Canadian woman believed in him, he has completed his primary, junior high and high school education and is now in his third year at the University of Ghana. He is studying agriculture because he can see that the ways of the past are no longer sufficient and he wants to take care of his grandfather.... I ask him what his grandfather says. His wide grin gets even bigger, his white teeth sending our white balance off the charts. "My grandfather? Yes, please," he says. "He is very happy."

I am convinced that change can happen because there is a young man named John who left his home when he was 11 years old. He wanted to go to school, but his family could not afford it. So he moved to the boarder community and pried coins and dollar tips from business men and wealthy Americans who crossed at the boarder. Unlike his friends, he stubbornly refused to spend his money on drugs, alcohol or women. He saved every penny so he could go to school. He took his social work degree and today he is working in several different villages, inspiring the people to change. He is the first step to the future.

We can't judge another society; nor can we transplant our own traditions into their soil. But we can listen. We can walk alongside of them, become their friends. Invite them into our lives.

In the fishing visit on the outside of Accra we noticed that many of the women were wearing dresses of the same pattern -- white and black, the white a stark relief to their pitch black skin. Mary told us that Saturday was the day for naming ceremonies. The people of the village gather to celebrate the birth of a new child and, together, they name her.

We pray that one child's name is hope.

Friday, August 7, 2009

A chance encounter

August 5th

It may be happenstance..... and it might be a small miracle.

South Africa Airlines could not get us to Ghana for 2 days. I had emailed Joan and James Alty just before we left for Africa, just to tell that that I would be in Africa. They, as luck would have it, we were forced into staying in Jo-burg. I had all but forgotten about James and Joan because the return email told me that they were out of the office and would not be able to answer my email for a few weeks. Then I got a note from Joan last night. They live 6 hours outside of Jo-burg, so it wasn't really an option to see them. But they introduced us to Pastor Mpho Putut, a vineyard pastor serving a congregation in Soweto (on the outskirts of Jo-burg). I got the email at 11 p. at night. While having a local pastor tell us his story would be ideal -- we realized that the timing was just off.

But I sent him and email anyway.

I stayed up until 1:30 am in the hopes that he may be a late night emailer. He wasn't. At around 8 am the next morning, just on the off chance that he would be available, I called him. He generously offered to take us around Soweto. I am amazed at how small the world is. Pastor Putu is very involved in taking members from our congregation at the Meeting House around as they visit the project we are working on in South Africa with MCC. He is also one of the key contacts for the Out of Town program out of Canadian Mennonite University. He calls Paul Kroeker a dear brother in Christ.

He met us at the hotel and took us to Soweto. As we drove he told us his story and the story of his people.

I live in a nation where our freedom is never question. Opportunities are available for every citizen. The government doesn't draw lines. We toy with the ideas of democracy and talk about rights -- which, to Pastor Putu, are really privileges. He told us this story:

A man steals a bike from his neighbour. For many months he uses that bicycle for his own purposes. His neighbour is powerless to get his bike back because his neighbour refuses to admit that he has stolen it. He treats it as his own. But after a long while he feels sorry for what he has done and he takes the bicycle back to his neighbour and says, "I am sorry. For I have taken you bicycle. I was wrong. Will you forgive me?" The neighbour, humble and forgiving, says, "Yes, I will forgive you." And the man who stole the bicycle gets back on it and rides it home, freed from the guilt of his theft.

As we drove, he told us that he was arrested many times in downtown Johannesburg because he was not carrying his card. Even though he was born in South Africa. Even though his father was born in South Africa. Even though his forefathers had invested their lives in the land and the future of South Africa, he was black. And a black man did not have permission to walk where a white man lived. He was expected to stay in Soweto, where he belonged.

His father, his friends fathers and thousands of other fathers came to Soweto to find work. Often they left their wife and their children behind. The were given shelter in barnlike structures that had nothing -- not even a bed. At night they through a light blanket on a concreat pad and prayed that their bodies would revive so that they could work another day. The men were men, not animals. They needed the comfort of their families, the support of friends. They ahd nothing. They sought out women to be their friends and mistresses while they were seperated from their families. Children grew up with no father and their mother was overcome in the raising of her children, farming the small plot of land and doing everything by herself.

Pastor Putu had no one to show him the things a father should show a son -- when his cheeks grew soft hairs, he had no idea how to shave. When he needed manage his home, he had no example, for his father had been a prisoner of the mine. When he looked for a mentor to show him how to become a husband and a father, he had to look outside of his own home, because his own father was stolen by capitalists who wanted gold. Pastor Putu wanted a better way, so he struggled to go to school. He discovered democracy -- a nation where the people have a right to have a voice in the governing of their country, city and municipality. He showed us the 10 rights that his people had dreamed about in 1955 -- the year I was born. But still have not realized completely.

Each dream was something I take for granted every day.

As we walked through the morning with Pastor Putu, I wondered if the very strength of our own country was slipping through our fingers.

Ironically, I had recieved an email from a journalist in the morning who wanted me to comment on an article written by a professor at TWU which commented on the increased stress on today's student because of Facebook. And I looked at the students who were walking on the campus in Soweto -- a campus that is only a few years old. They are the first generation of black young people who have the opportunity to go to college. Their parents dreamt of having enough food, being together with their family, have a safe shelter for the night... they never even imagined that their children would learn to read.

I am willing to fight for a democratic society? One where each member of my community has the freedom to live in a safe home, work 40 hours a week, have the right to a basic education, the freedom to till the land they own and use the resources that are a part of their own nation.

