Got skills?

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Got skills?

About The Gig

Marketing & Content Specialist

This role is rooted in marketing strategy and great writing. 

Whether it’s copy for web or print, titles for video, calls to action on social, or anything in between, words drive understanding and action. Marketing strategy ties it all together. With background and experience in marketing and communications, an ideal candidate for this role will understand market research, audience analysis and content, and be passionate about developing remarkable messaging and strategy that aligns goals and research to create measurably positive outcomes for clients. In short, you breathe content, you love strategy and you can drive a plan across the goal line. 

About You

What We’re After

You’re looking for a contract work arrangement that’s heavy on flexibility. You have deity- calibre communication skills and understand the critical role that content plays in the larger marketing ecosystem of research, writing, design and production. You work well independently while still participating on (and sometimes leading) the team. You pay attention to the little things and are functionally obsessed with content strategy and user experience (in all of its glorious iterations). You are stellar at client relations and create positive, engaging, long-lasting relationships. You’re naturally curious, and are constantly trying to understand and solve problems, large and small.

You’re awesome at:

  • Content strategy and writing extraordinary content (whether for traditional print, web or social)
  • Strategic and tactical marketing (create the plan and drive the plan)
  • Communications (functional and creative)
  • Client relations
  • Identifying and solving problems
  • Attacking deadlines - long & short
  • Organizing yourself and everyone around you
  • Working with other (delightfully strange and nerdy) people
  • Fighting injustice

Besides that, obsessing over typefaces, having elitist views on personal web browser choice, and any record of “bringin’ it” at your last company holiday party, are a bonus.

About sagecomm

Architects of Strategy and Storytelling

sagecomm is a strategic marketing firm. We specialize in delivering remarkable, brand-building plans empowered by custom interactive media that produce wins for our clients and impact for the communities they serve. We’re small enough that everyone does a little bit of everything, but smart enough to realize that everyone is talented in different ways.

Remarkable Work, Wins and Impact

We have clients, friends, fans and followers in healthcare, technology, finance, education, government and non-profit sectors, from entrepreneurial start-ups and social enterprises, to large corporate environments and Fortune 500 brands. 

This range means a diversity of rewarding projects, from strategic marketing and public relations, to online communications and social media, to special event design and grassroots community outreach, all with measurable results and value add for our clients. 

How To Apply

Our Flow

We want to know you, not your resume (but send us that if it’s awesome). We want to get to know how you think, collaborate and what you’re passionate about, and we’ll be putting you to the test. 

If you’re into a flexible work environment and initial contract work to establish a fit for us both, let’s connect.

Send an email to info@sagecomm.com by Friday, February 7th telling us why you’re our dream candidate.

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The next 359

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The next 359

Leaving behind the utter disbelief that another 365 days have come and gone, we're thinking about big goals for the next 359 or so.

And since there's already so much out there to consume re new year, resolutions, diets, workout fads and best-of-the-best green monster smoothie recipes,  we'll keep it brief.

In 2014, we're aspiring to help our clients:

  • Court audiences with content (consistent, remarkable, kick-ass content) like never before;
  • Stay true to their brands and really live them;
  • Take risks and define or redefine their industries.

On the personal side, we're aspiring to:

  • Drink more H20  (but not less wine, to be clear);
  • Eat kale somewhat frequently and exercise a little more than our rate of kale consumption;
  • Listen to (and actively discover new) great music and listen to it at an obnoxious volume in the office every day;
  • Hug more (consider yourself warned);
  • Take risks and put ourselves out there more in support of the local community and causes we're most passionate about;
  • Stop more (followed by turning off our devices, breathing, dreaming, listening actively to our kids and their wisdom, and laughing a lot).

And we want to give our team the flexibility and encouragement to do some of the same.  (Exception to the rule: the kale factor. That one's mandatory for weekly team lunches.)

Here's to you 2014.

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12 days (make that months) of Christmas

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12 days (make that months) of Christmas

We're fortunate to make a living doing what we love - building brands, cultures and communities. We know we're some of the lucky ones. That's one reason we feel strongly about supporting the important movements already underway in our community - for children and youth, for our next generation of innovators, and for our community's most vulnerable. 

In lieu of holiday gifts, we're pleased to present the community contributions we've made this year thanks to YOUR support:

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1000 ways to care

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1000 ways to care

Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see
— Mark Twain

How many kind things do you do in a day? A week?  A year?

