Student Life on Canadian Campuses...time to choose

It's that time of year in Canada, when grade 12 students from coast to coast to coast are in receipt of their "offers" from post-secondary institutions of their choice.

It is a truly special time for families and for these students as they meet this milestone in the learning journey. Some will decide to take the increasingly popular "gap year", to travel, improve some marks or earn some money for the next adventure. Many will choose a college campus to focus on some very practical learning in pursuit of a career choice. Many will pursue a university, in pursuit of a bachelor of arts, commerce, engineering or towards a longer term in specialization, masters or doctoral goal. Many will choose an independent learning centre to focus on a special art or fulfillment of their career pursuits and dreams.

None the less, the experience is something that those of us all look  back upon with fond memories of some of the "best days of our lives". Campus experiences turn into life long memories and often involved the nurturing and foundation of life long friends.

I was particularly intrigued by the work of an entrepreneur Ali Badruddin, Schulich graduate, and the work that he and his team have done in developing Campus Vibez (pronounced Vibes...smiles). It serves to use video content curated by students and student organizations on campuses that highlight life on campus. They have done a terrific job on covering many of the colleges and universities across Canada. They are now in the process of sharing what they have built and building a broader community of engagement.

As families and students are making their final selections of the right "campus" to choose. This tool may be something that could be of assistance. It may also be a tool in the future for guidance counsellors providing insights into campus life, or for universities and student bodies who are in hot pursuit of selling their institutions to prospective students.

I'm sure that Ali would welcome any further questions via the web site. Cheers to this fascinating time of year in the lives of our graduating high school students. Best wishes for much success in fulfilling your dreams and continued education pursuits. @FergDevins

You and Your Brand In Social Media...Are You Sensitive ?

Since leaving Molson Coors at the end of December, I have had a lot of opportunity to take a look across a broader set of brands and community organizations reflecting on their social media activity. I am respectful that corporations have rules and filters and escalation protocols for what content gets posted etc. I am also respectful of the fact that issues can arise from careless tweets or customer complaints that have become much more public, given the power of social media. However, a fundamental and critical action that brands must (and that's a strong word folks) consider is their sensitive responsiveness to the customer in social networks.

What does sensitive responsiveness look like ? Let's start with what "social media" establishes. Social media establishes an opportunity for a brand or an individual or a not for profit or whatever entity to engage in dialogue about their product or issues and interests. It represents and opportunity to engage, debate, support, or opine; much like folks would have done in conversations in the past around the dinner table or at a community social event. The difference is that these conversations are now public and open for "one to one to many" conversations and shared multiple dialogues. Would you set up a call centre with multiple phone lines and just respond with a taped generic message, or let the phones ring and not answer them ?

In my opinion brands need to consider a few questions as they approach social media:

ONE - What is the purpose for you or your brand to be on social networks ? Really focus on this purpose. What is intended ? What is it suppose to drive...engagement, sales, sales leads, conversations, just being present ? Are you there because your competitor is there ? How is your competitor fairing ? What do you think their purpose if for being in that social network ? How have you assessed their success and what they are gaining ? Is your intent similar, different or not purposeful ? Don't make the mistake of just having a "profile" because you think you need to be there.

TWO - What is your brand and when is it most critical for you to be "on" in social media. When are people most likely to be in social conversations about your brand? In the beer business it likely means when the bars and retail are open and likely evenings and weekends when social occasions are happening. If it's the tuxedo business there will be peaks and valleys in the year where proms, weddings and formals are most prominent. If you are cereal, is it a morning blog update that flashes up during the breakfast hour when someone is likely having a bowl and checking the web. If you are a sports property it might be most relevant when your team is on the ice or the field or the court or the course. Or, perhaps you are big and ubiquitous enough to think that you need to be "on" 24/7 (Ha...don't we wish we were all that successful in what we are selling to have that need!)

THREE- Respect that "they" have an opinion out there. Respect that they have a voice. Respect that they might be ill informed, under informed or perhaps have more knowledge and be an expert in a subject matter. Repect, as difficult as it may be, that you might only get as far as agreeing to disagree. When this respect is established, you will be in the right context and state of mind. The mistake is made by those brands or individuals that become defensive or dismissive, remove posts, lash out or just "message" back. Respect in the conversation will raise conversation to a new level, and hopefully some meaningful dialogue. Oh yes...there needs to be mutual respect for this to work...smiles.