It has never occurred to me to fight for democracy.

He walked with us through a monument to the past. For many years Soweto was only a dormitory for the mines and for the labour jobs in the city of Johannesburg. People lived in long row houses, that weren't homes, they were small cubicles where people slept at night, before they made their way to their work. They were not even really communities. The dream to make the community a thriving environment where the more than 2 million citizens could live freely, buy necessities from their neighbours, trade skills, goods and services was far from their imaginations. Today the community has built a market. A huge covered structure provides booths for many people to seel their goods: vegetables, hand made crafts, fruits, meats, cheeses... everything you can think of.

In the centre of the market is a food court that is built of brick. The roof is a tall tower made our of sheet metal taken from the slum dwellings that many of the people used to live in. Each rusted and twisted sheet is a reminder of the past, giving each child the gift of the journey to change. Pastor Putu believes the past is important to remember, so that each child who recieves the gift of education and a career remembers the painful journey their parents walked to give them a democratic state.

The injustice of Apartheid are a painful reminder of the power of authority and wealth. The clash of cultures in one nation is not new -- nor do I expect will disappear. The believe that a black child was born to serve, created to bow to the power of the white child, unable to understand the complexities of the written language, math and science has no meaning for me.

But before I step back into my world, I want to hang on to the dignity in which God created all people -- in his image. Our imaginations are so much smaller than our creators -- yet, each day God performs a miracle and opens our minds to a new idea, a new thought, a new understanding. May I never see the world as finite or predictable. May I be open to seredipidous laughter when I realize that I have only seen the elephant from the eye level of an ant and suddenly, miraculously, I am given the opportunity to see the elephant from the perspective of a swallow.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The shrinking world

Still in Jo-burg. South Africa Airlines has determined that we will have a little R&R. We are in a very nice hotel -- on their bill. But we are also missing key days for filming which is very, very disappointing. TIA (That is Africa)
We did a little visit to the local mall. I'm not sure if it is comforting or discouraging to see that the local mall in Johannesburg, South Africa could be Square One in Toronto.
Ironically, I was snagged by a young sales woman who tried to convince me to buy some extremely travel savvy make up. She also offered me a book that would show me how to use that makeup. Now, you have to understand that I have been without a blow drier or velcro rollers for 9 days. Multiplying the stunning and fashionable me is my attire of 2 skirts and a pair of whatever those pants are called that just go beneath the knees -- tied together in a very effective look with an oversize sweatshirt with Salem printed over my matronly bosom. AND, who would know, it turns out that the makeup product was made in Toronto. Why wouldn't I buy several -- for only $8700Ran -- somewhere just over $100. And then drag it back to Toronto in my little back pack.... I did not succumb to her excellent sales pitch. She was clearly disappointed.
The prices here are pretty much like Canada. I resisted buying too much, because I could by it all at home -- I am holding out for something really cool in Ghana.
We have until just after noon to explore Jo-burg -- what are the chances that we could actually see something interesting?

South African sun

August4th. 7pm Johannesburg
The sun was warm and the wind cool. The mall which we explored on our afternoon of killing time because South African Airline flights were messed up by delays was just like Square One. It's hard to remember that we are thousands of miles from home when so many of the things look just the same.
The UK influence here is strong. BBC dominates the TV.
Our final word was that we are unable to make a flight out of South Africa today and have to wait to late afternoon tomorrow. Our filming schedule is compromised but we are going to see if we can maximize our time in Ghana by working mega long hours.
There is no efficiency in travel. We have spend 50% of our time waiting. TIA (That's Africa) is our most common phrase.
Kevin left his mowing the grass only running shoes in Zambia -- he thought the cat peed in them at home and couldn't stand the smell. Gord tried to convince him to buy $2 sandals -- he may be slightly embarrassed by the white socks and crocs look that Kev is sporting now.
I turned down 56000Ran worth of makeup this afternoon -- it's hard to believe that looking at me one would think that I even use makeup! I have to admit, it was slightly tempting to drop into a salon and doing something with the mess my hair is in right now!
One more leg of our trip -- we hope that this is the last of the surprises we have run into.

winter in Africa

The sun is warm and the temperature is around 22 Celsius. The staff at the hotel and the children here are all wearing coats. The Canadians are tempted to go swimming but the pool is pretty cool.
We are in Johannesburg for one day minimum. We are still waiting for the airport to clarify our next leg of flights. We have not heard anything yet.
So we sit tight until we hear. We think the first flight out of here will be at 7 p.m. tonight. The other option is to wait until late afternoon on Wednesday and fly out then.
The hotel is nice -- not extravagant. The courtyard is pretty and the pool looks inviting until you stick your finger in it. Then you think that it would be smarter to just look at the pool.
Kevin is getting a sweat shirt. He is really enjoying the trip... his love for potatoes is really paying off.

Monday, August 3, 2009


There is a saying here: well that's Africa.... that has become much more meaningful to all of us here. We are stuck in Johannesburg -- we are unsure just what is going to happen yet. Our flight out of Zambia was delayed by 2 1/2 hours, which made us miss our flight to Ghana. They are telling us that there is no flight until Wednesday, which means we miss two days of filming. Ghana is the strength of IN in Africa.
At first they told us that we could catch the flight to Senegal and then on to Ghana and be there first thing in the morning... but that seems to be impossible.

