Monday, December 29, 2008

Account management 101

On the ferry today I was considering how unique the interaction between clients and agencies is. 

Clients hire agencies to be creative. To come up with ways of saying things that are more interesting and engaging than they, the client, could come up with on their own. They also hire agencies to get the job done and make their lives easier.

Clients tend to pick agencies that they think they'll like working with and that they think will do a great job. Money and other elements come into play, but I believe that those first two items are at the core of the agency selection process.

Yet it's amazing how often those two, good work and ease of working together, come into conflict. And therein is the skill to managing agency/client relationships. You need to produce great work that the client will be proud of but the client also needs to feel good about working with you. 

This would be easy if clients and the agency always saw eye to eye. But that's not the reality. Other issues always come up, whether it's a personal, strategic, aesthetic or arbitrary differences. And it's at that point where agencies will feel that they're being asked to compromise and not do the best work possible for the client.

In this case, it would be easiest to cave in immediately and just do whatever the client asked. After all, that is what being "the client" means. The client pays the bills, so there is a feeling that the most efficient way to deal with a request is to just do what they ask.

The challenge is that to just do what they ask will often mean sacrificing the quality of the work being produced. If this was just a matter of creative integrity it would be one thing, but it's not. It's also a business problem. Because if the client request does reduce the quality of the work, then over the long term the agency is going to be producing a sub-standard body of work. That will impact the business and will cost the agency a client.

So, by not giving the client what they want and "pushing back" an agency can become viewed as difficult to work with. But by giving the client exactly what they want the agency risks providing sub-par creative work that will be unsatisfying to the client in the long run.

In the end, we do what we've always done: discuss, negotiate and try to create the highest quality work possible for a client while keeping them happy about working with us. 

It's not an easy job. It's stressful being in between the two objectives and trying to bring them together. Maybe if this whole advertising thing doesn't work out for me I'll consider bringing peace to the middle east.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

bitter sweet

If it weren't so sad, this might be one of my favourite news stories of the year. Can you imagine standing in the street in the snow watching someone drive off with your car, moments after you were so grateful to them?

Colleen and I went out the other day looking for people to help get their cars out of the snow. It's fun and gives you a nice warm Christmas feeling. I guess others get that warm feeling in other ways.

Why does this story have to come from Surrey?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Help wanted.

I was reading a designer I respect's blog today and he mentioned that he was looking for interns and others to work for free. I decided to steal a page from his blog and post my staffing needs.

I'm looking to hire an account supervisor (or two) to come work at TBWA\Vancouver. I'm hoping to find someone with a few years of experience in an agency, that can do both on and offline work, and who has a passion for creativity and big-idea thinking. They should be able to think strategically, but also not be above getting into the details.

This person would play a major role on one of our primary accounts and would be the lead on one or two other pieces of business.

We're a pretty good shop with strong creative and a great team feel. I think that this will be a pretty good role for whomever ends up in it and a great growth opportunity for them.

If you know of anyone, have them call me. (604) 219-6826.

I'm alive.

I'm here.

My last couple of postings were on the conclusion of my job hunt. Not surprisingly, now that I am gainfully employed again I've had a lot less time to add to my blog. But, then again, people with way busier lives, more important jobs, and far deeper thoughts than me keep their blogs updated, so I've got no excuse.

A brief work related synopsis of my past month for those who know me personally but rarely see me. (And I believe that that comprises the majority of my readers, sadly enough.)

I started at TBWA as the Director of Client Services. The people there are terrific and I'm enjoying myself immensely. It has been a crazed and hectic month though. The team that I inherited had a couple of people with a great deal of experience and a few with almost none. They had fallen a bit behind in a few key areas, like billing, which are not what the business is about but without which you can't do the business. We had also just implemented a new project management/time management/billing system called Workamajig, which is terrific and cool but makes things challenging for the first little while. So a lot of the first month was spent getting the ship righted. We've done that now and things are looking up.

We've also been involved in a few new business things over the past month. We picked up a project for the IOC to do design for The Olympic Club. We're going to start doing Olympic related work for Visa. And on Friday afternoon we were awarded the Okanagan Spring business. So it's been a pretty killer month on that front.

The agency is great. It feels far more like a team than anything I've been involved with in the past. The senior leadership are very involved on a day-to-day basis. And the work that we're putting out is very strong. Not everything's perfect, but the challenges that are there are definitely manageable and may reflect more opportunity than anything.

The bottom line is that I'm pretty happy and things are going well. Now that some items are under control, I hope to post more frequently again, but I'm not making any promises.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Wiserhood

I'm loving this new Wiser's campaign. Welcome to the Wiserhood. So far I've seen a series of TV spots that drive to a pretty funny website.

I can particularly relate to this one. I enjoy the ritual of carving the Thanksgiving turkey, regardless of how much of a mess I make of it. And while the electric carving knife amuses me, I just could never do it.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Clarity in signage.

I saw this sign the other day:

Now, I believe that the intent of this sign is to warn me that the upcoming intersection is under camera control. So that if I run a red light I'll probably get a ticket.

But this has to be one of the most obscure and poorly communicating street signs out there. First of all, what is that image. I'm old enough to know that at one time, perhaps over half a century ago, cameras looked something like that. Nowadays most image capturing devices are just a hole on the other side of your phone. So, the vast majority of drivers, particularly the new ones, will have no clue what this is.

Secondly, even if you do know that that's a camera, what is this supposed to be communicating to you? "Danger! Cameras!" Perhaps a paparazzi warning for the rich and famous.

Thirdly, and this has little to do with the poor design of this sign, do we really need signage to warn us how the law is going to be enforced? Should we start putting up road signs saying "Danger. Drunk driving roadblock ahead." Uh. No.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


We'll see if that title attracts a few extra readers.

On the drive up to Banff the other day we saw these fellas sitting by the side of the road. Very cool.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


I saw this sign the other day while driving up to Banff:

There seems to be a flaw in the logic here.

If I was the kind of person who was not inclined to obey signs in the first place, is a sign telling me to obey signs likely to make me obey signs? Or am I likely to disregard it like I do all other signs?

(That last paragraph took a few attempts, but I think it says what I wanted it to say.)

A related thought - If this kind of thing does work, maybe media providers could run ads saying "Please obey advertising" and then charge advertisers a premium.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

about face

So, I guess I shouldn't delete my previous blog entry, even though that would be easier and less awkward than writing this one.

Early last week, a few days before I was to leave for Toronto to take the position at john st, I got a call from a contact at a Vancouver agency wanting to talk about a role there. In short, they wanted me to take on a senior role within their account group. After some serious consideration, I accepted. I will be starting with TBWA Vancouver as the Director of Client Services on Wednesday.

TBWA is a very good agency. Strong both creatively and strategically. And I'll be working with some people for whom I have a great deal of respect, including Paul Little, Andrea and Jim Southcott and Monica Buck. The challenge for me was in letting down the folks at john st, who had shown faith and confidence in me. They are a terrific shop and I was excited about working there, but in the end the opportunity to stay on the west coast and still work at a great shop won me over.

To anyone reading this from john st, I apologize or any inconvenience that I may have caused. To anyone from TBWA reading this, I'm looking forward to working with you.

A brief follow up - On Sunday, I went to a friend's birthday celebration at the local horse race track. For those of you who don't live in Vancouver and don't understand why people want to live here, here's a shot of the track. And this is on the east side, the supposedly less desirable half of town.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Moving on...

Big news. At least, for me it is.

I've taken a job in Toronto with an ad agency called john st. This of course means that I'll be leaving Vancouver and moving east.

It's a bitter sweet change for me. I'm thrilled with the job. The agency is terrific, the people are wonderful, and the role I've taken on is challenging. But at the same time I'm sad to leave Vancouver. It's home, where my family and friends are, and where I feel most at peace in the world.

