The Generator Project

The Generator Project Weekend

This weekend, folks at The Generator Project are once again encouraging us to take time for face to face engagement in our community.

The Generator Project was inspired by the blackout of August 14, 2003, on the Eastern seaboard of North America. Over 500 generating units shut down that afternoon and it resulted in the power being shut off to over 55 million people in Canada and the United States anywhere from 2-7 days.

I can recall driving back towards Toronto and stopping Barrie to visit a chiropractor that I had visited during my years at Molson. He had wonderfully bright windows in his office, but the power was out. He proceeded, like so many others, to just keep working through what was assumed to be a minor power outage.

As I continued down the 400, I was not aware of the outage, given that it was still daylight, until I pulled into the roadside stop for a bathroom break and power was off there as well.

People were talking about the outage and that it was widespread.

Checking in with Kathy and the kids, it was apparent that this was a massive outage. Rather than facing the mire of traffic at rush hour, I diverted to see the in-laws in the countryside. We lit up the bar-b-q, waiting for power to return.

As dusk settled in I headed home with an eery approach to the Toronto skyline in darkness. This was a serious situation!

Back in the neighbourhood, friends and families gathered on front porches and lawns to converse about what was transpiring.

I decided I'd have to bbq my walleye catch, from earlier in the day, after a morning of fishing near North Bay. The neighbours were thankful for that.

Hundreds of thousands of moments like this took place in August of 2003.

When was the last time that you turned everything off and took the time to just collect with neighbours and friends to chat about life?

The Generator Project is all about bringing together family and friends for social interaction. There need not be any other reason than to come together in your community.

So...have you planned a Generator Weekend event within your community yet? Check it out, engaged, converse, relax and revel in the joy of connecting face to face in dialogue with family and friends. Check them out on Twitter @GenProjectOrg.

I hope you are inspired by the Generator Project. I know I am. Cheers ! @FergDevins


Reporting Structure

In the wonderful evolving world of communications, I continue to bump into the question of "Where do PR and Social Media report to?".

Is there an ideal reporting structure ? Hmmm...

It is obvious to me that there are many sides to this question or debate. Marketers will tend to think that PR should be reporting into Marketing, given that it so tightly connected to all that is marketing. Communications folks tend to believe that PR is worthy of its own department and oversight. Corporate Affairs or Public Affairs folk tend to believe that communications is something that is best housed in their groups.  CEO's tend to take guidance from those of influence within their organizations at the management team table. In that regard the communicators may even been affected by a strong Human Resources lead that sees communications as a critical plank in communicating with employees internally.

Marketing ?

If the company is one that is heavily brand oriented with little or no corporate work, I might be convinced of having PR and communications report into Marketing. However - beware of the often overlooked crisis or corporate communications situation that must be managed from a corporate voice and perspective rather than a marketer's thinking. I have also seen companies who have chosen to put PR and Social Media into the marketing structure - while maintaining a separate group or individual to look after the strictly corporate mandate of corporate reputation, annual general meetings, support for investor relations on quarterly reporting, support for employee communications. What's nice about PR and Social being "marketing public relations" is that it sits next to the decision makers in brand and has access to the marketing budgets. When sitting over in Corporate Affairs, there is a constant pitch scenario to be included in the brand's brainstorming and plan development. Sitting inside marketing creates stronger brand alignment.

Public Affairs ?

I do strong believe in public affairs or corporate affairs as a department or function within a consumer or packaged goods company. There will always be corporate reputation to be handled and managed. There will be "situations" (not to call them crisis...but stuff will happen) that needs to be managed from a trained corporate perspective. There will even be those situations that arise over in marketing that actually will require the "corporate perspective" on how to deal with communications. It will be over and above what the marketing PR lead might have built for the purer marketing story.

Management Table ?

Another persisting challenge for the communications and PR folks in an organization is to have access to the most senior influencers in the organization. This can be complicated by reporting structure. How many times have you heard about PR being called at the eleventh hour?  How many times have PR folks complained that "if I 0nly had been brought in at concept...I would have been able to have done a much more thorough job". I was fortunate in my career at Molson Coors to have sat at the management table. I was also fortunate over the years to have had terrific CEO's that "got" PR and would ensure that I had been engaged on issues and opportunities that were arising. My point here is, the actually "seat" at the table is less important. The real need is access to the most senior folks. This access allows you to be briefed, be respected and to provide the support to the organization that communicators are trained to provide. Don't sweat the politics of having the seat or not...make sure that you have the access and respect to be called upon and engaged when you as a communicator know you need to be involved.

Securing Budget ?