Friday, July 31, 2009

exit strategy... or maybe not

Crossing the border between DR Congo and Zambia was an extremely interesting event.
I already had the difficulty with the missing yellow fever immunization certificate. And we had the additional challenge of taking the camera out of the country.
The yellow fever issue was solved without additional contributions.
The camera, it seemed, was not as easy.
It cost a personal viewing by the authorities.
Every tape.
Fortunately, Gord had footage from his family vacation and the guards were particularly intrigued by the nephew's spectacular wake board wipe out. We were allowed to carry our film through without additional funds.
The driver, who participated in the private viewing, said that the guards said (in a language we don't understand -- it could be French) they were very pleased with the footage we took -- it was excellent quality!
The rest of the day was travel..... while in 7 of us squashed into a small van (I got the luggage department... but I didn't have to sit in the middle of sweating humans). In Zambia we are being carted about in an amazing van... sun roof and air conditioning. We had lunch at a really nice restaurant... I had samosas... and they were incredible. The hotel we are booked into is very nice. And it has wireless.... so therefore the catch up on the blogging!
Tomorrow we are filming a vocational school and then on Sunday an orphan village.
(again, forgive all typos, while there is wireless, it is less than dependable.)

bartered out of prison

I admit.... I am a naive Canadian. Honest. Trusting. Without guile.
Congo is a new experience in connections, processes and government departments.
Our travel plans were to do one day of shooting in Congo. David neglected to tell us that the Congo officials were not warm to cameras, high tech equipment or filming.
He also neglected to clearly describe to us the process of entering the country OR telling me to take the little yellow card I got at the health clinic that said I actually received my yellow fever immunization.
Our first travel jolt happened Tuesday morning when Gord and David were supposed to leave for Congo one day ahead of us to start the filming. Kenya airlines randomly ended the gate suddenly. So they were unable to leave.
On Wednesday, after many hours of phoning, pleading and begging for tickets for Congo, we got to the ticket agent and she told us that she had a notification on the screen that said she was to ensure that we paid before getting on. Which David saw as unreasonable, seeing as they were taken off of the flight the day before without any reason (or so it seemed). So Kevin and I went ahead (at least we would have stills if Gord and David were in jail).
We downloaded 10,000 photos while we waited.... played solitaire... and waited... finally, at the very last minute they appeared.
We made it to Congo!
Immediately upon arrival we were greeted by Rachel and the pastor of the church by the guest house. They wisked us through the customs -- basically we just gave them our passports and yellow fever cards (ooops, mine was missing). So we had to barter for a forgiveness. As we all know, forgiveness comes with a price. Missing yellow fever certificates seem to be $40.
Rachel is British and has lived in the Congo for more than 20 years. She is fabulous. She went before us quietly and paved the way.
We filmed a school for deaf children and a health clinic... the school for the deaf had been built by World Vision Canada -- there were signs all over the place. UNICEF also contributed funds. It was a fascinated work, affirming the deaf in a culture that would have pushed them to the side, thinking they were stupid. Now they learn sign language, math, French and more.... the older students take a vocational training section in their education and they are able to leave the school with some kind of a skill.
The clinic was -- well, hopefully the video can show it better. The complex was extremely run down. They treat women, babies and children. They have a doctor a few mornings a week and a permanent delivery room for women. When we were there, 8 women were in the ward. It only has 6 beds. One woman, who had just delivered a baby a few hours early, was lying on a thin mattress on a concrete floor.
They are building a new clinic right behind this crumblinh group of small offices. The new clinic is wonderful!
About $30,000 is still needed to complete it... then it will need regular funds to run it every month. I asked Rachel what the monthly cost to run it would be.... they will have an outpatient section and a 20 bed delivery ward .......... she didn't know. When I suggested $10,000 -- she thought that would be too much. Imagine that.... Just $10,000 would provide a safe place for 40 or more women haveing babies every week! It's stunning!
(Forgive the typos.... there is too little wireless time to take care with my key board).

the other side

The strength of the work in the Kibera slums is the work of middle and upper income women who have dedicated their lives to change. Eunice is a secondary school teacher and community health professional who has committed to working amongst the poor. Cecelia is an educated Kenyan woman who felt God call her to the slums of Kibera -- today she is making friends among the women, praying for them, encouraging them, showing people like me the need. Alice is well educated and works in communications and human resource. She is energetic, well spoken and passionate about the work. She worked for World Vision UK for several years and knows the principal of child sponsorship better than David! Rev. Judy is a pastor in a local church (the congregation has more than 50,000 people). She began a prayer movement with women who began praying that their husbands would find God. SOme of you might remember the book "What happens when women pray." It was popular about 30 years ago. Rev Judy knows the author. Rev. Judy a large presence in the Christian community world wide. She has many. many invitations to speak overseas. Her husband is retired. They are, without question, upper middle class. Their home is an amazing architectural phenomenon. You walk into to beautiful wooden double doors.The front foyer is round and forms the hub of the house. There is an ornate fountain in the centre. In one direction you go to the kitchen and family eating room. You can hear Edward, the houseboy, working in the back ground. Straight ahead you walk into a cavernous "sitting room" -- where about 30 people could actually sit on couches or arm chaires. The room is a semi circle, the "flat" end connected to the house and the circle part windows. The furniture is all dusty rose tones with photos and paintings and voluminous dusty rose curtains. We were served mango juice.
We ate an amazing meal, prepared and served by Edward -- assisted by Rev. Judy and her husband. There was a thick pureed vegetable soup -- it had the texture and taste of Heinz green peas. But it was made from spinach and beans and pumpkin. We also had chicken -- the pieces were undefinable. The Africans cut chicken into indiscernible bits, so you take a bit of a risk when serving yourself. There was also beef -- same technique as the chicken. And an interesting mashed potato (Kevin had about 4 helpings) that was made from potato, spinach (so it was green) and kernal corn (African style, because they looked a little like chick peas). There was also peas and carrots -- they were tasty and -- had they been mushed -- David would have resonated with the mushy parts.
Ice Cream for dessert -- a food for the wealthy, as many homes are without refrigeration. Although the lid posed a challenge for the hosts -- but Edward came and saved he day and easily flipped the lid off!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

