Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Merging of Mainstream and Social Media?

P1120792

I moderated and chaired two sessions on new media yesterday at the Civil Service College. Held as part of their Senior Executive Development Programme together with the National Institute of Public Administration (Malaysia), it featured public service attendees from both sides of the causeway. Joining me for the second session were Arun Mahizhnan of the Institute of Policy Studies and Chua Mui Hoong of the Straits Times.

Several interesting points were raised during the discussion, and they include the following:

Growth and Influence of Social Media

Number of Internet users in China will leapfrog that of the US by 2009. There are currently about 2.4 million internet users in Singapore, and another 13.5 million internet users in Malaysia.
Amongst Singaporean users, at least 63% write a blog or contribute to other people's blogs or social networking sites (source Synovate). Approximately 350,000 or so Singaporeans are on Facebook, and the number is growing exponentially.

From a simple show of hands in the room of mostly late 30 somethings to 50 somethings, I could gather that Facebook is definitely the most pervasive social media platform for the...err.... "young at heart". This is probably due to its lower barrier to entry due to a highly intuitive and user friendly interface.

Reporters are Now Blogging

Both SPH and MediaCorp are encouraging their younger journos and reporters to set up their own blogs and to speak in their own voices. This will depend on the inclinations of individuals. However, they are limited to their perspectives and observations of the news stories which they cover. Naturally as journalists, they are encouraged to ensure that some levels of accuracy, veracity and authenticity are arrived at.

Young People ARE Reading Newspapers - Online That Is

This was an interesting revelation to me. Contrary to popular belief, many young folks do get their news from mainstream media players in Singapore. They cite news sources from freely available online news platforms like channelnewsasia.com, Straits Times Online, Today Online, New York Times, CNN and others which are produced by newspaper and broadcast companies. What they do in their blogs are to cite these sources of news and add an opinion or view to them.

Media Landscape in Malaysia and Singapore Vastly Different


One of the most interesting points raised was the Penetration/Participation Paradox highlighted by Arun (which was previously referred to by Dr Cherian George of NTU). While Singapore has a higher internet and broadband penetration rate (close to 80% of households) and far greater proportion of internet users and bloggers, it doesn't have as many professionally run alternative news sites as Malaysia does.

Almost all the news here are generated by the two major players, while independent sites like Malaysiakini and Malaysia Today have provided alternative news sources to our neighbours up North. This does present certain challenges and issues in managing the media which are unique to both countries. Of course, the political landscapes of both countries are fairly different too.

The Lines Are Blurring

With the march of the mainstream media guys towards social media platforms (check STOMP, podcast.sg, Omy.sg's blog awards, Channel News Asia's Blogs, BlogTV, and others), the lines between the two are fast becoming indistinct. The rise in Internet Protocol Television or IPTV, as well as alternative channels like Joost, lead to the world wide web becoming a one-stop source for news in any format you desire.

In the same way, some of our social media stars have appeared in mainstream media platforms either in the past or present. They include Wendy Cheng (or Xiaxue), who made several appearances in Girl About Town, as well as others like Dawn Yang, Mr Brown, Mr Miyagi, and others.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Rest In Peace Randy

Do you know who Randy Pausch was? Well, he did something extraordinary, and the whole world grieved recently at his passing.

Despite suffering from a terminal pancreatic cancer, he chose to leave an indelible legacy to his three young kids (and inadvertently the world) when he chose to live life to the fullest despite dying. In doing so, he inspired millions and created a revolution through a simple heartfelt message. His Last Lecture video (below) was viewed by millions, and showed the power of social media networks in spreading a message of goodwill and humanity.

A university professor at Carnegie Mellon University specialising in virtual reality and human computer interaction, Randy made history when he delivered his last lecture - both figuratively and literally - to a capacity crowd. In it, he spoke about achieving one's childhood dreams, and the simple lessons in life that one should take whatever one's circumstances. The presentation was especially memorable because Randy did it with a wicked sense of wit and humour, without once feeling sorry for himself despite having only months to live.

As Randy himself has said it, the "elephant in the room" has so afflicted his vital organs that a cure was almost impossible. Despite that, he still went ahead to try different treatments, enduring the pain and ordeal of chemotherapy and immunotherapy, all while having a smile on his face.