But it's all a part of the adventure.

If you're in Vancouver reading this, I'll be having beers at Chill Winston from 5:00 to 8:00 tomorrow evening. Come on by. If you're in Toronto reading this, I'll be arriving on the 28th. 

Monday, October 6, 2008

KFC ends world hunger

I like this:

If I were a candidate, I'd probably make the comment about world hunger. Ten seconds of the debate to do something that's good seems like not a bad idea. But I'm sure my team would have a good discussion over it. After all, should a commercial enterprise such as KFC be able to impact the presidential debates, no matter what good cause they do it under.

If one of the candidates does make the comment, there will be a lot of press out there focussing on KFC. If I'm KFC I'd better make damned sure that I've got all my ducks in a row when it comes to my efforts to end hunger. And $20k is not a lot of money when it comes to UN efforts against world hunger.

Overall I like this idea. It leads to more thinking and discussion, which eventually leads back to addressing the real issue.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ramblings on the use of experts

I was thinking about the use of so-called experts in retail environments. Some are a huge positive, but often it may be helpful to have someone a little more clueless but with a great attitude in customer support.

There used to be several local bookstores under the Duthies name. They were a Vancouver institution. One was located right below the DDB offices where I used to work. They only hired people who were really into books and had read most of the works that came through their door. There was no one more knowledgable to talk to if you had a specific question about books. They were also incredibly intimidating, with an elitist air. They were book snobs. So, while they might have the right answer to your question, you didn't want to deal with them.

Just down the street from Duthie's flagship downtown location was the new Chapters. Their staff didn't really know that much about the books in the store, but they were cheerful and eager to help. If they didn't know the answer, which they usually didn't, they'd go try to find out. And they'd do it with a smile.

Guess where I usually bought my books. Now Duthies is down to one niche location.

Service 1 - Experts 0. Hiring people that are super knowledgable doesn't help if they scare your customers away.

Apple has their Genius Bar. Where I can go get a hand from a pretty helpful person who really knows their stuff. Personally, I don't mind asking someone pointed questions about my laptop, but you've got to admit that the Apple Stores do have a hipper-than-thou feeling to them. And do people really feel comfortable going to talk to someone whose job title is "genius".

Microsoft has come out with their very unimaginitive "gurus", to be based at retailers like Circuit City and Best Buy. While I can imagine that those gurus might be less intimidating to some, simply due to their more low end locations, I also imagine that the actual interactions will be far more befuddling and frustrating. I'm picturing a lot of "Well that's not Microsoft's problem, you've got to talk to HP." discussions with these Gurus.

One of my favourite places to shop, Mountain Equipment Co-op (the REI of Canada) tends to hire very knowledgable employees. They pick people with a love of the outdoors. But in MEC's case the knowledge can be a little hit and miss. Sometimes the staff has moved to another department that they don't know much about. Sometimes they just aren't that knowledgable in the first place. And other times, as often happens in areas where people have varying levels of passion, they can just be a lot more hardcore than the average user, which can be very intimidating. I've had some amazing customer experiences at MEC, and I've had terrible ones, and I never know which I'm going to get.

I believe that hiring experts can be a great benefit for any service based business. But I believe that the attitude and approach of the service staff is even more important than their core knowledge. In an ideal world you'd want to be in the top right quadrant of great service and expert knowledge but, if that's not realistic, then a great attitude, an eagerness to help, and the ability to find information is a better solution than surly experts.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Customer Service - So Close

It happens all the time. An employee is empowered to provide great customer service, and then finds a way to make it a bad experience anyway.

Colleen was planning a camping trip the other day. She bought a bunch of pre-packaged meals at Mountain Equipment Co-Op, then realized she'd bought too much. So she went back to the store to return them.

This was MEC's opportunity to provide a great experience. They're not supposed to take back food, and it would have been OK if they hadn't since it seems like a fair policy. But instead they did take it back, which would have been a great experience, except for the fact that the employee that accepted the return did so in a very unpleasant manner, almost making us feel guilty that she was doing so.

If you're going to go above and beyond for a customer, don't try to make them feel badly about it. Instead, show them that you're glad to help them. Make them feel that the extra effort is a pleasure, simply because you appreciate your business. They'll appreciate it a lot more, and are far more likely to spread the positive word.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


My last post was about a Consumer Packaged Goods client that I used to work with, also commonly referred to as a CPG.

In the UK, and in parts of Canada, CPG clients are often referred to as FMCGs, which stands for Fast Moving Consumer Goods.

I’ve always found this to be a funny term. Who got to decide that they were fast moving? How fast moving do they need to be to fit into the FMCG category? And, if they’re so fast moving, do they really need an ad agency? Should the business objective in the brief state “To make them faster moving”? Could I call Ferraris FMCGs? Lots of silly thinking there…

Isn't it a bit ironic that FMCGs tend to be the slowest moving marketers of all.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Non-working Budget

I used to have a great big Fortune 500 consumer packaged goods client when I was with Tribal DDB in San Francisco.

They used to refer to their marketing allocation as being broken down into “working” and “non-working” budgets. The idea was that production costs and agency fees would fit into the “non-working” budget while all media would fit into the “working” budget.

This terminology always disturbed me. The implication was that money put into “non-working” areas was essentially wasted, since it wasn’t doing anything, whereas the only thing that had an impact was “working” dollars. The end result of this thinking was the idea that investing in a great idea, or in your agency, would be frowned upon, and in general a waste of money. Today that thinking would imply that a dialogue with your customers would be all "non-working", with funds far better spent on a big TV campaign.

Like so many things in this business, Bill Bernbach has a quote that I have always loved that responds to this type of thinking:

"Nobody counts the number of ads you run; they just remember the impression you make."

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Small budget, Big idea

I discovered these spots the other day on a planner’s blog.

The entire series is fabulous. The writing is incredibly amusing. This particular spot, with its repetition of “Bring on the trumpets”, is so quirky that it continues to make me smile even after a dozen viewings. And who doesn’t love the gummy bear with bravado, until the dinosaur comes along, in one of the other spots. But the thing I love most about these is their incredible simplicity. It’s just shots of gummies and a voice over. I’d love to know what the budget for this was. I do hope that the agency kept it low.

Watching these spots made me think about the campaign that was done for the Honda Element a few years back. That was the campaign that featured an animated Element in conversations with, if memory serves, a mule, a platypus and a crab. The crab spot was my favourite of the bunch, with its question “Why no pinch?” While they probably did cost more than $100k each, they really shouldn’t have.

Thinking about these spots makes me think about the power of having no budget. None of us likes having no money to work with. We get so used to spending at a certain level, that we begin to think it necessary to develop great work. But something amazing happens when you challenge a great creative team, give them the freedom to do what they do best, but without the funding that can be a crutch.

I’ve personally had the good fortune to go through this process. My client at the time, a restaurant called Bogart’s, had no money. We took them on as a client because we really liked the guy who ran the place and we thought it was a good opportunity. But his money had to go to media, not production. Fortunately, I was working with a great creative team at the time, Lara Palmer and Paul Little. The two of them came up with a way to turn stock imagery of a cow, chicken and bison into an entire campaign with a final production hard-cost of way under $50k. That little campaign won a boat load of awards, was short-listed at Cannes, and also built the client’s business very nicely, thank you very much.

There are loads of other examples of low budgets driving great ideas, particularly in secondary markets like Vancouver. Film festivals. Charities. Fairs. These things are often seen as award show fodder, but I wonder if their success is more a result of low budgets forcing great thinking. After all, if you’ve got no money, then there’s nothing else to fall back on but the craft.

addendum - I posted this the other day, then sat back and thought about it some more. I love these fruit gummy ads, but is there an "idea" behind them, or are they just well written good spots? I supposed it depends on your definition of "idea", but I might argue that they're just very good executions. Is there anything wrong with that?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Doogie Howser

I saw someone write the other day about George Orwell being the original blogger. Maybe, but really he’s more a diarist because his thoughts weren’t published for the world to see.