the slum

We were up at 5 a.m.
As I brushed my teeth I could hear the rooster wake the hens. It's cool in the mornings -- around 10 degrees celsuis.
We drop Gord and David off at the aiport. The delay in Toronto messed with our plans. With a bit of creative thinking, David figured out how to beat KLM's desire to frustrate our plans. He was able to contact a freelance videographer and rebooked the flights. That way we could do Kibera and Lubumbashi in one day, effectively cancelling the effect of the delay.
The driver picked up Samuel, the freelance videographer, at the side of the road. He picked the perfect spot. Long lines of casual workers walked on the side of the road. Some had shovels over their shoulders, others rakes... they all went in hope that they would find a job. Men and women from the slum have not found steady employment. Men walk to the gates of the industrial section hoping that someone needs a construction worker, painter, errand runner or anything. They hope to make $3, but it's more likely that they will make $1. The women stand in front of the gates of the wealthy estates. They are looking for jobs cleaning, washing, ironing. They too will make $1 -- if they are lucky $2. Very few of them will be able to find work everyday. Their monthly income is $30 or less.
As we drove to the Kibera slum, it struck me as a very difficult situation to untangle oneself from. What choices can the people make?
I was set for the slums. I had seen many photos, heard hundeds of stories and been warned that I would never be the same again.
Our trip wasn't a romantic insight into compassion.
The volunteer team at I.N.Network worked hard to plan the trip - and they did an excellent job. We met Rose who lived in an 8x8 hovel. She was raising 6 children. Two of them were not her own, but had lost their parents to HIV. Florence lived in the same kind of home. She had five children. She tried to earn a small livin by collecting fire wood in the forest. In March, she was arrested. When she didn't come home that night, no one knew where she was. Her children wondered when she would return. In the end, her three youngest children went to live with their aunt and the two oldest lived at home. They had no food, but what they could beg from neighbours. They didn't know what to do. Joyce had HIV. She was tall, but probably weighed just over 100 pounds. HIV had already taken her husband. Her husband's family forced her to leave the family Samba (a plot of land). She went back to her family. Almost as soon as she returned her father passed away. Her own brothers and sisters were afraid of HIV AIDS. They too rejected. So Joyce had no place to go but to fnd a home in the Kibera slum.
Each of these women have almost no choice. They have children who need food. They need a warm place to sleep. Many of them would like to go to school, but they don't have money for a uniform or shoes or books.

Monday, July 27, 2009

0-24 hours continured 2

10:39 a.m. no real options but to wait.... arghhhhhhh flight leaves later afternoon... should be in Nairobi tomorrow at 7 p.m.

0-24 hours continured

12:45 a.m. arrived at Toronto Sheraton....
8:35 a.m. KLM Flight 962 passengers are finding their way to the breakfast buffet. They are scrambling to manage their travel schedule. Many have missed 2 or 3 connecting flights. Some have made plans to visit their family. Some have bought their tickets in January. Everyone is disappointed. Gord's luggage is still on the plane. We are due back at the airport at 2 p.m. In the meantime, we wait....