However small those acts are - opening a door, buying coffee, giving a sweet tip - they make a big difference. Because kindness spreads more kindness.

The London Urban Services Organization and their 1,000 Acts of Kindness initiative tracked the acts of kindness during the month of October in our community.

65,170 acts - a great reminder that people care.

We believe everyone deserves to live with kindness, compassion, and dignity. So for the second year in a row, we donated 1,000 essential food & hygiene items to 5 community organizations on behalf of our clients as part of the 1,000 Acts of Kindness.

So go ahead and join us, and see how your small gesture can make an impact in our community.

One awesome act of kindness at a time.

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Thriller storytelling: a eulogy

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Thriller storytelling: a eulogy

Where have all the good music videos gone? 

We recently had the opportunity to jam on storytelling and strategy with a group of business owners and entrepreneurs.  During the course of the morning, we had a funny sidebar with a couple of super smart women from the local tech sector. 

Our collective mourning?  The death of the story-driven music vid.  

Yes, really. 

Now, we're all about art and self expression.  And all about healthy sexuality.  And all about just about anything that's not status quo.

But really, people, where did all the good stories go? A la MJ? A la Aerosmith? A la Bon Jovi, if you're into the hair / wrenching angst-y love combo?

It's not that the thrusting and the shiny pants and the ass slapping / seeing Eminem set yet another house on fire, don't make for a great story...but wait, they really don't.

Yes, we know these 'old folks' who came up in the 80's and 90's are not the target audience, but surely we can give our young people -- kids who are literally CHANGING the WORLD with every act and click and share -- a little more to chew on? Even if only some slightly scary undead dudes with killer dance moves...

Does it make you wonder what kind of Thriller (or lackthereof) you're giving your audience?

(Thanks Allie and Jen for the inspiration. ;) 

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A sacrifice for the lives we live

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A sacrifice for the lives we live

We're not equipped to tell you an authentic story about the true meaning of sacrifice. 

We don't have the experience, and generationally, we don't even have a true understanding of what it means to make that ultimate sacrifice - even as we live the beautiful lives made possible by it.

Jim does.

His words teach, heal and inspire. A born communicator.   

A true mentor and friend. 

Thanks for sharing, Jim.

 

I am part of the generation that has been the greatest benefactors of the peace won by the sacrifice of those who served during the first and second great wars.

We have escaped the hardships that were part of the lives of the people who lived during the decades those wars were waged.

The current engagement in Afghanistan with its loss of life by brave men and women who serve on our behalf has given
all of us a renewed appreciation and respect for all of those who served and are serving in our Canadian Forces.

Remembrance Day has become for me both
a solemn tribute and closeness to the spirit of souls of those whose lives were cut short, and an affirmation that while we have the gift of life it is our responsibility to live it to the fullest in their memory.

This view of Remembrance Day came through my encounters with death that created empathy for those whose loved ones were lost in acts of war.

This was not always my view.

My recollections of early Remembrance Day observances is vague. I was born and raised in a tiny village east of here. Bright was made up of about 150 people. Of those a handful were veterans.

The Postmaster, Mr. Kerr was a World War One Veteran. He shuffled as he walked. My parents told me it was because he suffered ‘Trench Foot” a malady that was the consequence of standing for days in muddy trenches on the battlefields.

I was born in 1943, near the end of the Second World War. As I became aware of the world around me there were still reminders of the effects of the War. Ration books were a fascination. No longer needed They were tucked away, and brought out from time to time for us to see. We heard accounts of how our grandparents who didn’t need as much sugar as our family of eight shared their ration.

November 11th. I recall was a sacred day. My memories are pretty dim when it comes to how Remembrance Day was marked when I was six or seven years old I only knew adults were very still, the prayers long, and the moment’s silence was the longest, quietest moment of the year.

High School during the mid fifties, a decade after the end of the war saw all of us issued military uniforms and learning drills to march in Remembrance Day Ceremonies.

The significance of wearing that uniform was lost on me then. We were young. Oh so young. Of course it didn’t dawn on me that those on the sidelines watching us parade would see in our faces the same youthfulness they saw in faces of those who only a decade earlier marched off to battle. Some of them not to return.

That was underscored when my son joined the Navel Reserve at age 17, the same age his grandfather, my wifes’s father when he joined the army and was deployed to France.

And that Moment of Silence was still a long one.