I’d like to nominate Doogie Howser instead. Remember how at the end of each episode he’d write a little bit on his computer about the life lesson that he’d learned that day. Who knows what happened to those postings? Maybe they made it into the blogosphere.

OK. Maybe not. But I think that it would be cool / super-dorky to do a new blog that featured the many postings that Dr. Howser wrote. I’m sure there weren’t that many episodes, so it would be limited. And they weren’t that smart.

OK. Maybe not such a good idea.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I’m Too Nice

A couple of months ago I didn’t get a GM position that I was interviewing for. I thought I was perfect for the role, but it didn’t come through. They didn’t pick me, but nor did they pick anyone else. They started their process over again. I was surprised and confused at the time, but I just let it pass.

Last Friday I realized that I had missed out on a great opportunity. I had never asked the final decision maker what had happened. So I gave him a call.

I’ll admit that I was a little nervous to make this call. No one likes to get negative feedback, regardless of how constructive it is. So I stammered a bit when the gentleman (I’ll call him Jim) answered and I asked my question.

First off, I’ll say that Jim was terrific. He didn’t try to be too nice to me, he just let me know where he’d been coming from. That was what I needed. Like any good feedback, he started with a couple of nice things, but then he let me have it.

The problem with me for him was that I was too nice. He thought that I’d be a great person for running lots of his business, and that I’d make a great Director of Client Services for his agency, but that I was too nice to be his GM. He felt that for someone to run his company that person needed to have a harder edge and to be a little more cut-throat.

I have a couple of thoughts about this. The first is that I appreciate this feedback. It’s good to know how I’m seen and it’s good to know the concern he had. It’s also not the first time I’ve heard this, as I also received this specific piece of feedback from one of the agencies I met with in San Francisco. (The nine-interview place I mentioned in a previous posting.) So clearly I’m coming across as a good guy, but perhaps not strong enough. I will definitely take that into my future meetings.

My second thought on this is – What a load of crap! Jim thinks that he can tell whether I’m tough enough to run his team from sitting down to interview me over a cup of hot chocolate. Come on, that’s just a little bit ridiculous. To think that since I come across as a nice guy in an interview, which I try to do, means that I can’t make the hard decisions when required, or that I don’t have the drive to move business forward, is pretty stupid. I think that a brief discussion with those who have worked with me in the past would be a far better means of evaluating this “trait”. Or, he could have just asked me a question about this outright.

Also, who wants to work for someone who appears “tough”. The external appearance of toughness is, in my humble opinion, not necessarily a positive in the agency business. It's probably not helpful in the business development side of things. It’s internal toughness that counts. I’ve spent most of my career working, in one manner or another, under a guy named Frank Palmer. Frank’s not tough. At least, not when you initially meet him. But, put in a difficult situation, there are few others that I would want more on my team. Toughness is a situational trait, not a permanent feature.

I’m glad I made the call to Jim. I learned something that may help me moving forward. I’d encourage anyone that’s reading this particular posting to comment on their thoughts on this. I’d be interested in knowing what others think.

Jim – I hope you read this. Thanks for the feedback. It was helpful. You were wrong.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Why I don’t blog more often…

Friends have asked me why I don’t write my blog more often. Apparently some people enjoy reading my ramblings, and that makes me pretty happy. It’s nice to have your work appreciated. But they would like more.

I’m a pretty big fan of Seth Godin’s blog. He doesn’t have a lot of breadth, but he writes well on the few topics that are important to me. He writes about treating people well, about treating your customers well, and about growing your business in ways that are honest and organic. I believe that that is a great focus. But it’s what he thinks about all the time.

That blog and the others that I read tend to be about what other people do with their time professionally.

These days I spend the vast majority of my time either doing contract work for others or in trying to find my next permanent role. The contract work I enjoy, but it tends not to be the type of thing that inspires original thoughts. (Maybe it should. But it hasn’t yet.) And trying to find one’s next role isn’t the kind of thing one blogs about.

Why not? I guess there are two primary reasons. The first is that I have no idea who is reading this blog and I’d hate to shoot myself in the foot with them. There have been really interesting and insightful experiences in this process. For instance, one place had four meetings with me, nine interviews, and flew me back and forth from Vancouver, and then I didn't hear anything further from them. Another time a recruiter was straight-out dishonest with me. But you don’t want to write about these experiences, because who knows what’s going to happen. The place where I had nine interviews is also going through a major new business cycle, so they may just have had other priorities at the time. As my friend Mike said when I told him that story: “We tend to focus so much on what’s urgent that we forget what’s important.”

The second reason is why I don’t write more about these experiences is that it’s a little too personal for public consumption. Any time you don’t get a role that you were hoping for it’s embarrassing. It shouldn’t be, but it is. You get your heart into the role, and then you don’t get it, and it’s not a happy experience.

So those are the two big things that prevent me from blogging more often. I’ll continue to try to keep posting, and maybe overcome these obstacles, and I’ll ask for patience in so doing.

Monday, August 25, 2008

broadcast power

Intel announced yesterday that they have figured out how to broadcast power. They demonstrated this by lighting a 60 watt lightbulb on stage, without batteries or cords.

I had wondered about this months ago. It seems like something we should be able to do. Now I learn that people have been working on this for decades but, in the past, the only way to do it was to essentially shoot bolts of electricity across a space - not the most elegant of solutions.

I find this announcement incredibly exciting. For one, Intel is out there pushing the boundaries of science and making world-changing innovations. Two, imagine the world (or the urban world at least) without the need for cords or batteries.

Good for Intel. My perception of them, which was already pretty high, just increase by orders of magnitude.

And good for people. We keep doing really cool stuff.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Escaping connectivity

I have spent about half of my life trying to get connected. From the early days of bulletin boards with a 2400 baud modem, to using Archie and Gopher to try to access the pre-web Internet, to trying to convince my employers that buying a second modem for the agency would not kill productivity.

Now I discover via LifeHacker via Dan Germain that there's software out there that I can install on my Mac whose sole purpose it is to prevent me from being online. And I love the idea.

As much as we'd like to be able to unplug and just focus, it's really freakin' hard. Freedom forces you to not check e-mail or IM or Facebook for as long as you intend to focus.

What a great idea.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Owning your error.

I got this screen today when I tried to access some information in Google Finance.

I love the fact that they owned the error. Right up there at the top, it's not just an error, it's a Google Error.

Now, perhaps that wasn't intentional. But that's the way I read it, and I like it. If you tell someone you'll provide something, and you can't, fess up. It'll work out better for you in the long run.

I wish more companies operated this way.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Something that doesn't suck.

A friend of mine asked me to speak at Interesting Vancouver yesterday. I was curious about what he thought I'd talk about, since I work in marketing and didn't think that Interesting was going to be about marketing. He suggested that I do a few minutes on "things that suck". I found this pretty amusing, but realized that most of the recent entries in my blog have been on things that really do suck. Or, more particularly, customer experiences that suck.

Now, there's a two-part reason for this. First, because customer experience is every bit as much a part of marketing as communications, promotion, visual identity, etc. And yet it tends to be the part to gets left out by marketing departments. The second reason is because these days I'm tending to self-censor my writing since I'm in the midst of a job hunt and, with a few exceptions, such as my Westin and Starbucks entries, don't want to shoot myself in the foot.
Today, to provide a little balance, I want to comment on an experience I just had that didn't suck.

On my recent west coast road trip, where I met with a bunch of Omnicom shops, I had a bit of an accident in Northern California, just south of Redding. A deer ran out in front of me on the I5 and I hit it going about 120. My 4Runner wasn't badly damaged, but it needed repair. The deer didn't fare quite as well.