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Africa: 0-24 hours

Africa Blog: Day 1 7:33p.m. EST
397 people are crammed into the 747..... spectacular lighting and thunder storms forced the caterers to wait until they could stock the plane with mouth watering temptations.. A problem with the phneumanic (ok, I am not all that mechanical) has trapped us on board, seated, at the gate in terminal 3 in Toronto. Our scheduled time for departure was 5:45.
According to Gord we are collectively producing 84,000 BTU's of body heat per hour.
A baby stripper is toddling up and down the aisles. We all wish that pampers was our fashion statement.
Stripping's not an option as the heat climbs.
7:44 p.m. babies screams increase. A flurry of open overhead compartments. Stressed attendants pass out 6 oz containers of water. Mr. Bean settles into his hotel room in some European city, taking his little yellow duck into the shared bath.
We scheme. We had a three hour layover in Amsterdam. We have already spent 1.5 hours the layover at gate C34 in Terminal 3 in Mississauga. Perhaps Dave, who we anticipated arriving in Nairobi about 10 hours after we did, will arrive there before we do.
My battery on the netbook is hanging in there. But the plane doesn't let me access the internet. If I am reduced to boredom I can try to crack the last 6 levels in brick breaker. Or challenge my computer friends to a game of hearts.
7:53 p.m. Kevin is laughing uproariously. I forgot for a moment that Mr. Bean is providing comedy relieve to amuse the crowd jammed into 15 inch seats.No word from the captain.
8:13 p.m. We just had an announcement. Unfortunately, it was in Dutch. We are still sitting in the warm breeze of the plane's air system.
8:15 p.m. The attendants are handing out small celo packages of smoked almonds (I guess there are no allergy alerts in Amsterdam) and watered down orange juice. They tell us that they are taking all the precautions available for our safety. They have to start the engines again to see if this was the problem. They are hesitant to give us a scenario if it is not the problem. I already imagine the chaos of 397 people trying to reroute their travel plans. Do you think they will put us up at a 5 star on Airport Road?
8:22 p.m. 63% of my battery remains. Nearly everyone on the flight has had a package of smoked nuts. The prepackaged meals are cooling.
8:30 p.m. A flurry of authoritative Dutch and a scurry of attandents collecting plastic cups and celo papers. The captain changes to English. It's much more disappointing. AS it looks now the starter is failing and the mechanics are still working on it. The flurry was without hope. They will keep us informed as best they can. But they still don't know what the problem is. We have now spent 2 of our 3 hours of lay over at Gate C34 at Terminal 3 in Mississauga.
8:45 p.m. (54% of the battery consumed.... the net book does a lot better on battery than my tablet.) Gord has pulled up the KLM web site.... the next flight to Nairobi will be at 9:25 that night. We then arrive at Narobi at????? sometime in the morning... maybe our 5 star accommodation will be in downtown Amsterdam? There is a flurry of people on cell phones, trying to figure out how they are going to connect with their next flight. The attendance catch the vibe and come on the microphone: We're not to worry about connecting flights.... because the ground crews will make the arrangements for the connections we miss.....Gord is ordering pizza, but they're not sure the pizza guys can break through the security. There are not sharp objects or more than 100ml of liquid in pizza, is there? I may have to reduce myself to playing spider solitaire (unless Dan deleted it.)
9:13 p.m. We are going to debark. The part needed may or may not be in Toronto. I have to close my computer. The good news is I have 46% of my power and I can re charge at the airport.
9:44 p.m. successfully debarked. Found a plug in -- can play scrabble online now. The missing part has been identified and we have been told that we will know if the plane is able to be fixed by 11:30 tonight..... then they will tell us what to do. We can choose NOT to fly tonight, but they will KLM not take responsibility for our future travel plans. The pizza guy was unable to break through the security and deliver on board. But KLM cam through with meal vouchers and we have been able to scavenge some food from the airport. We assume the food supplied by the caterer on the plane will be revived at a later date.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

taking a break?

The second and third week of July are most often selected by Canadians for vacation. But few marketing professionals can take a pure break -- because the summer months are the hot bed for new ideas, new campaigns and implementation for fall products.
In the next few weeks, I am taking off for a new journey -- Gord, our general manager and videographer, Kevin, partner, art director and photographer and I -- are off to Africa for a film and resource gathering trip with I.N.Network Canada.
Ultimately our goal is to gather the resources to produce a TV show to be aired in January.
I will keep you posted as we visit places we have read about, told stories of and raised money for. Now we will meet the people personally, walk in their community, visit their homes, eat their food.

Friday, June 26, 2009


What do college students think is the most critical in their world? A new survey by SurveyU found:
81% think education is very important
68% consider child endangerment/abuse prevention critical
The next most important are: rape prevention (65%), civil/human rights (65%) and cancer (62%) round out the top five, with drunk driving prevention (61%), genocide (59%), domestic violence (57%), AIDS (57%) and environment/conservation (54%).
Poverty does not appear -- although one could argue that poverty is an issue that intersects many of these issues.
Most interestingly, GenY -- the generation where access to global information is the most ubiquitous (there is no "time before web" in their memory) -- they are most interested in issues related to their own lives, their own community and their own country.
Marketers and communicators must learn to navigate in a global world where personal takes precedence. We have the technology.... but do we have the will, the patience and the savvy?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

the power of brand

We often talk about brand personality -- the character of the product, organization or service.
Building brand is about creating a poignant (and positive) experience with the brand. Disney is all over that. Coke cuts through the heat with icy cold refreshment. The i-phone is the fastest, most powerful and totally cool smart phone (the blackberry, the business phone -- not so cool but reliable).
The experience of using the i-phone or blackberry affirms the brand. The i-phone is slick, cool and operates with the flick of a finger. The blackberry is clunkier, and uses a key board.
If I close my eyes and imagine... the i-phone user is wearing designer jeans and t-shirt and the blackberry guy has a suit. The i-phone user is smiling and flicking, the blackberry guy is frowning and thumbing. This all affirms the brand experience.... notice, the logo was never mentioned.
Here's an interesting study.
Elizabeth Loftus studies false memories -- memories which actually create the brand experience. A group of people were shown a photo of Bugs Bunny in front of Disney Land shaking hands with people. A photo shopped image, as Warner Brothers and Disney rarely share their brand icons.
Then they had the participants carry out different tasks. Later they asked the participants to share their members of a trip to Disney Land. 30% remembered shaking Bugs Bunny's hand.
Brand is made up of a complex mix of personal experience and marketing messages.
When your brand is in the hands of a variety of stakeholders, building a consistent experience can be challenging. If your marketing message is creativity, but your presentation is linear and lacks interest, the marketing message will be lost. Each individual in your organization carries your brand message -- what brand experience do they give?

Monday, June 8, 2009


How many weeks until the holiday season?
Not enough!
Integrated marketing efforts for the 2009 holiday season should be well mapped by now... but many organizations are still putting their plans together. As we continue to receive requests for holiday programs that include print, mail, web and e-mail, I was wondering how many dollars were lost each year simply because the planning was not in place.
I just read an article this morning analyzing the decline in retail revenue. The author implied that while there is decline in some markets, when studying the numbers, it appears that retailers with a strong brand, solid investment in marketing and adherence to brand promise are actually gaining in the current market.
As we assess our marketing results, we need to be very careful not to use declining economy where our own strategic plan and marketing spend has been weak. We haven't seen a significant drop in client's revenue -- with the exception of clients who have decreased their spend.
Interesting, eh?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


I may have gotten distracted by Twitter (I was shocked to find out my last entry way April 15th...) But back to Twitter -- imagine giving inspiring, informative, interactive messages in 140 characters. It tweaks (yeah,yeah...) the imagination, doesn't it?