FOUR - Be SENSITIVE ! I'm sorry for the exclamation mark but what I've felt the past couple of months is a real lack of brands who get this. Lots of brands are in a social network but they are not "on". Either they are too shy to respond, (I respect that there are comfort stages of embracing and using social...listen - listen - listen - plan - be sensitive - prepare your response - engage in responding - respond to them...not from you...but to them in a sensitive way - then when you get comfortable start to lead conversations but based on their needs in how they interact with you or your brand) or they haven't figured out that the real power in social media is the conversation. If someone is tweeting you or commenting on Facebook or commenting on a blog or media there. Get into the conversation. At the very least if someone is shouting at you with a complaint, please acknowledge them for their interest in your brand. They bought your product, they chose you. Please show them that you at least care enough to acknowledge them. Maybe you need to buy time to respond. Tell them that. Being sensitive is a way of listening. It's more than just punching back a response.It's much better than ignoring the issue because you don't want to deal with it publicly. It's actually listening to your consumer and understanding what they love about you or what their complaint is. You have a chance to be sensitive to their emotion and their thinking and then respond.

I do have a few favourites that I see being very responsive. I won't get into the "list" now. Perhaps I will create a top ten and bottom ten from my own personal experience. Why ? Because social media provides the opportunity for just that. A brand can get personal with the consumer. The brand can build loyalty in a one to one way. That one to one will spread, because people talk about their experiences with brands, good - bad or ugly. People have lots of choices. The brands or the individuals or the not for profits or the community projects that choose to be sensitive and to engage will, in my opinion, be the brands and individuals that will build loyalty and long term support for themselves. Your thoughts  always welcome. Are you "on" ?  @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 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 . 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 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

Thanks to Our Canadian Olympic Team

Have you had a more inspiring February in recent years ? I suppose the last time that Canadians, in general, felt so "pumped" was four years ago during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic games.

From the smiling faces of our Olympians first entering the opening ceremonies stadium in Sochi, through to the final blast of closing fireworks, the energy, passion and dream making was certainly something to behold through our televisions, ipads, iphones computers and assorted personal communication devices. As individuals and members of their teams, our Olympians captured our hearts and emotions during these fabulous Olympic games in Sochi Russia.

Thanks also to the folks at CBC as the official Canadian Olympic broadcasters and to all members of the media...traditional and social that brought their voice and insights to carry us the games from Russia.

There was something so great about the #wearewinter campaign that made this harshest winter in years feel so appropriate as a backdrop to our Olympians battling it out in Sochi.

Special thanks to our Canadian Olympic Team for sharing their dreams with us and inspiring a nation through their sport. Hopefully we as Canadians will continue to support the dreams of our current and future Olympians as they prepare for their continuing world competition schedules in pursuit of the next summer and winter Olympic games. You can help make a difference by supporting the foundation, if you so choose.

#TeamCanada, thanks for the lift and pride you give us all. Cheers @FergDevins

Give to Team Canada

This is a short and pithy blog post. The message is simple "please give". Please give to those who have sacrificed much the past few years to represent our country as Olympic athletes on #TeamCanada. These athletes have worked, trained, psyched up, planned, pained, dreamed and committed themselves over the past four or more years to fulfill their dream as an Olympic athlete representing Canada. They also fulfill on our dreams to see our youth compete at the world's games - the Winter Olympics in Sochi. can you support and thank them ? You can give to them through the Canadian Olympic Foundation in support of our athletes, their dreams and our tingling joy while we witness their drive and excellence in competition. Thanks for supporting our Team Canada. Cheers ! @FergDevins

Molson Canadian "Fund a Champion" Team Canada

A salut to Team Canada as they prepare for Sochi '14 and the eyes of the nation ensure that our cable and/or online subscriptions are up to date for the Winter Olympic window. At Molson Coors Canada (client) they had undertaken a unique opportunity with the Molson Canadian Fund a Champion program to support ten athletes in pursuit of their Olympic dreams. Nine of the ten athletes, that Molson Coors supported with a $10,000 grant each, have fulfilled on their Olympic dream and will be competing for Canada.

