Friday, November 30, 2007

Tips for a Thank You Note

Here's yet another gem from Church of the Customer's Jackie Huba on writing "Thank You" notes that rock! If you want to build a word-of-mouth focused and buzzworthy business, here is the way to go. I would probably add another point which is to handwrite the note - if you can help it!
  1. Spell the recipient's name correctly (doh!).
  2. Thank the person for choosing your business. If they shared a specific reason why they choose your business of why they like it, reaffirm it. For heaven's sake, though, don't turn it into a sales pitch.
  3. Include a personal detail about the recipient that you picked up on. Prove that you were listening. Humanity is a good thing in the antiseptic world of business.
  4. Open the door to feedback. Whether the recipient provides it isn't the point; it's the idea that you're passionate about creating a recommendable experience.
  5. Be authentic: Include your full name and contact info -- email and/or phone. Or a business card.
Link here.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

How PR Agencies Should Manage Clients

I got tipped off to write about this following Priscilla Tan's expose on what goes on behind the doors of PR agencies and their clients. Many of the situations which she described - expecting page one news, wanting to be called "the next big thing", and agency bosses "kow towing" to clients - are not unique indeed.

As a client and a PR practitioner myself, I would like to offer the following words of advice to PR agencies in order to better manage that "client from hell":

1) Educate Thy Client

Yeah I know this has been said before, but I would like to re-emphasise the point that it is important to keep your client in the loop of the PR business. Share with them what happens in newsrooms, why journalists are always so stressed, and why it is a bad idea to have a product launch on a Sunday morning. Tell them what the journalists mean by offstone, why you can't send a press release to "Her World" and expect them to publish it next week, or why it is a cardinal sin to ring an editor 5 times a day.

2) Bridge The Gap

One reason why Public Relations has the word "relations" is because a large part of the job is about connecting with people. Help your clients to know the media better by encouraging them to speak to them and understand what they need. Direct from the horses' mouth. They need to appreciate that the press are our friends - not foe.

3) Don't Spread Urban Legends

Occasionally, I will come across PR agencies that purport to have the secret mystic key which unlocks the gate to eternal "front page" riches and "prime time" news coverage. Oh please. Don't give clients the mumbo jumbo about why a particular journalist slammed their product and service, citing excuses like its a bad hair day, he got hammered by his boss and so on. Or that a superstitious editor will only attend a lunch on a Tuesday. Which brings us to the next point...

4) Tell Them The Truth First.... Even if It Hurts

This is probably the most difficult to do in the hyper competitive PR arena. I feel that it is better to be candid, honest and upfront with a client before accepting a job about the story possibilities and how far it can go. The truth is that small businesses usually (not always) find it harder to get extensive coverage compared to corporate giants.

5) Share that a Publicity Stunt =/= a Sales & Marketing Stunt

The greatest folly in PR is to imagine that a roadshow in a crowded shopping centre with pretty models and irresistible freebies (holidays to Antartica, iPhones etc) will bring the news. Not. Agencies should appraise their clients on what works and what doesn't in attracting news coverage. So what if he or she engages an A-list "Ah Jie" to grace the occasion. Is there anything new or different that the press should sniff at?

6) Be Involved from the Onset Where Possible

Effective PR campaigns usually occur when both the marketing and PR folks plan and strategise how something should roll out. Where possible, try to wheedle your way into your client's product or event launch strategy. Pipe in with your inputs and insist that you have a hand on how something new is going to be executed.

7) Keep Them In the Loop Early and Often

Finally, I strongly urge all PR agencies to keep their clients informed about the progress of their campaign wherever possible. Let them know what angles you are pitching to whom, what the likelihood of a big story is like, how the journalists are viewing it thus far, and what corrective actions are needed to save a campaign. Give them Work In Progress (WIP) updates, regular calls on what's happening, and be proactive.

PS - My good pal Melvin has started blogging again! Check out his latest post on the value that PR brings.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Farewell to Our Dragon Boaters


Courtesy of Shen_Shifa

It was a terrible tragedy and one of the saddest news which hit our shores this year. Till now, many of us are still reeling from the fact that five of our strapping young men gave their lives to a murky river in Cambodia. Victims of strong undercurrents and hostile rowing conditions, they represented some of the best athletes our nation has produced. The sadness of their family members and friends must be immeasurable.

