Monday 15 October 2007

Spiking the Goggle search engine for fun and profit

Smart members of the tourism industry realized years ago that the future of booking trips for consumers was not in the corner travel agency store but rather on the Internet. Those firms that were out-of-the-gate first struggled to get customers and paid heavy fees to web designers to develope the first web based travel sites.

Consumers were wary of putting credit information into the hands of a virtual travel agency. But as transaction security techniques made huge leap forwards and with the advent of on-line currency (PayPal) consumers began to shop in earnest. At the same time Google began to become more famous than Jesus. Those same consumers turned to Google to find out where to spend on-line.

Now almost every travel agent in North America has decided to put a footprint on the World Wide Web. Problem is, how do these last-out-of-the-gate travel sites get noticed by Google freaks? When people use the Google search engine to find things, they pay attention to only the first few sites that are displayed by Google. Which items appear first is determined by the traffic the site attracts, the amount of items posted, the number of pages linked to the site, if Google software is used in producing the website and ithrough outright name purchase.

Its hard for a new website to get noticed by Google. Long established competitors have long established hundreds and hundreds of links to other site, there are years of content on their webpages and the sites have built in hits from a fans/customers who have bookmarked their sites a long time ago.

I was approached by an agency to help a travel website move up in the Google ranking. How? By posting 25 travel stories (all 500 words in length) on their site once a day, once a week. It is a modest contract and has taken too many hours on my part to make it a worthwhile assignment. However, I continue to service the account to see if the posting of the stories will increase the company's Google footprint.

I am not going to post any of the stories that I have supplied to the company - that would defeat the very purpose of the excercise. What follows though, is an example of a story I wrote for the client. It wasn't used because it got stale-dated before it could make it to the website. It is an orphan story and is posted below for my readers enjoyment/edification.

Music lovers heading for Bermuda the first weekend in October

The island of Bermuda is holding its 12th annual Music Festival, October 3rd to 6th. The festival allows guests to enjoy both the sounds of international performers and local culture, and this year features such big name performers as Smokey Robinson and Earth Wind & Fire.

The Bermuda Music Festival, formerly the Bermuda Jazz Festival, will be held at two venues, the Fairmont Southampton Beach Club and the National Sports Centre.

The Fairmont Southampton Beach Club, recently featured on the Amazing Race is a 593-room hotel near the capital of Hamilton. The National Sports Centre is conveniently located about five minutes away from the City of Hamilton in Devonshire Parish. International football, field hockey, cricket, rugby and many other sports are played at the stadium on a regular basis. The stadium holds 4,300 persons and is a great place to enjoy the wonderful sounds of the Bermuda Music Festival this fall.

Fans of the R&B group Earth Wind & Fire should get ready to "Groove" in Bermuda where the legendary band will put an exclamation point on an already jam-packed 12th Annual Bermuda Music Festival hosted by the Bermuda Department of Tourism.

Joining Earth Wind & Fire on the performance bill and will be on stage from October 3rd - 6th are: Lionel Richie, Smokey Robinson, Natasha Bedingfield, and The O'Jay's. The star studded line-up makes this year’s festival the most high profiled in the history of the Music Festival. The concerts are being hosted by Steve Harvey.

"We have an incredible group of talent performing at this year's Bermuda Music Festival," said Bermuda's Premier, Minister of Tourism and Transport, Dr. Ewart Brown. "The addition of Earth Wind and Fire makes this year's music festival one of the hottest tickets Bermuda has ever seen."

Earth, Wind & Fire are one of the most musically accomplished, critically acclaimed, and commercially popular funk bands of the '70s.

The festival has a strong food component this year. Vendors will be selling “healthy” local foods at all the concerts.

Premier and Minister of Tourism Dr Ewart Brown said: “The Ministry of Health has just embarked on an extensive awareness campaign encouraging Bermudians to make healthier lifestyle changes. The potential attendance at this year’s festival is upwards of 17,000 people, and we saw the Bermuda Music Festival as an excellent way to assist in promoting this initiative; so we are encouraging all health food vendors to join us this year.”

Now in its 12th year, The Bermuda Music Festival is going back to its roots and will be held at the National Sports Centre, the site of the first festival. This year's festival is being produced by George Wein and his company, Festival Productions, Inc. Past performers include: Kenny G, Seal, Natalie Cole, Gladys Knight, Anita Baker and Isaac Hayes, to name a few.

Tickets are on sale now. For additional details, tickets and package information, please visit the Bermuda Music Festival website at

Wednesday 12 September 2007

Giving a media face-lift to the Jane Finch name

Pretty in Pink. Two young Mas participants get ready to begin the long march down Jane Street
for this year's Junior Carnival Parade, held in July in Toronto Canada.

