January 4, 2011

It’s Been a Good Run!

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:30 pm by Jennifer

It’s a general life rule I have that when the original reasons you started doing something don’t quite hold anymore or when something outlives its purpose you need to take a step back and look at why you’re still doing it. If you have to push too hard to keep doing something that you used to get excited about maybe it’s time to stop. That’s where I am today with this blog.

I’m incredibly lucky to work in a career where the things I read (a mix of traditional media and great blogs) as well as the things I get to do day in and day out genuinely reflect what my interests are. But I’m not really sure what the focus or purpose of this blog space is anymore, and so I’m going to take a step back. Knowing me I’ll be back online with a new blog in the not-too-distant future but it will be something new, and something very different.

So to all of you who read and enjoyed my blog – thank you.

And to all of you who not only read but contributed through feedback, links to your own blogs and thoughtful comments – an even bigger thank you. You’re the reason I love blogging and have kept it up for as long as I have.

Happy New Year

Jennifer

December 1, 2010

World Aids Day December 1 2010

Posted in current events tagged at 4:17 pm by Jennifer

Every day two people are infected with HIV in Toronto, gay and bisexual men account for more than half of all new HIV diagnoses in Toronto and one out of every five people diagnosed with HIV in Toronto is a woman. (WorldAids.ca)

As shocking as locally relevant statistics can be we all largely have the same type of reaction; “that’s terrible” followed by feeling safe with the thought that “it will never happen to me”.

In 2006 the current mayor of Toronto Rob Ford made the following offensive comment; “If you are not doing needles and you are not gay, you wouldn’t get AIDS probably”. The backlash was immediate and lasting but I think Ford’s comment is a reflection of the stigma that still exits in society.

The problem with that line of thinking is that it’s dangerous. The fact is AIDS/HIV has become a “blame the victim” infection and neglects the many personal stories of the people who are living with this illness. At the end of the day does it really matter what circumstances led to infection? What matters the most is what comes next including treatment, education and public/community support.

HIV/AIDS awareness is a cause I have felt strongly about for years, and I wanted to share why on World AIDS Day. The truth is there are many reasons I support this cause but one in particular sticks out in my mind and has impacted me for years.

One day I was on my way to work just like any other day, when I saw a woman standing on the subway platform. It was rush hour but there was still a pretty big space around her. I then realized she was wearing a t-shirt that said “I have HIV”. A million things rushed through my mind; Was this part of a campaign? A personal choice of hers? A study being conducted? Does she really have HIV? How does she feel, standing there all alone? Why is she doing this?

The train pulled in and I automatically stepped on it, but once the doors slid shut she and I made eye contact through the window and right away I regretted not walking up to her, talking to her and showing my support by bridging the distance between us. The truth is social stigma and my own fear prevented me in that split second decision but this chance moment between absolute strangers has always stuck with me and I still think of her. And then I think about the many people living with HIV/AIDS in Toronto and around the world. I realize I can’t change my actions that day but I can choose to stand with people living with this illness from that day onwards.

All of the things I want to do and become involved with are still taking shape but for today, I wanted to be a part of the dialogue and recognize the importance of World AIDS Day. I hope you’ll do the same.

For further resources, support and testing;

www.actoronto.org

www.avert.org

www.hasslefreeclinic.org

www.womenscareclinic.ca

November 16, 2010

Is social media IQ impacting our overall EQ?

Posted in social media tagged at 4:02 pm by Jennifer

Social media has exploded like a giant cyberspace mushroom cloud, and there are arguments on both sides for the impact it has had on human interaction. Have we become more social because of these new tools? Or are we now “antisocial” hiding behind a veil of connections that exist only online?

I think we can all agree that social media has enabled us to meet more people than we might have otherwise, that it allows us to keep in touch with previous contacts and that it’s made information sharing with a mass audience much easier. But because online dialogue is different than face to face contact it has the potential to influence how we interact with each other in a negative way if not done properly. Basic communications tools, like emotional intelligence (EQ), should really be applied to online communication as well.

The three overall “pillars of EQ” from my basic understanding are;

  1. Am I able to read people well
  2. Do I understand my own emotions
  3. Do I manage the emotions of others effectively

The instantaneous nature of online communication often means we risk sending something out when angry, excited or emotionally charged that we regret later on. (Similar to saying the same things out loud, except that it leaves an online paper trail.) The other issue is that we often take for granted the people we communicate with or their emotions, especially if you have a large online audience. “Followers” stop being people and become just a homogenous part of your measurable audience.