Needless to say, Randy's message touched me tremendously. Like any person living in a highly competitive society, I face multiple pressures at work and at home, balancing the multiple roles that I play on a daily basis. Life is so hectic sometimes that introspection becomes a luxury, and dreaming an extravagance.

Perhaps it is time to search for one's childhood dreams again and to see how one's current status compares?

So what are the lessons that Randy has to teach? Well find out for yourself by viewing it below. Do it in a quiet room where you will not be disturbed and soak it in. Your life will be changed.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

What Do Museums and Zouk Have in Common?

Are museums becoming hip and happening? You bet, if these photos of the inaugural Night Festival (organised by the National Museum of Singapore) are anything to shout about.

From what I hear, the opening weekend featuring the world famous Studio Festi drew more than 20,000 visitors! Visitors were awed by the aerial acrobatic aesthetic displays, which defied gravity and were almost magical. Opening to rave reviews, the festival showed that Singaporeans are essentially creatures of the night (probably because of our blazing tropical Sun).

Last Friday night, I popped over to check out the action at about 11.30 pm. Being a fan of Singapore's number one club Zouk, I also wanted to see how its Beatnik Picnic fared.

P1120783
The facade of the National Museum, splendidly decked in shades of brown and yellow with patterns that follow its Palladian style of architecture.

P1120782
...Or was it orange, purple and blue instead? Hmmm....

P1120755
Inside, crowds thronged the various levels of the museum, checking out its various exhibits and displays.

P1120756
CDL's recently launched photo exhibition of young upcoming photographers saw a grand reception that night (or midnight).

P1120757
More nocturnal museum action in sleepless Singapore as a "Samsui" woman regaled visitors with tales of yore.

P1120762
Naturally, one does get more than a little peckish at the witching hour, and these traditional food stands did a roaring trade.

P1120768
Across the road at Bras Basah, the Singapore Art Museum was also gloriously decked in artistic hues and patterns.

P1120771
Families and children of all ages were seen admiring the artworks on display, defying the lure of their beds.

P1120773
Finally, I popped over to the middle section at SMU Green, drawn by the progressive house beats of Zouk's headlining DJs at the Beatnik Picnic. The crowd there were mostly 20 somethings I believe, and I felt like an uncle!

P1120777
Helming the turntable during my visit was DJ Hong, who swayed the crowd with a mixture of progressive house beats.

P1120780
Naturally, there were many partygoers that night, both at the museums and out on the lawns.

Who says that museums are boring dull places?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Bringing Creativity Back

P1060476

I used to pride myself on being an innovator and creator. Constantly seeking and searching, I would look for opportunities to start something fresh and new. Doing things the same way just didn't cut it for me if I can find an improved approach.

Unfortunately, the years have dulled my senses and numbed my instincts. Comparing myself to who I was 10 years ago, my ability to generate original thought and inspiration appear to have dwindled. I am no longer as sharp or spirited in my ability to pen a wickedly dastardly strategy, or to conceive a plan for world dominion.

Am I mellowing down to a mushy mass of molasses? Or is age catching up with me?

The human brain, like muscles in the body, need to be exercised and stimulated constantly to stretch itself beyond its current capacity. It needs to be fed with intellectual material to keep those imaginative juices churning and bubbling, ever ready to flow out in abundance. It needs to be teased and taunted by like-minds. It needs to be challenged in a new, strange and uncomfortable environment.

Perhaps it is time for a change in my routine. Perhaps I need to take on a hobby beyond my usual runs, something which engages more than just my quadriceps, calves and hamstrings. Perhaps I should do some social work, contributing my expertise in writing, publicising and blogging.

Well, I do have an option open to me right now on the road ahead. It is staring at me right before my face, and a decision needs to be made soon. It is going to be a new and refreshing adventure, a break from my usual modus operandi and a chance to rejuvenate my rusty grey matter.

I guess I'll make the decision soon. And I'll probably let you know too.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Telling the Bad News


Crises can be opportunities if handled well, as these Chinese characters show (courtesy of tingilinde)

One of the most important skills PR practitioners need to know is crisis communication. That is when things go wrong but need to be made public. Public listed companies would probably be most familiar with this when sharing their quarterly earnings reports.

Hiding the truth is probably one of the worst things to do in such a situation. The widespread availability of information and records through both the internet and public libraries makes it difficult for one to fudge. Sooner or later the truth will come out, and it would be far better coming from you rather than a third party source.