Caribana COO Eddison Doyle plays the national anthem to start the
Toronto Junior Carnival Parade, July 2007 Toronto

Kids at start of the Toronto Junior Carnival Parade,
July 2007 Toronto


Moving vans drive in. Moving vans head out. Stores open. Businesses close. Flowers are planted. Trees are felled. Taking the long view, a street we knew in 1990 has very little to do with that same street in 2007, save for the name itself.

In Toronto some streets earn reputations - both good and bad - that define the neighbourhood. A road moniker usual has staying power, beyond what caused the labeling in the first place. Tell a friend you live on the Bridal Path and they might decide to hit you up for a loan. Everyone in the Big Smoke know that the Bridal Path is synonymous for the noveau riche, a tribute to conspicuous consumption. It doesn't stop there. Queen Street is funky. Yorkville Avenue is ultra chic. And, then there is Jane and Finch. The North South intersection is synonymous in the minds of most Torontonians as a place of violence, warring street gangs, crack houses and drive-by shootings. So pervasive is the branding that describing someone as a Jane and Fincher has become an insult. People living in the district are loathe to say they live on anywhere near the junction of the two streets.

Yet, the neighbourhood is nice. The streets are wide. The shopping plazas that are found at the intersection are a Mecca for friends and family. Sure there are high-rises that could use a bit more love and maintainance, but there are beautiful well-kept homes and semis lining the streets that feed into Jane St. and Finch Avenue in Northwest Toronto.

How do you let the city know that Jane and Finch isn't what it seems? How do get people to stop quivering everytime you mention the intersection? Repairing a street's reputation is a real challenge, but it can be done. When I first came to Toronto, Jarvis Street was street code for hookers and drugs. Now? Jarvis doesn’t have that reputation anymore – people hear the name and think "upscale" since it is now home to the National Ballet School and some ooh la la condos.

Of course the Jane Finch corridor isn’t about to get a Ballet School and the Ritz Carlton is staying downtown. At best, and with some luck it might get a new 24 hr Petro Canada station. Yet, its reputation can be adjusted, it just takes kids, kids and more kids.

I have been working on the Caribana PR account on and off for the past 10-years (everytime I am owed money I take a year off and no, to those that have emailed me, I haven't been paid what I am owed ... yes it hurts). Every-time I have worked the festival it has held a children’s parade in neighbourhoods that suffer from that bad-name syndrome. The parade is held for children who are too small to take part in the big parade along Toronto's Lakeshore Blvd. The Mas Bands create minature versions of their Caribana presentations, keeping the same themes, costumes and music. The children have a shorter route than the adults (from the Black Creek Pioneer Village to the Yorkgate Mall) and it is mercifully downhill all the way from the Judge's Stand to the Mall.

The kid's end their Mas in the Mall's parking lot and there is entertainment and free food the participants. During the formal ceremonies the Mall presents a scholarship cheque of a $1,000 (this year there were two for a total of $2,000) to a student living in the Jane Finch area who plans to go to College in the fall.

In past years the parade attracted 600 or 700 children -- most who live in the Jane Finch corridor. The specators, depending on the weather, numbered about 1,200 - 2 parents for each child. Last year, because of a blinding storm (think of horizontal rain) there were virtually no spectators that weren't related to the kids save for Progressive Conservation Provincial Leader John Tory. None of the kids knew who he was, but they admired his fortitude as he stood soaking wet on the parade route waving at the equally drenched kids.

This year 1,000+ kids came out. With the help of a strong PR campaign that saw hundeds of thousands of dollars worth of pre-event coverage, ten thousand specators line the route. Local politicans came out in force too, jockeying for position along the starting line to cut the ribbon.

John Tory was back. He almost got to speak this year but as Caribana events often go, the programme is a work in progress -- subject to change at a moment's notice, and somehow none of the speeches were made. Tory was a gentleman, didn't complained and once again spent much of his Saturday morning waving at the children. They waved back, but, like last year, probably didn't know who he the heck he was.

My PR team wished we could have waved goodbye to Mr. Tory's posse who buzzed about asking us to "Give John a chance to speak", "Where are the Media", "Why doesn't City TV want to interview John?", "Where is the Toronto Star photographer" and on and on until it was time for them to move -- en masse -- to their next event. Hard to tell it is an election year (tongue in cheek), two of his PR people were extremely miffed that the Festival wouldn't issue them press passes, one of them also wanted press passes for two of her children. Sigh.

But, back to the Jane Finch name game. Caribana wants to pass along the tradition of Mas to the children. The people that started the festival back in 1967 are long in the tooth. A new generation has to find its place on the road.

So the Junior Carnival is a way of bringing the roots of Carnival to Jane and Finch. It is a demonstration of what is good about the neighbourhood and the kids who live there. The strong PR efforts this year made sure that the whole city of Toronto was watching. That doesn't mean the city no longer winces when you say Jane and Finch, but, the Junior Carnival was the start of a march to win the intersection back.