Every business is constrained today. What was traditional business continues to be challenged by on line platforms and competition and the "buy local" movement continues to grow. Social media and word of mouth marketing help get brands closer to consumers. Resources for communicators need to be allocated and protected to ensure that this high touch with consumers and stakeholders can be maintained. Set aside budget for managing and building corporate reputation. It is important for your business to be conducting media relations, social media monitoring, and stakeholder outreach. PR for brand initiatives needs to be budgeted accordingly...do not scrimp ! Flag a contingency for situations that may arise and be willing to fund your social and PR teams appropriately in the moment to mitigate reputational damage.

In summary...

So...where do PR and Social Media report to ? Reporting structure will depend on needs of the organization. Have communicators report where they will have the most benefit "in the moment" for the organization. Support your communicators with appropriate budget. Give them access to the senior most decision makers so that they are aware of issues and opportunities that are the horizon so that they can support the organization and brand in it's critical time of need.

A communications team that knows it is respected, valued, supported and resourced in an organization will truly make a difference. Reporting structure won't get in the way of making things happen. @FergDevins  @DevinsNetwork


toward a new year

December 28th and, amidst attending a few World Hockey Junior games here in Toronto I thought, "I can't pass up writing a blog before the end of the new year".

"Toward a new year" is an interesting theme. As much as my thoughts turn to things like re-start re-fresh, re-energize, prioritize, plan, systematize, organize, reach out, connect and network; I also look back at the past twelve months and give thanks for an awesome year. Toward a new year, is in many respects, a beginning; but it is also is a continuation of what has been accomplished, "or not", in the previous year. I suggest one celebrates the highs, acknowledges the lows, learns from it and puts a plan in place toward a new year.

2014 was, in many respects, a new beginning for me. In "semi retirement" I was delighted to continue to have an opportunity to work with my client Molson Coors through The Devins Network, on projects related to their business. It was also a great year to "pass the torch" to the new corporate affairs leadership and team at Molson Coors and to provide coaching where necessary and, given that I am out of the business, just simply "stay clear" when I should stay clear. After 30 years in the beer business it was really refreshing (sorry for the pun) to strike up new relationships with several new clients and their pursuits and goals. I also had terrific networking moments with folks from such a wide spectrum of interests and dreams. It was also very kind of the folks at National Public Relations and Capital Hill to offer up "real estate" if and when required. In "year one" I never expected to have an employee at the Devins Network, however...our client at Hockey Canada put together an awesome #CenturyTour caravan to criss cross the country and I needed a "Communications Lead" on the road. Charlotte Coulson joined the team and has networked her way from coast to coast and back again with the InMarket team and #CenturyTour for Hockey Canada. I also give thanks to several "associates" that helped with the achievements of the Devins Network in year one. Your attention to detail and delivering excellence is much appreciated James, JP, Beth, Bradley, Helena, Clark and Dea. Via a long time friend, I truly enjoyed seeing and experiencing the life and times of "the entrepreneur" through a few projects with Michael Smith at Integram Marketing. What a passion for client service and accomplishment ! I have had the honour and pleasure of assisting with the Vimy Foundation dinner(s) - a great cause recognizing a milestone in history that we should ensure that current and future generations of Canadians never forget. The Coney Island "Maybe Annual" Music festival drew more of my attention, and in spite of the high water on Lake of the Woods, we had an awesome Sixth "Maybe Annual" festival. The success is due in large part to my fellow founders, the Lake of the Woods Arts Community, our partners, patrons, talent, fans and families supporting the festival. In meeting my personal challenge of Bladder Cancer, I took on creating a walk in Kenora Ontario. Thanks to family, friends, volunteers, supporters and a great little community with a big heart; we were able to raise over $50,000 in support of Bladder Cancer Canada. It was also a year of transition personally with both kids now off to school and Kathy and I becoming empty nesters, a fun stage of life to be sure !

Toward a new year, I look forward to continuing to serve my clients through the Devins Network. I look forward to possibilities of new opportunities to modestly expand my work in communications and community through the Devins Network. I continue to have a strong passion and bias for actions that ensure clients have a strong voice for their cause, campaign or business. If you think the Devins Network might answer your call to action - give us a call. Toward a new year we will stage the Seventh "Maybe Annual" Coney Island Music Festival and continue to grow this great little festival at the north end of Lake of the Woods in Kenora, Ontario. Toward a new year I will take on a more active role in the challenge of raising awareness for Bladder Cancer Canada and assist the organization with communications and outreach. Toward a new year I will continue to provide support and counsel where required for those who, similar to me, believe in networking and fostering good will and relationships so that we can work at improving our communities by working together, like the Vimy Foundation. Toward a new year, I will have work / life "alignment"...because, as my friends Chris Brogan and Rob Hatch would suggest, the balance thing is less important than alignment (my paraphrasing).

