From Russia With Love, by Way of Silicon Valley

President Barack Obama and ex-British PM Gordon Brown might have been the earliest adopters among world leaders on Twitter (@BarackObama and @Number10gov, respectively). But since then, there’s been a steady stream of executive arrivals, including @netanyahu, @PMHarper, @sebastianpinera, @HHSHKMOHD, @hatoyamayukio, @KevinRuddPM, and @QueenRania, among others.

Heck, even Hugo Chavez has gotten in on the act (@chavezcandanga). And there’s now a website directory,, to help keep track of all the world’s public officials in the Twittersphere.

Recently, live from a tour of Silicon Valley, U.S.A., Russian President Medvedev became one of the latest world leaders to practice oratory in under 140 words (@KremlinRussia or @KremlinRussia_E for the English speakers out there). His first tweet — “Всем привет! Я в Твиттере и это мое6 первое сообщение!” — translates to “Hello everyone! I’m on Twitter, and this is my first tweet.”

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The Culturalist

Could the Apple be rotten? This week, Consumer Reports announced that it does not recommend the already popular iPhone 4 due to antenna design flaws that result in dropped calls. The Culturalist predicts a fix faster than you can say BP oil spill. Moving from smart phone screens to flat screens, the Culturalist recommends tonight’s season premier of USA’s White Collar, about a repurposed master thief now working on the side of good for the FBI. We’re also big fans of USA’s Burn Notice, airing new episodes throughout the summer. If you want to know our thoughts on circle lenses, canned sandwiches and the latest addition to the Glee cast, click here.

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Moving Beyond Brainstorms

Everyone knows it. Everyone feels it. And creative guru Edward de Bono said it recently in Werben & Verkaufen, a German advertising and communication trade magazine: “Brainstorms are outdated. They are useful to exchange opinions, but they don´t produce a single new idea.”   Surprisingly, some studies show that brainstorms can be one of the most ineffective ways to find new ideas. Why? Because what can happen at times is that one person can dominate the talking and others end up coming up with their own ideas but not really sharing them constructively.   For this reason, it’s high time for creative directors to start deconstructing the myth that the brainstorm is an end-all, be-all process and start coming up with alternative approaches. Approaches that are more efficient but still promise the same interactivity and fellowship, because this seems to be the biggest reason for the popularity of brainstorms: getting together with colleagues. Brainstorms allow us to avoid taking on the burden of a challenge alone, to share it with others, and to make the weight of the world on our shoulders a little bit lighter with some jokes and sympathetic faces.  But generating new ideas from other meeting formats requires new creative techniques. One possibility is online brainwriting, a variation of the good old “brainwriting” done online via e-mail or instant messenging. Participants work on desktops or laptops to add ideas to a list of challenges presented through defined questions. These ideas can be sent to the person who presents the challenge or they can be sent from participant to participant, with the goal for each participant to improve the idea a little bit.  For years, brainstorms have played a significant role at bringing a diversity of people and ideas together at our agency, and will continue to be a key part of  sparking creativity and producing fresh ideas. But we’ve relied on them for so long now that they’ve almost become a victim of their own success. It’s time to build on the classic concept of a brainstorm and find new approaches to tapping people’s collective insight for finding the best ideas.

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"Get Your Fat, F***ing Ass Out of the Way!" Really?

"Get Your Fat, F***ing Ass Out of the Way!" Really?