That moment of silence became more significant when my professional life in broadcasting unfolded.

Each November we would prepare tribute broadcasts.

In the early days of my radio career meant involvement in live broadcasts of ceremonies either from the local cenotaph, or the nation’s capitol.

Interviews with veterans. Readings of In Flanders Fields
The poem by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Then in 1966 my personal view of life changed when my 21-year-old brother Bob died of an accidental bullet wound to his heart.

Now my interviews with veterans was with a deep appreciation of what it must have meant to have your comrade die as you lived on.

A much greater understanding of the heartbreak families felt when they were told their son would not return.

I began to understand the moment of silence. The moment of connection with the souls of loved ones lost.

Some of my early views of Remembrance Day were that it was about war. The battles recounted, the statistics of numbers lost.

War.

This new paradigm brought me to what Remembrance Day has become for me today. It is about each individual who sacrificed and served. Each individual whose life was lost. And it is about those who survived. It is a tribute to their service.

Remembrance Day is so much more for me today.
It is showing respect to all of those in uniform who have taken an oath to serve.

It is remembering all of those who served
and in the words of the poem

“ shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old”

And in what seems such an irony, As we pay our respect for and remember the dead it enriches and deepens our appreciation for life and the living.

And that moment of silence as our thoughts and prayers mingle with those around us both living and dead becomes a crystallization of appreciation for all of the moments of our life.

Today that moment of silence that seemed so long when I was a child seems not long enough.

That moment of silence that we reverently share with others once a year is a moment we might take more often in our daily lives.

And still it will not be long enough.

Not long enough to give the Thanks deserved by those who fought.

Not long enough to give thanks for the life we live today.

Lest We Forget

-Jim Swan, Rotarian Address 2010

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Marketing magic

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Marketing magic

When was the last time you asked a tough question? 

By that we mean the type of question that's actually more relevant and valuable than its own answer. 

Most of us don't. It's easier not to face the perceived social danger, the criticism and the potential for failure. 

But research doesn't have to be scary. 

Or elusive. Or expensive. Or an afterthought. 

And the upside is literally marketing magic for your brand. A chance at influencing customers, testing assumptions, identifying weak spots, zeroing in on competitive advantages. Or our personal fav - validating whether or not you're actually working on solving the right problem.  (This one happens more than you'd think.)

Great marketing strategy is rooted in understanding and anticipation. Sadly, being human does not qualify us as clairvoyant, able to effortlessly see and understand the preferences of other humans. (Except for this guy, but we don't know how he does it.)

Failing well may be trendy, but you owe it to yourself (your brand, your customers, your movement) to iterate in order to make things better. 

Make starting your marketing project with research, a habit.

For your art and your business.

For your clients and your stakeholders.

For your best work.

 

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The song does not remain the same

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The song does not remain the same

We’re on a bit of a strategy and storytelling ‘tear’ these days. (Could you tell?)

Today, like never before (or perhaps like always) these two things have never been more important.

Why?

‘Cause EVERYTHING is changing.

Tech is changing. Industries are changing. Movements are changing. Change is changing...And there’s a whole lotta noise out there.  

We’re not talking about the archetypal “information overload”. We’re way past the days of the overstuffed inbox.  

Today, we select and curate, friend/unfriend, block, boost and click our way to the content we want. The content that meets our needs.

The content that GETS OUR ATTENTION.

So your story had better be good, if it’s going to penetrate this tough mudder course of digital life.

Not sure if you’ve got your story straight?  Ask yourself:

  • Are you starting with you (the company/product) rather than them (the audience)?  Psst...If you are, they probably aren’t listening.
  • Are you starting with someone else’s story (aka advertising to your competition)?
  • Are you starting from a place of tactic envy (aka developing a promotional piece to match the shiny new promo products of ‘the other guy’?)
  • Are you starting with your audience AT ALL?  (What do they want? Care about? What keeps them up at night? How can you solve their problems?)

If you answered yes to any of these questions - your story, and the strategy that goes with it, might need a re-boot.

Or at least some fresh lyrics.

 

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A leadership love song

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A leadership love song

Trailblazers.

Entrepreneurs.

Mentors.

Leaders of all stripes and sizes.

The ones who inspire.

The ones who give it away as much as they charge for it.

The ones who make us think differently about the way it’s always been.

The ones who never stop fighting the fight, especially when it’s unpopular.

