Sunday, December 23, 2007

Off to Beijing!

Courtesy of me & me photoes

Yes, we are off to the wintry weather of the Northern Chinese city of Beijing for a vacation. I hear that temperatures now are in the range of between -6 to 6 deg C, so you can bet that it is going to be quite freezing cold there. Of course, regular readers of my blog would know about our propensity for polar climes, so this isn't surprising. My son Ethan in particular is very excited about the snow, and says that he is already dreaming of building snowman.

In the words of Dean Martin, "I'm dreaming of a White Christmas...." Or perhaps Chen Lei does it better in this classical Chinese hit "One Night in Beijing":

See you guys in 2008!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Word Of Mouth - The Charmin Chronicles

Wow and double wow. A tip off from my regular read Church of the Customer led me to this story by Virginia of Brains On Fire about how P&G is revolutionising toilet papers. Yeah, you didn't read me wrong.

Apparently, what happened was that the FMCG behemoth fitted out an entire toilet and a lot more as part of the their efforts in promoting Charmin toilet paper. There are even two strengths available - Extra Strong and Extra Soft - depending on your inclination and err....vigour. What's neat is that ancilliary brands like tissues, scented wipes, and serviettes were also promoted along with the necessary waste disposal expendable item. Check out the Youtube video on this here:

Now, if only we can create an entire bathroom completely decked out with the toiletry products of leading brands inside for a completely brand immersive experience? Of course, the experience must be great in order to generate positive rather than negative Word Of Mouth.

Anybody game for this here in Singapore?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Rule of Three

Courtesy of Hale Popopi

Came across this brilliant piece of copywriting advice from Copyblogger and how the "Rule of three" works universally in capturing people's attention. It is simple, effective and oh so true.

Here's a quote from the post:

...information presented in groups of three sticks in our heads better than other clusters of items. For example:

“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”

“Government of the people, by the people, for the people”

“Friends, Romans, Countrymen”

“Blood, sweat and tears”

“Location, location, location”

“Father, Son and Holy Spirit”

“Faith, Hope and Charity”

“Mind, body, spirit”

“Stop, Look and Listen”

“Sex, Lies and Videotape”

“I came, I saw, I conquered”

Perhaps the next time you are tasked to write an advertisement, a speech or powerpoint presentations, see if you can dissect them into 3 key points.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Funky Monkey and Busy Bee

As part of his graduation ceremony, Ethan recently performed two items at his childcare centre Learning by the Park. Ethan is the boy in the green T-shirt with a shark on it wearing long red pants.

The first above is a segment from the song "Funky Monkey".

The second segment above is one where the kids pretend to be bees.

While his performance isn't quite Asian Idol material, well at least he is trying his best. And that's what matters most I guess.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Sex, Scandal and Sensationalism

Courtesy of mercer machine

In the age of social media, one particular trend seem to stand out more so than others. And that is our penchant for perversity.

Just look at the leading blog posts and stories in technorati, digg, and other blog aggregators. What hits you first and foremost? Most of the leading ones are either about controversy, coitus or corruption. If you have a feel good story, chances are that your efforts will be relegated to the backwaters of the blogosphere.

As marketers and publicists, is there a way for us to escape this conundrum? How does one take advantage of the "hot headline" phenomena without being seen to be deceptive?

Well, I believe there is a way out. It involves being creative and imaginative, being relevant to your target audiences, and being trusted as a point of reference. This also means that you have to establish credibility and thought leadership in your preferred domain, while being entertaining and fun.

You also need to be tuned in to what's hot and what's not in the social media circuit. Don't be an ostrich with your head in the sand. Find out what people are concerned with and talking about? Is there an opportunity for you to share your product and service in a way that is relevant without being intrusive? Can you do it in a clever way and make people sit up and notice?