How are you using Twitter?

As millions of Tweets appear on my personal, I need to refocus.....

On Friday, May 15th we launched the results of a youth survey... over 1200 young people participated in the survey. One of the unique features of the survey was that 80% of the respondents are faith-based.

The overall goal of the survey was to discover trends in the teen and college aged market -- focusing on the teen market. One of the most interesting tidbits in the survey is that teens do not like country music (it's rock, pop and hip hop!).... but, hands down, they like Cold Play (Alternative -- but a bit poppy) and Taylor Swift (country)!

The survey shows the interactivity of young people's forays into communication... while Google dominates, Facebook and You Tube are stars.

To get your copy of the survey, just email me and I will send you a PDF.

We'll have it up on our web site ( give me a day!

I'm looking for wisdom in the next phase of social media.... as MySpace dwindles to less than 60 million users and 35+ are taking over Facebook.... Where is the next digital hang out for teens? Will MySpace have a A&W renewal?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

sink or miss the boat?

Choosing marketing strategies is a tough call -- especially entry level activities. For instance, the pioneers who advertised in TV made decisions that changed the way they did business. We hear of the successes...
Like Kellogg's whose story is popping up all over the place right now. They increased their advertising dollars during the 30's and experienced exponential growth. ... but what about the thousands of companies that went bankrupt?
Revenue growth is a complex art...
Academics Peter Dickson and Joseph Giglierano suggest businesses are concerned about two kinds of failure:
“sinking the boat”: making a bad decision at a key time that sinks the company.
“missing the boat”: simply ignoring opportunity or taking too long to adopt.
When is the right time to make a bold business decision: Kraft launched Miracle Whip in 1933. Hardly the right time considering the economic climate.
Ford launched the Edsel in the 50's -- at the height of commercial success. Thousands of case studies have focused on the stunning failure of the Edsel -- the wrong car at the wrong time.
Audience affinity for your product -- whether an actual physical product, service or compassionate opportunity -- is critical.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Web 2.0

I think this means the new environment of social networks... but I've always been slightly suspect of these kind of terms. I believe I can safely say that I have never asked a client what their web 2.0 strategy was (but I'm flexible).
But I read about it all the time.
Social networks, blogs, micro-blogs, SMS, forums, chats.... and the list of on-line opportunities goes on.
We have so many ways of engaging technology.
But are these rabbit trails leading away from our core strategy?
I'm going out on a limb here and suggesting that the key to web 2.0 is not understanding web -- but understanding your customers, your product and your business proposition.
I have a new stove. it has about 23 buttons on the front. Some of them I get... like "light" and "bake." But the Sabbath Delay feature? Not so much. I have figured out how to put food in the morning and have it bake miraculously when I am at work -- but I have to follow 2 pages of instructions.
My point?
I am vastly underusing my stove.
I would argue that many companies are vastly underusing technology or using random features without developing a measurable strategy.
There are some barriers to using it well:
1. Using multiple aspects of digital communication is time consuming.
2. Multiple channels without strong focus fragments your message.
3. Lack of a clear understanding of overall marketing goals, making it difficult to set tracking parameters.
4. Too much information muddying the waters and distracting from core goals.
So we're mid-stream in web 2.0 (whatever that means).... how has it changed the way we do business?

Monday, April 13, 2009


Cynthia Edwards, copywriter at Razorfish Global Email Solutions group had some interesting insights into retail ecommunication from non-profit sites.
She points out that retailers may be missing opportunities that non-profits have already figured out.
Many charities have developed great engagement tools online - especially for information because transferring information on-line is inexpensive (especially if your on-line tools are well-developed), timely and engaging.
Engaging donors early -- World Wildlife Fund does this really well -- and keeping the information up-to-date and interesting helps build long term relationships.
World Vision, well known for aggressive marketing strategies, is good about welcome messages, thank yous and quick notes in response to donor's emails. They excel in communicating their core message -- especially in early interactions.
Use moments of interactions wisely, building relationship -- not just passing through information. There's nothing as impersonal as a "personalized" form eletter.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

all that glitters is not gold

Just received this announcement: "Finding the gold in on-line fund raising."
Is there growth in on-line?
Is there opportunity in on-line?
But don't get fooled into thinking that you can leave your fund raising or marketing brain behind in the quest for gold -- you'll be disappointed.
Stick to the basics... even on-line:
1. Brand differentiation: make sure your brand messages are strong, consistent and resonate with your customer/donor.
2. Product and pricing: understand that you have a product and it can be named. This is easy for organizations and companies that produce stuff (cars, widgets, food, houses...) but for companies and organizations that sell services and social services, it becomes more complex.
3. On top of selling a product, you sell value (that's called brand). This value sets you apart.
4. Speak clearly, directly and identify any action clients, customers or donors need to take.
5. Resist the temptation to use your web site for organizational natter -- the full web site needs to be written in client/customer/donor focused language.
The future is in digital applications. Mobile, web, social media -- the lines will continue to blur until we live in a ubiquitous smart phone. But principals of marketing and relationship building don't evaporate with a change of venue.
Remember.... all that glitters is not gold.