You can follow them on Twitter, Lenny Valjas - Cross Country Skiing @lennyvaljas, Philipe Marquis Freestyle Skiing Moguls @MarquisPhil, Jessica Hewitt Shortrack speed skating @pookaleany, Genevieve Lacasse Hockey @glacasse31, Eric Radford Figure Skating Pairs @Rad85E, Georgia Simmerling Ski Cross @gsimmerling, Cody Sorensen Bobsleigh @Codes11 , Sarah Reid Skeleton @skellyrider, Keltie Hansen Free Style Skiing Half Pipe @Keltieh and a toast to the next games and his ongoing competitions Laurent Dubreuil Long Track @Golden_Lyle who missed out by a 5 - 100ths of a second in long track. You might appreciate his wonderful reflection on the very dissapointing moment in his heartfelt interview on here. It's but one example of the challenge that these individuals face in their ongoing competition and on the track to the Olympic games. No doubt he now sets his sights on 2018 and we wish him and all our athletes the very best of health and support on their journies. The passion, the journey, the sweat, personal sacrifice and gruelling preparation that these role models demonstrate is truly remarkable. A toast to our total "Team Canada" as they ready themselves for their journey of a lifetime and the memories that they will bring to all of us as we witness the competition in Sochi. Cheers to Canada's Team at the Winter Olympics 2014. @FergDevins

First Week...Connecting a Network

First week in this new career stage and lovin it ! What's particularly gratifying is the wonderful community in which I live, work and play. It has been tremendous to re-connect with friends, former colleagues and advisors from years gone by, as well as new introductions to people that have reached out to TheDevinsNetwork Inc.

Some observations I think are worth sharing as it relates to my "social networking". While at Molson Coors I had used linkedin as a place to keep abreast of colleagues, university and college contacts and a link to the broader world of communicators, busines and community leaders. I am somewhat overwhelmed with how relevant and constant LinkedIn has become in my day to day. It's a tremendous place to connect and get informed with people and their ongoing projects and needs. Thus I've created a Devins Network group in LinkedIn as a placeholder in that channel.

Facebook has been a "personal network" for years. It's a place for private close and long term friends and colleagues to share more personal stories and experiences. However, I've been surprised at how much interest has showed up in Facebook, thus I've created a DevinsNetwork page in Facebook, in addition the ConeyMusicFest page that I manage in there as well.

Obviously MolsonFerg on twitter is no longer active and I was surprised at how easy I was able to convert to @FergDevins and maintain a solid following and dialogue. I still really enjoy the engagement and channel that Twitterville represents in my social networks. I have felt compelled to create @DevinsNetwork alongside @FergDevins. I'm not sure if that will continue but at this stage, I will keep them both alive and see how the Network brand unfolds. I recall my counsel to folks over the careful not to create too many "phone lines" in your house because it will be impossible to answer them all !

I'm still learning and experimenting with google plus but have booted up there as well.

And right here at it has been an interesting experience of setting up a web profile, determining what services I might provide and being "open for business". I still think that I'm likely more open for conversation and opportunity than open for business at this stage. In time I would think that I'll find a "sweet spot" to focus on in communications but at this point it's just a great feeling to be wide open to whatever opportunities or possibilities might arise. It is really great to have a home base to point people towards when they are inquiring about "what's up".

Acknowledgements...Thanks to Kevin at Paper Ideas for the logo work. If you need a person knowledgeable in wordpress to help get your site set up, I suggest you check out Stacey Hood. Good ideas, easy access and a great sense of humour and straight talk.  Thanks to Richard Binhammer for the referal to Stacey. I'm also really looking forward to checking into the Human Business Works seminar on Mastering the Digital Channel later this month. I'll find out exactly how much I don't know about the wonderful world of social networks. Cheers ! conversation should you and I be having? Cheers ! @FergDevins (Photo credit to Clark Devins Photography)