Strolling through Central Park on one of those pristine spring days – sharp blue skies, riotous beds of tulips and a giggling, noshing tapestry of humanity spread out over the lawns and sun-warmed granite outcroppings – it’s hard for even the most curmudgeonly misanthrope not to feel that maybe the world doesn’t entirely suck. But before we get into that, you have a couple of urgent questions. Why is the guy from Canada writing about New York, and will he ever ease up on the painfully over-written prose. Well, doesn’t everything begin and end in New York. And yes, I will.  So, I’m walking through a moderately crowded Central Park recently, holding pace with the moseying herd of lunchtime strollers along the walkway, when I see up ahead a vision of a 50-something lumpy package of jaw-set agitation, fully kitted in a yellow-and-black spandex Italian cycling costume, weaving shakily between the walkers as he tries to pick up speed on a small downslope.  Did I mention that I was walking behind a gracefully flowing woman in resplendent caftan, who had the advantage of magnificent size.  Anyway, you can see what’s coming. The jangle of frantic cyclist on his impossible mission to get in a 40-mile ride in four-foot increments had to slow his progress and swing wide around Madame Kaftan. To her credit, she did break stride but when you are dealing with the limits of physics, well, there’s only so much you can do.  If that were it, I suppose most people in the immediate area would have thought momentarily: “Wow, that guy looks like a jaundiced sausage. What a jerk.” And we never would have given it another thought.  But, of course, it didn’t end there. As he rounded Madame Kaftan, he screwed up his face in rage and shouted: “Get your fat, f***ing ass out of the way!”  In hindsight, as is always the case, I thought of all manner of cutting repartee. “Hey! Have you looked in a mirror in the past year?” No, too bland. “Hey, Sausage Boy, why don’t you go back to the Stupid Store, where you were born?” Yes, that would have worked.  Mostly though – especially since he was a flabby little gnome – I wished I had stepped in front of his bicycle, grabbed the handlebars and asked him if my fat ass was also in his way and if he wanted to do something about it. Really, inciting a Canadian (OK, I’m also an American) to fisticuffs – even imaginary fisticuffs – says something about the impact of civility, or its absence, on the human psyche.  And that’s where our story flies an hour north to Toronto, to Canada – the land of civility. (Really. Our Constitution promises not “life liberty and the pursuit of happiness” or “Libertie, Egalitie, Fraternitie.” No, Canadians are promised “Peace, order and good government.”)  But increasingly that civility is under attack. I hear the statement, “God, I hate people,” so often now that I’m looking into the T-shirt rights and have purchased the domain name. I hear it from my teen-aged daughter and my 60-year-old neighbor. I hear it from almost every friend who sits nursing a pint and recounting the tribulations of his day; the exposure to unnecessary, unhelpful and usually wrongly placed rage over some perceived slight. Indeed, the emotional blowback from any perceived slight these days often seems wildly out of proportion to the offense. We go from zero to nuclear in the time it takes us to circumnavigate a grand lady.  Canada is a country founded on the principle of tolerance, and civility. The Centre for Canadian Studies at Mount Allison University has done a nice job defining what that means.  “Within a society, civility means the absence of physical violence in social relations, a well-developed general sense for fairness and tolerance, the protection of human rights.”  I would add to that “the absence of psychic violence.” The Centre for Canadian Studies also makes the claim that . . .  “Canada is one of the very few countries attempting to develop a nation-wide political culture of civility, and it has been comparatively successful in pursuing this goal. This explains why Canada is traditionally rated as number one on the United Nations’ human development index. As a measure of how Canada’s reputation for civility is regarded in the world, it is worth noting that a Canadian, John Peters Humphrey, was selected by the U.N. to be the principal drafter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Maybe yes, maybe no. We do still tend to apologize to Coke machines if we don’t have the right change. But now if you fumble with your change too long, delaying someone behind you from their syrupy treat for an extra 12-seconds, you also might get the “why-don’t-you-just-f***-off-and-die-hell-for-all-eternity” reaction.  Really, people? Is that the kind of poison you want to spew into the environment? Really?

The obvious solution for all of us is to pause a beat and consider what we want to put out there in the world. Always good advice from a communication consultant.  Finally, and as always on matters of great import, I turn to a comedian for guidance. The subversively brilliant Scottish-American Craig Ferguson explains how he adjusted his behavior after his first marriage failed.  “Before I say anything, I ask myself three questions. Does this need to be said? Does this need to be said by me? Does this need to be said by me now?”

Almost Canadian in its civility.  Postscript: This just in.It may be too early to mourn the death of civility, in Canada at least. Regis is coming to Prince Edward Island tape his show in July, doing his bit to teach the rest of the world what civil people look like.

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Smile, Camera, Action!!

With apologies to Bogey, of all the motorbikes in all of Ho Chi Minh City (4.1 million and counting), this one had to run in to me.  

It wasn’t the impact. No, it was the speedy exit with my camera that really hurt.  

A Monday morning agency meeting this week meant that I spent Sunday, the Fourth of July – America’s birthday – in Vietnam.  

For 12 hours, as I wandered all over the city previously known as Saigon, I couldn’t help but reflect on my memories of the war as a kid growing up in the States during the 60’s. During the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite one night, I remember asking my Dad what a “casualty” was … I also especially remember my mother’s tears of spontaneous joy as we watched a live television report announcing that a friend’s son was, at that very moment, a newly-freed POW. 

On the other side of the world on Sunday, I came away from this most patriotic of American holidays with one distinct and surprising finding – Ho Chi Minh must be the most friendly city I have ever encountered.  