Friday, April 3, 2009

8 tracks vs the i-pod

Successful communication means understanding the core values of your audience. Sometimes, when we are communicating to people who are in a same demographic that expresses their core values in ways divergent to our paradigm we run the risk of misunderstanding their core values.
Gen Y, people who Between 14 years old and 32, (or there abouts)are a unique generation.... well, maybe not as different as we thought, it turns out. According to Dr. Jennifer Deal they score the same on career engagement, have no trouble focusing on a task for more than 10 minutes and have similar on-line capacities as their older siblings and parents.
They do, though, have a different perspective on how they engage in their world. The Wall Street Journal's research suggests that 50% of university and college graduates consider self-employment more secure than a company job. Very likely due to the changing times: stable, traditional companies of their parents are laying off. Gall-up discovered that about 60% of high school students look forward to starting their own companies. Not that surprising either. They are better educated, encouraged to innovate and reinforced by their parents and teachers.
GenYers' tell us that their most important personal values are authenticity, altruism and community. While their core belief is in themselves, they are looking for things to believe in and support.
We have to be careful that we don't judge other generations by things we don't understand. We need to talk to them, listen to their answers and track their behaviours.
Some of the differences are cultural. I remember the six months 8 tracks were the musical medium of choice (OK, I'm very, very old). When Sweet Cherry Wine boomed from the speakers my parents were aghast. That's my job as a child, to make them aghast.
GenYer's may be using ipods, smart phones and Facebook, but don't be fooled into thinking that they do not hold similar values to past generations.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

mega trends

"Irrelevancy is where most brands linger before they die."
This is from a white paper presented by Hiebing -- a brand development agency.
Remember Eaton's.... one of Canada's top retailer plunged into irrelevancy by misunderstanding its inherent consumer brand value.
To get you thinking about brand, here are the top 8 mega trends identified in the white paper:
High-Low consumerism: consumer choice - they will spend unlikely dollars on something they believe is valuable and go economical on something they don't. It's the consumer's choice.
Individualism: in the digital economy this is even more pronounced: what I want, when I want it and in the way I want it.
Choice overload: BUT they need help in choosing, because, in today's economy and info overload -- it's just hard to choose.
Hiving: mom or dad, maybe both parents, but the family is the family and we are protecting our unit. Dad's are spending a lot more time with their kids.
Gender complexity: Men are into decorating and fashion and women are into business. Family chores are shared. Who would have thunk it.
New 20 is 30: people are pushing back on starting families and settling into careers. There are more options and 20 year olds are using them -- oh, and living at home.
Geek is Chic: Bill Gates is a fashion statement. Nerds rule. Big Bang Theory is the ultimate geek show and successful.
Retirement Defied: The 60+ generation is no longer looking to find a way to the ocean. They want to stay in the boardroom -- or at least be gainfully employed. And it's not about money.
More than ever the boomers are really afraid of growing old -- General Electric just announced a foray into health care. They're watching the mega trends.
So how does that translate into our advertising?

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

core genius

"In writing advertising it must always be kept in mind that the customer often knows more about the goods than the advertising writers because they have had experience in buying them..."
- John Wanamaker
He also said: "Half the money I spend on advertising is a waste. The problem is I don't know which half."
Often called the Father of Advertising, Wanamaker was a genius in merchandising. He understood the core premise of advertising: it's about the consumer.
How often do we forget the consumer or donor when we write, design and publish? How often is our audience pushed aside for organizational detail and sector language? How often do we allow our own tastes to influence our decisions?
In my early marketing years we were asked to beat a very successful control package. It reigned supreme for over 10 years. In my youthful naiveté I thought: "How hard could it be?" So Kev and I (Kevin and I have been working as business colleagues and partners for more than 15 years -- why mess with a good thing?) created a test piece. The core idea resonated with each of us, but when the creative was done we both looked at it and said: "We really hate it."
It out performed the control considerably.
What we were so close to forgetting was: it isn't about what I like or what I would respond to. It's about our audience.
Before we launched the new creative we did a focus test group with people who matched our audience demographics. They loved it. So we decided to include the piece in our test.
Had we relied on our own tastes and design leanings we would have made a big mistake.
Every day I challenge myself to think beyond myself and look to the demographics, the tests and the results. When I am in a meeting and there is a lot of chatter about what the likes and dislikes of the people in the room, I know immediately I am not in a marketing meeting -- I am in a room of amateurs.

Monday, March 30, 2009

outside of my little box

As a marketer I often wax eloquent on the benefits of outside of the box thinking. My natural idealism is multiplied many times by the cultural cynicism of my post-modern environment (alas, yes, I am old enough to still fit into that piece of the world). For my entire life I have been encouraged to see outside the box -- which, of course, in one of the many grand ironies of our world, is simply another box!
Of course, the new generation lives in a completely different "box."
Some day we'll talk about that little box... but my real point is how do I, as a marketer, learn?
I speak to marketing experts every day.
But, interestingly, it's rare that I see a new approach or even an interesting test. Yes, the web is a new environment -- but we are still applying our boxed solutions to it. We all read about the multi-dimensional opportunities of digital marketing -- but what are we dong?
There is a fine line between applying known marketing principles and just doing the same old, same old.... what are you learning?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Facebook is counting

The fastest growing group of users is women over 55... but they are still a small segment of the Facebook population.
Today's count?
6 million users 13-17
19.5 million 18-25
13.4 million 26-34
9.7 million 35-44
4.6 million 45-54
2.8 million over 55
The biggest demographic is women in between 19 - 25.
How have you been successful in using Facebook?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Notion of "Free"

Ongoing question: how free is social networking?