Colleen and I debated whether we should take it in to a small independent shop or a big chain. In the end we decided to play it safe and took it into Craftsman Collision, part of a regional chain. I didn't have high hopes, thinking that this was an industry where a good experience would be pretty rare.

I was very wrong. Craftsman was great. When taking the truck in they were fast and efficient. They gave me a service loaner - a brand new Corolla without a big dorky sticker on the side. When they called me to let me know that my truck was ready to be picked up early I was worried, as I had taken the service car away for a few days and couldn't get it back right away. They said no problem, just come back Monday. When I picked up my truck the walked me through all the work they'd done, and were very encouraging to come back if there were any issues at all. The exterior of my car had been lightly washed, and the interior had been vacuumed. And, of course, the body work was very well done. Wow!

And whenever I talked to them on the phone they were super-friendly. Not just nice, but really very nice and positive. I actually liked them.

So, Craftsman Collision doesn't suck. In fact, as far as my customer experience with them goes, they get a 9.5 out of 10.

Why'd they lose that 0.5? Because I noticed that one of my fog lights wasn't correctly aligned this evening. I'm going to take it back over the next few days. And I'm happy to do so, because I expect that they'll be great again. So they may even get that 0.5 back.

p.s. Since I can't have a totally crazy positive entry, I will say that Speedy Auto Glass does suck. I won't go on about them, since it's just annoying, but they did a poor job on fixing a chip out of my window.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Grizzlies at the peak of Vancouver

Colleen and I went for a little hike on Sunday up Grouse Mountain. We took a less common route to avoid the hordes on The Grind. At the top we visited the Grizzlies, Grinder and Coola. They're one of my favourite sights in Vancouver. How cool is this?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

How good are your meetings?

A friend of mine questioned my apparent need to have fully formed thoughts before I post them in my blog. He's right, of course. So today, I'm just going to question someone's judgement.

I was walking across the street the other day when I saw this ad.

In case you can't read it, it says "Meetings" - "This is how it should feel."

Now, I actually quite like Westin. Their hotels have always been great and they take good care of me. But I'm starting to wonder if any of them have ever been in a meeting.

I've been in some good meetings over the years. The kind that you walk out of and feel all pumped up and ready to change the world. The kind where you high-five each other, then fell like a big loser for giving someone a high-five. But no meeting I've ever been in has ever felt like sky diving.

And, while I could perhaps understand that this might be seen as aspirational, this just might be taking things a little too far. Because, even if my meeting took place on a plane at 10,000 ft. and at the end we all jumped out the door and freefell to earth, it still probably wouldn't be as good as the meeting shown in the picture.

I suspect that anyone booking a meeting at Westin expecting this experience is going to be sorely disappointed. I wonder if there's a guarantee available. I think I have to accuse Westin of overpromising.

(For the record, I have been skydiving. I enjoyed it, but it wasn't the greatest experience of my life. I've never gone again.)

Lastly, maybe I'm reading this all wrong. Maybe meetings aren't supposed to be this good, but this bad. Maybe a meeting is supposed to feel like you've just jumped from a plane, you're plummeting to earth, and your chute won't open. I'll admit that I have been in some meetings that were like that.

Or, maybe I'm still missing the point altogether. Is there some brilliant insight I'm missing?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Starbuck's Little Green Sticks

So, I'm at Starbucks the other day getting my morning coffee.

When they gave me my pipin' hot cup, I also had the option of taking a little green stick with a wide bit at the end, to put into the hole in the plastic lid on my cup. It's a nice looking little stick, with a mermaid at the end.

At first glance, this stick is brilliant. After years of walking around with my cup, facing the danger of hot coffee jumping out of the cup and onto my hand, Starbucks had found a way to protect me and my tender skin. (Or shirt, which has also frequently been the victim of a coffee escape.)

I had been thinking about this coffee spillage situation recently, when I had gone to a Tim Horton's, which uses the old school folding-back lid for its cups. This prevents splashing when you're carrying around the coffee, but it gives you a potentially sharp edge when you're drinking, which isn't entirely pleasant. Timmy had focussed on convenience while Starbucks had focussed on the drinking experience.

Upon further consideration, this stick is just a little bit of a terrible idea. First, let's say I do grab one of the sticks to keep my coffee from spilling on me while I drive. Now, when I decide to remove the stick to drink my coffee, what am I supposed to do with the stick? It's now dirty from being in my coffee, so I don't really want to put it on my car, but it can't stay in the cup if I'm going to drink. They seemed to consider the portability issue without actually considering that someone would at some point want to actually drink their coffee.

Secondly, the place where the sticks were kept was an open container at the counter where they give you your coffee. (I didn't get a photo of that.) It's conveniently placed, but isn't everyone's hand going into that container. And then your stick is going in the coffee, which you're about to drink. Ick. Not terribly sanitary.

Then there's my biggest issue with this - it's just added crap. I know, I should be taking my own reusable cup to Starbucks. I feel actually a little guilty about this. But I don't think that Starbucks should be adding another hunk of plastic to the tens of millions of cups of coffee that they must sell every day. Even if only 10% of customers take one of these cup plugs, it will still be a massive number.

Chris Jordan's art is a great way of demonstrating the truth behind huge numbers. If you haven't seen it, check out his talk at TED, where he shows what the 40 million paper cups used each day in the US look like. It's about about 1:50 into this video.

Now, imagine 4 million little green stir sticks. Non-biodegradable. Non-recyclable. Or, even if they are recyclable, what percent would actually make it into a blue box.

I'm personally a little stunned that Starbucks would try to roll this out. Maybe I was just in a test market. I can't imagine that they'd go forward with this. I can't imagine that they can't figure out a better way to stop the coffee from spilling out of the cup. And I can't imagine that they'd be so deaf to the level of garbage that they create that they'd carry on with this idea.

Was the green stick a good solution to the specific problem of coffee jumping out of the cup? Yes. Was it a good solution that helped consumer usage, that left a positive brand impression, and that took into account the larger impact that the company has in the world. No, no and no.

btw - this morning, July 17, I have discovered the sticks in a Starbucks in SF. So it clearly wasn't a test run. Pity.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bad men on the bus.

Speaking of the bus...

So, I got into a bit of an altercation the other day. I'll give the short version, because this doesn't really fit in my blog, but I thought it was interesting...

I was waiting at my local bus stop and a guy walked up with his wife. They were an older couple and had probably just been at the hospital, which is just a block or so from my place.

He offered his wife a Starburst. She accepted. He unwrapped it for her and threw the wrapper on the ground. Then he did the same for himself, throwing the wrapper on the ground.

I stood by, incredulous, and finally had to say something. I likely could have been more convincing if I'd been more polite, but I was a bit shocked. I said "Excuse me. Are you going to pick that up?" 

To which he replied "No. Why should I?"

Well, I really didn't know what to say to this. It caught me a bit off-guard. So I said "Because I live here and I don't want garbage on the ground." 

At this point his wife retorts "Well if you don't want it then why don't you pick it up." 

To which I said "OK. I will." And I picked up the wrappers.

What I found so shocking here was the fact that they weren't embarrassed or anything. They were more surprised that anyone would have an issue with it.

Of course, I couldn't leave it at just this. So I said to the man and his wife "You're pathetic." Which perhaps could have been more clever, but it's pretty rare that I'm in a situation like this and the good lines always come an hour or so later.

I pocketed the garbage and one of the other passengers at the bus stop walked up to me and said "Good for you." Then he shook my hand. I was glad to have that to let me know I'd done the right thing.

Here's a photo I took of the back of the littering guy's head while I was on the bus. I probably should have taken a face shot but I'd had enough confrontation for one day. I am Canadian after all.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Loser Cruiser

I took the bus to one of my client's offices the other day.