So how can we apply emotional intelligence to the larger world of social media?

  • Always keep in mind that there are people on the other end of your messages. They may have different reasons for reading what you’re communicating, but they’re all interested in what you have to say.
  • If you happen to have a large online audience, it’s a reflection of the impression you’ve made and the interest you’ve generated online. It can be a reason to be really proud that there exists a significant pool of people who want to be in touch with you and read what you have to say. BUT – no one should place all of the emphasis on the number of relationships/ followers/ audience they have over the quality of those relationships. You risk making people feel ignored and that they aren’t “worthy of your time”, not a great impression to make.
  • Think first type second – a good rule of thumb when we’re angry is to take a deep breath, think about it first and then say what we have to say to another person. This (hopefully) stops you from saying something you might later regret. There is no reason the same rule shouldn’t apply to online interactions.
  • The internet allowed people to gain a level of anonymity online, and so trolling was born. Hiding behind a computer screen and a fake name some people feel free to say cruel, hurtful or untrue things on message boards, blogs, forums etc. Personally I never use an anonymous name when posting online or providing feedback. At the end of the day nothing I or anyone else says is ever going to change these people, but if you are the target of “a troll” my advice is to ignore it unless there is some validity to their statement or an actual need to respond. By getting into an online “war or words” you’re just giving them what they want – attention. If their complaint was valid or you could actually find a resolution with them, then they would probably not be hiding behind an anonymous name.

If you have a personal experience or any thoughts on this, feel free to raise your hand and share it with the class. Also a shout-out to Movember for their great meetup yesterday in Toronto that inspired this post topic.

November 12, 2010

The world is (literally) going to the dogs…

Posted in current events, fundraising at 1:34 pm by Jennifer

I usually only post once a week, but after seeing this recent article in the Globe “There are children starving in Africa – but I’ll still spoil my dog “ a week after THIS article I had to comment on it. That comment is;

… seriously?!

I love my dog. I spoil my dog for quite a few reasons; he had a hard life before I rescued him and deserves extra love, I’m an animal lover, he’s a good roommate and also because look at that freaking face!

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Look, I understand pampering your pet but instead of extravagances that (let’s face it) your companion won’t really know the difference (my dog tries to eat discarded food off the sidewalk, there is no way I’m giving him a bag of $50 dog treats!) I’m hoping some people will realize there are animal shelters in dire need and spend a bit of money where it will make a difference.

SO – for the first 5 people (that live in Ontario – sorry) who email me proof/a receipt that you have donated ($25 minimum) to an animal shelter or animal based charity in the GTA/Ontario (such as the Toronto Humane Society) I will bake you, pack up and mail you a batch of homemade dog cookies personally made by yours truly. Your dog will like them; I’ve tested many recipes on my slightly “rotund” pug. Also donations are usually tax deductable.

And oh yes, the fact that you will be doing a good thing. That’s always a great reason.

UPDATE: Thank you thank you for participating! I’ll be mailing out cookies soon, so keep an eye on your mailbox.

November 10, 2010

Pushing the envelope (or better yet – the chicken cutlet)

Posted in Just for fun at 11:10 am by Jennifer

Mae West once said; “When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I’ve never tried before.” So for the purposes of this week’s blog post I put forth a personal challenge that would settle my own morbid curiosity while at the same time test the limits of friendship and stomach acids. A quick thank you wrapped in an apology sprinkled with Pepto Bismol to Elliott Pen (@tootightoque) for his very reluctant participation away from the mainly vegan contents of his fridge into the fast food industry.

Ladies and gentleman, yesterday we tried the KFC Double Down. If you haven’t heard of it the creation consists of “bacon, two different kinds of melted cheese, the Colonel’s ‘secret’ sauce in between two pieces of Original Recipe chicken fillets”. That’s right; the fried chicken is the “bun”.

Fast food marketing is a category all to itself. Concerns over calorie content are swept aside with clever campaigns that use humour, nostalgia or promises of a great tasting product. Otherwise they try to prove themselves a healthier option than the competition. A while back Torontoist tried the KFC Double Down so I wouldn’t have to but really they just made me curiouser and curiouser, like Alice falling down that rabbit hole to take a bite of greasy chicken. Elliott and I strolled into KFC on Queen West, placed our order and gave it a try.