Picking Up Sticks

There seemed to be a lot of chatter today on the airwaves in Toronto about "picking up sticks". The city is littered with fallen trees and branches, many of which are still semi attached to the actual trees. Officials seem to think that this will take up to eight weeks to clean up. Some suggest bringing in the army as a quicker fix. Some have suggested opening the lines to those in need of work. Another option in between might be to have our Ministry of Natural Resources fire crews from across the province engage. They actually have professional training on how to use chain saws. Regardless, this could be a tremendous opportunity for the city to band together one neighbourhood at a time and get our streets and parks and yards back in order as a whole community. Many have complained about not taking the right steps through the power outage and the food vouchers. Hopefully our leaders can learn from these difficult times and discover what actions will resolve the issues. This is not a time to blame, but a time to learn through what has taken place. Crisis does not bring answers readily, but by banding together and discussing opportunities and possibilities...good ideas emerge and planned actions can follow. Regardless ,we can be thankful of the city workers and hydro workers and all those who have pitched in to get our city back up and running, even in the face of some of the harshest temperatures this winter. Thanks to the 600 city staff that are tasked with this huge challenge. Let's remember those who face the challenge of the street on these cold winter nights. @FergDevins  @DevinsNetwork

Christmas Spirit

Having breakfast this morning with world class photographer Tom Thomson @fotogotom at Yesterdays in Kenora we bumped into Pat Brett. Pat is a revered local folk balladeer sensation that has entertained for decades. He told us of a tough Christmas given that a long time friend in the city is dealing with cancer and is bed ridden in hospital. Pat is planning to head into Winnipeg tonight with guitar in hand to sing a few songs for those stuck in hospital for Christmas. A story worth telling in the spirit of Christmas. Thanks for the inspiration Patty. Best of the season to one and all. @FergDevins

Fresh Start...following an awesome journey at Molson Coors Canada

Ferg Devins (I) will be leaving Molson Coors as of December 31st and I'm looking forward to having Molson Coors as my first client as I start up TheDevinsNetwork Inc. So...apologies for the "long blog" but I've got some ground to cover...smiles.

In Kenora Ontario in 1981 I had the most wonderful break as a young lad going to Queen's University that one might every want. The local Molson sales representative, Dennis Olson, had met me during the previous Christmas break to see if I might take on the role of "summer representative" in northwestern Ontario. At the time I had been working for the MNR fighting fires in the spring and acting as a junior ranger foreman in the summer. Dennis suggested that I consider getting involved with Molson, as a career move with a great iconic Canadian company. He then arranged that I meet with this district Manager, Paul Raino, in Thunder Bay and the regional manager, Mike Murphy, who was in from Toronto for the World Cup Ski Jump event...sponsored by Molson. Well friends, nearly 32 years later it seems like just yesterday to look back at those summers at ball diamonds, tourist camps and the Jeux Canada Games in Thunder Bay that summer. While at Queen's I served as a campus rep, and had the best job in the company in 1983 and 1984 as a captain aboard the Molson Marine Patrol "Accommodation Two" named after one of John Molson's famous St. Lawrence Steamships ! The sales team of Zuk, Mekilok, Littleford, Kozak, Olson and Bell in Thunder Bay gave me a strong foundation of community relations and selling skills that first summer of '81. Thirty plus years later still friends with Craig and Linda Prentice who were all part of team Molson in those early days.

I still recall meeting with former Toronto Maple Leaf great, turned district manager, Gaye Stewart for an interview for a Hamilton territory and then finding out from Mike Murphy and Paul Raino that I'd be taking on the challenges of a Toronto territory. That was quite a hill to climb for this kid from Kenora ! Chuck Seager and the Toronto sales team welcomed me with open arms. And I was fortunate enough to see a lot more of Jack Quinn in his role as Toronto East Manager. He had been my "mentor" in Kingston while I was at Queen's. Norm Webb, Les Yates, Scott Ellis and Dennis Riggin where characters unto themselves as managers !

My Parkdale sales territory got me grounded in some solid street smarts. And I had the jewel in the crown in sales with Exhibition Place and Ontario Place properties. Moving into a marketing coordinator position I had great moments in sports and entertainment while playing key liaison for Molson on such important partnership properties as the Toronto Maple Leafs - Ontario Place - Exhibition Place - the Ontario Hockey League - Motion Show - Harbourfront and the Molson Canadian Rocks Music program and our 25 year jewel in our crown - the Molson Indy. Brian Luftspring and I still have lots of laughs of the great times in "promotions". In Chain Accounts,  I had a tremendous mentor in Vic Stieben, as we created and built some of the early marketing and sales programs with our larger group customers.