I used to be a dragon boater, though not at the national level like the boys. I recalled watching the national team trained before - hulking, tanned and ripped guys who looked like bodybuilders (no kidding). I rowed for the Singapore Armed Forces Sports Association (SAFSA) during my NSF days and subsequently the National University of Singapore (NUS) where I studied. Although I wasn't in the A-team, I had a chance to strengthen my fitness and health during those years. Something which I would be eternally grateful for.

I remembered how gruelling the training regimes can be down at the National Stadium and Kallang River. First, we ran about 2.4 km, followed by interval training (800m to 400m sprints, followed by 20 push ups or sit ups, 1 minute rest and off we go), medicine ball tossing, weight liftings in the gym. And that was only in the morning. In the afternoons, we would be rowing for at least two hours or so. By the end of the day, every muscle and sinew ached for relief.

One thing which all competitive dragon boaters appreciate and understand is discipline and teamwork. You have to row in unison, with the same beat and in the same breath. To win, every body needs to pull more than their weight in the water. If one or more guys "kengs" and paddles air, the results will show. This is why dragon boating is one of the sports which bonds people together more so than any other.

To the families and friends of our five national dragon boaters who passed away, I express my deepest condolence and sorrow. I know that no words can express the sorrow and grief which encompasses you. Time will heal all hurts, and I pray that you will find comfort in time to come.

To the rest of the 17 national dragon boaters, take heart that you are not alone. The nation grieves along with you on the untimely departures of your fellow team mates who are friends and brothers. Take your time to cry, to feel that sense of loss, and to step back first. There will be another day for another race, where you guys will once again carry our national flag with great pride.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Ethan Turns Four!

As Ethan celebrates his fourth birthday this coming Tuesday (27 November), we had a great week of multiple celebrations. This actually felt uncannily like his third birthday, if you can recall, with pretty much the same players (close friends and relatives). Looking at the photos just makes you wish you were a kid all over again doesn't it?

First was a celebration with his good friend Dyann, who turned five on 19 November at her place.

P1060574
Ethan and Dyann before lighting up the candles.

P1060580
Here's Ethan trying his nth time to blow out those indefatigable candles. "The big bad wolf huffed and puffed, huffed and puffed, huffed and puffed...."

After celebrating in a very comfortable home setting, our next adventures took place in a back alley full of lizards and cockroaches. Yes, this was an unconventional birthday celebration at Moonstone Lane. Those in the know would appreciate the famous pomfret fish head steamboat being served here.

P1060635
Sure looks yummy doesn't it? And surprisingly, the place was quite cool and airy in the evening when we dined al fresco style.

P1060653
After dinner, we adjourned to my brother Roger's house for the cake cutting and celebration. Roger turns 36 on 26 November, which is just a day before Ethan. Here's a pic with Mandy on the right and Isaac below singing along.

Finally, just yesterday evening, Tina and I organised Ethan's birthday celebration at Spizza @ Club Street. The trick to doing a good one is to make sure that the kids are happy with the food and well-fed.

Everybody seemed happy there as you can see:

P1060694
A line up of kids from our extended families. From left: Chloe (3.5 years), Alycia (7.5 years), Felicia (2.5 years), Isaac (5 years), Mandy (9.5 years), Ethan (4 years), and Ariel (7.5 years).

P1060697
"Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday to Ethan...."

P1060700
A close up view of the "powerful" cake chosen no less by Ethan himself. This isn't just any Power Ranger but those from the SPD series.

After an exhausting but happy week and evening, we retreated back home. Ethan was naturally happy with the harvest that evening as you can see:

P1060718
90% of his birthday presents were Power Rangers related (both Mystic Force and SPD).

Happy Birthday Ethan! Mummy and Daddy wish you all the best in the year ahead as you grow up.

PS - Let me know if you wish to learn the secrets of organising a happy kids birthday party...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Incredible Peeing Wall!

After attending a staff seminar this evening, I walked along Boat Quay area and came across this unusual phenomenon at the base of OCBC building.

P1060594

I liked the way the mirror image of the skyscrapers were captured in this dark pool. As I walked along, I gingerly strode on these granite planks...