So bring on 2015. I wish you and yours the very best for a happy, healthy and exciting year for your family, business, cause or campaign.

Toward a new year...cheers !

@FergDevins @DevinsNetwork


Those That Get Social

It is just awesome to see that so many more people are jumping into social networks (from my perspective anyway as an early adopter). I also think that it is awesome that people are finding "their purpose" in how "they will utilize" social networking. Some are strictly looking at networks as a way to keep in touch with family and friends, others are investigating and experimenting with ways to start connecting through modern channels of communication, maintain or build a business or brand. Whatever the "purpose", folks are finding out that it is likely a place that they need to hang out, be present and have a voice in a conversation. Those that get social also see it as a place of discovery. How you use a channel is personal. There might be some best practices and base lines, but really, those that get social, make it work for them in their own unique way. How often, how much, to whom, on what platform, on what topic, how much you share. It is all about what you decide as someone that wants to get social.

"Purpose" might sound a little lofty or serious but I truly believe that those that get social understand that there is a channel purpose in their communications. Those that get social have a reason to be in that social network, rather than just lurking about. Ha...not that lurking for information and insight is not purposeful ! I just believe that those that get social understand the power of conversation and the dialogue that ensues.

I have even found through some of my projects that the traditional connections of email or voice mail are less effective than reaching out via social networks. I have come to utilize Twitter as one of my key communication channels for my business, and for the business of my clients. Communication ? It's a least a micro news feed or flash point for seeing what conversations are emerging. Those that get social get dip in and dip out of these conversations and extend it to other channels if truly interested in engaging. I find that when I tweet someone either @ or DM that more than 50% of the time there is a response. What is your response rate on the last few emails or voice mails that you left ?  And how timely were the responses ? Those that get social are in the moment because that moment in time is important to jump into the conversation in that moment.

Those that get social determine what works for them. Twitter might just be a quick search on newsworthy items. LinkedIN is perhaps more of a professional hook up for a solid follow up on business leads. Blogs might be a platform to show your work and speak at great length about things important to you and your business or ideals. Those that get social with Facebook might make it highly personal, event based or totally business, or a nice mix of it all. Those that get social figure out their purpose quickly and as Chris Brogan would suggest - determine their home base and outpost balance in the face of what they need to communicate, to whom and how often.

Often times, when reaching out through government relations contacts, there is a maze of red tape one must weave through to get in touch with the thought leaders. In fact, I truly wonder how one might actually get through to the "thought leader" vs. their handlers or staff. I know that the reality is that most correspondance is "handled" by a staffer. Good old time politicos probably get a glance at the incoming and outgoing communications...but my feeling (and it's just a feeling) is that many of these communications are managed at arms length from the actual person.  I don't blame the politcial world for this. I think it is quite common in the corporate world as well. I know of one exception !  My former boss at Molson Coors in Canada - Dave Perkins - liked to be in communication with our retirees. He insisted that his direct phone line would be available on all communications and he took the calls ! Rather than filter communications on the way in to him, he'd assign tasks for follow up. I've got to say that our retiree community was very impressed with his openness and accessibility. This could apply to political figures and other corporate leaders. Daunting ? Yes ! But those that get social understand it is really about the conversation not the handling. Part of the handling is grounded in authenticity and genuine response and follow up. Frankly....I think that is a rarity and I'd challenge corporate leaders and politicians to prove me wrong on that front ! I'd love to hear of plenty examples where the thought leaders are truly connected with their communities, in real time, in the moment. Those that get social, like those in customer service understand that the follow up is where the gold and nuggets of opportunity exist. The ability to listen, to hear and respond can only lead to opportunity.

So...what' my point ? My point is that, those that get social are truly "turned on" within their social networks.  They take the time to monitor their social channels, whether through notifications, or just planning a daily time in their calendar to see what conversation is taking place. Actual people at the other end of Twitter profiles and social network profiles responding to incoming traffic is powerful and it helps build trust and enduring meaningful relationships. Whether on Twitter or LinkedIN, I find that more times than not, the actual person is the responding individual. OR...you might at least believe that your tweet got seen or heard by the individual (even if they chose not to respond to you). Those that get social and choose to be open to communication will be open to being in the conversation versus being outside the conversation. I know where I'd rather be ! What is your level of comfort or need to know in getting social ? I'd love to have a conversation with you about that. Cheers.  @FergDevins @DevinsNetwork


Political Campaigns "Social or Spam"

If you are interested in government affairs like me, you are likely subscribed to many different political party newsletters and social networks with numerous candidates. In government relations, one is quick to realize that we work with the "Government of the Day" and thus it is critical to keep abreast of all party policy development and platforms. It is also really important to build relationships with candidates in anticipation of them some day forming government. Getting to know someone on a personal level is still an important part of building relations. Social networks afford the political parties and candidates with that opportunity.