One interesting thing about fast food advertising is the visual representation; the real thing didn’t look much like the ad in the doorway. Elliott pointed out that the Double Down in front of him looked sort of like a human heart, which was fitting since this is exactly the organ that would be getting clogged momentarily.

 

The KFC Double Down is not healthy. We know it, they know it, the media knows it. So when they set out to promote this menu item crossing the border to Canadian soil they didn’t even attempt to hide the fact that this is one of the unhealthiest things we have seen in a long time – impressive since Canada is the land of poutine. (Note: photos were all taken with an iPhone and we were playing around with an app called “Hipstamatic”.)

Me: “It wasn’t that bad, but it wasn’t good either. It was way too salty but that’s what KFC is – salty fried chicken so no surprise there. I didn’t finish it, and after eating it I felt pretty drained and tired. I think that food should be something to enjoy, and when I indulge in fast food I would rather it be a really good burger or something made relatively fresh. I haven’t eaten at KFC in a long time, and don’t think I’ll be grabbing for a piece of their chicken any time soon. After trying our Double Downs, Elliott and I sat quietly on the couch and ate oranges. That was the best tasting orange of my life.”

Elliott: “I’ll admit going into this ‘experiment’ I had my reservations about the sandwich. Not only for its blatant disregard for the Canadian Food Guide but also the overly macho ad campaign. Food shouldn’t be a challenge, and while waiting in line I almost expected the counter-person to offer me a t-shirt for even having the gall to order this monstrosity. As for the taste, well, I may not have the most honed pallet capable of sussing out notes of lavender in a particular wine but I do recognize when sodium dominates my taste buds. I don’t believe in my entire life I’ve ever described something as ‘too salty’ but that is what the Double Down is, a salty mess. And for all you fans of the sandwich take note, despite being a vegetarian I was a good sport and took three suitable bites. My first three bites of KFC product in 15 years, and my last for the rest of my life.”

Well regardless of how the things tasted, this is my favorite kind of PR – not the fact that this is a very unhealthy product that I do not think people should be eating but because it’s honest and transparent. The flaws and shortcomings are out in the open and they are not trying to deceive anyone. Not everything in this world is or will be good for you, but when companies are open about the risks associated with their products it lends itself to a better sense of corporate responsibility in my opinion.

Apparently they’re only being sold in Canada until November 14, 2010 so if you really want to try one you have just four days left. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to eat my fourth piece of fruit for the day.

November 4, 2010

What will it take for us to unfriend Facebook?

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:50 pm by Jennifer

I’m honest about my love-hate relationship with Facebook. It isn’t even a guilty pleasure at this point; it’s an annoying necessity for me to keep in touch with a number of people. My “network” goes from Toronto to Sudbury, Ottawa, BC, Chicago, Rochester, Florida, the UK and then back again. I think there are a few more internationals on there currently in Korea, but you get the point. That’s a lot of emails and letter writing, and no one really has time for the number of update phone calls it would take to stay well connected with people who’ve moved far away. (Can you imagine the phone bill?!) Being able to peek in on how someone is doing, send them a message or let them know you’re thinking of them instantly is so much easier. This is why I consider Mark Zuckerberg an evil genius. The man is one lab accident from evil supervillain bent on world domination. (Okay, maybe not. But he’s a bit too powerful for my liking.)

Why the rant? In case you haven’t yet heard the news Facebook is launching a new application in their long line of recent tools that slap the face of privacy right across the cheek. The disarmingly named “Facebook Friendship Pages” creeps me out. Basically, they show how you are connected to mutual friends, displaying photos, attended events and public conversations you have had with eachother on one summary page that’s supposed to represent the online face of you friendship. Don’t like the idea of this? Too bad. You can’t opt out of it.

Yes, this information is already technically “public” but what is the added value of being able to snoop on the history between two people? Unless you like to cyber stalk members of the opposite sex on your current partner’s profile I don’t see the point. I know why I’m friends with the people I am friends with, I don’t need it laid out on a separate page for a third party to review. I don’t even remember what I’ve posted on a friend’s page a month ago let along a year ago. I hope it was clever.

Does anyone else feel put off by this, or do you think this application is a step forward in social networking?

Oh Facebook… I wish I knew how to quit you.

In other blog related stuff, I’ve recently updated my Flickr account. Feel free to take a peek and let me know what you think!