P1060597

And came face to face with one of the iconic sculptures around the financial district by Henry Moore.

P1060596

This one had been around for quite some time and is called Reclining Figure. In case you do not know, Henry Moore was one of the foremost sculptors in UK, whose pieces can fetch up to millions even.

P1060599

As I walked down from the sculpture, I noticed a freakish thing happening at the side of the dark granite wall. Can you spot it?

P1060600

Yes, believe it or not, the wall is peeing! OK, ok, maybe the water feature just had a bad "flow" day.

P1060590

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Winning $10,000 on a Bus



As a regular commuter on public buses and a marketer, I tend to notice the many different ways in which companies advertise their products and services. Increasingly, more and more purveyors of outdoor and out-of-home media are selling advertising spaces in practically every which way you turn.

Including beside the handles of buses, as you can see in the shot I took above. This ad is by AXS, and it offered to reward a subscriber every week with $10,000 of cold hard cash in return for using their services. Ordinarily I would only think about AXS when I have to pay a parking fine or my household bills, none of which are particularly pleasurable affairs.

Will this ad work? Well, it was literally right in my face that day. In terms of visuals and copy, this is probably as hard sell as it gets.

Personally, I thought that it was a little dangerous. Folks (especially the elderly) who needed to reach for the handles may end up pulling down one of these instead (and crash down to the floor). Hardly a way to build consumer goodwill, even if you have a chance to win $10,000.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Win Nikon Cameras with Explore Singapore!



Are you an avid photoblogger? Have an interest in Singapore's unique and fascinating heritage? Why not satisfy both passions and have a chance to bring home a brand new Nikon camera!

Take part in NHB's first photoblogging contest and participate in Explore Singapore! Simply follow these easy steps:

1) Attend an Explore Singapore! event. Take lots of pictures.

2) Blog about it on your blog (remember to post the pictures!)

3) Visit the Explore Singapore! Heritage In Pictures webpage. Register your blog post URL there.

4) If approved, your blog post will be posted on the contest listings page.

5) Check back regularly to see if your entry is up. If at first you don't succeed, try try again.

6) Get your friends to check out your entry by putting this Brag Badge on your blog.

Celebrity photographer Dominic Khoo of www.whatisthesight.com will select the winners, who will receive an exclusive National Heritage Board winners’ certificate to be placed on their blogs.

Registration is open from 10 November 2007 to 31 December 2007 so hurry! Oh and do tell all your friends about it too.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Who Says Comics are Dumb?



Spotted this comic book at Times the Bookshop in Funan quite recently. This isn't just any run-of-the-mill graphic novel revolving around the oh so popular Warcraft franchise. Instead, it actually helps to build and develop your vocabulary, with an array of important words and phrases all targeted at those taking their SAT/ ACT exams.

In other words, reading comic books can now help you prepare for university!

Published by Kaplan, Inc, a specialist in education, the books contained some heavyweight words like "sanctimonious" and "exculpate". According to Bloomberg, this publication is part of the effort to get more US High School students to brush up on their reading skills.

Now this is what I call a Purple Cow - an edutainment product with a difference which scores in more ways than one.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Word Of Mouth Rules!


Courtesy of ChurchoftheCustomer.com

Got tipped off about this from Ian McKee at a recent lunch talk, and also found it on one of my favourite marketing blogs Church of the Customer. Apparently, a new study by Nielsen has revealed that Word Of Mouth (WOM) is yet again the number one motivating factor behind customer purchases. This isn't surprising considering that most of us would much rather trust a friend or family member than an oh-so-slick and smooth advertisement.

What's especially interesting is this chart below:


Courtesy of ChurchoftheCustomer.com

It shows that the top 5 countries all come from Asia, with Hong Kong at the top of the list. This isn't really surprising as the emphasis on relationships and kinships amongst Asian societies makes recommendations much more important than a spiel from the company. Of course, this also makes my job as a marketer and publicist that much more difficult!

I wonder where Singapore would rank on the list though. Any idea?

The moral of the story?

1) Focus on creating outstanding product and service experiences that others will talk about. Don't just create the biggest, loudest and most intelligent ads on the planet!

2) Engage your influencers and opinion shapers closely. Get them to be your evangelists in spreading the word and give them a good reason to do so.