Something occurred to me while taking the bus.

We used to call it the loser-cruiser. (I'm sorry, but we did.) Taking the bus was a sign that you couldn't afford a car. It was the option of last resort.

Now, taking the bus feels like you're doing something positive. It's a bit like recycling, the actual amount of change is tiny, but you feel like you're contributing. And, when taken as part of a larger whole, you actually are. Taking the bus is no longer for losers, it's for people who want to be a part of a positive change in the world.

Which is all a little ridiculous, since I think that a good percentage of bus newbies are riding only because gas has gotten so crazy expensive. So, maybe we need a good swift kick in the butt to force us to do something positive. Ruining the earth wasn't enough, but saving $0.50 just might be.

Sometimes the best way to get from A to B is through C. The shortcut.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Low shower-heads

One thing that has always driven me a little crazy is hotels that install their shower-heads right around neck level. I'm not a particularly tall guy, around 6', so it has always confused me to climb into a shower only to discover that the water is coming out well below my head. What is the thinking behind this? Maybe they're planning on saving that 10" of water as some part of an addle-brained water conservation scheme.

Anyway, I'm on the road right now, acting as support crew on my step-father David's Seattle to Portland bike ride. We checked-in to the lovely Chehalis Inn this afternoon. It was the only room left in the region as of Monday, which is when I informed my 68 year old step-father that he and my 67 year old mother might not want to be sleeping on the floor of a local church the night between the two day ride.

The Chehalis Inn is a little nasty, but beggars can't be choosers. However, when I went into the bathroom I was amazed. Someone had initially installed the shower-heads right around nipple level. But with some ingenious plumbing the heads had been elevated to a rational height. Yes, the shower may still have mildew stains, but at least I'll be able to have a proper soaking.

I wonder if there's a name for this shower-head elevating contraption. If so, I hope it's named after the genius who invented it. I'll assume that he was tall.

p.s. Go David Go!!!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Emergency posting - Thanks Scamp!

I took second place in a photography contest on the Scamp blog a few weeks back. Today Scamp (aka Simon) posted some info on the winners, and included a link to this blog. So I thought I'd damn well better get a posting up today, since I'm sure I'll get more traffic today than any day ever.

Second place in the contest was a set of 8 postcards from Kozyndan, an LA based artist. The work is surreal and fabulous. The kind of stuff that you can stare at and consider, without worrying that you're becoming pretentious. I'd highly recommend checking it out -

My favourite image from the collection was this slightly disturbing one:
A great prize. Thanks Scamp.

Friday, July 4, 2008

I'm back!

My apologies for the extended absence and lack of postings. I've been traveling down the west coast for the past couple of weeks, meeting with Omnicom shops and a client or two. Many fabulous new postings will come shortly.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Picking a name

Truth be told, I've never enjoyed working on naming projects for clients. It's incredibly interesting and a bit of fun, but the results are so unmeasurable and intangible. And the actual selection tends to be very subjective. Yes, going through a proper process helps, but it's almost always a tough go.

Picking my own company's name was not so bad. Actually, it was kind of fun. Perhaps in part because I will win or lose business not because of my company's name, but due to my personal relationships and capabilities. But also because I'm giving identity to something I'm trying to bring to life.

When I went down to the small business office the other day I had to register three names in order of preference. The first word in the names had to be unique and distinctive or, at least, unique when tied to the second word. The second word has to be descriptive of my business. I actually found this more challenging, as "advertising" isn't what I do. Nor is "communications". They're both too limiting. I went with "Marketing", in part because it's broad enough to encompass a lot of things. But I still don't like it for some reason, so I'll probably try to use it as little as possible.

I'll come to my first choice of names in a bit. My second naming option was Angry Salmon Marketing. Why? No reason whatsoever other than that it came to me the other day and I really liked it. It's distinctive, memorable, and pretty west coast. A friend challenged me with the question: "Don't you worry that it brings to mind mutant fish and laser beams? Is that what you want associated with your brand?" Of course the answer to that question is a definitive Yes! I can think of nothing cooler than mutants and laser beams to be associated with my brand. And you can picture the wicked logo.

My third choice of name, which I was sure it wouldn't come to because one of my first two would certainly be available, was Haford Industries. This was a name that my friend Jeff Ford and I used on all of our joint projects in the "special" class we took in high-school. (i.e. Short bus.) Haford = Ha(wes) + Ford. On one project we developed the Haford Transportation system, then demonstrated it on the school field using rockets, a styrofoam aircraft and fishing line. Needless to say, it went horribly wrong, causing danger to all who observed. I recall we got an A.

And, of course, my first choice of name was Blue Ant. What on earth does Blue Ant mean, I hear you cry? Well, it's actually a literary reference to an ad agency featured in two of William Gibson's most recent books, Pattern Recognition and Spook Country. Both fabulous reads. I was particularly enamoured of the description that Mr. Gibson gave to Blue Ant in the first book:

“Relatively tiny in terms of permanent staff, globally distributed, more post-geographic than multinational, the agency has from the beginning billed itself as a high-speed, low-drag life-form in an advertising ecology of lumbering herbivores. Or perhaps as some non-carbon-based life-form, entirely sprung from the smooth and ironic brow of its founder.”

Now, I do unfortunately have a smooth brow, but I'm not sure if it would be called ironic. I'll have to ask Colleen.

That description of the name gives me something to aspire to. So, while for most the name will remain essentially fun and meaningless yet memorable, for me it is a goal. A pretty sweet combination and something that I'll have to keep in mind the next time I take on a naming project for a client.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Old Tech - still very cool

I was down at the provincial small business office the other day, registering my company name. 

It's a very old school process. You fill out a form by hand. You give it to the staff behind the desk, who take your money and give you the "goldenrod" copy. (What's goldenrod?) And then it disappears into the bureaucratic ether. 

But, before they took the document, the very nice woman behind the desk suggested that I ensure that my name was not already registered. I told her that I'd done a Google search and that it looked OK. She suggested that I also check the official registry, on microfiche.

The microfiche machine was tucked into a corner a few feet away. The last time I'd seen one was in college. I was a little intimidated, but it was remarkably easy. You found the piece of plastic that matched the letters you wanted, inserted it into the machine, and moved the lever around to find your section.

Was this an efficient way to search? No, of course not. It would have been so much faster if they'd had it online, where they could have a database that updated in real-time. It could have been a ten second process, rather than five minutes. 

But it was fun. It was fun to see all of the thousands of names possible, all on these few tiny pieces of plastic. It was fun because it gave a sense of tangibility to the process. And it was fun because I got to navigate this giant old machine to find things on my own.

So, I learned a little something about interaction here. Sometimes building a little inefficiency into an customer engagement can be a good thing. Make it unique, make it engaging, and even though it might not be the most economical way, it might still be far superior. 

p.s. The people at the small business office are great. And, ironically, the name was approved within a day and the form e-mailed to me in a PDF.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Political Danger (Warning - Graphic Image)

This will likely be my most popular blog entry, simply due to that warning above.

Check out this injury:

Yeah, I know, pretty weenie.

But wait until I tell you how it happened. I was helping out with my cousin's (actually second cousin, once removed) mayoral campaign last weekend. It was the big nomination meeting, and I was assigned with the task of blowing up balloons. I know, I'm rolling at a pretty high level here.

Anyway, this is a balloon injury. After tying hundreds of balloons, eventually I tore off all the skin. So you see, you've got to be careful of those balloons. They'll get you.

I'm sure I could conclude this essentially pointless entry with a deep and meaningful moral about the power of small things. Very Seussian. But I'm going to pass. It's a little obvious.