October 28, 2010

Trading the concrete jungle for greener scenery

Posted in family, photography at 10:37 am by Jennifer

It’s the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something. (Crash)

Toronto is a crowded space where we’re all just strangers passing eachother by on our way from one place to somewhere else, and our interactions with eachother blend seamlessly into the city backdrop. I love Toronto and can’t picture myself anywhere else than my downtown apartment, people watching from a Queen West coffee shop or meeting friends for a bite to eat. But every so often it’s nice to get a bit of air and scenery. And so I did.

I just got back from a good stretch of time in Sudbury visiting family and wanted to share a few photos I took, along with one of me and my baby cousin. (Because she is just adorable beyond words and wanted to show off our “art”.)

So here’s some Sudbury scenery, enjoy!

October 12, 2010

Would you date your Google results?

Posted in Social Life, social media, Work-Life at 2:16 pm by Jennifer

Sitting in a slightly crowded and dimly lit lounge, you see an attractive stranger. They smile at you, you smile back at them and then a conversation kicks off. If it goes well at the end of the night you might have a name, a phone number, a business card or an email address. And then as is only fitting for modern courtship, we do the unthinkable – we Google.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to dating in the digital age.

As a single working professional living in Toronto social media has been an amazing way to meet new people, to get myself invited to events and to do research relevant to my career and interests. I’ve looked into things for clients (like trying to find a giant blue garbage bin), kept on top of industry news, I’ve found great recipes and I’ve been alerted to the grand opening of Snakes and Lattes. But when it comes to dating, has social media helped or harmed us?

When I Googled my name I learnt that there is a writer named Jennifer Ouellette who wrote “Physics of the Buffyverse” and yet another who designs hats and headbands, some of which were featured on the TV show Gossip Girl. Then there were results that actually traced back to me – my LinkedIn profile, Twitter and this blog you happen to be reading now. Not a terrible Google outcome, but is it all that descriptive of “who I am” or what I’m like in person?

Allow me to use a few examples from my personal life to illustrate the new face of dating. One date began talking about interests that I had but hadn’t told him about. When I was caught off guard by his pseudo-psychic tendencies he admitted “I Googled you”. I immediately felt like I had been cyber-stalked by the next coming of a tech savvy Patrick Bateman. I have been told that I look nothing like my pictures and that I photograph badly. (Is that supposed to be a compliment!?) Another date had been surprised how “laid back and creative” I was because (apparently) my online presence makes me look “very corporate”. (…. really?) Well there’s a simple reason for that ladies and gentlemen… I work in a professional field! My online presence is a part of my “digital resume”, and I’ve made the conscious decision to keep it that way. But I think that I still keep my own writing style and unique “voice” in everything that I do.

The truth is only certain aspects of my personality are online. Not everything is always relevant to what I’m writing about or the conversations I’m joining. I’m not really going to blog about the fencing class I’ll be joining in the new year, about my favorite arcade games, about which paintings at the AGO take my breath away, about my irrational fear of spiders/things with more than four legs or about which musical compositions are able to move me to the point of tears. Personal information is something I usually prefer to keep in me and share on a case-by-case basis.

But this all leads to interesting questions for social media users; is it better to break more boundaries and project all of yourself online or nothing at all? What weight should we give the Google results of someone we thought we were interested in moments before making that search? What impact does social media have on couples, on relationships, on first dates and on breakups?

Thoughts?

October 1, 2010

Making an Impression on the Toronto Fashion Scene

Posted in events, Just for fun, Social Life, trends at 10:20 pm by Jennifer

Joe Fresh made a lot of fans when it launched in 2006, selling a mix of wardrobe basics and fashion forward pieces at relatively low prices by industry standards. It was created by Joseph Mimran, co-founder of Club Monaco and I’ve been a fan for a while now. I love being able to update my wardrobe without hearing my Visa scream out in pain.

While I still lean mainly towards stores like Zara, Banana Republic and Club Monaco for my work wardrobe Joe Fresh has added to my closet some of my very favorite outfits for after work drinks, dates and dinner with friends. So I was pleasantly excited to be invited and have a sneak peek at the recent Joe Fresh Runway Sale, partnered with Lou Lou (love this magazine). I knew a few pieces that I had my eyes on from the fall collection and was hoping to get my hands on them.

