Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Getting the Right Diagnosis

Courtesy of mexcast

Suppose that you are feeling unwell (hopefully not!), and you go and see your regular physician. What will be the FIRST thing that he or she does?

a) Ask you questions, check your temperature/pulse/blood pressure, and conduct a series of examinations?

b) Prescribe you with the required medicine and recommended dosage?

c) Give you a medical certificate (MC) so that you can rest for the day?

d) Stretch out his/her hand and ask for money?

Well, no prizes for guessing that the answer should be a). I don't think any of us would be comfortable visiting a doctor who does any of the other things first (unless of course you aren't really feeling sick).

Unfortunately, getting the right diagnosis hasn't been a strong point for many marketers. We spend so much time debating internally on what our product or service should have that we have forgotten to include our customers in the equation. Marketing planning in a vacuum is futile if one isn't in touch with the reality faced by one's clients.

In the eyes of many, marketing is synonymous with marketing communications - ie advertising, public relations, events and roadshows - or direct sales (in the base of B2B businesses). Few pay attention to the need to include market research and customer input in the product development and service delivery process.

The end result? Bigger, cleverer and more strategic advertisements, or bolder publicity campaigns with great stories splashed across the front pages of the main dailies. Razor sharp social media initiatives that garner thousands of followers on facebook, 10,000 on Twitter, and maybe 100,000 daily visitors on your home page.

However, the impact on your bottomline? Marginal at best.

To create an enduring competitive advantage, it is paramount to pay attention to what your targeted customer needs, wants or desires. Spend some time out there talking to them and understanding their concerns. Conduct surveys to determine what their preferences and attitudes are towards certain products and services. Where possible, learn to probe deeper to determine where their true pain points lie.

Some of the questions you may wish to ask could include the following:

1) What are the top three concerns that you face in buying _________ (the specific area)?

2) What do you normally do whenever you need to __________? What are some of the alternatives that you would consider in fulfilling that need?

3) How do you normally consume ________? 

4) What is the most painful thing about having to use ____________? 

5) In a perfect world, what would your ideal situation be like for handling this problem/issue/desire?

6) If you are the chief scientist/researcher of our company, what would you include in our product/service?

7) Do you enjoy the buying process? If not, what bothers you the most about purchasing _________?

8) Are there any other concerns that you have about __________?

Just as a doctor needs to do an examination to find out where the real problem is, a true marketer needs to address the real concerns faced by his prospects. Involve your customers from the onset rather than the sunset. It will help you to tailor your products and services to better meet your customer's requirements, without spending unnecessarily amounts on R&D efforts that fail to address the real issues. What's more, it will help you to create fans who will help generate positive word of mouth - something that a flashy ad alone could never do.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

If Someone Slaps You on the Left Cheek...

Don't get into a hissy fit! (courtesy of Kevin Steele)

Life isn't always a bed of roses in public relations.  Especially when public feedback and criticism seem to be directed towards your organisation, your products or even worse, your colleagues.

The easiest way to react is to shoot from the gut.  Take out that bazooka and blast those idiots into online oblivion.  After all, they have taken unfair liberty with your organisation's reputation by making unfair comments, unjust criticisms, or untrue allegations on their newspapers, magazines, radio programmes, blogs, forums, discussion groups, facebook pages, twitter updates, and others.

My advice? Don't get into the fray.  The surest way to stoke the flames of public wrath is to fight fire with fire.  As Gandhi himself would have put it, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." 

Such tit-for-tat exchanges seldom have a happy ending.  They end up with lose-lose outcomes where relationships just turn from bad to acrimonious and maybe even downright murderous.  Sometimes, bridges are burn so badly that they lead to boycotts (online or offline) of your organisation's brands and services.

You may have won the battle by defending your organisation's integrity, but lost the war for public goodwill.

How then should one react to negativity?  Can we truly just turn the other cheek and do nothing about it?

First, take a deep breath and maintain your cool.  Don't take it personally.  If you were in the midst of typing up that "kill those bastards" post on your blog, or writing a letter to the press that will "decimate the enemy", you should stop this very instant.  Things that are done when one is outraged aren't usually worded in the best possible manner, and may lead to a further negative spiral in relationships.