Political parties have long been known for their "between campaign" email, phone and fundraising efforts. There is a constant flow of direct snail mail and email solicitations and phone polling throughout the year.

That said, I think that many are truly missing the real opportunity that exists for them in "social" media. I find that the majority of emails, tweets or posts from political candidates are one way broadcasts, rather than seizing the opportunity to engage in dialogue. Have you ever responded to the email from the "campaign spokesperson" ? I find that responding usually does not result in any response back. Thus the "campaign spokesperson" is a mass generated one way communication to push a message and not engage in dialogue. It looked personal, they signed it, they wanted you to feel that it was personal...but it was totally impersonal and issued en masse.

How many potential supporters, volunteers or interested voters are sitting out there attempting to respond to this "spam" to no avail ?

I would suggest that Facebook and Twitter are also failing for many political campaigns in a similar regard. A quick scan across many party sites and candidate profiles would suggest that the dialogue is minimal, but the messaging and propaganda is rich and constant. Have you tweeted or commented on a candidate or elected official profile lately ? There are a few that are really great in engaging in dialogue, but the majority are still using the social network as a channel to push their message, not engage in dialogue. It goes back to my provocation that you need a "purpose" for your social network channels and profiles. Don't just have one because someone said you should. It needs to be managed to help you achieve your goals and political or party aspirations.

So...what's my point ?

My point is that I think that social media offers political parties and candidates a wonderful opportunity to actually engage in a conversation with their targeted constituents. Take the time and invest the resource in actually having someone monitoring and following up within these social networks to truly show that you care, that you listen and that you are willing to take action in the interests of the voting public and constituents, rather than just pushing your propaganda out through these social network channels. There are lots of channels for you to "advertise", social media is an opportunity to "socialize".

The result ?  Through engagement and conversation you will build a conversation that will eventually turn to loyalty. Or, the conversation will evolve to a point where you know whether the individual is supportive or not on side. At least at that stage there will be a data point to manage, rather than an assumption that the one way communication is having any impact at all.

If you have some examples of some "pros" at using social media in the political context, let's hear about them here !

@FergDevins


Tapping the Front Line...Employee Brand Champions

Ok, after 30 years in the beer business you'll have to excuse the "tapping", old habits hard to get beyond for sure ! After the wonderful two weeks of Canadian Olympic joy and celebration, I couldn't help but reflect again on the importance of engaging the front line as brand champions and ambassadors.

After all, who better to be a voice and ambassador for your brand, than those committed individuals that are are creating, designing, making, distributing and selling your products. They live and breathe and rely on the employment of their brands to sustain who they are in their communities. You are paying them for their service and they can help even more if they can represent your brand in their community. They have built in affinity to the brand. The strength of this affinity can be passive or fully engaging. I believe that the degree of affinity to the employer brand is something that is totally in the hands of the employer. And, one must believe (I do anyway) that many of Canadian companies had a lot of proud employees, given the terrific efforts of Sport Chek, Canadian Tire, RBC, Ritz, Molson Canadian during the Sochi games; to name just a few.

To start with, employers need to be very good listeners and open to real feedback and opinion. Do you actually know what the sentiments of your employees are at any given time ? You may or may not like what is being said at "the water cooler", but you can bet money on it that what is being said there is the "reality" of your business. They are either speaking about what they have heard as truth, or they are surmising what is going on through their own interpretation and building stories off of each others' interpretations.

So why not harness those conversations ? I'm familiar with an internal social network at Yammer.com that allows for social networking within a company with company emails. It fosters communication, dialogue and casual conversations across the company. It is easy to integrate into your internal communications initiatives.

I have also been impressed with what I have seen and heard from SoapBoxhq.com . They actually harness the front line thinking and turn that into a powerful engagement tool for the employer. It might be about seeking out ideas for new innovations, or something as simple as what food might be offered in a meal plan in the lunch room. The key factor is that all of this encourages harvesting the voice, opinions and engagement of employees to get involved and be active ambassadors and thought leaders within their company. The mind power that can be harnessed within the ranks is powerful. And I believe that loyal employees want to contribute. Why not unleash their creativity and input ? Their voice unheard and not respected is an asset under utilized.

In a world of social media, the employee can play such an important role for the company in telling their stories about the brand, the workplace, their work environment, the creative process, the innovations and the corporate responsibility that their company represents (or not!).

I'd encourage you to check out what SoapBoxhq.com is up to if you want to really get advanced in working with your employees to build internal loyalty, engagement and increased leads for your business.

Cheers to unleashing the power within...your employee brand champions.  And...another big shout out to our Team Canada and the inspiration that they give to our nation. Cheers ! @FergDevins