The event promised food, wine and fashion – who could possibly pass that up? Apparently, no one could! It was packed full of Toronto fashionistas scanning the racks like seasoned veterans. Being one of the first 20 people in the store I luckily found and grabbed what I wanted then snuck over to the change rooms and avoided the crowds.

Then to my pleasant surprise, the man behind the brand himself made an appearance. Joseph was friendly, approachable and walked around consulting with girls giving style advice – I briefly met him and was amazed at the relaxed confidence he exuded, cool yet completely approachable.

Planning events for clients is never an easy task, and I think overall the Joe Fresh pop up event was a hit. Some things I think could have been done better:

  • Crowd control. At one point the store was way too crowded, huge lineups for the change rooms and the cash registers. A larger space could have solved this, with areas dedicated to nibbling, socializing and sipping wine.
  • Sizes. Apparently they ran out of small/extra small in the first hour (or so I heard). Luckily I was able to get the things I wanted in small before the crowds hit.
  • No men’s clothing. Not even a little bit. I saw a few men in the crowd and felt they were left out.

But what was done exceptionally well made all of the difference. The staff was all very friendly from the people in the fitting rooms to the catering staff handing out (surprisingly good) canapés and dry white wine. I was amazed how quickly they passed through the crowd again and again, with new things that everyone got a chance to try.

The biggest bonus from an event standpoint IMO? Joseph Mimran attending. There is nothing that creates more credibility with a brand and makes an impact on customers than being able to speak with a CEO or the head of a company one on one. Making these impressions can be time consuming, yes, but they really work and create lasting impressions on your target market. Authenticity and a friendly attitude can go a long way to creating brand loyalty.

– BB

September 22, 2010

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain*

Posted in current events, events, social media tagged at 4:48 pm by Jennifer

I can’t write a post about transparency and not mention that while I do talk about Netflix in this post, I won’t be going into their services etc. I work for Mansfield  and Zip.ca is a client of ours. So while this post isn’t about Netflix per se, their services or even really Netflix as a brand I thought that I should put that out in the open from the very start. And now that’s out of the way, on to my post!

Public perception of the PR industry is not always favourable. It seems to either glamorize all night parties and rubbing shoulders with celebrities or it paints us as huddled around a long boardroom table plotting evil schemes to make big bad companies look good. That just isn’t the case, and PR companies that try to “spin the truth” or “trick the public” tend not to have the respect of their peers or survive in this industry. The reality is despite devastating cuts to the media industry there remain savvy and dedicated reporters ready to flush out a balanced story as well as a rise in bloggers who truly do their homework. Social media has given way to an army of tech-savvy super sleuths and the last thing I would ever advise a client or colleague to do is try to deceive them! These days it seems the truth is just a click or link away.

So what’s this about? It’s a lesson to all of us in being open, honest and transparent with the public when sharing information with them. Recently Netflix launched a press conference and public event in downtown Toronto. It was right around the corner from my office and flyers were being handed out yesterday, I just so happened to get my hands on one.

Their concept was really creative with actors dressed up as movie characters passing flyers out – really fun and I thought this was a great way to promote the launch of their new streaming movie service. Those actors were a great idea. The ones paid to “play types, for example, mothers, film buffs, tech geeks, couch potatoes etc.” – not such a great idea. Especially when media are asking those same extras for their opinions on the product thinking that they are average people who just so happened to stop by the launch.

This isn’t the first snag in a public relations campaign where a company was not transparent in their activities. WalMart suffered a major blow when the blog “Walmarting Across America” instead “WalMarted across the internet”. It was exposed to be a PR campaign disguised as average couple Jim and Laura’s roadtrip to various WalMart locations. As my coworker pointed out when we were talking about this, “Why would anybody do that?”

This post isn’t meant as a hand slap to Netflix or WalMart’s PR agencies by pointing out what happened. When mistakes are made we should learn from eachother and apply better techniques to our overall practices. At the end of the day we need to relate to the public, earn their trust, understand the power of social media and engage people openly on behalf of our clients but also protect our own reputations. Not being transparent can lead to situations where you will have to work really hard to rebuild public trust.

Also check out Chris (a.k.a Nachosatmidnight)’s take on the launch including some funny graphics that made me ha-ha.

– BB

* From The Wizard of Oz – I did a paper my graduating year about the importance of “the man behind the curtain” and the statement this makes on “political spin”.

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