If you can't achieve nirvana at your desk, my advice is to leave.  Not quit the organisation, but take a walk perhaps to a park or garden nearby, along the river, or anywhere that is quiet.  Alternatively, you can perhaps confide to a colleague, scream in the toilet or do something to let all that negative energy out.  Don't just simmer and stew. 

Next, you should think through why that person (or group) is reacting in this manner.  Was heslighted by your organisation's officers in the past?  Have they been publicly attacked or humiliated because of something which your organisation failed to do?  Or does she have a vested interest in seeing to the downfall of your organisation?

As Stephen Covey would have said, "Seek First To Understand, and then To Be Understood".  And the age-old concept of thinking win-win.

When that is done, explore various ways to address that person's points and the best way to do so.  Would a direct approach (eg an email or phone call, if contacts are available) be better or would a public platform serve the purpose more adequately?  In all my years of dealing with people, I find that most of them are not really monsters but decent human beings who just need to be sounded out.  

Should there be a need for a written response, one should adopt some ground rules in any written correspondence as follows:

1) Be polite and pleasant, but don't be too superficial.  Always thank the person for his or her view.  Obviously, he or she must care enough to invest time, energy and effort in putting up a stinker!

2) Address the points raised as clearly as possible, in an objective and factual manner.  

3) Brevity is an advantage, but don't be too curt.  You don't want the public to think that you are unreceptive to feedback.  At the same time, you shouldn't belabour the point.  

4) Be honest about what's possible and what's not.  If space is limited (eg a press reply), offer your contact particulars so that the person or group can contact you directly for a more comprehensive explanation.

5) If you have truly screwed up, just admit it.  However, explain the circumstances behind that moment of failure if you can.  We are all human beings after all.

6) Finally, end off by inviting that person to continue to be a customer/client/patron of  your organisation's products and services, and to continue to provide inputs.  State that you value his or her contributions.

If the situation calls for it, arrange a face-to-face meeting, preferably over a cup of coffee.  I know this doesn't come across naturally for most people (you mean I have to meet that jerk? What happens if I end up punching him in the face....), but trust me, it works incredibly well.  Give people the benefit of the doubt. Don't go to that meeting armed with files, factsheets and bullet points to defend your cause.  Instead, just be prepared to spend more time listening than talking.

Should it be feasible, one could even consider inviting that person/group to be a part of your organisation's sounding board/ focus group.  Let them know the extent of your pain as far as possible (subject to confidentiality and competitive factors), and offer them the rare and privileged opportunity of coming up with a solution.  You can even formalise this relationship through some official letter or something.

Of course you would then ask me what happens if the person or group prefer to remain anonymous and choose to respond in a public online platform (like a blog or forum posting).  That will then depend on the gravity of his or her criticisms.  If it truly warrants a response, I would put one up on an official platform (personal or professional) that is easily viewed and identified, and leave the matter at that without responding to subsequent follow-up posts on the matter.

Eventually, all storms and battles will die-down.  The trick in good public relations is how one can get back to normality as soon as possible.  Keeping a controversy alive by fanning the flames or adding coal to the fire isn't a wise move.  Especially when social media has the propensity of magnifying and enlarging any misstep into a worldwide calamity.  

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Alleys, Alcoves and Alcohol


Through the kind invitation of Tim Richards (who incidentally has a nice travel blog here called Aerohaveno), I had the privilege of visiting two of Melbourne's famous street pubs and bars, located off the side streets from the junction of busy Elizabeth Street and Little Bourke Street. According to Tim, there are some 200 to 300 of these pubs and clubs located throughout the city. Like Singapore's Boat Quay and Clarke Quay watering holes, many occupied previously disused warehouses, government buildings, and offices, and gave these cobbled recesses a new lease of life as F&B outlets.

Many of these bars are pretty modest outfits. The one I visited only had one or two staff manning the bar counter. However, they apparently have a fiercely loyal clientele, and I understand that the crowd usually moves in on Fridays and Saturdays. While these places weren't overflowing to the gills during my bar hopping on a Wednesday night, there were a couple of customers.