3) Do something extraordinary every once in a while. As Seth Godin would say, create Purple Cows in your business.

4) Don't ever neglect your after sales service. The purchasing decision doesn't just stop at the cash register, but goes beyond that to influence the next buying cycle.

5) Listen to what your customers are telling you about your product or service. Invite them for tea and conduct focus group sessions to suss out what they feel.

6) Connect not just to the brain but to the heart. Emotions are the often the strongest motivating factor behind getting people to talk. If they had a wonderful encounter with your business, it is likely that they will talk about it (conversely, if they had a disastrous experience, you can bet your last dollar that the word will carry!).

You can learn more about Word Of Mouth here, here, and here.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Some Tips on Corporate Blogging



Melvin, Preetam, Ian and I shared our views yesterday afternoon on a panel speaking session on business blogging recently by the Institute of Public Relations Singapore (IPRS). After some time away from social media gatherings, it was quite refreshing to share my thoughts and experiences in corporate blogging once again. The lunch talk was held at Geek Terminal, which seem to be the de facto venue for all things 2.0-ish.

The session got off pretty well and I enjoyed the animated exchanges between the panellists and the floor. Some of the key lessons which I shared were as follows:

1) Build a Community of Believers

If you want your corporate blog to get off to a flying start, you need to first identity who your key stakeholders or influencers are. Get to know them - personally if possible - and be frank and honest with what you hope to do with them. Even better is to involve them right from the genesis of your blog and get their opinions, views and feedback on what ticks and what doesn't. These agents of change can help to spread the word around not only on your own corporate blog but through their personal channels - blogs, forums, IMs, emails, Facebooks, Myspaces etc.

2) Don't be Enamoured by Technology

Sure, your competitor has started a Facebook group, and even your 10-year old son has started to "Joosting". That doesn't necessarily mean that you should incorporate all the latest bells and whistles into your blog from the word "Go!". Instead, pay attention to your content (which is King by the way) and what you would like to say first and foremost. Thereafter, think about where your audiences prefer to hang out - virtually - and which way would work best.

3) Read the Cluetrain Manifesto

Now this book has already been around for quite a few years, but it still remains as the "Bible" of the entire social media business. Go buy, borrow or download for free here. I promise you that it will change your entire thinking about how markets work.

4) Face to Face > Facebook

Finally, you need to spend time meeting all the great folks whom you work offline. Don't just be a virtual friend but a real one. Organise a gathering or many meet ups if you can. Arrange to catch up over coffee, lunch, dinner or drinks. It doesn't have to be fancy. More importantly, show a genuine interest in what they do and the likelihood is that they will reciprocate the favour.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Dandenong Delights

In this last of my series of posts on Melbourne, we ventured into the forested highlands of the Blue Dandenongs, which is located close to the picturesque Yarra Valley wine areas. Breathtaking scenery awaited us at practically every corner which we turned. This, coupled with the pure and invigorating mountain air, made the drive to the hilly region totally worth it.

There is something about trees, mountains, rivers and wide open spaces which attracts me. Living in a space-constrained environment here in sunny Singapore, we relish the opportunity to run wild and free across acres and acres of lush countryside. I certainly made a mental note that this will not be the last time in which we will visit Australia.

P1040950
Our first stop was at the Mount Dandenong Arboretum. An arboretum is a botanical garden containing primarily woody plants and trees.

P1040909
Here you can see miles and miles of trees of different species, co-existing happily in a relatively un-scathed environment. Ahhh.... the dream of ex-botanists like myself!

P1040905
Ethan and Tina striking a pose for the camera. Err.... sorry about the finger pointing!

P1040946
Our journeys took us further into a nearby forested area which had strong winds blowing against a clear, blue mid day sky. It brought a sense of peace and serenity to us.

P1040932
Father and son looking deliriously happy in the forest, on top of a tree trunk.

P1040959
We next drove to a nearby observatory and park which was very popular with the locals too. Apparently it was Father's Day in Australia.

P1040957
A shot of the observatory cum restaurant high atop the hilly region.

P1040964
Here's a touristic shot of Ethan and myself at the observation point. You can see all the way to Melbourne City from here.

P1040975
Beautiful flowers adorned the Sky High park along its various slopes.