Oh. And by the way, my (somewhat distant) cousin won. He's now running for Mayor. Go Peter.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Wireless and Coffee

I'm hanging out at Waves Coffee this morning.

There are 11 poeple in here. All 11 are working on laptops.

This is a somewhat substandard coffee shop. Poor ambiance. OK coffee. The only reason all these people are in here is because it's got free wireless access.

Starbucks doesn't have free internet anywhere around me. I'd frankly rather go there. I like their coffee shops more. But instead of free Internet access, they charge $5 for a connection. And I have a bit of an issue with paying that much for something that is essentially free.

Which is not a big deal. That's a decision that Starbucks has made and I'm sure they've spent a lot of time sitting in boardrooms debating it.

But a related thought occurred to me today. Starbucks is a big supporter of literacy projects. Part of their stated reason is because coffee shops were the original universities and centers of education, centuries ago. But wouldn't you argue that the internet is becoming the centre of education now, and that we should embrace opportunities for learning and interacting via the Internet. And then, if Starbucks truly believes in this objective, shouldn't they be providing free Internet access in their stores to promote literacy, learning and interaction? The $5 charge seems to be counter to their stated aims.

Plus, I'll be most of these 11 people would be in a Starbucks right now, if they had Internet access.

Just a thought.

Kohler - Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

This is a brief tale of renovations gone slightly awry. Anyone who knows me knows that we've been renovating our place for over two years. It's essentially done now, minus a few minor finishing touches.

One spot where we ran into trouble was with our en suite sink. We bought a lovely Kohler sink from En Suite in North Van. Later, we had it installed using the same drain that was included in their display sink. I had always assumed that drains would come with sinks but, silly me, no. That little piece of metal that probably costs $5 max to manufacture retails for $80.

That drain never drained right. It was terribly slow. So slow, in fact, that you couldn't run water for more than 30 seconds without threat of it overflowing. Eventually I figured out the problem, the air in the drain couldn't escape. We got our plumber in, who looked at it and informed us that we needed to get a new drain.

So we went back to En Suite to have a chat with them. They were quite adamant that the drain was fine, placing the blame on how our plumber had installed it. (There's really only one way to install it.) They were sure that it must be fine, after all, that's how they had it in their show room.

In frustration, we called the manufacturer. (The retailer is a licensed seller of the manufacturer's products and trained by the manufacturer, so they should be on the same page.) They let us know that no, the drain we had would not work with our sink. Since we had no overflow, we had to use a different drain. And they would be happy to ship one out to us at no cost to us.

This was a great end result with their customer service. The call was nowhere near as pleasant as I've made it sound above, but we got what we needed. They had taken care of a customer and had still likely retained some terrific margin on drains. Way to go Kohler.

The new drain arrived. Sadly, it was really quite ugly. We realized now why the showroom had used the other one in its display sink, even if it wasn't functional. It just looked better. But so be it, I needed an en suite bathroom, I called the plumber to come in and do the installation.

Upon installing the new drain our plumber took the old one out and installed the new drain. However, the old drain had been slightly larger than the new one, and where the old one had sat the enamel had cracked a bit. I didn't think that this was a big deal until our plumber informed me that it might rust and discolour the sink. So we got back on the phone with Kohler.

Again, Kohler was pretty great. They weren't necessarily cheerful, but they took care of the issue and issued us a letter enabling us to return the sink and get a new one. A few days later, the letter arrived, we exchanged sinks, and we're now about to install the new sink.

But the point of this blog, with this ridiculously long run-up, is Kohler's letter to us. They tried so hard within their customer service area to take care of us. And they really did do a great job. Sure, their people could have been more pleasant, but their policies are terrific. So good that I would happily buy from them again, even after having problems mostly caused by poor retailers. But then the wording of the letter blew this great experience.

I suppose that their lawyers must have gotten ahold of their warranty letters and rewritten them. Instead of saying "We're really sorry that you're not happy with your sink. Here's a replacement one." we got a letter that essentially said "It's not our fault. In fact, it's probably something you did to it. But we're begrudgingly going to replace your sink anyway." It's like insisting on having the last word in an arguement that you already know you're going to lose. You know it's not going to help, but you do it anyway. (Or, at least, I do it sometimes. Always to negative effect.)

I've attached the letter here. Have a read. If you think I'm being unfair, let me know. I've smudged the name at the top because my partner would rather I not post her name in my blog.

Kohler was so close to being great on this service issue. Instead, due to someone's legal needs, they blew it.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sort of evil

Here's a little something that I did to my Mac the other day:

Yes, that's right, I put Windows on a MacBook Pro. It feels sort of wrong, but it also feels so right.

All my life, since my dad brought home our first Apple II in the early '80s, we've been forced to settle. The need to run a Windows program forced most to buy an entire Windows based PC. We stuck it out, but there were moments of weakness.

Now, all I have to do is use Bootcamp to install Windows. I get to still use my Mac for 95% of my work and for the other 5% I can just do an easy transition. So simple. So brilliant. And yet another reason why I'm greatful and loyal to those Mac boys.

Friday, May 23, 2008

broadening your base

So, I was driving down the street the other day when I saw this sign:

What do you suppose the thinking behind the sub-head was? Hmmm, we're not getting enough business for our dance products. What if we encouraged non-dancers to buy? After all, they're a fabulous untapped market.

I particularly like the fact that the sub-head is on a sort of separate mini-awning. As though, after committing themselves to the name on the big awning, they got cold feet and decided they'd better back off a bit.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Love the Swedes

I had the great pleasure to work with a team of Swedes in my last job. I really enjoyed their perspective and their approach to work. While they may not be the fastest to move, they will have fully thought out their approach, debated it at length, and when they do move they will do so with confidence. I miss my Swedish friends.

That has nothing to do with this new campaign for McDonald's out of Sweden. It took me about half way through the video to figure out what they were doing. It's fantastic. Totally original. And I love it. Check it out.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Counterfeiting is bad.

So, I'm working at DDB the other day and I go to make a photocopy. When I opened the lid I saw this sticker prominently placed just off the copying surface.

This amuses me fully. I hadn't even considered copying currency on this photocopier until I saw the sticker. And of course, I won't, because it's not worth it. But I'll bet that a warning like that is far more likely to get someone to who had never thought of copying currency to do so than it is to stop someone who intended to copy money in the first place.

I wonder how many other warnings we have in society that cover us from a liability standpoint, but actually make the problem worse.

I also think it's great that they included Euros, Pounds and Dollars. Does this mean it's OK to copy Yen and Rupiah?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Insanely creative - Muto

Brett showed me this today. He found it on Creativity. Absolutely amazing. Stop motion animation on a public canvas by an Argentinian artist.

I can't imagine the amount of time that would have gone into putting this together.

It's inspiring. I'm not sure what it inspires me to do, but it's inspiring.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The power of emotion

So, Colleen and I went to this talk tonight by Karim Nader put on by the McGill Alumni Society. Dr. Nader is a rock star in the field of memory, particularly around PTSD. He has this amazing theory, backed up by his recent research, that when we access our memories we can change and manipulate them. In particular, through the use of pretty harmless chemical intervention (beta-blockers), we can access traumatic memories and then remove the traumatic aspect of them, rendering them essentially harmless. This is somewhat mind blowing stuff.
More related to my little world of marketing though was something that Dr. Nader brought up earlier in the talk. He discussed how our memories are broken down into the facts of the memory and the emotions that are attached to them, and that your mind treats the two elements separately. Plus, these emotional memories have far more longevity and strength than the logical ones. From an evolutionary standpoint this makes sense. You'd want to have quick and immediate access to things that have hurt you or made you afraid in the past, i.e. things that have an emotional impact.