Its great to see these entrepreneurial endeavours helping to bring some life to the city at night - a rare thing in Australia as most cities are pretty quiet and desolate once the Sun sets.   

The first pub I visited had a nice ambience and decor which included elements of an antiquated cable and trolley system.  It was pretty cosy and could probably only sit about 20 or so max.

My second bar visit was decked with oriental finishes like these red lanterns, an old bicycle, and 40s and 50s style Shanghai-inspired posters.

A view of the oriental pub, which I understand was once an award-winning outfit.  

You can read more about Melbourne's hidden secrets in this great post by Tim here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Are Marketers Going To Be Extinct?

Are Marketers Going The Way of the Dodo? (Courtesy of kevinzim)

Do marketers still have a job in this day and age?  With blogs, Skype, Facebook, MSN, Youtube, and Twitter, everybody - from the CEO down to the company driver - can be accessible online, 24 by 7, 365 days a week. One can also get tonnes of information about a company's products or services online or offline. Best of all, they come from 3rd party individuals with no vested interests in the organisation.

Is there still a place for the specialist marketer or publicist in any organisation?
After all (gulp), nobody wants to hear it from the spin doctor anymore, right?  Are we fated to die like the Dodo bird above?

Well, I strongly believe that there is a future for marketers. What we need to do is reinvent our role - from one that is traditionally more marketing communications oriented (ie branding, advertising, PR, direct marketing, roadshows, online marketing) to one that is more customer centric. 

Here are some of my ideas on how marketing could possibly evolve in the future:

From Reach to Reputation

Marketers of the future will need to be credible spokespersons for the company's brand, spreading goodwill and extending its influence beyond that television commercial or print ad. We need to be knowledgeable about what our product or service does, and aware of how it compares to competitive offerings. Ignorance is no longer bliss in an open and transparent digitally networked world.

In the age of environmental disasters, financial meltdowns and mass retrenchments, marketers will need to don the cloak of conscience. We have to play a positive role in strengthening the credibility and reputation of our organisations and their products/ services. Marketers will have to also act as barometers of public trust and be proactive in coming up with contingency measures to address crises in consumer confidence, should that fateful day arrive.

From Discounted Sales to Delightful Sensations

One of the chief tools of the marketer is the "last minute deal". Or better yet, "50% off". Promotions help to trigger gut responses in consumers and get them to buy, Buy, BUY! Of course, the problem is one of sustainability as you can generate alot of sales without being profitable.

To circumvent this, marketers should switch to a holistic experiential approach in offering one's wares. Appeal to the emotion of your customers with sensory and aesthetic triggers - sight, sound, taste, smell, touch. Find ways to utilise the rich multi-media channels available - whether online or offline - to strike a chord with your customers.

From Advertising to Advocacy

Instead of being purveyors of propaganda, marketers will also need to live the brand through their behaviours. In an information cluttered world, it is increasingly difficult to stand out from the crowd of "me-too" advertisers, each claiming to be better than the rest. Marketers will have to be evangelists that assist in triggering positive word through our own respective networks whether online or offline. Just splashing an advertisement on mainstream or online channels isn't enough anymore to convince anybody anymore.

From Channels to Communities

One of the most significant shifts in marketing would be the shift in focus from media to men. In other words, who you are and what you do may be more important than what your ad or press release says. As influencers, marketers will need to focus on forging relationships and building networks of believers. They need to learn the basic skills of organising a crowd, connecting and contacting one's customers, and finding ways and means to forge a longer-term link to every shopper.

Find ways to meet your customers and get them to share their experiences in using your product or service. Look for opportunities to foster that friendship beyond the cash till. With social media, this becomes as easy as just setting up a blog or forum and encouraging your customers to visit it.