We recently had the honour of being named amongst some of our community’s Top20 young(ish) entrepreneurs, innovators and community builders. It’s a surprise and an honour, to be sure.  

But the truth is, there’s a top 200 (2,000 likely) out there in our community.

And it’s made up of all the people who put up their hands to lead -- whether an organization or a cause, a Guide troupe or a political party, a march or a parade (be it Santa Claus or Pride). 

So, here’s to those people and to all the leaders who came before (especially the ones who would never identify with the “leader” badge). Who inspired us with new ideas or challenged us with old ones. Who let us stand on your shoulders to see over the next hill.  

And to all the ones who are coming next. Who will challenge our crazy ideas, whom we’ll call young and naive, and whom we’ll rely on for change we can’t yet even begin to imagine. 

Here’s to you.

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A Lesson From The Greatest Guy Who Couldn't Read A Thing

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A Lesson From The Greatest Guy Who Couldn't Read A Thing

It's hard not to wait for the right answer before stepping up.

We've been programmed by the industrial iteration of the educational system to idolize perfection.

We need to crush that pattern.

Being the best no longer translates to solving the toughest problems or making the most influential art.

One of the best guitarists in the history of rock couldn't even read music. This is what he had to say when asked if he had to practise constantly to stay so good:

I like to play to myself.  Whenever I feel down or depressed I just go in and play. I can't practise though. It's just always constantly, what do you call it, like a jam. You know, that's why I can't remember notes cause I'm constantly trying to create other things - that's why I make so many mistakes.  -Jimi Hendrix

There's a huge misperception that our work isn't alway good enough to share. 

The global iterative idea machine doesn't agree...and it never will.

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He ain't pretty he just looks that way

Platform development has been a recent focus of ours.  Discovery: online publishing and the customer engagement that has to come with it, can feel like the old "enigma wrapped in a mystery".

One of the common pitfalls we warn clients to avoid is the doldrums of discounting. Many companies (especially online) feel it's is the right thing to do. We're still easing out of a recession, times are tight, and dropping your pricing should drive traffic and sales - right?

Not so fast.

Slashing prices can erode brand equity. Sure, there are always times when discounting can make sense for an online business, but it should be for a controlled duration and to address a unique and specific market condition.

If you've been given permission to broadcast to your core client base on a regular basis, you're already doing things right. Preference and profitability comes by adding value. If you're already there, don't erode what you've built.

If you have to slash your prices, make sure you do it in a credible way. And don't leave your value proposition at the door.

If you're lucky enough to garner customer attention, you need to be pretty and you need to look that way.

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We came, we saw we jumped...off another cliff.

 

In 2009, we announced that one of us was jumping off of a professional cliff.  Two feet. Full time.

Entrepreneur.

Just about four years later, another child and one advanced degree heavier, and, (at least theoretically) wiser, we’re taking another plunge as Jeff joins the business full-time.  And by full-time, we mean more regular day shifts than the double afternoons/nights we’ve had him on for years.

With this addition, we’re adding more than a decade of progressively senior experience in marketing, communications, and community engagement, including new fresh perspectives via Jeff’s Master of Social Media from the UK’s Birmingham City University, and a massive infusion of passion for broadcast culture, social capital and all things marketing and storytelling.

The reaction thus far….

From traditionalists: we’d be certifiable to leave any senior position for a life of uncertainty, up and down, big pay days one month and no pay-days the next.

From other entrepreneurs and small business owners: best decision ever and a big welcome to the world of couples and individuals who work together to drive a big part of the Canadian economy.

From senior statesmen: a big hurrah for following our passions coupled with a warning that any even minute changes in quality of life for a certain pair of grandchildren will result in their immediate relocation.

So why one plunge and then the next? Why with two young kids? Why in a period of economic turmoil where great jobs are hard to come by?

Because our time here is just too short not to be bold and to be together doing it.

Because we’re proud as hell to join one of the most powerful economic tribes in our nation. 

Because there’s no compensation equal to finding more time for family.

Because there’s no gratification like creating things, in collaboration with other innovators, that spur impact and change. 

Because we intend to still be life partners even after 30+ year careers, and that means a commitment to balance.  (Yes, we do know we’ll be working together every day.  And we think the partnership will flourish because of that, not in spite of it!) 

Because there’s little that’s more important to us than having more time to do the small part we can to improve the local (and global) community, where our kids – and yours – are growing up.