A tall order? Certainly. Achieving cult status in the ever evolving blogosphere requires one to be both cunning and opportunistic as well as believable and likable. Not for the faint hearted!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Gift of a Lifetime

Christmas is just around the corner. My wife Tina and I were cracking our heads thinking about an appropriate gift for our four year old Ethan. Should we get him yet another Power Rangers toy? Or maybe a pair of rollerblades?

Inspired by NParks' Plant A Tree programme, Tina suggested that we give him a tree. This will be meaningful as trees help to beautify our environment, reduce our carbon footprint, and restore Singapore's once lush tropical forest cover. More importantly, it could be a gift that will follow him for a lifetime as forest species do grow rather slowly. At $200 a piece, it doesn't cost an arm and a leg to do our bit for our future generations.

Our ardour for arbor began at the foot of Mount Faber Park, just next to Marang Road. This route was named after the Marang trees which used to grow in the region.

Here's Ethan and Tina listening intently as our intrepid guide from NParks explains how the forested Kent Ridge, Telok Blangah Hill, and Mount Faber regions used to be one continuous strip of tropical rainforest. Now they are dissected by roads that ply the region.

Our tree planting adventure started with the removal of the loose soil from the hole. The nice folks have already dug the hole for us with a changkol and spade. You can see the sapling in its potting mix ready to be planted.

Daddy jumped into the fray soon after and abandoned his camera. Many hands make light work.

Soon the pit was large enough for us to plant our newly leafed sapling. Ethan of course was all studied concentration, focusing on the task at hand.

The next step is to water the little tree - an important ceremony to give it a taste of its new home.

A Kodak moment for us, after the hard work of planting a tree. Notice the colour coordinated purple tops.

Our tree's name? Marang or Artocarpus odoratissimus of course! With its characteristic three-pronged leaf, this plant bears edible fruits related to the jackfruit and breadfruit.

After our tree planting chores were done, we were treated to a guided tour by NParks' Tan Aun Yee, who brought her son Yuh Yang. Together with us were Mr Steven Ong, who planted his first of 20o trees. Yes, he is a nature lover extraordinaire!

Yuh Yang and Ethan took the lead.

A red saga seed (Adenanthera pavonina), one of many treasures in the forest.

This unfortunate herbaceous plant was infected by galls. Apparently, it is nature's way of removing the weak and maintaining the balance.

These low lying runners are actually medicinal in value, and are used to treat fevers. (Update: Aun Yee updated that these plants are actually used in ulam as raw vegetables to be eaten. Oops hope nobody swallowed these in a bid to cool their heads!)

The Singapore rhododendron or Melastoma malabathricum is a common species at secondary forests like these. I have especially fond memories of this plant because I conducted experiments on them 14 years ago when doing my honours in botany.

One of the few lovely black and white bungalows up on Mount Faber. Living in the lap of luxuriant vegetation beside nature's splendour.

Park benches like these help to provide temporary respite for those un-accustomed to trekking in highly urbanised Singapore.

This huge and sprawling sugar palm tree (Arenga pinnata) is frequently sighted at the forest. It was once planted as a crop species decades ago.

Here's the fruit of the sugar palm tree.

A shot of a massively magnificent Pulai tree (Alstonia angustiloba), one of the taller tree species which can be found in primary rainforests too. (Update: this is the species that can treat desu ne)

Huffing and puffing our way up to the summit.

Finally, the top of Mount Faber can be seen. We never knew that walking through this boardwalk could be so much fun.

A shot of the tree planters cum trail trekkers looking smug after our forest adventures...

... and a friend made amidst caring for and appreciating nature.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

How to Manage Award Ceremonies

Courtesy of Laughing Squid

One of the most challenging things in events management is keeping an awards ceremony entertaining and fun for both the awardees and audiences. In my lifetime, I have witnessed far too many ill-conceived and executed dinners with award presentations to name. All kinds of atrocities can occur when one doesn't pay sufficient attention to the details.

So what should one do to prevent a major slip up in the Singapore version of the grammys?

1) Limit the number of speeches and keep them short and sweet. As a general rule, I find that two speeches (one by the host and another by the Guest Of Honour) is about as much as anyone can take. After all, the reason for any awards ceremony is to honour the recipients and not the hosts.

2) Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! Don't make your stiletto wearing ladies in their slinky black dresses fall flat on their faces while walking up the stage, or look as lost as a fish out of water. Go through all the steps involved in the award presentation and train your awardees to follow the exact sequences as much as possible.

3) Location, location, location! In this case, we are talking about marking the exact spots where the Guest Of Honour is supposed to stand, the recipient is supposed to stand and where the exchange of trophies/medals/certificates are supposed to take place. Don't assume that everybody knows where to stand. They don't - not without practice and something to tell them so.

4) Pay attention to the lights. This may sound deceptively simple but can be quite devilishly difficult to execute well. Closely supervise your lighting crew and make sure that the spot lights are shining on the right person - not that gorgeous hunk in the tight tee! Don't use disco lighting when nobody is dancing on the stage, or leave the lights on when the opening video is screening.

5) Let music soothe the savage beast, not irritate it! In a prize presentation ceremony, the music, sound effects and other audio tricks should be orchestrated to synchronise with stage proceedings. As much as possible, blend your soundtrack with the nature of the event.

6) Beware of the Kodak Moments. The photo sessions during or after an award presentation can be a tricky thing to manage. Don't catch people unaware - a sleepy or startled look isn't exactly flattering for most. Do also be efficient when lining people up with the Guest Of Honour for the group photo and make sure that everybody knows where to stand.

7) The night may be young but please don't go on forever. Most people who attend a prize or award ceremony are usually there for one of three reasons:

i) They are a prize or award winner.
ii) They are a sponsor.
iii) They came to support the award winner.

People rarely go to award ceremonies just for pure entertainment so keep it within a reasonable length. If there are 200 recipients that night, find a way to make it move quickly without having to recite each and every single solicitation ad nauseum.

8) Be systematic and process oriented. Make sure that you have a way of accounting for last minute "no shows" or absentees when updating the list of names to be called. Also check, double check and triple check as much as possible that the right award goes to the right person. In the event that it doesn't, do your best to rectify it at the earliest convenient slot.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Telemarketer from Hell!

Courtesy of Cayusa (via Flickr)

This incident which happened five months ago riled me so much that I still remember it to this day. I guess it was triggered from the recent spate of telemarketers assailing my private space. Yet again.

Ordinarily, you would think that telemarketers wouldn't bother selling to public officers. After all, most of us are bound by certain rules and regulations to ensure proper governance. There are certain procedures to follow to ensure that public funds are well spent.

Well, I was wrong.

This most extraordinary form of harassment came from a very insistent telemarketer who called me all the way from London. Yes, you heard it right. He had a clear distinct foreign accent and was trying his utmost to convince me to take up a particular outdoor advertising package in celebration of Singapore's 42nd birthday.

Now, there were a few problems here:

1) I heard TWO voices instead of one, with a person in the background reciting something and the telemarketer following it word for word. It sounded as if he was a robot following instructions from another person.

2) He didn't give me a chance to speak most of the time when he recited all the gazillion benefits and reasons why I should take up an advertising package.

3) The caller appeared to be oblivious to the fact that I cannot just commit to spending tens of thousands of dollars without some internal procurement procedure. He probably thought that I owned the organisation or company, which was far from the truth.

4) When I asked for a website address for his organisation, he seemed reluctant to give it to me until towards the end. What seemed very strange was that the website had absolutely no indication of the offer which he spoke to me about.

5) The caller kept pressing me for a decision, asking me to give him a time the next day to call back and "close the deal". I said that I will call him if we are keen but he insisted that he should call instead and that I should decide soon.

6) As the caller claimed links to various national bodies and committees handling national level events, I asked for a name and designation that I could contact to verify this. He didn't give me any in the end, saying that it wasn't necessary as they were the officially appointed agent.

7) Towards the end, I asked him to email me with all the particulars of the deal, including normal rack rates, special discounts and the full entitlements. I gave him my email address too. He never got back to me with a black and white.