At the same time, one shouldn't spill one's entire corporate life history. Stick to the information and facts that is pertinent to the specific case and try not to sway from your original point. Sometimes, too much information can lead to wrong conclusions or a negative snowballing effect - both of which are highly undesirable.

So how should one spill those less than fresh beans?

First, be clear about all the facts, figures, and information involved in the case. Do not be caught flat-footed when facing a persistent reporter who is trying to dig in deep. If you are unsure or do not know the answer despite all the preparations, say so and let them know that you will get back to them with the required information.

Next is to be accessible and available to the media for interviews or requests for soundbites. Where possible, the chief executive of the organisation should be fielded for such queries as this reflects greater sincerity and openness. If he or she is unavailable, a senior level spokesperson should be next.

One should also be sincere and honest about the mistakes, and not be seen to be defensive. It is fine to say sorry and be apologetic about slip ups when they happen. However, this needs to be calibrated according to the gravity of the incident. A failure to meet third quarter earnings forecasts isn't quite the same as a Tylenol poisoning saga!

It is also important to prepare comprehensive lists of FAQs and to rehearse all potential scenarios in advance. Television cameras in particular can be quite unforgiving to executives who are seen to fumble, stammer or twitch in nervousness when posed with a stinker. Practice makes perfect, especially when facing an angry crowd.

In the case of an ongoing saga (if one is ever unfortunate enough to encounter this), one should strive to tell the story in one's own words first, rather than let others do it for you. Create an official news source - blogs may be particularly useful in this case - and update it frequently with facts, photographs, video clips, sound bites and other information that may be needed. Being proactive in this case will help you to gain a foothold on an unrolling incident.

Finally, one should cast one's eyes towards the future, and share as much as possible about corrective actions. These should be done as soon as possible, with an eye towards restoring public confidence in the organisation. Here, details would be most useful and the clearer and more well defined the action plan is, the better.

Sharing the negative news needn't always be a bad thing, if done in a correct manner. We are all human after all, and no organisation is perfect (despite what publicists like us would have you believe). What's important is ensure that one manages it well, with the right dose of empathy and sincerity, and look towards bouncing back as quickly as possible in the near future.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Why Culture Matters in Marketing


Courtesy of Nico in China

One of the most important point to take note of in marketing is culture. These are the traditions, behaviours, practices and values that are embraced by nations, communities, and sub-commities. Without an appreciation of the cultures (and sub-cultures) of your potential customer groups, any marketing endeavour is likely to fall flat on its face.

But then, you may ask, isn't the world becoming a smaller place? Aren't we all moving towards becoming a digitally-connected 2.0 global village?

Well, the truth is that we are all still living on separate islands, continents and land masses separated by oceans, seas and rivers. While we may have a deeper appreciation of the world through the conduits of mass and new media, the bulk of our time is still spent interacting with others like us.

I may read all about American politics, root for Obama, or cheer on my favourite American Idol participant, but I am unlikely to think like or behave like an American in my everyday life.

The question of culture becomes more complex when one considers the different groups within each culture, as well as the intermingling of different customs, practices and norms. A Chinese from China may be radically different from one born in say Australia, Singapore, or Japan. Cultural differences are also prevalent from generation to generation, and vary according to education, income, accommodation type, and so on.

How then do marketers take advantage of culture as a marketing strategy?

First, one needs to spend some time with one's market before deploying an arsenal of marketing tactics. Mingle with the Joneses, Muhammads, Ramasamys, and Lees. Speak to them and understand their thoughts, practices and behaviours. Find out also about the impact of religion on their lives, and be mindful of taboo practices, dos and don'ts.

Second, one should look at the malleability of one's products and services, and determine what the best cultural fit is. What may work well in Brazil needn't necessarily be the case for Beijing or Brussels. Fashion in particular is one area that is highly influenced by cultures, as well as notions of modesty and good taste. Food is the other area which is highly susceptible to indigenous cultural influences.

Third, one needs to consider the distribution of the products, and cultural practices involved in buying and selling. Is there a bargain culture in the marketplace or do people accept prices at face value? The importance of relationships is another key factor in determining if I prefer to buy from merchant A versus merchant B, and this varies from culture to culture.