From Products and Services to Problems and Solutions

Finally, marketers will have to shift their orientation from one of features and benefits to holistic solutions. Address the real pain and real concerns of your customers, rather than just focus on the state-of-the-art functions available on your product. For example, banks can offer real money saving tips to their customers during a recession rather than just what percentage returns they can expect. Similarly, if you are selling laundry detergent, why not teach your customers the most effective way to keep their clothes looking new instead of just how powerful your wonder liquid is.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Lessons in Leadership from Don Quixote

Courtesy of abudoma

One of the greatest fictional works in the late 16th century by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote tells the story of a seemingly deranged middle-aged retiree in his 50s who became obsessed with tales of knighthood, fantasy and chivalry. Living in the beautiful wine-producing region of La Mancha in Spain, Alonso Quixano took on the fictional name of Don Quixote de la Mancha, rode his trusty horse, and went on various escapades battling illusory monsters - who are actually windmills - and imagining herds of sheep to be cavalry soldiers to be reckoned with.

Accompanied by his short, fat and salt-of-the-earth accomplice Panza, the thin, wiry and ever optimistic Don Quixote set out on various adventures, always with the aim of winning the heart of a neighbouring farm girl whom he christened Dulcinea del Toboso and imagined as a princess. Don Quixote was so well-loved in the literary world that the term quixotic, which means indulging in unrealistic and impractical idealism, was coined after him.

In a video I watched recently produced by Stanford professor James March titled Passion and Discipline, he shared  three principles of leadership encapsulated by the tale of the man from La Mancha. It was interesting to see how the foremost organisational theorist drew parallels between Don Quixote's misadventures and what leadership is all about. A longer description of this video can be found at the Wisdom Portal by Peter Y Chou.

What are the three lessons in leadership?

The first is Imagination, a scarce virtue in the hyper pragmatic 21st Century (especially during a recession).  Don Quixote was not just dreaming about those characters but he firmly believed in them and visualised them to be so.  In his mind, the reality is less what others thought they were, but what he himself imagined and believe them to be.

In the same way, good leaders need to go beyond the ordinary and to have the vision and moral courage to pursue something that is unconventional.  They need to hold on clearly to that Big Hairy and Audacious Goal (BHAG) and stick to it despite what others may be saying.  That is the first step to greatness.

The second virtue is Commitment and here there is a need for one to be committed to one's own will, committed to beauty (or the purity of one's own goals), and a dogged persistence.  Here, it is important to disregard to some extent the law of consequences in the world, and to have a deeply rooted sense of self that goes beyond the externalities of one's world.  

Commitment can come in the form of a strong stick-to-itiveness to whatever one believes strongly in, and to bring honour to that cause. It means that one should have a road map that one sticks to, and energy and passion to keep going down that cause even when times are hard.

Finally, and probably most importantly, it is vital to have Joy in one's pursuit.  A sense of humour and an ability to laugh off life's failures and get over them is vital.  Despite being ridiculed, attacked and scorned, Don Quixote never gave up on his end goals.  He found joy in engagement and being involved in the action, struggle and injuries of pursuit.  There is also a constant sense of affirmation and true enjoyment in what he does.

I was deeply inspired by these simple lessons of what it means to be a leader, and this is well captured by the video's title "Passion and Discipline".  Of course, many would think that it is tomfoolery for one to merely embrace Don Quixote's principles whole-heartedly without considering their consequences, but there is a lot of truth in March's words if you think about them.  

In life, one needs to have a clear vision and goal - sometimes the more outlandish the better, so that if you shoot for the stars, you would at least land on the moon.  One also needs to be able to stay on one's course of action through thick and thin, good times and bad, if its something that one fervently believes in.  And it is important to enjoy the journey as much as the destination, and to relish every scratch and wound which comes along the way.  

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Madness Behind Hollywood's Greatest Movie

Set in 1939, Ron Hutchinson’s Moonlight and Magnolias is a comedic take on what could possibly be the true behind-the-scenes story of the making of Gone With the Wind. The premise goes like this: David O. Selznick has only five days to salvage the production of Margaret Mitchell’s bestselling novel while losing up to $50,000 a day. He enlists script guru Ben Hecht and fast rising director Victor Fleming to accomplish the task, locking them and himself in his office with only peanuts and bananas for sustenance.

Premiering at the Playhouse of the Art Centre, Melbourne Theatre Company’s production is helmed by veteran film director Bruce Beresford of academy award winning Driving Miss Daisy and Black Robe fame. Heavy on laugh-a-minute slapstick with a dash of social satire, Beresford’s tightly directed comedy benefits from the close chemistry and polished performance of the leads.

