Terry Fallis Wins Leacock Medal

Here’s a wonderful story. Terry Fallis is one of the founders of Thornley-Fallis Public Relations, one of the most social media-savvy PR firms around. Terry wrote and self-published a political satire last year called The Best Laid Plans. Not only did he publish it himself, but he used the book’s web site to market and promote it. As befits an innovative PR practitioner, he used all the social media tools at his disposal, making the whole endeavour a truly DIY affair.

About a month ago, Terry was nominated for the 2008 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, in the company of such literary luminaries as Douglas Coupland and Will Ferguson. The happy ending came this morning, when he found out that he had won. Bravo, Terry!

CaseCamp Toronto 7

I’ve always been a big supporter of the BarCamp concept (a free self-organizing “unconference” where everyone is expected to contribute or participate), although the original BarCamps are way too technical for me to understand, never mind contribute. So I was happy to find out that CaseCamp Toronto is happening again on April 29th. CaseCamp is a marketing version of BarCamp, with people presenting case studies, and because there’s a big crossover with my favoured tribe of web nerds, there’s usually a heavy dose of social media wonkery. For some reason, these only appear to happen in Canada. My only disappointment is that it’s happening at the exact same time as two other potentially interesting events: StartupCamp 2 and Raindance’s free “99 Minute Screenwriting School.” If anyone makes it to either of those two, would you mind reporting back? And if you’re interested in CaseCamp, sign up soon. There are almost 100 people coming already!

Job Description 2.0

David Meerman Scott, author of The New Rules of Marketing and PR, has an interesting blog entry about what a job description for a marketing or public relations practitioner should sound like in this new age of social media. I think the main quality required is curiosity:

You’re curious about new things and always try stuff like Skype, Second Life, Twitter, Ryze, XING, digg, and reddit early.

People who are willing to try new things and are not afraid of a little dabbling should be getting work. Perhaps this is what Joe Thornley was getting at in his assertion that he won’t hire people who don’t blog. I reacted strongly to that statement, but I can definitely see where he and others like him are coming from. They want people who are using the tools already, who don’t have to be taught to use them. But that’s where the educators can seem just a little off base. You can’t teach curiosity, or passion. Joe feels he can figure out who someone is from reading their blog and following their online trail, and he’s right. But should educators be counseling people to create these things in the first place? I mean, if a 50 year old professor has to tell a 20 year old student about new technologies on the web, then something feels amiss.

Is Blogging Now A Career Move?

It started with a well-meaning post from Joe Thornley, of Thornley-Fallis Public Relations, one of the savviest PR companies around. Their embrace of social media cheers me up immensely, and Joe writes interestingly and often about how blogging and other social media tools can be used as part of an overall public relations strategy. But when he called blogging an essential for new PR practitioners, a red flag went up for me. He advises students:

I do not hire entry level people without looking at their blog, following their twitter stream and checking their Facebook presence. I want a sense of who they are over time, not just when they are in my office. I want to know what they think on the issues they care about and how they express themselves. I want to see whether and how they connect with others. And I can find out all those things from their social media presence.

It’s not really Joe’s post specifically that bothered me. It’s how it will be interpreted by students eager to line up that first job. I’ve already seen what I call “the rise of the pundit” drain all the personality out of a huge part of the blogosphere. Eager to show how much we know, many of us now use our blogs as soapboxes, hoping to be noticed and hired. Maybe I’m just a crotchety old blogger, but I miss the days when blogs were an extension of a person’s whole life, not just of their job.

In fact, the advice Thornley gives to these students makes me afraid that their “blogs” will be nothing more than collections of sycophantic links to the people they want to notice them, or empty boosterism of a career they’ve yet to fully try on. When the doubts come, and the disappointment, and they finally have something interesting to say, will they be afraid to say it on their blogs?

I’m rehashing a lot of what I said in my comment over on Joe’s site, but one thing I want to repeat is that it would be a real shame if the blog became just an extension of the resumé.

I’ve had a few wobbles lately about crossing the boundary here and talking about work, but ultimately, I want this space to be a true representation of what I am thinking about and struggling with over time. If I was beginning my blog in 2008 instead of way back in 2000, I don’t know if I’d be able to hold that conviction with any confidence. And I find that sad.

Rebecca Blood, pioneer weblog historian, wrote way back in 2000 in Weblogs: A History and Perspective:

As corporate interests exert tighter and tighter control over information and even art, critical evaluation is more essential than ever. As advertisements creep onto banana peels, attach themselves to paper cup sleeves, and interrupt our ATM transactions, we urgently need to cultivate forms of self-expression in order to counteract our self-defensive numbness and remember what it is to be human. We are being pummeled by a deluge of data and unless we create time and spaces in which to reflect, we will be left with only our reactions. I strongly believe in the power of weblogs to transform both writers and readers from “audience” to “public” and from “consumer” to “creator.” Weblogs are no panacea for the crippling effects of a media-saturated culture, but I believe they are one antidote.

It’s getting harder to fly that idealistic flag, but I’m not ready to give up yet. The question is, how do we teach students to be fearless when they are being taught to blog in college to make them better employees?

Social Media, Unrequited

I spent a very¬†educational evening tonight at the Talk Is Cheap “unconference” on Social Media, held at Centennial College‘s slightly inaccessible Carlaw campus, the Centre for Creative Communications. It was a free event that brought together around 200 people, mostly public relations and corporate communications practitioners. As such, it wasn’t directly related to my job, but for someone who’s desperately trying to advocate “social media” and “Web 2.0” stuff at PricewaterhouseCoopers, it was food for my soul. Not so much in terms of content, though, as I’d have to say I probably know more about these issues than most of the people in attendance. My problem is that I’ve never held a career position that allowed me to actually apply all this knowledge. And so my passion for blogs and the like has largely gone unrequited throughout the course of my professional career(s).

This became apparent as I listened to several very good speakers, like Joe Thornley and Michael O’Connor Clarke, both of Thornley Fallis (whose employees actually communicate with me regularly in their capacity as PR agents for ThinkFilm, whose films I review for Toronto Screen Shots. Small world sometimes.) Thornley Fallis is a small Canadian public relations firm who have made great use of social media and established a reputation as leaders in helping their clients apply that knowledge. I found myself envious of working in an environment like that, and thought, perhaps foolishly, that maybe I should be working in public relations instead. But I can clearly see that my apparent zigs and zags, career-wise, are attempts to find that ideal environment where I can apply my skills and passions to the fullest while still making a decent amount of money. While I’m not going to be hasty, maybe I should examine whether my skills and experience as a web-savvy writer might be better applied in a field that is embracing social media.

While I can foresee that PwC might call upon my experience in a limited way, it’s a large firm. So large that even after several months, I still feel like I’m learning what they do. It also feels very decentralized and finding the right person to talk to takes a fair amount of work. I haven’t been there long enough to have a truly informed opinion, but my initial impression is that they’re using cumbersome and limiting technology to publish their web site. As well, they’ve separated my job function from the actual coding of web pages, so that I’m working only in Microsoft Word, writing content that someone else will mark up. So it may be too soon to tell if PwC will be a long-term home for me, or if I just have a perennially roving eye. I’m trying to get some insight into myself, anyway, and tonight was useful.