Finally, one should take into account both traditional and modern cultural influences in deciding how a target group operates. Both Korean and Japanese pop culture has been fairly influential across the entire Asian subcontinent, drawing teenage fans from as far as Cairo to Kalimantan. The amalgamation of age-old rituals with modernity will sometimes end up with surprising results.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Value of Scarcity


The Ferrari Enzo is highly desired because you can't just buy it off the shelf. (Courtesy of mo155)

Does it pay to flood the markets in this day and age? Not any more it seems.

In the new era where social media and online networking thrive, more and more folks are actually hankering after things that cannot be easily bought. This can be seen in the growth of custom-made products and services, as opposed to mass manufactured goods. The old "make it and they will buy" mantra is dead as people seek a greater sense of individuality and creative expression in how they conduct their transactions.

Taken to extremes, the rarer a product or service is, the better. This is the logic behind the Long Tail, where an infinite inventory can actually be profitable so long as they can be stocked, sold and shipped at a low cost. Plain vanilla, chocolate or strawberry is no longer desired.

While I will not hesitate to pick up a bar of chocolate or a bottle of detergent without much thought from the supermarket aisles, the real value is in products that can instill desire. Naturally, the MacBook Air is one of them and so is the iPhone. Apple has made it a core strategy of theirs to tease, tantalise and taunt you relentlessly before slowly releasing their products, market by excruciating market.

A similar principle applies with attention, which is probably the scarcest resource in the information overloaded web everywhere world. With a gazillion websites competing for attention, the only way to stand out is to be different. If you do blog for a living, offer something that is unique and difficult to find which is of treasured by your readers. Don't be like the Joneses, Lims or Ahmads.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Happy Holiday in Club Med

Sometime last month, my family and I went for a short break in Club Med Bintan. For those who have been there, you would know that Club Med isn't just an ordinary holiday resort but one that is packed chock-a-block with activities, comes with full-board (including free flow *hic* alcohol) and has performances almost every night by the Gentle Organisers (GOs). Incidentally, the GMs are the Gentle Members who are guests like us, not the head honcho running the joint.

One of the things which we enjoyed about the Club Med experience was that its GOs pay special attention in getting to know you. During meals, GOs are supposed to take turns to join guests at their tables and have a chat.

In a manner akin to Disneyland, all staff members acted like cast members and they even had to perform (nightly), do little funny skits during lunchtime, and generally help everybody have a ball of a time. Of course, I guess it doesn't help that most of them are hard core party animals (or so it seems, from the way they did the "chi chi" dance at night).

Anyway, here are some photos capturing our experience. Enjoy.

P1110854
On a fast ferry to Ria Bintan and rarin' to go.

P1110856
A view of the harbour - our holiday has begun!

P1110867
We were welcomed personally by some of the GOs, with balloons for the kids - a nice touch.

P1110871
A view of the resort facilities from on high.

P1110879
Here's what it looks like outside our hotel room, which is just beside the flying trapeze.

P1110874
Our haven for 3 nights after fun, frenzied days of activities galore.

P1110892
For those who need some inner peace, a Zen Area is available for yoga and meditation.

P1110935
A view of the nice pool. All appears nice and serene... until...

P1110990
Look! Superman is trying to save this "maiden" from the shark!

P1110899
Naturally, there will be nice beaches at Bintan with crystal clear water teeming with fishes.

P1110921
So tempting that we can't resist going in for a few dips!

P1110937
The harvest was bountiful, with buffet spreads at every meal and free flow drinks (alcohol included) to keep us happy and high.

P1120045
Mini Club Med was a godsend for parents like us, as they help take care of your kid from 9 to 5 with fun activities galore.

P1110958
Here's Ethan making new friends at Mini Club, while waiting to try the tight rope.

P1120041
Having a break from all that fun.

P1120083
Of course, that leaves Tina and I some time to go acrobatic and aerial. Here's Tina before making the plunge...

P1120099
...and me suspended in mid air doin' the pendulum.

P1120110
At night, we were given medals of sporting honour by the GOs, glamourously decked in black.

P1120169
Treated to a highly entertaining spectacle of GOs in Grecian attire doing a dance...
P1120172
... and being entertained by a comedic skit with grown men in togas, led by the Village Chief Ryan Leach.

P1120218
At the end of the experience, a diploma for our tired but happy four year old.