Playing main protagonist Selznick, Patrick Brammall’s energy and intensity portrays a man on a relentless mission, while Stephen Lovatt exudes the air of machismo characteristic of swaggering director Victor Fleming. Nicholas Hammond shines as cynical and calculating scriptwriter Ben Hecht, while Marg Downey’s portrays Selznick’s unflappable secretary Miss Poppenghul.

Opening on an energetic note, the production delivers memorable wisecracks and sharp repartees sprinkled with occasional physical humour. One could sense Selznick’s increasing desperation as reluctant conspirators Hecht and Fleming start bawling like kindergarten kids, and the cross-gender acting by Brammall and Lovatt scores high on hilarity. Towards the end, a distinct moral undertone could be detected as Hecht starts pontificating about racial rights while Fleming vows never to go back to his chauffeuring days.

Praise must also go to Shaun Gurton for costume and stage design, while Nigel Levings provide his expertise in the lighting design. Their painstaking attention to detail lends an air of authenticity in the recreation of a studio office set in 1930s America.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Graffiti and Street Art - Vandalism or Marketing?

Street art along a wall in North Richmond

Being an avid runner, I often jog around the Parkville and Carlton areas near my university campus and chance upon street art along various walls, pavements and fences.  Some of the air-brushed displays are aesthetically beautifully and probably the result of considerable and painstaking effort to create enduring works of art.  Surprisingly, I don't see that many acts of graffiti which are overtly anti-establishment or vandalistic in nature (or perhaps I haven't been to those neighbourhoods yet).

While musing on this phenomenon, I chanced upon this interesting article by Mark Holsworth who reported on how several merchants in the Brunswick suburb of Melbourne (just a stone's throw away from where I am putting up at Carlton) have engaged street artists to decorate their shopfronts.  Holsworth highlighted two examples of this could be done tastefully. The first is a convenience store located at the Lygon/Brunswick area:

Courtesy of Mark Holsworth

The second is a Fish and Chips shop in Brunswick:

Courtesy of Mark Holsworth

According to Holsworth:

"Many businesses and private houses in Moreland commission street artists to paint walls with street facing; I looked at dozens on my bicycle ride. Many of these works have lasted for years, even decades: Jamit’s coffee cup, the first two colour stencils I ever saw, is still on the wall of a house along the Upfield train line a decade later. The piece with the anarchist robot on the side of a terrace house near Moreland station has been up for many years. The owners of the terrace house have had the advertising billboard removed preferring street art to advertising."

I think that its a great idea to use legal graffiti for marketing and branding purposes provided they are done with care.  Some of the more practical reasons are as follows:

1) To reduce the occurrences of tagging (or unwanted graffiti) and perhaps the sticking of unwanted posters and billboards.

2) As a means of increasing consumer attention, albeit in an aesthetically pleasurable way.  

3) Better engage nascent street artists and provide a legal means of livelihood for them, while being seen as being more plugged into street culture.

Retail businesses should strive to work with artists to promote their shops, depending of course on the legal frameworks that operate in specific cities or neighbourhoods.  Legal street art that is purposeful and meaningful can help increase your establishment's "hip" factor and help to draw younger crowds that shun the ordinary and mundane.  Of course, one man's meat may be another man's poison, and such practices need to be molded by the expectations that one's customers have of one's business.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The World's Longest Lunch @ Melbourne City

Happening over 17 days, the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival comprises some 200 feasting events and activities held over multiple venues both within Melbourne City itself as well as the Victoria region.  Attracting about 300,000 guests annually, this annual culinary celebration covers a wide range of gastronomic experiences - from wine tasting, dessert sampling, and talks by celebrity Michelin star-studded chefs, to elaborate breakfasts, lunches, teas and dinners.  In a city renowned for its fabulous festivals (I've been here three weeks and already experienced three different mega-events!), the Food & Wine is considered by many to be a must-eat experience for conoisseurs of any affiliation. 

At the kind invitation of the nice folks from Tourism Victoria, I had the rare privilege of participating in the marquee event of the occasion called the World's Longest Lunch.  With an estimated 160 tables lined up along the Crown Riverside on the Yarra River, the lunch serving more than 1,200 guests was an eating (and drinking) extravaganza of epic proportions! Apparently, the three-hour Italian inspired dining event was fully booked many days before it occurred.