Editor's Note -- When it was all said and done it turned out that the Parade didn't impress the right people --- in other words it wasn't all love and peace and free weiners. I recently worked up a publicity report for the Yorkgate Mall and found that the plaza recieved over a million dollars in Positive PR. THe vast majority of the clips framed the Mall as a caring community based shopping centre that is proud of itself and its customers. (It also helped to remind Torontonians that it isn't the Yorkdale Mall!). Unfortunately it looks as though the Mall is going to turn its back on the community and take a pass on next year's parade.

Second downer? The police continue to work hard to make themselves a part of the community yet their messaging continues to be heavy handed and very negative. They were out in full force directing traffic and policing the Junior Carnival Parade route. There were no incidents. Of course. But, every single member of the police force a wore bullet proof vest, carried batons and guns (and some had Tasers). The 1,000 unarmed five-year olds all decked out in carnival clothing walked in 30 C degree through a corridor of full-dress loaded-for-bear police uniforms.

Wednesday 5 September 2007

Giving 20 minutes of fame to an intersection. Jane and Finch

This morning's photo posting is a preview of story that has yet to written .... hopefully it will happen soon -- I desperately need to get a window of time to actually work on my website (maybe this evening).

The reason for the soon to-be-posted story: People often use public relations and the services of a publicist to rebuild a reputation -- to give the media and the consumers of news an opportunity to see the "real" side of a story. It can work. Baring the soul is a very effective tool towards changing how the public see you.

Movie stars. Fallen politicos. Failed authors. Bankrupt CEOs. Public Relation campaigns will win these fallen angels an extra 5 minutes of positive fame.

If it works for people can it work for street addresses? In Toronto one of the most infamous locations is the corner of Jane and Finch. Say those three words and many people conjur up images of murders, drive-by-shootings, street gangs, and public housing gone to seed. That isn't the real Jane Finch, but, how do you change such a negative myth?

Thursday 30 August 2007

20 minutes of fame - Andy Warhol's 15 minutes goes into Caribana overtime

I have just finished -- well almost, there is still that horrendously long media report to complete -- a very successful campaign in promoting the Caribana Festival in Toronto. This is the fifth time in 10 years I have worked on Caribana. The parade attracted over a million spectators and aside from one "accident" was incident free. I don't have to explain what Caribana is because chances are, anyone looking at this Blog, no matter where they live, will know what it is (we did that good a job).

Even without a clipping service, my clipping file is huge -- 750 seperate media stories about the parade and the many other Caribana events that were held during the Festival. Myself and my four associates got Caribana positive coverage in every major media outlet in Toronto and in/on most English language media outlets across Canada. We also go break through coverage in Buffalo, Chicago and Trinidad thanks to the help of Metro Toronto Tourism.

So how good was it? I use a very publicist-generous formula to evaluate the worth of a campaign. In the case of Caribana I look at the size or length of the news story or clipping or web piece and figure out, using the outlet's ad buy rate, how much that item would have cost Caribana to purchase. I then multiply it by the number of times that that item appeared (some of the TV stations ran clips six times before retiring them). I then multiply that figure by a factor of 4. The quading of the figure is to add a value that recognizes that readers / viewers / listeners are four times more likely to believe a positive news item then they are to look at a similiar sized advertisement.

Some of the TV stations did morning long remotes from our events. CITY TV has an ad rate of $2,400 per 30 seconds for its highly rated morning Breakfast TV show. Multiply that ad rate by two hours and then again by the PR factor of four and it doesn't take long before coverage, from just that one station, is in the millions. Although it has no real meaning, I estimate that this year's positive coverage of the month long Caribana Festival in Toronto garnered a PR value in excess of $30 million.

Of course not all that PR is a direct result of my team's work. Caribana's marketing team did quite a bit, so did various groups around town and of course, there was just a large province-wide interest in the festival that didn't need any PR stoking to get coverage.

With such dramatic PR results one would expect a happy customer. No so. The festival has been over for almost a month. I am owed a bundle. No one is talking to me or indicating if and when I get paid. My contract is simply emailed notes between the festival COO and myself. I have put out more in wages than I have collected. I am too frightened to open my Visa bill, my Mastercard statement or my Amex (the true funders of the PR efforts of Caribana). I pride myself in getting people that extra five minutes of fame. Gotta work harder on getting my invoices paid.

Tonight is recycling night. Might go out and look for returnable empties (price of gas just went up) ... not kidding. Taking it on the chin and in the wallet for a parade. Sigh.

Over the next few weeks I will be talking about the positive promotion of Caribana. The good. The bad. And a rant about SEAN PAUL.

photograph - I took this picture of myself while I was talking on the phone to Diver Magazine in Vancouver. This was during the Launch of the Parade at Toronto's city hall. The magazine wanted to know if I was goofing off - asked these three Mas dancers to help them show the magazine I was busy.