Nissan had no budget to release the Rogue -- so they chose viral. But let's be honest here. How free is viral? They still had to produce the video (a couple of hundred thousand dropped there). They posted and tracked (hours and hourly fees). So when all is said and done -- the off hand comment that "social is free" means we didn't pay for ad space.

Social provides a convenient space for posting. The production of that posting still needs to be considered in the equation.

Be smart -- use social media, but understand the budget implications.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

3D glasses

"It's like going to a 3D movie without the glasses."
That's from Ian Schafer CEO of Deep Focus.
Some context?
Using the same measurement tools for web as for traditional marketing (how do you define engagement?)
Don't limit the success of your digital marketing by limiting the analysis. It all starts with understanding what purpose your web site plays in your overall marketing strategy.
While that sounds simplistic and encourages a "DUH!" Hang on...
Too many organizations are trying to put everything they know on their sites. It becomes a dumping ground for organization clattertrap. (you used to store this in cardboard boxes in an off-site storage unit.)
Even though they have access to analytic tools -- no one bothers. The plethora of data seems complicated and confusing.
The most difficult barrier to an effective website is content. Once the content is active, it's analysis... what are you doing to integrate your web site into your strategic plan?

Where is the party....

I sat in a meeting yesterday afternoon where we were planning a launch... the tag line of the meeting seemed to be "but we have to be careful, we don't have budgets this year."
The alternative to marketing seemed to be social networks... Facebook, Twitter, RSS, My Space....
Let's get serious.
Social networks are not an alternative to serious, ROI driven marketing. First of all, users of social networks are there to play. They are adept at ignoring the nonsense on the side bar and hone in on the latest photo updates.
As a marketer your role is to increase the profit of your company. You do that by strategic marketing, understanding the return on investment of everything you do.
Don't get me wrong... play with social networks, experiment, be there. But understand that there is a cost. Someone has to have the time to play with it.
The most important function of social network sites is to help you understand your customer.
We are in the early days of digital and interactive marketing. Keep your eyes open... it's going to be a fun ride.

Monday, March 23, 2009

trapped in SEM

Ever think that technology is moving faster than you are?

SEM: Search Engine Marketing.... as defined by Wikipedia (I couldn't resist) is: Search engine marketing, or SEM, is a form of Internet marketing that seeks to promote websites by increasing their visibility in search engine result pages (SERPs). According to the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, SEM methods include: search engine optimization (or SEO), paid placement, contextual advertising, and paid inclusion.[1] Other sources, including the New York Times, define SEM as the practice of buying paid search listings.[2][3]

Eric Clemons, professor of operations and information management at The Wharton School for Management" says that Google's business model is all about "misdirection, or sending customers to Web locations other than the ones for which they are searching...Monetization of misdirection frequently takes the form of charging companies for keywords and threatening to divert their customers to a competitor if they fail to pay adequately for keywords that the customer is likely to use in searches for the companies' products."

So basically he is suggesting that you use your competitor's words and product lines and lead them to your site.

(That's like putting Pepsi in a Coke can and telling the Pepsi drinker that it's all the same.....)

Hard to believe -- I'm thinking that customers would figure that out pretty fast and no longer go to Google to search for the things they want.

We had some stunning success with SEM over Christmas.... what drove the numbers?

The organization's real name.

What sank success?

Using leads that brought searchers to something they weren't expecting.

I'd say that misdirection is poor use of SEM -- but there are still a lot of people out there experimenting without the benefit of knowledge, tests or marketing savvy.

If you want to read the whole article go to (You'll have to cut and paste... the add a link button did not add a link....) (I apologize for the language!)

Friday, March 20, 2009

OK -- not trapped...

The history of advertising parallels the history of competition. We advertise, market, fund raise to gain attention in order to promote our product. It's really that simple -- the more people that hear about our product, service or mission, the more will come alongside.
What is confusing the market today (and it has been confused before) is the complexity of channels. Intuitively we believe that integration will optimize results, but we have not yet truly realized the advantage of integration between brand and direct.
It's easier for a campaign. TV drives to web or phone... but how about web driving to TV? Or radio to print? Or radio and web to TV and print?
Ultimately our budgets prevent solid integration -- we simply can't afford to use all channels.
So we need to choose the channels that serve us best.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Are we trapped?

When it comes to tackling digital media, agencies and brands are still too locked into traditional ways of doing business to exploit the full potential of advertising and marketing online.
Lots of controversy on the ability of marketers to integrate between brand, direct response and interactive vehicles.
It's a challenge.... how do we integrate vehicles, maximize our ROI and spend in a downturn?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


OK -- I have already missed my opportunity for New Year's Resolutions -- dashed the easy entry to the year with observations and predictions. But we are in a new world, a new economy, a new mindset. Google laid off... Chrysler is partnering with Fiat... Heinz stocks are on the rise and Linens and Things collapsed.
Layoffs are rampant. Companies are hesitant to expand and are tightening the reins to prepare for a longer term recession. Canadians receive a budget today; Americans are hoping for a new president to innovate and create.
Major gift donors are will be hesitant -- they've taken a big hit to their investments. Middle and mass donors are going to be careful. The biggest change is going to be to a return of values. You already saw it during the holiday season where people were looking for gift ideas that were filled with meaning rather than cost.
The return to meaning is critical for non-profits. People will be looking for inspiration to do something beyond their own physical reach. Non-profits help ordinary people stretch their arms to reach beyond themselves.