Here's a pictorial account of my experience this afternoon.  Buono appetito!

Vertical banners like these flank the location of the lunch, pointing the way to the culinary experience.

Stretching along the banks of the Yarra River parallel to Crown Riverside, the lunch attracted an eclectic mix of both locals and tourists keen to sample the city's finest Italian fare.

Chefs and their assistants getting ready to serve hungry guests from the many mobile kitchens.

Of course, some of them did have a little fun making music to enliven the atmosphere during the three-course meal.

Aromatic Italian coffee from coffee stands like this were manned by baristas on the ready.

For the entree, we had an antipasto plate with prosciutto, salami, baked roma tomatoes, char-grilled vegetables, asparagus, marsala melons and shaved parmesan.  The prosciutto ham was especially tasty, and I liked the way the grilled vegetables were done. 

For the main course, we had grilled beef tenderloin with Tuscan herb crust on field mushroom and almond broccolini with cannellini bean salad.  The beef was tender and juicy, and the topping added a nice crunchy texture to it.  I liked how the mushroom soaked in the juices of the marinade in a flavourful manner. 

The final dish was the dessert of Zuppa Inglese with Alkermes liquer, candied fruit, glazed cherries and amaretto biscuit.  Absolutely yummy although it may have been better if the tastes were slightly more distinct.

To wash it all down, you could have a combination of either champagne, white wine, red wine or premium beer.  

Of course, those who are thirsty can reach for the mineral water available in either sparkling or still varieties.

This trio of musicians provided a nice delightful ditty to dine to, amidst the bright sunny day.

Their music was so catchy and upbeat that a Japanese gentleman got up from his chair and danced along to the rhythm.  Mama mia!

Finally, a standee showing the sponsors and supporters who make it all possible.  

I will certainly be checking out the other Food and Wine events.  Do check out this website for details.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

To Market Or Not To Market?

One of the greatest challenges facing communicators and marketers in the arts is the balance between satisfying artistic input and commercial (or public) interest. 

How does one reach out to new customers and audiences without diluting one's craft?  Should we be setting the agenda and pushing the envelope in terms of experimenting with new art forms?  Or should we cater to the most mass of markets and stick to what everybody likes to see, hear or experience?

According to some academics, the arts should be kept pure and undiluted from the transgressions of the commercial world.  Artists, curators, musicians and dancers should exist in their own little bubble of creative experimentation, oblivious to the grind of dollars and cents while dreaming up that next original work of genius.  

The role of marketers would then be that of publicists helping to generate the greatest amount of buzz, media coverage and advertising effectiveness.  Visitors and audiences should thus be attracted towards their artistic inspirations in an organic fashion.  

This is what has been termed as being "product focused".  Build it and they will come.  Or arts for arts sake. 

The other school of thought proposes that art organisations should be more visitor-oriented and market focused.  They should put in place proper mechanisms for customer feedback, audience responses and surveys.  These will in turn help to shape not only advertising and publicity per se, but even programming strategies like the kind of exhibitions to curate, performances to host, or plays to produce.  

In this case, the visitor knows best what he or she wants, and the art organisation should give it to him or her.  After all, marketing is all about satisfying a customer's needs and wants profitably and sustainably, and the same rules should apply to the arts.

Should art organisations like museums, theatres, ballet troupes and musical quartets be then  enshrouded in a veil of pure and unadulterated artistry?  Or should they be subjected to the vagaries and demands of the marketplace, pandering to the lowest common denominator of the mass market?

Current literature in arts management seem to point towards the need for art organisations to be more visitor oriented and marketing-led.  Larger establishments like museums and symphonies often operate other revenue driven facilities like shops, restaurants, function spaces and carpark spaces, and these need to be managed with commercial sensibilities.  The reduction in global sponsorship and philanthropic funds, coupled with the current recession, makes it even more pertinent for art organisations to generate cash flow - the lifeblood of any enterprise, artistic or otherwise.