And finally….

Because we believe that great strategy and compelling storytelling can build brands, transform communities and change the world.

And that’s a cliff we’re prepared to jump off.

Again.

This time with four feet.

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Tech Check: A Comm Affair

We were pleased to be asked by IABC London to contribute an article on trends in communications and technology for their association newsletter. We've reprinted it in full here.

~~~

The next "big thing".

Trying to predict it is about as productive as watching five hour long televised award show.

But hey, it's fun, and learning to spot trends that will last longer than twelve months and add value to your customers is a skill set that 2013 will demand of us all.  This is particularly true as our digital and physical worlds continue to fuse.

Here's a few emerging areas that every communicator should keep an eye on:

A Crowd Of Funds
There are now hundreds of crowd-funding sites. In 2012, via Kickstarter, 2,241,475 people pledged a total of $319,786,629 and successfully funded 18,109 projects.  With the global economy easing out of recession at a pace matching RIM's lackluster comeback, online funding platforms are continuing to be an attractive alternative for grass roots projects and traditional startups alike.

The Death of The I.T Project.
It's easy to get seduced by organizing around technology.  But be aware that gone are the days of the "if we build it... (sans communication strategy, user engagement strategy, cultural alignment strategy) they will come". There are no more I.T projects, rather, only business projects enabled by I.T.

Smartphones as everything
We don't rely on our mobile devices for everything...besides researching purchasing decisions, connecting with peers, managing our schedules, documenting, sharing and generally enriching our personal lives.  No wait, mobile is everything. The writing is on the wall.  Cater to the needs of your mobile audiences or get out of the game (if for no other reason than, if you don't, no one will be listening). 

Actionable Analytics
The volume of data available to marcomm professionals is officially overwhelming. It's going to quickly become unacceptable not to know which tactic is driving what revenue.  Wait, it already is. If you don't feel comfortable analyzing and translating data into meaningful insight and actionable intelligence, find someone who is, and fast. Hint: hits to your website as a success metric doesn't translate. 

Beautiful Data
As understanding and interpreting data continues to become critical for strategy and execution, visualizing data in new ways to better communicate complex ideas (budgets, campaigns, social issues, whatever) will be an essential tool to help make your story as accessible as possible to everyone in your target audience.  Got a tough narrative to simplify?  Try drawing it.

We may not be able to predict the future as well as this guy, but there are a few things we know for sure. We're all salespeople, we're all storytellers, and in this complex and connected world, we'll all compete and innovate most effectively, together.  Thanks, IABC, for letting us share a few thoughts in this spirit.

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Champagne dreams

2013.

Full of promise and potential.

In addition to kicking up the yoga, getting the entire family a membership at the Y, and adding a little kale to everything, we're making some commitments in business and life. Simple stuff, but things we believe are important. Thanks for letting us share them here:

In business...
Marketing has and ever shall be about brand and what people believe about your business because of it. Tools -- digital, social, traditional -- come and go, but what people say about you when you're not in the room, that lasts forever. So, in business, we commit to keeping the basics in mind, to providing as much insight and value as we do tangible marketing products, and to being wildly honest (which may mean talking our clients out of work as much as we pitch it.)

In community...
We're investing our time and resources in things that add a little awesome to the place we live, and that help build the capacity that can translate into hope and transformation for fellow citizens who need it. So, in community, we commit to pushing for change and innovation by investing in things that grow ideas and talent from the grassroots (aka the most powerful way).

In life....
We're taking a serious look at health and at balance, at relationships (good and improveable) and at how we are raising our kids to be empathetic citizens of the world.   So, in the general everyday, we commit to the health of our family, and to being more aware of the health of the planet and the people on it.

In conclusion...
Finally, we commit to celebration and serious, consistent gratitude. That is, to being more aware that a New Year's eve is not the only appropriate time for champagne.  (Wednesdays are to be celebrated, too.)

Cheers!

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Lessons from GG

This weekend, we celebrated 87 years of life, love and great wisdom as we said goodbye to the last of our parents' parents.

Though there were tears, it wasn't an overly sorrowful affair. We honoured GG as she lived, with family (blood related and love related), some wine and much laughter.  Because though we no longer have Gram, we still have all of her greatness.

She lived through a world war and the great depression, through birthing five children in seven and a half years, through the young loss of a son and her husband, through grandchildren and great grandchildren, all the while watching the world unfold, from transitor radio to world wide web.  