So, if you've got the choice of creating communications that makes a logical argument or communications that has an impact on an emotional level, which would you do. I think that most of us, making the assumption that humans are rational beings, would lean towards the former. But when the consumer is in the store and has to make a decision your logical arguments may fall by the wayside, whereas the impact that your emotional message has made will still be there.

I suppose that the best case scenario is that you've got a strong rational play to make and you can do it in an emotional way. But the frequency of that beautiful combo seems rare. The more common situation is that we dig for information and sometimes we settle for a product angle that isn't as solid or important. And that's where things go terribly wrong.

As usual, Bill Bernbach said it best decades ago:

"You can say the right thing about a product and nobody will listen. You've got to say it in such a way that people will feel it in their gut. Because if they don't feel it, nothing will happen."

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Golf Town blows it.

So Colleen and I went to the always enjoyable Golf Town today. We both had gift cards and it was time to get some new shoes.

When I left DDB back in 2006 they were kind enough to give me a nice GT gift card as a going away gift. Over the past couple of years we've used it several times, to buy hybrids, balls and various other goodies. The gift card that Colleen had was a gift to her from my mom a year or two ago.

I'm a fan of Golf Town due to their terrific service levels. Their staff aren't on commission, so it's a comfortable place to shop and spend some time. This is contrary to most other golf shops, which I find entirely uncomfortable due to the pressure they place on you.

When we went to pay Colleen gave the cashier her gift card. Unfortunately, there was a lot less on it than we thought. We asked why. It turned out they'd been deducting a $2 monthly service charge off of the card, so that we could compensate them for holding our money. This had started after a period of inactivity on the card, which was primarily the result of us using my card.

How is this a good customer experience? We show our loyalty by buying (or, in this case, asking for) gift cards to a retailer. They get our money, that they get to hang onto and earn interest on, until we decide to make a purchase from them. And then they in turn charge us for not purchasing fast enough.

To me, this simply seems greedy. I can't see it being a decision from a marketing department. All I can figure is that the finance or operations guys took control of the gift card program. Whatever it is, it runs totally counter to the overall Golf Town brand experience.

GT - You need to fix this.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Hit Makers

I'm going to point out something pretty obvious, but I've been thinking about how Apple has become a hit making machine. I don't think that there has ever been a company in the history of music, apart from actual music companies, that has had more impact on music sales.

I think it all started out with Jet a few years ago. There have been a bunch in between. Then Feist recently won a fist full of Junos, I would argue largely due to the use of her song in the iPod campaign. (No, it's not a direct cause and effect, but it was the key element. Plus, her music is great.) And then, driving home on Thursday evening, I hear Yael Naim's New Soul, which is the song from the latest MacBook Air ad. 

It's a great song. And who knows, maybe it convinced me to buy a MacBook Air. But there is no way in the world that that song ever would have made it onto a local Vancouver radio station if it hadn't been a part of the Mac campaign.

So, is getting a call from TBWA asking for the rights to use your song the modern equivalent of what it meant to be asked to appear on SNL in the 70s and 80s? (I don't know what the '90s equal was.) 

And whereas once you would have pondered whether you should sacrifice your artistic integrity, now you just celebrate. After all, if Apple picks you, you're huge. 

Thursday, May 1, 2008

cleverness from modernista

So, I was checking out the Brand New blog the other day and he had this goodbye video on it that a bunch of the guys at Modernista had done for a colleague who was leaving. I was amazed at what a great job they had done. No, it's not professional, but it must have taken a tonne of effort and showed that they really cared for Tim, whoever he is. It brought tears to Colleen's eyes (not a tough feat) to watch people put something so nice together for their colleague.

So I decided I wanted to learn a bit more about Modernista. I'd heard about them because of their work, but that was about it. I went to their site, which is what this post is really about. This site is so cool. It has a total of one paragraph that they've posted about themselves. For everything else they rely on what else is on the web to get their story across. For instance, to find out about them you can view their Wikipedia page. Or you can view their work via Flickr or YouTube. Their site is simply a frame that leads you through what the web had to say about them.

I think the thing that impresses me most about this approach is that they themselves haven't done anything new to program their site. They've simply used some of the new tools that make web 2.0 so interesting.

Good on ya' Modernista. Very innovative thinking.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Another obscura shot

I'm not Ronald!

So, I signed up for a TELUS Mobility phone a couple of months ago. I've done a lot of work for TELUS in the past, so it felt like the right place to go.  I didn't want to sign up for a contract, as I suspected that my next employer might provide a phone, so I just did a month-to-month deal.

I went to a TELUS Mobility place on Burrard St.  I needed to be set up right away, so I could have a phone number to give the agency I was doing a contract for. While there they gave me a form to sign to finalize the agreement. I noticed that my name on the form was wrong, they'd put my middle name (Roland) as my first nme. I let the sales guy know. He said not to worry and that he'd fix it after I left.

A few weeks later I got my first statement from TELUS. Addressed to Mr. Ronald Hawes. That's not me. To be honest, it's not a big deal, but I thought I'd get it fixed since it will annoy me every time I get the bill.

I called TELUS to ask that they fix this. The sales rep informed me that he couldn't change my name. After all, I might not be Ronald Hawes. (I'm not.) He told me I had to go into a store to get it changed. I let him know that I'd gone to a store already, and that they'd got it wrong, and that I didn't want to go to a store to fix their mistake. The conversation went downhill fast, and he became rather rude on the phone.

Today, I got another call from TELUS, hoping to talk to Ronald Hawes. I asked them to change my name again. No luck again. Not rude this time, but they couldn't help me.

My point here is simple - I tried to give them my business. They showed disrespect to me by not doing things right in the first place. And then they didn't act to fix things when I called them. They put the onus on me to correct their mistake.

This isn't how to run a business. And I know several people with the company who don't want to run their business like this. They truly believe in making the "future friendly". But somehow this has not quite made it down to the customer service level.

Is being called Ronald a big deal? Not at all. But it will continue to bug me every month, and I don't really feel like going to their store and dealing with administrators to fix it.

C'mon TELUS. There's got to be a better way.

the trouble with safari

So, I've got a new MacBook Air, and I simply love it. It's so light and portable that I don't mind taking it to meetings. It's starting to replace my notebook. And thank god for that, since I write like a 5 year old. (Sorry Brynn.)

I also love how the Mac software works so well with the hardware. The new trackpad is better than any mouse, with its two finger scrolling and three finger "backing" within the web browser. Of course, you need to use Mac software, in this case Safari, to get all the features. For instance, Firefox allows the scrolling, but not the "backing". That only works in Safari.

Yet Safari has problems. For one, I'm a Hotmail user. Not out of choice but out of historical necessity. Yet every so often I can't log into Hotmail through Safari, and I have to go into my preferences and delete all my Hotmail cookies in order to get in. It's not a big deal, but it's annoying. And yesterday I was doing my taxes through Safari and realized that certain features in Quick Tax wouldn't work in Safari.

It's not a big deal, but it's frustrating that the best browser for my hardware has so many other challenges to it. I would expect that Mac has a bunch of guys working to fix it, but I'm not sure.

Perhaps it's just an evil Microsoft plan.

Camera Obscura

So Rob Newell, James Chutter and I decided to build a camera obscura the other day at DDB's offices, where I'm currently working on a project. Actually, it was really Rob's idea, and I was just happy to be his assistant. He has so many wonderful ideas, it's probably a good thing he doesn't want to rule the world.

So we went to IGA and bought a bag of plastic bags. (enviro-no-no, but it was for the cause of science) Then we taped them to the window frames, totally blacking out the room. This was slightly more challenging than expected, but it worked reasonably well. Then we cut a small hole in the plastic bags and turned off the lights. 

What we got on the far side of the room was an inverse image of what was on the other side of the windows. We could see the traffic driving by on the street below on the ceiling above us. The clouds were on the floor. 