However, managing a studio, gallery or ballet troupe isn't quite the same as a factory, bank, or toyshop.  A work of art is a multi-sensory product which doesn't just come out from a production line.  Most artistic endeavours have a dual educational and entertainment role, as they seek to push the envelope while keeping their existing audiences happy.  

A successful art organisation will ensure that artists and producers are not fettered by the chains of bureaucracy.  Flashes of brilliance do not often come during a five hour long shareholders meeting!

Marketing's role should be that of an integrator, enabler and advisor.  We operate the set of tools and processes needed for an art organisation to achieve its objectives, and provide professional input in areas such as communications, pricing, promotions, and outreach events.  We provide advise on audience reactions and customer feedback, all in the name of improving the core product.  Our eyes and ears should also trained on issues like accessibility, ensuring that artworks and performances are not pitched at an inappropriate level to our desired audiences.  

However, marketers and communicators should stay not impose their own sense of aesthetic judgement on the play, performance or exhibition itself.  Some room must be given for artistic license and inspiration.  Curators, artists and musicians must still be allowed some leeway to experiment and create. 

The art may be hard, but the way it is understood and appreciated shouldn't be the case.  This is the role of communicators and marketers - to act as a bridge between the artist and the audience.

Will it be possible to achieve this fine balance, especially with this global financial mess that we are in?  What do you think?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Moovin' to the Magic of Moomba

Happening at Melbourne's Birrarung Marr and Alexandra Gardens area across both banks of the Yarra River, the Moomba Waterfest is one of the longest running festival in the City of Melbourne which has been celebrated since 1955. Pitched at securing community involvement and celebrating Australia's multi-cultural identity, the celebrations are apparently Australia's largest free public event. Those of you who are keen to read more about the history and background of the Moomba Festival can check out this paper by the City of Melbourne.

Happening from 6 to 9 March, Moomba promises fun for everyone with activities for families, the musically inclined and the sporty. A major street parade, free concerts, thrilling watersports and exciting theme park rides at the carnival along the river promises participants a spectacle of sight, sound, sweat and sizzle.

Here's a snapshot of Moomba's carnival and fireworks show for your viewing pleasure.

The first thing which greeted us was this sign warning partygoers against consuming alcohol during the event. Probably a good way to minimise loutish behaviours in the massive crowd.

Lovers of theme park rides have lots of high thrills and spills to choose from as you can see.

Some of the rides like these aerial acrobatic spinning things are definitely vertigo and nausea inducing.

Others like this mini roller coaster is probably better for the stomach, but perhaps not for the nerves!

I remembered this ride which Ethan and I used to take way back in September 2007. However, this area was a lot more quiet then.

For those keen to try their luck, there are lots of huge soft plushies to be won at the carnival game stalls.

All you need to do is to toss, shoot or throw as accurate as you can to win those fine furry friends. Often, we realised that it was easier than it looks!

After all that riding and gaming, food is available to fill those famished tummies.

They include hot dogs, chicken dogs, fried dogs and other non-canine inspired delights like candy floss, french fries and burgers.

At the other bank of the river (Alexandra Gardens), I spotted this huge slide which reminded me of East Coast Park's Big Splash back home. The only difference is that this ride is dry.

This "Magic Circus" playground looks like great fun for kids, with twirling and swirling doors, slides, and lots of interesting rooms to explore.

Those who wanted to experience moderate G-forces could hop onto this ride, which is guaranteed (I think) to send your dinner, lunch and maybe even breakfast straight out of your anterior orifice at extraordinary speed.

The highlight of the evening must be the fireworks display, which was dazzling with lights, colours and patterns.

Here's one that I took which looked slightly more decent.

The grand fireworks finale... well maybe not quite as huge as national day celebrations, but still something to marvel at.

To keep the party grounds clean, bins like this could be found everywhere. Notice how obsessed with recycling the festival organisers in Melbourne are.

And if you ever got lost in the thick crowd, you can hop over here to ensure that others will pick you up. Well, maybe we don't quite fall into that category...

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Australia's Largest Public Gallery - NGV International


Last Sunday, I decided to make a trip down to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) International at St Kilda Road, having heard so many wonderful things about it. What I experienced was truly inspiring, and I spent more than three hours wandering and exploring its fascinating and sprawling galleries occupying three storeys. The scale of this attraction rivalled that of the Melbourne Museum, another masterfully built museum.