“Hey California!” came the happy shout all day long – from taxi drivers, market stalls, and yes, people whizzing by on motorbikes. Friendly waves, and big thumbs up … complete strangers with no agenda just saying “Hello” and “Where are you from?” simply to strike up a conversation and to practice their English. 

Not only were people willing to have their picture taken, many took extra time to smile and pose with their kids and Grandma – all balanced on the same two-wheeled scooter.  

With yesterday’s meetings successfully completed and a flight to New Zealand later today, I decided to make use of the down time and hired a hotel car for an early morning photo safari at the Mekong Delta.  

As we were leaving the City with a glorious sunrise to another scorcher of a day, the bright colours of a street market caught my eye and the driver stopped for me to take a quick shot.  

I was outside of the car for all of 15 seconds. Before I had a chance to put the camera strap around my neck, it was snatched from my hand by a guy on the back of the motorbike. I yelled, ran, but my Nikon and a loaded memory card whipped around the corner and out of sight.  

It was 6:10am.  

Bummed? Sick? Feeling stupid? Yep, yep, yep.  

Yet, I also stand by my earlier assertion that this city is world-class friendly. A half dozen people immediately came up, each looking as nearly crestfallen as I, shaking their heads sadly and making comforting conversation. The driver looked particularly stricken – he had suggested we stop.  

We then proceeded to the police station where a barefooted Captain was sound asleep in front of the TV (an American film with subtitles on HBO). A cleaning woman poked him awake, and for the next two hours we revisited the scene of the crime and with the contributions of helpful street vendors, we collaborated on a four-page handwritten report in two languages.  

As we worked away together on the crime report, an older generation of neighbourhood police station groupies asked excitedly to hear the dramatic story again and again, each time wishing me good luck and good fortune at the end. If their kindness also included Vietnamese for “moron,” they did so with smiles and gentleness.  

I know I’ll never see the camera again, nor the 300 images of smiling, happy Vietnamese that I took on the Fourth of July. But I do leave with my mental memory card pleasantly full, intact and newly-updated.



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Tea Time?

I’m probably not the first to declare the world is divided into two camps – coffee drinkers and the tea sippers.

My wife is the latter. I am the former.

Coffee, to me, isn’t about taste – it is purely a functional duty. Bracing, bolted down, badda boom and bang – out the door, on with the day, day, day! 

I often observe my wife with her tea cup in the morning – she’s not drinking from it, she’s caressing it.

Tea looks to be all about lingering, savouring, easing … smoothly, gracefully … into the daaaaaaay … Tea, it seems to me, is more about meeting the day and negotiating a proper start to it, versus charging in and confronting it.

Check this out for yourself this summer:

I maintain that tea drinkers step carefully, gingerly into life’s swimming pool. Coffee drinkers? Hell, they cannonball straight into the deep end.

Even the afternoon tea break – a fine English tradition – is a discrete way of slipping out of the moment and then quietly back into it, whereas a coffee break is about refueling, recharging and gearing up for the day’s final grind.

But on an Air China flight to Beijing this morning, I was handed an 8-page Tea Menu that has caused me to rethink everything. Its introduction jolted me like a rich mug of black Colombian, and at the same time, it also gave me pause:

“The tea emits a sweet scent and a degree of warmth, displaying its posture of calmness, reservation, introversion and modesty, providing us with a share of ease and peace of mind in the noise of the city, ( deep breath here) allowing us to enjoy a portion of quietness and comfort in the surge of lives, the change of seasons and the convergence of time and space.”

Dang. Who knew? (And to think my wife has been harbouring this truth from me for all these years.)

Purely as an aid to public health, allow me to now quote from a few of the selections Air China has on offer :

Green Tea

Suitable for busy young people who often use computers with refreshing, cooling digesting, clearing throat, brightening eyes functions

Black Tea

Suitable for weak people with refreshing and enriching the saliva, diuresis, diminish inflammation and anti-bacterium, detoxification functions

Blue Brown Tea

Suitable for the crowd to lose weight and feel irritable, with the functions to prevent occurrence of reactive oxygen and tooth decay, elimination of damage to beauty and health

Preventing an “occurrence of reactive oxygen” seemed like a good idea (chicken sausages for breakfast) but instead, I went for the Jasmine – “full fragrance and stored in a cool place.” 

Supply your own punch line here: _________ 



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Facebook's Privacy Changes

The changes that Facebook has just made in its privacy policies and settings have opened up a host of intriguing questions for individual users as well as for companies and brands. And recently, I was asked what opportunities are created by these privacy changes, what these changes mean for consumers, and what opportunity this means for clients. Check out my thoughts on these questions here in a video produced by the Ketchum Global Technology Practice’s Techphoria TV channel.