I think I've figured out how/why this works; normally the light entering a room is deflected from a variety of angles outside. But when it's only coming through one small hole each spot on the opposite wall is only reflecting the light from a single exterior source. So that wall only reflects the particular colour from its corresponding spot outside. It's the same way your eye works, only your eye has your brain to flip over the image.

If that doesn't make sense, you're not alone. But for me to properly explain would make this an extremely long and boring blog entry. If you're interested though, let me know in the comments section below and I'll follow up with a proper explanation.

Here's a photo from the effort. I've tried to upload others for the past 10 minutes, but Blogger is not cooperating:
Let me know if you want to see more.

I'm pretty crap

OK. I'm pretty crap so far at this whole blogging thing. Since I got back from my little trip I've been deeply negligent about writing a blog. I want to do it, but I seem to find excuses. Mostly lame. This appears to be one of those lame postings. But I think I need to open up a bit and be less concerned about what people read of mine. So here goes...

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The world of bloggers

Just a few random words, since I haven't posted in a bit.

I love reading peoples blogs. So many people out there have fascinating things to say. I'm feeling somewhat concerned that perhaps I don't have as many fascinating things to say as they do.

I read a guy like Russell Davies' blog, and I'm blown away by the thinking that he does day to day. And all the things he goes and does after work that he can write about. Who is this guy? How does he seem to have so much spare time to go and attend conferences and seminars?

And, while I'm on about it, why can't there be all sorts of funky thinking seminars like he goes to in Vancouver. I think I know the answer to that question, but I don't like it. I want to live here, but I want the benefits of the fabulous things that happen in places like London and NY.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

New Project

So, I'm starting on a new project. I can't say much about it in a blog format, but it's based in China and I'm pretty enthused about it. It's a real estate project and I'll be working with James Bateman out of Karacters, which is terrific. I really like the way he thinks.

I'm off to Beijing on the weekend to experience the culture and learn more. I'll be posting what I can through the duration of the project, so keep checking back here for more updates.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Air Canada's poor follow-up

This is a little bit of a rant. My apologies.

So, after the flight back from Seoul with no entertainment system or interior lighting I went onto the Air Canada web site to use the little compensation code that they gave us on the flight. I filled out a short form that didn't seem to have anything to do with compensation, at the end of which was a single question that asked if I wanted to be compensated in Aeroplan points or with a flight voucher. It provided no information on how many points or the value of the voucher, it just wanted to know which format I preferred. It would have been nice to have a choice, but being an Aeroplan user I picked that one.

(I later regretted this decision, realizing that Air Canada has to buy points from Aeroplan, since they're no longer the same company.)

That was it. I got no further info at the time. Just an odd thank you page.

A few days later I got an e-mail from Air Canada customer service letting me know that they'd be crediting 2,000 points to my Aeroplan account. Personally, I thought that this was a little ridiculous. 2,000 points is what I get monthly from having a credit card with CIBC, it's not compensation for an over 11 hour flight with no entertainment or lighting.

But, really, I'm far more annoyed at that initial form. There was no apology from Air Canada and while they tried to give compensation it feels like they were also trying to get away with giving out as little as possible. If I'd been more clever I would have requested the points for myself and a voucher for Colleen so that we could have compared the two.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A short conclusion to my trip blogs

(Written the day after we got back. Posted much later.)

It was a wonderful 8 weeks away.

It all started with a meeting with my boss, Steve Bochen, at which we decided that I was no longer a good fit with the company. It was not planned. I had wanted to leave for quite a while but I hadn't found the right next thing for me yet. All I knew was that for the first time in my life I didn't know exactly what I'd be doing next, and that felt a little odd. I also had a little money in the bank, which made things not quite so scary as they would have been otherwise. This was actually my dream scenario, as I'd always wanted to go off on a longer trip, but had never been able to. I just hadn't thought that it would come true.

After watching a travel show about a year ago I had decided that I wanted to go to Indonesia. It looked like a great adventure. So that was to be part of the trip. But I also wanted some time to relax and think about my life. Everyone said that Thailand was a wonderful place, but I'd always avoided it, thinking it being overly "done". Perhaps there's a bit of ego in selecting a travel destination for me, wanting to go somewhere others don't, but still wanting to go somewhere warm and fun. This time however, with Indonesia already on the itinerary, it seemed like a good time to go to Thailand. The trip was set. We got our families' permission to be away at Christmas, which is not something I take lightly, booked our tickets through Aeroplan, and we were set.

Many people were shocked that we were leaving so quickly. They said that we were impulsive. It didn't feel that way at all. If felt like we'd been leading up to this trip for awhile, we just hadn't known it.

I've written about all of our experiences in this blog in detail, so I won't go into any of that again. Some bigger picture items instead -

  • Indonesia is a beautiful country with wonderful people, but it's sure not easy travelling. In fact, it is by far the hardest country to travel in that I've ever been to. It's cheap, but not if you actually want to get from A to B in a short amount of time. We met some people who had done a lot of traveling there. When we told them what we'd done in 4 weeks they were amazed. They'd done a lot of the things we'd wanted to do, but they'd had 4 months, and they still felt they'd only scratched the surface.
  • We feel like we only got to the easier parts of Indonesia. We wish we'd made it to Sulawesi, Sumatra and Kalimantan (Borneo). Those will have to be for other trips, and not any time soon. Maybe when I've bought my boat and have a lot of time on my hands.
  • My favourite time in Indonesia was on Gili Air. It's not particularly "Indonesian", but it was close to my idea of paradise. I was very happy there doing very little.
  • Yogyakarta is overrated. Jakarta is overly criticized.
  • Indonesian people are some of the hardest working, nicest people. Sure, anywhere you travel you might have a less than great experience, but overall they are terrific. I think that one of the most amazing parts of our trip was being taken in by the Sergeant and his family in Jember. It had nothing to do with scenery or tourism, it was just a simple act of generosity by someone who had never met us and never expects to see us again. I'll do my best to remember that the next time I run into a tourist that needs a hand.
  • Tourism to Indonesia has been killed by terrorism. It's tragic, because it's one of the best ways some of those people can rise about the poverty the engulfs the country. The odds of getting killed by a terrorist in Indonesia is probably less than getting run over on your way to work, so stop worrying so much.
  • Thailand was very easy to travel around. It's relatively affordable, and it's a very nice country. Interesting culture, good food, great beaches. Not surprisingly, it's busy in the busy season. It's pretty much what I expected it to be. Very few surprises. I'd recommend it to someone who hasn't traveled much, but I didn't love it. I don't imagine we'll be going back.
  • Even though you know it's going to happen in advance, and are ready to deal with it, it becomes very tiring being lied to. I'm tired of being told something is closed, etc. when it's not. This happens in most countries, but in Thailand I found it particularly exasperating.
After 8 weeks, I'm glad to be home. I think I was ready to come home after 6. I've always been jealous of those people who go away for 6 months at a time. It still sounds interesting, but it also sounds hard. I think that if I were to do that I'd need a home base, such as the aforementioned sailboat. (About 52' will do fine, thank you very much.)

I've had the opportunity to do a lot of thinking about who I am and what I want to do next in my career. Fortunately, or not, I have not had any grand revelations, perhaps just some realizations. They're a bit too private for a blog, but I can say a few things. I love the communications business and the weird nebulous thing that that is starting to include. I enjoy leading a team, and have realized that I'm pretty good at it. I need to give myself more credit for some things and perhaps less for others. And, in the end, my personal success, failure and happiness is up to me.

In the end, I am glad to have done the trip. No, it wasn't my favourite trip ever. I still think that that was Vietnam. But if I hadn't done it I think I'd have regretted it. Now, I've got that out of the way and am ready for the next chapter in my life.

Anyone know of any super-wicked-cool-fun-successful Vancouver based communications firms that are hiring?