Established back in 1861, NGV International is the oldest and most sizable public art gallery in Australia (and most probably the Southern Hemisphere). Located in the arts and leisure precinct in Southbank of Melbourne, it has a significant collection of about 63,000 artworks and artefacts. They include artworks from masters like Rembrandt, as well as ancient collections from Pre-Colombian America, Egypt, Rome and parts of Asia. The gallery has a sister museum - The Ian Potter Centre of NGV Australia at Federation Square - which focuses on Australian art. Due to time constraints, I wasn't able to visit that but I'll definitely make a date to patronise it soon.

The best thing about visiting NGV International? Admission is FREE and you can take photographs (without flash).

Vertical banners like this tell you what temporary exhibitions are currently running. In this case, it was an exhibition on the Bugatti brothers. What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Bugatti?

...was it chairs like this? Surprisingly, the Bugatti brothers were great designers and artists, creating beautiful artistic furniture pieces like this.

Of course, the sleek limousines were the main draw at that gallery!

I moved on next to the museum's collections of Pre-Columbian artefacts on display like these pieces from either Aztec, Incan or Mayan civilisations...

...gazed at Egyptian artefacts like this inner sarcophagus here...

...and ogled at this noble looking bust of an ancient Roman dignitary from classical times.

Some of the artworks were of a more aboriginal and modern origin, like these hailing from Papua New Guinea.

The most memorable moment for me was experiencing this piece of video art by the brilliant video artist Bill Viola. "Ocean with a shore" was both sad and mesmerising in its execution.

On the second level gallery, I chanced upon NGV's Asian Art Collections which were closer to those I am familiar with back at home in the Asian Civilisations Museum. These Chinese porcelain pieces were intricately painted and beautiful.

So was this Indian statue of a Bodhisattva with many arms and faces.

I next ventured into the temporary exhibition on Animals in Asian Art, which seemed to have some parallels with ACM's Fantastic Creatures. Both were geared towards kids.

To appeal to children, captions have to be kept simple and lively like this one here.

These skinny dragons reminded me of the Disney movie "Mulan". Do you remember that small itty bitty dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy called Mushu? Doesn't he look like one of these?

This octopus shaped helmet was apparently used by a Samurai warrior during feudal times in Japan.

What's great about the exhibition on Asian beasts was this corner where kids can doodle and play with their parents. A great way to capture their attention!

On my way up, I spotted this installation artwork by Sarah Sze, which was surprisingly well explained without going too deep.

Galleries on the upper levels were full of European artworks. This gallery focused on European art decor items which commonly featured on furniture and other displays.

19th century European works of art hailing from the Renaissance and Post Renaissance period featured in a couple of rooms. Most of the artists appeared to be English, which was interesting considering that the Renaissance was more closely associated with Italy.

This painting by Clarkson Stanfield caught my attention. It depicted the tumultous oceans and brewing storm in a very realistic and detailed manner. You could almost hear the wind howl.

Over at the gallery covering 17th Century Dutch and Flemish art, I chanced upon this artwork showing a bouquet of flowers. It had such detail that you could tell each individual species of flowers apart from each other.

The greatest artist being featured at the NGV was Rembrandt, the most influential Dutch painter during his time. This is one of his iconic pieces of artwork.

Moving forward a few hundred years is a modern lifestyle exhibition called Remaking Fashion, which featured significant feminine frocks like this one from John Galliano from the house of Christian Dior.

I also viewed contemporary artworks like this one, which showed a broom next to a print of a broom and dictionary definition of it. Don't ask me to explain this one!

Of course, other contemporary pieces were instantly recognisable, like this one of foremost pop artist Andy Warhol.

To aid museum guests in their journeys, interactive terminals like this provided useful information on each exhibition.

A well-stocked retail outlet provided relevant merchandise for one to indulge in some shopping.

You can also choose to have some food or wine at the cafe here, which was well patronised.

Acknowledging one's donors and benefactors is a must in any cultural institution, and NGV has done its fair share of this.