P1040983
Here's a shot of Ethan attempting to "roll down the hills". We saw a few Australian kids doing this and decided to urge Ethan to follow suit. Ordinarily, most Singaporean parents would never do this

P1040999
Next we drove down the hills to the nearby Silvan Reservoir. Lots of families were having fun barbecuing and enjoying the outdoors.

P1050025
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped by a nursery which had lots of beautiful flowers in varied hues and shades greeting us.

P1050027
"Roses are red, and Violas are yellow." We were pleasantly surprised when Ethan told us that this flower was called a Viola. Apparently, he learnt it in school.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Yarra River Rocks!

P1050533
Giant Ferris Wheel and Melbourne Skyline from Yarra River

After my week-long hiatus, I have decided to pick up the pen (or keyboard) once again and to start blogging. Let me continue from where I last left off on our Melbourne trip. This time, our photographic adventures centre around the scenic and lovely Yarra River.

Just a short walk from our hotel, the Yarra River is a scenic spot for sporting fun and social activity in Melbourne. The Yarra River was very important to Aboriginal people, and its name is thought to derive from Aboriginal words meaning "ever flowing". To us, it offered a nice respite from the buzz of the city like Melbourne's many parks, and has some of the most splendid views of the city. In fact, it is one of the favourite spots of avid photographers hoping to catch a representative shot of the city.

P1050519
Here's one of the few decent shots that I managed to grab of the river. This was taken from a nearby Ferris Wheel (more of that later).

P1050482
"Row row row your boat, gently down the stream...." With temperatures hovering around 10 deg C, it is little wonder that these girls hardly sweated while paddling away.

P1050497
The banks of the Yarra River has these interesting sculptures and artworks. Many were created with harmonious materials, colours and textures which blended with the bush environment.

P1050498
Here's a shot of the sculpture Angel by Deborah Halpern at Birrarung Marr where we spent all our time.

P1050486
Does this look like a showcase of aboriginal art to you? Well, on closer inspection...

P1050488
It turned out to be an art-inspired playground. Which of course provided lots of fun for my four-year old.

P1050496
Here's Ethan doing his Spiderman thingy. It took him a while to gain his confidence and clamber up the network of ropes.

P1050527
Finally, we decided to try the Giant Sky Wheel. This was a temporary fun fixture on the river apparently.

P1050503
First, Ethan went on the adjoining merry-go-round. As it was evening then, not many kids were around to jostle for position.

P1050515
Next, it was the time to ride the ferris wheel. Papa had the honour of riding with Ethan on this dizzying, spinning wheel.

P1050517
A shot of Tina through the protective "cage". We did feel a little like birds up in the air.

P1050524
Naturally, Ethan was thrilled and happy like a bird.

P1050536
Finally, a shot of the ferris wheel closer to night. There were lots of colourful lights emanating along the spokes of the attraction. A technicolour end to a day at the Yarra River Park.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Power of Traditional Chinese Medicine



Yes, I am finally back from my blogging hiatus over the past 2 weeks or so. Thanks for your well-wishes and continued encouragement.

One of the reasons why I could bounce back to my feet is the result of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treatments which helped restore my health. You will be surprised at the efficacy of TCM herbal remedies which date back thousands of years. Unlike Western medication which tend to treat the symptoms, TCM looks at treating both the symptoms and the cause of ill health. It embraces a holistic approach and philosophy encompassing lifestyle changes, diet, and stress management in order to achieve true healing.

Of course, TCM isn't that cheap compared to visiting your regular GP. A typical session complete with medication may cost anything from $60 to $100 or more. Plus, they can't issue Medical Certificates (MCs). You also have to wait for a long time and make appointments to visit popular "sinsehs", and this includes hunting them down in obscure corners of the island!

Often, traditional remedies can do a lot more to fortify one's well being than the synthetic drugs and high potency antibiotics favoured in modern medicine. However, they do take a longer period of healing compared to the "wham, bam" approach favoured by state-of-the-art pharmaceuticals.

Of course, not everything can be healed through traditional approaches. For serious illnesses and emergencies, one should definitely consult a specialist or even make an appointment at the A&E units of hospitals. However, do consider them next time if you have a long-suffering running nose or a dizzy spell. I did and it certainly made a difference to me!