At the end of the tele-conversation, I didn't know if I was speaking to a scam artist or a bona fide organisation. All I do know though was that it was probably interruption marketing at its worst. Something that we should never ever do on anybody in this lifetime or the next!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Waiting for the Passage of Time


Shot this from a cab a couple of months ago. Its human nature to wait, regardless of your situation or circumstances.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Good PR and Marketing Reads

Decided to follow the illustrious examples of some of my friends in highlighting the worthy reads in PR and marketing this week, focusing on those in Singapore's blogosphere.

First up is Daniel's excellent analysis of the Prima Deli debacle and how the company could have saved itself more heartache by harnessing the media and public opinion. Let's hope and pray that they will survive this one.

Melvin Yuan of the PR2.0 Universe has a good take on the PR 2.0 bubble. Read it and see if you agree or disagree whether new media is a fad or will eventually exist side-by-side with other more mainstream forms.

Next up is David Lee's report on Michael Netzley's Five Point Model on the difference between Asian and Western companies in managing corporate communications. Useful stuff there if you want to understand why that boss you are talking to refuses to speak to the media!

Vivienne Quek of Versa Creations also has a neat blog about Marketing and Advertising. The lady has been so industrious that she compiled a "Great Ad Series" which is now going into number 13. Find out why kids and their parents fall for certain styles of advertising over others.

Endoh Taiki has also been rather diligent in blogging about business and entrepreneurship. In his November round-up, he covers pitching to bloggers, traffic boosting strategies, dos and don'ts in networking and more.

Finally, Priscilla Tan has also put together a list of useful reads in PR, which includes the PR 100 list (I am in there and so is Pris and Melvin), community managers vs PR managers, client-agency relationships, as well as the new marketplace. Check them out.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

How Clients Should Manage PR Agencies

Here's a counter post following my first one on how PR agencies should manage their clients. Hats off to Priscilla Tan who used to work in an agency but will now be joining a global MNC (drool).

Getting the most out of your PR agency doesn't mean squeezing the life out of them. Conversely, it also doesn't mean that you just let loose completely and pray everyday that page one news would come on its own. Sorry buddy it doesn't work that way.

So what can you as a client do to optimise the Client-PR relationship?

1) Set the Parameters from the Start

If you are planning to get BBC, CNN, IHT, and NYT covering your news, then you have to make sure that this is explained to your hired PR hack from the start. Don't surprise them later by saying that you didn't score an interview on international media. It is all about managing expectations - yours and theirs.

2) Go Easy on the Phone Calls, SMSes and Emails

One reason why you hire PR professionals to do your pitching for you is precisely because you can't/ won't do it yourself. As far as possible, allow them to do their magic in cajoling, negotiating, bribing, wheeling and dealing with the media. Let them update you when the time is right, and refrain from harassing them ad nauseum. Which also brings me to the next point...

3) Don't Disappear into the Bermuda Triangle

Effective media relations is only possible when both client and agency reps work closely together. This means that there should be constant communication between both parties on what can be done, what cannot be done, as well as the latest updates or developments in a campaign. Vanishing into twillight zone and expecting your agency reps to spin a huge yarn ain't gonna work.

4) Trust Them, Love Them, but still Check the Facts

Always insist on being the clearing house for all written or official communication materials like press releases and advisories, fact sheets, speeches, boilerplates, quotes and so on. Don't expect your PR consultants to read your mind and absorb all the facts through yogic meditation.

5) Insist on Regular Meetings and Updates

This is important. You need to know what the outcomes of campaigns are like on a running basis and not just at the end of the campaign which may be too late. Establish with your consultant what a reasonable frequency is like for Work In Progress (WIP) briefings.