Nearly nine decades later, she could still stay up nights at the dining room table, arguing about politics and religion. You never had to guess what she was thinking, and we're grateful for that.  She taught us all many things, not the least of which, the following:

  1. Live with true moderation. A loving family, some shelter, a little food and means to support these three (and maybe a glass of wine) is all anyone really needs. Nothing more, nothing less.
  2. Even when you have nothing to give, you can still change a life. Whether it's a once a week visit or occasional shelter for a child in need.
  3. Enjoy food, wine and company. The power of social connections and enjoyment of life (aka happy hour) in longevity is not to be underestimated.
  4. Stand up for what you believe, especially when it's not popular.  Even when you're a woman born in the Silent Generation, who somehow turns out to be a feminist and a religious reformer.
  5. Don't think about things too much. Life really can pass us by while we're making plans.

We're always weighing things in our lives -- buy this, spend that, build career, book the vacation, take the promotion, start a business, have a baby, get a dog, win the client, fire the client, go back to school...the list goes on and on -- when what we should probably be doing is just recognizing that's there's limited time to be had, so we should quit the things that make us unhappy, discover and follow our passions, and know that the only thing we take with us is the experiences we had, what we contributed and the love that we made.

Made the road rise up to meet you, GG, and thank you.

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On taking an hour to change the world

What if you gave $100 and it became $30,000...in an hour...for a charity chosen at random, but democratically and with much heart, together, with a group of your peers?

This is the philosophy (more or less) behind the 100 Women Who Care movement, brought to our neck of the woods for the first time this week.

A few hundred women (um yes, that's more than the average city...holla) + dozens of nominated charities + three speakers + one simple communal vote.

That's a beautiful thing.

Why?

  • Because it's true viral marketing, without a "viral marketing strategy".
  • Because it speaks to its audience. Clearly and with so much relevance.
  • Because it's innovative, worth talking about and sharing.
  • Because it's easy and ease is not to be underestimated in a world where we think we can't find time for anything.

Ready to start something new? It's a basic formula (and time tested, many decades before the days of the social web):

  1. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.
  2. SPEAK TO THEM.
  3. KEEP IT SIMPLE.
  4. MAKE IT REMARKABLE.
  5. BELIEVE.

And all good things will be yours. Oh, those insightful Swedes...

[Kudos Twee and Susan, and thank you.]

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An open letter to our son

Son,

Last week was your first day of school. A day of hope and joy in the midst of uncertainty in the world around us.

Your education at every level will serve as your gateway to opportunity.  And thanks to the hard work and relentless support that your grandparents gave us, we are in a position to support you on this journey, every step of the way.  

But this path will not always be clear, or easy. Despite being born on the most affluent continent on earth, care and dignity don't always prevail over shameful acts. Citizenship, for your generation, will require a much more active and committed approach for our collective obligation to respect our neighbors to be realized.

Technology will allow you to be part of something larger than the individualistic, and largely capitalistic models of generations before you.  We don't know what that will evolve into, but we do know what we believe today: 

  • That our interconnectedness will play an increasingly pivotal role in shaping the future you grow up in;
  • That good storytelling will emerge as a dominant force that helps change the world;
  • That the universe has blessed us with more than our share, and respecting that gift means giving back;
  • That the world will treat your sister different than you, and that's not okay;
  • That we have an obligation to one another, one that needs our attention now more than ever;
  • That a lack of centralized governance can sometimes lead to our greatest innovations;

That the reason we're most fortunate, is because we have each other.

Soon you'll realize we don't have all the answers.  But we do have each other.  And that truly is what makes us most fortunate of all.

Rock on big man. And don't forget to bring the world along with you.

All our love,

Jeff and Lindsay (Mom and Dad) 

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50 shades of social

Do teens with Down Syndrome belong in first class?

Outrageous question, right? Or is it?

There's a controversy swirling around American Airlines regarding the treatment of Bede Vanderhorst, a 16-year old with Down Syndrome, who, along with his parents, was denied boarding on a domestic flight despite a first-class ticket home. (Or, perhaps because of it.)  AA has made its own official statement saying the teen was deemed a flight risk by the pilot and "appeared very agitated" just prior to boarding time.

When one of us sounded off on this on Twitter this week, AA was quick (in just 10 mins) with a public @reply including a link to their Facebook update on the story.