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Plinth People

Plinth People

Been to Trafalgar Square lately? 

In the northwest corner, on the infamous “empty” fourth plinth, there’s now a stunning work of art called “Ship in a Bottle.”   It’s a replica of “HMS Victory” – the ship in which Admiral Lord Nelson’s scored his decisive naval victory in 1805.  

Trafalgar Square itself stands as something of a civic victory, too. The square was created back in 1840 and ever since it has served as London’s central gathering point. A £25 million redevelopment programme in 2007 put new wind in the sails of a city that cherishes, if not overtly celebrates, freedom of expression.  

“Ship” is truly incredible. The Anglo-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare created all 37 sails from African-style textiles and it is, as branded, indeed encased in a giant glass bottle.  

But for me, nothing tops the fourth plinth quite like last summer’s artwork. 

As Londoners will easily recall, the July 2009 “installation” marked the start of a total of 2,400 individuals who climbed to the top of the plinth to take turns becoming a living work of art.  

The idea was the brainchild of artist Antony Gormley – his work saw one person appear on the Square’s plinth every hour for 100 days. Art specimens ranged from the existentialist humanitarian who did absolutely nothing to the one who dressed as human excrement in a plea for clean drinking water. 



Is it art? That was the question of the day.  

A columnist (Frank Skinner) from The Times then called it “a living portrait of modern Britain” and endorsed it with a quote I love and all cranky cynics will hate: “One of the worst things that can strike down a human being is the slam-dunk closing of the mind – the idea that one’s opinion of something has been finally formulated and now set in stone. I think opinions should be like Plasticine – always open to reshaping, always having the potential to become something new.”   

In the closing ceremonies, Mayor Johnson said “Over the past 100 days we have witnessed the bold, the beautiful and the bizarre. In the age of X Factor and Guitar Hero, Gormley’s plinthers have quite literally stood alone.” 

I loved the idea of the exhibit and have thought our agency would be for the better if we all took on board and exercised more rigorously the symbol of freedom it represented.    

For nearly a year now, Skinner’s column has been crumpled in a corner of my backpack, but yesterday, on the taxi ride from the airport to my Singapore hotel, I saw a billboard for the Singapore Chinese Girls’ School that neatly captured the essence of the Plinth People: 

“SCGS Talent Programme. From a face in the crowd to the one the crowd faces.”



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The Culturalist

The Culturalist

As the temperature hit heat hotter than the pizza ovens at Keste, the Culturalist discovered some extraordinary heat in Times Square this past weekend. New York’s hottest megastore, a 90,000 square foot branch of retailer Forever 21, opened to thousands of shoppers in Virgin Records former quarters. With a décor that looks like Versailles on acid blended with suburban and urban attitude, Forever 21 is fast becoming New York’s newest tourist attraction: the store expects 100,000 visitors daily — that’s 86,000 more than Lady Liberty gets on a given day. Open until 2 a.m., the Culturalist imagines a new trend: drunk shopping.  And don’t miss the debut of Louie on FX who promises to heat up our flat screens this summer. Louie, AKA stand-up comic Louis C.K., appears to be a direct descendant of Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and George Carlin. Louis’ bleak, blue-collar humor can be a bit crude, but the Culturalist applauds the honesty. Trust us, this guy is funny! For more on what’s hot, what’s new, and what’s coming soon, check out the issue.

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In a Flap Over Mudguards and Salesmanship in Beijing

In a Flap Over Mudguards and Salesmanship in Beijing

Salesmanship is at the heart of public relations. As public relations practitioners, we develop strategies and tactics to help companies establish their reputations so that people trust them, because only when people trust a company will they consider purchasing its products or services. We use creative branding programs to differentiate our clients’ products or services from competitors’ products or services because only when consumers believe our offerings best fit their needs, will they consider purchasing them. And we increasingly engage stakeholders in different facets of our clients’ businesses – such as product development – in order to understand what they really want. Our clients then take those insights and incorporate them into their own products or services in the hope of providing products and services that more people want to buy.   The impact of good salesmanship was brought home to me recently through an experience I had trying to purchase mudguards for my bicycle in Beijing. I’m an avid cyclist and I cycle to work every day. I do this because it’s fast, it’s healthy – although some people might argue that cycling through Beijing’s dust-laden, smog-filled air can hardly be classified healthy, I believe that if you wear a face mask and cycle down roads with proper bike lanes that are separated from vehicular traffic by tree borders, as I do, then the air you’re breathing is no worse than if you were in a car or walking.

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