6) Be Forthcoming with Facts, Data and Key Personnel

PR is sometimes called the information business because it is all about that. Anybody who works with a journo would know that facts, figures, and spokespersons are vital. As much as possible, without compromising your organisation's trade secrets, share information openly. Don't shield your key executives from all media queries, because the media (and your PR consultants, though they won't tell you that of course) hate that. The veil of secrecy may tease sometimes, but not when you expect a feature in Businessweek.

7) Make an Effort to Learn

Of course you didn't just fritter away tens of thousands of dollars in agency fees just to do it yourself. However, it does pay to understand and learn about the news making process. In this regard, ask your agency reps all the questions under the sun about why certain activities can hit the limelight while others fail. Befriend the journalists and editors too and network with them. Once you understand how things work in the "dark side" you would better appreciate what your hired "spin doctors" are doing for you.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Achieving Well Being

Yesterday evening, my family and I went down to support the launch of my Aunt Cherry Choo's new business "Being Associates" at Stirling Road (Blk 169, #01-1149). As an ardent supporter of Traditional Chinese Medicine, it gave me pleasure to see my aunt embracing its principles and going into a business venture which supported holistic health. An authorised Natorny Health & Complexion Care Centre, Being Associates specialise in complexion problems and health care achieved largely through herbal nourishment founded on principles of Chinese herbology. You can find out more about them here.

The spanking new shopfront of Being Associates at Stirling Road near Queensway. Note the brand colours of blue and white.

Friends and family members signing their well wishes to the fledgling venture.

Professor Master Kwek, founder of Natorny Healthcare Group, officiating at the launch.

Master Kwek giving a short lecture on some of the Dos and Don'ts needed to achieve well being. On his right is my aunt followed by her partner Ms Loh. You can actually listen to a podcast of his interview at 938 Live! here.

Attendees to the launch listening intently to the tips on TCM.

Some of the products available on sale. They come coded in different colours and numbers for easier reference and can be mixed together by the spoonfuls depending on what ails you.

A special temperature controlled refrigerator maintains the herbal products at optimal temperatures.

Charts like this tell you some of the basic principles embraced by TCM practitioners. This one for example tells you to sleep by 11 pm every night in order to let your body rejuvenate itself. Oops... I think many of us fail to achieve that!

A treatment room is available for customers who may need herbal beauty treatments for complexion problems.

After the launch and talk, it is makan time! The spread was pretty good with a mix of East and West.

Here's a shot of my family members having a discourse on the vicissitudes of herbal medicines versus Western drugs.... or maybe they are just talking about Family 101?

Whenever you have two boys of pre-school age, tomfoolery is the result. Here's Ethan (4) and Isaac (5) having some fun pretending to be Power Rangers.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

A Rose By Any Other Name?

Courtesy of krazykid933

Names have always been an important part of marketing (or life for that matter). How essential are they in the art and science of branding? Very much so.

Since time immemorial, organisations have agonised over what they should name their company, products, and services. Which one would resonate with their target audiences better?
What would make your company more memorable rather than mediocre?

Choose a moribund moniker and chances are that people will forget your product or company in a hurry. For example, ABC Fried Chicken, Tan Ah Seng Hardware Store or Number One Laundry Service. However, don't go overzealous in the naming department and come up with something so extraordinary that people can't associate it with the product or company in mind.

Cultural contexts are especially important. How many times have we heard of companies naming themselves something which actually meant a derogatory term in the foreign market?

Having double meanings in names can work for or against you too. Be careful about choosing names that are too superlative, sensational or full of hype. Sometimes, a little subtlety and taste may work better than something that is too literal or in your face.

Personally, I find that movies and hit songs have some of the best and most memorable names. They probably engage some of the greatest creative minds on the planet to make that possible.

Do you agree that a rose by any other name smells just as sweet? Any examples of products with a horrible name that still succeeded beyond belief?

Update: I just stumbled onto Guy Kawasaki's piece on naming here. He provided the following tips for naming:

1) Begin with letters early in the alphabet.
2) Avoid names starting with X and Z.
3) Embody verb potential.
4) Sound different.
5) Embody logic.
6) Avoid the trendy.

Check them out!