Like: Good use of the social web as a comms tool with a clear demonstrated commitment to engagement through timely individual responses.  Generally speaking, their social properties are frequently updated with posts that are both valuable and interesting (read: not always all about them.)

Dislike: All the best and most savvy uses of social technology don't cover or make up for bad human behaviour or flawed decision making, even with the finest words money can buy. It's the quintessential brand conundrum and the most misunderstood tenet of branding -- brands are visual, verbal AND EXPERIENTIAL. That means you can have the finest brandmark, the most eloquent and persuasive messaging and a plan to communicate your super friendly, people-centred culture / high integrity / service commitment, but if the gal at the front desk is telling everyone to eff off, you've got a brand problem.  This would be similar to, say, an airline telling an exceptional young man that he can't sit with their cool, rich friends 'cause he's different...if that is indeed what happened.

Bottom line: The only people who will ever know if Bede presented a true flight risk are the pilot and the parents. Obviously this is an incredibly emotionally-charged issue, coloured by presumptions of prejudice and class, so reaction, in particular on the social web, is going to be swift and harsh.

If social media and interactive technologies have taught us anything, it's that in the environment of democratized real-time opinion, everything is gray. Like 50 shades, and not the good pop erotica kind.

Is your brand ready to play?

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The hack came back, the very next day

This story begins with a public secret. (Yeah, we know.)  

It's a secret about power. A secret organizations still struggle to understand.  To a large extent they already know what the secret is, they're simply unable or more accurately, unwilling, to give up control.  That's the ironic part. The leaders that give up control and replace it with letting their stakeholders in, with embracing and responding to feedback, with having conversations that build brand not confine it, are the ones who will yield the most influence.

Oh right, the secret.

We can see you.

Increasingly, the collective "we" -- clients, consumers, donors, public -- are aware of the many ways, transparent and not, that brands try to engage us.  That's because, to some extent, your public shapes your brand.

And that means embracing the feedback loop. AKA: listening, hearing, acting and changing, when necessary. 

Ask a local poitician if ignoring the public digital discourse is something they can continue to do. Those that answer yes won't be around to get the same question next election.

Many businesses, municipalities and nonprofits have not yet made an authentic commitment to embrace the feedback.  While it's important for the guy who monitors the twitter feed, it's infinitely moreso for the gal who sets strategy. Synthesizing feedback and sharing your brand has to happen at the most senior levels. Without it, the old world top down 'relational' efforts to influence are futile.

Influence is not control and control is not influence. My way/highway is no way to evolve your brand. Thanks to a networked world, that hack'll be back Jack, every single day.

And it's not really a secret anymore.

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Tell me no secrets, I'll tell you no lies

We had a killer chat with a colleague last week about privacy and influence online.

It's no secret that Facebook and Google harvest every last drop of our digital identities. Like, cause-big-brother-to-have-a-crisis-of-totalitarian-conscience data harvesting.

If you're online, you're being tracked. But it's not the data stealing you should be most concerned about as a 21st century professional. It's how you're being perceived.

(NB: We don't think data tracking is anything to be made light of. Quite the opposite. But that's not what we're exploring here.)

Online influence is tough to define, tough to measure and tough to execute on, well.

People, for the most part, are influenced by the people around them.  That's nothing new.  What's new is the digital revolution and its effects on the influence ecosystem.  The rise of the Internet, mobile devices and the social web are galvanizing the nature of influence.  If your marketing maven isn't obsessing over it now, they should be.  And with good reason.

One of the greatest marketing opportunities for business in the digital age lies with channeling influence.

Malcolm Gladwell, in the Tipping Point, illustrates beautifully how social epidemics are driven by people with influence, not mediums with influence:

"Word of mouth is - even in this age of mass communications and multi million dollar advertising campaigns - still the most important form of human communication.  Think, for a moment, about the last expensive restaurant you went to, the last expensive piece of clothing you bought, and the last movie you saw. In how many of those cases was your decision about where to spend your money heavily influenced by the recommendation of a friend?  There are plenty of advertising executives who think that precisely because of the sheer ubiquity of marketing efforts these days, word of mouth appeals have become the only kind of persuasion that most of us respond to anymore."

Marketing is connecting these days, isn't it?

If that's true then telling your story well, being transparent and authentic, and connecting to one person at a time who believes what you believe (and shares that with his or her friends) is better than thousands of prime time eyeballs. 

Every time.

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