As the Molson Carling merger took place I had the opportunity to move into the District Sales Manager role under the leadership of Jim Crawford. It was truly a transformational time for both companies as we brought two fierce competing cultures together. However, allies soon emerged between some of the best personalities in the beer business. Molson and Carling's best drove the distinction that defined relationships in the beer business.

I was fortunate to gain experience in brand promotions, in many respects overseeing some of those properties that I had managed at the ground level. It was fascinating to connect the strategic brand positioning to the street marketing and selling aspects of the properties. Brent Scrimshaw was a great captain of our team.

As a national brand manager I was exposed to all aspects of marketing, advertising, promotion, research and all of the fascinating elements that make up brand management. When we decentralized I moved back to Ontario as a Sr. Brand Manager and then into the position of Director - Field Marketing...which I look back on as some of the most successful times for the team. The team was a total team with a passion for winning and under Dave Perkins - Dave Minnett and Roy Hryn were truly making a run for success in the business in Ontario West. Ray Douin had a similar formula happening in Quebec Atlantic.

After Field Marketing I moved to Sales Director for half of Ontario and had a superb team of great passionate sales people. We had breadth and depth in our portfolio and our selling tools.

The past fifteen years I've had the opportunity to lead various iterations of our corporate affairs portfolio, first for Ontario West, under the leadership of Michael Downey and then in Government Relations and PR with Scott Ewart and Kevin Boyce and since 2009 as Chief Corporate Affairs Officer for Molson Coors in Canada with Dave Perkins at the helm at Stewart Glendinning this past year. I have had the opportunity to work coast to coast to coast, building a network with the press, community stakeholders, political leaders, governmental civil servants, corporate responsibility thought leaders, industry colleagues and the hospitality sector from independents to national chains. In 2007 I was given the opportunity to jump into "social media" feet first when Kevin and Scott gave us the ability to pioneer, explore, converse and be open and authentic in the social networks. We built credibility on open honest communications between the company and the voices in and about our business. Authentic, genuine direct to drinker interactions...many friends of whom I still have today as followers @FergDevins. It has also broadened my experience by working with our global enterprise team in Corporate Affairs Dan, Bart, Jill, Colin, Scott, Jonty and guys rock !

I've been honoured to represent Molson Coors to our broader community. They have remained firmly committed to "Our Beer Print" and the company's heritage of support for the broader community will be forever engrained in me. I was truly humbled to receive the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012. I was but an ambassador for the great work that Molson Coors carries out across Canada.

In 30 years I've been so fortunate to be able to represent Molson Coors and to have met so many interesting people and have lived through so many exciting events in our times. Characters like Dave Nichol and Don Cherry come to mind. The opportunity to work with community leaders like Paul Godfrey and our Molson Indy Foundation board is a highlight for sure. Events like the 1981 Canada Games, The Molson Canadian Rocks Toronto SARS concert, and the 2010 Olympic games were experiences that were just simply once in a lifetime. To have been able to get to know our founding families just a little bit has been wonderful. The Molson and Coors families have truly built a culture of family and heritage in their business, something that has brought me immense pride in being an ambassador of this iconic company. The chance to open a new brewery after 50 years in Moncton was a monumental occasion and done with class.

The people that I have met have brought me the most joy. My team in Canada has been best in class. Thanks to all who have been colleagues of mine over these many years. You've been a great team and I know that the next generation will keep this 227 year iconic business moving forward. To those with whom I have worked in the community, government, media, our partners, our customers, the industry and hospitality and tourism sectors and of course the thousands of beer drinkers with whom I have interacted...I can't thank you enough for the wonderful journey that I have had with you.

Kathy has been there from day one through to the 30th year. Heck...I was a Molson campus rep living downstairs when we were at Queen's University in Kingston! And Helena and Clark have been great supporters of a busy dad with lots going on in our lives.

And now...The Devins Network Inc. begins a journey into the future and I look forward to seeing how we will keep these conversations alive. A toast to great possibilities ,as we embrace the future together. This Molson Coors journey has been spectacular...thanks to everyone who has helped to make it such a great experience. Cheers ! @FergDevins